We don’t know much about Toronto’s first cat, but what we do know seems to suggest that he arrived on a July morning in 1793. Toronto was just a few days old. It had only been a week and a half since one hundred British soldiers sailed into our harbour and came ashore at the mouth of a creek they would call the Garrison. That’s the spot where they pitched their tents and started taking axes to trees. Enormous old oaks and pines crashed to the earth as the men began to clear away the ancient forest that had been growing here for thousands of years. In its place they would build Fort York – and a few kilometers to the east, the first few blocks of a new town. This was going to be the new capital of the new province of Upper Canada — away from the border and easily defensible, ready for the inevitable war with the Americans.
In the early morning of the soldiers’ eleventh day clearing trees, a great big British ship sailed into the harbour. This was the HMS Mississauga. On board was the man who had sent the men here: John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of the new province. He had sailed overnight from Niagara-on-the-Lake (the temporary capital) to oversee the construction of what he hoped would some day become a thriving metropolis, a testament to the glory of the British Empire. He brought his family with him.
The next evening, he and his wife Elizabeth found a spot across the creek from the fort to pitch their own tent. It was an elaborate canvas house with two rooms, doors, wallpaper, windows and floors – even a stove to keep it warm. This was the very same tent that had once been used by one of the most super-important and famous European explorers ever. Captain James Cook had lived in it on his travels around the Pacific Ocean (which had ended abruptly when he “discovered” Hawaii, tried to take the indigenous king hostage, and was killed).
Now, in the forests of Toronto, the tent was home to the ruler of Upper Canada, his wife, and three of their children. They’d left the older ones behind in England, but brought their toddlers – Sophia and Francis – with them. Their youngest daughter, Katherine, was a brand new baby girl: she’d been born just a few months earlier in that very same tent.
She wasn’t the only new addition to the family. At Niagara-on-the-Lake the Simcoes had gotten three pets: two dogs (who will get their own blogpost someday) and a cat. They came to Toronto too, which means that (assuming none of the soldiers brought a cat along with them) this cat was the very first housecat to ever set paw on this land.
Elizabeth Simcoe wrote a paragraph about him in her diary, just a few weeks after they arrived:
“I brought a favourite white Cat with grey spots with me from Niagara. He is a native of Kingston. His sense & attachment are such that those who believe in transmigration would think his soul once animated a reasoning being. He was undaunted on board the Ship, sits composedly as Centinel at my door amid the beat of Drums & the crash of falling Trees & visits the Tents with as little fear as a dog would do.”
Toronto’s first cat was a badass.
Cross-posted from The Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog.
Image: Elizabeth Simcoe’s watercolour of Toronto’s waterfront, July 1793, when the city was just a few days old