Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What Happened At Toronto's G20 Kettle, According To The RCMP

When the Mounties got to Queen & Spadina, the kettling had already started. About half an hour earlier, the Toronto Police Service — who were in charge of everything outside the G20 fence — had given the order to "box in" everyone at the intersection and arrest them all for "conspiracy to commit mischief." The RCMP unit, who were assisting them, arrived at about 6pm; protesters and passers-by would be kept there, in the street, in the rain, surrounded by police in riot gear, without any possible exit, without food or water or access to a washroom, for hours to come. The Mounties would help keep them there. They would kettle them despite the fact that RCMP policy forbid them from kettling anyone. And that they weren't trained to do it. And that some officers were openly questioning the orders.

That's all according to a report from the RCMP Public Complaints Commission — it was released in May of 2012, almost two years after the G20 summit turned downtown Toronto into an armed camp patrolled by nearly 20,000 police officers. The Commission, meant to "hold the RCMP accountable to the public," investigated a series of complaints against the Mounties, including what happened during the kettling at Queen & Spadina.

According to the report, things were already confusing by the time the RCMP arrived on the scene. They couldn't, for instance, find the on-site Commander — for two whole hours. The RCMP's own Commander — knowing that kettling was against RCMP policy, unable to find the on-site Commander — confirmed the order with the Toronto Police command centre and finally agreed to help with the kettle. He didn't talk to anyone higher up at the RCMP. "In the absence of somebody telling me what to do," the Commander explained to the Commission, "we just worked it out amongst ourselves."

His Mounties marched into the crowd, splitting the kettle in half. Over the next two hours, they would play their part alongside the Toronto Police Service and the OPP, surrounding 300 people with a wall of shields and riot gear. Not a single person who was kept in the kettle and was later interviewed by the Commission said they had heard any kind of warning to clear the area before they were surrounded. Many had been peaceful protesters; others were just curious onlookers. Some were local residents, out walking their dogs or getting ice cream. Scores of them would be arrested. YouTube footage showed how some of the arrests happened: a sudden break in the wall of riot gear, an officer rushing forward to grab someone from behind, roughly dragging them out of the kettle as they scream in terror, and then the row of riot police closing in again. 

According to the report, during the two hours the Mounties assisted with the kettle, they arrested five people. The RCMP Commander told the Commission they were arrested "because it was felt that they may pose a risk". What he didn't tell the Commission was that two of those five people turned out to be undercover police officers. He later explained that he didn't think that information was "significant".

He also didn't shed any light on the specific justifications for those particular arrests — whether the undercover police officers really were doing something that could "pose a risk," or whether they were arrested without just cause. The notes of the officers who did the arresting weren't any help: they hadn't even bothered to take down the names of the people they were arresting, never mind recording the fact that they were accidentally arresting fellow officers. According to the report, "It was only through an inadvertent comment that the Commission was made aware of the incident."

Toronto Police along Queen the day before the kettle
Finally, at about 8pm, the RCMP managed to track down the on-site Commander1. By then, even the riot police were soaked from standing in the downpour. The Mounties asked to leave so they would have time to dry out their equipment before heading home to Vancouver in the morning. Their request was granted; they left. When the RCMP Commander asked why — with the G20 pretty much over — people were still being held in the kettle, he was told the Toronto Police were still planning on arresting them all.

According to news reports, it would be another two hours before Toronto's Police Chief, Bill Blair, ordered that anyone still under arrest at Queen & Spadina should be released. By the time they were let go, nearly five hours had passed since the kettling had started. And many of those who had been held would continue to suffer for years to come: from post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks, estranged from friends and family members who refused to believe their story, their faith in Canadian justice deeply shaken.

A year later, the Toronto Police would promise never to kettle anyone ever again.

But kettling wasn't the only issue investigated by the RCMP Complaints Commissioner. The Mounties, according his report, were not involved in much activity outside the fence — they weren't the ones attacking protesters at Queen's Park, arresting people without warrants at the University of Toronto, or running the detention centre on Eastern Avenue. But as the police force with "primary responsibility" for general security at all international conferences, the Mounties were heavily involved in the planning for the event. And the report raises plenty of questions about that planning2.

It was rushed. And the Commission found that the various police forces involved didn't do enough to coordinate their operations. At the G8, for instance, which was held outside Toronto just before the G20, they had co-organized everything and put together a joint "Concept of Operations" document. Neither of those things was done for the G20 and it caused major problems — like the confusion around the RCMP's involvement in the kettling3. The RCMP Commander at Queen & Spadina wasn't clear on what he was supposed to do, disconnected from the Mounties' chain-of-command. They hadn't addressed the kettling question in the lead up to the event even though it was one of the highest profile issues heading into Toronto's G20 — there had been an inquiry into the use of a kettle by the London police during the G20 held in England the year before

And yet somehow, despite all of this, the report clears the RCMP of responsibility. The Complaints Commissioner concludes that "on balance" they did "a pretty good job." Their actions "were, in a general sense, reasonable and appropriate." The planning "was robust and thorough."  There was "attention paid to ensuring the rights of demonstrators." And the Complaints Commissioner's conclusions were echoed in headlines all over the country. The CBC: "report clears RCMP." CTV: "RCMP acted reasonably." The National Post: "Report exonerates RCMP."

Some of the report's recommendations make those conclusions sound particularly strange. The report says the RCMP should "make best efforts to establish, together with its partners, clear operational guidelines prior to an event where integrated policing will occur." It also reminds them that "there is at least some onus on the RCMP to ensure that any actions taken—even at the command of another police force—have a reasonable basis in law and some justification from a policing perspective." What the Commissioner doesn't explain is how a lack of "clear operational guidelines" and failure to ensure their actions had "a reasonable basis in law" can still be called "a pretty good job."

Spadina, south of Queen, on the day before
Of course, there's plenty of reason to believe that the Complaints Commissioner didn't know what he was talking about. Mostly because when he got the job, he told reporters that he didn't know what he was talking about.

The RCMP Complaints Commissioner used to be a man by the name of Paul Kennedy. He was a career civil servant with 35 years of relevant experience, including time working with CSIS (the Canadian intelligence agency). He was reappointed by Stephen Harper's Conservatives when they first came to power and initially everything seemed to be going well. His contract was renewed every year; the Conservatives praised his "commitment to achieving excellence in policing through enhanced accountability." They even promised to expand his powers.

But then, he said some things the Conservatives didn't like. He suggested the Mounties shouldn't be allowed to police themselves when they killed or injured someone. He investigated claims they might have illegally helped Harper win the 2006 election. And that they were barring liberals from Conservative events during the 2011 election. When four Mounties tasered a man to death at the Vancouver airport, Kennedy released a scathing report, laying out a long list of all the mistakes they had made. When they tasered a fifteen year-old girl while she was lying handcuffed on the floor being held down by three officers (and then tried to cover it up, and then investigated and cleared themselves for it), he released another scathing report. He complained when the Conservatives slashed the Complaints Commission budget. And he complained, over and over again, when the RCMP refused to cooperate with his investigations, wouldn't answer his questions, wouldn't allow him see documents, and took years to respond to his requests. More than anything, he complained that he didn't actually have any real power to hold the RCMP accountable at all.

So he was replaced. Harper's government let Kennedy go and in his place they appointed a man by the name of Ian McPhail. (He is still the Chair of the Commission today.) McPhail's background was in real estate and wills. He had no experience with criminal law or civilian oversight. As he explained to reporters when he was hired, "Look, you probably know more about the background there than I do."

But he did happen to be a long-time Conservative ally, with ties to the party going all the way back to the 1970s. When Mike Harris wanted to chip away at environmental regulations, he appointed Ian McPhail as Chair of the Environmental Review Tribunal. When he wanted to chip away at public broadcasting, he named Ian McPhail as the head of TVO. And when Harper wanted to curb criticism of the RCMP, he named Ian McPhail as the RCMP watchdog3. And he did it right around the same time that he announced the G20 would be coming to Toronto.

Still, even the most experienced and objective Complaints Commissioner would have trouble holding the RCMP to account. As McPhail's report points out, the RCMP Act "does not require the RCMP to cooperate with a Commission public interest investigation." It was the RCMP who got to "[set] out the conditions under which the Commission would be permitted to view RCMP documentation" and "crafted a protocol" for viewing them. Almost all of the information McPhail refers to in his report comes from the RCMP themselves: from interviews with officers (who, as we've seen, didn't always include significant information they claimed to be insignificant) and the notes they took (which the report repeatedly mentions as being inadequate and poorly prepared). One RCMP officer refused to talk to the Commission altogether4.

Police along Queen Street the day before
So in the end, the report's greatest contribution is to highlight all of the ways in which the report is woefully inadequate. The Commission could only interview Mounties who wanted to talk, could only see RCMP documents the RCMP wanted to share, and relied on notes that were never taken, or were incorrectly taken, or were poorly organized. It was put together by an inexperienced Complaints Commissioner with no relevant background in this kind of law, with deep political ties to a ruling party that has been accused of their own improper ties to the RCMP. (In fact, one of jobs of the report was to look for evidence the Conservatives had inappropriately interfered with summit security.5) The report couldn't address questions about the RCMP's undercover intelligence gathering because they were currently being sued over it. And maybe most importantly, the report could only address the RCMP's role — one part of a massive operation involving 20,000 police officers from many different police forces and questionable decisions made by three different levels of government.

There is a lot to investigate. In the first two years after the G20, there were at least ten separate reports launched into the police actions during the summit, all of them with their own specific concerns. (Ontario's police watchdog released his own report just a week before the RCMP report, slamming the police forces involved for using "excessive force," having "ignored basic rights citizens have under the charter," adopting inflammatory rhetoric6, and making "unlawful" arrests. That watchdog called what happened at Queen & Spadina "unreasonable and unnecessary.") But none of them had the power to investigate the entire story7. Many of the reports point to problems with the way the police forces worked together, but none of them was able to fully examine those overarching issues — or the fundamental decisions that may have caused them.

That's why groups like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association called for a full public inquiry into security at the G20. They've demanded a comprehensive investigation of exactly what happened, who made what decisions, and which decisions were the right ones and which were the wrong ones — all the way from the Prime Minster's Office down to the frontlines at Queen & Spadina. They want an explanation of how we got to a point where violent anarchists ran free through the streets, police cars burned, and more than 1,100 people were arrested8. Because a full investigation, from top to bottom, with real power, led by an experienced and impartial Commissioner, is the only way to truly learn what happened. And we're going to have to learn what happened if we want to make sure it never happens again.

Five years later, we're still waiting.



You can read the full RCMP Complaint Commission report here. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association's response is here.

To read the footnotes, hover your cursor over them.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Little Red Umbrella in 2012.

All photos by Adam Bunch.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Tour of Queen & Spadina A Hundred Years Ago

It has been nearly two hundred years since the intersection of Queen & Spadina was born. When the two roads first met, Toronto still wasn't even a city yet: it was the town of York, home to less than two thousand people. Queen Street had been one of the very first roads the British built when they got here, part of the original plans for Toronto all the way back in 1793. They called it Lot Street back then, the northern edge of the first few blocks built in the new town (right around the St. Lawrence Market). A few decades later, it was renamed in honour of Queen Victoria.

By then, Spadina had also been built. It was laid out as a wide avenue by William Warren Baldwin, a doctor and lawyer who also designed Osgoode Hall and would play a leading role in the political struggle for Canadian democracy. He had just built a brand new house on his sprawling country estate; it stood on the hill above Davenport: the original Spadina House. Baldwin had the grand avenue carved out of the forest south of his home in order to get a better view of the lake. The estate, the house and the new road would all be given the same name: Spadina. It's an Anglicized version of an Ojibwe word: "Ishpadinaa" ("a place on a hill").

So it was when Baldwin built his avenue in the 1820s that the intersection of Queen & Spadina was first created.

Back in those early days, the intersection was way off on the outskirts of town, just outside the official border of the tiny new Upper Canadian capital. But it didn't stay that way for long. Toronto grew quickly over the course of the 1800s. By the time the early 1900s rolled around, Queen & Spadina was at the heart of a bustling metropolis.

By then, some landmarks that are familiar to us today were already there. The Bank of Hamilton opened on the north-east corner in 1902. It's been there ever since; it's home to a CIBC branch now. You can see it in the photo above (from 1908 or '09) and in this photo from 1912:

You can also see it in this photo from a night in the early 1920s. The new streetlamps had just been installed about ten years earlier — at the same period when power lines from Niagara were bringing public-owned electricity to Toronto for the very first time:

And the Bank of Hamilton isn't the only building to have survived the last hundred years. The building on the south-east corner — today it's a Hero Burger — was already there a century ago. It's been there since the 1880s, originally a dry goods store designed by the architectural firm of Langley & Burke. (They're the same fellows behind the Bloor Street Viaduct, the Necropolis Chapel, and churches and cathedrals like Metropolitan United, Trinity St. Paul's, and the spires of St. James and St. Michael's.) It's been there so long, in fact, that the column in front of the door to the building has been worn away by the countless hands that have touched it over the last hundred and thirty years. Right now, it's protected by plywood and propped up until it can be restored.

You can see the building, with its iconic turret, in this photo from 1910, which was taken looking east down Queen Street toward the intersection:

But of course not every building overlooking Queen & Spadina in the early 1900s has survived the last century. The building that stood on the north-west corner back then is gone today. The spot is now home to McDonald's. But back in the early days of film, it was a movie theatre that stood on that same corner.

The Mary Pickford Auditorium was named after Toronto's first big movie star. She had been born on University Avenue (where Sick Kids is now) back in the late 1800s and launched her acting career as a young girl on the stages of the theatres of King Street. Before long, she'd moved to the United States, where she quickly became one of the very first superstars of the silver screen. At the time the Mary Pickford Auditorium was charging people a nickel to watch movies at Queen & Spadina, Mary Pickford was one of the most famous people in the entire world.
You can see both the Mary Pickford Auditoirm (on the left) and the Bank of Hamilton (on the right) in this photo from 1910. It also gives you a good view of just how wide the sidewalk used to be on that north-west corner outside the theatre:

The pole in the middle of the photo seems to be a streetcar stop — right on the very same corner where we still catch the Queen streetcar today. They were rumbling through the intersection back then just like they do in the 21st century.

Here you can see some streetcar track work being done in the spring of 1912 — much like the track replacement that shut down the intersection for two weeks a hundred years later, during the summer of 2012:

And here again in 1922:

And here is the Queen streetcar itself, picking up passengers at Queen & Spadina during the First World War. We're looking at the south-east corner of the intersection — that's the Hero Burger building behind them:

But one of the most interesting features of Queen & Spadina had nothing to do with buildings or transit. It was in the middle of the intersection, buried beneath the ground: a public washroom. You got to it by descending a subway-style staircase in an island in the middle of Spadina, just a bit south of the intersection. It's at about the same spot where you get off the southbound Spadina streetcar today. Here's someone heading down to relieve himself during the 1890s:

You can also see the entrance to the washroom in this photo, looking south from the intersection in the winter of 1914:

And in this one, we're looking north up Spadina at the intersection, with a tree-lined streetcar right-of-way heading up the middle of the street. You can also see the Mary Pickford Auditorium (on the left), the Bank of Hamilton (on the right), and some other buildings in the distance that still survive to this day:

Finally, you can see what the washroom looked like on the inside here. The signs on the stalls read "Please do not use closets as urinals" — an attempt to spare the toilet seats:

But even with warnings like that in place, many found the public washrooms distasteful. They soon went out of fashion. By the end of the 1930s, Queen & Spadina's underground loo had been sealed off and filled in: sinks, stalls, urinals and all.

It was just the beginning of a long century of change, which has given us the Queen & Spadina of today: an intersection that would seem both familiar and strange to the Torontonians who passed through it a hundred years ago.


All photos from the Toronto Archives, except the washroom interior, the Queen streetcar, the streetcar work in 1922  (which are all from Library & Archives Canada) and the main image (from Wikipedia). 

You can check out more old photos of Spadina thanks to Derek Flack at blogTO right here. And take a virtual iTour of Spadina thanks to Heritage Toronto over here. The Toronto Archives have posted a whole set of old Queen West photos on Flickr here. And Lost Toronto has a bunch of neat then-and-now posts about the intersection here. There's also a little bit more about the turret/Hero Building building here.

You can read Chris Bateman's post, "What happened to all the public washrooms in Toronto?" here. And his history of public toilets in our city here.

You'll find Doug Taylor's post about the washroom at Queen & Spadina here. His post on the intersection with a focus on the Mary Pickford here. And a photo of the theatre from the 1930s on his blog here

Lost Rivers shared some information about Spadina here. And the Toronto Historical Association has some about William Warren Baldwin and the Spadina estate here. William Warren Baldwin is on Wikipedia here. Spadina House is here. And Spadina Avenue is here.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Canadian Stop On The London Underground

A version of this post was original published on March 19, 2014. Now that I've visited Canada Water as part of the Toronto Dream's Project UK Tour, I've updated the post with my own photos and impressions.

This is Canada Water Station. It's a stop on the London Underground. It's right near the Thames, in the middle of the city, just a couple of stops east of London Bridge. And it has a particularly interesting connection to the history of Toronto.

The subway station is pretty new: it opened in 1999. But this exact spot has been a transportation hub for centuries. For about 300 years, it was home to the Surrey Docks: some of the busiest docks in London. As the British Empire boomed, ships from all over the world came here to unload their cargo. The first docks were built on this spot in the 1600s, long before the British ruled Canada and founded Toronto. It all started with whalers — at what they called Greenland Dock. Then, there was timber from Scandinavia and the Baltics — so they built Russia Dock and Norway Dock and Finland Quay and Swedish Quay.

But by the end of the 1800s, trade with Canada was booming too. We were sending a HUGE number of goods across the Atlantic into the heart of London — including, for a while, enormous old white pines from the Rouge Valley. They were needed as masts for British ships (which I wrote about in my post "How Napoleon Bonaparte Is Indirectly Responsible For One Of The Best Walking Trails In Toronto"). In the 1870s, they built Canada Dock. There was a Quebec Pond, too.

So that's how Canada Water Station got its name: it was built on the exact same spot where the northern end of Canada Dock used to be. Where our ships unloaded our goods to be sold to the English.

And that's not all. Today, the site of the old docks is being developed. If you head upstairs from the subway station, you'll find an entire new neighbourhood called Canada Water. There's an ornamental lake where Canada Dock used to be; it's called Canada Water. A crazy new modernist library is called the Canada Water Library. Canada Street is right nearby. And there's the Maple Quays condo development, including Vancouver House, Victoria House, Montreal House, Ontario Point and, of course, Toronto House.

I pay the neighbourhood a visit during the Dreams Project's UK Tour last summer. It mad for a lovely, calm oasis in the middle of the city as Londoners headed home after work on a blistering hot Friday afternoon. It was a relatively quiet place, with swans floating through the lake, while ducks and other waterfowl make their homes in the nearby Albion Channel.

The Canada Water lake

Canada Water Library

Remnants of the old dock

Toronto House balconies look out over the lake

Toronto House

The Albion Channel connects Canada Water to Surrey Water, and from there, the Thames

Toronto House and the Albion Channel, home to a variety of waterfowl

Canada Water, with the Shard in the background

A German bomber flies above the Surrey Docks during WWII; it's the peninsula in the upper-left/west of the photo


Read more posts about The Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour and the connections between the history of Toronto and the United Kingdom here

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Toronto's Founding Dog & How He Almost Got Eaten

It was the summer of 1793. The summer our city was founded. On an early Tuesday morning, as the late July sun rose above Lake Ontario, a British warship sailed into Toronto Bay. She was the HMS Mississauga. She had sailed overnight from Niagara, arriving in darkness, waiting for dawn and a local fur trader to show her the way through the treacherous shoals at the mouth of the harbour. On board was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada: John Graves Simcoe. His family was with him, too. The Simcoes had come to found a new capital for the new province: a tiny muddy town that would eventually grow into a booming metropolis of concrete and glass filled with millions of people.

The Simcoes weren't alone. They had brought their pets with them. There was a white cat with grey spots and a big friendly beast of a dog. He was a Newfoundland. His name was Jack Sharp.

Newfoundlands are a Canadian dog. By the time Jack Sharp was born, his breed had already been living on the island of Newfoundland for centuries. They've been there so long that no one is entirely sure where they came from — how they were first bred or evolved. Some people like to say they're descended from the big black bear dogs the Vikings brought with them across the Atlantic a thousand years ago. Others say their ancestors were the wild wolves of Newfoundland, or the domesticated hunting dogs of the local First Nations people. But most seem to think they were probably bred by the first European fishermen to come to Canada — sailors from the Basque Country and from Portugal who spent their summers fishing the waters off the coast of Newfoundland in the very early 1500s. However it happened, by the time the first colonists made the island their permanent home, the Newfoundland dog was solidly established as its own distinct breed.

They were perfect for life on the frontier. Big and strong and brave. Smart and loyal. They have webbed feet and a thick, waterproof coat, so they're fantastic swimmers. Just like their cousins the St. Bernards, they're famous for rescuing people. When the first European explorers headed west toward the Pacific, Newfoundlands were at their side — one travelled with the famous British-Canadian map-maker David Thompson; another with the Americans Lewis and Clark. The dogs became a familiar sight for Canadian pioneers.

The Niagara River by Elizabeth Simcoe, 1790s
Jack Sharp was one of those frontier dogs. He lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake back in the days when it was still a new settlement — so new it didn't even have a church yet; an isolated outpost at the spot where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. It was called Newark back then, a tiny town with a tiny population. But for a few brief years, it was the centre of political power in Upper Canada: the brand new capital of the brand new province, which had recently been created as a safe haven for Loyalist refugees in the wake of the American Revolution. 

The first Governor of the new province arrived at Niagara in the summer of 1792. It took John Graves Simcoe and his family nearly a year to make the long trip from England all the way out to the edge of the Canadian frontier. They spent two months sailing across the Atlantic, an entire winter stuck in Quebec City, and another two months travelling up the St. Lawrence and across Lake Ontario.

Back home in England, they'd enjoyed life on a sprawling country estate with a legion of servants to take care of them. At Niagara, life was much more rustic. They pitched a pair of elaborate tents on the banks of the river — the same canvas houses once used by the legendary explorer Captain Cook on his famous travels through the Pacific. The Simcoes still had plenty of help and lots of nice things, but life in Canada was much more difficult than it had been back home. The Governor's wife, Elizabeth, even suffered from a bout of malaria.

Still, the Simcoes did all they could to bring their British way of life to Upper Canada — that was, in fact, part of their mission. While the Governor busied himself running his new province, Elizabeth kept a detailed diary, painted watercolours, did needlework and entertained the most powerful Upper Canadian families. Her calendar was filled with social events: dinners, dances, balls and card games with people like the Jarvises, the Russells and Chief Justice Osgoode. Even Prince Edward, the future father of Queen Victoria, came all the way to Niagara for an official state visit. And there were visits from important First Nations allies, too, like the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, Thayendanegea.

Elizabeth Simcoe
Elizabeth also had a family to run. The Simcoes had brought their youngest children with them to Canada: Sophia was in her terrible twos; Francis had just turned one. Even with a pair of nurses to help, the toddlers were more than a handful. And Elizabeth was pregnant yet again. That winter in the canvas house, she gave birth to a baby girl they named Katherine.

Even on the frontier, the Simcoe children would grow up with plenty of pets. Once they got to Upper Canada, the Simcoes had been given a white cat with grey spots and a hound called Trojan. Trojan was a gift for the kids, but it was Elizabeth Simcoe that he loved best. He even slept in her room inside the canvas house at night. And soon, there was another new addition to the menagerie. Jack Sharp had been the sheriff's dog. But when the Simcoes arrived, the big Newfoundland quickly fell in love with them. Before long, he had managed to adopt them as his own, joining their growing family. 

Elizabeth wrote about the animals in her diary — and about the mischief they caused. When Jack Sharp joined Governor Simcoe on a long trip to Detroit, the big dog faced off against a raccoon and then attacked a porcupine and earned a neck full of quills. When Elizabeth left Trojan alone in her tent with a map she'd painstakingly drawn, the hound tore it to pieces. (Governor Simcoe, who fancied himself something of a poet, even wrote some verses to mark the occasion: "Upon the Dog Trojan tearing the Map of N. America.")

Sadly, Trojan wouldn't live to see Toronto. He met a tragic end in the spring of 1793 — on a strangely hot day in early April. The heat was sweltering, recorded as high as 45°C. It was so hot that Trojan fell ill. When one of Simcoe's soldiers saw the symptoms, he made a terrible mistake: he thought Trojan had contracted rabies. He hadn't — if he had, he would have been scared of the water and wouldn't have waded out into the river to cool off like he did. But the soldier didn't know any better: he shot the dog dead.

So that summer, when the Simcoe family left Niagara, it was only their cat and Jack Sharp who came with them. 

They left because Niagara wasn't going to be safe anymore. Soon, the Americans would be taking over the other side of the river; it was one of the peace terms negotiated in the wake of the Revolution. The big guns of Fort Niagara were over there — just across the mouth of the river from Niagara-on-the-Lake. The tiny capital would be almost impossible to defend if the Americans decided to invade. And it seemed inevitable they would. Simcoe needed to find a new capital. Fast.

Toronto harbour by Elizabeth Simcoe, 1793
The spot he eventually picked was directly north across the lake from Niagara: a place called Toronto. There, a natural harbour had been formed by a long sandbar that would eventually become the Toronto islands. There was only one way into the bay, so it would be relatively easy to defend against an attack. That's where Simcoe would build his new capital.

In the middle of July, the Governor sent a hundred soldiers across the lake to begin work. They were the Queen's Rangers; some of them, the very same men Simcoe had commanded while fighting against the American rebels during the Revolution. At Toronto, his troops would build on land the British had "bought" from the Mississaugas years earlier (with a document so sketchy the Canadian government would eventually settle a land claim for $145 million). Simcoe's men made camp at a spot near the entrance to the harbour, at the mouth of what would become known as Garrison Creek. There, they got to work felling trees, hacking away at the ancient forest that towered over the shore. Great pines and oaks came crashing to the ground. In their place, a military base began to take shape: Fort York. It was the beginning a brand new town. Simcoe would call it York; we call it Toronto.

Back at Niagara, the Simcoes were getting ready to follow the Queen's Rangers across the lake. The Governor had just finished overseeing a session of the Upper Canadian legislature — one of the most important parliamentary sessions in Canadian history. Simcoe wanted to abolish slavery; the elected assembly balked. Slave-owning families like the Jarvises and the Russells were planning to bring their slaves with them to the new capital. Simcoe convinced them to accept a comprise: they could keep the slaves they already owned, but no new slaves could enter the province and the children of slaves would be freed when they reached the age of 25. The Act Against Slavery was the first law to abolish slavery in the history of the British Empire.

It was at the very end of that same month — on July 29th — that the Simcoes left Niagara. That night, the family and their pets climbed aboard the HMS Mississauga. She was a big warship: an armed schooner. An impressive way to travel — for a human or a dog.

As the Simcoes slept, the warship sailed north across the lake. Early the next morning, she made her careful way into Toronto Bay.

Toronto shoreline by Elizabeth Simcoe, 1796
It was the middle of the afternoon by the time the Governor and his wife went ashore for the first time. And when they did, they brought the dog with them.

Jack Sharp was far from the first canine to ever set paw on this land. Wolves and foxes roamed the woods around Toronto. And domesticated dogs had been here as long as humans had. The people of the First Nations and their ancestors had been hunting with them on the northern shore of Lake Ontario for thousands and thousands of years before our city was founded. As the Wendat-Huron historian George Sioui points out, dogs played an important role in the spiritual life of his own nation. The first racist French missionaries — anxious to paint the First Nations as "uncivilized" — claimed those dogs were only being raised for their meat. "Like sheep," they said. But in fact, dog meat was only consumed during important ritual ceremonies, and the people shared a close bond with their canine companions. The Wendat had long said that souls travel a path through the stars when they die: humans along the Milky Way and their dogs along a celestial dog path right next to them. In more recent years, as the first Europeans arrived, other dogs must have visited Toronto. Many of the explorers, fur traders and early settlers who passed through the area probably had dogs with them, too.
So Jack Sharp wasn't Toronto's first dog. Not by a long shot. But he was our city's founding dog: the canine member of the first family to establish the town that would grow into our modern metropolis.

A few days after they arrived, the Simcoes pitched their canvas houses just across the creek from Fort York, where they could watch as the Queen's Rangers hammered and sawed away. That's when they brought the children ashore, along with the nurses and servants. By the end of the first week of August, the entire family, including Jack Sharp, was living in the fancy tents at the mouth of Garrison Creek. In the months to come, the town itself would begin to take shape: the first ten blocks were carved out of the woods where the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhoood is now. From George Street over to Berkeley; from Front Street up to Adelaide.

It's easy to imagine what life in Toronto must have been like for Jack Sharp. Splashing in the shallows of the harbour as waterfowl scattered into the sky. Playing with the Simcoe children on the beach. Racing through the old forest, chasing chipmunks, rabbits and squirrels.

Toronto 1793 (with HMS Mississauga) by Elizabeth Simcoe
But for the humans, life on shore at Toronto was even harder than life at Niagara had been. There, at least, the settlers enjoyed an established town. Here, the town was still being built. Many of the province's other most powerful families were shocked by the Simcoes' living conditions. As Peter Russell wrote to his sister, "you have no conception of the Misery in which they live..." The other leading political families dragged their feet, staying at Niagara as long as they could before following the Simcoes across the lake.

The First Family of Upper Canada suffered through an entire winter at Toronto. But the most terrible moment of the Simcoes' time in Canada came the following spring. Katherine Simcoe had been a very healthy baby; she was more than a year old now, beginning to walk and to talk, old enough to start playing with the cat and Jack Sharp. But in April she suddenly fell very ill. It may have been malaria or some other similar disease. A fever turned into a terrifying night of uncontrollable spasms. By morning, she was gone. She was buried in a new cemetery near the fort; today, it's a park we call Victoria Memorial Square, just a bit south-east of Bathurst & King.

For the Simcoes, death was never far away. The previous fall, Jack Sharp had had his own brush with mortality. And Governor Simcoe, too.

It came during a long trip north. Simcoe wanted to find the best route from Toronto all the way up to Lake Huron. Easy movement through the province would be vital in case of an American invasion. And that was seeming ever-more imminent: the British were now at war with France, the Americans' allies, caught up in the violence that engulfed Europe in the wake the French Revolution. Simcoe was worried the trouble would spread across the Atlantic — which it soon would with the War of 1812. The Simcoes' peaceful life at Toronto felt precarious. Enemy ships might sail over the horizon at any moment; enemy troops might emerge from the woods. As she slept in her canvas house at night, Elizabeth had nightmares about it. In fact, when the Simcoes finally sailed home to England, French warships would be waiting to chase them out of the mouth of the St. Lawrence. Both John Graves Simcoe and his son Francis would eventually die in the fight against Napoleon.

So that September, Simcoe and his men headed north with the help of Ojibway guides. Jack Sharp went with them, too. They travelled up a portage route called the Toronto Carrying-Place. The big dog made for something of an awkward passenger in a canoe, but they made quick progress up the Humber River, through the marshlands far to the north of Toronto, and then along the Holland River to a lake the French called Lac aux Claies.

John Graves Simcoe
When they arrived, Simcoe renamed the lake, like he was renaming just about everything he found in Upper Canada. He called it "Lake Simcoe" — not after himself, but after his father, who had died in Canada during the last war against the French, just a few months before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

There, Simcoe found his route north. It wouldn't be hard to get from Lake Simcoe to Lake Huron — and to make things even easier, he would have a road built north from Toronto toward the Holland River. He named the road after a friend, the British Secretary at War: Sir George Yonge.

But getting home now — with Yonge Street still just a dream — would prove to be an unexpectedly perilous challenge.

As Simcoe, his men, his dog and the Ojibway guides all headed back south toward Toronto, their luck began to turn against them. One man had nearly severed a toe and couldn't walk anymore; others would fall ill. The party was forced to split up. The group Simcoe was with only had enough food for one day, but had a five-day journey ahead of them. From there, things quickly got worse. They were taking a different route home than the one they'd taken north: this time, they were heading along the eastern fork of the Toronto Carrying-Place portage route, which headed south down the Rouge River. They got lost along the way, stumbling through the woods for days on end, never quite sure where they were. Meanwhile, their rations were growing dangerous low. If they didn't find home soon, they would starve.

Things were getting desperate. So a plan took shape. If they didn't find Toronto that day, they would have no choice. They would kill Jack Sharp. And then eat him.

The Newfoundland was spared just in the nick of time. First, the men came across a surveyor's line. It was a good sign. And then, through the trees they spotted it: Lake Ontario. They finally knew where they were: just a few kilometers from the tiny new Upper Canadian capital. They were ecstatic. That morning, they wolfed down the rest of their food for breakfast and then finally headed west toward home.

The founder of Toronto was saved. And so was Toronto's founding dog. 


That painting at the top of this post isn't Jack Sharp, but another famous Newfoundland dog called Bob. The painting is called "A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society" by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, painted in 1831. Bob was found in a shipwreck off the coast of England and would go on to save twenty-three people from drowning in the Thames over the course of fourteen years.

You can read my post about the Simcoe's cat hereabout Elizabeth Simcoe's nightmare here, and about John Graves Simcoe's vision for Toronto (a city so awesome it would undo the American Revolution) here.

You can read Elizabeth Simcoe's diary online here. You can borrow it from the Toronto Public Library here. Or buy it from Amazon here.

You can read excerpts from Elizabeth Simcoe biography, by Mary Beacock Fryer, on Google Books here, buy it here, or borrow it here from the Toronto Public Library. Her biography of John Graves Simcoe written with Christopher Dracott is here and here. While her biography of Francis Simcoe is here and here.

You can read Bathsheba Susannah Wesley's fascinating Master's thesis about her habit of setting small fires during her time in Canada here [PDF]. The always excellent Dictionary of Canadian Biography has a full bio for Elizabeth Simcoe here. And John Graves Simcoe here. You can learn more about the soldiers who built Toronto, the Queen's Rangers, here. And learn more about the Simcoe's canvas houses here.

Learn more about the historian George Sioui from the Tyee here. The New York Times has a history of dogs in the early Americas here. Cheryl MacDonald writes about Jack Sharp and other famous Newfoundlands in her book "Celebrated Pets" on Google Books here. Jack Sharp also gets mentions in a footnote to Richard D. Merritt's "On Common Ground: The Ongoing Story of the Commons in Niagara-on-the-Lake" on Google Books here.

Elizabeth Simcoe's painting of the Toronto harbour comes from the Toronto Public Library's Digital Archives here.  Her painting of the Toronto shoreline comes via Heritage Toronto here. Her painting of the Niagara River comes from the Wikimedia Commons here

This post is related to dream
01 Metropolitan York
John Graves Simcoe, 1793

This post is related to dream
30 The Conference of the Beasts
Francis Simcoe, 1796

This post is related to dream
34 The Upper Canadian Ball
Elizabeth Simcoe, 1793

Friday, May 22, 2015

Stuff You Should See At Doors Open 2015

It's Doors Open weekend in Toronto! More than a hundred and fifty buildings across the city will be opening their doors to the public over the next two days — including some of the most interesting, beautiful and historic buildings that Toronto has to offer. And since there's no way one person can manage to catch all of the cool stuff, I thought I'd share some of my own picks for this year's event.

I'll also be out and about myself this weekend, armed with dreams, leaving them at the some of the Doors Open sites. You can follow me on Twitter and on Instagram (@TODreamsProject) to find out when and where I do.

If you'd like more information, you can visit the Doors Open website here. Chris Bateman shares his own picks for blogTO here. And NOW Magazine's Elena Gritzan has a list here.

This is the oldest building in Toronto. Scadding Cabin turns 221 this year. It was originally built all the hell the way back in 1794. Our city was still brand new; Toronto was just a tiny muddy little frontier town surrounded by ancient forests. It had only been founded the summer before. The guy who built the cabin was John Scadding — he had been John Graves Simcoe's right-hand man back on his country estate in England and became his right-hand man in Canada, too. But while Simcoe went home, Scadding eventually settled here with his family for good. His son, Henry, would grow up to become one of city's earliest historians.

The cabin originally stood on the banks of the Don River, but in the late 1800s it was moved to the Exhibition Grounds. That's where it stands today. You'll find its doors open on Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 5.

Also nearby: The Liberty Grand; BMO Field.


It's the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes — the second oldest in all of Canada. It has been standing on the island since before it was an island — since 1808 — which makes it the oldest building in Toronto still standing on the spot where it was originally built.

I recently wrote a whole post about the history of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, which includes the mysterious disappearance of the first lightkeeper, John Paul Radelmüller. They say his ghost still haunts the lighthouse today, searching for the limbs that were hacked off him during his grizzly murder in the final days the War of 1812.

Getting the chance to go inside is a rare privilege, so you'll want to show up early. There were long lines last year. The iconic red door will be open from 10 to 5 on both Saturday and Sunday — but they'll probably cut off the line a bit earlier than that.

Also nearby: Artscape Gibraltar Point.


Not only is the Cathedral Church of St. James one of the most spectacular buildings in Toronto, it's also one of the most important buildings in the entire history of Canada. The story of St. James stretches all the way back to a small wooden church built at what's now the corner of Church & King in the very early 1800s — and over the course of that century, it played a central role in the battle for democracy in Canada. This was the church most our city's leaders attended. The first preacher, John Strachan, was also our city's first Anglican bishop, arch-nemesis of William Lyon Mackenzie and a figurehead of the infamously anti-democratic Family Compact. He's still there today, buried under the chancel. I wrote the full story for Torontoist a while back; you can check it out here. To this day, it's still the heart of the Anglican faith in Canada. Even the Queen prays here when she's in town.

The doors to the church will be open from 10 to 5 on Saturday and 12:30 to 4 on Sunday afternoon.

Also nearby: The Market Gallery; Commerce Court North.


Just like the much more famous R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant out in the east end (which will also be open this weekend), the High Level Water Pumping Station takes Toronto's water infrastructure and transforms it into something beautiful. And the old building also played a central role in one of the most delightful episodes in the history of our city. Back in the 1960s, the residents of the surrounding neighbourhood — Rathnelly — declared independence from the rest of Canada. As the story goes, they wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, elected a Queen, issued their own passports, and sent an "air farce" of children holding a thousand helium balloons to surround the Pumping Station until their demands were met. To this day, the neighbourhood is known as the Republic of Rathnelly. They've even got their own custom street signs featuring a national crest.

The doors will be open from 10 to 5 on both Saturday and Sunday.

Also nearby: City of Toronto Archives; Spadina House.


It's one of the jewels of Toronto. A National Historic Site hidden between the highways and the skyscrapers. Fort York has been standing on this spot for more than 200 years. Its story stretches back through one war after another, back through the bloody battle that raged here during the War of 1812, back all the way to the very first day the city of Toronto was founded. It was here, at what was then the mouth of the Garrison Creek, that the first British soldiers showed up to start chopping down trees and building the military base that would guard the mouth of our harbour. Meanwhile, Governor Simcoe and his wife Elizabeth lived in an elaborate tent overlooking the construction from the other side of the creek, exploring the beaches and the forests with their young children, their pet cat and a dog they called  Jack Sharp.

The fort is always open to the public, but why not take advantage of the free admission during Doors Open? The site will be open from 10 to 5 on both Saturday and Sunday.

Also nearby: John St. Roadhouse - Toronto Railway Museum

Other great spots I'd recommend include Old City Hall, Mackenzie House, Fool's Paradise, Osgoode Hall, and the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.