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JOHN GRAVES SIMCOE
John  Graves Simcoe was appointed the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada in 1791, the same year the Province of Upper Canada (Ontario)  came into being when  the British Constitutional Act was passed by the British parliament.


(Sophia, aged two, and son Francis who was just three months old at the time.)

Unlike her husband, who had been a British Officer in the American Revolutionary War, this was the only time Elizabeth Gwillim Simcoe had been to America.   We are fortunate that she kept a detailed diary   regarding her stay thus providing us with a first-hand view of life and conditions in Upper  Canada at the turn of the nineteenth century. 

East and West Gwillimbury are named after her.

Elizabeth Gwillim Simcoe
After the Simcoes arrived in Upper Canada, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter Katherine, but the baby died at the age of fifteen months in 1793.  Katherine was interred in a small park in Toronto.  Later, during the War of 1812, the site became a military cemetery known as Old Garrison Burying Ground where some soldiers killed in the war were buried.  The park still exists; it's called Victoria Memorial Gardens, and is located at the intersection of

In the center of the park there is a granite monument supporting an iron bust  of an unknown soldier.  His sorrowful face conveys the message of  sadness from  the forgotten heroes who claim this site as their final resting place.  Surrounding the monument, are faded headstones of almost  hundred two  years, which were taken from their original plots throughout the park and positioned about the base.

The Simcoes named their Toronto summer home Castle Frank after their son Francis.  Castle Frank was located on Bloor Street overlooking the Don Valley.  The castle was destroyed by fire in 1829 and a second castle was later constructed in 1844.  It stood until 1962 when it was demolished to allow the construction of Rosedale Heights Secondary School, later renamed Rosedale Heights-School of the Arts.  

In 1966, the Government of Ontario placed  an historical plaque dedicated to Elizabeth Simcoe, directly in front of the school.   The Bloor subway stops there.

Because of poor health, John Simcoe returned to Britain in July, 1796, where two years later he resigned from the office of Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.  He briefly served as the Governor of St. Domingo, (Haiti).  On returning to England he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of India but he died on October 26, 1806, before he could accept his commission.  He lived  fifty-four years.  

After John Simcoe's death, his son Francis joined the British army while still in his teens.  He earned the rank of Lieutenant in 1809 but was killed in Spain in 1812 at the age of just twenty-one years while  serving under the command of Lord Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars. 


Tomb of John Graves Simcoe in Wolford Chapel, Devonshire, England.  There is no reference to his stay in Upper Canada written in the inscription, but there is a  carving of a Native American engraved on the right side of the tomb.
Written on the face of the tomb, near the bottom, is the following:
'During the erection of this monument his eldest son, Francis Gwillim Simcoe, Lieut. in the 27th Regiment of Foot, born at Wolford Lodge, in this county, June 6th, 1791, fell in the breach of the Siege of Badajoz, April. 6th, 1812, in the 21st year of his age.'
Elizabeth Gwillim Simcoe died in 1850 at the age of eighty-seven.  She was buried at  Wolford Chapel with her husband.  Five of their eleven children were  also buried here.   In 1982, the Ontario Heritage Foundation assumed ownership of Wolford Chapel.

John Simcoe's contribution to the founding of Ontario was beyond measure. The first Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of the Upper Canada Provincial Government took place on September 17, 1792, at Newark, (Niagara-on-the-Lake), located near the United States border.   Under John Simcoe's  administration,  slavery was effectively abolished in Upper Canada when the  Legislature Assembly passed The Anti-Slavery Act  of 1793.  The Anti-Slavery Act  made Canada a safe haven for approximately fifty thousand runaway "slaves" who came to Canada  so as to avoid  capture and forced  return to the Southern United States where slavery was still sanctioned.   The Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862,  abolished slavery everywhere in  the United States beginning January 1, 1863.  

John Simcoe cemented close relations with Native Americans whose participation proved  critical to the successful outcome of the War of 1812 which began six years after his death.  On June 19, 1812, President Madison of the United States declared war on Britain.  Immediately, American armed forces invaded Canada.  In the war, Native American warriors fought as equal participants with British/Canadian soldiers restraining  the United States offensive  into Canada.  Thousands of Native Americans gave their lives defending Canada in the War of 1812 including  the Shawnee Chief, General Tecumseh, Brigadier General, Commander of the Confederation of Native American Tribes. 

Tecumseh
Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of Thames, October 5, 1813,  in Moraviantown, near London,  Upper Canada.  He played an unparallel part  in the defense of  Canada while  striving for an independent Native American Confederate State.

John Simcoe facilitated settlement throughout Upper Canada by providing land to Empire Loyalists who came to Upper Canada from the United States after the American Revolutionary War.  (Laura Secord, the daughter of an Empire Loyalist, was granted 172 acres of land on Concession 7 in Uxbridge, a town north-east of Toronto).   Land was granted to Quakers and  German migrants but was conditional upon stipulated improvements being completed within a year after taking possession. 

It is estimated that ten thousand Hessian (German) troops who fought with the British during the American Revolutionary War came to Canada afterward. 

Under John Simcoe's tenure the court justice system and trial by jury was established.

In 1793, John Graves Simcoe selected  the city of Toronto as capital of Upper Canada.  He had originally proposed London, naming the city   after London, England.  Lord Dorchester, the Governor-General at the time, rejected London as the future capital but chose Toronto, Simcoe's alternate proposal.  John Simcoe had proposed London and  Toronto  because of their greater distance from the United States border thus offering greater security in the event of future war with the United States.  

Frederick, Duke of York   

John Simcoe then changed the name of  Toronto to  York, naming the city after Frederick, Duke of York, the son of  the British King, George lll.  He immediately ordered the Queen's Rangers to build a fortification to defend the new capital.  On April 27, 1813, approximately two thousand American soldiers captured York at the Battle of York.  The Americans pillaged and burned much of the city before abandoning the    area five days later.     
This action  provoked the burning of  Washington in 1814 by British troops.  Fort York was reconstructed and still stands today in its original state as it was almost two Hundred years ago; it  is open to the public.  
York was incorporated as a city and renamed Toronto in 1834. The first civic government was elected with William Lyon Mackenzie becoming the first mayor of Toronto.  The population of Toronto at the time was 9,300 residents.

John Simcoe ordered the  construction of a network of  roads throughout Upper Canada for the purpose of providing rapid transportation of soldiers and equipment in the event of future war.   The roads also contributed to further settlement throughout Ontario.  These included a 260  km roadway from the city of  York east  to Kingston;

William Lyon  MacKenzie              
Dundas Road, extending west to Hamilton and then toward London.  He commissioned the construction of Yonge Street, stretching from Lake Ontario north to Lake Toronto.  Yonge Street is often called the world's longest street.  (Lake Toronto was later renamed Lake Simcoe  after John Simcoe's father). 

Simcoe's foresight was astonishing.  During the War of 1812, the vastness of four of the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair, forced the invading American armies to wedge their drive into Upper Canada  through the land corridors connecting both countries in the Niagara, Kingston and Detroit areas.  Because of the road networks John Simcoe set in place, defending troops were rapidly dispatched to these fronts to engage the Americans.

John Simcoe was Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada for just four years  from 1792 to 1796...but in those four years his contribution to our national heritage is beyond measure.  In 1968, the Toronto City Council decreed that the civic holiday, the first Monday in August, be called Simcoe Day, thus honouring this remarkable man. 

An imposing statue of John Graves Simcoe stands on the lawn of  the Ontario Legislature at University Avenue and College Street in Toronto.
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Niagara, Portland and Wellington Streets in West Toronto.
John Simcoe was thirty years old when he married Elizabeth Gwillim in 1782.  During their marriage, the Simcoes  had eleven children.  When John and Elizabeth came to Upper Canada, they took two of  their children with them,