Toronto at 185. The waterfront then and now

Toronto is turning 185 this year. There’s a festival this weekend at Nathan Phillips Square: I looked up some info for a related interest and found it wasn’t easy to find the story of the First Nations, the French traders and soldiers, and the early English and European settlers. The common stories are vague and even conflicting. I’m not entirely sure why I’m curious but historical stories have always fascinated me. Perhaps I’m still connecting with a city I didn’t grow up in and the waterfront I enjoy. Perhaps, like many, I’m trying to learn about who was here before settlers.

For at least 8,000 years the land, the Great Lake and local rivers where I reside have been the land and passageways for many indigenous peoples including in the 2nd millennium the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Today, after more than a century of newcomers from around the world, Toronto is still the home to many indigenous people and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy these lands and waterways.

When the Europeans first traded from this area they likely didn’t refer to Toronto’s largest river (today’s Humber River) in the Anishinaabe name “Cobechenonk” or use one of the many other local words for geographical features. They casually borrowed a word from a different indigenous group from and for a different place. A place with a lot of fish near Orillia in the middle of Ontario. The French used variations of the Mohawk word Tkaranto for four different places connecting to a small but significant spot called Tkaranto. That word translates as “where there are trees standing in the water” and is a very specific, sacred and ancient fishing weir above today’s Lake Simcoe. This ancient and bountiful hunting place, which is now beside a highway and marina, must have been important as the French called the whole lake by the weir as Lac Toronto (today Lake Simcoe), and then called the route to it as the Passage de Toronto (today’s Humber River). Their first fort adopted the name as well. In 1759 Fort Rouillé (previously Fort Toronto) was destroyed by retreating French and New France ended in 1763. The name in Southern Ontario only persisted on maps.

1793 painting of York HarbourNo attempt was made to re-establish a European settlement in the vicinity until more than thirty years. In 1793, Governor John Simcoe, an aristocrat and war hero, popped by for 3 years with a hundred soldiers and drew up the foundations of York. York was to be near the Necheng Qua Kekong or Wonscotanach River, which he or Elizabeth, his wife, renamed the Don, and four miles east of the former French stockade on the Cobechenonk (today’s Humber River).

The painting below shows Toronto Bay and was done by Elizabeth Simcoe the same summer they arrived, in 1793. The view is towards the Western Gap, then the only entry to the bay, today’s Toronto Harbour. This beautiful spot is where The Don meets Cherry Street and today is an industrialized zone about to redeveloped by Waterfront Toronto.

York Harbour, 1793
Toronto 185 years ago by Elizabeth Simcoe, 1793. Looking west from the mouth of the Don River towards York Harbour.

“This evening we went to see a creek which is to be called the river Don. It falls into the Bay near the Peninsula. After we entered, we rowed some distance among the low lands covered with rushes, abounding with wild ducks and swamp birds with red wings.” – Elizabeth Simcoe’s diary, August 11, 1793

That same year Governor Simcoe established the location as the capital of Upper Canada and named it 1804 York. In 1884, the townsfolk petitioned to have the name return to the more interesting sounding and local name: Toronto.

The times were dangerous and unstable. The American Revolution had been lost by Britain and attacks were expected. The French Revolution just happened and with it another war. 20 years after Simcoe’s arrival Americans burned the Town of York down in the War of 1812.

In 1834, 41 years later after this painting, the town of York was incorporated and renamed Toronto. The earlier petition worked. So here we are 185 years later as Toronto. We could have been called the City of Cobechenonk, Necheng Qua Kekong, or York. According to my arm chair research we can thank the Mohawk, a few French traders and map makers, and petitioning townspeople for the distinct name.

Happy 185th Toronto.

This may be the location of Elizabeth Simcoe’s painting today.

Toronto skyline and the Keating Channel at night
Toronto skyline and the Keating Channel at night, January 2019

A log about blogs

The world’s first home page acted similar, I feel, to what we now call a blog.

Tim Berners-Lee originally invented the web and the page concept so researchers could simply share timely information via hypertext. After the .com explosion, the concept of a home page has come to mean something different than the web’s beginnings. Blogging, small as it is, is perhaps a return to and an extension of the web’s founding concepts, and the Internet’s social networking and knowledge sharing role. I was asked recently about blogs. Below are two recent articles I enjoyed.

“Every day, millions of online diarists, or “bloggers,” share their opinions with a global audience. What began as a hobby is evolving into a new medium that is changing the landscape for journalists and policymakers alike. – Daniel W. Drezner, Henry Farrell, “Web of Influence“, Foreign Policy, November 2004.

Interconnecting human emotions and emotional response is one topic in Kate Baggott’s “Show Me Your Context, Baby: My Love Affair with Blogs”, The Globe and Mail, June 2004. Kate has coined the interesting new word “mediamenschen” or media human. When in Germany, speak deutschglish. Ich bin ein mediamenschen. Sounds catchy. Danke Kate.

Blogs are also an excellent way to establish a point of personal contact between an organization and its publics. Members from organizations ranging from U of T to the Government of Canada to Microsoft and Fast Company Magazine are using blogs as effective marketing tools and as knowledge bases. Blogs can help people feel like they know you and trust your organization. There are many uses of weblogs in higher education. Yet blogging can also be hazardous. Blogging for/in organizations is clearly a growing topic.