August 2, 2013 by T. Gregory Argall
The first Monday in August is known throughout Ontario as “The August Civic Holiday.” There is, however, another name for this particular day, known only to 6.47% of Ontario’s population. That name is “Simcoe Day.”
When they become aware of this fact, many people assume it is so named because, as with any other summer long weekend, everyone heads up to the cottage near Lake Simcoe. This assumption is, of course, wrong.
Simcoe Day is named for Lord John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. (“Oh, yeah,” I hear you all exclaim. “That guy.”) To most Ontarians the name is vaguely familiar, having heard it mentioned years, nay, decades ago in high school.
The basic facts, as found in a Canadian history textbook, are as follows: On February 25, 1752 John Graves Simcoe was born at Cotterstock, Northamptonshire, England.
On July 8, 1792 John Graves Simcoe was sworn in as Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, in the city of Kingston.
On October 26, 1806 John Graves Simcoe died in Exeter, after taking ill on the journey back to England.
That’s it. That’s all that the books have to say about the man.
But there is so much more to him that simply those three dates.
For instance, he actually received his commission as Lieutenant-Governor in 1791, but it took him nearly a year of travel just to get back to Upper Canada.
Here’s another interesting fact. He married Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim on December 30, 1782. She was in her seventeenth year. He was nearly 31, the randy devil. The more astute among you will note that there is a town called West Gwillimbury, just north of Bradford in Simcoe County, and a bit south of that at the north end of York Region we can find East Gwillimbury, however, there is no (officially recognised) Posthumousville.
Lord Simcoe also did impressions. According to local records from the time, his impersonations of Benjamin Franklin, Sir William Howe and Napoleon Bonaparte were “not only quite accurate, but darned funny as well.”
An accomplished dancer, Lord Simcoe appeared on stage many times. His performance in a 1789 production of “Swan Lake” earned him several awards and accolades from his peers.
He was an important participant in the discovery of penicillin but was too shy and reserved to accept any praise or gratitude.
In 1801 he traveled from Quebec City to what is now London, Ontario, on wooden roller-skates, which was quite a feat at the time.
He built the original parliament building at Queen’s Park by hand, out of 897,264,996, 612 toothpicks. (The building collapsed, tragically, after Major-General Alured Clarke unthinkingly pulled a toothpick from the building’s foundation when he wished to dislodge a particularly obstinate but of gristle at the parliamentary barbecue and keg party.)
He wrote several symphonies under a variety of pen-names, including Schubert, Bach and Lizst.
Bare foot, he stood three feet, six inches in height, but had specially constructed lifts in his shoes, making him appear to be six foot, two inches tall.
He once got a basket from centre court, thrown backwards over his shoulder, earning three points and winning the championship game. That also earned him a date with that cute cheerleader.
His favourite colour was puce.
For more mundane and “fact-based” information about Lord Simcoe, be sure to check that last refuge of all internet knowledge, Wikipedia.
For now I’ll leave you with this one thought, for you to ponder every Simcoe Day for years to come, as you sip your beer and swat your mosquitoes…
What is the significance of the fact that Lord Simcoe’s middle name was “Graves” and his wife’s middle name was “Posthuma”?