Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dream 14 "The Great Fire" (Lucie Blackburn, 1849)

Lucie Blackburn dreamed that she saw the Devil on King Street. She was crossing the road and there he was, leaning up against the wall of Post’s Tavern, flickering in the lamplight, waiting. He wore a black suit and a short beard. His eyes were coal. She knew the instant she saw him that he had come for her.  He would take her back south, to Kentucky, to Hell.

He saw her too, and smiled. It was a horrifying grin. It grew until it split his face in half. His skin fell away like a snake's as he swelled up out of himself, horns, scales and putrid flesh, rising until he was taller even than the steeple of St. James, great leathery wings unfurling behind him with a gust of hot wind. All along King Street, buildings burst into flame. Fire and smoke poured from windows and doors. People screamed and ran.

She couldn't move. The mud in the street was deep; it had her by the ankles. She could do nothing but pray. And pray she did. Lucie Blackburn prayed hard for that angel who came sweeping down from the heavens above Toronto, all fury and wrath, eager to cast out Evil, and with war in its eyes.

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Learn more about Lucie Blackburn and her escape from slavery here. Explore more Toronto Dreams Project postcards here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Day The Sun Turned Blue Above Toronto

The first sign of the apocalypse came on a Saturday night in the early autumn of 1950. It was a little after 9 o'clock. That's when a star was seen streaking across the sky above Toronto; some said it was as big as the moon. It was gone in an instant; it broke apart into three pieces and disappeared over the lake. Most people didn't even notice. But the meteor was just the beginning. The real show started the next day, when the sun turned blue.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in Toronto — which is what all Sunday afternoons were like in Toronto back then. The stores were closed. People went to church. They hung out at home and spent time with their families. It was the first day after Daylight Saving Time, too, so people were enjoying the extra hour of rest. And since they were already expecting it to get dark early, some of them didn't even notice how early it really was. It was only the middle of the afternoon when a gloom fell over the city, like an eery, early dusk. Something had gone wrong with the sky.

One of Toronto's most famous astronomers, Helen Sawyer Hogg, looked up. "[T]he western sky," she later wrote, "became a dark, terrifying mass of cloud and haze, as though a gigantic storm were approaching..."

As darkness descended, the animals began to behave in strange ways. Ducks went to sleep in the middle of the day. Dogs hid under their owners' beds. Cows started to moo, demanding to be milked. And all over the city, people turned on their lights. Electricity use surged. Power-lines failed. And when the power-lines failed, bank alarms were accidentally tripped. Police scrambled to respond to the false alarms. As they did, the heavens swirled above them.

"Toronto's sky was filled with weird wonder," the Globe and Mail reported. "A great saffron-colored cloud filled the sky. Around it rolled steel grey clouds, shot by blackness and rippled, as water is rippled by a sudden light wind. Far off to the north and east the cold white light of the horizon accentuated the darkness that hung over the city.

"It was beautiful with a strange and dreary beauty and filled with ominous portent..."

The sun was most ominous of all. For most of the day, it was hidden behind those dark, swirling, purple clouds. But in the few brief moments when it did shine out from between them, it was shining the wrong colour: a frightening blue-mauve. It cast no shadows. And it shone with no rays.

People. Freaked. Out. They didn't know what was happening. Some thought the sun was exploding. Others thought it was a flying saucer announcing the beginning of an alien invasion. Lots of people assumed it was a sign of a nuclear attack. This, after all, was at the very beginning of the Cold War. Stalin had just gotten the bomb. The Second World War had only ended a few short years earlier. And every day, the newspapers screamed with headlines about the war Canada was helping to fight against the Communists in Korea. Purple skies and a blue sun sounded an awful lot like the kind of thing people were expecting: the beginning of the Third World War.    

Police stations in Toronto were flooded with phone calls. People asked if an atomic bomb had been dropped on the city or somewhere else nearby. Others thought doomsday had come. One caller, according to the Toronto Daily Star, "said the end of the world was approaching and asked police to tell citizens to be prepared to meet their Maker." The newspaper reported that some people were praying in terror. A few even blamed the clocks: "Some said a supernatural power was angry with the world for tampering with daylight saving time..." Radio stations began to give hourly updates, asking people not to panic.

And the bad omens were far from over. As people woke up on Monday morning and went to work, the skies were still swirling with "yellows, browns, pinks and purples" and the sun was still shining blue. It continued all day. And then, that very same night, there was yet another sign of the apocalypse: a dark shadow swallowed up the harvest moon. It was a total lunar eclipse.

But of course, despite of all the ominous signs, the world didn't come to an end that week. There was a perfectly rational explanation for everything.

It all started nearly four months earlier and more than three thousand kilometers away, in the forests of British Columbia. No one seems to be entirely sure exactly what sparked it — some think it was an Imperial Oil crew lighting a small fire to drive away some bugs; others say it was a slash-and-burn logging blaze that got out of control. Either way, the conditions that summer were perfect for it. The forests were dry; there was a drought. And since there weren't any permanent settlements or major roads nearby, the authorities just let the fire burn. It swept across the border into northern Alberta, raging out of control. It lasted for months. By the the time it was all over, the Chinchaga River fire had destroyed millions of acres of forest. To this day, it's the biggest recorded forest fire in the entire modern history of the continent.

In late September, when the fire was about four months old, there was a big flare up — its biggest yet. And this time, the enormous cloud of smoke hanging over the blaze got caught up in a weather system that swept it east across the Prairies. It only took a few days to reach the Great Lakes. The strange purple cloud darkened the skies above Toronto. The smoke particles were just the right size: they scattered the red wavelengths in the light from the sun, so it looked blue-mauve instead of yellow-orange.

And it wasn't just Toronto. Reports flooded in from all over the Great Lakes. After that, the winds continued to carry the strange cloud east, right across the Maritimes and then out over the Atlantic. By the end of the day on Tuesday, the cloud had reached the other side of the ocean. The sun turned blue in the skies above the British Isles and Western Europe. In Denmark, it sparked a run on the banks before the cloud finally broke up.

In the end, it was the changing seasons that brought the great fire to an end. The rains and snows of late October doused the flames. The devastation left in its wake finally convinced the government to change the rules. Forests fire would now be fought more vigorously. The sun above Toronto hasn't been blue since.

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Image: a postcard of Toronto in the 1950s (via Chuchman's postcard blog) plus lots of Photoshop.

You can read Helen Sawyer Hogg's column about Toronto's blue sun for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada here. It's a PDF. Her husband, Frank S. Hogg, was also an astronomer. He wrote about it here, which you can read if you've got a Toronto Public Library card. That card will also allow you to read the coverage from the Toronto Daily Star here and here, the Globe and Mail here, and the Associated Press here and here. The writer Pat Mastern remembers her own experiences outside of Toronto that day here.

You'll find the Wikipedia entry for the Chinchaga River fire here. The Edmonton Journal remembers it here. The Canadian Smoke Newsletter writes about it on Page 14 of this PDF. The Star put together a map of the cloud's path, which you can find here.

You can learn more about Helen Sawyer Hogg thanks to Torontoist's David Wencer here and Wikipedia here. Utrecht University has a whole big archive of her column's for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada here. And the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has an index of her columns for the Toronto Star here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

UK Tour Photos: Budleigh Salterton

1797. The city of Toronto was just four years old. We were still called York back then, still just a tiny little wooden town cut out of the forest on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. But the guy who had founded our town was already thousands of kilometers away. John Graves Simcoe — the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada — headed home to England with his family just a few years after they first pitched their fancy tent at the mouth of Garrison Creek.

They came home to their beautiful country estate in the rolling hills of Devon. But they also bought themselves a new place, somewhere to hang out during the summer months. It was just down the River Otter from their estate, in the seaside town that sits at the mouth of the river, surrounded by towering red cliffs. It's called Budleigh Salterton. Today, it's in the middle of a World Heritage Site. Those cliffs stretch west for more than 150 kilometers, the only place in the world where you'll find the entire history of the dinosaurs. They call it the Jurassic Coast.

The house in Budleigh Salterton where the Simcoes lived is still there today. It's undergone lots of renovations and additions over the years, but it's still called Simcoe House. There's even a plaque outside. So, on Day Ten of the Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour, I headed to Budleigh Salterton, to leave dreams for the Simcoes there. I got to spend a night at the pub with all the friendly people who run the local Fairlynch Museum. And I took a big walk up into the heathland north of the town, up to the Iron Age hill fort where Simcoe trained men to fight Napoleon. And I followed the path along the top of those towering red cliffs, still eroding away just like they were in the days when the Simcoes called this place home.

I've already written a big post about the history of Budleigh Salterton here. And now you can check out my photos from the day I spent roaming the area on Facebook — whether or not you have an account — right here:


And, as always, you can follow me on Instagram at @todreamsproject.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Two Toronto Nurses & One of the Most Terrible Nights of the First World War

One dark night in the summer of 1918, the HMHS Llandovery Castle was steaming through the waters of the North Atlantic. She was far off the southern tip of Ireland, nearly two hundred kilometers from the nearest land. It was a calm night, with a light breeze and a clear sky. The ship had been built in Glasgow and was named after a castle in Wales, but now she was a Canadian vessel. Since the world had been plunged into the bloodiest war it had ever seen, the steamship had been turned into a floating hospital. She was returning from Halifax, where she had just dropped off hundreds of wounded Canadian soldiers. On board were the ship's crew and her medical personnel — including fourteen nurses. They were just a few of more than two thousand Canadian women who volunteered to serve overseas as "Nursing Sisters," healing wounds and saving lives and comforting those who couldn't be saved. As the ship sliced through the water, big red crosses shone out from either side of the hull, bright beacons in the dark. The trip was almost over. Soon, they'd be in Liverpool.

But then, without warning, the calm of the night was shattered by a terrible explosion. The ship had been hit by a torpedo. All the lights on board went black. The wireless had been knocked out, too; there would be no S.O.S. And when the captain ordered the engines reversed, there was no reply; the engine room had been hit, the men inside were already dead or wounded. So the ship continued to surge forward into the waves, filling with water as the prow plunged beneath the surface of the ocean. Within minutes it was clear: the Llandovery Castle was doomed.

The order came to abandon ship. Lifeboats were lowered over the sides and the evacuation began, but it was dangerous work. As the decks pitched forward and the ship lurched through the waves, two of the lifeboats were swamped with water, broken, and swept away. Others had already been destroyed by the explosion. The crew kept at it, though; they were calm, no one panicked. Within a few short minutes, it's thought that every single person who had survived the blast had been ushered into a lifeboat and lowered to the water below.

Mary Agnes McKenzie
Mary Agnes McKenzie was in one of those lifeboats. Her friends called her Nan. She had been born and raised in Toronto. She went to school in St. Jamestown as a young girl — at the Rose Avenue School, which is still there today. She lived in the neighbourhood of Rathnelly, on Macpherson Avenue, near Dupont & Avenue Road. She was still just a teenager when she decided she wanted to become a nurse. She got a job at a hospital here in Toronto and, in the years before the war broke out, got some experience working at the Military Hospital in Halifax. When the war did come, she volunteered for duty. She was originally posted to the Ontario Military Hospital in England, built by our provincial government, and then found herself serving on board the Llandovery Castle. While the ship had been docked in Halifax, she'd hoped for a chance to come home to Toronto for a brief visit with her family. But all leave had been cancelled. She promised her mom she would try again the next time they were back in Canada.

And she wasn't the only nurse from Toronto in that lifeboat. Carola Josephine Douglas had been born in Panama, but grew up with relatives in Toronto after both her parents died. She graduated from Harbord Collegiate before training to become a nurse. When the war broke out, she too volunteered to head overseas — filling out enlistment forms that still assumed all new recruits were "he" and the "man." Soon, she found herself in the thick of the action in Europe, tending to the wounded at one of the most dangerous military hospitals in France. As you might expect, the work she did there took a toll. After more than two years helping to stitch people back together near the front lines, she became a patient herself, recuperating from exhaustion. After that, Douglas was assigned to the Llandovery Castle.

The hospital ship was supposed to provide the nurses and other personnel with something of a rest — a relatively easy assignment for those who had already seen more than their fair share of stressful duty. But now, McKenzie, Douglas and the other nurses found themselves back in danger, lowered over the side of the doomed vessel, along with a few men from the crew, in Lifeboat No. 5.

And Lifeboat No. 5 was stuck. After it hit the water, it still was held by ropes to the side of the sinking ship. As they pitched in the waves, the small boat kept smashing against the hull of the big steamer. One of the men — Sergeant Arthur Knight from London, Ontario — grabbed an axe and tried to cut the lifeboat free. But it was no use; the axe broke. So did the second one. After that, they tried to use the oars to brace themselves, to keep from being crushed. One by one, the oars broke too. Until, finally, mercifully, the ropes snapped and they were free.

The lifeboat drifted away, but it still wasn't out of danger. They realized in horror that they were being drawn back toward the stern of the ship, caught in the suction as the Llandovery Castle sank beneath the waves. They were being dragged into a whirlpool. And there was nothing they could do.

HMHS Llandovery Castle
One of the nurses — Matron Margaret Fraser, daughter of the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia — turned to Sergeant Knight as they drifted toward the swirling vacuum. "Sergeant," she asked, "do you think there is any hope for us?"

He later described those dreadful moments, stranded in a lifeboat with fourteen women who had spent much of the last few years up to their elbows in blood and guts, but whose entire gender was still dismissed by many Canadians as too frail for that kind of work, too weak and emotional to be trusted with an equal say in the world. "Unflinchingly and calmly," he remembered, "as steady and collected as if on parade, without a complaint or a single sign of emotion, our fourteen devoted nursing sisters faced the terrible ordeal of certain death—only a matter of minutes—as our lifeboat neared that mad whirlpool of waters where all human power was helpless... In that whole time I did not hear a complaint or murmur from one of the sisters. There was not a cry for help or any outward evidence of fear."

It took only ten minutes from the time of the explosion to the moment when the last of the Llandovery Castle disappeared beneath the waves. And she took Lifeboat No. 5 with her. Everyone on board was flung into the churning water. The nurses were all wearing life jackets, but most — if not all of them — were probably drowned right away. Sergeant Knight never saw any of them ever again. He was only saved by a lucky explosion — maybe the boilers exploding as the ship sank toward the ocean floor — which propelled him back to the surface. If McKenzie or Douglas or any of the other nurses did survive, they found themselves stranded in the dark waters, clinging to the wreckage as the night's final horrors got underway.

The U-boat wasn't finished yet.

The captain of the submarine had just committed a war crime. It was illegal to attack a hospital ship. The red crosses on the sides of the Llandovery Castle had been brightly lit and easy to see. The Germans hadn't given any warning or tried to board and search the ship first — which would have been within their rights. Instead, they'd simply fired their torpedoes. That was against international law and against the standing orders of the Imperial German Navy. So now, it seems, Captain Patzig was anxious to cover his tracks.

At first, the U-86 submarine seized one of the lifeboats and accused the Canadian crew of harbouring American flight officers or of shipping ammunition. But the crew denied it. And when it became clear they weren't getting anywhere, the Germans let that lifeboat go. As it rowed away to safety, Captain Patzig tried a new approach: the U-boat turned on the other survivors. 

U-86
For the next two hours, while those in the water clung to the wreckage and cried out for help, U-86 sailed between them, ramming the lifeboats that were still afloat, firing shells at any that weren't completely destroyed. Then, once all the Canadians had been forced into the water, the machine guns opened fire. They killed everyone they could find. If McKenzie or Douglas or any of the other nurses had managed to survive their initial plunge into the water, they didn't survive those guns. There had been 258 people on board the Llandovery Castle. By the time the night was over, the only survivors were the 24 lucky enough to be on board the one lifeboat Captain Patzig couldn't find. They would spend the next 36 hours alone in the middle of the ocean, until they were finally found.

Later, the captain of a British ship sailed through the wreckage. "[S]uddenly," he remembered, "we began going through corpses.... we were sailing through floating bodies. We were not allowed to stop — we just had to go straight through. It was quite horrific, and my reaction was to vomit over the edge. It was something we could never have imagined... particularly the nurses: seeing these bodies of women and nurses, floating in the ocean, having been there some time. Huge aprons and skirts in billows, which looked almost like sails because they dried in the hot sun."

Nearly a century later, the sinking of the Llandovery Castle is still considered to be one of the greatest atrocities of the First World War. And it immediately began to a play an inflammatory role in the hatred and violence between the Allies and Germany that would keep the world drenched in blood for decades to come. In the days that followed the attack, Toronto's newspapers were filled with cries of outrage. The Daily Star denounced "this latest exhibition of Hun deviltry." The Telegram went with "Hun savagery." Their words were officially echoed by the Canadian government, which decried the "savagery... and the utter blackness and dastardly character of the enemy..." Whether or not any of the nurses had survived long enough to be shot, Allied propaganda posters showed them there in the water as German submariners mowed them down.

Canadian propaganda
For the remaining days of the war, the Llandovery Castle became a rallying cry for Canadian troops. About a month after the sinking of the ship, the Allies began their final major push — The Hundred Days Offensive — which drove the Germans back out of France and finally to their surrender. The Canadians played a leading role. At the Battle of Amiens, they used "Llandovery Castle" as a code word. One brigadier from Moose Jaw told his men "the battle cry... should be 'Llandovery Castle,' and that that cry should be the last to ring in the ears of the Hun as the bayonet was driven home." Some say the outrages of that night in the North Atlantic helped to inspire some Canadian soldiers to commit their own — choosing to kill surrendering German troops rather than take them prisoner.

In the wake of the war, the Allies insisted that the German officers responsible for the sinking of the Llandovery Castle face charges. The case became one of the Leipzig War Crimes Trials, held by the German government to prosecute their own troops. As Captain Patzig fled the country, two of his lieutenants were tried and convicted to four years of hard labour. But they escaped on their way to prison and were later acquitted on the grounds that only their captain was ultimately responsible for their orders.

For many people living in Allied countries, the Leipzig Trials were seen as an example of the Germans being too lenient with their own war criminals. But many Germans saw the trials as yet another example of the unfair peace terms imposed upon them by the Treaty of Versailles. Some Allies had committed war crimes, too, but it was only the Germans who seemed to be forced to face the consequences. Those who stood trial in Leipzig were hailed as patriotic martyrs.

Many historians believe the anger over the peace terms — including the Leipzig Trials — eventually helped to propel Adolph Hitler into power. And when Hitler launched a Second World War, there was a familiar face on his payroll. Captain Patzig had been welcomed back into the German navy. And this time, he was in charge of an entire flotilla, training a new generation of German submariners how to wage war.

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The Albertan writer and editor Debbie Marshall has a blog dedicated to the stories of the Canadian nurses killed during the First World War. It's called Finding the 47. She has posts about Nan McKenzie here and here, and about Douglas here and here and here.

McKenzie is still remembered — along with a few other nurses from the Ontario Military Hospital who died in WWI — with a plaque inside Queen's Park. And she's also remembered in a memorial at her grade school, Rose Avenue School, which you can learn a little more about here. The Toronto Star tells her story here. An historian from Rochester tells it here (she trained to become a nurse in Rochester). You can find her page on the Virtual Canadian War Memorial (including a form she filled out, press clippings, etc.) here. And her page the Canadian Great War Project here. Her exact address was 290 Macpherson Ave, which I don't believe exists anymore.

Douglas' photo still hangs in the halls of Harbord Collegiate as part of their war memorial and a memorial to all their former students who died during the war stands outside the school. Her page on the Virtual War Memorial (with some pics, filled out forms, etc.) is here. And the Toronto branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society has posted some information about her and the sinking of the Llandovery Castle as part of the "For King & Country" project here.

Another one of the nurses who died that night had family in Toronto. You can learn more about Mae Bell Sampson thanks to Finding the 47 here. There's a photo of her here. And a great photo of another of the nurses — Mary Jane Fortesceue of Montreal — here.

The Wikipedia page for the HMHS Llandovery Castle is here. Versions of the story are collected by the British Commonwealth Shipping Company Limited here. The Canadian Great War Project tells the story here. And the Canadian government version from 1920, pieced together from the witnesses, is here. If you've got a Toronto Public Library card, I think you'll be able to check out a Toronto Star article about McKenzie and the attack from July 3 1918 here. And from the day before that, just about the attack, here

Canadian soldiers were apparently known for being bad with POWS. According to the English writer, Robert Graves, who served on the front lines: "The troops with the worst reputation for acts of violence against prisoners were the Canadians..." Though he also added, "How far this reputation for atrocities was deserved, and how far it could be ascribed to the overseas habit of bragging and leg-pulling, we could not decide." Some of it is blamed on the reaction to the propagada story of a Canadian solider crucified by German bayonets.

The first propaganda image come via Wikimedia Commons. The photo of Nurse McKenzie via Vicki Masters Profitt's Illuminated History blog. The photo of the Llandovery Castle via the Historia y Arqueologia MarĂ­tima. The photo of U-86 is also via Wikimedia Commons. And the second propaganda poster is also also via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sir John Henry Lefroy & Queen Victoria's Coronation

On the first night of The Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour, I headed straight for the most famous place in London: Westminster. In my pocket, I was carrying a dream for one of the most interesting scientists from the history of Toronto: Sir John Henry Lefroy. I made my way through the hordes of tourists and — in a moment when it seemed like no one was watching — I left the dream here, in the middle of Westminster Bridge. I left it here because this is the spot where Lefroy was standing in the early afternoon of June the 28th, 1838 — at the exact moment when the Imperial State Crown was first placed upon Queen Victoria's head.

Lefroy was still just a teenager back then, a young lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. But it was only a few years later that he began the scientific work that would make him famous. When the British government decided to study the Earth's magnetic field — to figure out why it kept changing — Lefroy was chosen to play an important role in the project. So, by the time he was 25, he found himself living in Canada as the superintendent of "Her Majesty's Magnetical and Meteorological Observatory at Toronto".

The original facility was built on the grounds of what's now the University of Toronto, right next to where Convocation Hall is today. There's a plaque for Lefroy there. And there's a slighter newer version of the observatory that still stands on the lawn outside Hart House. Plus, there's an even more recent version: the building where the Monk Centre is now (on Bloor Street just west of Varsity Stadium).

While he was in Canada, Lefroy also made a famous trek into the Northwest Territories, travelling more than 8,000 kilometers with a team from the Hudson's Bay Company. He took hundreds of measurements along the way, getting even further north and further west than Yellowknife. Thanks to that trip, there's now a mountain in the Rockies named after him. And he became the subject of a Paul Kane painting. It's called Scene in the Northwest: Portrait of John Henry Lefroy, or, sometimes, The Surveyor. They've got it at the AGO. It's the most expensive painting in Canadian history. The Toronto billionaire Ken Thomson (who owned the Globe & Mail, the London Times and all sorts of other stuff) paid more than $5 million for it in 2002. That's more than double the previous record.

Paul Kane's The Surveyor
Lefroy lived in Toronto for more than a decade and left a lasting legacy in our city. While he was here, he teamed up with Sir Sanford Fleming and some other scientists to found the Royal Canadian Institute — it's still the oldest scientific society in Canada; its collection eventually became part of the ROM.

He also married a Torontonian. Emily Mary Robinson was the daughter of Sir John Beverley Robinson: a hero of the War of 1812, a Tory judge, and a hardcore member of the Family Compact who infamously sentenced two of William Lyon Mackenzie's rebels to death. Funny enough, she was also cousins with the Boultons: the family who built the Grange, the house that would eventually become the AGO, where that $5 million portrait now hangs.

Eventually, Lefroy headed back home to London and continued to lead a fascinating life. He teamed up with Florence Nightingale to reform the army, spent years as the Governor of Bermuda, and travelled all the way to the other side of the world to be the Administrator of Tasmania. He spent the rest of his life as of the senior figures of the British Empire — all in the heyday of Queen Victoria's reign.

Which brings me all the way back to that day in 1838, when Lefroy was a teenaged lieutenant standing on Westminster Bridge.

The coronation of the young queen — only a teenager herself back then —  was, of course, a Very Big Deal. London was buzzing. There were special songs written, special medals given, special ribbons designed. Huge crowds gathered. There were military bands and long lines of horses and soldiers. Guns fired a salute at dawn and then again when Victoria left Buckingham Palace in her carriage, part of a lavish procession of royalty and soldiers and ambassadors and officials. Decades later, the Sydney Morning Herald remembered the moment: "As the procession passed on through the streets—where sidewalks, balconies, windows, and the very roofs (where possible) seemed alive with spectators waving scarves and handkerchiefs, and shouting their loyal greetings—the sight was one never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it."

Finally, Victoria arrived at Westminster Abbey, where the coronation would take place. It's a absolutely stunning church even on an ordinary day. I visited the Abbey on my last morning in London; it's spectacular, home to breathtaking history, including the bones of monarchs like Elizabeth I and Henry V, scientists like Darwin and Newton, and writers like Dickens, Chaucer, Tennyson and Kipling. On this day, it was even more beautiful than usual. The floors and walls were draped in cloth of crimson, purple and gold. The most hallowed royal relics were on hand, ready to play their part in the ceremony. And the most important people in the Empire had gathered to watch it all happen.

The Coronation of Queen Victoria
Young Lefroy was supposed to be there, too. His commanding officer had selected him to play a role in the ceremony. He was going watch from a small window high above the throne where Victoria was to be crowned. His job was to wait until the moment when the crown touched her head, and then pass along the signal. He'd even been allowed to visit the Abbey the day before, getting to see it dressed in all the regal splendour of the occasion.

But at the last minute a big, famous military official learned about the plan and chose someone else instead. So, rather than getting to give the signal, Lefroy was now supposed to receive the signal and pass it along to the soldiers at the Tower of London, just around the bend of the Thames, so they could let the crowd there know that their queen had been crowned.

So, when the big moment happened, John Henry Lefroy wasn't perched high above his monarch, in the middle of all the action. Instead, he was outside, as he later remembered: "posted in the centre of... Westminster Bridge, in full uniform, to enjoy the jeers of the populace that came pouring in from Lambeth and the Old Kent Road."

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Westminster Abbey

St. Martin in the Fields on Trafalgar Square
where Lefroy was baptised by the Bishop of London

1 Savile Row, formerly the Royal Geographical Society
The Bealtes played their rooftop gig next door

A dream for Lefroy at the old Geographical Society
where he was a member
 
Swanky Cambridge Terrace, where Lefroy lived
overlooking Regent's Park

Burlington House, home to the Royal Society

A dream for Lefroy outside the Royal Society
where he was a member

The Royal Automoblie Club on Pall Mall
formerly the Ordnance Office

A dream outside the Ordnance Office
which Lefroy used to run

St. George's Hanover Square

A dream at St. George's Hanover Square
where Lefroy married his second wife

The view toward Westminster Bridge
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John Henry Lefory's autobiography, where that last quote comes from, is available to read for free at Archive.org here. The details and description of the coronation came from the Sydney Morning Herald via Queen Victoria Online, which you'll find here. And there's more information about the history of Toronto's magnetic observatory on Wikipedia here.

Both paintings come via the Wikimedia Commons.



This post is related to dream
33 The Magnetic History of Toronto
John Henry Lefroy, 1847

This post is related to dream
31 Saving the Canadian Artist
Paul Kane, 1865

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dream 11 "Feeding The Annex" (Dennis Lee, 1974)

One humid night in August, Dennis Lee dreamed that there was a street party in the Annex. People milled about in the middle of the road, chatting and drinking under the giant oaks. There were familiar faces in that crowd: Peg, Steve and Paul; he could see bpNichol’s wild smile and the full moon of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s round cheeks. But the poet was filled with a terrible sense of foreboding. And before he shared it with anyone, it was already too late.

In an instant, all the houses came to life. Old Victorian homes rose up off their foundations in a shower of red brick and sod. They lunged into the street, the ground pitching violently under their weight. People scattered and fled, abandoned glasses shattering on the pavement behind them, but in vain. Everywhere they turned, another black doorway swooped down, twisted wide and toothless, hungry. One by one they disappeared behind slamming doors. Thick, fleshy curtains lapped up pools of blood and red wine. Windowsills chewed on broken glass.

When it was over, and all of the houses had lumbered back into place, the street was quiet and still. So, as a new crowd formed, delighted to find unfinished drinks and half-eaten sandwiches, the poet’s warnings seemed like the ravings of a madman: nothing to fear at all.

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Explore more Toronto Dreams Project postcards here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

UK Tour Photos: Exeter

John Graves Simcoe, the founder of Toronto, was born in Northamptonshire — in the middle of England. But Exeter is where he grew up. The historic city in the West Country was his hometown: it's where he went to school as a boy, where he (might have) watched his brother drown in the river, where his mother would die while Simcoe was off fighting on the British side of the American Revolution, and where he would eventually die, too, having fallen ill on his way to fight Napoleon. So, on Day Nine of the Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour, I headed to Exeter with a bunch of dreams for Simcoe, and left them in places related to the history of the man who founded Toronto. I've already written a big post about that history here. And now you can check out my photos from the day I spent in Exeter on Facebook — whether or not you have an account — right here:


And, as always, you can follow me on Instagram at @todreamsproject.