Confederation & Bedford Park

1867Families in the Bedford Park area grabbing a TTC family pass on Canada Day to head for Queen’s Park’s free entertainment, rides and crafts are repeating the very same excursion taken by area families 140 years ago.

July 1, 1867 may have marked Canada’s transition from colony to nation, but for the farm families north of the Lawrence properties it was a day off from chores. Many of them hopped into their wagons and buggies to make the trip down Yonge Street to join in the planned celebrations. They passed through the villages of Eglinton, Davisville, Deer Park and Yorkville on their way to the city.

The party would have been underway for hours by the time they arrived. Celebrations began the previous midnight with the tolling of the steeple bells at St. James Cathedral. A 21-gun salute took place before dawn, followed the long slow roasting of a whole ox over a bonfire; it would later be carved up and distributed to the poor. The 9:30 morning service at the Mechanics’ Institute behind the cathedral to bless the new Dominion was also likely over.

But there was probably still time to catch part of the military parade down city streets and join the picnics taking place down by the lake. A highlight was taking advantage of special boat trips around Toronto’s islands.

In the evening, many moved on to Queen’s Park to hear the concert band. As the sun set, Chinese lanterns added a fairytale atmosphere to the park. For those farm families prepared to make a late night of it, there was fireworks before they had to make the long trip back up Yonge in the dark.

It’s probable that two of the neighborhood’s most prominent landowners stayed overnight in Toronto in order to take part in a special banquet at the Music Hall above the Mechanics’ Institute. William McDougall and James Metcalfe, both Members of Parliament for the new Canada, likely watched as the featured speakers — John A. Macdonald and George Brown — buried their longtime political rivalry and concentrated on optimistic rhetoric to capture the excitement achieved in creating a new country.

McDougall didn’t spend much time on his farm at today’s Yonge and Ranleigh streets. He was actually representing Lanark County in Ottawa and had just been appointed to be Macdonald’s Minister of Public Works. Across the street from the McDougall farm was Metcalfe’s Knockloe estate (on the site of today’s Blessed Sacrament school). As president of the Royal Canadian Bank, Metcalfe had been encouraged to run for federal office for York East. He now represented all of York County east of the Yonge (on McDougall’s side) as well as Yorkville, Scarborough and Markham.
The MP for the west side of Yonge was William Pearce Howland, a prominent miller on the Humber River and finance minister in the former colony of Canada. He was named a minister in Macdonald’s cabinet, but would soon step down to become Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor.

Canada was now a country, but the cluster of farms north of the Lawrences wouldn’t become a village for another 25 years.

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Community Life.

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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William McDougall, a true Father of Confederation

1851Standing sentinel behind the Locke library, a federal plaque pays tribute to the Honourable William McDougall, one of Canada’s most interesting Confederation characters.

In the 1860s, McDougall’s 200-acre farm on Yonge Street sat between Bowood and Snowdon, running east through the Don valley to today’s Bayview Avenue. Born in 1822 on his grandfather’s farm south of Lawrence, McDougall spent his youth playing in the ravines that are now Alexander Muir Gardens. He was 15 when he witnessed the burning of nearby Montgomery’s Tavern during the Rebellion of 1837.

Following an education at Upper Canada Academy in Cobourg, he returned to Toronto to study law in the firm of another neighbour, James Hervey Price. In 1845, he married Amelia Easton, daughter of Joseph Easton who owned the farm north-east of Yonge and Lawrence. They began raising a family on the Easton farm and McDougall started honing his interest in journalism and politics.

Two years later, he not only became a lawyer but also helped establish a sophisticated farm publication which evolved into the Canadian Agriculturalist. He was able to draw on his own experience working on his father-in-law’s farm, where, by 1851, he had also built a sawmill near today’s Rosedale golf club.

William McDougallBy this time, he was also actively involved in the Reform movement trying to achieve responsible government. He helped found the Clear Grit wing of the Reform Party, launching its first publication, the North American. McDougall and the Grits were looking for “common sense democracy” like that in the United States.

In 1855, he sold the North American to his Reform competitor, George Brown of The Globe, and joined Brown’s staff. Three years later he closed down the Agriculturalist and finally won a seat in the legislature, representing Oxford North (vacated by Brown). Over the years he would represent a variety of ridings around the province.

A proponent of federalism, McDougall took an active part in the talks that ultimately led to the creation of Canada, thus making him one of the Fathers of Confederation. In some ways it was surprising. Although he was admired as a brilliant orator, he was an eccentric politician who was aloof and ambitious. Not a great team player, his unreliability ultimately earned him the nickname, Wandering Willie. That trait arose in 1862 when he abandoned the Grit platform to join John Sandfield Macdonald’s Reform government.

While serving in cabinet, he was again a witness to history as part of the crowd listening to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in Pennsylvania.

In 1867 he changed parties again, becoming Sir John A. Macdonald’s first Conservative minister of public works. He braved the accusations of former colleagues to steer through Parliament the acquisition of western Canada from the Hudson’s Bay Company. For his efforts, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor designate of the North West Territory.

The timing was bad. His wife had died and he had four children at home. All four joined his entourage travelling to the west. At the Manitoba border, they were stopped by Louis Riel’s Metis government. McDougall’s posting became invalid while the HBC negotiated with the Metis. Returning to Ontario bitter and shocked, he soon shifted his political energy to provincial politics.

McDougall later returned to the federal scene and moved to Ottawa in 1880. Even after losing several elections, he continued to leave his cantankerous imprint on Canadian politics. He died nearly penniless in 1905.

Beneath the ravine near his plaque in Lawrence Park runs the now-underground McDougall Creek, named after the farmer-journalist-politician who lived here for over 50 years.

The photograph of William McDougall is from Archives Canada.

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Community Life.

Published in: on September 1, 2008 at 4:29 pm  Comments (28)  
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