Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Toronto in 1868 - The Normal & Model School for Upper Canada & Egerton Ryerson

This was originally posted on my Instagram on July 6th, 2021.

You can find me on Instagram @fiennesclinton

This is Octavius Thompson's photograph of "the Normal & Model Schools for Upper Canada."  This institution opened as a teachers' college at a time when the province was looking to "normalize" or standardize education.  The Normal School was where young adults aged 16 to 30 years old learned to become teachers.

By contrast, the two Model Schools on campus put whatever teachers-in-training had learned into practice. They taught classrooms full of real-life pupils between the ages of 3 & 16 years old. The Model Schools were meant to be “models” for all public schools in the province.

The campus took up over 7 acres bounded by Gerrard Street on the north, Gould Street to the south, Church Street in the east & Victoria Street to the west. The Normal School building was demolished between 1958 & 1963 & replaced by the Ryerson Institute’s Kerr Hall quadrangle building. The facade of the old school was preserved & today we know the campus as Ryerson University.

Illustration shows the surviving facade of the Normal School at Ryerson University.

Thompson devotes two whole pages to describing his unbridled enthusiasm for the school. One excerpt reads as follows.

“The Normal and Model Schools and Education Offices for Upper Canada - erected A.D. 1852 - are situated on the centre of an open square ... the situation is a very beautiful one, being considerably elevated above the business parts of the city, and commanding a fine view of the bay, peninsula and lake. The adjoining grounds are handsomely laid out, and are very attractive in Summer.”

In “Toronto in the Camera” Thompson relates how the school was first suggested in 1836 but didn’t really get underway until 1846 when Egerton Ryerson, who was Chief Superintendent of Education, published his “Report on a System of Public Elementary Instruction for Upper Canada”.

Illustration shows the statue of Egerton Ryerson outside the Normal & Model School in the 1890s.

Of course, Ryerson is a very controversial figure these days. He is considered a key influencer in developing Canada’s residential school system. The Department of Indian Affairs came to him for advice in 1847, just as he was opening the Normal & Model Schools here in Toronto. Ryerson argued that Indigenous children should be educated in separate boarding schools that were denominational, English-only, & oriented towards training for agriculture & industry.

Those who defend Ryerson point out the close relationship he had with Indigenous people. He lived with & taught amongst the Mississauga people at the Credit Mission. He learned their language, worked in the fields with the people of the settlement & became a close friend of future chief Kahkewaquonaby (Sacred Feathers), known in English as Peter Jones. The Mississauga adopted Ryerson & gave him the name of a recently deceased chief, “Cheechock” or “Chechalk”.

No doubt just about everyone has heard Ryerson’s name reappearing in headlines again recently. Whatever your own opinion of his culpability, this story proves that time spent studying history is never misspent.

History informs our present. When Octavius Thompson documented the Normal & Model Schools in 1867, did he ever dream that it would still be making history over 150 years later?

These images show protestors rallying Ryerson's statue, and dismantling it, in June of 2021.

Toronto in 1868 - The Bay Street Presbyterian Church


This was originally posted on my Instagram on July 5th, 2021.

You can find me on Instagram @fiennesclinton

The Bay Street Presbyterian Church was built at the southeast corner of Bay & Richmond streets in 1848. It was demolished less than 40 years later, in 1886. Presbyterian parishes, in particular, were known for either splitting themselves, or merging with one another, which meant that congregations often relocated quite frequently.

There are several churches in Octavius Thompson’s photographs of Toronto in the 1860s. Toronto was nicknamed “the City of Spires”. It was a thoroughly Protestant city where the Church of England held a great moral & social influence. But the Presbyterians were well represented too, which isn’t surprising given that Toronto had such a prominent Scottish population.

The original text from Octavius Thompson’s “Toronto in the Camera” tells us that the 1848 church, shown here, was the third church building for its congregation. They began meeting in 1838, in a church they rented from local Baptists. Next, in 1840, they bought an Episcopal Methodist Church on Richmond Street.

Excerpts from Octavius Thompson’s book tell us about the design of the 1848 church.

“The Church is built of Kingston stone and white brick, with Ohio stone for facings and carved work. The outside measurement is 80 x 53 feet, and the height of the tower 100 feet. The sitting accommodation is for 785 persons.

The style of architecture is Gothic, and by professional men is considered very accurate and complete in its particular order. The architect was the late well-known Mr. Thomas. The Church has twice suffered considerably by fire, from external causes, but its elegance and substantiality do not seem to have been impaired. The interior of the Church, however, far surpasses the exterior view.

On entering, one is struck with its neatness and compactness, and the air of cheerfulness that prevails. The painting and colouring show the most perfect good taste; nothing vulgar or gaudy.”

Thompson also noted that "The Rev. John Jennings, D.D., has filled the pastorate during the whole period, commencing his service in December, 1838; a length of connection with one congregation which, while very common in Britain, the land of stability in its relations, is unusual in this country, especially in cities and towns; and the fact itself speaks for the mutual attachment of pastor and people."

Toronto in 1868 - The Royal Insurance Company Building

This was originally posted on my Instagram account on July 4th, 2021.  

You can find me on Instagram @fiennesclinton

The Royal Insurance Company Building was built at the southeast corner of Yonge & Wellington streets in 1861 & demolished in 1960. By the time that Octavius Thompson was taking his photographs of Toronto in the 1860s, the area bounded by Wellington Street, Colborne Street, Yonge Street & Church Street was growing into the city’s financial district. Over the next several decades, Toronto’s business area would migrate westward towards King & Bay streets.

One thing that Thompson’s photographs from the 1860s emphasize is how Toronto was embracing some very elegant architecture at the time. A century later, in the 1960s, many of these buildings were destroyed in favour of the rather less elegant Modernist or Brutalist buildings that took their place.

The original text from Octavius Thompson’s “Toronto in the Camera” reads as follows.

“This handsome building, the Head Office of the Upper Canada Agency of the Royal, was erected in 1861, the rapidly increasing business of the Company demanding larger and more convenient premises. The style is Romanesque, and the details are worked out in a manner which does great credit to the architect, W. Kauffmann, Esq. The frontage on Wellington Street is 59 feet, and on Yonge Street 30 feet. The whole of the ground floor is occupied for the purposes of the Royal: the upper flats are used for offices, principally occupied by legal firms. The height of the building is about 40 feet. The progress of the Royal during the past few years, both in the Fire and Life Departments, has been very great. Its accumulated funds exceed $1,200,000, and its annual income is over $700,000. It now claims, with justice, to be ‘one of the largest insurance companies in the world’. The Toronto Branch is under the management of F.H. Heward, Esq.”

Toronto in 1868 - The Bank of Toronto


This was originally posted on my Instagram account on July 3rd, 2021.  

You can find me on Instagram @fiennesclinton

This early branch of the Bank of Toronto opened in 1863, at the northwest corner of Church & Wellington streets.  It survived for nearly a century but was demolished in 1961.  The Bank of Toronto merged with the Dominion Bank in 195 & became the Toronto Dominion Bank.

Excerpts from Octavius Thompson’s original text from “Toronto in the Camera” read as follows.

“This Bank commenced business under an Act of Incorporation, of the Canadian Parliament, in July, 1856. Its paid up capital was then only $100,000. This amount was increased from time to time, as fresh calls were made, but it was not until the year 1862 that the shares were fully paid up, and the capital augmented to its present amount of $800,000.

The Bank was founded by a number of persons engaged in the produce trade, and from small beginnings has gradually risen to its present position of influence and importance.

It was at first located on Church Street, occupying the building then just vacated by the City Bank of Montreal, which it occupied until the year 1863, when it removed into the present noble edifice, which was erected from designs by W. Kauffmann, Esq. We regret having been unable to obtain from the Architect any particulars respecting the building which might have been interesting to the public.

The first President, J. G. Chewett, Esq., and the first Cashier and second President, Angus Cameron, Esq., to whose united ability and energy the Bank is in no small degree indebted for its present proud position, died within a few months of each other: the former before the new building was completed, and the latter soon after.”

Toronto in 1868 - The Toronto Street Post Office


This was originally posted on my Instagram account on July 3rd, 2021.  

You can find me on Instagram @fiennesclinton

This is the Toronto Street Post Office, also known as Toronto's Seventh Post Office.  It was built in 1853 & is still standing at 10 Toronto Street.  The original text from Octavius Thompson’s “Toronto in the Camera” reads as follows.

“The Toronto Post Office was completed May, 1853, at a cost of $16,000. The style of architecture is Grecian Ionic, after the Temple of Minerva at Athens. It is 48 feet in front, by 90 feet in depth. The architects were Messrs. Cumberland & Storm. Besides the offices connected with the Post Office, it contains on the upper floor the offices of the Inspector for the Toronto Postal Division; and in the basement, rooms occupied by the resident porter.

In addition to the Postmaster and Assistant Postmaster, there are employed in the Toronto Post Office 18 clerks, 5 letter carriers, 2 box collectors, and 2 porters. Mails are despatched and received twice daily by Grand Trunk Railway eastwards; twice daily by Grand Trunk Railway westward; twice daily by Northern Railway, and three times daily by Great Western Railway via Hamilton; also once daily by Stages running respectively to and from Rouge Hill, Stouffville, Thornhill, and Cooksville.

The average weight of mail matter despatched daily is estimated at nearly three tons. The postage collected is over $70,000 per annum; and the amount of money orders issued and paid in each year is over $400,000.”

Toronto in 1868 - Introduction to Octavius Thompson


This was originally posted on my Instagram account on July 3rd, 2021.  

You can find me on Instagram @fiennesclinton

Cover of "Toronto In The Camera: A Series of Photographic Views of the Principal Buildings in the City of Toronto"
- Octavius Thompson, 1868 -

Octavius Thompson was a photographer who ran a studio in Toronto from 1864 to 1868. He photographed over 40 of the city’s buildings & then published them in a book. The result was “Toronto in the Camera: A Series of Photographs of the Principal Buildings in the City of Toronto”. The image that I’ve posted here is the cover of the book. Its simplicity disguises the significance of the book, which was published at a time when Toronto was just starting to be captured in photographs.

We don’t see a lot of people in Thompson’s photographs. He wanted to document Toronto’s architecture, not its residents. Also, the long shutter speed required by early cameras & film meant that any people walking by would disappear or be “ghosted” on the exposed film.

Thompson selected a variety of churches, banks, schools & government buildings for his publication. His choice of subject matter tells us what someone who wanted to preserve mid-Victorian Toronto felt it was important to capture. Many of the buildings he photographed are long gone now. A few still remain. If we’re imaginative enough, these pictures might just reveal the shadows of Victorian Toronto, still vaguely visible in our 21st century city.

Each of the photographs in Thompson’s book are accompanied by a brief description on the history, design & function of each building. My next series of posts will explore Thompson’s photographs & share the accompanying text along with my own observations.

Let’s step into the past & walk alongside Octavius Thompson, strolling through the muddy streets & wooden sidewalks of Toronto, as it was nearly 160 years ago.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

# 66 ~ Toronto's Original "Canada Day" in 1867

Well, after a long hiatus of over a year, I've decided to put up another post here in my collection of anecdotal tales of Toronto's history. The patriotic inspiration for this was the fact that another Canada Day is upon us. I'm only one year overdue for posting in time for Canada's 150th, which took place last year, but hopefully any reader will find this almost as informative and entertaining for Canada's 151st. 

The title of this post, referencing "Canada Day" is of course misleading. Traditionally, July 1st had most commonly been known as "Dominion Day". This alluded to the British North America Act, which made reference to the country as a Dominion. There were suggestions to change the name of the holiday to "Canada Day" as early as the 1940s, but it wasn't officially changed until 1982. Although some traditionalist Tories and historical diehards may still refer to the day as Dominion Day, most people these days of course refer to July 1st as Canada Day.



So, to begin, back in 1861, a few years before Confederation, Toronto had a population of 65,000. We were the most inhabited city in the Province. Only Montreal, with its population of 90,000 people, was bigger. And with Canadian Confederation, we were set to become the capital of the brand-new Province of Ontario. An article in the Globe newspaper, operated by George Brown, one of the Fathers of Confederation, laid out the festivities held in Toronto to celebrate the creation of Canada, on Monday, July 1st, 1867.

The article reported how bells were rung at St. James Cathedral at midnight, as June 30th became July 1st, to “convey the joyful news to the city that the important era had arrived”, as the newspaper put it. The article went on, “Toronto has bestirred herself to make the holiday befitting the occasion … sufficient is announced to secure that the day shall be remembered among us as an eventful one in our history.” 

The old Cathedral Church of St. James had been destroyed by fire in 1849, and the main body of the church was re-opened to the public in 1853. As the photograph of the cathedral in 1867 shows, the spire was not yet complete, and wouldn’t be completely finished until 1874. But enough of the spire had gone up to house the bells, which had arrived in Toronto in 1865, two years before Confederation.

The Cathedral Church of St. James, at the northeast corner of King and Church streets, in 1867.

The first set of bells for the Cathedral were lost in a shipwreck off Rimouski, Quebec. A new set of nine bells were imported from the United States, and made the final leg of their journey along King Street by horse-drawn carriage in 1865. When they were first rung at Christmas that year, an article in the Globe newspaper wrote how “the heart of many an old countryman was warmed again by those old familiar sounds which delighted him in years gone by in his native land.” These same bells are still used 153 years later, in 2018.

Transporting the new bells for the Cathedral Church of St. James along King Street, Toronto, 1865.

A professional bell ringer, one Mr. Rawlinson by name, was on duty at the Cathedral on July 1, 1867. The Daily Leader newspaper had a little bit more to say about the historic ringing of the bells on that day. “The new Dominion was hailed last night as the clock struck twelve by Mr. Rawlinson ringing a merry peal on the bells of St. James’ Cathedral, the effect of which was very fine, in the otherwise solemn stillness of the night. Even at that late hour large numbers of persons were brought into the streets by the chiming of the bells and thousands there remained at their open windows to enjoy the pleasures of listening to the first musical performance of the Province of Ontario. The bells had scarcely commenced chiming when the firing of small arms was heard in every direction.”

The small arms fire was thanks to a detachment of the 10th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Toronto Volunteers. They assembled outside their drill shed and hoisted the Royal Union Flag, as well as their own Regimental Colours. The Royal Union was given a 21-gun salute at about 4 o’clock in the morning, no doubt to the great delight of the neighbours. The Royal Regiment of Toronto would eventually become the Royal Regiment of Canada. 

At six o’clock in the morning, a large ox was put on a spit at the foot of Church Street. One Captain Woodhouse, who commanded a ship called Lord Nelson, was in charge of the patriotic barbecue. The animal had been purchased from a butcher named Joseph Lennox, up in Yorkville. The Globe noted that the ox would take most of the day to roast, and leftovers would be distributed amongst the city’s poor. 

The Daily Telegraph newspaper also noted that parts of the ox were given to two different charities for children. The Protestant Orphan’s Home had opened in 1854, on Sullivan Street, between Queen and Dundas streets. It struggled to accommodate the flood of immigrant children to Toronto, or those who had lost their parents to cholera and the other lethal diseases that swept through Toronto at the time.

Protestant Orphans Home, Sullivan Street, Toronto

The House of Providence stood on Power Street, south of Queen Street. Opened in 1857, it was operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Roman Catholic Church. Nearly always full, the institution would eventually quadruple in size to provide for about 700 residents, including the unemployed, orphans, the elderly, immigrants and widows. Some stayed for a few days, while others were there for years. The House of Providence lasted for over a century before it was demolished in 1962 to make way for the Richmond Street exit from the Don Valley Expressway.

House of Providence, Power Street

Toronto’s church-going faithful also sought out their own edification when Canada became a country on July 1st, 1867. Some assembled at 9:30 in the morning, in the lecture room of the Mechanics Institute at Church and Adelaide streets. They were there for a meeting of the Toronto Branch of the Evangelical Alliance, and “Christian persons of all denominations” were “invited to attend at that hour to invoke the divine blessing of the new Dominion”

The Toronto Mechanics’ Institute had been built in 1853. Paying members could attend lectures and courses and use the library. In 1883, the institute was given financial support by city council, at a time when no other city in Canada had a completely free public library. So, the Mechanics’ Institute became the nucleus of the first public library system in the country. The building was demolished in 1949.

The Toronto Mechanic's Institute, at the northeast corner of King and Adelaide streets

Oliver Mowat was the most notable speaker at the religious rally held at the Mechanics’ Institute on July 1st, 1867. He was vice-chancellor of Evangelical Alliance, a Father of Confederation, and a rival of Sir John A. Macdonald. Mowat wanted strong provincial autonomy, where Macdonald envisioned a very centralized federal government for the country. Mowat served as Ontario’s third premier for 24 years, from 1872 until 1896. He then served as Ontario’s eight lieutenant-governor, from 1897 until 1903. 

Mowat was Ontario’s first great leader, and made the province the richest in Canada. It was under Mowat’s leadership that Ontario’s agriculture was modernized, industry was expanded, areas like education and science were cultivated, urban social problems were addressed, and electoral reforms like voting by secret ballot were introduced. If Macdonald was the “Father of Canada”, then Mowat was the “Father of Ontario”.

Sir Oliver Mowat (born July 22nd, 1820, died April 19, 1903)

But, back to Toronto during the celebrations of Canadian Confederation. They continued all day long. A military review and parade was held on public commons along Spadina Avenue, south of College Street. The afternoon saw a picnic and festival in aid of the new St. Patrick’s School House, and a church on Dummer Street. The Horticultural Society put on an evening concert and dance, with music supplied by two military bands.

The Public Commons, Spadina Avenue, south of College Street, hosted a military review and parade on July 1st, 1867.

Fireworks were set off at Queen’s Park at about 9 o’clock that night, and the park itself was illuminated by lantern light. The area was still mostly a public park at this point, with the parliament buildings still down at Front Street. Today’s legislative assembly wasn’t built on this spot until 1893, and the only building in the park was King’s College, which had been abandoned in 1859 in favour of University College.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper wrote up a good review of Toronto’s first ever July 1st fireworks display, which were set to the tunes offered by two military bands. The paper said, “The great event of the day … was the display of fireworks in the Queen’s Park during the evening. It drew together an immense crowd. The display was the finest of the kind ever witnessed in Toronto and gave universal satisfaction. Several of the pieces were very beautiful and appropriate.”

Monday, July 1st, 1867 was a public holiday across the new Dominion. Businesses were closed, and Toronto celebrated with public musical recitals, choirs, military parades, pageants and picnics, and topped it all of with night time fireworks. At the heart of it all, it doesn’t really sound too different from how we celebrate July 1st these days. 

Sure, those partygoers from 151 years ago wouldn’t recognize the Maple Leaf Flag, and they’d probably be more than a bit startled with what we can do with modern day fireworks. They’d have no idea what a “Canada Day” actually was. But I found it curious that, in spirit, anyway, a lot of our public observances are the same as they were 151 years ago now.



However you are commemorating Canada Day this year, I hope it's a fun and relaxing one. A simple internet search will reveal a number of "Top Ten" lists of special concerts, fireworks displays, markets, food festivals and activities that are available over this long weekend. As usual, my choice is mostly for the historical, and three of the City of Toronto's historic sites are putting on special events. These are Fort York National Historic Site, Mackenzie House Museum and the Scarborough Museum.

Canada Day at Fort York National Historic Site

"In addition to flag raising and flag lowering ceremonies, the Fort York Summer Guard, dressed as members of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry (circa 1815) will perform demonstrations of musketry, artillery and fife and drum music. Children can enjoy a drill activity, music classes, and a scavenger hunt. The Fort's volunteer historic cooks will demonstrate period-specific cooking methods and recipes in the historic kitchen."

Celebrate Canada Day at Fort York National Historic Site

Canada Day at Scarborough Museum

"Looking for a unique and memorable Canada Day? Scarborough Museum hosts their annual celebration in Thomson Memorial Park. Demonstrations include historic blacksmithing, spinning, weaving and leather working. Don't forget to check out the Scarborough Historical Archives tent and browse through archival aerial photographs, maps, and lots of information not he history of Scarborough. The museum's annual pie eating contest is also back by popular demand. Finally, enjoy celebratory Canada Day historic treats and stroll through the vendor markets."

Celebrate Canada Day at the Scarborough Museum

Canada Day at Mackenzie House Museum

Celebrate Canada's birthday with a visit to Mackenzie House, the home of Toronto's first mayor! Visitors can use the 1845 press to print their own Maple Leaf postcard.

Celebrate Canada Day at Mackenzie House Museum


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