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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter IX

Recollections of York in 1820.—State of the Church in Upper Canada.—Episcopal Visitation at York in 1820.

PERSON whose memories of Canada can bear him back to the war of 1812, and who has had opportunities of marking the course of events in subsequent years, will have many pleasant reminiscences; and the record of them will be profitable, as well as interesting, to a later generation.

The writer of this Memoir came first to York in the autumn of 1819, to place himself under the care and direction of Dr. Strachan, as a Student of Divinity, and to connect with this pursuit, such assistance in the Grammar School as a youth of nineteen could be expected to render. His journey was from Montreal, and, what with the interchanges of stage and steamer, open boat and lumber waggon, and halts on the way for needful repose and the greeting of friends, it occupied fully a fortnight.

The first drive was from Montreal to Coteau du Lac in a heavy lumbering stage; the progress of which, from the rough condition of the roads, the delivery of mails as we passed along, watering the horses every three or four miles, and other inexplicable stops, was very slow indeed, so that-it was quite dark when we entered an open boat at the Coteau, to be rowed up to the head of Lake St. Francis. Those who came unprovided with warm wrappings, found this exposure for a whole night, in the month of September, very trying; for it was sunrise on a cold frosty morning when we reached McDougall’s, the appointed stopping-place.

There we entered another stage, and drove on, over a very rough road, to Cornwall; where, at one o’clock, we breakfasted. This done, we renewed our stage travelling, —on a better road, and the St. Lawrence and its successive rapids close on our left,—and got to Prescott between two and three the following morning. From Prescott to Kingston, and thence up the Bay of Quinte to the Carrying-place, there was a small but comfortable steamer, which made about six miles an hour; quite as much as was effected by the more pretentious “Frontenac,” on Lake Ontario. From the Carrying-place, we had to get on westwards by private conveyances as well as we could.

To rest for a few days at what is now called Cobourg,— then a small, straggling village, and without a name,—was a pleasant change; for even then, including the well-informed and hospitable Rector, there were in the neighbourhood several intelligent and agreeable families. From Cobourg to York, with a few exceptional bits, the road was perhaps the worst in the Province, and nothing but a strong lumber-waggon could have borne you through. It was veiy indifferent through the nine-mile woods, east of Newcastle; quite as bad from the present site of Bowmanville to where Oshawa now stands; and, what with corduroys, and stones, and mud holes, it was indescribably bad from the western extremity of Whitby, till, crossing the Highland creek, we reached the heights of Scarborough. The road leading across the ravine of the Rouge, and especially its eastern hill,\would have startled and perplexed even our Abyssinian heroes. Through the township of York it ran upon a dry sandy soil, with tall pines on either side almost to the river Don; and although these ancient pines inconveniently obtruded their roots in many places, this part of the road was, on the whole, a pretty good one. We had glimpses, too, of the broad Lake, as we drove along; and from the Scarborough heights could distinctly see the blue line of land on the southern side, trending from Niagara westwards.

We crossed the Don over a strong wooden bridge; and, after half a miles drive, alighted at Mr. D. Forest’s Inn, the best in the place,—though Jordan’s, nearly opposite, notwithstanding its low shabby exterior, was the more popular one. I then made my way to the boarding-house where I was to reside,—on the north side of King Street, a little east of Nelson Street; and, although a mean looking habitation, it was pretty comfortable, and the company,— law-clerks and clerks in Government offices,—was intelligent and agreeable. There were a few scattered houses on King Street, as far up as the residence of the Lieutenant Governor; and on Front Street, at long intervals, they reached nearly to the old garrison. There were also a few on Duke, Yonge, And Queen Streets. There were but three brick edifices in the town, and, exclusive of the military, the population was about 1,200.

Though inferior in size and condition to many of our present villages, York took a high rank as to social position. From its being the Seat of Government, the society was excellent; having not less than twenty families of the highest respectability,—persons of refinement, and many of high intellectual culture. To these were added a small sprinkling of military. For the size of the place there was a large amount of hospitality exercised, and on a handsome and bountiful scale.

The Government-house was the precise building used as such until its. destruction by fire a few years ago; and the arrangement and planting of the grounds was all done under the direction and supervision of Sir Peregrine Maitland himself. He and lady Sarah took the lead, of course, in the hospitalities of the place. They had their regular dinner parties during the Parliamentary Sessions, and once 'or twice a year there was a grand evening party with dancing, which gathered in all the respectability of the community in a mass. Sir Peregrine was reserved, but courteous and agreeable; had not a shade of superciliousness; and would at times be very animated in conversation. He was particularly so, if the conversation turned on the work of the Church and the spread of religion; for he was a sincere and devout Christian, and thoroughly loyal to the principles of the Church. Lady Sarah was of a more lively temperament, but remarkably gentle and amiable. She upheld her position as became a Duke’s daughter; but, like a genuine member of England’s nobility, had no pride, and maintained an intercourse on very kindly and familiar terms with the ladies of the place.

The unpretending, old-fashioned wooden house of Chief Justice Powell, with its two-storied verandah facing the Bay, was a great attraction to residents and visitors; because it contained a lively, amiable and hospitable family. And the residence of the Rector of the parish,— then the best in the place, and afterwards by courtesy the palace, was renowned for its frequent and elegant hospitalities. So, too, the abode of Attorney General Robinson, then of small dimensions; but whose inmates possessed, what they ever after maintained, the esteem and love of all that knew them.

But there must not be too nice and exact a recapitulation of all who, fifty years ago, were pleasant and exemplary in York; yet, if they are not named in these pages, there is no dimness whatever in the memory of their kindness and their worth.

The public buildings were not out of keeping with the modest pretensions of the town in general; they presented no envy-provoking contrast with the abodes of individuals. The Court-house was a small unpainted wooden building, a little to the north of King and east of Yonge Street,— the site, and sun-burnt aspect of which, some of our old inhabitants may remember; and the Gaol was a homely and rickety structure on the south side of King Street^ where now some of our proudest shops are exhibiting their attractive wares. The Parliament-house was a cottage-looking edifice, near the intersection of York and Wellington Streets; afterwards transformed into public offices, and subsequently into a private residence, with neat and •tasteful grounds about it.

The District School-house was a capacious wooden building, standing on an open common a little in rear of St. James’s Churchyard. On entering it for the first time, with the reverend Principal, on a bright September morning, fresh school-boy feelings were wakened up at the sight of forty or fifty happy young faces, from seventeen down to five years of age. There was a class of only two in Greek, who took up Horace and Livy in Latin; and there were three Latin forms below them,—the most numerous and most sprightly reading Cornelius Nepos. None were much advanced in Mathematics; and, with the exception of the senior two, had not passed the fourth book of Euclid. Every thing was taught on the same plan as at Cornwall; but at York the pupils were much less advanced, and the Head-master rarely took any share in the actual work of instruction. I had had the opportunity of seeing both Schools; and though the glory of the former was never approached by the latter, still there are reminiscences connected with the school at York more fresh and lively than could be awakened by the more celebrated one at Cornwall. With the school-boys of the former,—now in the sere of life, and owning children and grand-children, I can exchange daily greetings; but few are left who were my associates in the latter: one by one they are dropping fast away.

The Church has already been referred to, with the improvements effected at a considerable cost during the preceding year. It stood on the site of the present Cathedral of St. James; and, as has been stated, was of wood, painted with a blueish leaden colour. As you entered, you found yourself in a building almost square. The aisle leading from the front door was bounded northwards by the Governors large square pew; and midway it was intersected by one running east and west. Bounding this on the east was the chancel; and in front of it the pulpit, reading-desk, and clerk’s pew. All around, except on the chancel side, were wide, homely-looking galleries. There was no vestry, and the clergyman robed and unrobed at the foot of the pulpit stairs in sight of the congregation.

At morning service there was usually a large congregation, and a very devout and orderly one it was: The elder members were most of them audible in the responses; but very few of the younger ones followed their example, or % knelt during the prayers. There was no organ, and the singing was very indifferent. In the afternoon, the congregation was very thin; and once a month omitted, that the Rector might give his services at an out-station on Yonge Street,—not far from the spot where the Church of York Mills now stands. On the intervening Sundays, in the morning, this country church was served by Students of Divinity from town; they reading the service and a printed sermon. The attendance even on these lay ministrations was very good; and that the people appreciated them is evident from the fact of their sending in a horse on Sunday mornings, for the conveyance thither and back of the Student who was to officiate. He was also usually invited to dinner after service by some one or other of the farmers near by; and amongst these was a person of considerable reading, and somewhat democratic ideas, who bore in the neighbourhood the designation of “gentleman Wilson.”

There was, at that time, throughout Upper Canada but a mere sprinkling of clergymen; though the members of the Church bore a large proportion to the general population, and every where its ministrations were very cordially accepted. There were, in those days, but few Presbyterian places of worship,—not one either in York or Kingston ; and the ministers of that body were correspondently few.

Where they were without their own ministrations, they almost universally attended the services of the Church of England; and very many never afterwards forsook them. The Methodists were a more numerous body, and had at that time a large chapel in York, which was pretty well filled on Sunday evenings. About the close of 1820, a minister of the British connexion, Mr. Pope, commenced his services in an upper room where the St. Lawrence market now stands. One of their preachers was a Mr. Fenton, a man of ready utterance, who afterwards forsook the body, and became the clerk of St. James's Church. This person occasionally indulged himself in writing short critiques, in pencil, on the sermons delivered just above his head; and as these morsels of criticism were usually left in his pew, and were oftentimes not very flattering to the preacher, they created a good deal of amusement. The Roman Catholics, at this time,’ had no regular place of worship; but soon after, their brick church near the Don was erected.

To extend our view as regards the position of the Church of England in Upper Canada, it will surprise many to hear that, in 1820, the first clergyman you came to, west of Toronto, was at Ancaster. On the Niagara peninsula there were three,—at Niagara, Chippawa, and Grimsby. Going westward from Ancaster, you found none until you reached Amherstburg and Sandwich. All that vast interval,—now comprehending a large Diocese with nearly ninety clergymen,—was, as regards the ministrations of the Church, a blank.

Going eastwards from York, the first clergyman we came to was at Cobourg; and north of this, in Cavan, another was settled. Then a blank, until we reached Belleville; then Bath and Kingston. A blank again until we came to Brockville; and in rear, there was one at Perth. The next was at Williamsburg, and the last at Cornwall; sixteen in all. There were besides, a chaplain to the forces stationed, at Niagara ; a chaplain to the navy at Kingston; and a clergyman at the latter place in charge of the Grammar School.

There was a memorable gathering of the Clergy of Upper Canada at York in the summer of 1820, at a visitation of the first Bishop of Quebec, Dr. Jacob Mountain. Sixteen were present, including the chaplain to the forces from Niagara; and they were addressed in an admirable charge, which riveted the attention of every hearer, by his Lordship the Bishop. During this visit, a confirmation was also held; and a very considerable number of both sexes were admitted to that rite. An address was presented to the Bishop, congratulating him upon so large an assemblage of the Clergy,—for it was the largest that had ever been gathered in Canada,—and the first steps were then taken for organizing the Corporation for managing the Clergy Reserves. They had but a small revenue to deal with,—merely the rents from the leased lots; but it was considered the hopeful beginning of good days for the extension and strength of the Church.

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