by Bob Given
On May 2nd, 1793, Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe and seven military officers left Niagara to see the north side of Lake Ontario, especially Toronto. He had fought in the American Revolution and then returned to
England and married young heiress Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim. He was elected to the British House of Commons and spoke in favour of the Constitutional Act (Canada Act) which created the provinces of Upper and Lower
Simcoe became the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada and Major-General Alured Clarke, the Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada. One of Simcoe's first acts was to divide the province into nineteen countries for an election; our county being York County.
While Simcoe was in England he was in constant touch with officers and men of his old regiment in America, the Queen's Rangers. Simcoe proposed raising a new regiment of Queen's Rangers who would spend two
days a week on military exercises, two days on public works such as roads and buildings, and two days for their private advantage.
Some of his recruits had retired in England, others were in New Brunswick. This new regiment was to be in addition to the regular British army in Canada.
Mrs. Simcoe's diary for May 13th recorded "Col.
Simcoe returned from Toronto and speaks in praise of the harbour and fine spot near it, covered with large oaks, which he intends to fix upon as a site for a town."
On July 20 a hundred Queen's Rangers sailed to Toronto to establish a military camp. On the evening of the 29th the remainder of the regiment, a few government officials and the Simcoe family sailed for Toronto aboard the schooner Mississauga with the band playing. They waited till daylight for Rousseau in a small boat to guide them into the harbour.
The Rangers were busy preparing their encampment near today's Fort York on Bathurst Street which at that time was close to the lake.
To the east was Garrison creek and beyond it the Simcoes decided to erect their "canvas house" in which to spend the winter. It had belonged to Captain James Cook who had sailed around the world. In one room they slept and entertained, the other room was for their children and
nurse...a far cry from the Simcoe's forty room mansion back in England.
On August 6th, Simcoe went to see the King's Mill built on the westbank of the Humber near what is now Bloor Street. It was probably
being built by the German-speaking American, Nicholas Miller, who came with Simcoe specifically for the task. Simcoe was given some very good cakes. Mrs. Simcoe's diary noted "The Miller's wife is from the
United States where the women excell in making Cakes and Bread." This sawmill was a ling narrow wooden building with large openings at each end.
Two wooden rails ran the length of the building and along the rails slid a carriage which carried a log forward to the saw blade which was going up and down in the centre of the mill. A small water-wheel kept the saw in motion. As the log was being slit lengthwise it continued along and out the other end of the mill. This was Toronto's first industrial building and it was in Etobicoke.
On August 24, Simcoe received word that Frederick, Duke of York, George III's second son, dislodged the French at Fomars and drove them out of Holland. In celebration of the victory, cannons were fired at
the water's edge and the settlement at Toronto was henceforth to be known as York. Two days later Chief Justice William Osgoode and other gentlemen including some Indians held a council meeting at the
Rousseau house on
the Humber. Earlier at Niagara a salute was fired for Edward, Duke of Kent, George III's forth son, who was seeing the country with Jolie St. Laurent, Comtesse de Mongenet.
Later Edward married Princess Victoria of Saxe- Coburg-Saalfeld!
On September 4th Mrs. Simcoe, probably with Thomas Talbot their private secretary, walked to see the site for the town.
It was to be ten blocks bounded by the present George, Adelaide, Berkeley and Front Streets. Front was so named because at that time it was close to the lake. The site is south of today's Queen Street which was the base line surveyed by Augustus Jones for Dublin (renamed York!) township. Alexander Aitkin, his assistant and his canoe were there as well so all 4 went for a ride in the harbour!
On September 23rd Simcoe despatched Captain Samuel Smith with a hundred Rangers to clear a roadway from the western end of Lake Ontario to the site of London which it was hoped would be the provincial
capital. It was called Dundas Street Road honouring Henry Dundas, the British Home Secretary, who signed Simcoe's appointment. The route had just been surveyed by Jones and a few Rangers.
Before the turn of the century Dundas Street was extended eastward to York, crossing Etobicoke south of the present roadway, by the Rangers and Asa Danforth.
On the evening of September 24th Lieut. Robert
Pilkington of the Royal Engineers, Aitkin, two other officers and four Mississaugas went to Rousseau's on the Humber for the night.
Next morning they were joined by Simcoe for their exploratory trip north along the Toronto Portage trail. They reached Penetanguishene on Georgian Bay but on their return they followed a route which resulted in the building of Yonge Street.
The Simcoes departed from Toronto on July 20, 1796, leaving Peter Russell as administrator until Lieut.-General Peter Hunter arrived as Lieutenant Governor three years later. Etobicoke was surveyed a little
at a time as were the other townships like York, Vaughan, Markham and Scarborough. One wonders when Etobicoke became a formal township and when the present spelling of the name became official...it must have been after
the Simcoes departed because they changed almost every geographical name that was Aboriginal, French or German.
The first municipal land survey in Etobicoke was a southern section by Abraham Iredell in 1795.
He had helped William von Moll Berczy's Germans settle on Markham farms and was about to survey Simcoe's 1200 acre-map of the King's Mill Reserve in 1796 and other surveys were made later as the Reserve was enlarged. The
first land patent in Etobicoke was to Sergeant Patrick Mealey of the Rangers on March 18th, 1797. The militia lands were between today's Royal York Road and Kipling Avenue, south of Bloor Street.
Mealey's lot was on the west side of Royal York at the Lake. William Hambly surveyed Royal York Road north of the Humber in 1798. It is believed a sawmill was operating there by a Mr. Countryman, perhaps John or Conrad, about that time.
The first formal plan for a community in Etobicoke was for its north-west corner and NOT on Dundas or the Lakeshore.
The Albion Road Company was incorporated May 18th, 1846 to collect tolls and improve the roadway. Jean du Petit Pont de la Haye, the French Master at Upper Canada College, with a country estate west of Etobicoke had surveyor James McCallum Jr draw up registered Plan 28 for Claireville on October 12th, 1849. It was our first community to have side streets and back streets and 3 churches.
John Grubb, founder of Thistletown, had surveyor John Stughton Dennis prepare Plan 6 on October 15th, 1847 for St. Andrews at the intersection of Albion Road and Islington Avenue but it was only for a few lots
facing on Albion Road.
Richard Jordan a surveyor and past president of the Etobicoke Historical Society researched Islington when it was "Mimico on Dundas" for Montgomery's Inn.
He found numerous references to a plan which must never have been registered. Jordan was able to produce a good plan showing the properties along Dundas.
Presumably some of the milling centres by the Humber had
homes for the workers but there were no formal registered plans or deeds for such early communities.