By Heino Molls
There are five statutory holidays that are acknowledged across Canada. They are New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Canada Day, Labour Day and Christmas Day.
Thanksgiving and Victoria Day are not among them as they are optional holidays in the Atlantic Provinces. Remembrance Day is a holiday in the Atlantic Provinces but not in Ontario and Quebec.
Holidays in Canada can be different things in different areas. Quebec, for example, celebrates Fete de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste in June. Prince Edward Island celebrates Gold Cup Parade Day. There are many unique and meaningful holidays other than the five Canadawide days; it’s a bit of a mix up. I think that all the different holidays in different parts of Canada are a reflection of our diversity and a reason to cherish and appreciate what this country represents. We are so many different people who stand together for and with each other.
This month (August), most of us will be celebrating a civic holiday. It is called a “civic” holiday because cities can have this holiday any day they want. They also get to call this holiday whatever they want. While it is not recognized in every province, it is a holiday Monday in many parts of Canada.
In B.C., it is called British Columbia Day, in Alberta it is called Heritage Day and moving east it is Saskatchewan Day, Terry Fox Day in Manitoba, New Brunswick Day, Natal Day in Nova Scotia and just plain Civic Holiday in Nunavut, North West Territories and P.E.I. To the best of my knowledge, the August civic holiday is not observed in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Yukon or Quebec.
Which brings me to Ontario, where the holiday is observed and known by lots of names in different towns and cities. There are too many to mention all of them but they include Colonel By Day in Ottawa, Joseph Brant Day in Burlington, John Galt Day in Guelph and George Hamilton Day in Hamilton.
All the names attached to those holidays are deserving. With that said, I am finding that the more reading I do about Canadian history, the more ironic I find that the August civic holiday in Toronto and its surrounding area is named for John Graves Simcoe. I have heard it suggested that the amount of corruption that allegedly exists in Toronto began with Lord Simcoe and has been in place ever since.
Simcoe was a fearless commander during the revolutionary war between Great Britain and the newly formed United States of America. He was allegedly cruel to prisoners and ruthless to American farmers and businesses that he foraged from. Many say that Simcoe abolished slavery in Ontario. That is not really true. He abhorred it, to his credit. He set limits on slavery. He did not abolish it.
Simcoe was appointed as Ontario’s first lieutenant-governor in 1791. On his arrival in Ontario (then called Upper Canada) he moved the provincial capital from Niagara Falls (then called Newark) to Toronto, which he named York. He was looking for a good harbour and a place he could defend from an American invasion that he knew was coming.
His first priorities were to build two major roads, one travelling north and one travelling east. To do that he made deals with a group of settlers led by a man named William Berczy, to build Yonge Street north to Lake Simcoe. The deal was land for the settlers in exchange for the arduous labour of road building. When they finished the road, Simcoe stiffed them for payment.
Berczy built many of the first homes in Toronto as well as the Queen Street East bridge over the Don River but he was paid very little and left Toronto broke. Simcoe also made a deal with a man named Asa Danforth to build a road to Kingston. Danforth was to receive land in exchange for the labour of himself and his crew. Once he finished the road Simcoe stiffed him for the payment as well. Asa Danforth ended up bankrupt and in debtor’s prison. Simcoe could care less. He had his roads.
Simcoe famously gave large tracts of lands to his friends, who in turn sold their properties for huge profits in the new capital of Ontario. What Simcoe did suggests that Toronto and parts of Southern Ontario were created and first developed on real estate rip offs and corrupt land speculation.
And this is a guy whose name we want to celebrate on the civic holiday?