As today is Sir John Graves Simcoe Day in Ontario, I would like to discuss the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791 to 1796. Of course Upper Canada would later become the Province of Ontario.
Born in Cotterstock England in 1752, Simcoe would be educated at Eton and spent one year at Oxford. He joined the 35th Regiment of Foot, as an ensign, in 1770. He purchased a captaincy in the 40th Regiment of Foot and was injured in battle during the American Revolution. He was responsible for a successful battle in the battle of Crooked Billet.
He became Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada in 1791 when the British Government created the Province of Upper Canada out of land around the Great Lakes that stayed part of the British Empire after the American Revolution. Simcoe would see to the building of two major roads: Yonge Street (named after Sir George Yonge then the Minister of War), and Dundas Street (named after Henry Dundas, later the 1st Viscount Melville.) Originally built for defensive purposes, later both streets served to help settlement Upper Canada, and as trading routes.
The original capital of Upper Canada was Newark (now Niagara-On-The-Lake.) When war broke out between Britain and France, with the U.S. being sympathetic to France, Simcoe suggested moving the capital away from the border. His first choice was to create what is now the City of London, but the location was rejected. It was determined that the village of Toronto would make a good choice. The village, now a town, was renamed York and became the capital in 1793, and continues to be the capital of Ontario.
Simcoe would oversee the end of slavery in Upper Canada, through the passage of legislation in 1793. By 181o slavery was totally abolished in Upper Canada, 23 years before any other part of the British Empire.
He was married once, to Elizabeth Simcoe (neé Gwillim) and together had seven children.
Lake Simcoe, about an hour’s north of Toronto, is named after his father.
There are several locations in Ontario that have been named after Sir John Graves Simcoe:
- the Town of Simcoe in Southwest Ontario
- Simcoe Sounty in Southwest Ontario
- Simcoe Place in Toronto
- Simcoe Island near Kingston
- Simcoe Street and John Street in Toronto
- Simcoe Street in Niagara Falls
- Simcoe Street in Oshawa
- Simcoe Hall at the University of Toronto
Several Schools have been named after him, including:
- Governor Simcoe Secondary School in St. Catharines
- Governor Simcoe Public School in London
- Simcoe Street School in Niagara Falls
So there is a reason for today, not just for an excuse to have a long weekend. So let’s remember Sir John Graves Simcoe.