Banner image is of the north-east corner of Melinda and Jordan, circa 1858. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.
When last we left Jordan, in the late 1830s, the young street had begun to see some development. Carved from a lot belonging to Jordan Post, it soon became home to a number of tradesmen, as well as William Gurd’s gun factory and the Rev. James Richardson‘s Christian Guardian newspaper.
Melinda St, on the other hand – though laid out in the same period – was to remain barren for nearly a decade. … Though, perhaps not quite barren – as somewhere near the northwest corner of Melinda and Bay lay the grave of a young girl named Stella Van Zant.
At the time of her death – sometime in the first decade of the 19th century – the land belonged to her father, John Van Zant. Originally from the U.S., he had moved to York in the late 1790s and found some success working as a tanner. But with the onset of war in 1812, he found himself in a good deal of hot water after failing to offer up an oath of allegiance to the British. And by “hot water” I mean, forced to sell off his land and beat a hasty retreat for the border.
Before leaving however, Van Zant did his best to ensure Stella would remain undisturbed. In selling the land to Jordan Post, the two men signed an agreement stating that Post would take ownership of all but the “piece of ground six feet in length by four feet in breadth adjoining the uppermost western corner of the lot of land.” That is, Stella’s grave.
And so (as far anyone knows), Stella lay undisturbed – even as Melinda St was laid out just south of her plot and buildings began to dot its length.
As with Jordan St, much of early Melinda was residential and its denizens predominantly working-class. From Yonge to Bay, its modest homes and boarding houses were peopled with labourers, tinsmiths, painters, carpenters and laundresses. Though there were one or two small enterprises at the time – R. D. McPherson’s wholesale grocers at the corner of Jordan, and Thomas Thompson’s Shades Inn near Yonge.
But the 1850s would bring change. As the city grew and its core shifted westward, Jordan and Melinda suddenly found themselves considered pretty prime real estate. And so, amongst the small homes and boarding houses, office buildings soon began to bloom.
The first of these was the Wellington Chambers on Jordan St. Built in 1856, it was the pet project of a lawyer and developer named James Lukin Robinson:
Okay, before we continue, I’ve got a quick disclaimer for you: I do not have proper photo or illustration of the Wellington Chambers. I know, I know – it pains me too. But if you’d be content with a side view, you are in luck.
Here we see the side entrance to the Wellington Chambers which held the north-east corner of Melinda and Jordan.
As for its builder, James Lukin Robinson, it’s important to note that he was one of many apples to fall from the John Beverley Robinson tree. If you’re not familiar with old J. B., he was part of what was known as the Family Compact – the small, powerful group of bureaucrats, businessmen and landowners which ruled the young town of York, and woe to any townsfolk who felt it should be otherwise. While the leader of this group of heavies is often noted as being the Anglican Bishop John Strachan – which is likely so – John Beverley would certainly have been a close second.
Here’s a look at his mug if you’re interested:
As Attorney General, John Beverley is the man who accepts much of the credit for tossing early Reformer – and fierce critic of the Family Compact – Robert Gourlay out of Canada. And it is John Beverley who, after being made Chief Justice, decided that members of William Lyon Mackenzie’s Reformers should be made an example of. Following the Rebellion of 1837, he decided that two of the men should hang – Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews.
Interestingly, and sadly, this last event has a Jordan St connection of its own. While Samuel Lount sat in jail awaiting his execution, it was the good Rev. James Richardson, whom we met on Jordan St in the last post, that visited him often. And it was Richardson who accompanied him to the scaffold that bad day in April, 1838.
A lawyer named Charles Durand, who’d also been jailed as a suspected member of Mackenzie’s rebels, recorded his memory of Richardson and the executions:
In case you’re wondering, Durand did indeed return to the topic later in his memoir – here’s where he picks up the thread:
But enough of John Beverley’s handiwork, let us return to his son and Jordan St of the 1850s.
As mentioned previously, in addition to his law practice, James Lukin Beverley was also a developer – and not just of handsome office buildings like the Wellington Chambers:
Here we have a view of the street laid between Peter and John – which was later named Windsor – and quite possibly one of the aforementioned gabled houses:
Three years after the above development, James Lukin also had 32 small cottages built along Mitchell, Richmond and Adelaide to provide affordable homes for industrial workers. Sadly, like many of his projects, most of these have now been demolished – and there are now just seven remaining on Richmond and four on Mitchell.
When he wasn’t planning developments, James Lukin was busy in the Jordan St law offices of Robinson, Robinson and Robinson. So named, because he loved his name so much. … No, of course not. It was because he shared it with his brothers – Christopher and John.
Of the three, it was Christopher who appears to have been truly born to the bar. He certainly had a vim for it that their father must’ve appreciated. In fact, he was quite a chip off the old block. As one of John A. MacDonald’s favourites, he was brought in to work for the crown counsel in the trial of Louis Riel. And it was Christopher who convinced the courts that Riel should hang.
As for the third partner/brother, well that was John Beverley – who, as you’ll have guessed, had been named for their father.
Though he too practiced law, John Beverley – let’s just call him Jr., shall we – was far more interested in railways and spent much of his time promoting the building of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron railroad. At the time, there was heavy opposition to the project and so Jr. found himself glad-handing the public and giving rousing speeches to drum up enthusiasm for the enterprise. As it turns out, such activities are not only helpful for getting a railroad built, they also prove beneficial in making a politician out of a man. And so, Jr. soon became the alderman for the St. Patrick’s Ward, then Toronto mayor and later, of course, Lieutenant Governor.
Now, if you’re worrying that we’ve strayed from Jordan and Melinda, rest assured we’re still in the neighbourhood. Because, not only was Jr. working out of the Wellington Chambers on Jordan, one of the railroad men he’d worked closest with – Frederick Chase Capreol – was right next door in the newly built Victoria Hall.
Frederick Chase Capreol is best known today for being the man who first struck on the idea of building a railroad that would connect three lakes – the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron – and travelling all the way to England to get Queen Victoria’s approval for it. For this he became known as “Crazy Capreol.” But, crazy or not, he got the Queen’s nod and ground was broken for the project in a grand ceremony on October 15th, 1851 – with Lady Elgin (the Governor General’s wife) turning over the first sod with an ornate spade created by W. C. Morrison, one of the city’s leading jewelers.
As for Victoria Hall, where we find Capreol working in 1858, it was built by the great Kivas Tully – one of our most prolific, early architects.
Tully – who kept his own office in Victoria Hall – gave the city a great number of buildings including the original Bank of Montreal at Yonge and Front, portions of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at Ossington, the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women at Dufferin and the Central Prison on Strachan.
Sadly, all of these buildings are now long gone but, unlike his Victoria Hall, each is well remembered today. … Though, to be honest, not necessarily always out of architectural appreciation.
But I digress…
With the Wellington Chambers and Victoria Hall now changing the tone of the neighbourhood, new offices began to open up along Jordan and Melinda. While each, no doubt, had some impact on the growing city of Toronto, one in particular would have a hand in shaping the country, as a whole:
Dating back to 1755, the Indian Office was established by the British government to oversee relations with the First Nations (i.e. attempt to manage the people onto whose land they’d moved.) And one of its key functions was to provide protection of their lands – or, at least, so proclaimed the King:
But you may be surprised to learn (cough) that quite early on there were problems – one of the biggest of which was that the tribes were continuously finding white settlers squatting on what was meant to be their reserved land.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Well, this sounds like exactly the kind of thing the Indian Office was created for, right? Problem solved.”
Are you waiting with baited breath for the Lieutenant Governor’s assurance of aid to the Chiefs? Well, to paraphrase the old saying, I wouldn’t hold it if I were you:
Unfortunately for the chiefs and their bands, this terrible situation was made worse by the fact that the letter writer was none other than the superintendent of the Indian Office – and one of Toronto’s greatest creeps – Samuel Jarvis:
Before long, Samuel Jarvis coerced the tribes into selling off parcels of their land with the promise of great profits. Though, occasionally, he sold them off before they even knew anything about it. Worse yet, as it turned out, the money generated by selling their land didn’t amount to much anyhow – because it was sold cheap to appeal to cash-strapped settlers. Oh wait, I phrased that badly – I should say that the amount generated by the sales didn’t amount to much for the First Nations. However, it appears to have been quite a lot once it was all gathered in Jarvis’ pocket. Being somewhere in the range of £9,000.00.
Once discovered, Jarvis was dismissed from his post but questions over his conduct and dodgy accounting lingered for years afterwards, as we can see from this 1847 Quebec Gazette article:
By the way, if anyone was greatly shocked by Jarvis’ wrong-doing, it was because they didn’t know the man very well. Long before he robbed the very people whose interests he was meant to protect, he’d already gained a reputation as a gambler, had killed young John Ridout in an illegal duel and – along with some pals – smashed William Lyon Mackenzie’s printing press to bits while disguised as an “Indian.” Yeah. So, you know, not exactly the man to set your moral compass by.
The same inquiry that had uncovered Jarvis’s larceny also recommended an overhaul of the Indian Department – specifically, that its management be moved to that of the Civil Secretary. And so it is under this arrangement that we find the office moved to Jordan St.
Francis, born on Manitoulin Island in 1824, was the son of Jean-Baptiste Assiginack (while their name is the same, the spelling differs) – a prominent member of the Odawas in the region. Jean-Baptise, having acted as an interpreter for the government at Manitoulin and Penetanguishene in 1837, came to know Samuel Jarvis. And for once, it does not appear that the association had any negative impact (though I type this with great hesitation (and eyes narrowed with suspicion.)) What did come of it is that it was decided young Francis should be shipped here to Toronto to study at Upper Canada College. While early historians claim it was Jarvis’ idea, the modern crop say it was Assiginack’s. Whoever’s it was, Francis landed here in 1840 and began his studies.
From the book Famous Algonquins, we’re given this description of Assikinack, as related by his school pals:
“He stood six feet in his stockings, was of lithe form, jet black hair, nose somewhat aquiline, piercing dark eyes, and had small beautiful hands and feet.”
In addition to these fetching features, we also learn that he was he was on the prize list for good conduct and map drawing, as well as first in writing, geography, Latin and Greek.
In 1848, Assikinack graduated from the school, hoping to study medicine in France. Unfortunately, however, he was dissuaded from this – apparently on the grounds that it would be an expensive pursuit and not a good use of the Odawa’s funds – and so instead he was pushed into becoming a clerk and interpreter at the Indian Office:
If Francis didn’t much enjoy his work at the office, he does seem to have found some satisfaction in sharing the culture and language of his people in a series of presentations he was invited to give at the Canadian Institute. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Canadian Institute was formed by Kivas Tully, whom we just met, and the great Sandford Fleming.)
Happily, these presentations were recorded and later printed in the Institute’s Canadian Journal of Industry, Science and Art, and so I can share with you Assikinack’s own words from his talk on :
I think it’s worth mentioning here that once, before beginning a presentation, Assikinack apologized for any faults found with his English – as he had only started learning it when newly arrived in Toronto at the age of 16. So you might want to keep that in mind here:
Alas, Francis Assikinack was not long for this world. In the fall of 1863, not long after becoming engaged to “an English woman of position and culture,” he fell ill with consumption. A Dr. Hodder on Queen St was consulted but didn’t offer him much hope and so, according to Famous Algonquins:
“He soon manfully put his affairs in order, resigned his office and went home to his people on the Island of Manito. “There is,” he said, “a beautiful grove in my people’s old hunting ground. I will go and end my days there.” He died on November 21st, 1863, and his resting place is at Wikwemikong.”
At his death, Francis was just 39 years old.
For some years after Assikiinack’s death, the Indian Office continued to operate out of Jordan St – as did the Robinson boys in the Wellington Chambers, and Frederick Capreol and Kivas Tully next door in Victoria Hall. But with the 1870s and 1880s, the neighbourhood would begin to see change once more.
Though still dotted here and there with the small homes of tradesmen, Melinda and Jordan would soon find even grander buildings crowding their lengths. To accommodate these new arrivals, the neighbourhood’s infrastructure was improved – sewers were laid and streetlights planted. And yet still, with all this tumult, it is believed that Stella Van Zant rested undisturbed.
But did she?
…. With apologies for sounding like an old radio drama, we’ll find that out in our next visit to Jordan and Melinda. I imagine I’ve already told you enough tales for today.