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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

Young Mr Smith in Upper Canada

by (author) Mary Larratt Smith

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Nov 1980
Personal Memoirs, Pre-Confederation (to 1867), 19th Century
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    Publish Date
    Nov 1980
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Not all British immigrants in mid-nineteenth-century Upper Canada were 'roughing it in the bush.' This lively account of twenty years in the life of a dashing young man about town provides a firsthand description of society in early Victorian Toronto. Young Mr. Smithc's diaries and letters, from 1839 to 1858, have been edited by his graddaughter and deftly interwoven with her own background comments.


Larratt William Biolett Smith (1820 - 1905) arrived in Toronto from England in 1833 at the age of twelve and was enrolled by his parents in the recently founded Upper Canada College. At seventeen he bore arms against the rebels of 1837. Two years later he became a law student articled to William Henry Draper, solicitor-general of Upper Canada, and, an increasingly prominent and eligible young bachelor, he began to keep a diary, In later life, he became a successful barrister, a figure of importance in business circles, vice-chancellor of the University of Toronto, a patriarch and owner of majestic Summer Hill.


Personally revealing, full of fun, his diaries provide a gold mine of information about living conditions and the social and professional manners and customs of the time, as well as a thousand glimpses of timeless human nature. There are observations of friends, acquaintences, passing encounters, many with names that became part of Canadian history. We read about courtship and marriage, domestic joys and sorrows, the inevitable problems with servants and difficulties with legal partners; about the social impact of English officers forbidden to marry during their colonial postings; about travels to Upper Canada, tollgates, winter storms, and the ubiquitous bedbug.


Above all, the gregarious young Mr. Smith presents a moving panorama of the social and cultural life of the city, the debates, clubs, plays, and concerts attended, the books read, the parties and dancing, hunting, sleighing, and skating, the incessant socializing -- on one occasion Smith made eighty-seven social calls during a hectic, two-day, New Year holiday! This abundant activity and the comments he made upon it make the book both informative and enjoyable.

About the author

MARY LARRATT SMITH lives in Vancouver and is author of Prologue to Norman: The Canadian Bethunes.

Mary Larratt Smith's profile page