By MPP Toby Barrett
Sunday September 17th is the 225th anniversary of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario – an inaugural sitting presided over by John Graves Simcoe, our first Lieutenant Governor.
During my research, I have developed an appreciation and admiration for John Graves Simcoe – his leadership of the Queens Rangers against George Washington’s army, and his creation of the core institutions that anchor the success of present day Ontario. For that reason, I introduced legislation on Sept. 12th to proclaim the first Monday in August each year as Simcoe Day.
At age 24, Simcoe went to war in America to fight the revolutionaries. His regiment arrived from Britain in June 1775 to take part in the Siege of Boston two days after the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Simcoe assumed command of the elite Queen’s Rangers on Oct. 15, 1777. The men of the Queen’s Rangers were proficient at scouting and skirmishing and more than a match for the Americans. Shooting rapids in canoes and whaleboats, traversing swamps and snowshoeing through endless tracts of forest, Simcoe’s Rangers earned a reputation for resilience and resourcefulness. Their development was a watershed in the history of guerilla warfare.
Simcoe set little store by drill and personally oversaw the training of a small party of troops in the surprise tactics of today’s commandos. His guiding principles were surprise, speed, and close combat because of the terrain. He emphasized physical fitness and got astounding results from his men which he estimated marched an average of close to 100 miles a week in every kind of weather.
Simcoe and his Rangers – comprised of Loyalists as well as deserters from George Washington’s army – fought alongside Benedict Arnold at Richmond, and in the winter of 1779 spared the life of Washington himself by allowing Washington and others to escape without firing upon them.
Simcoe was wounded several times during battle, had his horse shot out from under him, and was held prisoner of war until paroled by Benjamin Franklin.
Simcoe served as Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791 until 1796. His military service with the Queen’s Rangers made him a sincere friend of Loyalists, and he attracted many to the newly-formed Upper Canada.
He founded Toronto, previously known as York, and was instrumental in introducing courts of law, trial by jury, English common law, freehold land tenure, and the abolition of the importation of slaves. He is seen by many Canadians – especially those in Ontario – as a founding figure in Canadian history.
He presided over the first session of what became Ontario’s Parliament. It lasted barely a month as the House was prorogued on October 15, 1792. But, during those weeks, eight acts were passed, trial by jury was established and the ancient laws of Canada were abrogated.
Simcoe’s Act Against Slavery passed in 1793, ultimately leading to the abolition of slavery in Upper Canada by 1810.
John Graves Simcoe lived his life by his family coat of arms NON SIBI SED PATRIAE (NOT FOR SELF BUT FOR COUNTRY) – the motto of my alma mater, Simcoe District High School.
So much has been written about the man and I hope to do justice to his accomplishments by legislating a provincial Simcoe Day – as is now the case in Toronto – during Queen’s Park debate on Oct. 5.