Is John Grave
Article about a lecture by author Robert M. MacIntosh on June 12, 2007 given at the German Donauschwaben Club in Scarborough, Ont., at the invitation of the Historical Society of Mecklenburg, Upper Canada.
I can honestly state that most Tour Guides in the Toronto area will tell their tourists that John Graves Simcoe came to Canada in 1791, was appointed Governor of Upper Canada in 1792 and arrived in Toronto in 1793 in order to create the capital of Upper Canada. Could he possibly have accomplished that in 5 years? He left Canada to return to England in 1796 and never came back.
Well, on June 12, 07 we tour guides were invited by President Christian Klein to attend a lecture evening of the Historical Society of Mecklenburg, Upper Canada, in the Donauschwabenland Club house in Scarborough. Lecturer was the author Robert M. MacIntosh. He wrote a book in 2006 about the early history of Toronto.
Why would a seasoned banker, with a BA and MBA in Economics by the University of Cambridge write a book about history? Mr. MacIntosh told us that all his life he had been collecting history books about Toronto and amassed about 300 original titles. However, he never had a chance to read them until he retired in 1990 from a 27 year long successful banking career at the Bank of Nova Scotia as well as 10 years as President of the Bankers Association. And when he started reading he was so astonished that he started to write about how he was interpreting and understanding the material he read.
According the Mr. MacIntosh the history of the area around Toronto begins much earlier than 1793. For over 10,000 years Indian Nations lived here, fighting each other constantly and living either as Nomads or, as in the case of the Huron, in longhouses. 6 Iroquois Nations lived South of the great lakes and were feared for their aggressive fighting skills by the more peaceful Northern Nations. There existed a group of wigwams called Teiaigan by the Seneca Nation but it was only used seasonally. The Seneca were in turn chased out by the Mississauga Indians.
The first Europeans, the French, were just as afraid of the Iroquois and traveled to the shores of Lake Ontario by the Northern Route, Ottawa River, Georgian Bay and Passage de Toronto (today Humber River Valley). Etienne Brule, sent by Samuel Champlain, was the first white man to touch the lake shores in 1615 near where today the Humber River ends. For 148 years afterwards it was the French fur traders who made history in the area. There are written notes mentioning a trading post erected here in 1720 and 30 years later a Fort Toronto with wooden palisades. It was moved again and renamed Fort Rouille in honour of the Paris Minister Luois Rouille, Count de Jouy. But the name Fort Toronto appears often in maps and writings.
The French destroyed the fort in 1759 to avoid it falling into the hands of the English who had taken control of all Canada through the Peace Treaty of Paris after the 7 year wars
Jean Baptiste Rousseaux (1758-1812) was the first settler to built a house, probably at the sight of the former fur trading post. Jean married Margaret Clyne, a ward of Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant in 1787. But there is very little mentioning in the English history books of the service Jean gave to the English as middle man to the Indians and trader. He asked for land titles along the Humber but was refused, even though Lord Dorchester, the Governor of all Canada had approved such a reward. Simcoe just ignored those instructions. He only titled land to other Englishmen.
Lord Dorchester showed vision by making sure land needed for settlers were officially bought from the Indian Nations occupying the land. That was the case in the purchase of 1787 of the 250880 acres in the Toronto area bought from the Mississauga Indians. 1805 the exact borders of that land purchased were reaffirmed.
The Constitution Act of 1791 separated Canada into Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Lower Canada (now Quebec) and Lord Dorchester was appointed as Governor of Upper Canada in 1792. He would have liked to make London, Ont. the capital which was wisely vetoed by Dorchester and England. He reluctantly left Niagara on the Lake to travel to Toronto, arriving at the foot of Bathurst St. in 1793. Mr. MacIntosh does not think very highly of Simcoe. Arriving facing a real dense forest right up to the shores he did not think it necessary to built a house for his family but put up tents and had the soldiers built barracks of wood. His first priority was to anglicize all French and Indian names. (Toronto became York, Jean Rosseau St. John, etc.) His building plans called for big houses with Greek Pillars in front, when cutting down trees and laying out streets and lots would have been logical. Peter Russel, his replacement as administrator while he was gone had more vision than Simcoe.
But still, Simcoe had some help from an unusual source. Johann Albrecht Ulrich Moll, born in 1744 in Wallerstein, Germany was the man. He changed his own name to William Berczy later on.
His story is truly amazing according to Mr. MacIntosh. He studied art in Vienna and Jena, traveled to Polen on a diplomatic mission and earned his living by painting miniature portraits. They were much in demand in the elite, well off circle of Europeans. 1790 he moved to London and painted the daughters of Sir William Pulteney. Pulteney and his partners had bought land on speculation in the area of Genesee in Upper N.Y. State. Berczy managed to convince Pulteney and his partners to let him find a group of skilled German farmers and lead them to Genesee. In a short time he had 70 families from Hamburg willing to follow him and he managed to smuggle them all out even though emigration was forbidden at the time. In July 1792, only one year after he started the plans his group arrived in Philadelphia, still about 500 km away from Genesee. 2 more ships followed shortly after and so 200 families had gathered. Pulteney and his partners had made no provision for the land travels ahead. Again Berczy proved to be inventive and arranged loans from N.Y. trade Co. to outfit the group. But the welcome in Genesee was no better. The promised land was not available at the price given in London. But that did not stop Berczy either. He found out from merchants in N.Y. that Simcoe in Canada was offering land. He traveled to Canada and was promised 25600 hectare land in the Markham area as well as several parcels along Yonge St.. The Price: Berczy and his group had to build Yonge Street as far as today’s Eglinton Ave. Again Berczy managed to smuggle 70 families again out of Genesee and landed in October 1794, managed to build 40 houses before winter set in. They had plans for a church, school and clearing fields for crops as well as a grain mill for the next year. Compare that to Simcoe having built 2 houses and barracks since 1793!
Simcoe asked them to built Yonge St. further North during the winter 1794/95. They did and expected to get provisions in return which never arrived. It was a hard winter. On top of it they found out there were no parcels of land along Yonge St left, all were in the hands of Englishmen and even though they had built homes they were not even entitled to the land they built them on. Did Simcoe betray Berczy or was Berczy naïve? Simcoe refused to meet with Berczy to discuss his claims before he left for England and Peter Russel went strictly by the rules left that said land could only be given to foreigners after they lived in the country for 7 years.
Berczy went to England to plead his case in court but was not successful either. He came back a broken man who worked for the last 13 years of his life trying to repay the debts he had incurred. He moved to Montreal and went back to painting. Many of his works are now hanging in the National Arts Gallery in Ottawa, some of them of Joseph Brant. He also drew the plans for Christ Church cathedral in Montreal. But he died in New York and was buried in an unmarked grave.
I agree with Mr. MacIntosh that Berczy deserves as much if not more credit for getting Toronto started than was given to him. His statue should stand next to Simcoe. A park named after him just does not seem fitting.
Mr. MacIntosh’s book has of course a lot more details than he could tell us in one evening. He is a very interesting personality and good speaker who answered all our questions from the floor. I am sure we all learned a lot.
His book is available for $19.95 under the ISBN 1-897113-41-2 at Chapters. He follows the history until the beginning of the war of 1812-1814. Even if anyone reading this has read the 300 books Mr. MacIntosh has collected one can always enjoy reading his book.
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