Meet One of Toronto's First Historians

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Meet One of Toronto’s First Historians

Now and Then explores the stories behind Toronto’s historical plaques and monuments.

Rev. Henry Scadding in 1897. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Rev. Henry Scadding in 1897. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re going to the air-conditioned Eaton Centre to escape the heat this summer, you might pass an old house near its side entrance.

This house used to belong to Rev. Henry Scadding, a teacher, writer, amateur historian, and, of course, an Anglican priest.

Scadding grew up in the inner circle of the lieutenant-governor John Graves Simcoe, and went on to become of the first historians of Toronto.

Henry Scadding’s father, James, was a close advisor to John Graves Simcoe and followed him to Upper Canada when Simcoe was appointed lieutenant-governor. Scadding lived in a log cabin, which burned down, and then a second log cabin, which now sits on the CNE grounds. When Simcoe left Canada to return to England, the elder Scadding followed, but returned to North America, now with a young family in tow, after Simcoe’s death. Henry would have been around five years old at the time of the move. Although he was raised in York, his family maintained their close ties with England.

When he was eight, Scadding studied at the Home District Grammar School under John Strachan, the first Anglican bishop of Toronto and a founder of Trinity College, now part of the University of Toronto. After primary education, Scadding became the first pupil enrolled at Upper Canada College. He went to university in England, attending Cambridge and Oxford, where he obtained a bachelors and two divinity degrees, partly with the help of Elizabeth Simcoe, the widow of John Graves Simcoe.

Scadding moved to Lower Canada in 1837, tutored the sons of Sir John Colborne, who founded Upper Canada College, and was ordained a deacon. He was made a classics teacher at UCC the following year and moved back to York. On top of his teaching work, he was also made a priest and worked at the Cathedral Church of St. James until 1847, when he moved to Holy Trinity, which was dedicated the same year and was intended to be a church for the poor. The house, where his plaque is found, was built next to the church in the 1860s.

St. James Cathedral circa 1885-1895, while Rev. Henry Scadding worked there. Photo from the Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 3.

St. James Cathedral circa 1885 to 1895, while Rev. Henry Scadding worked there as a canon. Photo from the Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 3.

Scadding suffered from ill health and ended up leaving UCC in 1862 and Holy Trinity in 1879, although he then served as a canon at St. James. He continued to live at the house next to Holy Trinity until his death in 1901.

Rev. Henry Scadding's home next to Holy Trinity Church. Photo by Erin Sylvester.

Rev. Henry Scadding’s home next to Holy Trinity Church. Photo by Erin Sylvester.

He may have been unwell, but in addition to his teaching and religious work, Scadding was a historian and writer. His best known book is Toronto of Old (1873), which discusses the history of European contact and settlement in Toronto, starting with the French in the 17th century. Scadding says in the preface that with this work he is trying to create a sense of local lore for the city:

And a first step has, as we conceive, been taken towards generating for Toronto, for many of its streets and byways, for many of its nooks and corners, and its neighbourhood generally, a certain modicum of that charm which, springing from association and popular legend, so delightfully invests, to the prepared and sensitive mind, every square rood of the old lands beyond the sea.

He also wrote Memoirs of Four Decades of York, Upper Canada (1884), History of the Old French Fort at Toronto (1887), and Shakespeare: the Seer, the Interpreter (1897), among others, including religious pamphlets (like “Christian Pantheism,” a published address from 1865). He was the editor of the Canadian Journal of Science, Literature, and History, published by the Canadian Institute, and the Proceedings of the Canadian Institute from 1869 to 1886. The Canadian Journal published a wide variety of articles, including, in one volume from 1870, “The Improvement of the Arrangement of Ferns,” and “Canada in the Bodleian.” Scadding is also credited as the honorary librarian of the Canadian Institute.

His articles and his books demonstrate his interest and knowledge of many topics, but the history of Toronto seems to have been his special project.

A plaque Rev. Henry Scadding on his old house, next to Holy Trinity Church and the Eaton Centre. Photo by Erin Sylvester.

A plaque Rev. Henry Scadding on his old house, next to Holy Trinity Church and the Eaton Centre. Photo by Erin Sylvester.

July 1 to 7 is Canada History Week, and a good chance to learn about local history and historians.


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