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A Toronto farm, 1799-1800

Over the last six months or so, I’ve been digging into the papers of the Honourable David William Smith, Upper Canada’s first Surveyor General, part of the amazing manuscript holdings of the Toronto Reference Library.[1] I’ve dipped into this intriguing collection several times before, but this time I’ve systematically opened every Hollinger box and file folder to discover the treasures they hold. I’ll be speaking about it at the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference on Sunday, May 4.

I confess that I love looking at manuscripts. David William Smith was an interesting (and blessedly organized) fellow, but the value of his collection of papers goes way beyond what he was all about. As with most manuscript collections, we learn just as much about the people and society around the central figure—the “little” people and the mundane events that don’t make the pages of history books.

Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at the Toronto Reference Library

Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at the Toronto Reference Library (photo by Jane E. MacNamara)

The document[2] below (front and back) is an account of expenditures made by neighbour and friend John McGill to maintain Smith’s home and farm in the Town of York. Smith’s home, Maryville, was located at the corner of today’s King Street and Ontario Street, and the farm was Park Lot 5—a narrow 100-acre lot from Sherbourne Street to George Street between Queen Street and Bloor Street. (Smith, at the time held many other parcels of land, but it makes sense to me that at this time agriculture would be focused on these two.)

McGill was paying the bills because Smith was on leave in England. He departed in late July 1799—after leaving precise instructions for his assistants in the Surveyor General’s Office, instructions which are also preserved in his papers.[3]

We can see from the document, that Smith had sheep to be shorn, and hogs and poultry to be fed. He grew potatoes and turnips (the latter likely as livestock feed), and a portion of the hay required to feed his animals over the winter.

DW Smith farm account

DW Smith farm account, S126, box 3, folder B4, pages 59 and 60, Toronto Reference Library

Smith had help. I don’t think he was ever the actual “man behind the plough”. He seems to have maintained a Richard Hide as manager, supplying him with barrels of flour and salt pork. The account notes that Hide was sick in August 1799 and John Connelly stepped in to assist.

The other expenditures are for casual and skilled labour, cartage and for materials—like stone needed for a new well. They tell us about Smith’s home and farm, but they also give us solid if brief information about the workers and suppliers—specifics for an era when York was a scant six years old, and information is very scarce.

Names listed in account for David William Smith’s farm, 1799–1800
Tivy, Thomas labour 1799 July
Connelly, John labour 1799 July, August
Darby, William digging well 1799 August
Bell, Alexander carpentry 1799 July, August, September
Young, Robert stone 1799 August
Lamb, Henry cartage of stone 1799 August
Turner labour 1799 August
_____, Dick clear turnip ground 1799 August
Badger, Gideon cartage of stone for well 1799 September
Phelps, Joseph cartage of hay 1799 September
Gilbert, W. Pitt stone 1799 September
Thomas, James hay 1799 September
Jackson, Henry hay 1799 September
Hamilton, Robert 55 barrels of lime 1799 September
Hunter, William blacksmith’s work 1799 October
Hide, Richard pork and flour for his use 1799 October, 1800 May
McBride, John Indian corn for hogs and poultry 1799 December
Buman, E barrel of flour 1800 May
Heron, Samuel seed potatoes 1800 June
Willies, William shearing sheep 1800 June
Parker mowing 1800 July
Edgell, John hauling and stacking hay 1800 August

[1] The manuscript collections can be viewed in the new Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, on the Toronto Reference Library’s fifth floor.

[2] From the David William Smith papers S126, box 3, folder B4, pages 59–60, Toronto Reference Library

[3] David William Smith papers S126, box 4, folder B7-1, pages 1–28, Toronto Reference Library

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