Toronto's Central Park

Saturday, 29 September 1894 - Toronto, Canada

Today I visited High Park up in the hills just north of Humber Bay. This huge park is the legacy of John George Howard, the former official surveyor and civil engineer of Toronto. He was also an architect who designed many of the city’s early public buildings.

John George Howard
Howard was born John George Corby in Bengeo, Hertfordshire, England in 1803. When he immigrated to Canada in 1832 with his wife Jemima, he took the name Howard. He gave several stories of why he did this. As far as we can tell it was not to hide from the law, he just wanted to be Howard.

In 1836 Howard purchased 165 acres of land west of Toronto. He intended to farm it, then decided to subdivide it. The land was full of steep hills, wetlands and sandy soil, plus was a distance from town and a hard commute. Howard did build a cottage for him and his wife on the highest hill overlooking Lake Ontario. He named it Colburne Lodge after his first patron, Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne.

Colburne Lodge
In 1873 Howard deeded 120 acres of his land to the city, with the remaining 45 upon his death. The stipulation was that he be allowed to live out his life in his home, that he get a yearly pension of $1,200 and that the land become a park, free to the public and no alcohol allowed (this was to be a place families could come.) The city agreed and appointed Howard the park ranger. He spent his retirement puttering about planting flowers and clearing underbrush until his death in 1890.

Even though High Park is no longer far from the city, most of the park is still in a more or less wild state. It allows the city folks to get back to nature. Hiking and picnicking are popular. There is a 35 acre lake here called Grenadier Pond that is a popular fishing spot. In winter it’s used for skating, hockey and curling. 100 years from now, a third of the park will still be left natural. By then it will be expanded to 399 acres.

Grenadier Pond
John and Jemima Howard left no children. (Yes, I know about the three children he had with his mistress.) John built a cairn with a plaque surrounded by an iron fence to serve as his and Jemima’s gravestone near Colburne Lodge. Apparently his wife suffered from dementia, but Howard took care of her at home rather than having her committed to the asylum he had built. (So maybe we can forgive him the mistress.)

The Howard Memorial at High Park built by John Howard
I enjoyed hiking through the woods. At Colburne Lodge there is a magnificent view over the lake and the city. The lodge will eventually become a museum, but right now it is just sitting here ignored. I did see a couple sitting on the porch who moved apart and giggled when they saw me. I gave them the appropriate raised eyebrow, and worked hard not too smile. I suppose someday they will bring their kids and grandkids to visit John Howard’s gift to Toronto.

Colburne Lodge by John Howard

King Street in Toronto by John Howard
showing the City Hall and Jail he had designed


How Toronto Found Itself with Two Holy Trinity Anglican Churches

Sunday, 23 September 1894 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Today I visited Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Toronto...both of them. Both built for the same reason only years apart. Perhaps I should start from the beginning.

Toronto, then called York, had a Anglican Church called St. James. Anglican is basically the Church of England outside of Great Britain. The church was rebuilt several times to accommodate the growing number of English settlers.

Even before the Irish Famine that started in 1845 with the potato blight, Irish immigrants were pouring into Toronto just to escape the horrid poverty. By 1851, at the peak of the Famine, the Irish made up the largest ethnic group in Toronto. Most settled in a neighborhood called Corktown. It was in this neighborhood that the first Catholic church in Toronto, St. Paul’s, was built in 1841.

However the majority of Irish in Toronto weren’t Catholic, but Protestants--Orange Men with the Church of England. They had St. James--or did they? At the time St. James rented their pews. It was a common practice of the time to collect money to run the church. What it meant was the rich sat up front, the middle class sat behind them and the poor--well, they either sat in the very back or stood. The Irish Protestants were the poorest of the congregation.

Original Holy Trinity in Corktown
The Irish had enough. They decided to build their own Anglican Church in Corktown. Providing much of the labor themselves and using the bricks they made in the brickyards, they built Holy Trinity Church in 1844. The pews were open to all--free and unreserved. Tithing would have to be by contributions from the struggling working class congregation.

Meanwhile a certain Mary Lambert Swale of Settle, England must have heard of the plight of Toronto’s working class. Knowing she was dieing , she made a will, leaving 5,000 pounds sterling to the Toronto Diocese to build a church. The stipulations were that it had to be Gothic design, the pews were to always be free, that the pulpit not be placed as to obstruct the view of patrons, and that the church be named Holy Trinity.

Mary Lambert Swale's Holy Trinity Church
Although Miss Swale gave the donation anonymously, her named leaked out. She was only twenty-five when she died. Her church was opened in 1847. The original Holy Trinity Church changed it’s name Trinity East, although even now it is better known as Little Trinity Church, no doubt touched by Miss Swale’s dieing wish.

Little Trinity’s congregation has grown and the church was expanded in 1889 to add 600 more seats! They has been sending missionaries around the world.

Holy Trinity in the future
As for the other Holy Trinity Church, eventually in the next century it will find itself in the middle of the urban core, the residential neighborhoods replace by skyscrapers. Rather than closing down, Holy Trinity will turn it’s attention to the urban homeless, helping where it can. Indeed a plaque by the door will list the names of the ignored homeless who died on the streets. It will champion the cause of social outcasts whether homosexual or the latest wave of immigrants, like the Hispanic. It will be in the spirit of the church’s founder, Mary Lambert Swale, who wanted an church that catered to the forgotten and powerless.


The Mechanic Who Reached for the Stars

Friday, 21 September 1894 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

As you know, most of my travels in the Field are for various universities. They always love seeing the old alma mater in its early days. Too often I can only visit the college which one day become a university or just the cow pasture that will one day be a place of higher learning. Not so with the University of Toronto. In 1894 it’s already one of North America’s leading universities.

University of Toronto campus
University of Toronto is not the oldest university in Canada, but it is the oldest institute of higher learning in Ontario, back when it was still Upper Canada. (Which is actually the southern most part of Canada.) In 1827 the future university was founded by Royal Charter as King’s College. At first it was a religious institution, mainly because John Strachan, Anglican Bishop of Toronto, was the first president. He was given the job because it was his intense lobbying that brought the college into being.

In 1849 the newly elected government of Upper Canada voted to make King’s College a secular university. Strachan left in a huff and created Trinity College as an Anglican Seminary. In 1884 the University really raised more eyebrows by admitting women. In 1897 one of those women, Clara Brett Martin, will be the first women barrister in the whole British Empire. Over the years Toronto University has opened or absorbed other colleges. It already confers degrees in Science, Engineering, Dentistry, Law, Medicine, and other subjects.

It is well on to its way of being one of the leading research institutes in the world. Some day this will be the birthplace of insulin and stem cell research and a leader in the development of computers and cybernetics. The experimental physics laboratory is even now one of the most modern in the world. I have come here today to record one of its greatest assets.

University of Toronto's Experimental Physics Laboratory
I found John Stanley Plaskett in the laboratory after class working on some apparatus. One advantage of coming from a long line of college professors is I can stroll about any institute of higher learning and just look like I’m suppose to be there. So when I walked up to Plaskett and asked him what he was doing, he assumed I was a visiting professor.

“I’m making a resistance box.” Plaskett held up the wooden box with tubes and wires for me to see.

“Very clever.” I introduced myself as Dr. Wendell Howe, visiting from Cambridge University. (Not a lie. I just didn‘t mention what year.) Plaskett took my proffered hand and told me his name.

“Are you a student?” I knew he wasn’t. The man is pushing thirty.

“No, just a mechanic. My title is Foreman of the Physics Department. Professor James Loudon hired me to make and repair equipment. I also assist Professor Chant with demonstrations. Loudon seemed impressed when I told him I worked for Thomas Edison.”

John Stanley Plaskett
“Thomas Edison, you say? My word, that is impressive. How long have you worked here?”

“About four years. I like the work. I find it interesting.”

“You said you help with the demonstrations?”

Plaskett smiled. “Yes, I’ve heard the same lectures four times now. I could probably pass the exams.” He frowned, then shook his head. “No, I’m 29 and just a mechanic. I’m just a farmer‘s son.” Then he frowned thoughtfully again. “I wonder if I could get a degree?” He leaned on the counter and stared into space. “No, I have a wife and a one year old son. It would be too much to ask of Rebecca and Harry. We could never afford it...could we?”

I was afraid to say anything lest I be accused of encouraging or discouraging Plaskett and changing history. I also felt awed that I was there to witness a turning point in his career. Plaskett will enroll next year and get a degree in mathematics and physics. He will stay on at the University where he will teach as a Lecturer in Physics Department and do research in color photography.

In 1903, William Frederick King will hire him as part of the Astronomy Division of the Department of the Interior to help design and construct instruments for the new Dominion Observatory in Ottawa. There he will measure radial velocities or how fast stars are moving away from each other.

Dominion Astrophysical Observatory
Victoria, British Columbia
In 1917 Plaskett will be made the first director of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, British Columbia. Seemed only fair since he designed the telescope. With it he will discover a binary star called “Plaskett’s Star” in 1922, the largest binary star ever found. He was the first to measure the size, mass and rotational speed of the Milky Way Galaxy as well as our distance from the center of the galaxy.

In 1930 he will win the coveted Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, perhaps the greatest award any astronomer can receive. (His son Harry Hemley Plaskett, following in Daddy’s footsteps, will win it in 1963.)

It’s hard to believe this unassuming mechanic will one day be one of the world’s leading astronomers. As I said, I came here to record one of the University of Toronto’s greatest assets.

Dominion Astrophysical Observatory earns national heritage status


Toronto - the Queen City

Thursday, 6 September 1894 - Toronto, Canada

I have been at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition which runs from the 3rd to the 15th of September. The first Industrial Exhibition was held in 1879 and was such a success it was continued every year. In 1912 it will be renamed the Canadian National Exhibition.

The most notable building is the Crystal Palace, based on the original Crystal Palace at the Great International Exhibition of 1851 in London. Toronto’s Crystal Palace actually predates the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. Built in 1858, it was moved to this area in 1878, it’s former site becoming too small for the fair and exhibitions held there. Sadly it will be destroyed in a fire in 1906, but now it’s quite beautiful.

Toronto's Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace is dedicated to exhibits by various manufacturers here in Toronto. Much of the other buildings are full of livestock and produce. This is as much a country fair as an industrial exhibit. There is a gallery showing off the work of various local artists, as well as live fish and reptiles in the Natural History Hall. There are athletic events, horse races, band music, entertainments and firework displays in the evening. This is really a big celebration of how far Toronto has come.

Upon this very site of the fair, the first non-native structure was built in 1750. Fort Rouillé was a small French trading post that was abandoned in 1759. There really wasn’t a European presence here until a little spat down south between the English colonies and the Crown.

Most colonists thought a revolution was a daft idea, but as the tide turned against the British army, most people made sure to be on the winning side. Some folks of integrity stuck to their guns. These were called Loyalists. They had read the history books and knew what a mistake getting rid of the monarchy had caused in England in 1651. Others among them thought independence wasn’t a bad idea, but felt it could be won peacefully. For their idealism, the Loyalists had their property confiscated by their fellow Americans.

Great Britain offered to help the Loyalist immigrate to someplace more hospitable. Some went to the Caribbean, others to England, but most headed north to those English Colonies who had not joined the rebellion. One of those places was a tiny settlement on the shores of Lake Ontario, a place named York. In 1834 they renamed York with the native name of Toronto to distinguish itself from New York City.

1804 Toronto (then called York)
In 1851 the population of Toronto soared to 30,000 as Irish immigrants came pouring in, trying to escape the Irish Famine. Recently Germans, Italians and Jews have been coming in large numbers. Toronto has grown to 181,000 by 1891!

Today at the Exhibition is Pioneer Day. Even though Toronto is a large metropolitan city, there are still folks alive who can be called pioneers. The oldest building in town has been moved to the Exhibition Grounds in 1879. It is the cabin of John Scadding built in 1794. Only 100 years ago, Toronto would have been nothing more than a collection of a few dozen these cabins. Now she is one of the largest cities in Canada. A 100 years from now she will be the largest. No wonder the Victorian have nick-named her the "Queen City."

Toronto in 1894

Toronto Industrial Exhibition through the years

A program of the 1894 Industrial Exhibition printed by the Ontario Society of Artists (free download)

tribute pamphlet available at the John Scadding cabin written by Rev. Dr. Scadding for 1894 (free download)