History is not so fashionable in this time of the next i- or e-thing, and yet the only way to the present and future is through the past. War can be exciting, the politics of peace less so, but our country and our city were both shaped by two long ago April events.
April 11, 2013 marks the 300th anniversary of the signing of the series of treaties at Utrecht, Netherlands, that ended the War of the Spanish Succession, (also known as “Queen Anne’s War”) in Europe. The treaty brought Newfoundland, Acadia and Rupert’s Land (the area drained by Hudson Bay) under British rule. France retained Île-Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island), as well as Île Royale (now Cape Breton Island). They proceeded to build the Fortress of Louisbourg to help hold what was left of their North American lands.
You can read the 1713 publication of the treaty in the Baldwin Room at the Toronto Reference Library. Text in Latin, English, Spanish and French:
Treaty of peace and friendship between the most serene and most potent princess Anne, by the grace of God, Queen of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, and the most serene and most Potent prince Lewis the XIVth, the most Christian king, concluded at Utrecht the 31 / 11 day of March / April 1713.
...arrival of the American fleet prior to the capture of York, 27 April 1813 Toronto Reference Library
On April 27, 1813, two hundred years ago this month, American forces landed near the Boulevard Club in what is now Marilyn Bell Park. With support from naval guns, the American land army fought the British troops, Upper Canadian militia and First Nation allies east to Fort York. After a six hour battle, Major General Roger Hale Sheaffe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, ordered his troops to blow up the fort’s magazine. The explosion killed both American and British soldiers and wounded many more, but the British were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred and retreated overland to Kingston.
American forces occupied York for the next six days, burning the legislature and many other buildings, smashing the Printing Office and looting empty houses, claiming their owners were militia. They left with captured munitions on May 2.
Robert Malcolmson’s award winning Capital in Flames: the American attack on York, gives a detailed account of the fire, bloodshed and questions of loyalty that greatly influenced both the remainder of the war, and the Town of York which became the City of Toronto.
See also Pierre Berton’s classic popular account Flames Across the Border, which chronicles not only the capture and burning of York, but of Niagara-on-the Lake, Buffalo and the sortie by British and Upper Canadians who attacked and burned the White House and the Capitol in Washington D.C. in 1814.
Want to see some living history? The City of Toronto is holding a Sunrise Ceremony and other events throughout the day on April 27, 2013 to commemorate the battle. At the Toronto Reference Library, see the exhibit in the TD Gallery: War Stories: Toronto and the War of 1812-14, on until June 22. You can also visit the multimedia display online.
York in the early 19th century, Arthur Cox, 1840-1917, Toronto Reference Library