Historian Percy Robinson called trader Jean-Baptiste “St. John” Rousseau “the last citizen of the old French Toronto and the first of the new York.”
Rousseau and his family were the only permanent European residents in the area when the founder of what is now the City of Toronto, Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, arrived in 1793. Ushering in the future, Rousseau guided Simcoe’s ship to a safe landing.
Rousseau’s long-gone cabin on the east side of the Humber River fits with the haphazard history of French Toronto. Before they lost their holdings to the British in 1759, French fur-trading posts were situated on the Carrying Place Trail up the Humber River. Following the British conquest, Rousseau’s father was licensed to trade with the Mississaugas along the Humber. Jean-Baptiste Rousseau learned the Anishinabe language as a teen, and served as an interpreter for colonial officials during the American Revolutionary War.
When Simcoe arrived, Rousseau’s business interests stretched west to Six Nations territory. Rousseau acted as Simcoe’s interpreter with local First Nations. But relations soon cooled between them. In 1795, Rousseau moved to Ancaster, in part because Simcoe refused his request to expand his Humber property.
By Jamie Bradburn