History of First Parliament Site
The First Parliament site is a historically significant piece of land, particularly for Indigenous people and European settlers.
The site saw the formation and governance of Upper Canada, the beginnings of a united Canada, and the growth of the City into an industrial and diverse region on both a provincial and national scale.
The land where Toronto currently sits has been a site of human activity for at least 15,000 years. A number of Indigenous communities have lived, fished, hunted, travelled, traded, and farmed on this land. The history of south-central Ontario is complex, marked by varying levels of occupation and differing use by Indigenous communities through time.
The site is recognized as the territory of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee) and Confederacy of the Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes.
In the early 17th century, Europeans began to have a greater presence in the area. Europeans fueled an escalation of warfare among the Indigenous population and introduced diseases that, between 1634 and 1640, killed half of the Indigenous population of southern Ontario and elsewhere in the Great Lakes. During this time, Roman Catholic missionaries undermined beliefs and social structures and generated serious divisions within communities.
In the 1660s, two communities were established by the Seneca Iroquois on rivers that border what is now the Toronto area: Ganatsekwyagon (near the the Rouge River) and Teiaiagon (on the Humber River). These communities sat on the main lines of the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail, also called the Humber Portage and the Toronto Passage, which connected people in the area to northern Indigenous communities through diplomacy and trade. The Seneca Iroquois population left these communities around 1687.
Following the departure of the Seneca Iroquois, Algonkian people replaced the Seneca Iroquois in the area. Some of these people, who are part of the larger Ojibway or Anishinabe communities, became known by Europeans as the Mississaugas.
For more detailed information on the history of Indigenous people in the area, please see the virtual exhibit of the history of Toronto.
French people traded in and around the Toronto Passage in the 17th century. In 1720, a small fur trading post was established on the Humber River, and then abandoned. Thirty years later, French traders built another post to break relationships between the Mississaugas and British traders across Lake Ontario, and to trade with northern Indigenous communities on the Toronto Passage.
The Treaty of Paris, which followed the Seven Years’ War, placed Toronto under British rule. During this period, the Mississaugas continued to hunt, fish, gather, and trade throughout the Toronto area. Beginning in 1787, the British government paid the Mississaugas £1,700 in cash and goods to acquire Toronto. This exchange is commonly known as the Toronto Purchase, or Treaty 13.
The agreement remained in dispute for over 200 years. In 2010, a settlement was reached between the Government of Canada and the Mississaugas.
After the Toronto Purchase, European settlers cleared land for farming in south-central Ontario. Around the same time, the British government divided the old province of Quebec and Ontario into Upper and Lower Canada. Toronto (then known as the Town of York) became the capital of Upper Canada. Although the loss of territory to colonial Canada seriously undermined the wellbeing of Indigenous people and Nations, Indigenous people have continued to live in the Toronto area through to the present day.
Between 1795 and 1824, the First and Second Parliament buildings of Upper Canada were found at the intersection of modern-day Front and Parliament Streets in the former Town of York, now Toronto. The First Parliament buildings were used by Upper Canada’s Legislative Council and the House of Assembly to govern Upper Canada, but also for government and public events, as temporary housing for immigrants, and as a congregation space for the Anglican Church. During the War of 1812, the buildings were burned down by American soldiers in the 1813 invasion of York.
The buildings were rebuilt and were back in use by 1820. In 1824, the Second Parliament buildings accidentally burned down, likely as a result of an overheated chimney flue. Following the destruction of the Second Parliament buildings of Upper Canada, the Legislative Assembly moved to a vacant hospital at King and John Streets, then to the York Courthouse, and eventually to Simcoe Place. Today, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario sits in the Ontario Legislative Assembly in Queen’s Park.
Between 1837 and 1840, the Home District Gaol was constructed on the First Parliament site. The British Crown incarcerated convicted felons, the mentally ill, and debtors, and also held people awaiting trial in the jail. Men, women, and children shared the same jail space. The Jail was used until 1860, but the vacant building remained until 1887. Today, the Don Jail services the area once served by the Home District Gaol. The Consumers’ Gas Company purchased the First Parliament land around 1879, and the Jail was demolished in 1887.
The Consumers’ Gas Company manufactured gas on the First Parliament site and in the neighbouring area from 1889 until the 1950s, when natural gas became available in Toronto. The two retort buildings and an administrative building on the First Parliament site were demolished in the 1960s. Today, similar retort buildings can be found in the area, and house the Canadian Opera Company, and Toronto Police Service’s 51 Division.
The Consumers’ Gas Company sold the property in 1964. Since then, the First Parliament site has been occupied by a variety of automotive businesses. Currently, a car dealership, car wash, and parking occupy the site.