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Samuel Wedge—A life on the wharf

By Jane E MacNamara

There may have been a bite in the air on October 29, 1861, when Samuel Wedge applied for relief from the House of Industry.[1] Certainly the days were getting shorter and the approach of winter was hard to ignore. Winter made the Lake Ontario dangerous and meant there would be fewer ships at Rees’ Wharf where Samuel and his wife lived. Things were already quieter than usual because of the growing tension around Britain’s neutrality during the US Civil War. It was tough for 69-year-old Samuel to find enough work.

Samuel’s application to the Weekly Committee of the House of Industry was received by Mr. R Cathcart and referred to the “Visitor”, who for St. George’s Ward was Rev. T.S. Kennedy.

It was just a few days later, on November 1 that Rev. Kennedy dropped in on Samuel and his wife to gather more details of the couple’s circumstances.

596. Samuel Wedge: (in Case 584.) aged 69. Irish. Ch of Engl. his Wife 60 years of age, They have one Son a Sailor have not heard from him for some time, The Visitor recommends 4 [pounds] of Bread per Week for the present as he is not able to get employment sufficient to earn his living.[2]

Rees’ Wharf was at the foot of Simcoe Street, which in 1861 ended at Front Street. The wharf had been a project of Dr. William Rees, a Toronto physician who held the four-acre water-lot property from 1835.[3] The terrain had dropped sharply to a narrow beach south of Front Street in 1835 but by 1861, when we meet Samuel Wedge, the City had added thousands of wagonloads of fill to create space for railway tracks. Much of Dr. Rees’ long wharf was now buried. The union station for the Grand Trunk and Great Western railways lay just to the east, another station for the Northern Railway, just to the west. The Parliament Buildings and their elaborate grounds lay to the north, and the headquarters of the Yacht Club (later to become the RCYC) were anchored just to the west—very handy for parliamentarians with boats.

Although not the busiest wharf on Toronto’s waterfront, it still must have been a fascinating mixture of people and activities—soldiers from Fort York, fishing boats, railway passengers and workers, deliveries of goods and passengers for Parliament and Government House. Indigenous families, formerly enslaved Black people, and Europeans. Movers and shakers, a few other families assisted by the House of Industry—and every income level in between.

View of shoreline with sailboat in the foreground.
This 1844 view of the Parliament Buildings from the Queen’s Wharf (which was west of Dr. Rees’ wharf) shows the steep drop in grade from the town to the shoreline of Lake Ontario before the railway infill. The buildings on the right may be on Rees’ property and part of the cluster where Samuel Wedge lived. (TRL Baldwin Collection 974-20.)
This detail is from a map showing an 1853 proposal for an ambitious infill project to create space for railway lines along the shoreline of Toronto Harbour. Note the original shoreline and shaded edge of the higher town level. “Western Terrace” is Front Street. Rees’ long wharf extended from the foot of Simcoe Street to about today’s Bremner Boulevard—far from today’s water’s edge. The cluster of buildings to the left of Rees’ Wharf is where Samuel Wedge lived. (TRL Baldwin Collection MAPS-R-61)
This detail from Boulton’s 1858 Insurance Atlas shows us what actually happened—a narrower strip of infill accommodated the Grand Trunk Railway line, not quite swallowing Rees’ Wharf as had been proposed. (TRL 912_71354_B594_BR_FO_OSS)

With the House of Industry’s modest allowance of bread, soup, and from 1862, an allowance of coal, Samuel Wedge and his wife continued to live at Rees’ Wharf until about 1867.[4] I haven’t been able to find much about their accommodation. The Wedges don’t appear in city directories, but a handful of neighbours and local ship-related businesses do. The buildings that appear on the maps above all look to be constructed of wood. These are likely the footprints of the most substantial buildings and it may have been in an attached shed or shanty where Samuel and his wife lived.

Perhaps retreating from the cold winter winds blowing off the lake and their increasing infirmity, the Wedges rented a room on Dummer Street[5] in 1865, as described by the Visitor, below.

Nov 21, 1865
731. Samuel Wedge: 58 Dummer St. 71 years of age. Has a Wife 65 years old, afflicted with Rheumatism in her hands. Not the tenants of the House. Have taken a room and use the Landlords stove. Live on the bounty of others not being able to work a great deal. English. Ch. of Engl. Recommended for the ordinary relief in such Cases. To have 4 [pounds] Bread Weekly.[6]

The Visitor found them back at Rees’ Wharf in November 1866,[7] but before the winter was out, they seem to have moved once more to Dummer Street,[8] this time staying long enough to be listed in the 1867-68 city directory. Christmas Eve finds them at 52 Dummer Street. Sam has aged more than usual.

Dec 24 1867
760. Samuel Wedge: 52 Dummer St. Lives in above family. Aged 83. Wife 67. both unable to work. English. Ch of England. Recommended for bread.[9]

Things are dire in October 1868. Samuel Wedge “an Outdoor Pensioner of the House for many years” asked to be admitted to the House of Industry.[10] He claims that he’ll be 84 next Christmas Day. He was admitted and there’s no mention of his wife from that point on. She may have died, but I’ve found no record.

Samuel appears in the Register of Aid Recipients up to January 1876. Most of that time he was a resident in the House of Industry—but that didn’t entirely suit a man who had lived with a view of Lake Ontario. In February 1869, he went to church and returned 10 days later, admitting that he’d had “a drop too much”. He was talked out of leaving again in March.[11]

He went off to church again in May 1870—and this time was gone for some 15 months. The managers concluded that both his health and memory were failing. He was admitted again on condition that he not be allowed off the premises. They note that he claims to be 83 years old, although he claimed to be 84 in 1868.[12]

The managers seem to have patience, respect and sympathy for Samuel. They liked him and wanted him to be safe, I think. I hope so.

I have to conclude that sometime in 1876, Samuel Wedge died, but I haven’t found a death or burial record. Mrs. Wedge (I wish I knew her name) likely died 1868.

Samuel Wedge and his wife would have remained hidden to me but for the records of the House of Industry at the City of Toronto Archives now digitized with funding by Toronto Branch. The handwritten records were transcribed and made searchable by Toronto Branch volunteers.


[1] House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1860-1862 Page 195

[2] House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1860-1862 Page 196

[3] The water lot, and other properties in the area, had been part of the military reserve around Fort York, so rather than being sold, the lot was leased for 21 years by a Captain Patrick Higgins. Unsuitable for Higgins’ plans, he assigned the lease to Dr. Rees. (Upper Canada Land Petitions, 1836, vol 435, Bundle R 19/58.) In 1846, the property became available for sale. It was granted to Joseph Beckett, a creditor of Rees, and a complicated litany of mortgages ensued. ( Abstract index for Water Lot, West side of Simcoe Street (formerly Graves) in front of Front Street.)

[4] House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1860-1862
Page 291:
Page 347:
House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1863-1866
Page 100:
Page 193:
Page 308:

[5] I should explain the Dummer was the proudly held middle name of William Dummer Powell, Upper Canada’s chief justice. It is now St. Patrick Street.

[6] House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1863-1866 Page 320

[7] House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendation 1863-1866 Page 422

[8] 1867-68 City Directory, p299: Wedge, Samuel, bds 62 Dummer

[9] House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1867-1870 Page 83

[10] House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1867-1870 Page 163

[11] House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1867-1870
Page 223:
Page 225:
Page 234:

[12] House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1867-1870
Page 353:
House of Industry Minute Book and Case Recommendations 1871-1874 Page 97

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