The English dominated Toronto’s early history, establishing many industries and institutions, and shaping politics, law, and the arts in the city. The contributions of English-born Governors General and senior military officers such as Sir George Yonge, Lord Dufferin, and Earl Bathurst are remembered in the names of Toronto’s main thoroughfares. Osgoode Hall is a reminder of London-born William Osgoode, who was the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada. Massey (Music) Hall, built in 1894, and Hart House at the University of Toronto are cultural monuments contributed by the family who founded the country’s largest farm machinery manufacturer, Massey Ferguson.
In the 15th century, the English sponsored John Cabot’s northern exploration that led to the discovery of Labrador and furthered British settlement of what is now Canada. Sixteenth-century English explorer Martin Frobisher, who sought a route to Asia through Greenland, and 17th-century explorers Henry Hudson, William Baffin, and Thomas James are memorialized in Canadian geographic features.
The first English colony in Canada was established in Newfoundland in 1611 by a small group of fishermen who came to Conception Bay from Devon, England. In 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company was granted an exclusive monopoly on trade through Hudson Strait and possession of Rupert’s Land, which led to subsequent explorations by Englishmen based at the company’s fort.
Large-scale English immigration began with the American Revolution, when thousands of settlers of British origin joined the United Empire Loyalists in leaving the United States between 1775 and 1783. As a British colony, Canada’s early institutions adopted the British model of responsible government and English common law.
The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided Quebec into the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and Englishman John Graves Simcoe was appointed the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe founded York, a name which was used for the site until its incorporation as the City of Toronto in 1834.
British immigration to Canada increased significantly in 1816 after the Napoleonic Wars, when an economic depression forced many small farmers, artisans, factory workers, and ex-soldiers to emigrate. Between 1815 and 1855, almost one million British immigrants—a large percentage of whom were English—landed in British North America.
At the turn of the century, British children from poor families were sponsored to settle in towns across Canada. The Empire Settlement Act of 1922 provided training and financial assistance to new settlers, and resulted in 130,000 new immigrants settling in the country.
Following the Second World War, ex-servicemen, war brides, and many trained industrial workers, technicians, and professionals arrived in Canada. The Suez Crisis in 1956 sparked further English immigration, as did Canada’s Centennial Year, 1967. Many Canadian institutions have English roots. The Boy Scouts were organized in 1908, and the Girl Guides were brought to Canada from England in 1910. The Canadian Red Cross began in 1896 as a branch of the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded. In the arts, the English have made important contributions in establishing the CBC, the NFB, the Canada Council, the National Ballet, and Stratford festival.
Toronto’s Cabbagetown, which was settled in the 1850s by the Irish and English, contains reminders of early British history, including Parliament Street, once the site of the Town of York’s parliament buildings. The neighbourhood’s early Anglican churches include St. Peter’s (1866), All Saints (1874), and St. Simon’s (1888).
Rosedale was named after the wild roses found on the estate of Colonel William Botsford Jarvis, and High Park’s Grenadier Pond took its name from the British soldiers who trained on its frozen surfaces. The park, once the estate of London-born architect John Howard, was bequeathed to the city in the 1870s.
Many of the prominent people of Toronto’s early days were members of the St. George’s Society of Toronto, which was founded in 1834. Today, the English community maintains ties with its heritage through the Society, which has an active social calendar and programme of charitable activities. English traditions are also carried on in the city’s sports fields with soccer, rugby, and cricket matches. The Toronto Cricket Club, the oldest cricket club in North America, was founded by English soldiers in the 19th century and continues to be a popular sports club among those of British descent.
ST. GEORGE’S DAY on April 23 honours the patron saint of England, once a Roman soldier who advanced to high military rank under the Emperor Diocletian. He was arrested and executed for protecting his new-found Christian faith. The flag of St. George (and of England, also forming part of the Union Jack) is a red cross on a white background. The St. George’s Society of Toronto celebrates St. George’s Day with its Red Rose Ball, held on or near April 23rd, and the Society’s colours are processed at a service at St. James Cathedral the Sunday following.
ST. GEORGE’S SOCIETY OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-597-0220, Fax 416-597-1438, www.stgeorges.to, 14 Elm St). Founded in 1834 to help English and Welsh immigrants who had fallen upon hard times, the Society still maintains an active charitable programme whilst at the same time furthering and preserving English heritage and culture.
BRITISH PENSIONERS ASSOCIATION CANADA, (Tel. 416-253-6402, 605 Royal York Rd., #202). Open weekdays 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
QUEEN’S OWN RIFLES OF CANADA, (Tel. 416-635-2761, www.qor.com, 130 Queen St. E).
THE TORONTO CRICKET, SKATING AND CURLING CLUB, (Tel. 416-487-4581, www.torontocricketclub.com, 141 Wilson Ave).