Simcoe Day: what is it & why do we celebrate

What’s in a name?

Civic Day is on Monday, and many Canadians are looking forward to a mid-summer long weekend. However, the holiday goes by different names in other provinces and even in different cities in Ontario.

In Toronto, the day is also known as Simcoe Day, named in honour of Maj.-Gen. John Graves Simcoe, the founder of York (later known as Toronto) and the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada.

Toronto City Council designated the first Monday in August as Simcoe Day in 1968.

In Ontario, the day is referred to as Emancipation Day, marking the end of slavery in the British Empire. Across the province it is known as the following: Colonel By Day in Ottawa, Joseph Brant Day in Burlington, and John Galt Day in Guelph.

Outside of the province, the holiday is known as as Natal Day in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Regatta Day in Newfoundland, and British Columbia Day in British Columbia.

Watch a video below of a Simcoe Day military demonstration at Fort York from 2013, or click here to view it.

Is Civic Day a statutory holiday?

Many Canadians have the day off to celebrate the second long weekend of the summer. But why do some get the day off and others don’t?

The day is not an official statutory holiday in Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia, but rather a public one, so some provincial workers don’t necessarily get the day off. However, it is a statutory holiday in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut.

Since Civic Day is not considered an official statutory holiday in Ontario, businesses are not required to close on Monday under the provincial Retail Business Holidays Act and may open at the discretion of the municipality.

Who was John Graves Simcoe?

A portrait of John Graves Simcoe, painted by Jean-Laurent Mosnier in 1971. SOURCE: Toronto Public Library

John Graves Simcoe was born in Cotterstock, England, on Feb. 25, 1752.

Simcoe was appointed the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada in 1791 after the province, now known as Ontario, was created under the Constitutional Act of 1791 in September. He moved with his family to the newly-created province in November of that year.

After returning to England in 1796, he resigned as lieutenant-governor. In 1806, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the British Army in India, but became ill before taking command and died on Oct. 26 at the age of 54. He is buried in Wolford Chapel, near East Devon in southwest England.

What were some of John Graves Simcoe’s contributions?

During his tenure, he abolished slavery in Upper Canada in 1793 before it was completely abolished by Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act in 1833-4. He also established towns, built roads and infrastructre, implemented trial by jury, and gave land grants to those who fought alongside the Loyalists during the American Revolutionary War.

According to the government of Canada’s website, Simcoe built Yonge Street with the Queen’s Rangers military unit. He also named many of Ontario’s towns, including Pickering, Georgina, Scarborough, and Uxbridge.

In 1793, Simcoe created a garrison to protect the town of York on the site of the current Fort York National Historic Site. The fort was burned by the American military in 1813 during the War of 1812, which lasted from 1812-1815, but was rebuilt by the British on the original site soon after.

There are several places named after Simcoe in Ontario: Simcoe Street in Toronto, Lake Simcoe, University of Toronto’s Simcoe Hall, Simcoe Island near Kingston, Ont., and the Simcoe Fairgrounds, to name a few.

Want to know more about John Graves Simcoe? Below are some notable books:

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