Let’s talk about this couple

mural on a subway wall, close up of a man and a woman. The man has an orange coloured face and is wearing a green jacket and cap. The woman has long black hair and a long pink dress

If you ride the Toronto subway you’ll probably recognize them from the walls of Queen station.

looking across the TTC Queen subway platform and tracks to the opposite wall where there is a mural, enamel on steel, of a couple as well as some buildings. An ad for shoes is blocking part of the mural

A couple of weeks ago I was standing beside them when I overheard a woman telling the man she was with that the people in the mural were Lord and Lady Simcoe.

I was fairly certain that she was wrong so I checked.   This is a picture of John Graves Simcoe.

A portrait of John Graves Simcoe

There could be some resemblance and John Graves Simcoe did play an important part in Toronto’s history.  He was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (1761-1790).  He established York (now Toronto) as the capital of Upper Canada in 1793 and he gave us Yonge Street.  But note the military clothing in the above portrait; he was a British army officer after all and I doubt he’d be depicted in a mural wearing a green jacket and matching cap.

There aren’t many pictures his wife Elizabeth, or Lady Simcoe, but suffice it to say that they don’t look like the woman in the mural.

A few minutes online provided the following information:   The title of the mural is “Our Nell” and the people are supposed to be William Lyon McKenzie and Nellie McClung.  Three buildings are shown, the old Simpsons building (now the Bay), City Hall, and the Eaton Centre.  The artist is John B. Boyle.

This is a photo of William Lyon McKenzie; I guess there’s a resemblance.

A black and white picture of William Lyon McKenzie

McKenzie was born in Scotland in 1795.  He emigrated to Upper Canada as a young man.  Although he held a number of jobs, he seemed to like writing for newspapers best.  After working for newspapers in Montreal and York, he established his own newspaper, the ‘Colonial Advocate’ in 1824. Although that paper went bankrupt and he fled to New York for a short time to evade his creditors, he used newspapers as a vehicle to promote his political ideas for most of his life.  To a large degree the story of Upper Canada politics of the early 1800’s is a story of the Tory governing elite vs the Reformer upstarts.   McKenzie was solidly on the side of the Reformers.

Toronto was incorporated as a city on 6 March 1834 and the first municipal elections were held later that month.  McKenzie was elected as an alderman.  At that time, the mayor was elected by the aldermen from their own ranks and in 1834 McKenzie was appointed mayor.  He lost the next election in 1835.

McKenzie was also a leader in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.  It was not much of a rebellion, more like a skirmish near Montgomerys Tavern (near Yonge & Eglinton) that the Reformers lost badly.  The rebellion leaders were allowed to flee to New York state.  Once in Buffalo, McKenzie declared himself the head of a provisional government of the Republic of Canada.   He even convinced some Americans to help him invade Upper Canada from Navy Island in the Niagara River.  Bombardment of Navy Island late in December 1837 by the Royal Navy destroyed the S.S. Caroline, an American ship that was helping to supply McKenzie’s followers on Navy Island.  And that was the end of McKenzie’s rebellion.

Okay then, that’s the man in the mural.  What about the woman?  I went looking for picture of Nellie McClung as well as information about her.  I recognized her name but I couldn’t remember what her role in Canadian history was.   First, this is her picture:

 black and white picture of a woman, Nellie McClung, sitting at a desk

I didn’t see any pictures of her with long hair or as a younger woman.   Nellie McClung was born as Nellie Mooney in Ontario in 1873 but moved to Manitoba as a child.   One of the causes that she worked on was woman’s suffrage and she helped Manitoba in 1916 to become the first province to allow women the right to vote and to run for public office. By 1922 women could vote federally and in all provinces except Quebec.  Quebec women could vote federally but had to wait until 1940 before they could vote in a provincial election.

McClung was also one of the five women who campaigned to have women recognized as “persons” by the Supreme Court so that they could qualify to sit in the Senate.  In 1930 Cairine Mckay Wilson was appointed Canada’s first female senator, just four months after the “Persons Case” was decided.

Now when you pass through Queen subway station you can think a little about the history that it represents, and not so much about how ugly it is.  Because it is ugly.  Especially this section of the mural:

part of a mural at Queen subwaystation in Toronto, a misshapen Eaton Centre with a grotesque looking woman bending over in her garden in the foreground.

Is that a woman in the foreground?  Or a slug with appendages?

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