Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Loyalist Wednesday – Sir John Graves Simcoe

Sir John Graves Simcoe
Quick! What was the name of the holiday you enjoyed on Monday? (If you were lucky enough to have one).  

If you live in Ontario, you might be forgiven for not knowing.

For some reason, the official name of the August Long weekend in Ontario is a confusing mess.  No one really knows what they are supposed to call it.

 It is not the Civic Holiday as it was for a long time.

Simcoe Day, you might have said. You’d be right, if you lived in Toronto.

If you live in Ontario outside of Toronto it is Emancipation Day.  A very little known fact – I didn’t even know that until last year when my friend the writer Thomas Rendell Curran pointed it out.  What starred this train of thought was that I was in the grocery store in Picton, a few days ago and was greeted by a sign 
informing me of the “Simcoe Day” opening hours.


Sir John Graves Simcoe opening the first parliament of Upper Canada
In 2008, the Province of Ontario dedicated its August Monday holiday as "Emancipation Day”. Toronto, however, seems to have suck with Simcoe Day.

The two names are quite closely related.

When the Loyalist settlers arrived in what is now Prince Edward County in the summer of 1784, the territory was so unsettled it didn’t even have a name or a leader.  There was no Toronto, and until the Loyalists began arriving, the tiny settlement of Cataraqui (renamed Kingston in 1788) wasn’t much more than a muddy fort with a tiny village.

It wasn’t until 1791 that the place got a leader, a government, and a name. John Graves Simcoe (February 25, 1752 – October 26, 1806) was first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe  founded York (now Toronto) and was instrumental in introducing institutions such as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, and freehold land tenure. (

Elizabeth Simcoe
The diary of his wife, Elizabeth, provides a valuable record of life on the frontier, as do her extensive series of watercolours.

One of his most memorable accomplishments was the ending of slavery in Upper Canada, long before it was abolished in the British Empire as a whole 

Painting by Elizabeth Simcoe
A personal long-time opponent of slavery, Simcoe introduced a law, titled An Act to Prevent the further Introduction of Slaves and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this Province in 1793.  This law stated that while all slaves in the province would remain enslaved until death, no new slaves could be brought into Upper Canada, and children born to female slaves after passage of the act would be freed at age 25. (  – Thus slavery ended forever in 1810, well before it was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834 and long before it ended in the United States.

Sir John Graves Simcoe was not a Loyalist, but he was instrumental in establishing the colony of Upper Canada, later the province of Ontario, where the rag-tag band of Loyalist Settlers could grow and prosper.  

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