|The Peter Witts ran on different tracks from the ones we had before|
Friday, December 2, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
|Lord Elgin, looking like a badass|
Yup, here it is. A really really really really really big deal. People in Toronto had been living under authoritarian British rule since the day the city was founded — Canadians in older parts of the country even longer than that. Lieutenant Governors and Governors General had acted like puppet dictators with the power to ignore our elected legislatures. And they did. But now, Toronto's Robert Baldwin and Montreal's Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine had banded together to win an overwhelming majority on a platform demanding real democracy. They had a new idea: Responsible Government. The Prime Minister and his cabinet wouldn't answer to the Governor General, but to parliament itself. To the Canadian people.Meanwhile, in England, the liberal Whig Party was back in power yet again. And this time, it looked like they might finally be ready to give in. They sent a new, liberal Governor General to the Canadian capital in Montreal: Lord Elgin. He was the son-in-law of Lord Durham — author of the super-important Durham Report, which had famously recommended that the British embrace Baldwin and LaFontaine's idea. Even better: Elgin realized just how much support Responsible Government had with ordinary Canadians. "I am presiding over one of the most democratic communities that ever existed," he wrote in a letter back home to his bosses in London, "[Canada's] constitution is most popular in character". Momentum was building. Over in Nova Scotia, liberals had just won their own battle for Responsible Government. And as Baldwin and LaFontaine's Reform Party began to pass bills dismantling our British-style class system in favour of diversity and inclusion, Elgin signed them all into law.
But the real test was still to come. Would Elgin sign a bill that conservatives vehemently disagreed with? Would he turn his back on the Protestant, monarchy-loving, democracy-hating Tories, who had always had British support? Did the Family Compact and the Chateau Clique still run the country? Or was Canada now a true democracy?
We wouldn't have to wait long to find out. In February, Baldwin and LaFontaine introduced the Rebellion Losses Bill. This was it.
Really, the bill shouldn't have been controversial at all. It was just going to help pay people in Lower Canada whose property had been damaged during the Rebellions of 1837. That seemed fair. When the Tories were in power, they'd already done the same thing for Upper Canadians. Thing is, in Upper Canada, most people were anglophones; in Lower Canada, they spoke French. And since French-Canadians weren't loyal to the British Crown or to the Church of England, as far as the racist Tory Party was concerned, French-Canadians weren't really Canadians at all. Paying them for damages was as good as paying the rebels themselves.
And so, the Tories were outraged. As the bill was debated in parliament, things got vicious. The payments would be "an open encouragement to rebellion," the conservatives claimed. The Reform Party was "under the dominion of French masters". They were "dangerous, criminal and subversive of order". If Baldwin and LaFontaine had their way, Canada would be "ruled by foreigners". (By which, of course, they meant: the wrong kind of foreigners.)
|Inside parliament in old Montreal|
It was that same month, as tempers flared, that William Lyon Mackenzie was allowed to come home for the first time in more than ten years. Baldwin and LaFontaine's government had granted amnesty to the exiled rebel, who had continued his work as a newspaperman in the United States. He showed up in old Montreal, in parliament, watching the debates from the gallery. He was so loathed by the conservatives that when a Tory ran into him in the library, it nearly caused a riot. When he travelled to Upper Canada, there was a riot in Belleville. They burned him in effigy in Kingston. In Toronto, they burned him in effigy again and attacked the house where he was staying, pelting it with rocks. Fearing for his safety, Mackenzie asked city council for protection. They answered by passing a motion in support of the rioters. One councilor said that the law against murder was the only reason he didn't kill Mackenzie himself.
After nine days in Toronto, it was clear to our city's first mayor that things weren't safe for him here. Mackenzie abandoned his plan to move his family home to Canada and headed back south. He would wait for things to calm down — for a time when he could live in Toronto without fearing for his life.
Meanwhile, back in Montreal, the debate over the Rebellion Losses Bill raged on for the rest of the month and into March. The Tories filibustered their asses off. Every hour of every day, they were on the floor of the legislature, denouncing the bill, killing time while right-wing newspapers printed inflammatory headlines. Anger among Tory supporters grew. They called on Lord Elgin to do what the appointed Governors had always done when they were backed into a corner: step in on the side of the conservatives and dissolve parliament, snuffing out the bill — and with it, our democracy. "The Tory party," Elgin wrote in another letter home to England, "are doing what they can by menace, intimidation and appeals of passions to drive me to a coup d'etat."
But Elgin did nothing. On March 9th, the Rebellion Losses Bill passed. Now all it needed was his signature.
For nearly two whole months after that, it wasn't clear what Elgin would do next. He literally just stayed home, at the Governor General's residence outside Montreal. While Baldwin and LaFontaine waited for his signature, Tories and their supporters begged and pleaded and threatened, demanding that Elgin not sign the bill. It would doom the country, they claimed. But in the meantime, dozens of other laws had been passed by parliament. They needed signatures, too. One way or another, the Governor General was going to have to decide.
|Elgin gets into his carriage|
The fight had taken nearly fifty years. Canadians had died for democracy. They had been hanged for it, rotted in jail for it, been banished from the country they loved. But now, Baldwin and LaFontaine and the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of English- and French-speaking Canadians united behind them had won. The head of the British government in Canada had just acknowledged the people of Canada as the true rulers of our country.
Canada was a democracy.
The exact timing came as a bit of a surprise; it seems Elgin hadn't told anyone he was coming. But news travelled fast. By the time the Governor General got back outside, an angry mob of conservatives was already waiting for him. He climbed into his carriage under a rain of insults, boos, eggs and tomatoes. He was drenched. But that was just a faint hint of things to come. Tories were pissed the fuck off. They weren't ready to give up – they were ready to get violent. The fight wasn't quite over yet, and the next stage of the struggle would begin that very night, as the parliament buildings burned.
I'll tell that part of the story in my next post in this series.
|This post is related to dream
10 The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern
William Lyon Mackenzie, 1837
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Here some more old photos of the highway, mostly found here and here.
|The rural road in the days before the QEW|
|The royal opening ceremonies in St. Catherines, 1939|
|King George VI and Elizabeth on the QEW, 1939|
|The entrance to the QEW in Toronto, 1940|
|East of Oakville, 1938|
|Fruit trees in spring, Grimsby, 1949|
Monday, November 14, 2011
|Click to enlarge|
One of the most beautiful books written about the history of our city is Derek Hayes' Historical Atlas of Toronto. It's filled with gorgeous maps of the city, stretching all the way back to the time of the earliest European settlers. One of my favourite discoveries is this map of our fledgling downtown transit system from 1955, ringed with images of some of our most iconic attractions.
Friday, November 11, 2011
|Operation Varsity above the Rhine River|
The war was nearly over. It had already been nine months since the Allies landed in Normandy. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had been there, students and shopkeepers and dentists from places like Calgary and Saskatoon and Toronto leaping out of planes into the air above France, dropping behind German lines to secure bridges and roads. Hundreds of them had died doing it. Then, the following winter, the battalion had patrolled the freezing snows of the Ardennes Forest, resisting the brutal German counter-attack at the Battle of the Bulge. Now it was March, and the Allies had pushed all the way across Western Europe into Germany itself. But hundreds of thousands of people were still dying. And the Allies still had one more mammoth task ahead them before they could fan out across the country and overrun it: they needed to cross the Rhine River. What was left of Hitler's army was waiting for them on the other side.
|Canadian paratroopers in the drop zone|
Topham rushed in. He found three men inside and carried each of them to safety. One died of his wounds, but the other two made it. They wouldn't be the last lives he saved that day. The medic kept working for hours.
It would take the Allies a day and a half to win the battle. Then they pressed on deeper into Germany, until they ran into the Soviet army coming the other way. The war in Europe was over. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was the very first unit sent home to Canada. They arrived in Halifax on June 21st, having completed every mission they'd ever been given, and having never given up an objective they'd won.
As for Topham himself, he went to work for Toronto Hydro when he got back. That, absurdly, is how he died: in an electrical accident in 1974. Today, you'll find him buried in Sanctuary Park Cemetery at Lawrence and Royal York Road.
Here are some more posts for Remembrance Day:
The story of Toronto's John McCrae writing "In Flanders Fields" amidst the muck and death of Western Belgium here.
What William Faulkner was doing drunk in the cockpit on a biplane in Toronto on the day the Great War ended in 1918 here.
The story of bloodshirtsy fighter pilot hero Billy Bishop here.
How Canadian troops held occupy Iceland during WWII here.
What it looked like in Toronto on the day the Great War ended here.
A great photo of a women working in a Toronto munitions factory during WWII here.
The story behind on the most famous photos of all-time, "Getting Napalmed As A Child In South Vietnam" here.
A version of this story will appear in
The Toronto Book of the Dead
Coming September 2017 from Dundurn Press
Available for pre-order now
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Finally, in 1935, we established the Bank of Canada and it began to print a centralized national currency with standardized denominations. (Which soon also meant the end of strange numbers showing up on our money, like this $4 bill from 1882.)
This is a photo of St. James Cathedral on King Street East, which towers above the park where the Occupy Toronto protesters are camped today, more than 100 years after this image (by old Toronto photographer guy Frank Micklethwaite) was captured. Since it's not actually in the financial district, St. James Park seems like an odd choice as the home of the protests. But historically speaking, there's some justification for it: that block of the city — from Church to Jarvis and Adelaide to King — has been at the centre of the battles over Canadian democracy for about 200 years. Last week, I wrote a piece about it for Torontoist, complete with war, riots, rebellion and plague. You can read it here.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Friday, October 21, 2011
|The Durham Report|
So where was I? Right, the Durham Report! After the rebellions, sick of all the turmoil in Canada, the British had sent Radical Jack Durham here as Governor General to see what could be done. By the time he returned to England a few months later, he'd been convinced by Canadian liberals like Robert Baldwin and his father William Warren Baldwin that we should have Responsible Government. Democracy. Power over own own affairs. But the British Prime Minister thought it was a crazy idea. "A logical absurdity," he called it.
This, they say, was one of the defining moments in the history of our country. Electoral violence was the norm back in those days. People used to hire gangs of thugs to clear the way through the mobs in order to record their votes. And LaFontaine had hundreds of men at his side ready to do just that. But he hadn't supported violence before the rebellions and he sure as hell didn't believe in it now. He chose not to fight. Instead, he calmed his supporters down and they left without any further bloodshed, avoiding what would have been, in his words, "a massacre". Unwilling to kill for it, LaFontaine lost his seat. One of the most important supporters of Responsible Government had no voice in the new legislature.
That's when Robert Baldwin came up with a plan.
See, in those days, you were weirdly allowed to run in two ridings at the same time. It was apparently supposed to be an insurance policy for party leaders, just in case they happened to lose one. If you won both of the ridings, you could pick the one you wanted to represent; there was a by-election in the other one. And in that election, Robert Baldwin had ended up with two seats in Upper Canada. The plan was for his father, William Warren Baldwin, to run in the by-election in the extra riding, which was just north of Toronto. It had a strong base of Reform supporters — having been held by William Lyon Mackenzie back before the Baldwins ran there. But Robert Baldwin had an idea. He wrote to his father and asked him to stand aside so that LaFontaine could run there instead. His father agreed. A francophone was going to try to win an election in rural, Protestant, anglophone Ontario.
To prepare, LaFontaine moved to Toronto, into the Baldwins' house on Front Street (on the north-east corner of Bay, diagonally across from where Union Station is now). Before long, he was like a member of the family. Together, he and William Warren travelled the riding giving speeches. They argued for Responsible Government. For democracy. Against the old European idea that loyalty should mean loyalty to your race, your religion, and your Crown. The Tories and our British overlords were still fighting for that belief, but Baldwin and LaFontaine argued that our ultimate loyalty should be to be to the greater good — to our fellow human beings regardless of what language they spoke or what god they worshiped. They believed that whether you spoke English or French, you were first and foremost Canadian. And that we were all going to have to work together in order to win our freedom, our democracy and our nation away from one of the most powerful empires the world had ever seen
The voters agreed. LaFontaine won in a landslide. And Baldwin insisted that his new BFF become the leader of the new government. LaFontaine's official title would be Premier of Canada. But people called him Prime Minister.
Together, the two men set to work. The march toward democracy would be a slow one. They spent much of the next eight years building the trust between English- and French-speaking Canadians. The government was made bilingual. Baldwin sent his children to school in Québec City. Later, when the Tories pulled the same election mob bullshit with him that they had pulled with LaFontaine, Baldwin would run for election in Rimouski, in eastern Québec — and win.
Still, it wouldn't be easy. Canadian conservatives hated them — even burned Baldwin in effigy outside his home on Front Street. And in England, the liberal Whig party had just lost their election to the conservative British Tories, who hated the idea of Canadian democracy even more. When they sent a new Governor General to Canada, he had clear orders to ignore any demands for Responsible Government.
He had always seemed a strange politician. He was quiet and reserved. An introvert. He mumbled his way through speeches. His skin was pale. His eyes were described as dull and expressionless. He was tall and stooped over. They say he had "a funereal bearing". When he was young, he had fallen head over heels in love with his fifteen year-old cousin, Eliza, and their families — or, um, family — had been appalled. They sent her away for two years, but the young lovers waited and were married when she got back. For nine years, they lived a happy, love-filled life. But then Eliza died, slowwwly and painnnfully after childbirth. Baldwin was devastated. He became obsessed with her death. For the rest of his life, he carried her letters with him wherever he went. Every day, he would spend time alone in her room, which no one else was allowed to enter. Every year, around the anniversaries of their wedding and of her death, he could barely function, sorrowfully wandering the streets of Toronto, visiting the places they had shared special moments together, from their home on Front Street up to their estate, Spadina House, where she lay waiting for him in the family tomb. And now, just as Baldwin and LaFontaine were beginning to make progress, his father William Warren died too. Baldwin got worse. There were headaches. He was known to burst into tears in public. Soon, he was thinking about quitting politics altogether.
At the same time, LaFontaine was going through his own personal misery. William Warren's death had hit him hard too, but that was only the beginning. For years, he and his wife had longed for a child of their own but had never been able to conceive. They had been overjoyed when they finally adopted a daughter. But not long after William Warren died, she did too. So did LaFontaine's niece. The inflammatory rheumatism he had long been suffering from began acting up again. It kept him in bed with fevers and chest pains and excruciatingly swollen joints for weeks at a time. Sometimes months. At times, he said, he was surprised to still be alive.
But the two men carried on the fight. Even after they lost the next election. They dragged their tired bodies across the two provinces, meeting people, giving speeches, hand-writing letter after letter after letter. Baldwin outran an angry mob of club-wielding Orangemen one day; spent another being carried triumphantly through the streets of Rimouski. And it paid off. The election after that, in 1848, Baldwin and LaFontaine won a massive majority. The Tories were crushed. The time had finally come.
History remembers their government as The Great Ministry. In just a few short years, Baldwin and LaFontaine laid the groundwork for the Canada we know today. They brought in public education. An independent judiciary. Our jury system. A system for appeals. The made sure that everyone — not just the rich — had access to the courts. And that anyone — not just the rich friends of Tory politicians — could be appointed to the civil service. They brought democracy to municipal governments. Opened our ports to ships from all over the world, instead of just British ones. They helped build our railways. Won amnesties for many of the rebels of 1837, including leaders like Wolfred Nelson and Louis-Joseph Papineau, who were finally allowed to come back home. And they took the religious King's College away from Bishop John Strachan and turned it into the secular University of Toronto.(Though they did, sadly, totally fuck up when it came to a woman's right to vote.) The impact these few years had on the history of Canada is hard to even imagine.
But none of that was as important as what they would pull off in the spring of 1849. That's when democracy finally came to Canada.
And I'll finally tell that part of the story in my next post.
I believe I shared this at the bottom of my last post, too, but you can read the full text of the Durham Report here.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Sunday, October 16, 2011
William Faulkner liked to drink. A lot. There's an interview he did with the Paris Review — one of the few interviews he ever gave — where they asked him what he needed in order to be able to write. He answered paper, food, tobacco and whiskey. Emphasis on the whiskey. When big-deal director guy Howard Hawks asked him to write the screenplay for a movie called Road To Glory, Faulkner showed up to the script meeting with a brown paper bag under his arm. As they got down to work, he pulled a bottle of bourbon out of the bag and sliced his finger open trying to unscrew the cap. And as he bled all over the place, instead of, oh say, taking a break, he just dragged a wastepaper basket over to his chair so that he could bleed into it while he kept drinking. Yup. Dude was one badass alcoholic.The reason Faulkner was into that kind of macho shit seems to have something to do with the fact that he grew up during the First World War. He was in high school in the States when the U.S. got involved, and his brother went off to fight in the trenches in France. Faulkner wanted to fight too, so he dropped out of school and tried to enlist in the army. But he wasn't a tall man, only about 5'5", so he was rejected. For a while, he kicked around, not quite sure what he'd do.
|U of T during WWI|
It all must have seemed pretty badass to a guy like Faulkner, who soon arrived for training. This was only about 15 years after the Wright Brothers' first flight; you had to be pretty brave to get into one of those rickety biplanes on a good day, never mind when Germans were trying to shoot you out of the sky. The average lifespan for a pilot during the war was something like 11 days. Faulkner studied hard, became popular with the other recruits (he regaled them with limericks so dirty that even on the Internet every source I find says they're "unprintable"), and looked forward to the day he'd get to fight in Europe.
|University College, U of T, during WWI|
Faulkner's plane smashed through the roof and got lodged in the rafters. For years afterward, the writer would walk with a limp. He'd have a crook in his nose for the rest of the life. But as he hung there upside down in the cockpit, Faulkner was unfazed. He just pulled out some more bourbon and kept drinking.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
|Mackenzie's ship, Caroline, burns at Niagara Falls|
Okay so, as I was saying at the end of my last post, Mackenzie's rebellion was a complete disaster. And so was the one in Quebec. The rebels in both provinces were completely routed by the Tories. The entire left-wing in Canada was in disarray. Rebel leaders across the country had been arrested, a few hanged, others exiled to Australia. Many of the rest had fled to the United States.
That's where Mackenzie was. After the rebellion was crushed, he escaped to Buffalo with a price on his head. There, he gave a rousing speech to the biggest public meeting that city had ever seen, convincing hundreds of volunteers to follow him to Navy Island in the Niagara River. He declared it the Republic of Canada, with a new flag and everything. An American ship, the SS Caroline, started ferrying them weapons and ammunition. They were going to invade Upper Canada and take another shot at the revolution.
The U.S. President, Martin Van Buren, threatened them with arrest but didn't really take any action. So the Tories in Canada took things into their own hands. Thousands of them — including Samuel Jarvis and a big famous loyalist guy from Hamilton, Allan McNab — headed south with British troops. They crossed the border into the States, bombarded Navy Island, set the Caroline on fire and left the pieces to drift over Niagara Falls. An American on board was shot and killed. The U.S. government was outraged.
The British claimed the attack was made in self-defense but the Americans were hardly convinced. Van Buren's Secretary of State wrote a famous letter to the Brits: a preemptive strike, he argued, was only okay when the threat was immediate and overwhelming, when there was no other choice and no time left to decide. In the end, the British agreed. They apologized for the attack. And the set of guidelines that would laid out in that letter, the "Caroline test", became the internationally-recognized standard for the use of preemptive force. It still is — at least, for people who aren't George W. Bush or Tony Blair. When the Nazis went on trial at Nuremberg, the court used the exact same words.
After the burning of the Caroline, Mackenzie's Navy Island scheme fell apart. He ended up being arrested by the Americans and spent months in prison. After his release, with his health failing, he resigned himself to life in the United States. He even got his American citizenship. During the next decade, as the battle over Canadian democracy raged towards a climax, he'd be on the sidelines, living in New York State, publishing newspapers that attacked President Van Buren for being too close to the British.
Mackenzie's failed invasion wasn't the only one. In the months after the botched revolution, there were clashes along both sides of the border all the way into Quebec. And they weren't going well for the surviving rebels. In the wake of the rebellions, it kind of looked like Canadian democracy was screwed.
Now, there was even unrest in Canada. Canada! Canada was supposed to be run by staunch loyalists, guys who had personally fought wars against the Americans in the name of the British Crown. Oh sure, Reformers like William Lyon Mackenzie had been demanding democracy for decades, delivering fiery speeches, writing scathing articles and even winning elections. But now it seemed they were willing to fight in the streets for it if they had to.
There was one conversation in particular that people say was incredibly freaking important. It was with two of the most super insanely gigantically important Torontonians ever: William Warren Baldwin and his son Robert. Canadian historical figures do not get much bigger than this.
The Baldwins were among the very first people to ever to move to Toronto. William Warren Baldwin came here with his father all the way back around 1800, when the town of York was still just a few muddy blocks and a forbidding wilderness. He did well for himself: became a doctor and a lawyer; owned a bunch of land; got married. His son Robert was born in their house on Front Street, at Frederick, a couple of block east of the St. Lawrence Market. (Crazily, that very same house would later become William Lyon Mackenzie's print shop — the scene of the oh-so-important Types Riot.)
As York grew, the Baldwins took their place among the city's rich elite. On the hill above Davenport, right beside where Casa Loma is now, William built a grand house he called Spadina (from a native word for "sudden rise of land"). To be able to see the lake more clearly from his window, he had a road cut through the forest all the way down to the water. He called that road Spadina too. Baldwin Street, he named after himself. Phoebe Street, he named after his wife. He even helped to design the new law school: Osgoode Hall.
|William Warren Baldwin|
But when it came to politics, the Baldwins and their Tory friends had pretty much nothing in common. By the time of the rebellion, both William Warren and Robert Baldwin had been leading figures in the Reform movement for years. They fought for minority rights. And for public education. And while they didn't support Mackenzie's violent revolution, they still firmly believed in the idea of Canadian democracy. When Durham asked them about it that fateful summer, they were very clear: the ultimate power in Canada should rest with the Canadian people, not with the British Governor General. Ministers in our government shouldn't be responsible to the British, but to our very own elected representatives in the legislature. To parliament. This is what they call Responsible Government.
Durham was convinced. When he got back home to England, he wrote one of the most important documents in all of Canadian history. It was officially titled "The Report on the Affairs of British North America", but we know it as the Durham Report. In it, he made his opinions pretty freaking clear. The current system, he said, was "defective... irresponsible government, an evil which no civilized community could bear. It was a question between a petty, corrupt, insolent Tory clique and the mass of the people." He openly called for Canadian democracy — for Responsible Government. The ideas the Baldwins had been fighting for were now being recommended to the British government by a British official specifically hired by the British government to give them recommendations. This was HUGE.
But the fight was far from over. When the Durham Report was released, Lord Melbourne screwed Radical Jack over yet again. He dismissed the idea of Responsible Government as "a logical absurdity". As far as he was concerned, Canada wasn't going to be getting real democracy any time soon.
The very next summer, Lord Durham died of tuberculosis. Fifty thousand people attended his funeral. His last words were saved for the country he hadn't even wanted to come to. "Canada," he said, "will one day do justice to my memory."
He was right. But it was going to take another ten years before we won the battle for control over our own affairs. And with Mackenzie exiled in the States, it was up to Robert Baldwin to lead the charge.
The next post in this series about William Lyon Mackenzie (and Robert Baldwin) and the birth of Canadian democracy is coming soon. I now have no idea how many there will be... they just keep going... and going... but we're getting there. Promise. And you're going to want to keep reading; Robert Baldwin is probably my favourite figure in the history of the city.
|This post is related to dream
10 The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern
William Lyon Mackenzie, 1837
Friday, September 2, 2011
Thursday, September 1, 2011
|The CNE's first ride, 1892ish|
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Thursday, August 25, 2011
These paragraphs come from an essay he wrote in 1954 called "Why Toronto?":
You can check out the original post on Second Drafts here and should absolutely head on over here to check the whole blog out.