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York was the name of Torontomarker, Ontariomarker, between 1793 and 1834. It was the second capital of Upper Canada.


Establishment by Governor Simcoe
The town was established in 1793 by Governor John Graves Simcoe, with a new 'Fort York' on the site of the last French 'Fort Toronto'. He believed it would be a superior location for the capital of Upper Canada, which was then at Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lakemarker), as the new site would be less vulnerable to attack by the Americansmarker. He renamed the location York after Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, George III's second son.

The Old Town of York was layed out in ten original blocks between today's Adelaide and Front street (the later following the shoreline) with the first church (St James Anglican), Town Hall and Wharf (named St Lawrence after the river) on the west and the first parliament buildings, blockhouse and windmill on the east. All land south of Lot Street (now Queen Street) was reserved for expansion of the Town or Fort by the government as 'the Commons'. North of Lot Street began the rural Township of York (divided into large 'park lots') which only slowly emerged from the natural forest.

York became the capital of Upper Canada on February 1, 1796, the year Governor Simcoe returned to Britain and was temporarily replaced by Peter Russell. The Town of York had quickly outgrown the small original blocks and the street grid was extended to the west as the New Town with larger blocks varying in width between today's Jarvis Street and Peter Street. This was soon extended further to the west as the New Town Extension up to the Garrison Creek which divided the Town from the grounds of the Fort, around today's Walnut Street. The Town was also extended in the east along King Street (then a part of Kingston Road) to the Don River.

War of 1812
York was attacked by American forces during the War of 1812, occupied, pillaged and then partially burned down on April 27, 1813(see Battle of Yorkmarker). The town was reinforced and repulsed a second attack.

Incorporation as 'Toronto'
On March 6, 1834, York was incorporated as the City of Torontomarker. The first mayor of Toronto was William Lyon Mackenzie. However, Torontomarker was part of the regional division of York County from the late 18th century until the establishment of Metro Toronto in 1954. After 1954, York County was the area north of Steeles Avenue and later renamed York Regionmarker in 1971.


York's population prior to the 1830s was primarily British (from Scotland, England, Wales) with a few other European settlers (French, German, Dutch, Irish). African slaves likely were found in the town, although slavery was abolished by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. Beyond the town proper, aboriginals dominated the area.


The population figures for York from 1796 to 1834 include people living in the surrounding areas of the town centre:
  • 1793 - 3 and unknown number of aboriginals
  • 1796 - 200 soldiers and 400 civilians
  • 1812 - 1460
  • 1813 - 720
  • 1825 - 1,600
  • 1832 - 5,550
  • 1834 - 9,250

Source:Statistics Canada


York as seen from Gibraltar Point.

Much of early York was heavily wooded with the town developed along shoreline of Lake Ontariomarker and up Lot Street or modern day Queen Street; from the Don River to Yonge Street. Later expansion of the town moved the boundaries further:

  • West: just west of modern day Fleet Street
  • North: near Dundas Streetmarker

Toronto Islandsmarker was still connected to the mainland. It was wooded, with marshes in what is now Ashbridge's Bay.

The climate of York was similar to that of modern Torontomarker, but a bit cooler given the lack of human influence on the state of the environment.


York was surveyed by the British Army with roads in a box grid format, while others conform to the geography of the town. To the west, north and east the town was surround by forests. The shoreline along Lake Ontario was gravel or clay.


Home District Council was responsible for municipal matters for York. In early years of the town matters was likely directed to the Executive Council of Upper Canada or the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.

Fire and police services

Fire services did not exist in York, so it was likely provided by local residents with buckets of water. Soldiers at nearby Fort Yorkmarker also assisted in fire fighting when needed.

As for policing, there was no official police force. Public order was provided by able bodied male citizens were required to report for night duty as special constables for a fixed number of nights a year on the pain of fine or imprisonment in a system known as "watch and ward."[33267]


There was a wide variety of building styles in York, but most were of English influence in reflecting the origins of the settlers at the time.


An April 1825 watercolour painting of a garrison at York, by George Back.
The first buildings in York were built by the British Army and was more or less utilitarian. With ample supply of trees from the surrounding area, they were all made of wood.
  • Town Block House 1799-1812
  • Fort Yorkmarker
  • York Gaol - wooden log stockade built, circa 1798
  • Castle Frank
  • Naval Shipyards, York - destroyed during the war
  • Government House Battery 2 18 pounders
  • Gibraltar Point Battery (1798, with two blockhouses)
  • Blockhouse Battery (two guns) at the Town Blockhouse 1798
  • Government House Battery (two guns)
  • Half-Moon Battery (not armed in 1813)
  • Western Battery (two guns, with blockhouse)
  • Ravine Blockhouse 1814
  • new blockhouse on Gibraltar Point 1814

First buildings

The Court House and Jail, as depicted in James Pattison Cockburn's watercolour of August 1829.
Early buildings in town were made of wood and lacked any architectural style. European influence began to impact York's buildings after the War of 1812 and when more permanent structures were built to serve the residents of the town:

A list of some of the structures built in York:
  • Home District Gaol 1837-1840; 5 storey limestone building consisted of a central block and two wings; built on site of original parliament buildings; cease in 1865;demolished 1887 by Consumer’s Gas as Station A Gasworks Building; demolished 1960s; became a Fina Gas Station /Dash Car Wash, Dimont T Trucks and Front Truck Servicentre Ltd.; Atlas Auto Leasing and the Addison Chevrolet Olds Ltd; Fuhrman Auto Body (Fuhrman Autocentre)
  • Gibratar Light House
  • see also List of oldest buildings and structures in Toronto


Industrial architecture in York began with large wood structures with agricultural influences (barn like). Towards the 1830, brick and stone became the choice of building materials. A list of industrial buildings of this era:
  • Freeland's Soap and Candle Factory - foot of Yonge Street
  • Sheldon, Dutcheer and Co Foundry
  • James Gooderham Windmill
  • Enoch Turner Brewery and Home

Places of worship

The early church architecture varied from various styles of the 19th Century:


  • Court of the Quarter Sessions of the Home District


  • Market Blockmarker
  • York's 5th (Toronto's second) Custom House - 1 storey Georgian building
  • Coffin Block - Georgian
  • Ontario House Hotel - Georgian
  • Jesse Ketchum Tannery - Colonial
  • 1st Engine House
  • York Fire Company
  • Hook and Ladder Fire Company
  • Fish Market
  • City Hotel
  • Farmers’ Storehouse Company
  • Crown Inn and Mirror Printing Office
  • William Henderson’s Grocery Store
  • William Proudfoot Wines and Spirits
  • Bank of Upper Canada Georgian
  • Daniel Brooke Building
  • Canada Land Company
  • York 3rd Post Office
  • Duke St Post Office


Children in York who could afford an education likely went to grammar schools. Public education was not available until the 1840s. The first post-secondary institution, King's College opened in 1827.
  • Home District Grammar School - Blue School
  • Upper Canada Central School - founded as Andrew Bell Monitorial School Colonial


Most of the more elegant homes in Toronto were built for the wealthy and powerful elite of the town.
  • Widmer House
  • Berkeley House
  • Maryville Lodge
  • St George's House - later as Baldwin House Georgian
  • Ketchum Family Home - Colonial
  • Joseph Cawthra Home
  • Russel Abbey - Colonial
  • John Sleigh House
  • Ridout Home Georgian
  • Arnold House Georgian
  • McGill Cottage
  • Hazelburn
  • Moss Park
  • Simon Washburn Residence

Source: The Town of York Historical Society


An 1830s James Pattison Cockburn painting of a road between York and Kingston, two of the most important centres of Upper Canada at the time.
The economy of the town was limited to servicing the needs of the residents of York. Some shops and business did exists after 1800. The town likely was involved in trade of resources like wood and fur. Food was produced locally, but some had to be shipped in from outside of York. Light industries also began to appear in the town:
  • Freeland's Soap and Candle Factory - foot of Yonge Street
  • Jesse Ketchum Tannery
  • Sheldon, Dutcheer and Company Foundry
  • William Proudfoot Wines and Spirits
  • Enoch Turner Brewery and Home
  • Gooderham Distillery James Gooderham Windmill


A notice to settlers of Yonge Street from 1798, indicating their duties once they settled land granted to them.



The most important and reliable form transportation in York was by water.

Wharfs were built along the shore to service boats carrying goods and people to and from the town:
  • Cooper
  • Feighan
  • Maitland


Transport to nearby towns and village was by horse and carriage or sleighs during the winter period. Few roads were built in the town and fewer leading out of the town. Most were very poor and was not preferred by travellers.

With the town a number of roads were built along the grid pattern in which York was laid out. For the most part unpaved as transportation was by horse and carriage. There were planked roads from the city built in the latter years.

Most of York's roads went as far east as the Don River and west to what is today's Dufferin Street, but the key streets were to east of Yonge. The northern boundary was originally Lot Street, until Dundas Streetmarker and Bloor Street were built. The southern boundary was Palace Street (Front Street).

Most of York's street still exists today, a number have been renamed since:

List of streets in York
 Name of Street   Name for   Name changed to   Notes 
Bay Streetmarker Toronto Baymarker    
Berkeley Street English home of Sir John Small   Small was Clerk of the Executive Council of Upper Canada; his home in Gloucestershire, England and in York where named Berkeley
Caroline Street wife of George IV, Caroline of Brunswick Sherbourne Avenue Renamed for Sherbourne, Dorsetshire, England, birthplace of Thomas Ridout Sr, father of Thomas Gibbs Ridout, early political figure in York
Court Street York County Court House    
Church Streetmarker Toronto's first church (St James Cathedral, Anglican)    
Duchess Street wife of the Duke of York and Albany, Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia Richmond Street Renamed for Duke of Richmond?
Duke Street named for Duke of York, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany Adelaide Street Named for Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, wife of William IV of the United Kingdom
Frederick Street York's namesake, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany    
George Street German name of George IV, George Augustus Frederick    
Hospital Street Richmond Street ran south of Lot Street from Peter Street to Yonge Street; named after York General Hospital
King Street George III of the United Kingdom    
Leader Lane name for newspaper, York Leader, located nearby    
Lot Street Base concession street, used to plot tracts of land ('Park Lots') in the new settlement Queen Street renamed for Queen Victoria
March Street ? Lombard Street ?
Upper George Street George IV? Victoria Street Queen Victoria
Toronto Street former (French) and current name of York, Torontomarker    
Ontario Street province of Ontariomarker    
Parliament Street Parliament of Upper Canada (1797) was located nearby    
Chapel Street named after Wolford Chapelmarker, where Simcoe is buried? now Power Street
Mill Street site of Gooderham and Worts mill Trinity Street another street bears the name today
Market Street St. Lawrence Marketmarker Wellington Street the current Market Street located to the west of St. Lawrence Marketmarker
Newgate Street beside York's courthouse and prison, named for street and prison in London, Englandmarker Adelaide Street Queen Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, wife of King William IV
New Street   Jarvis Streetmarker William Jarvis
Palace Street Palace of Parliament Front Street
Peter Street Peter Russell   Russell wa Administrator of York
Prince's Street Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany? Princess Street
Yonge Street Sir George Yonge Britishmarker Secretary at War and friend of John Graves Simcoe

Public transportation in York was in the form of horse drawn stagecoaches.

A few operators during the period were:


Prior to 1829 there was not formal hospital in York. Doctors were available, but more comprehensive medical care was limited. The only medical facility was at St. James’ Church or the military services at Fort York. Plans for a general hospital began in 1817, but it was not until 1829 that the town had a hospital (York General Hospital).

Water supply and sewage

Prior the mid-19th Century, Toronto's water supply came via wells, not Lake Ontariomarker. It was not until after the founding of the City of Toronto did residence have an option for water from the lake and a fully public water system until 1872.

As for sewage and waste, they were likely disposed of into the lake or landfills.


Little is known what entertainment or cultural events were available to the residents of York.

There were no music or theatres in those days as the population was small. Church-based events, lectures, concerts, travelling performers and other visiting personalities were likely the only source of culture outside of the home. Unofficially taverns, gambling, and racing was available to residents. Public hangings at the Gaol likely a crude form of entertainment.


There were no professional sports events or clubs in York.

Sporting activities were amateur and seasonal (mostly winter):
  • skating
  • sleighing
  • ice-boating
  • curling

Public Library

The Mechanics' Institutes opened in 1830 and was the town's first library.


York boasted many newspapers, but most folded after only a few years of operation

  • The Upper Canada Gazette, or American Oracle 1798-1807
  • York Gazette 1807-1816
    • Upper Canada Gazette 1821-1826
    • York Weekly Post 1821-1822, then Weekly Register 1822-1826
    • United Empire Loyalist 1826-1828
    • Upper Canada Gazette 1841-1849
  • The Observer 1820-?
  • The Colonial Advocate 1824-1833
    • Advocate 1833-1834
    • merged with Canadian Correspondent to for Correspondent and Advocate 1834
  • The Canadian Freeman 1825-1834
  • Patriot and Farmer's Monitor 1832-1854
    • merged with Leader 1854
  • Toronto Daily Express
    • merged to form Toronto Family Patriot and Express 1850
    • Patriot bought leader and continue to publish until 1855
    • as Patriot 1834, then Toronto Patriot 1839
    • cease publication 1878
  • Courier of Upper Canada 1829-1837
    • bought by Paladium of British North America
  • Christian Guardian 1829-1925
    • absorbed by Guardian 1925
  • Sapper and Miner 1832-1833
  • Canadian Correspondent 1832-1834
    • merged with Colonial Advocate 1834
    • bought out by Paladium of British North America 1838
  • U.C. Land, Mercantile, and General Advertiser 1834-1835
  • Toronto Recorder and General Mercantile Advertiser 1834-1835
  • Examiner 1830-1855

Legacy of the name "York"

The York name continues in Toronto. Several neighborhoods or larger districts of the City of Toronto still use the names of former municipalities all named directly or indirectly after the original Town of York:

And in addition to a host of minor businesses and street names, these "York" names are well known:

Outside of Toronto, major roads and highways in neighbouring communities that lead to Toronto still bear the name 'York,' such as Highway 7 in Guelphmarker, called York Road within the city limits.

See also

  • Yorkmarker United Kingdom


  1. List of E-STAT Census Tables and number of geographic areas by province Upper Canada / Ontario
  2. Toronto: 1837 Model City
  3. Berkeley Street
  4. Early Toronto Newspapers II

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