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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Remembering The Great Toronto Fire of 1904

It was a miserably cold night, with bitter gusts of wind and a light snow even though it was the middle of April. And about an hour after sunset, things would get even worse. No one is entirely sure what caused the blaze. It might have been faulty wiring. Or a stove. But around 8 o’clock on that terrible night of April 19, 1904, a constable walking his beat in downtown Toronto spotted the first flames rising out of a necktie factory on Wellington Street just west of Bay (where the black towers of the Toronto-Dominion Centre stand now). As the officer rushed to sound the alarm, the flames spread. Quickly.

Within an hour, every firefighter in the city was desperately trying to contain the blaze. But they were losing the battle. Violent gusts of wind blew the water from their hoses off course. The spray froze in mid-air, coating everything with ice. Thick tangles of newly-installed telegraph, telephone and electrical wires made it impossible for ladders to reach the flames. Textile factories, book-sellers, paper supply companies and chemical manufacturers crowded the core of the city — they provided the perfect fuel. The firefighters were being blinded by smoke. The fire chief broke his leg, falling from a ladder. The April snow was joined by a constant rain of burning wood, broken glass, and ash.

The flames tore through the heart of the city, moving south from Wellington all the way down to the Esplanade and east toward Yonge. Twenty acres of downtown Toronto — more than a hundred buildings — were on fire. You could see the glow of the flames for miles in every direction.

Mayor Urquhart sent urgent telegrams to other cities asking for help. And all through the night they came: firemen from Hamilton, London, Peterborough, Niagara Falls and Buffalo joining the fight. Within a few hours, there were two hundred and fifty of them pouring millions of litres of water on the flames. At the Evening Telegram offices on Bay Street, employees spent hours spraying water out the windows to save the building. At the Queen Hotel (which stood about where the Royal York does now), guests and employees organized bucket brigades, hung water-soaked blankets out of the windows and beat off the flames, saving the hotel and helping to stop the fire's advance before it could cross Yonge Street.

Finally, not long before sunrise, nearly nine hours after it had started, the fire was out. One hundred and twenty-five businesses had been destroyed. Five thousand people were put out of work. More than ten million dollars worth of damage had been caused. Somehow, amazingly, no one had died.

The ruins smouldered for two more weeks, with smaller fires popping up and reigniting from time to time. The charred husks of the damaged buildings were dynamited and the rubble cleared out of the way. That’s when the Great Fire claimed its only life.

John Croft was an experienced dynamiter — he’d worked in mines back home in England before moving to Canada. He and his team set to work in the ruins of Toronto, lighting long fuses and then running for cover. More than two dozen blasts went off without a hitch; their explosions brought the crumbling buildings crashing to the ground, great clouds of dust billowing into the air. But when a fuse seemed to fail, Croft eventually went in to investigate. The delayed explosion tore through his arm, broke a rib, sliced through his scalp, blinded him in one eye. He didn’t last long after that. He was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery; a small street between Harbord and College was eventually named in his honour.

Toronto soon rose again. Where the ruins of the Great Fire once stood, new brick buildings (many of those bricks supplied by the now-booming Don Valley Brick Works) filled the skyline. They were built to a new fire code and protected by more hydrants and a new high-pressure water system — all designed to make sure the biggest fire in the history of our city would stay that way forever.


Front Street (Archives of Ontario)

Looking north up Bay Street (Toronto Archives)
Front Street west of Yonge (Toronto Public Library)

Looking north up Bay Street (Archives of Ontario)
(Archives of Ontario)

Looking west on Wellington Street from Jordon Street (Archives of Ontario)

Front and Yonge, with what's now the Hockey Hall of Fame on the right (Toronto Archives)

Looking east on Wellington west of Bay (Toronto Archives)

(Toronto Archives; I've adjusted the contrast and saturation to clarify the image)
Front Street looking east from Bay (Toronto Public Library)

South-west of Wellington & Bay (Toronto Public Library)

Looking south on Bay north of Wellington (Toronto Archives; adjusted contrast)

Front Street west of Bay (Toronto Archives)

Looking north up Bay Street (Toronto Archives; adjusted contrast, brightness, saturation)

(Toronto Archives; adjusted contrast, brightness, saturation)

West side of Bay Street looking south from Melinda Street (Toronto Public Library)
Looking north up Bay Street (Toronto Archives)

(Toronto Archives)

"Curio seekers" search through the rubble, 1906 (Toronto Archives)

1907ish (Toronto Archives)
(Archives of Ontario)


A version of this post was originally published on January 2, 2011. I've updated it with more details, photos and the video.

Jamie Bradburn tells the story of John Croft on Torontonist here. Derek Flack tells the story of the fire on blogTO here. Adam Mayers tells it for the Toronto Star here. The Archives of Ontario tell it with an online exhibit here. The City of Toronto tells it here. Wikipedia's version is here.
Super-thanks to Nathan Ng for uploading that video to YouTube. There are shots of horse-drawn fire engines rushing down Bay Street toward the blaze, flames consuming a building, and the demolition of the ruins in the aftermath. You can check out his also-amazing Historical Maps of Toronto site here.

The Archives of Ontario have an animated map showing the spread of the fire here.

The 1904 fire wasn't the only "Great" fire in Toronto's history. There was one in 1849, which I'll write a post about someday. It destroyed everything between Front and Adelaide, from Church in the west to Jarvis in the east.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Dream 17 "The Arts & Letters Club" (Tom Thomson, 1914)

In his dream, he stepped outside for a moment — to take the air while he smoked his pipe. That’s when the first drop hit him, a wet drip on the brim of his hat. When he touched it, his fingers came away with a mustard slime of paint. Then there was a splatter of ochre on the sidewalk beside him; globs of crimson splashing in the street. A heartbeat later it was pouring, a deluge of plums and maroons and forest greens and aquamarines.

Thomson opened his umbrella. Puffed at his pipe. The city washed away into colour.


Tom Thomson was one of the greatest painters in Canadian history, an important part of the circle of aritsts who would later become the Group of Seven. He spent his summers in Algonquin Park where he mysteriously died — possibly murdered — in 1917.

You can read more about his life, his art and the mystery of his death on Wikipedia here. Explore more Toronto Dreams Project postcards here.