29 May 2009

A Walk Through Toronto

The other day younger and I took a walk through downtown Toronto with her little camera. We took photos of various people and monuments we saw along the way. Here's a few photos with my comments.

First off, outside the Eaton's Centre downtown is one of Toronto's most popular street performers, Silver Elvis. I would explain his routine to you, but it's not easy. If you see him, toss him a coin and watch him go.

Beside the Eaton's Centre is the Old City Hall. The great clock tower chimes out the quarter hours in Westminster chimes. The hall is now a courthouse.

Now it's time to get into the Significant Dead People part of the program. By the City Hall area is a statue of Winston Churchill.

The statue is surrounded by placards with little facts about Churchill's life. Missing from any of the placards are any of his speeches, which is for me the heart of Churchill. A man of many gifts, his greatest gift lay in his ability to move people with his words. He was a man whose vices were nearly as great as his virtues. His greatest hour was during the Battle of Britain, when he marshaled the English language itself, and sent it off to war.

Of a completely different stripe is this man below. His statue is over near Queen's Park. This is Sir John A. MacDonald, first Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada, better known to most Canadians as the Guy on the Ten.

He bears with him the robes of office and the Great Seal upon the BNA act, symbolizing his position in history as the founding father of Canada. I suppose he is our George Washington, except he is nothing like George Washington. MacDonald was a career politician, from beginning to end. He is not an iconic figure. No one would ever want to carve his face into a mountain, for instance. He had his virtues. He was a decent speaker, a good party leader, though not a figure who could unite people across party lines. He was said to be friendly, and he had a prodigious memory. But he was also had his flaws, including one he shared with Churchill: he was a colossal drunk. His wife was also a laudanum addict. Both seem to have started their addictions after the death of their son.

The stories about his actions in Parliament show an interesting character. Once a member of the opposition read out a list of MacDonald's faults to parliament. When finished, MacDonald drawled "Yeah. Ain't I the devil, though?" Another time a junior member of Parliament insulted the Prime Minister, and Macdonald had to be restrained as he attempted to reach the young man, crying as he went forward "You damn'd pup, I'll smack your chops!"

My favourite story of MacDonald was a tale told about an incident that occurred during an election campaign. MacDonald was scheduled to have a debate with an opponent in his home riding of Kingston. He arrived three days early for the debate, and promptly vanished. A search for him turned up nothing. On the night of the debate, his party brought forward another man to debate the opponent, when Sir John A. reeled into the hall, looking every inch like a man who had been on a three day bender. He took his place on the platform, and the debate began with the other candidate stepping forward and making his speech. As he spoke, Sir John began to look a sickly greenish colour, which got worse and worse while the other candidate spoke, until finally, at the end of the candidate's speech, Sir John pitched forward and vomited royally and spectacularly across the stage. He rose to his feet and wiped his chops, saying quickly: "Sorry about that, but that's what I thought of his speech."

Not far from MacDonald stands another man, Sir John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant Governor of what is now Ontario.

This Sir John was not in the area long, but he left his mark. One of his favourite things to do was re-name things. Thus Toronto became York (before it was changed back to Toronto in 1835), London was founded, and a myriad of other British names found their way onto Ontario's maps. If you've ever been on the Bloor-Danforth Subway line, you may have noticed Castle Frank subway stop. That is named after a log Cabin Simcoe had constructed and named for his infant son, Francis. Frank's Castle, get it? It was because of him that Toronto became the capital of Ontario, mainly because he wanted it in London, and another prominent governor general type wanted it at Kingston. A third party split the difference, and put the capital between the two.
Simcoe's greatest achievement, one which should be known by every citizen of Ontario, but is very little known, was that he ended slavery in the province. An abolitionist by nature, he wanted to terminate slavery immediately with the stroke of a pen, but he ruled through an oligarchical council, which was very nearly a plutocracy- in other words, he ruled through the kind of people most likely to own slaves. Because of this, his legislation to end slavery became watered down. There were to be no new slaves, and any slaves currently owned would be freed in twenty five years. Even in its watered down form, it was the first anti slavery legislation in the British Empire.
Historical Trivia: For almost the entire time he was here, Simcoe and his family lived in a tent that had previously been owned by Captain Cook. After Cook's death in the Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii, his goods were sold at auction. Simcoe picked up Cook's enormous tent and brought it with him to here.
Close by is She Who Was Not Amused, Queen Victoria herself, the Queen for whom Queen's Park is named.

Now we get to a few War memorials. Back over in front of Old City Hall is the main Toronto Cenotaph. It was raised in the mid twenties as a memorial to the Great War, but has been added to cover subsequent conflicts.

It appears to me an unfinished monument. A pedestal that upholds nothing. It looks as though there should be a few statues of some sort upon it, but these were never made. The city ran out of money.

Back at Queen's Park is one of the more politically incorrect memorials, this one dedicated to the memory of those who died putting down the second Riel Rebellion.

Riel was a Metis, half Indian half something else, in this case French, who lead two uprisings against the Canadian Government. After the second he was caught, put on trial and hung. This monument is raised in memory of the Europeans who died fighting what was the closest thing we ever had to an Indian war. The idea of such a monument is nearly unthinkable today.
Another memorial to a forgotten battle is this one, raised in memory of those who died fighting the Fenian Raids.

The Fenians in this case were Irish men who had served with the Union Army in the Civil War. Following that war, many of the Irish Veterans, theirs hearts still in the distant Ireland, banded together to teach Britain a lesson, by taking over Canada. Their incursions into Canada met with some success, as the inexperienced Canadian militias were no match for Battle hardened veterans. Eventually, with some British Regulars and also some help from the American Government which quietly cut off supplies to the Fenians, The raids were turned back in defeat. It was the last time the Canadian American border was crossed in force by our nations as enemies. One of its outcomes was it put an added urgency to creating the union of Canada, as it was thought a national defense plan was necessary to keep the colonies British. That union occurred a year later, in 1867.
This Fenian monument is in rather sad state today. The statues are made of Limestone which does not wear well against the rain. Also susceptible to rain is the rock of the monument upon which the statues stand. It too is heavily rain damaged, and most of the carving is now illegible.
We also stopped by the Cathedral and took photos of it, but there my daughter's camera showed its fatal flaw: it's interior pictures are terrible, so I buried the project for the time being. Hopefully I will soon have some good shots of the inside of our Cathedral.

No comments: