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Author: Kathleen Macfarlane Lizars (b: 12 Mar. 1857 - d: 20 April 1931) wrote – or perhaps, compiled would be a better term – this book after having co-authored three successful books with her older sister, Robina Alison. Breaking out as a solo author, Kathleen wrote this, her last book, and published it in 1913. Her archived papers, however, contained drafts of an unpublished novel and some short stories. This book is a carefully researched history, drawing liberally from previously published documents including many maps. It is not surprising, then that Kathleen, in her Preface, sees the book as more of a collection of extracts. But that view fails to do justice to her skill and diligence in drawing together such a comprehensive account of this ancient and (previously) important waterway from an array of unrelated sources. Kathleen lived the last 25 years of her life as a resident of Toronto’s Windsor Arms Hotel, until she died of a stroke.
The area we know today as Metropolitan Toronto stands on grounds which have been of significance to human inhabitants as far back as history can be traced. First the Indians found it a natural place to meet and trade. Later the French, and later still the English, found it a good strategic location for forts and administrative centers as well as a trading centre. One particular advantage of this place was the access it afforded to the interior of Ontario’s heartlands by virtue of being the destination of several rivers - the first “Highways” of Canada.
Overland access to the interior of “Upper Canada” was made difficult by the dense forest, the almost impenetrable “bush,” and the frequent bog and marsh areas. The rivers, on the other hand, provided convenient access for people and for goods, and in some cases, for animals. Even if not actually using the river for transport, the river valleys usually provided easier “going” with mostly level grades.
Of course river travel is only useful as long as the river is headed for your destination, but with the large number of navigable rivers available across Ontario, switching from one river to another, using the “beaten trails” of the First Nations peoples (a “carrying place”) allows continued progress towards a chosen destination possible. Nor was the use of rivers confined to only the warmer months. After freeze-up, the rivers frequently became even easier to travel than any overland route - even easier, in some ways, than themselves when in the liquid state.
When the early French traders, and military explorers, established Fort Toronto they naturally chose a site where there were several rivers promising inland access, the most promising seeming to be the one which came to be known as the Humber. Emptying into Lake Ontario a short march west of the Fort, it was known from its first exploration, to allow access to Lake Simcoe.
Brulé first saw lake Ontario from the mouth of the Humber in Sept. 1615, when he reached it from “the narrows” of lake Simcoe, his route starting down the Holland river. While Brulé made his discovery traveling from inland to lake Ontario, it was the reverse route which was the primary strategic attraction, allowing military supplies and personnel to travel to the important military base at Penetanguishine on Georgian Bay, and from there on towards Lake Huron and ultimately to Sault Ste. Marie which, at the time, marked the west-most limits of European settlement.
In addition to her exhaustive examination of the original military and strategic importance of this now peaceful valley, Kathleen also fully reviews its Commercial development, its Natural history and the Social activities it encouraged amongst its settlers.
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