Sunday, December 10, 2023

Where is Alexander Wood?

Today we set out to find a statue of Alexander Wood which was supposed to be only two blocks away. It was one of the “111 places in Toronto not to be missed” from the book we have been using as one of he resources as we have been using to explore Toronto. The condo is on Mutual St. and both Alexander St. And Wood St. run off Mutual, so his name is certainly in the neighbourhood. I have walked down both Church St. and Alexander St. Many times, so I was surprised that I somehow missed this statue. 

According to the book, Alexander Wood was a Scottish merchant and magistrate and possibly a homosexual, so streets named after him and a statue of him in the Church Wellesley gay neighbourhood in Toronto made perfect sense. 

111 Places and Google Maps both placed the statue on the corner of Church and Alexander streets, beside the BMO building, but when we walked down to the corner there was no sign of a statue. Although Google Maps said the statue was there, Google itself provided the answer. In April 2022, the state was removed and destroyed because some community members said that Wood was involved in promoting residential schools and accused him of being a raciest. 

Well, that answers that question . . . .

However once we got home I decided to research Alexander Wood and I found out that not only was Wood a bit controversial so was the removal of his memorial. 

Living in the 1800s, Alexander Wood was not openly gay, but he was a lifelong “bachelor” and his involvement as a Militia leader and a magistrate he apparently “examined” the genitals of soldiers accused of raping a girl when she claimed to have scratched her assailant. This led to him being called “The Inspector of private accounts” and a “Molly”, a derogatory term for homosexuals. When he refused to identify the victim to “protect her privacy” he was suspected of manufacturing the event so he could molest the soldiers. He was however also a successful and respected business person and was very involved with the community, serving on many organizations and charities. 

His involvement with First Nation schools is historical fact, but it was actually a positive involvement, with a first nation chief coming to Toronto and asking him to work to promote a school for their children which he did work to create. His involvement with the school was only in its creation and when it was not very successful it was indeed turned into a “residential” school but only years after Wood’s death. He was involved with local organizations that promoted residential schools, but his involvement was minor and as a community leader he was expected to be involved in a lot of organizations, and there is no evidence he actually promoted or encouraged the schools; his involvement in most of the organizations was as treasurer since he was a successful businessman. 

From news stories from the time when the statue was removed it sounds like a small group of influential people felt it was best to remove the statue while a lot of local people did not agree at all. As usual, there are often more than one side to a story.

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