"Come unto these yellow sands." At besta shifty invitation. Simcoe, playingProspero in a family Shakespeare festin 1800, four years after failingto keep the Calibanish Dorchesterfrom breaking up his cloud-capped Georgian palace(schemes for "Gibraltar" -- his name for the sandbank --dissolved along with dreams of lofty rank)
could not have dreamt a tempest would severthe curling tongue of land, its yellow sandscattered like ashes, sown under the wavesto seed unyielding pastures, lakebed headlandsploughed by the tide's wrecks and the shore's debris:Elizabeth's peninsula an island,John's "Naval Arsenal" of "incomparable" worthsunk to "the Coney Island of the North,"
even its name suffering a sea-change --Gibraltar whittled down to Hanlan's Pointin habit's shallow wash. The heritageslipped with the salmon from their lakeside haunts.The creeks they named are lost in shunts of sewageunder long-shadowed hulks. Their dream castlehas fallen to the dragon -- Castle Franka subway stop on a fouled river's bank.
What was it like to play Adam and Eve and hatch the printless woods with names?To heft George Yonge's name like a knife, and carvea furrow up to Holland Landing? Trimthrough glacial fringe to the Grand Riverin sheer tribute to Dundas? Baptismon such a scale demanded nothing lessthan lake-sized fonts and squalls of sprinkled blessings.
They poured out hallowed sounds, but as the sand loses the water it admits,the land made little of their baptisms.Either a muddled earthiness silted the banks of memory ("Francis"sliding into "Grape" Island) or, skull-like,the names held ground but lost their tongues: the Don(old word for "water") bedded with concrete.
So the ships' cannon loosed their iron tongues and puffed their Gloria Patriover the bay, igniting the damp morningwhen muddy "York" sputtered to life -- to die soon as the grand old blunderingof that same Duke made his paternityless prized: the newly fathered Indian"Toronto" (still mudcovered) rose again.
Alas, poor York -- dissolved in '34! Didn't its fond godfather seehis castle's keep was sand? Didn't his "dearEliza" -- noting in her diary how gunsmoke, curled along the shore,"ran with a singular appearance" --see those cursives as the serpent's calling cardinviting them to scrub their garden party?
The names that we compose years decompose. Wood-lice tunnel Teiaiagon,Indian trading post, totem as oldas life on this half of the earth, now one with the spent breath of those who spokeit into life, air over a dead tongue.Teiaiagon, war-whoop of braves wiped out, means no more than its own lament.
This was their place of meeting: Indians, John, and Elizabeth pitched campon this same ground of sand, one audienceswept by the strains of the same requiem. Like blood that kept time in their veins,like death through both the Simcoes' names (Posthuma,Graves) the black notes ran through the thin fences and hammered at the tall, doomed pines.
Natives and strangers staked their settlement on names, knowing that names are breath,and in the play on words we all present,breath runs and runs, but never outruns death, its shadow-rhyme; yet death goes muteunless breath sings both parts in their duet.So Shakespeare's namer, mindful of his grave, spelled the snake's hiss to tune the waves.
Strangers and natives swapped spells. In exchange for labials, the Iroquoisanointed English with their glides: young Franktook on the name "Tioga," the Colonel "Deyonguhokrawen." PrankishElizabeth (no Indian name recorded)stubbing her tongue against his honorific, might coolly sip the irony
that "one-whose-door-is-always-open" should baffle its callers like a wall.Her tongue had also tasted the hot needthe Indians felt to keep one brand alive from ruins of a lost Eden:Tioga, once hub of their hunting trails.
She too would turn a burnt end into kindling, and name her next girl Katherine.
The second Katherine was born in 1801. Five years later, John GravesSimcoe fell ill at sea and died in the port of Exeter soon after being rushedhome. He was buried after a torchlight procession arranged by Elizabeth,who lived on as a widow until 1850.