Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Another Simcoe Story from across 'the pond'

Shown above: John Graves Simcoe by Simcoe by Jean-Laurent Mosnier (1743-1808); A Huron-Wendat Hunter Calling a Moose, by Cornelius Krieghoff (1815-1872)

John Graves Simcoe's name is well known in Devon history and may be familiar to regular readers of this site via posts like http://www.devonmuseums.net/More-about-John-Graves-Simcoe/Latest-News/

In Canada he's a truly celebrated figure in the nation's history says a correspondent from across the Atlantic. So celebrated that David Loaring, from Burlington, Ontario, told us a story that he wrote a couple of years ago for his grand-children. David got in touch partly because he has a keen interest in family history.

"In 1600 or so our family of Loarings lived in Awliscombe and Honiton," he explained. And of course, as Wikipedia will tell you, Wolford Chapel just a few miles from Honiton is the burial place of Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. It's the property of the Canadian province of Ontario, and flies the Flag of Canada despite being in the English countryside.  

But on with David's charming little story, which he tells us is "just a bit of fun."

It's a tale even less likely than the one recorded in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Graves_Simcoe about how Simcoe saved the life of future US President George Washington. But it seems to match so well the impression gained from historical accounts of Simcoe as a humane, progessive and cultivated man.

The story's called 'How Strathroy Got its Name' - Strathoy being a little town where some of David's grandchildren live.

"I'm pretty sure Strathroy is Scots Gaelic for River of the King," he begins. "It's the Sydenham River. We know the river, a little muddy, rather energetic in Spring. Puzzle: what about the King?

Well, let me tell you. Let me tell you about the King of the River.

Not surprising, it was a very long time ago. The river was young. It was before Europeans had come to North America. This was Huron land: rather no one owned the land, but the great and peaceful Huron Nation camped throughout the area. They washed in the river. Their children and their dogs played along its shores and on hot summer days spent more time in the water than out. You could float with the current right through the village. The mothers would smile and shake their heads. They could with fondness remember when they had done the same thing.

'Little Turtle, who told you it was all right to float down the river?'

'The Great Chief, my Mother, it was he that told me these things: you may play all day in the sun, you may eat apples from the trees, you may float down my river.'

And so in this way the children spent their summers, year after year, generation after generation. On just a day such as these one year the Europeans did come to the area. Their leader was Governor General Simcoe and he went around making maps and naming parts of the country. He happened upon the river just as one of these young Huron children was floating by. He addressed the young one through an interpreter:

'Little one, are you allowed to float down the river just as you please?'

'Kind sir, for years we have had these rights: to play all day long in the sun, to eat all the wonderful food the forest provides, and to float like an otter down the river. The Great Chief told us these things.'

The Governor smiled. 'Then I will name this river after the Great Chief: in the language of my fathers it is Strath Roy, river of the King.' He would have gone floating done the river with the Huron children, but Mrs Simcoe was expecting him home for dinner."

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