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Old Posted Dec 27, 2019, 9:18 PM
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How old are Canadian cities? Initial settlement and the foundation of urbanism

Yes, yes, I think we can all safely assume Quebec City has the rest of us beat in in terms of age. But wondering if it’s worth getting into a little bit of a nuanced discussion on the beginning of Canada's settlement and urbanization, and the distinction between the two. Aside from an actual date of incorporation, is there a well understood date or era when one’s city came to be?

More of an existential question, when does a city begin? Official incorporation as a city doesn’t always tell the story.

For example, St. John’s was a place of (seasonal) European settlement dating back to the 1500s, but any semblance of urbanism (ie, a density and diversity of people and commerce) came some 200 years later, but at least a century before incorporation occurred in 1888.

In my own Winnipeg, the date 1812 is well known as the beginning of an agricultural colony undertaken by displaced Scotch Highland crofters in what is now inside city limits. (The basic framework of Winnipeg odd grid pattern follow these settlers' river lots.) Additionally, the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine were an important fur trading and administrative centre at the time. However, the basic foundations of a city did not emerge until the 1860s, when commerce began to coalesce around what became Portage and Main. Incorporation came in 1873, but even so, Winnipeg would not really look and feel like a city until the early 1880s, when railways and rapid growth hastily established the urban pattern of a defined central business district and stratified residential neighbourhoods.

Would be interesting to see what the oldest towns and cities area in each province, as either a site of settlement (trading post, religious mission, colony, administration/military fort, &c.), or as a functioning urban place.

(And yes this post has completely left out pre-European indigenous trading and settlement centres, but please feel free to share that history as well!)
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Old Posted Dec 27, 2019, 9:28 PM
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In terms of permanent settlement, Sherbrooke and Gatineau (formerly Hull) are the two youngest major cities in Quebec, having become settlements/founded around 1800. Both were founded by Loyalists from the United States.

The other major cities in Quebec were generally settlements in the 1600s. This includes Montreal, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and even Chicoutimi which had a mission settlement in the 1600 in spite of its relative isolation in central Quebec.

Quebec also has quite a few small towns and villages founded or settled in the 1600s.
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  #3  
Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 3:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Acajack View Post
In terms of permanent settlement, Sherbrooke and Gatineau (formerly Hull) are the two youngest major cities in Quebec, having become settlements/founded around 1800. Both were founded by Loyalists from the United States.

The other major cities in Quebec were generally settlements in the 1600s. This includes Montreal, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and even Chicoutimi which had a mission settlement in the 1600 in spite of its relative isolation in central Quebec.

Quebec also has quite a few small towns and villages founded or settled in the 1600s.
Abitibi is really incredibly young. Shockingly so when you realize it.

My maternal grandpa temporarily worked there as a young adult in the 1920s. He could have witnessed the founding of Rouyn, Noranda and Val-d'Or.

My still living paternal grandpa is older than Abitibi's largest city.
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 5:03 AM
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Abitibi is really incredibly young. Shockingly so when you realize it.

My maternal grandpa temporarily worked there as a young adult in the 1920s. He could have witnessed the founding of Rouyn, Noranda and Val-d'Or.

My still living paternal grandpa is older than Abitibi's largest city.
The place my wife is from in NE Ontario was founded around the same time. Barely 100 years old.
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Old Posted Dec 27, 2019, 9:33 PM
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OK - I'll bite

Moncton

1) - first settlement 1733 (by Acadian marshland farmers)
2) - settlement abandoned 1755 (Acadian deportation)
3) - resettlement by Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants 1766
4) - beginnings of urban growth 1847 (shipbuilding comes of age)
5) - first incorporation 1855
6) - disincorporation 1862 (shipbuilding collapse)
7) - reincorporation 1875 (rebirth as a railway town)
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Old Posted Dec 27, 2019, 9:40 PM
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This is a pretty interesting topic and there tends not to be much nuance in how people think about it. Founding dates don't mean much.

In Nova Scotia, Port Royal was established in 1605 and was more or less continuously inhabited until the current day. It became Annapolis Royal and was the capital from 1713 until 1749 when Halifax was founded. It was attacked over a dozen times during its first century or so.

Halifax wasn't a tiny frontier settlement, it was a planned town. The first summer, around 3,000 soldiers and settlers arrived and some public buildings like St. Paul's were assembled out of pieces that were prefabricated elsewhere. In 1750 it was a 5x7 grid of blocks with a main square surrounded by 5 perimeter forts each of which had a garrison of 200. In 1784 the permanent population was 5,000 and at that time New York City was about 30,000.

In 1759 the royal navy dockyard was set up and for the Seven Years' War, American Revolution, and War of 1812 it was one of the most important locations in North America. Halifax was a "major city" or town in North America from about the 1750's until it largely missed out on the boom period of the early 1900's (and had a significant portion of its population killed and injured in WWI and the explosion). Around 1800 it was about the same size as Montreal.

In Nova Scotia there are also Louisbourg and Shelburne which were much more important at one point than they are today. Shelburne was briefly the most populous town in British North America, and Louisbourg was the site of the biggest battle of the Seven Years' War; significantly more people fought in the siege there than in Quebec City.
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Old Posted Dec 27, 2019, 10:05 PM
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Calgary

1787 – Cartographer David Thompson spent the winter with a band of Peigan encamped along the Bow River. He was the first recorded European to visit the area. Southern Alberta was one of the final European explorations of North America

1873 – John Glenn was the first documented European settler in the Calgary area

1875 – Originally named Fort Brisebois, after NWMP officer Éphrem-A. Brisebois, it was renamed Fort Calgary by Colonel James Macleod in 1876


1883 – The Canadian Pacific Railway reached the area and a rail station was constructed

1884 – Calgary, population 506, was officially incorporated a town and elected its first mayor, George Murdoch

1891 – Calgary and Edmonton Railway opened

1894 – It was incorporated as "The City of Calgary" in what was then the North-West Territories, population 3,900
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 1:09 AM
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I'll let someone make a schpeel about Toronto's settlements patterns....bt I do know that just in terms of colonial settlements, a plan helped by John Graves Simcoe ushered in a planned townsite along the coast of Lake Ontario in 1794, in what's Old Toronto.

Also, in 1796, John Graves Simcoe decided to create a link between Lake Ontario and Lake Huron in case of the invading Americans. He wanted to create a road that functioned similar to a military road seen in the Roman Empire, which was why the final product, Yonge Street, became known as a street and not a road. He began clearing a route from around what is now Yonge and Eglinton north in that same year with the Queen's York Rangers (or something of that effect)….and led them north, eventually several years later to a few hundred kilometres away. Also, Yonge was cleared to the lakeshore area (south) a few years later. Do note, when I say cleared, I mean a tunnel or dimple muddy trail was created, with stumps and trees hugging the sides in many spots. Yonge Street would take years upon years before looking anything like a respectable road for horse carriages to ride along. (Settlement came along Yonge street as well, starting from the 1790's...slowly as land was given out to families.)

This is nly a small piece of settlement history in Toronto....I'm probably missing information, and of course, I'm not talking about the barely recorded history of indigenous settlements, like the massive Quandat village that existed in today's Eglinton Park, which was slowly pushed and abandoned as settlement began in the end of the eighteenth century.
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 1:34 AM
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Castlegar did ot incorporate until 1946 making it one of the youngest cities on earth.
All of our close neighbour's Incorporated around 1900 with all the mining activity.
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  #10  
Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 4:00 AM
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Castlegar did ot incorporate until 1946 making it one of the youngest cities on earth.
All of our close neighbour's Incorporated around 1900 with all the mining activity.
Chestermere has you beat by 31 years! Incorporated 1977. Founded 1884 for irrigation purposes.
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Old Posted Dec 29, 2019, 1:05 PM
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Castlegar did ot incorporate until 1946 making it one of the youngest cities on earth.
Not even close. I can think of at least one from my home province that didn't even exist until the late fifties at the earliest.

There are others in Canada and hundreds around the world. I'd grant that by comparison, these newer cities are a definite minority but 80+ years ago is a long time even in terms of city establishment. Hell, half of Asia is building "new" cities right now and Africa is bound to be following suit sooner rather than later. And we're not even talking about cities that sprang out of nothing. If we include cities that existed as some form of settlement prior to their incorporation, we're getting in to the thousands of geographic points.

Probably about 50 percent of Canada's suburbs were just truck or wagon stops at best no more than 70 years ago.
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 4:36 AM
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This is a pretty interesting topic and there tends not to be much nuance in how people think about it. Founding dates don't mean much.
And incorporation dates, even less. (As I'm hoping the post above drove home.)
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 6:20 PM
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And incorporation dates, even less. (As I'm hoping the post above drove home.)
So what is the defining measure of a city's age?
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 6:46 PM
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So what is the defining measure of a city's age?
I'd say, it starts at the point where there's a permanent population and a street grid. For Castlegar that's probably ~1900...?

How would you define it?
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 10:31 PM
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I'd say, it starts at the point where there's a permanent population and a street grid. For Castlegar that's probably ~1900...?

How would you define it?
Ok let's go with that.
I'll look up when castlegar was first planned out.
Let's go with your definition.
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 1:02 AM
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The first white settlement on the shores of Thunder Bay was in 1683/1684, a French trading post put up by Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut. It was shut down by the French authorities in 1696.

In 1717, Zacharie Robutel de la Noue established Fort Caministogoyan near the ruins of the previous fort, but that was abandoned about 1760 due to the British conquest. The British preferred to trade in Grand Portage in what is now Minnesota.

The Jay Treaty of 1794 forced them out of Minnesota, and by 1803 the British were back at Fort Kaministiquia. It was the main fur trading post for the NWC until 1821 when it merged with HBC, and the operations shifted to York Factory. It was renamed Fort William, after its founder William MacGillivray, in 1807. The site fell into disrepair and never really recovered, but did operate as a minor post throughout the 19th century. So 1803 is generally regarded as the beginning of permanent settlement here.

In 1858, with the signing of the Superior-Robertson Treaty, the new Canadian government surveyed an area near Fort William called "Town Plot" with the intention of establishing an urban community. This was the first non-fur-trading community establishment in the area. From this point forward, there is an actual village in the Fort William area. So 1858 is the earliest date for the actual town's existence. Few records exist from this era, but artifacts spanning the 1850s to 1870s exist throughout the Town Plot and Fort William areas, so there was some form of actual habitation there. The oldest house still standing in the city dates to 1877 and was associated an unorganized settlement near "the river", and was moved several miles to its present location in 1907 by which time the fort was pretty much defunct.

In 1873, the Municipality of Shuniah was formed as the first local government. In 1881, the townships around Fort William separated and became the Municipality of Neebing. The railway arrived in 1883, and slowly took over the site of Fort William (the fort) to construct railway facilities. The last remaining pieces of the old fort were destroyed sometime in the 1950s, but stone foundations and log pilings still exist under the rail yard to this day.

Prince Arthur's Landing, a Canadian military outpost that grew into a village, separated from Shuniah in 1884, and Fort William separated from Neebing in 1892. Fort William and Port Arthur both became cities in 1907 (Fort William wasn't actually large enough but the government had to treat both cities equal) and amalgamated into Thunder Bay in 1970. Port Arthur was the county seat for Thunder Bay District since it is where the military and law courts were located at the time. Fort William's courthouse until the 1970s was just a room in the police station.
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 3:12 AM
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In regards to European settlement, Metro Vancouver was first settled around 1858, when New Westminster was founded on the Fraser, but Vancouver proper had its first settlers, also near the Fraser, in 1862. The city itself was officially founded in 1886, with the first settled areas located on Burrard Inlet in present day Gastown and East Vancouver. After initial settlement the Vancouver region experienced rapid growth, with the city of Vancouver's population reaching 100,000 by 1911.
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 4:31 AM
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Easy to beat. For example, City of L'Ancienne-Lorette, QC - incorporated January 1, 2006. (Though, continuously inhabited since the mid-1600s.)

Plenty of other examples. City of Pointe-Claire, QC - incorporated January 1, 2006. (Oldest surviving building on its territory at the moment is from 1709 (soon to be 311 years old)).

Westmount, incorporated January 1, 2006, has a surviving farm house from the late 1600s in its city limits AFAIK.

The Charest demergers have created a ton of new cities barely over a decade ago, Chestermere wouldn't crack the top 30 of the youngest cities in the country.
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 11:46 AM
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Richmond, ON founded in 1818 is a small suburban town that is older than Ottawa. It was established as a military settlement and the residents of Hull helped with the construction of the first buildings (Ottawa did not exist yet, but Hull did).

The town had continued to exist until now but it was quickly forgotten as other settlements along the Rideau canal built a few years later benefited from a more strategic location. This probably explain why Richmond is hardly impressive compared to places like Perth, Merrickville or even Smith Falls.

Last edited by le calmar; Dec 28, 2019 at 12:38 PM.
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Old Posted Dec 28, 2019, 2:41 PM
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For example, St. John’s was a place of (seasonal) European settlement dating back to the 1500s, but any semblance of urbanism (ie, a density and diversity of people and commerce) came some 200 years later, but at least a century before incorporation occurred in 1888.
This is one of my favourite bits of Newfoundland trivia because it's so different from how municipalities developed in most other countries. We had only one level of government, whether colonial or national, and there was tremendous pushback from Governors and Prime Ministers against any attempt to weaken their jurisdiction. Even when St. John's was finally allowed to incorporate in 1888, its council was simply an advisory committee to the Prime Minister, and led by an appointed chairman. When you drive around the island here, you'll constantly see signs like, "Welcome to Calvert. Founded 1610. Incorporated 1956." It was only post-Confederation with Canada that other municipalities were allowed to be incorporated, and since Canadian law now applied, only then that there was any real benefit to doing so.

Today we have a system where almost all of the province's municipalities are governed by a single Municipalities Act, written to do the bare minimum to comply with Canadian jurisdictional standards. These are all towns, doesn't matter if they have 25 people or 25,000. There's no such thing as a village, hamlet, etc. To become a city, a municipality must have 20,000 people and apply to the provincial government for its own Act (for example, the City of St. John's Act). The two levels of government negotiate how to divide jurisdiction as legal and appropriate. To date, only three cities have done it - St. John's, Mount Pearl, and Corner Brook - and only St. John's pushed hard to wrestle any authority from the province.

In the outports it gets a little more complicated. Beginning in 1634, they were ruled by the first Fishing Admiral to arrive to that particular station in the spring. As permanent year-round settlement increased, this eventually led to protests from livyers (settlers) and the British assigned a permanent Governor position to the island in 1729.

*****

As for urbanism here, early 1800s is when things started to take shape. By the mid-1800s the core was comparable to what it is today. There was a great fire in 1846 that destroyed much of the commercial core and many public buildings but lots of surviving replacements date to this time. And the current flavour of the city, especially its rowhouses, dates to the period of reconstruction following another, bigger Great Fire in 1892. One of the changes implemented at that time (wider streets) actually reduced urbanism a bit in my opinion. So our golden urbanism era was likely 1830s-1892. That also coincides with the period during which we were one of the larger cities in this part of the world.
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