The historic First Parliament site holds the foundational elements of democracy and nation-building in Canada.
Located at the intersection of Front Street East and Parliament Street; bounded on the west by Berkeley Street and on the south by Parliament Square Park, this major site spans a full city block. Recognized as the territory of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit, this site was the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee) and Confederacy of the Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes.
The site was central to the formation and early governance of Upper Canada, the beginnings of a united Canada, and the growth of Toronto into a diverse industrial, commercial and residential region on both a provincial and national scale.
Between 1795 and 1824, the First and Second Parliament buildings of Upper Canada were found here –at the intersection of modern-day Front and Parliament Streets in the former Town of York, now Toronto. The First Parliament buildings were used by Upper Canada’s Legislative Council and the House of Assembly to govern Upper Canada. They also hosted government and public events, and found use as temporary housing for immigrants, and as a congregation space for the Anglican Church.
During the War of 1812, the buildings were burned down by American soldiers in the 1813 invasion of York. The site was rebuilt and the buildings were back in use by 1820. In 1824, the Second Parliament buildings also burned down, this time accidentally. After 1824 the Legislative Assembly moved several times before finding its current place in Queen’s Park.
The national and civic importance of the First Parliament site cannot be overstated. It truly represents one of the most historic building blocks of our country’s democratic institutions.
As we’ve seen with other historical heritage sites, the First Parliament site is now at risk to be expropriated by Metrolinx to facilitate the building of the Ontario Line and future development. Transit expansion is critical, but the site must recognize the existing cultural heritage of the City of Toronto. Residents and community leaders have been engaged in the assembly of land and the design of the First Parliament Master Plan for a number of years. Building complete communities is largely a local effort, working with impacted stakeholders, business owners, and residents to create a strong and vibrant neighbourhood master plan. It is vital that this process proceeds to completion.