1865 Jervois: Toronto, Canada West, Shewing Existing & Proposed Defences

Lieut.-Col. William F. D. Jervois, ca. 1862
During the 1860s, the British military was seriously concerned by the contingency of war with the United States on colonial soil, particularly in light of the Trent Affair and the American Civil War, in the course of which the Confederacy had invited British intervention over Union blockades.

Lieut.-Colonel William Francis Drummond Jervois (pronounced Jer-vus), of the Royal Engineers, was tasked with creating a plan to deal with an invasion of Canada by American forces. His Report on the Defence of Canada, prepared in February of 1864, dealt primarily with measures for Halifax, Quebec, and Montreal. Jervois believed that outnumbered British and Canadian troops could not victoriously engage the Americans in the open field; a strategy of fortification and delay was consequently in order. He concluded that the lands west of Montreal could not be successfully defended.

Subsequently, Jervois’ purview was nonetheless extended to include Canada West (Ontario). The Hon. William McDougal, Provincial Secretary, wrote to Jervois on October 18, 1864 with a list of additional questions:

“In the event of a war between Great Britain and the United States being seriously threatened, what preparatory steps for defence should be taken by the people of Canada? [Q1] [. . .] Would Toronto be an important point of defence, and if so, what works would be required there, and what would be the probable cost? [Q24]”

Jervois’ summary of the defence of Toronto

Jervois replied on the 10th of November, 1864, with a controversial revised plan that outlined a scheme for the defence of the western districts, in the context of a fortified Harbour at Kingston and a naval force being placed on Lake Ontario. The following rare map, produced in January 1865, shows his proposition for Toronto.

The dotted green line indicates a suggested line of massive earthworks running from Humber Bay to the Don River. A pair of Martello towers would be constructed on the Island for sea defence. Old Fort York was to be discarded; a new battery would instead be constructed at the New Fort (Stanley Barracks). These works together would cost approximately £90,000 in total.

Other details of note:
  • the Eastern Gap, recently created by an 1858 storm
  • the cluster of buildings comprising Yorkville
  • the location of various mills along the upper Don and the Humber.

Worth consideration alongside this map are the related 1868 reconnaissance sketches of the Toronto area prepared by Gehle, Fawkes and Hassard. As a set, these maps provide a strategic military perspective on the city’s topography and resources of value.

Click the image to view a full-size version. 

Toronto, Canada West, Shewing Existing & Proposed Defences 
To accompany Report by Lieut-Colonel Jervois. Dated January 1865
[William F.D. Jervois, Report on the Defence of Canada (Made to the Provincial Government on the 10th November 1864) 
(London, 1865)]

Image from Historical Atlas of Toronto (2009), map 101, by Derek Hayes, reproducing U.K. National Archives MPH 1/1111/1

Concluding his revised report, Jervois wrote: “By means of the measures recommended in this paper, Canada, aided by Imperial troops, would be enabled to resist American aggression with success; and who shall say that, thus tiding over the time of her dependence and comparative weakness, she may not, united with the other provinces of British North America, at length become a great and powerful nation which may hold her own against the world!”

Canadian Confederation would take place in 1867. Jervois would later go on to become the Governor-General of New Zealand in 1883. I definitely recommend reading his reports for a revealing glimpse into a time when the threat of American invasion loomed large.

See also
1868 Gehle, Fawkes & Hassard: Reconnaissance Sketches of Toronto Area

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