La société d’histoire de Toronto

Community group promotes Toronto’s French past and present. Written by Danielle Astrug and originally posted September 9, 2008

Ask any Torontonian who John Graves Simcoe is, and the majority will know of his role as Lieutenant-Governor who established the city of York. But if you mention Étienne Brûlé, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, Jean Baptiste Rousseaux or Jacques Bâby, you may get a puzzled look. The fact that Rousseaux was the first European to settle permanently on these shores, known today as Toronto, is largely forgotten and overshadowed by the glory surrounding Simcoe.

It is little known today that Toronto was once – under the French Regime – primarily French-speaking and inhabited by thriving First Nations people before it became the metropolis as we know it today. Twenty-five years ago, la Société d’histoire de Toronto undertook the task to research and complete the story of Toronto’s founders and its French history.

To revive the history, or as the French say “nos lieux de mémoire”, la Société is working on launching its large scale project, a historical park along the banks of the Humber, beginning just south of Dundas Street to the mouth of the River. La Société has recently received a grant to create Le Sentier Partagé/The Shared Path, highlighting the early inter-relationship of the First Nations, French and English along the Humber River.


Rolande (with former Heritage Toronto Board Chair Peter Carruthers) and la Société donated historical books to Heritage Toronto

La Société’s president, Rolande Smith, came to Toronto 37 years ago and became interested in Toronto‘s history through ‘toponymy’. She was curious about the names of the streets and places around her. Who was Bloor? Jarvis? This curiousity led her to the Société. She particularly likes the Humber, the cradle of Toronto and our own Canadian Heritage River – and the only one to be accessible by subway.

“I find it fascinating to walk along the Humber, by the escarpment of Bâby Point, where there once was the native village of Tieiagon, and think that the great French explorer Robert-René Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, rested a few days in the village on one his journeys of discoveries, and penned these words in his diary: “je suis à Taronto” (I am in Taronto – the spelling of his days).”

For more information on la Société d’histoire de Toronto please visit

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