Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Toronto Dreamer stops off in Budleigh

Adam Bunch is a man on a mission. If you happen to be in Budleigh, or Exeter, or Oundle, or any one of more than a dozen places in Britain that he’s been touring this summer you might be lucky enough to find one of these little postcards that he’s left in strategic positions.

Modern Toronto's skyline from the harbour 
Image credit: Wikipedia and Jeangagnon 

They’re all part of a grand project that he’s dreamt up to let as many people as possible know about the origins of his home city of Toronto. The project, appropriately enough is called Toronto Dreams, and the postcards have been specially created to let the reader imagine what life might have been like a few centuries ago for one of the pioneering figures of Canada’s history.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m talking about John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806), the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, who was responsible for building Toronto though it was called York in those days.    

There’s a bit about him at 

If you click on that for a moment you’ll see that Simcoe House on Budleigh’s Fore Street Hill was the General’s summer residence during the time that he commanded the West of England Army when England was threatened by a French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars.

Which was why Adam stayed in Budleigh for a couple of nights, during which he hiked about ten miles over Woodbury Common, where Simcoe’s army was camped. 


And why he was delighted to be photographed outside Simcoe House.


And why he called at Fairlynch to see what we had in the way of Simcoe material.   And why, after that, he stayed in Honiton from where he hiked to Wolford Chapel, the General’s last resting place. All that was after he’d visited Exeter Cathedral Close, where Simcoe died in 1806. When Adam left Devon he was heading to Cotterstock Hall near Oundle, Northamptonshire, Simcoe’s birthplace and incidentally the location for the recently released film ‘The Woman in Black.’   

Party time for Fairlynch Museum volunteers with Canadian guest Adam Bunch at East Budleigh's historic Sir Walter Raleigh inn

Adam wrote to us at Fairlynch a few months ago explaining his unusual project. We thought it was so singular and Adam’s passion for his Canadian heritage so admirable that we took him out to supper at East Budleigh’s Sir Walter Raleigh inn.  Well, he was going to need feeding up for all those miles he was going to be hiking.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, during which he met some of Fairlynch Museum’s volunteers.  

Adam is Editor-in-Chief of a Toronto-based arts and culture blog The Little Red Umbrella  http://www.littleredumbrella.com/   

Not surprisingly his project has caught the imagination of Toronto’s media. He’s been compared to Banksy, and he agrees that he shares some of the Bristol-born graffiti artist’s approach.  “I’d always liked the idea of doing something based on public spaces, involving stories that people could find,” he told us. Banksy did visit Toronto to leave his graffiti some years ago. “It was cool but there was an absence of any sense of place. There was no connection between his graffiti and the city.  I felt I could do the same sort of thing, using these stories and dreams that I’ve had in my head about interesting and sometimes plain weird figures from Toronto’s past.”

The Simcoe postcards are merely part of a series of 100 similar productions focusing on historical Torontonian figures and amazing stories about the city’s past.  Obviously an immense amount of research has been involved - “I’m clearly a huge nerd for this stuff” explains Adam.  

It's not all about nerdy facts however. The reverse of the postcards takes you into the 18th century dream world that Adam has created. I commented that this was the stuff of novels, and Adam smiled. 

Simcoe himself is an engaging character, if only because of his hatred of slavery which he described as an offence against Christianity. It was thanks to him that Upper Canada became the first place in the British Empire to abolish slavery. Simcoe’s time there was brief but he is remembered in Canada as one of the founders of the nation. 

His wife Elizabeth (1752-1860) was also someone whom Adam felt we ought to know about.  She left a diary that provides a valuable impression of life in colonial Ontario. First published in 1934, there was a subsequent transcription published in 1965 and a paperback version issued at the turn of the 21st century, more than 200 years after she wrote it. Her legacy also includes a series of 595 water-colour paintings that depict the town of York/Toronto.

Their eldest son Francis Simcoe is also featured in the Toronto Dreams project.

While John Graves Simcoe was not always successful in realizing his ambitious policies, his energy and determination, in the words of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, contributed greatly in laying the groundwork for what became Canada’s most populous province.


Wolford chapel near Honiton
Image credit:  Kevin Campbell-Wright

I was inspired by Adam’s own energy and determination to visit Wolford Chapel, a few miles outside Honiton. It’s well worth a visit, if only because it’s curious to find a little corner of beautiful Devon countryside where the Canadian flag proudly flies - the Chapel is in fact the property of Ontario.

Fairlynch already has a Simcoe-inspired  friendship link with a Canadian museum, and it’s likely that we’ll see further links forged with other places associated with the great man. Adam certainly thought so when we mentioned the idea. “I am very interested in the idea of a Simcoe Trail and I think more than a few Toronto history buffs would be, too,” he told us. 

If you have found a postcard, or even if you haven't but you enjoyed reading about this ambitious project do drop Adam a line. You can contact him at adam@littleredumbrella.com

To find out more about the project click on http://www.torontodreamsproject.com/

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