Travels with Elizabeth Simcoe: A Visual Journey Through Upper and Lower Canada - Page Banner

The Trip to York


Arrival in Toronto

In early May 1793, Colonel Simcoe set off for his first brief visit to Toronto, travelling around the head of the lake by boat. He returned a fortnight later:

“Coll. Simcoe returned from Toronto & speaks in praise of the harbour, & fine spot near it covered large Oak which he intends to fix upon as a site for a Town.”

- May 13th, 1793



Then, in early August, Simcoe returned to Toronto accompanied by Elizabeth and the children.

Drawing: York Harbour [July], [ca. 1796] (detail)

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York Harbour [July], [ca. 1796], (detail)
Elizabeth Simcoe, (1766-1850)
Pen/paper
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-235
Archives of Ontario, I0007087


“We rode on the peninsula opposite Toronto, so I called it the spit of land, for it is united to the mainland by a very narrow neck of ground. We crossed the bay opposite the camp, and rode by the lake side to the end of the peninsula. We met with some good natural meadows and several ponds. The trees are mostly of the poplar kind, covered with wild vines, and there are some fir. On the ground were everlasting peas creeping in abundance, of a purple colour. I am told they are good to eat when boiled, and some pretty, white flowers like lilies of the valley. We continued our ride beyond the peninsula on the sands of the north shore of Lake Ontario till we were impeded by large trees on the beach...

...We then walked some distance till we met with Mr. Grant's (Lewis Grant, the surveyor's) boat. It was not much larger than a canoe, but we ventured into it, and after rowing a mile we came within site of, what is named on a government map, the highlands of Toronto. The shore is extremely bold and has the appearance of chalk cliffs, but I believe they are only white sand. They appeared so well that we talked of building a summer residence there and calling it Scarborough.”

- August 4th, 1793



On the 23rd of August, a proclamation was published, officially renaming the town "York" in honour of the Duke of York who had recently saved Holland from invasion by the French. The name Toronto would be restored in 1834.

“I liked it very much, being without the noise of Oars is a great gratification... a man usually paddles at one end of it & a woman at the other but in smooth water little exertion is wanting & they sit quietly as if to take the air the Canoe appears to move as if by clock work - I always wish to conduct a Canoe myself when I see them manage it with such dexterity & grace. A European usually looks awkward & in a bustle compared with the Indian's quiet skill in a canoe.”

- September 14, 1793



Watercolour: View From York Barracks, 1796 (detail)
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View From York Barracks, 1796, (detail)
Elizabeth Simcoe, (1766-1850)
Watercolour
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-236
Archives of Ontario, I0006353

Castle Frank

At first, the family slept in a "canvas house" -- one of three or four large tents that Simcoe had bought in London at the sale of the effects of Captain Cook, the explorer. Eventually, the Simcoes would build, not at the Scarborough Heights, but a couple of miles up the Don River.



“The Governor having determined to take a Lot of 200 acres upon the River Donn for Francis, & the Law obliges persons having Lots of land to build a House upon them within the year we went today to fix upon the spot for building his House.”

- September 29th, 1793

Watercolour: Castle Frank, 1796 (detail) (1)
Click to see a larger version (170K)

Castle Frank, 1796, (detail)
Elizabeth Simcoe, (1766-1850)
Watercolour paper, full
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-231
Archives of Ontario, I0006538

In the spring of 1794, construction began on Castle Frank, the Simcoe summer residence. It stood on a steep hill overlooking the Don Valley and was named after the Simcoes' then five-year-old son Francis who was to inherit the residence. The house was still under construction when they returned to England in 1796. Castle Frank would burn down in 1829.



“...we walked on the Ice to the House which is building on Francis' 200 acre Lot of Land. It is called Castle Frank built on the plan of a Grecian Temple...”

- January 23rd, 1796



Watercolour: Castle Frank, 1796 (detail) (2)
Click to see a larger version (203K)

Castle Frank, 1796, (detail)
Elizabeth Simcoe, (1766-1850)
Watercolour paper, full
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-228
Archives of Ontario, I0006352

River Don

While Simcoe was engaged directing the laying out of the town plot of York, Elizabeth busied herself by exploring the area and visiting neighbours such as John Scadding, the former manager of the Wolford Estate, who had emigrated to Canada in 1792.

He lived just over the Don River at the Queen Street Crossing (later the site of the Toronto Jail). Elizabeth did a watercolour of Scadding's in the autumn of 1793. Shortly after that it was destroyed by fire.



Drawing: River Don near York and John Scadding's Cabin, Autumn, 1793 (detail)
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River Don near York and John Scadding's Cabin,
Autumn, 1793 (detail)
Elizabeth Simcoe, (1766-1850)
pen/paper
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-107
Archives of Ontario, I0006959

“I rode on the peninsula. My horse has spirit enough to wish to get their before others. I rode a race with Mr. Talbot to keep myself warm. I gathered wild grapes. They were pleasant but not sweet.

Mr. Smith has gone to open a road, to be called Dundas Street, from the Head of the Lake to the River La Tranche (the Thames). He has 100 men with him.”

- Tuesday Sept 23, 1793

“We went 6 miles by water & landed, climbed up an exceedingly steep hill or rather a series of sugerloafed Hills & approved of the highest spot from whence we looked down on the tops of Large Trees & seeing Eagles near I suppose they build there.”

- September 29th, 1793



Watercolour: Lake Ontario shore, [ca. 1793]  (detail)

Click to see a larger version (136K)

Lake Ontario shore, [ca. 1793], (detail)
Elizabeth Simcoe, (1766-1850)
pen/paper
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-106
Archives of Ontario, I0006958

“...we walked on the Ice to the House which is building on Francis' 200 acre Lot of Land. It is called Castle Frank built on the plan of a Grecian Temple...”

- January 23rd, 1796



“The weather damp, mild and dirty. When will the end of March arrive? I am quite impatient to set out for Detroit.&”

- February 9th, 1794



Watercolour: Playter's bridge near York, June 6th, [ca. 1796] (detail)
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Playter's bridge near York, June 6th, [ca. 1796], (detail)
Elizabeth Simcoe, (1766-1850)
pen/paper
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-233
Archives of Ontario, I0007085

In the end, Simcoe would travel to Detroit without Elizabeth. She remained in York where, in mid-April, with both Simcoe and the family doctor absent in the west, Katherine, her youngest daughter died.

In May 1794, Elizabeth returned to Niagara where Governor Simcoe had re-established himself in Navy Hall.