By Stephen Otto, originally published June 22, 2012
The Toronto Public Library, McCord Museum Collection at McGill University, and Library & Archives Canada, among others, have copies of one of Canada’s iconic photos: ten aged survivors of the War of 1812 on the lawn at ‘Rosedale,’ near Toronto, on 23 October 1861. In this Bicentennial year of the War the picture likely will be reproduced often. Heritage Toronto is using it on the cover of a brochure and poster advertising its walking tours.
As well-known as the photo is, the stories behind it are less familiar. It was taken at a ceremony to award prizes won at a rifle match on the Garrison Common a few days before. On hand to make the presentations were many dignitaries, but it was the veterans who stole the show. While some of them had been photographed individually before—by 1861 photography was no longer a novelty—this was almost certainly the first occasion when a group of 1812-survivors was photographed together. It may have been a sense of historical moment that inspired William Armstrong to line up the veterans and take their picture, but more likely it was planned in advance. He also took a second photograph of the crowd of guests who assembled at ‘Rosedale’ that day, and several of the survivors can be seen in that picture too.
In the first image the veterans were (left to right): Col. George Duggan, the Rev. George Ryerson, William Roe, Jacob Snider, the Rev. James Richardson, Joseph Dennis, John Woodall, James Ross, Col. David Bridgford, and George Ridout. All but one, William Roe, were over seventy; George Duggan was nudging eighty. Duggan was wearing his undress frock coat of maybe 1840s vintage, a forage cap and gorget, this last an anachronism that was gone from officers’ uniforms in the 1830s. The frailties of some of the men were starting to show through their immense dignity. In the centre the Rev. James Richardson, a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, is readily recognizable because he had only one arm; he had lost the other in the battle of Oswego in 1814. Next to him is his brother-in-law, Joseph Dennis, for whose family the Toronto neighbourhood of Mount Dennis is named. Another person besides Duggan who didn’t follow the headwear convention of a stovepipe hat that day was James Ross in his pork-pie hat, third from the right.
The Globe was concerned that overcast weather that day prevented Armstrong from getting a good picture, but it worried unduly; he was one of the city’s more experienced photographers. Trained as a draftsman and civil engineer, he had arrived in Toronto in 1851 from England. To those qualifications he added ‘photographist’ in late 1855, shortly after the ambrotype wet-plate process was introduced here. For his first year in business he partnered with his nephew Daniel Beere; the firm was styled as Armstrong & Beere. When Humphrey L. Hime joined them in early 1856, the name was changed to Armstrong, Beere & Hime. In June, 1861, after Hime retired and went into another line of business the partnership reverted to its earlier title.
Therefore, the image of the 1812 veterans taken in October, 1861, can be credited to Armstrong & Beere. It was not typical of their usual pictures of buildings and engineering works, but in the economic downturn of the late 1850s the stream of prestigious commissions they had enjoyed in their heyday had dried up. Stereo cards, scenic views and other small jobs became their usual fare.
Things had started well enough, however. In 1856 the company worked through the summer to record in both watercolours and photographs the bridges and viaducts on the Grand Trunk Railway west of Toronto. In February, 1857, The Globe noted Messrs. Armstrong, Hine and Beere [sic] at work taking photographs of the city’s ‘principal streets, public buildings, &c.’ The result was a remarkable series of 13 views of Toronto buildings, and a 12-part panorama of the city from the roof of the Rossin House.
In July, 1857, City Council forwarded these images to the Rt. Hon. Henry Labouchere, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in support of Toronto’s case to be chosen as the capital of Canada. Summer 1858 saw Armstrong and Beere—Hime having taken temporary leave to join Henry Youle Hind’s Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition—photographing University College under construction. In November the University was billed for 291 prints (‘@ 15¢ each’) and for ‘Mounting 251 Photos in Books.’ One hundred photographs were also invoiced in January 1859. In his history of
University College, A Not Unsightly Building, Douglas Richardson says these albums likely perished in the fire that swept through University College in 1890.
“Rosedale”, where the prize-giving was held in 1861, was the estate of Sheriff William Botsford Jarvis. He was not a veteran himself, having been too young to serve in the war, but may be in one or both photos along with officers of the militia and 30th Regiment of Foot. Other dignitaries present included Sir Fenwick Williams, Commander in Chief of British Forces in North America, and George William Allan, the Mayor of Toronto. Rosedale House stood at the north end of Yorkville, east of Yonge Street, behind where the Rosedale subway station is now.
By 1861 it had been home to the Jarvis family for forty years, and was somewhat run-down. It had a spotted history after Sheriff Jarvis’s death in 1864, even functioning briefly as the Rosedale Pleasure Grounds. Eventually, what remained of the estate was bought by Sir David Macpherson. His daughter and her husband lived in the house from 1889 until 1905, when it was demolished. Today the property is marked by a historical plaque in front of 9 Cluny Drive.
Suggested Further Reading
[Toronto], 3 Feb. 1857, p2, c1, “Messrs. Armstrong, Hine and Beere are . . .”
[Toronto], 24 Oct. 1861, p2, ‘The Rifle Match–Distribution of Prizes’
McCord Museum, McGill University http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/MP-0000.133?Lang=1&accessnumber=MP-0000.133 Try the Zoomify function!
David Raymont, Ten Men of the War of 1812. In The York Pioneer, 2012, vol. 107, pp 2-10 incl.
Evening Telegram [Toronto], 2 July 1910, p10?