Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Heritage: Mackenzie's Toronto

As close as I could get to Heritage Toronto in the stocks--walk leader Danielle Urquhart was viewed through the replica of the stocks across from St. James Park in Toronto, Ontario on 14-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - With a current population of more than 2.5 million people, it is hard to believe that when it was incorporated, Toronto had fewer than 10,000 people. When William Lyon Mackenzie became Toronto's first mayor in 1834, the population was only 9,252. The second Heritage Toronto walk of the weekend, on William Lyon Mackenzie, attempted to take us back into that 1834 world.

It is hard to believe that today's sleepy Colborne Street had been the theatre district in 1834, seen during the Heritage Toronto walk on 14-August-2010

Most of what Mackenzie is known for, such as the Upper Canada Rebellion, took place after his one-year stint as Toronto's first mayor. However, as we learned from our walk leaders provided by the city's Mackenzie House museum, the political battle lines were clearly drawn in Toronto--Mackenzie led the reformers against a faction of establishment Tories, and that dynamic dominated his time in office.

The Heritage Toronto walk paused in Courthouse Square, near the site of the 1820's courtyard replaced in 1853, on 14-August-2010

The core of the story came down to gridlock in the city council after Mackenzie used the rhetoric "baneful domination" to describe British rule. The riled up opposition stamped so hard one day that the public gallery collapsed, killing four, and Mackenzie was blamed for having started the whole thing. That doesn't sound entirely unlike 2010.

Many of the victims of the August 1834 cholera epidemic were buried in this corner, of St. James Cemetery now a parking lot in St. James Park, observed on 14-August-2010

The crisis only resolved itself when a cholera epidemic hit Toronto in August 1834, lending cruel perspective to the situation. The opposition cooled, Mackenzie set his sights on other political beyond Toronto, and life went on.

Mackenzie had lived at Church and Richmond Streets in 1834, a stop on the Heritage Toronto walk on 14-August-2010

The organization of the walk was geographically oriented, rather than chronologically oriented, so the story came out a bit disjointed in some ways. Still, with a little imagination, it was possible to imagine the Toronto of 1834 that Mackenzie had governed, and reflect on how it compared with the Toronto of 2010 for this year's mayoral candidates.

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