The holiday celebrated on the first Monday of August — giving many, but not all Canadians a mid-summer, long weekend — is known by many names. It’s British Columbia Day in Canada’s western-most province and Natal Day in Nova Scotia. But in Ontario, the holiday Monday is known by more than one name. Ottawa celebrates Colonel By Day and it’s Joseph Brant Day in Burlington.
In Toronto, however, it’s known as Simcoe Day in honour of John Graves Simcoe, Upper Canada’s first lieutenant governor and the man who initiated the abolition of slavery in Canada. Toronto City Council established the civic holiday in honour of Simcoe in 1869.
Simcoe was a known supporter of abolition. “His bill was brought about by an incident — the Chloe Clooey incident,” said Natasha Henry, a curriculum consultant specializing in African Canadian history.
Simcoe received word of a slave owner violently abusing his slave, a girl by the name of Chloe Clooey, on his way across the Niagara River where he went to sell her in the United States. It was said that her screams were heard by many and the matter was brought to Simcoe’s attention by Peter Martin, a former slave.
“It was his impetus to introduce the bill, but it was then met by objection from a number of the members of his government,” Henry said.
Many members of the legislative assembly at the time owned slaves of their own and so resisted Simcoe’s urge to abolish slavery in Canada.
The resulting law was a compromise that would gradually lead to the end of enslavement.
Simcoe’s anti-slavery act was the first to pass in a British colony and remained in effect until August 24, 1833, when Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act put an end to slavery in most of the empire.
There are several places named after Simcoe in Ontario: Simcoe Street in Toronto, Lake Simcoe, University of Toronto’s Simcoe Hall, Simcoe Island near Kingston, Ont., and the Simcoe Fairgrounds, to name just a few.
Enjoy your long weekend! Labour Day will be here sooner than you think and with that comes fall clean-up and finishing up those neglected summer projects.