Duels were common when Parliament St. was in a forest

Bruce Bell –

Present-day Parliament Street was once a rough road cut through a dense forest leading up to Lt. Gov. John Graves Simcoe’s country home, Castle Frank, that at one time overlooked the Don River at present day Bloor Street.

Present-day Parliament Street was once a rough road cut through a dense forest leading up to Lt. Gov. John Graves Simcoe’s country home, Castle Frank, that at one time overlooked the Don River at present day Bloor Street. bruce1

The canvas tent that served as Simcoe’s retreat was once owned by the famous explorer Captain Cook, who took it with him as he circumnavigated the world.

In the early 1800s there was a small bridge crossing long-buried Goodwin’s Creek at present-day Parliament and King.

Though the creek is gone there is today a slight dip and a bend to King St. as it crosses Parliament, etching out the former topography of the area.

The first houses and businesses to spring up in that area were Mrs. Johnson’s boarding house on the northwest corner of Ontario and King streets, Jordan’s Hotel on the south side and behind that was a public oven operated by Paul Martin.

This public bakery was in operation from at least 1804 to well after the Rebellion of 1837, for it is recorded that the bakery supplied bread to the militia forces of Toronto in 1839.

The largest estate in the area was Maryville Lodge, home to D.W. Smith, the surveyor-general who came to Upper Canada with Lt. Gov. Simcoe.

The estate took up the block bounded by King, Berkeley, Ontario and Adelaide streets and held up to 20 buildings including a stable with 13 stalls. Smith left York in 1804 and soon after Maryville lodge was demolished to make way for an expanding town.

The estate took up the block bounded by King, Berkeley, Ontario and Adelaide streets and held up to 20 buildings including a stable with 13 stalls. Smith left York in 1804 and soon after Maryville lodge was demolished to make way for an expanding town.

He built his house upon government-owned land, which caused a minor scandal. But that was nothing like the scandal that was to come. Honour was everything back in the day and duels were often fought.

At a government meeting the wife of the Attorney General John White said something to Mrs. Small that was taken as an insult.

It could have been something as trivial as, “My dear don’t tell me your husband bought that gown for you?” Taken to mean some other man might have purchased it for her.

Well all hell broke loose and whatever was said it forced the two husbands on Jan. 4, 1800 to defend the honour of their wives with a duel fought on what was then open ground fronting the lake just south of King on the west side of Parliament street.

Mr. Small won and Mr. White was dead. Mr. Small having killed a member of the ruling class was tried for murder but was later acquitted by the infamous Peter Russell who earlier had a Mr. Humphrey hang for stealing a forged note of one dollar.

The Smalls were banned from society and in a town that had a population of a present-day apartment building banishment was seen as a worse punishment than hanging.

While York’s founding fathers were happy to fight duels the second generation, being not so heavily ruled by society niceties, would rather build industries and have fun.

Charles Small, son of John, inherited his father’s modest home on the southwest corner of Berkeley and King and built an enormous addition and named the entire estate Berkeley House.

The house, an Italian-styled villa, became the centre of social life in 1820s York.

Carriages overflowing with young partygoers all dressed in the latest fashions would pull up nightly to the candle-lit house with what promised to be yet another evening of booze, laughter and political discussion.

Their parents, whose own young live patterns were dictated by a book known as Rules of Conduct in Upper Canada, could only just shake their heads in disgust at the goings on in what would become the most important address in all of Upper Canada, Berkeley House.

From the Town of York becoming the City of Toronto to Upper Canada becoming the Nation of Canada, the site of the building that once stood on the south side of King could have become a place of reverence.

In 1898 the original 1794 house was torn down and the present structure, the Reid Brothers building (359 King E.), was built. The Reid Bros. also owned an enormous lumber factory complex at the bottom of Berkeley Street at The Esplanade.

The remaining addition to Berkeley House with its grand parlours, sweeping staircases and Italian Renaissance façade, stood until 1926 when it too came crashing down after years of disuse.

Today the famous site is under construction once again and soon will be home to The Globe and Mail newspaper when the 17-storey office tower is finished by the late fall of 2016.

Posted On: August 01, 2015

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