Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe and the founding of Toronto

John Graves Simcoe

See the Upper Council Executive Council minutes for September 2-5, 1793:
the original land grant decisions for the newly-opened Township of York, including the parklots
(Upper Canada Land Book C, pages 324-)

In 1793 Lt.-Gov. John Graves Simcoe arrived at the Bay of Toronto to build a military base to defend the newly established province of Upper Canada (Ontario) from American neighbours just across the lake. He built Fort York and established a town of 10 square blocks — the new capital of Upper Canada — on the shore of the bay, about a mile east of the fort.

When Europeans arrived the area was known as Toronto, after the Toronto Carrying Trail, originating at the mouth of today's Humber River. Different origins of the name have been suggested over the years, including from the Mohawk phrase "TKARONTO", translated as "where there are trees standing in the water", and the Huron word "TORONTON", translated as "place of meetings".

Simcoe, who enthusiastically renamed almost everything after sites in England, named his new town "York" in honour of Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, the second son of King George III.

On 2 September 1793, Simcoe met in York with Receiver General Peter Russell and Chief Justice William Osgoode — two of the four men appointed at that time to Simcoe's new Upper Canada Executive Council — to review petitions for land grants in and around the new Town of York. That week, under a canvas tent, these three men authorized dozens of land grants in the town and throughout the new Township of York.

Simcoe's surveyors had started by carving York into house lots, and the territory just north of the town into 100-acre "park lots" — a row of 32 narrow lots, each 660 feet wide and 6600 feet deep, stretched between today's Queen and Bloor Streets. Beyond the park lots (north, east and west of the town) were 200-acre township (farm) lots.

Many of the farm lots north and east of of the town went to American farmers and artisans — a couple of Loyalists who had escaped north during the American revolution, and "Late Loyalists" attracted by the free land.

The farm lots and the park lots located north and west of Fort York went to Simcoe's fellow senior officers in the Queen's Rangers. Some of these men — like Simcoe himself — were British military career officers; others were Americans who had joined Simcoe's Queen Rangers during the American War of Independence. All had been retired on half-pay at the end of the American war and were delighted to be summoned by Simcoe out of retirement to assist in the defence and development of Upper Canada.

The park lots immediately north of the Town of York were granted to recently appointed judges, surveyors, clerks, and other officials of the new province.

These fascinating — though less than perfect — gentlemen were the stuff from which our history has been made.

The TORONTO PARK LOT PROJECT — an exploration of the earliest days of the TOWN OF YORK, founded in 1793 by John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. Copyright © Wendy Smith 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.