Toronto for History Buffs
Photo courtesy of toronto.com
Toronto was founded in 1793 as a British government outpost with less than 200 residents. Today it is Canada’s largest city with citizens from all over the globe, and more than five million residents in the greater metropolitan area.
Even centuries ago there was money to be made in different trades and products, and some buildings and homes from those times survive. The best place to walk to see the mansions of the rich and famous (many now subdivided or commercial establishments) is on Jarvis Street south of Bloor in the downtown core. For example, at number 519 is Massey House, a Queen Anne-style villa built for an influential Toronto family. This was the boyhood home of Governor-General Vincent Massey and actor Raymond Massey.
Here, in order of their dates of construction are some public buildings, which tell the history of Toronto:
1793: Fort York
The fort was founded in this year by Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe to guard the new capital of ‘Upper Canada’, and is the birthplace of modern Toronto. The Battle of York in 1813 saw the fort invaded by American troops and destroyed. It was reconstructed after the battle and is designated a National Historic Site.
To get there by public transport (TTC), take the 511 streetcar from Bathurst subway station. Access is from Bathurst Street Bridge to the fort’s east gate. There is free public parking with indoor and outdoor eating areas. Phone: 416-392-6907
1837: Colborne Lodge
This rare Regency villa is very picturesque and sits on a bluff at the southern end of High Park overlooking Lake Ontario. It was the country retreat of the city’s first surveyor and engineer, John George Howard and his wife Jemima. Howard deeded the property to the city and citizens of Toronto in 1873 for use as a public park. The home has been carefully restored and features special events at holiday times.
Free parking but check during weekends in tourist season. By subway get off at the High Park station and walk or from downtown, take the 501 streetcar to Colborne Lodge Drive. Phone: 416-392-0375
1859: Mackenzie House
William Lyon Mackenzie was a newspaper editor and the first mayor of Toronto. He was declared a traitor for his role as the leader of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion. The community bought him this late-Georgian style townhouse. It is now fully restored in the heart of downtown Toronto with period rooms, recreated print shop and historical exhibit gallery. It is at 82 Bond Street (two blocks east of Yonge, south of Dundas Street East), minutes walk from the Eaton Centre. (Queen subway stop) Phone: 416-392-6915
1866: Spadina Historic House and Gardens
This elegant house is located near Casa Loma on six acres of parkland and has a restored Victorian-Edwardian garden. It was built by James Austin, a businessman and financier and was home to four generations of a wealthy Toronto family. There are many examples of various art-influences in the furniture and decoration from both the 19th and 20th centuries. There are guided tours.
The house is at 285 Spadina Road and very easy to reach by subway. Get off at the Dupont station and walk north up the hill (not too steep). Phone: 416-392-6910
In the downtown core, Adelaide and Front Streets east of Yonge Street are great for viewing old buildings and strolling leisurely. Also, at Queen’s Quay on Toronto’s waterfront is The Pier: Toronto’s Waterfront Museum.
All in all, Toronto has come a long way from the British outpost of the 18th century to a thriving metropolis where people and cultures converge from around the globe.