Sunday, September 30, 2007
John Graves Simcoe (February 25, 1752 – October 26, 1806) was the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada (modern-day southern Ontario plus the watersheds of Georgian Bay and Lake Superior) from 1791-1796. He founded York (now Toronto) and was instrumental in introducing institutions such as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, freehold land tenure, and for abolishing slavery in Upper Canada long before it was abolished in the British Empire as a whole (it had disappeared from Upper Canada by 1810, but wasn't abolished throughout the Empire until 1834).
In 1770, Simcoe entered the British Army as an ensign in the 35th Regiment of Foot. His unit was dispatched to America, where he saw action in the Siege of Boston. During the siege, he purchased a captaincy in the grenadier company of the 40th Regiment of Foot.
With the 40th, he saw action in the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia campaigns. Simcoe commanded the 40th at the Battle of Brandywine, where he was also wounded.
In 1777, Simcoe sought to form a Loyalist regiment of free blacks from Boston, but instead was offered command of the Queen's Rangers, a well-trained light infantry unit. The Queen's Rangers saw extensive action during the Philadelphia campaign, including a successful surprise attack (planned and executed by Simcoe), at the Battle of Crooked Billet. In 1779, he was captured by the Americans. Simcoe was released in 1781, just in time to see action at the Siege of Yorktown. He was invalided back to England in December of that year as a Lieutenant-Colonel.
Simcoe wrote a book on his experiences with the Rangers, titled A Journal of the Operations of the Queen's Rangers from the end of the year 1777 to the conclusion of the late American War, which was published in 1787.
The Province of Upper Canada was created under the Constitutional Act of 1791. This law stipulated that the provincial government would consist of the Lieutenant-Governor, an appointed Executive Council and Legislative Council and an elected Legislative Assembly. Simcoe was selected as the Lieutenant-Governor, and made plans to move to Upper Canada with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Sophia, leaving three other daughters behind with their aunt. They left England in September and arrived on November 11. This was too late in the year to make the trip to Upper Canada and the Simcoes spent the winter in Quebec City. The next spring they moved to Kingston and then Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake).
Appointment as Lieutenant-Governor
Simcoe's first priority was to establish a provincial government. The first meeting of the nine-member Legislative Council and sixteen-member Legislative Assembly took place at Newark on September 17, 1792. Simcoe soon realized that Newark made an unsuitable capital because it was right on the US border and subject to attack. He proposed moving the capital to a more defensible position in the middle of Upper Canada's southwestern peninsula between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. He named the new location London and renamed the river as the Thames in anticipation of the change. The Governor-General, Lord Dorchester, rejected this proposal but accepted Simcoe's second choice of Toronto. Simcoe moved the capital to Toronto in 1793 and renamed the location York after Frederick, Duke of York, George III's second son.
Imitating the military roads the Romans built in Britain , Simcoe began construction of two main routes through Ontario. Yonge Street, named after the Minister of War Sir George Yonge, was built north-south along the fur trade route between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. Soldiers of the Queen's Rangers began cutting the road in August 1793, reaching Holland Landing in 1796.
Another road, Dundas Street named for the Colonial Secretary Henry Dundas, was built east-west between Hamilton and York. These two roads were intended to aid in the defence of Upper Canada but would also help encourage settlement and trade throughout the province.
Posted by iamyrfans at 9:21 AM