The Villages Within
is an irreverent version of Toronto’s past that will not improve anyone’s knowledge of history, but its fabrications and exaggerations may provide an amusing insight into the lives of those who built the town of York. It is an exposé of historical untruths, a book that no school should ever permit its students to read.
Discover Lord Dorchester’s unusual method of staying warm while his underwear froze during his first winter in Canada. Learn about Elizabeth Simcoe’s struggle with the intoxicating evils of gooseberry wine. During the War of 1812, why did Laura Secord deliver a cow to James Fitzgibbon in the dead of night? Why did the residents of York fear an American invasion in 1813, even though they needed their dollars to support the town’s tourist industry? Why did the colonists, who never bathed at the best of times, become truly revolting in 1837?
In a more serious vein, this book chronicles the history and architecture of the Kings West District, the Kensington Market, and the proudly “tacky” Queen Street West. The narrative details the events in the life of the old St. Andrew’s Market, allowing those who visit the area today to appreciate its rich heritage.
Governor Simcoe’s encampment beside the Lake Ontario contained few luxuries. There was plenty of open space, but no open bar. This was a pity, as the area was so loaded with trees and bushes that imbibing until one was similarly “loaded” was an excellent way to immunize oneself against the many insects that inhabited the forests. In addition, the guest towels in Simcoe’s camp were of such poor quality that everyone refused to steal them. This says plenty about the state of the hostelry, and reveals that even colonial-era thieving sycophants had standards. The local foods, though not as elegant as those of Europe, were exotic by modern standards. However, not everyone appreciated the “Filet of Raccoon,” “Skunk Wellington,” and “Carp Bisque.” Several intense arguments occurred when discussing the proper wines to serve. This was important consideration, as a plenteous supply of strong drink was a necessity when facing a frontier diet. The true connoisseurs in Simcoe’s entourage felt that the fruity bouquet of a Burgundy clashed with the delicate aromas of the “Filet of Skunk,” and firmly stated that a light-bodied Claret was preferable. The debate ended when they discovered that the only drink available was water from the lake. It should be noted that Toronto’s harbour water during the 1790s was not as “full-bodied” as it is today. Dumping garbage into it for two hundred years has increased its viscosity.
Doug Taylor has researched and studied the history of Toronto for several decades, as well as taught local studies in both elementary and secondary schools. He was a member of the faculty of Lakeshore Teachers’ College (York University) and the Ontario Teacher Education College. He is retired and lives in Toronto.