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While the Governor busied himself running his new province, Elizabeth kept a detailed diary, painted watercolours, did needlework and entertained the most powerful Upper Canadian families. Her calendar was filled with social events: dinners, dances, balls and card games with people like the Jarvises, the Russells and Chief Justice Osgoode. Even Prince Edward , the future father of Queen Victoria, came all the way to Niagara for an official state visit. Elizabeth Simcoe Elizabeth also had a family to run.

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The Simcoes had brought their youngest children with them to Canada: Sophia was in her terrible twos; Francis had just turned one. Even with a pair of nurses to help, the toddlers were more than a handful. And Elizabeth was pregnant yet again. That winter in the canvas house, she gave birth to a baby girl they named Katherine.

Even on the frontier, the Simcoe children would grow up with plenty of pets. Once they got to Upper Canada, the Simcoes had been given a white cat with grey spots and a hound called Trojan.

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Trojan was a gift for the kids, but it was Elizabeth Simcoe that he loved best. He even slept in her room inside the canvas house at night. And soon, there was another new addition to the menagerie. Jack Sharp had been the sheriff's dog. But when the Simcoes arrived, the big Newfoundland quickly fell in love with them. Before long, he had managed to adopt them as his own, joining their growing family. Elizabeth wrote about the animals in her diary — and about the mischief they caused.

When Jack Sharp joined Governor Simcoe on a long trip to Detroit, the big dog faced off against a raccoon and then attacked a porcupine and earned a neck full of quills. When Elizabeth left Trojan alone in her tent with a map she'd painstakingly drawn, the hound tore it to pieces.

Governor Simcoe, who fancied himself something of a poet, even wrote some verses to mark the occasion: "Upon the Dog Trojan tearing the Map of N. Sadly, Trojan wouldn't live to see Toronto. He met a tragic end in the spring of — on a strangely hot day in early April. It was so hot that Trojan fell ill. When one of Simcoe's soldiers saw the symptoms, he made a terrible mistake: he thought Trojan had contracted rabies. He hadn't — if he had, he would have been scared of the water and wouldn't have waded out into the river to cool off like he did.

But the soldier didn't know any better: he shot the dog dead. So that summer, when the Simcoe family left Niagara, it was only their cat and Jack Sharp who came with them. They left because Niagara wasn't going to be safe anymore. Soon, the Americans would be taking over the other side of the river; it was one of the peace terms negotiated in the wake of the Revolution. The big guns of Fort Niagara were over there — just across the mouth of the river from Niagara-on-the-Lake. The tiny capital would be almost impossible to defend if the Americans decided to invade. And it seemed inevitable they would.

Simcoe needed to find a new capital. Toronto harbour by Elizabeth Simcoe, The spot he eventually picked was directly north across the lake from Niagara: a place called Toronto. There, a natural harbour had been formed by a long sandbar that would eventually become the Toronto islands.

There was only one way into the bay, so it would be relatively easy to defend against an attack. That's where Simcoe would build his new capital. In the middle of July, the Governor sent a hundred soldiers across the lake to begin work. They were the Queen's Rangers; some of them, the very same men Simcoe had commanded while fighting against the American rebels during the Revolution. Simcoe's men made camp at a spot near the entrance to the harbour, at the mouth of what would become known as Garrison Creek. There, they got to work felling trees, hacking away at the ancient forest that towered over the shore.

Great pines and oaks came crashing to the ground. In their place, a military base began to take shape: Fort York. It was the beginning a brand new town. Simcoe would call it York ; we call it Toronto. Back at Niagara, the Simcoes were getting ready to follow the Queen's Rangers across the lake.

The Governor had just finished overseeing a session of the Upper Canadian legislature — one of the most important parliamentary sessions in Canadian history. Simcoe wanted to abolish slavery; the elected assembly balked. Slave-owning families like the Jarvises and the Russells were planning to bring their slaves with them to the new capital. Simcoe convinced them to accept a comprise: they could keep the slaves they already owned, but no new slaves could enter the province and the children of slaves would be freed when they reached the age of It was at the very end of that same month — on July 29th — that the Simcoes left Niagara.

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That night, the family and their pets climbed aboard the HMS Mississauga. She was a big warship: an armed schooner. An impressive way to travel — for a human or a dog. As the Simcoes slept, the warship sailed north across the lake. Early the next morning, she made her careful way into Toronto Bay. Toronto shoreline by Elizabeth Simcoe, It was the middle of the afternoon by the time the Governor and his wife went ashore for the first time.

And when they did, they brought the dog with them. Jack Sharp was far from the first canine to ever set paw on this land. Wolves and foxes roamed the woods around Toronto. And domesticated dogs had been here as long as humans had. The people of the First Nations and their ancestors had been hunting with them on the northern shore of Lake Ontario for thousands and thousands of years before our city was founded. As the Wendat-Huron historian George Sioui points out , dogs played an important role in the spiritual life of his own nation.


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The first racist French missionaries — anxious to paint the First Nations as "uncivilized" — claimed those dogs were only being raised for their meat. But in fact, dog meat was only consumed during important ritual ceremonies, and the people shared a close bond with their canine companions. The Wendat had long said that souls travel a path through the stars when they die: humans along the Milky Way and their dogs along a celestial dog path right next to them. In more recent years, as the first Europeans arrived, other dogs must have visited Toronto. Many of the explorers, fur traders and early settlers who passed through the area probably had dogs with them, too.

So Jack Sharp wasn't Toronto's first dog. Not by a long shot. But he was our city's founding dog: the canine member of the first family to establish the town that would grow into our modern metropolis. A few days after they arrived, the Simcoes pitched their canvas houses just across the creek from Fort York, where they could watch as the Queen's Rangers hammered and sawed away. That's when they brought the children ashore, along with the nurses and servants. By the end of the first week of August, the entire family, including Jack Sharp, was living in the fancy tents at the mouth of Garrison Creek.

In the months to come, the town itself would begin to take shape: the first ten blocks were carved out of the woods where the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhoood is now. It's easy to imagine what life in Toronto must have been like for Jack Sharp. Splashing in the shallows of the harbour as waterfowl scattered into the sky. Playing with the Simcoe children on the beach. Racing through the old forest, chasing chipmunks, rabbits and squirrels.

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There, at least, the settlers enjoyed an established town. Here, the town was still being built.


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Many of the province's other most powerful families were shocked by the Simcoes' living conditions. As Peter Russell wrote to his sister, "you have no conception of the Misery in which they live But the most terrible moment of the Simcoes' time in Canada came the following spring. Katherine Simcoe had been a very healthy baby; she was more than a year old now, beginning to walk and to talk, old enough to start playing with the cat and Jack Sharp.

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But in April she suddenly fell very ill. It may have been malaria or some other similar disease. Although now a retired ophthalmologist, Richard D. Merritt continues to pursue his lifelong interests in both the rich heritage of the Niagara area and military history.

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He has been named both "Volunteer of the Year" and "Citizen of the Year" for his leadership in heritage preservation in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Support our self-published authors and buy directly from FriesenPress. Toggle navigation Search Cart.

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