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John Graves Simcoe (February 25, 1752 – October 26, 1806) was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (modern-day southern Ontariomarker and the watershed of Georgian Baymarker and Lake Superiormarker) from 1791-1796. He founded Yorkmarker (now Torontomarker) and was instrumental in introducing institutions such as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, freehold land tenure, and for abolishing slavery in Upper Canada long before it was abolished in the British Empire as a whole (it had disappeared from Upper Canada by 1810, but was not abolished throughout the Empire until 1834).

Early life

John Graves Simcoe was the only son of John and Katherine Simcoe (although his parents had four children, he was the only one to live past childhood). His father, a captain in the Royal Navy, commanded the 60-gun HMS Pembroke, with James Cook as his sailing master, during the 1758 siege of Louisbourg. His father died of pneumonia a few months prior to the siege of Quebecmarker, and the family moved to his mother's home in Exetermarker. His paternal grandparents were William and Mary (née Hutchinson) Simcoe.

He was educated at Exeter Grammar Schoolmarker and Eton Collegemarker. After a year at Merton College, Oxfordmarker, he was admitted to Lincoln's Innmarker, but then decided to follow the military career for which his father had intended him. He was initiated into Freemasonry in Union Lodge, Exeter on November 2, 1773.

His godfather was British admiral Samuel Graves. Simcoe would marry Graves' ward, Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim, in 1782. The Simcoes' had five daughters prior to their posting in Canadamarker. Son Francis was born in 1791. Their Canadianmarker born daughter, Katherine, died in infancy in York, Upper Canadamarker. She is buried in the Victoria Square Memorial Park on Portland Avenue.

Military career

In 1770, Simcoe entered the British Army as an ensign in the 35th Regiment of Foot. His unit was dispatched to America, where he saw action in the Siege of Bostonmarker. During the siege, he purchased a captaincy in the grenadier company of the 40th Regiment of Foot.

With the 40th, he saw action in the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia campaigns. Simcoe commanded the 40th at the Battle of Brandywinemarker, where he was also wounded.

In 1777, Simcoe sought to form a Loyalist regiment of free blacks from Boston, but instead was offered the command of the Queen's Rangers, a well-trained light infantry unit comprising of 11 companies of 30 men, 1 grenadier and 1 hussar, and the rest light infantry. The Queen's Rangers saw extensive action during the Philadelphia campaign, including a successful surprise attack (planned and executed by Simcoe), at the Battle of Crooked Billet.

In 1778, Simcoe commanded the attack on Judge William Hancock's house, killing 20 Americans in their sleep and wounding 12 others. William Hancock was also killed even though he was not with the Americans. The massacre took place at night and with bayonets.On June 28 of that year, Simcoe and his Queen's Rangers took part in the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, in and near Freehold, New Jersey.

During the winter of 1779, Simcoe attempted to capture George Washington, but decided that his men would not shoot the future president. During that year, Armand Tuffin de La Rouërie captured Simcoe. Simcoe was released in 1781, just in time to see action at the Siege of Yorktown He was invalided back to England in December of that year as a Lieutenant-Colonel.

Simcoe wrote a book on his experiences with the Rangers, titled A Journal of the Operations of the Queen's Rangers from the end of the year 1777 to the conclusion of the late American War, which was published in 1787.

Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada

The Province of Upper Canada was created under the Constitutional Act of 1791. Simcoe was appointed lieutenant governor and made plans to move to Upper Canada with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Sophia, leaving three other daughters behind with their aunt. They left Englandmarker in September and arrived on November 11. This was too late in the year to make the trip to Upper Canada and the Simcoes spent the winter in Quebec Citymarker. The next spring they moved to Kingstonmarker and then Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lakemarker).

Constitutional Act stipulated that the provincial government would consist of the Lieutenant-Governor, an appointed Executive Council and Legislative Council and an elected Legislative Assembly. The first meeting of the nine-member Legislative Council and sixteen-member Legislative Assembly took place at Newark on September 17, 1792.

Simcoe's first priority was dealing with the effects of the Northwest Indian War. War broke out between Britain and France in 1791, and although the United States pledged neutrality its sympathies were with France. Simcoe's instructions were not to cause the United States any reason to mistrust Britain, but at the same time to keep the Indians on both sides of the border friendly to Britain. Simcoe denied the existence of the boundary defined in the Treaty of Paris on the grounds that the Americans had nullified the treaty. The British wished for the Indians to form a buffer state between the two countries. The Indians in the Ohio area were in an ongoing war with the United States called the Northwest Indian War. The Indians asked for military support from the British in this war, which Britain initially refused but they did supply the Indians with weapons in 1794. In February 1794, the Governor in Chief Lord Dorchester, anticipating that the Americans would honour their treaty with France, said that war was likely to break out between the countries before the year was out. His statement encouraged the Indians in their war. Dorchester ordered Simcoe to rally the Indians and arm the vessels on the Great Lakes. He also built Fort Miamismarker (in present day Maumee, Ohio) to supply the Indians in the upcoming war. Americans were expelled from a settlement on southern Lake Erie which had threatened British control of the lake. George Washington denounced the "irregular and high-handed proceeding of Mr. Simcoe" While Dorchester planned for a defensive war, Simcoe urged London to declare war "Upper Canada is not to be defended by remaining within the boundary line" Lord Dorchester was given an official reprimand for his strong speech against the Americans in 1794.

Simcoe realized that Newark made an unsuitable capital because it was right on the United States border and subject to attack. He proposed moving the capital to a more defensible position in the middle of Upper Canada's southwestern peninsula between Lake Eriemarker and Lake Huronmarker. He named the new location London and renamed the river as the Thames in anticipation of the change. Lord Dorchester, rejected this proposal but accepted Simcoe's second choice of Toronto. Simcoe moved the capital to Toronto in 1793 and renamed the location York after Frederick, Duke of York, George III's second son.

Simcoe began construction of two main routes through Ontario which were intended to aid in the defence of Upper Canada but would also help encourage settlement and trade throughout the province. Yonge Street, named after the Minister of War Sir George Yonge, was built north-south along the fur trade route between Lake Ontariomarker and Lake Simcoemarker. Soldiers of the Queen's Rangers began cutting the road in August 1793, reaching Holland Landingmarker in 1796. Another road, Dundas Streetmarker named for the Colonial Secretary Henry Dundas, was built east-west between Hamiltonmarker and Yorkmarker.

The Indians were defeated by the Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers which resulted in the peace Treaty of Greenvillemarker. The British while still at war with France could not afford to antagonise the Americans, and in the Jay Treaty they agreed to abandon the frontier forts and to relocate on their side of the border agreed to in the Treaty of Paris . The plan for an Indian buffer state failed and after the surrender of Fort Niagaramarker in November, 1796 the two countries directly faced each other over the Niagara river.

Later career

In July 1796 poor health forced Simcoe to return to Britain. He was unable to return to Upper Canada and resigned his office in 1798. He became Colonel of the 81st Foot in 1798, but exchanged it for the 22nd Foot less than six months later. He later served briefly as the commander of British forces in St. Domingo (Haitimarker) and commander of the Western District in Britain. In 1806, he was appointed commander-in-chief of Indiamarker (succeeding Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, who had died shortly after arriving in India) but died in Exetermarker before assuming that post (Gerard Lake, 1st Viscount Lake was reappointed for another term and succeeding Cornwallis, who was appointed to replace hime in 1805). He was buried in Wolford Chapelmarker on the Simcoe family estate near Honitonmarker, Devonmarker. The Ontario Heritage Foundation acquired title to the chapel in 1982.


Most of the monuments commemorating Simcoe are in Canada. A plaque placed by the Ontario Heritage Foundation in Exeter's cathedral precinct commemorates his life.

Other legacies of Simcoe include:

  • The town of Simcoemarker in southwestern Ontario is named after him.
  • Simcoe County to the west and north of Lake Simcoemarker is also named after him. Lake Simcoe, meanwhile, was named by John Graves Simcoe for his father.
  • Civic Holiday, a statutory holiday celebrated throughout Canada under a variety of names by region, was established in honour of Simcoe by the Toronto City Council in 1869. Other Ontario municipalities and then other provinces soon took up the holiday as well, leading to its Canada-wide status, but without any attribution to Simcoe himself. In 1965, the Toronto City Council declared the holiday would henceforth be known as Simcoe Day within Toronto. Attempts have been made to have the official provincial name—still Civic Holiday—amended, but none have succeeded.
  • Simcoe's regiment still exists as the Queen's York Rangers, an armoured reconnaissance regiment of the Canadian Forces reserves.
  • A school in St. Catharines, Ontariomarker, Governor Simcoe Secondary School, was named after him.
  • A school in London, Ontariomarker was named after him, Governor Simcoe Public School. Grades K - 8. The now closed and demolished school was located at the corner of Simcoe and Clarence Streets.
  • Simcoe Street and John Streetmarker in downtown Toronto along with Simcoe Placemarker (office tower) in downtown Toronto are all located near the fort where Simcoe lived during his early years in York.
  • Simcoe Street and Simcoe Street United Church in Oshawa are named for him.
  • Simcoe Street in New Westminister, BC and Simcoe Park was named by Colonel Moody in reference to the surveying of the area after the city of Torontomarker.
  • Simcoe named London, Ontariomarker and the River Thames. The Simcoe Fairgrounds in Simcoe also bears his name.
  • Simcoe Street, Simcoe Street School and the Simcoe Street SChool Tigers Bantam Baseball Team of Niagara Falls are named for him.
  • Simcoe named his summer home Castle Frank (located in what is now named Cabbagetownmarker, a neighbourhood in downtown Torontomarker) for his first and favourite son (preceded by eight daughters), Francis Gwillim.
  • Simcoe Islandmarker, located near Kingston, Ontariomarker, was named for him.
  • Simcoe Hallmarker, located on the St. George campus of the University of Torontomarker, was named for him.

There are two places named for Simcoe with the title Lord. However, Simcoe was never a Lord in his life time:



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