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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Three Dreams in the Heart of the British Empire

Once upon a time, this was the heart of the British Empire. It's a huge building in the middle of Whitehall, the London neighbourhood filled with  government offices. Right next door — on the very edge of this photo — is the Prime Minister's residence on Downing Street. Just a few doors in the other direction: Westminster and Big Ben. Today, they call this building the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. But it used to be known as the Colonial Office. It's in this building that British bureaucrats ruled over the biggest empire the world has ever seen.

And that, of course, included Canada — which means that some of the most important moments in Canadian history happened right here. For instance: in 1929, this is where British judges declared that Canadian women were persons, too. Even if Canadian judges didn't think so.

This summer, when I came to London during The Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour, I left three dreams outside the building:

One was for William Lyon Mackenzie. Earlier this week, I wrote a post about his mission to London. He spent more than a year living in the city, trying to convince the British government to make Upper Canada a more democratic place. His attempts failed — helping to convince him that an armed rebellion was the only way to change things. He visited the old Colonial Office (an earlier building that stood on this same spot) many times during his year in England. You can read the full story here.

 
Three decades later, while this building was being built, the famous Canadian engineer Sir Sandford Fleming made his own visit to the Colonial Office. In 1863, he arrived with a petition from the Red River Colony in what would one day become Manitoba. They were hoping the British government would build a railroad to connect them to Upper Canada. But the English refused. The settlement became more and more alienated from the rest of the Canadian colonies. A few years later, it was the site of the famous Red River Resistance led by Louis Riel.

 
The third was for Macdonald, who dreams of Riel. Our first Prime Minister came here in 1866, while he was in town for the London Conference — the last of the big meetings on the road to Canadian Confederation.

 
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This post is part of The Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour, exploring the connections between the history of Toronto and the United Kingdom. You can read more here



This post is related to dream
10 The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern
William Lyon Mackenzie, 1837

This post is related to dream
21 Standard Time
Sir Sandford Fleming, 1878

This post is related to dream
35 The Final Campaign
Sir John A. Macdonald, 1891

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

William Lyon Mackenzie's Mission To London

It was 1832. William Lyon Mackenzie was fed up. He'd spent the last decade fighting for democratic reform in Upper Canada. He'd founded a pro-democracy newspaper. Written passionate editorials. Led protests. Organized committees. He'd even run for office and been elected to the provincial Assembly, where he gained a reputation as one of the most radical champions of the Reform cause. This was before he became the first Mayor of Toronto — and long before before his failed revolution — but he was already one of the most polarizing figures in the province. Still, no matter how famous he got, he was blocked at every turn.

Upper Canada was still pretty new back then. The province that would one day become Ontario was only a few decades old. It had been founded in the late 1700s as a safe haven for refugees from the American Revolution. During that bloody war, they'd seen for themselves the horrors committed in the name of democracy. And it was followed closely by the terror of the French Revolution. So, many of the early settlers in Upper Canada had a deep distrust of democratic ideas — what the first Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe, once called "the tyranny of democracy."

Even now, in the 1830s, Upper Canada was a very conservative place. Most of the power in the province was concentrated in the hands of a few democracy-hating, monarchy-loving Tory families. "The Family Compact," Mackenzie called them. They fought hard to maintain the status quo. Those who argued in favour of democratic reform tended to find themselves in jail or in exile. And if Mackenzie and his Reform allies ever did manage to pass a motion through the elected Assembly, the British Lieutenant Governor was there to veto it.

Sometimes, things even got violent. Years earlier, Mackenzie's home and business (in Toronto, still called York back then, on Front Street at Frederick) had been attacked by an angry Tory mob. His family hid in fear as the young rioters — dressed in a parody of First Nations clothing — trashed the newspaper office, broke the printing press and tossed the type into the lake. Mackenzie sued and used the settlement to set up an even bigger operation. But things still weren't getting much better.

Toronto in the 1830s (King St. at Church)
So Mackenzie came up with a new plan. He had been inspired by American and French writers and thinkers who launched all out war against their own governments, but he wasn't planning on going anywhere near that far himself. While others had assembled armies and wheeled out the guillotine, he was still hoping for a peaceful resolution. He still believed in the British system. If he could appeal directly to the British government — if he could present them with his grievances in person — he was sure they would listen to reason. So Mackenzie decided to pay them a visit. He would go to London himself.

He spent much of 1831 getting ready for his big trip. He travelled all over the province, meeting people, making speeches, gathering support, collecting signatures for petitions. When he arrived in England, he planned on having a mountain of evidence to support him. Meanwhile, he kept up his propaganda campaign against the Tories and the Family Compact, calling them names, interrupting their meetings, demanding change, and generally being a thorn in their side.

The Family Compact struck back. That winter, the Tories in the Assembly voted to kick Mackenzie out of office. It sparked a crisis that lasted for months. A mob of Mackenzie's supporters burst into the Assembly and demanded new elections. The Lieutenant Governor refused. But in the by-election that followed, Mackenzie was re-elected in a landslide. Only one person in his riding voted against him. A victory parade of more than 130 horse-drawn sleighs marched down snowy Yonge Street to the sound of bagpipes, bringing their democratically elected representative back to office.

Five days later, the Tories kicked him out again. There was another by-election. And another landslide victory for the famous Reformer.

Mackenzie went back on the attack, pissing even more Tories off. During a visit to Hamilton, he was beaten by thugs and left bloodied in the street. In Toronto, he was pelted with garbage and burned in effigy. Riots broke out. His newspaper office was attacked again. Mackenzie feared for his life. He was only rescued thanks to Colonel FitzGibbon — a Tory hero of the War of 1812 who would one day lead an army against the man he had just saved.

Mackenzie was so scared, he went into hiding. And he stayed there until spring. Then, as the ice melted, he finally boarded a ship bound for London.

He got off the boat in England at one of the most important moments in modern British history. London was in turmoil. While Mackenzie had been fighting the Tories back home in Canada, Reformers and Radicals in England had been fighting the Tories there, too. Now, it looked like they might finally be getting somewhere. For the first time in more than 20 years, the Tories had lost an election. The reform-minded Whigs were in power. And they were planning on using it: the Great Reform Act would be a landmark in the history of British democracy, doing away with the "rotten boroughs" (out-of-date ridings with tiny populations that gave wealthy Tories a way to buy a bunch of extra seats). But every time the Whigs passed the bill through the House of Commons, the unelected Tories in the House of Lords killed it. The stalemate was plunging the nation into crisis.

Political cartoon about the Reform Bill
At the very moment Mackenzie arrived in London, that crisis was reaching a boiling point. The Whigs were trying to pass the bill again. This time, they demanded the King appoint new peers to the House of Lords to make sure the bill became law. When the King refused, the Whig Prime Minster (Earl Grey, of tea fame) resigned in protest. The Tory leader (the Duke of Wellington, of kicking Napoleon's ass fame) took over as Prime Minister.

The country shut down.

They called it "The Days of May." For about a week it seemed as if anything might happen. As the news spread across the United Kingdom, shops and factories shut down. Political unions mobilized. Huge crowds gathered in protest. There were riots. Westminster was flooded by hundreds of petitions with tens of thousands of signatures. There was an orchestrated run on the banks and people withheld their taxes — for a while it seemed as if the country might go bankrupt. Angry placards and posters lined the streets of London. There were whispers of revolution; as one historian later put it: "the air was charged with talk of pikes and barricades and swords rough-sharpened..."

William Lyon Mackenzie watched it all happen. As the crisis hit London, our future mayor was living just a couple of kilometers from Westminster. He wrote about what he saw in letters published in his newspaper back home in Toronto. He'd seen, he said, the Duke of Wellington, "the hero of Waterloo, pelted with mud and fish heads in the streets of London. Tory peers were hissed, hooted and groaned at as they entered their carriages."

Finally, King William and the Tories backed down. The Whigs returned to power and the bill was brought to a vote. Tory Lords abstained. Mackenzie was there himself that day, watching from the gallery in the House of Lords as the Great Reform Bill was finally passed.

Inspired, Mackenzie set to work trying to win similar reforms for Upper Canada. He spent more than a year living in London with his family, in cramped quarters with little income and plenty of mounting debt. At first, it all seemed to be worth it. Things were going well. As spring gave way to summer, Mackenzie — along with a couple of other Canadian Reformers — began to have a series of meetings with the Colonial Secretary. It was a major coup: those meetings were hard to get; many leading Reformers had tried and failed. Now, a radical Reform politician from Toronto finally had the ear of the man who oversaw the running of the entire British Empire.

Mackenzie was feeling optimistic. The Colonial Secretary, he wrote, struck him as "friendly and conciliatory... I left him with the impression strongly imprinted on my mind that he sincerely desired our happiness as a colony..." Mackenzie even got to meet Earl Grey, and was left positively gushing about the Prime Minister. "Well does Earl Grey merit the high station and distinguished rank to which he has been called," he wrote, "truth and sincerity are stamped on his open, manly, English countenance; intelligence and uprightness are inscribed on all his actions."

Colonial Secretary, Viscout Goderich
The British really did seem to be taking Mackenzie's complaints seriously. While he was living in London, he was invited to share his thoughts in the major newspapers. He published a book. And when he produced his petitions signed by tens of thousands of Upper Canadians, the documents were presented to the House of Commons with the support of the Whig government. They even asked him to submit a written copy of all of his grievances. Mackenzie responded with his usual passion: he stayed up for six straight days and nights, writing furiously, switching from one hand to the other when the first cramped up.

Even more importantly, the British government started making real changes, accepting a bunch of Mackenzie's suggestions. The Colonial Secretary sent a stern letter across the Atlantic to the members of the Family Compact. The Anglican and Catholic bishops were asked to resign their seats in the Assembly to further the separation of church and state. The post office, he told them, should be reformed. There should be an independent judiciary. They needed to stop kicking Mackenzie out of the Assembly. And they should publish the letter, so the people of Upper Canada could see for themselves what the government in London was recommending.

But the Family Compact wasn't about to give up that easily. They sent the letter back, claiming that Mackenzie's complaints were unworthy of "serious attention". One of Toronto's most conservative newspapers, The Courier of Upper Canada, called the letter "an elegant piece of fiddle-faddle, full of clever stupidity and condescending impertinence." The Tories had already kicked Mackenzie out of the Assembly once since he'd left for London. Now, despite the letter, they did it again.

This time they'd gone too far. The Colonial Secretary responded by firing two prominent members of the Family Compact: the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. They'd both been leaders of the campaign against Mackenzie. For a few brief weeks, it looked as if the government in Westminster was finally taking Canadian Reformers seriously.

That was in March of 1833. In April, the Colonial Secretary was replaced. And everything changed. In May, Mackenzie got a nasty shock: as he left a meeting at the Colonial Office on Downing Street, he ran into the old Attorney-General. This was the same guy who had just been fired for his attacks on Mackenzie and his opposition to reform. The fired Solicitor-General would soon be joining him. They had come to London all the way from Toronto to defend themselves and undermine Mackenzie. And their plan was working.

Coldbath Fields Riot, 1833
The new Colonial Secretary was much more conservative than the last one. In fact, he would eventually leave the Whig Party to join the Tories. So, as you might expect, he had a very different attitude toward the Tories of the Family Compact. And he wasn't alone: many Whigs were beginning to change their tune. In England after the Great Reform Act, pro-democracy protests had continued to push for even more reform. The Whigs were losing patience. That same month, police brutally cracked down on a protest near Mackenzie's house. The tide was turning. And so, the new Colonial Secretary reinstated the Attorney-General and gave the Solicitor-General a sweet new job in Newfoundland. Just like that, Mackenzie's victory had evaporated. His mission had failed.

"I am disappointed," he wrote. "The prospect before us is indeed dark and gloomy."

He left London, never to return.

Mackenzie had plenty of time to think on the long voyage back home across the Atlantic. His faith in the British system had been deeply shaken. But the Colonial Secretary was far from the only person he'd met in London. He'd also spent plenty of time getting to know the Radicals and Reformers behind the democracy movement in England. He was good friends with Joseph Hume — a Radical Whig MP. And during the crisis over the Great Reform Act, Hume had welcomed him into the very heart of the movement. Mackenzie was taken into the back room of a tailor's shop just a few doors up from Trafalgar Square. There, he met Francis Place — the famous "radical tailor of Charing Cross," one of the leaders of the reform movement. He was the man behind many of the angry posters in London and the organized run on the banks. The back of his shop had been turned into a library filled with revolutionary ideas. (His collection still exists today, hailed as "one of the finest of its kind anywhere in the world.") The shop was ground zero for radical politics in England, where politicians and protesters alike came to discuss the ideas they were fighting for.

Place was much more radical than Mackenzie was — even on Canadian issues. So was Hume. They both believed the Canadian colonies should be independent. And that violence was an acceptable solution. If the Great Reform Act failed, Place was planning on leading a rebellion. He'd sent the government his plans earlier that very same day.

Mackenzie's Rebellion in 1837
As Mackenzie grew more and more frustrated, those ideas were going to make more and more sense to him. He'd gone to England because he believed the British government would listen. But he didn't believe that anymore. And when he got back to Toronto, the troubled continued. The Family Compact opposed democratic reforms at every turn and the British Lieutenant Governors continued to support them — in one election, the Governor even openly campaigned for the Tories.

Mackenzie grew ever more radical. Within a couple of years, he was publishing a letter by Hume in his newspaper, calling for Canadian independence from the "baneful domination of the Mother Country" even if that meant an armed revolution. A few years after that, Mackenzie took the advice. In the winter of 1837, he wrote a "Proclamation to the People of Upper Canada". He called for truly fair elections, meaningful reforms, and maybe most telling of all: "An end forever to the wearisome prayers, supplications, and mockeries attendant upon our connection with the lordlings of the Colonial Office, Downing Street, London." William Lyon Mackenzie was declaring independence.

Two weeks later, he gathered a rebel army on Yonge Street, just north of Toronto, and marched south into the city.
 
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This post is part of The Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour, exploring the connections between the history of Toronto and the United Kingdom. You can read more here

During the Tour, I left a few dreams for William Lyon Mackenzie at spots around London related to his trip. Like here, at Brunswick Square, where he lived with his family and stayed up all night writing, near where University College is today:


Outside the House of Lords at Westminster, where he came to see the Great Reform Act passed:


Outside the Foreign & Commonwealth Office at Downing Street, which used to be called the Colonial Office and still stands on the same spot as the old Colonial Office, where Mackenzie came to argue in favour of democratic reform in Upper Canada:

 
At 16 Charing Cross, the address of Francis Place's tailor's shop, where Mackenzie came to meet the famous Radical leader: 


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I've written lots more about William Lyon Mackenzie, his rebellion, and the battle for Canadian democracy in a series of posts starting here.

Many of the details in this post come thanks to William Kilbourn's Mackenzie biography: The Firebrand: William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion in Upper Canada. You can buy it here, borrow it from the Toronto Public Library here, or read it on Google Books here. Electric Canada also talks a lot of Mackenzie's mission to London here.

You can read J.R.M. Butler's book, The Passing of the Great Reform Bill here. You can read Mackenzie's "Proclamation to the People of Upper Canada" here. And you can learn more about Upper Canada's relationship with the Colonial Office thanks to the late William R. Wilson's wonderfully helpful "Historical Narratives of Early Canada" here.  Mackenzie's biography in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography is online here. His Wikipedia entry is here.

Somewhat tangentially, something I stumbled across while researching this post: Chris Raible has share some interesting thoughts on the history of Mackenzie's famous red wig here.

Images: Toronto in the 1830s via Wikimedia Commons; political cartoon about the Reform Bill via The Camden Review; Viscout Goderich via Wikimedia Commons; the Coldbath Fields Riot via The Islington Tribune; The Rebellion of 1837 by C.W. Jeffreys via Parks Canada.



This post is related to dream
10 The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern
William Lyon Mackenzie, 1837

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Toronto Sound

This week in my column for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, I wrote a bit about The Toronto Sound show. It was a landmark in the history of our city's 1960s music scene. A 14-hour showcase of local bands at Maple Leaf Gardens that attracted big label reps from all over the continent. They played a distinct, raw style of rock & roll that became known as "The Toronto Sound". Some of the best bands in T.O. played the show, including The Ugly Ducklings, The Paupers and The Big Town Boys.

You can check out the full story here.

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Photo: The 5 Rising Suns play The Toronto Sound show (via Garage Hangover)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dream 09 "The Ghost of John Ridout" (Samuel Jarvis, 1826)

Nearly ten years after he killed the man in a duel, Samuel Jarvis dreamed that he was being haunted by John Ridout’s ghost. The young man appeared at the foot of his bed, naked, dead, pale gray and blue, with a messy, gaping hole in the middle of his chest. You could see straight through it to the wall beyond. And all along the wound’s edges, rotting flesh twisted and squirmed, made alive by the gluttonous writhing of maggots and worms.

Jarvis froze. His breath caught in his throat. His eyes slammed shut. Tight. His heart hammered in his ears. He tried to keep still, perfectly still, to not flinch or twitch a single muscle as he felt his feet go cold. The blood and pus was oozing out of Ridout’s wound and dripping wet onto his naked toes.

Jarvis woke with a start. The ghost was gone. Mary slept peacefully beside him. He was safe. He caught his breath, pulled the linens down over his feet, and lay there, awake, until the sun rose.

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Learn more about the true history of Samuel Jarvis and the Jarvis family here. Explore more Toronto Dreams Project postcards here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

UK Tour Photos: Bristol, Bath & Thornbury

On the Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour, I headed from London to Wales and from Wales back across the border into England's West Country. My first stop on that leg of the tour brought to me to spend one night in Bristol. There weren't any particular connections to Toronto history's there — but I used it as a base to explore two nearby towns where there were plenty.

Bath is just a ten minute train ride from Bristol. I headed there as soon as I'd checked into my hotel on the night I arrived. It's a World Heritage Site — one of five I would visit on my trip — home to the famous Roman baths. And it was easily one of the most beautiful places I saw on the entire trip. The gorgeous surroundings and supposedly healthy spring water attracted many visitors in the 1700s and the 1800s. And the Simcoes were among them. The parents of John Graves Simcoe — the governor who founded Toronto — got married at Bath Abbey, which looms over the complex of Roman baths. (It's the cathedral in the big photo above.) His wife, Elizabeth Simcoe, was a frequent visitor too. I left a dream for her outside the church.

Meanwhile, the town of Thornbury is a short-ish bus ride north of Bristol. So I headed there when I woke up the next morning. It's the town where John Rolph was born. He was a doctor and a lawyer and one of the most important political figures in the early history of Toronto. He was a leading advocate for democratic reform — eventually becoming a key ally to William Lyon Mackenzie. If the rebel mayor's revolution had been successful, Rolph would have become the first Canadian President. I left a bunch of dreams for him in Thornbury. And wrote a whole post about it here.

Bristol itself was pretty amazing, too. I was only able to wander around the city for a few hours — I had hurry south to Exeter for the next leg of my tour — but it was another highlight of the trip. It was bustling with life on a Friday evening, a mix of university students and artists, of historical buildings and graffiti (it's Bansky's hometown), that reminded me of Toronto more than any other place I visited on the entire trip. I hope to get to back someday.
 
You can find all of my best photos from all three of those spots on Facebook — viewable whether or not you have an account — right here:
 

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