Ontario’s founding father – John Graves Simcoe

By MPP Toby Barrett

As I spend my summer days at Queen’s Park, I take note of the statue of John Graves Simcoe, on guard at the southeast grounds of the legislative precinct.

And I reflect on the fact that last fall, I introduced legislation which read, in part, that “The first Monday in August in each year is proclaimed as Simcoe Day, unless a bylaw of a municipality specifies otherwise for the municipality.”

I introduced the bill on Sept. 12, 2017 – 225 years to the day that John Graves Simcoe was appointed the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.

My bill was debated and received all-party support at Second Reading. However it fell off the order paper with the Speech from the Throne just before the last election.

During my research for the proposed legislation, I developed an admiration for John Graves Simcoe, his leadership of the Queen’s Rangers against George Washington’s army, and his creation of core institutions that anchor the success of present-day Ontario.

John Graves Simcoe was born Feb. 25, 1752 in England. Simcoe, although best known as Ontario’s first Lieutenant Governor, was also a member of British Parliament, a colonial administrator and an army officer.

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. In October 1777, Simcoe assumed command of the elite Queen’s Rangers, which was largely composed of United Empire Loyalists and deserters from George Washington’s army.

The Queen’s Rangers were named in tribute to Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. It was a 400-man elite fighting force, first established during the Seven Years’ War from 1756 to 1763. They trained in woodcraft, scouting and guerrilla warfare. Simcoe didn’t follow the protocol of the time based on strict and rigid maneuvers. The Rangers wore green uniforms for camouflage, depended on speed and surprise, and were known to defeat forces three times their size.

Simcoe and his Rangers fought alongside Benedict Arnold at Richmond and, in the winter of 1779, spared the life of George Washington himself by allowing Washington and several others to escape without firing upon them.

Simcoe was wounded several times during battle. He had his horse shot out from under him. He was held as a prisoner of war and was paroled by Benjamin Franklin.

Following the defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1781, Simcoe spirited the Queen’s Rangers colours to England. They were returned to Canada and are on display in the officers’ mess of the Queen’s Rangers at Fort York in Toronto.

On September 12, 1791, Simcoe was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the newly created Upper Canada. Upon his appointment, he articulated a goal to develop Upper Canada as a model community with aristocratic and conservative principles and to demonstrate the superiority of these ideas in contrast to the republicanism of the United States.

John Graves Simcoe lived his life by his family motto, “Non sibi sed patriae,” which means, “Not for self but for country.” This is the motto of my alma mater, Simcoe Composite School, which will be marking its 125th this coming Simcoe Day weekend.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.