Banner photo is of King St looking east to Jordan in 1867. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.
I have to say, thinking on it now, that I’ve been very lucky in not having ever really lost anything. I don’t mean this in a grand, life sense – as in losing loved ones, or losing perspective or direction. No, I mean it very literally, as in I’ve never had something drop out of my pocket and then later thought “Oh crap, where’d that go?” But if I did (which is quite likely now because I’ve jinxed myself ) there’d be some decent options available to me for tracking it down. I could, for instance, post my loss on any number of social media sites. I could also tape up signs around the neighbourhood, and probably even buy a little space in the local papers, if it came to that.
But – and this won’t surprise you, I’m sure – long, long ago, in Toronto’s early days, the options were a fair bit more limited. It goes without saying, I hope, that there was no such thing as the internet. But sure, you could put up a flyer – though with paper being something of a luxury item in the early 19th century, few would’ve been able to afford a proper postering blitz, like you could have today. So really, there was just “word of mouth,” which happily didn’t cost a thing, and newspaper ads, which you had to pay for but which would be assured to reach the widest audience possible.
Well, if you’ve visited this site before, I’m sure you have an idea where I’m going with this. If you guessed “I bet we’re going to look at some old newspapers”, you’re right! So, if you’ll just come with me, we’ll head back to 19th century Toronto and see what sorts of things people were losing.
While you can imagine the upset the loss of this brooch must’ve caused, you do wonder that the advertiser didn’t try a little harder to help readers find it. I mean, saying “lost about two months ago” and “in York” aren’t exactly great clues. But here’s the search area in 1827, if you’d like to give it a shot:
Now here we have another piece of missing jewelry – there’s no information on where it was lost, but at least there’s a concrete place (well, wood) to turn it in for the $2 reward:
As mentioned in the notice, the locket could be returned to the Carson & Co Photograph Gallery at King and Yonge, which was here:
Yet another piece of jewelry which strayed from its owner was this “ear ring”:
Personally, I can imagine how irritating this must’ve been for the owner, losing one of a pair. The whole one-dangling-earring fad wouldn’t come around until the misguided 1980s, which was well over a century away. Hopefully some lucky soul found it and was able to turn it in for the reward here at the Sheffield House:
Now, I feel I should mention that one of the problems with losing small objects in early Toronto, no matter how shiny, is that the state of the streets (which I’ve written about here) was, most often, not on your side. The muddy, mucky, rutted stretches were more likely to swallow your treasure whole than hold it aloft for a searcher to find. I mean, just take a look at this street and imagine losing an earring here:
But the good news is that you probably only had to worry about these things in Winter, Spring and late Fall.
Happily, however, not everything lost was a tiny piece of jewelry:
Sure, we can all imagine wanting to find a lost, treasured item or attempting to reunite one with its owner – but an iron bar?
But actually, iron – which was used by blacksmiths to create any number of essential items (like horseshoes, nails, pots, stoves, etc.) was a pretty hot commodity. By which I mean “pricey.” So you can kinda understand why trying to claim a bar of it would mean proving it was really yours. Though you do wonder how easy that would’ve been to do. I know I, for one, am lousy at keeping receipts (I mainly use them for disposing of chewed gum – my own, of course. But you probably didn’t need to know that.)
Now, as much as iron was fairly precious, there’s no denying that it hasn’t the glamour of, say, a large quantity of silver plate:
It’s a bit of an odd story – a trunk gone astray in one of two cities, and no one’s really sure which. But it must’ve made for one upset Major because this ad ran every day for almost a year and a half. Something tells me it was never recovered despite the offer of a “suitable reward.” More than likely the person who had the trunk looked at that offer and thought “Is it worth as much as a trunk full of silver plate? Because I’ve already got that.”
Of course, it’s hard to pin a dollar amount on Major Watson’s lost silver plate when he didn’t provide any details on what make it was, which form it took, and in what quantity. But some owners (one’s tempted to say “losers”) of other lost items left no detail unmentioned:
Though they didn’t receive the same full-caps treatment that the $71 cash got, the Bank of Montreal notes would’ve been a prized find. The bank’s notes were the first of their kind in Canada, and the most common form of payment at a time when there were numerous currencies floating around.
Here’s another example in the lost pocket-book line:
You begin to get the feeling that people were walking around with all the dough they had – or, at least, quite a bit of it. Which might not have been a bad idea if you were at all concerned about having your house rummaged through:
Incidentally, George Kingsmill, whose watch was stolen in 1833, would become the city’s High Constable two years later when the Toronto Police Department was first formed. As a member of the Orange Order, Kingsmill gained some notoriety for making it a practice to hire only other Orange-men as his constables. This proved to be pretty handy as Orange parading often turned into Orange rioting – it was probably quite comforting for the revelers to have some “official” support.
Here’s the man himself, if you’re curious:
I like to imagine that it was the loss of his watch that turned Kingsmill to a life of avenging petty crime – but it probably wasn’t nearly that dramatic. In any case, here he is again, meting out justice – of a sort:
Whatever the backstory on this particular cow, it was just one of many strayed four-legged possessions to appear in print. By and large, cows and horses made up the bulk of the “lost and found” listings in Toronto’s newspapers:
Knowing the city today, it’s easier to see a horse straying from the wide-open spaces of Etobicoke than it is to imagine a couple of cows lost on Yonge St, isn’t it?
But, of course, 19th century Yonge St was hardly the bustling, flashy, hectic thoroughfare we know today. In fact, until the late 1800s, large swaths of it (it is after all 83 km long – or 53 miles) looked like this:
With all of these possessions floating, or moseying, about the city – lost and found in myriad ways – they all had at least one thing in common: someone was concerned enough to visit the newspaper office and lay out a few shillings (the preferred currency for newspaper ads) to get the item home.
Here are a few examples of what the city’s newspapers were charging for advertising:
And from The Globe:
Sadly, the advertising rates of the earlier Canadian Correspondent are less clear:
Which is a shame because I’d love to know how much extra it cost to add this little guy:
Now, I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t find the cost of old advertising very thrilling – but I can’t help but think it added an important wrinkle in the fate of many of these “found” things…
As you may have noted in many of the listings we’ve looked at, the advertiser mentions that the item will be returned not only when ownership is proved, but also when “expenses” have been paid. In the case of many of these, this would mean paying for the cost of the advertisement itself. And in the case of the cows and horses, I’m afraid it would also have meant covering the advertiser’s cost of having boarded and fed them. Considering the length of time some of these ads ran for, I’d imagine more than one advertiser eventually found himself one cow richer.