Saturday, September 25, 2010

# 2 ~ Castle Frank, Then and Now



Like so many of the old estates of Toronto, "Castle Frank" is remembered today mostly because it is the name of a subway station, unless you are one of the fortunate few to live south of Bloor Street, between Rosedale Valley Road and St. James Anglican Cemetery.  However, Castle Frank's historical secret is that it was amongst the first big rural estates to be built north of Toronto's predecessor, the Town of York.

The historic estate of Castle Frank was constructed for John Graves Simcoe, who was the first Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada (now Ontario), and the man who, in 1793, established the Town of York (now the City of Toronto).  As King George III's viceregal representative for the fledgling province, Simcoe brought with him the time honoured traditions of justice, trial by jury, English common law, and parliamentary democracy.  He was also amongst the first prominent members of the British Establisment to speak out against slavery.  Because of Simcoe, slavery was restricted and eventually non existant in the Province of Upper Canada long before it was abolished throughout the rest of the British Empire in 1834.

Simcoe was a veteran of the British Army during the American Revolutionary War, but returned to England in 1781.  A decade later, in 1791, the Province of Upper Canada was created, and he was appointed its first Lieutenant-Governor.  Along with his wife Elizabeth, he spent two months crossing the Atlantic and returned to North American shores.  He arrived in November of 1791 and spent the first winter in Quebec City, before coming to Kingston.  A provincial capital was established in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake).  This soon proved to be too close to the American border, and Simcoe was asked to cast around for a new capital.  The site of present day Toronto was eventually chosen, with Simcoe christening it the "Town of York".  A military garrison, called "Fort York" was built about two kilometres to the west of town, which was then centred around the modern day Saint Lawrence Market.  By 1796, the Town of York had a population of about two-hundred soldiers and four-hundred civilians.


A portrait of Simcoe painted circa 1881 by George Theodore Berthon.

John and Elizabeth Simcoe had been living out of canvas tents until 1793, when they began construction of a new villa north of town.  Roughly, the boundaries of the town at this time were modern day Church Street to the west, Parliament Street to the east, Adelaide Street to the north, and Front Street to the south.  In the 1790s, the waters of Lake Ontario actually lapped up against Front Street.  Everything south of Front Street, including Union Station, the Rogers Centre, the CN Tower and all those condiminiums, are all built on landfill.  Simcoe's estate was all the way up at modern day Bloor Street, and covered about 200 acres in the wild countryside.  It sat in the middle of a forest of white pine, elm, basswood and butternut trees.  Hunting parties would come north to stalk animals in the woods, and fishing parties would travel up the Don River by canoe to fish for salmon.

The Simcoes, or more accurately, the soldiers that John Graves Simcoe commanded, cleared enough land out of those 200 acres to construct a pine log cabin, that was 30 feet by 30 feet in dimension, and modelled on the plan of a classical Greek temple.  A portico was built on either side of the house, both of which were supported by 16 foot high pillars made of peeled pine logs.  Four windows ran down each side of the house, and a chimney ran up through the centre.  A space was also cleared in front of the house, and from here, Simcoe's soldiers cut out a carriage route down into the Town of York.  This road would eventually turn into a section of modern Parliament Street.

It was the customary English tradition to give one's estate a name.  The Simcoes, of course, had one of the earliest estates in the old Town of York, but many neighbourhoods would eventually take their names from later estates.  Summer Hill, Rose Dale, and the Grange were all later examples of this.  The Simcoes named their estate "Castle Frank".  The term "castle" was meant to evoke a sense of the palatial, carved out of the wilderness, and "Frank"  was after their son, Francis.  Francis followed in his father's footsteps, taking on a life in the British Army, until he was tragically killed in battle in 1812, at the age of 21.

Simcoe returned to England in 1796.  He died in 1806 without ever having returned to his Castle Frank estate.  The house was shut up that year.  In the spring of 1813, American troops invaded the Town of York, and saw Castle Frank listed on their maps.  Assuming it to be a real castle, worthy of plunder, they marched north of town to find it.  In reality, all that they found was a large, rotting wood cabin.  The home was eventually destroyed in 1829, when some careless local fisherman accidentally burned it to the ground.  Descendants of John and Elizabeth Simcoe eventually sold off all of their property in Upper Canada.

In 1844, some of the property that had originally been part of the Simcoe's 200 acres was sold off to Saint James Cemetery.  Much later, another house was built on the site by Sir Albert Edward Kemp, who won five elections to the House of Commons and was eventually appointed to the Canadian Senate.  As a gesture to the home that had been built by Simcoe in the eighteenth century, he too named his house "Castle Frank".  This Castle Frank was demolished in 1962.

Today, a road, a crescent, and the subway station are all that commemorate one of the first grand estates of the early Town of York.  Castle Frank subway station was opened in 1966, four years after Kemp's "second Castle Frank" was demolished.



THEN : A painting of the original "Castle Frank", rendered by Elizabeth Simcoe in 1796.
 
THEN : The "second Castle Frank", built by Sir Albert Edward Kemp and demolished in 1962.  Kemp was Canada's Minister of Defence in 1916 and 1917, and Minister of the Overseas Military Forces during the First World War.  He was elected five times to the House of Commons, representing Toronto East, and became a Canadian Senator in 1921.


NOW : The tiled name of Castle Frank on the subway station walls is perhaps the greatest exposure that Torontonians have to the neighbourhood's eighteenth century history.



NOW : Three contemporary panoramas of the wooded grounds of the old Castle Frank estate.

3 comments:

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  2. Extremely thoughtful and well written. I've been intensely curious to find out exactly where the Simcoe's cabin stood. Is there anyway of knowing today what its exact location was?

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  3. These pictures are inaccurate. I know the exact location, through studying old maps. It stood behind Rosedale Heights school. Almost impossible to get to.

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