Stepping out – Week 6

June 6-12

Part of my plan to take more notice of things around me as I walk will be to stop and talk with people from time to time. I like to chat and last week I had two interesting and illuminating conversations with strangers.

As I walked along Wellington Street I glanced up at the little passageway that is marked “Martello Alley“. It looked colourful so I stopped to take a photo. I always thought that this was an antique dealer’s place and had never ventured in. The proprietor, David Dossett, obviously another extrovert, wearing a shirt splattered with paint, saw me taking the photo and called me in.

Turns out it is not an antique dealer at all but a very eclectic little collection of items that are locally made and paintings and photos and posters made by local artisans. I ended up there chatting with David for over half an hour and only skimmed the surface of all the bits and pieces there are to explore. Got some colourful photos, too. Drop in sometime. David will give you a tour.

As I was walking along the lakeshore there was a group of young men clustered around some kind of apparatus with a remote control. Turns out they are from McGill and are attending a robotic conference at Queens this week. They have been working for four years on a robotic swimmer. Of course I had to stay around to watch them try it out in the water.

The machine, just bigger than a breadbox and with claw-like arms, literally crawled into the water from the shoreline, swam around and then crawled out onto shore. I will upload a short video to Youtube as it is kind of hard to describe.

Throwback to the 1830’s and a “sort of” relative

This week I have been working in Toronto and I took it upon myself go seek out this plaque that acknowledges a very distant relative who had a significant role in Ontario history.

Peter Matthews (1790-1838) was married to my fourth great aunt, Hannah Major. Hannah’s, brother, Henry Major (1808-1887) was my third great grandfather. The Major family originated in Caven, Ireland, moved to the Maritimes in 1775 and then to the Pickering district of Ontario where they owned a sawmill in – wait for it – Majorville, a little community near Highway 7, just north of Whitby that is now known as Whitevale. The White family took over the district from the Majors in the 1840’s and thus renamed the town. Sounds a bit like the Wild West.

Peter Matthews was born near Belleville Ontario, the son of United Empire Loyalists. He and Hannah Major were married in 1811 when she was 15 years old. They had 8 children and she died at age 33. I don’t know much more about Hannah but there is a lot of information about her husband Peter who farmed at first but subsequently became a political figure and local martyr/hero.

During the war of 1812, Peter fought under General Brock. Later, he became involved with the rebels around Toronto led by William Lyon MacKenzie who were protesting and fighting the Family Compact group that controlled Upper Canada. This was thirty years before Canada became Canada and Ontario was Ontario. Peter ended up leading a group of 1000 rag-tag protesters against the government soldiers in December 1837. They were soundly defeated and Peter and his co-conspirator, Samuel Lount were captured and tried for treason. Once convicted, they were held in a dirty small jail cell and eventually they were hanged in a spectacle execution that took place near the old Courthouse, now very close to the King Edward Hotel around King and Yonge Streets. The city limits ( see the map below) were at about where Dundas Square is now. Montgomery’s tavern, dubbed the Rebel Camp was at approximately present day Yonge and Eglinton.

The execution was done, in part, to make an example of these rebels who, in fact, were trying to advocate for a fairer government. Their bodies were thrown in the Potters Cemetery initially but were later moved to Toronto Necropolis Cemetery where a monument bearing the inscription below was erected in 1898. Peter was also posthumously pardoned by Queen Victoria.

This week I found the plaque on a building at 1 Toronto Street marking the gallows spot where Peter Matthews and Ssmuel Lount were hanged. There are other monuments and plaques at the cemetery and in Pickering.

My connection with this fellow – a sort of six degrees of separation – is somewhat remote and not truly ancestral but it is intriguing to read about his exploits and demise and know that my thrice great grandparents and the rest of the Major Family must have found all this quite disruptive and disturbing.

Stepping out – Week 5

May 30-June 5

I am back home in Kingston and have picked up where I left off exploring my home town after two weeks tramping around cities in the U.K. and Europe.

If you didn’t see what my mission is in the next few months you can find more about it here. My plan is to get some exercise while the weather is good and at the same time take more notice of what is surrounding me. And share photos each week of discoveries I have made on my walks.

This old building was one of the first breweries in the core of old Kingston. It was built by James Robbins in 1793. It underwent name changes from Robbins Brewery to Kingston Brewery to Bajus Brewery and was operated by the Bajus family until the 1920s. The brewing industry was an important part of this district and what is now Rideau Street was called Brewery Street.

Across the street is s dry dock that was opened by Sir John A MacDonald and has been operational since the 1870’s. This week they are preparing it to bring in a houseboat for renovations.

This property has also been the site of boat building since 1676. Metalcraft Marine has used the property since the 1980’s to build Fire/Rescue/Patrol boats that are sent all over North America (like this one that is soon headed to Miami, Florida.)

Lots of flowering trees this week, including these two beauties in front of a house on King Street that was built in 1841. At that time the farm lot across the street (now City Park) was being considered as a site for the Canadian Parliament Buildings.

And, high water levels in Lake Ontario caused a bit of flooding, including the Parking Lot and entry to the Kingston Yacht Club. This mother duck took advantage of the puddle to teach her ducklings to swim.

My friend, Sue, gave me the guided tour around the Rideau Street neighbourhood she lived in as a child. She pointed out the church where her brother used to go to sales to buy Christmas gifts more than 50 years ago and as we approached the church…they had a rummage sale on. Some things just don’t change.