Points of Interest > Toronto’s First Parliament Buildings

The first Parliament of Upper Canada was held at Newark, now Niagara on the Lake. In 1796, Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe moved the provincial capital to York. The first parliament buildings were constructed between 1794 and 1797 on the north-east corner of the block bounded by Front, Berkeley, Parliament Streets and the old shoreline of Toronto Bay. The site included two Georgian brick structures with colonnaded porches facing the bay, at that time only a few feet away. In 1805, the buildings were connected by a colonnaded walkway. Simcoe, who had left York before the buildings were completed, intended that the Government House would be built between the two buildings. The Legislative Council used one building, and the House of Assembly used the other.


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Toronto’s First Parliament Buildings, 1796-1813. John Ross Robertson, Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto: A Collection of Historical Sketches of the Old Town of York from 1792 until 1833, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1893 (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894), vol. 1, 351. Toronto Public Library, TRL, 971.3541 R57. Licensed by Creative Commons. http://www.archive.org/details/landmarkstoronto01robeuoft, accessed 4 May 2009.

During the American occupation of York from April 27th to May 2nd, 1813, the Parliament buildings were looted and burned to the ground. A mace and many books from the Parliament library were seized and taken back to the States. In 1934, the American government returned the mace as part of the celebrations marking the centenary of the City of Toronto.

The buildings were rebuilt on the same site by 1820. In the interim, Parliament met in The York Hotel, on King Street west of Berkeley, and later in the house of the Chief Justice at the corner of Wellington and York.

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Toronto’s First Parliament Buildings, 1796-1813. John Ross Robertson, Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto: A Collection of Historical Sketches of the Old Town of York from 1792 until 1833, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1893 (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894), vol. 1, 353. Toronto Public Library, TRL, 971.3541 R57. Licensed by Creative Commons. http://www.archive.org/details/landmarkstoronto01robeuoft, accessed 4 May 2009.

In 1824 another fire destroyed the newly constructed buildings and the site was abandoned. Concerns about the healthfulness of the site given its proximity to Ashbridge’s Bay marsh (for more on marshes and disease-producing miasmas, see the Don Blockhouse Point of Interest), together with a prevailing shift to the west in the development of the city, saw the construction of the new Parliament Buildings in the west end of town, on Front Street west of Simcoe. Parliament met in the York General Hospital during the construction of the new buildings.

A courthouse and a city gaol later occupied the original site of the Parliament buildings. The site was excavated by archaeologists in the summer of 2000.

Text: Lost Rivers and Jennifer Bonnell

Sources

Dendy, William. Lost Toronto. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Toronto’s First Parliament Buildings, 1796-1813. John Ross Robertson, Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto: A Collection of Historical Sketches of the Old Town of York from 1792 until 1833, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1893 (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894), vol. 1, 351-53. Toronto Public Library, TRL, 971.3541 R57. Licensed by Creative Commons. http://www.archive.org/details/landmarkstoronto01robeuoft, accessed 4 May 2009.

Toronto Historical Association. A Glimpse of Toronto's history: Opportunities for the Commemoration of Lost Historic Sites (Toronto: Toronto Historical Association and the Maps Project, City of Toronto Urban Development Services, 2002), MPLS # 250.

 

 

 

Jennifer Bonnell & Marcel Fortin, 2009. A member project of NiCHE in partnership
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