Toronto: City upon a Hill?
Landscape images were not relegated solely to those of the frontier. Interactions between Toronto and its surrounding nature were visually represented within city limits as well. This aquatint of York (the name for Toronto until its incorporation as a city in 1834) was based off of a 1828 drawing by James Gray. British visual culture in the 19th century relied on the aquatinting process to disseminate prints across the Empire, as the images were significantly easier to reproduce than oil paintings.
This particular image takes a very long view of Toronto from across the bay on the Toronto Islands. These Islands were part and parcel of the wilderness surrounding the city, and were thought of as such. Resulting from this hinterland landscape are two dichotomous aspects of the aquatint: Native American cooking next to British settlers, and lushly illustrated plant life next to undetailed ships and cityscape. Though the landscape is titled with a focus on the city, its actual focus could be said to be the city's surrounding landscape and its inevitable decline. Visually, the cityscape and its ships (representations of linkage with Empire) are couched by the plant life of its hinterland. The Native Americans are, conversely, contained within their own framing of the trees, separated and singularized in the context of Toronto's urban development.
The political message of the piece is apparent but perhaps paradoxical: nature provides for Toronto's development, yet nature should be highly aesthetized during the process. This paradox recurs throughout narratives of Imperial urban growth. This reading is consistent with the Metropolitan Thesis elaborated in the introduction, that in Canada "'metropolitan power could be exercised quite directly over great regional sweeps of countryside, with much less mediation or internal competition along the way" compared to the U.S. (Davis, 96).
Similarly to the view of Toronto from Gibraltar Point, this aquatint attempts a view of the city from its outskirts. The bucolic landscape of flowing sea grass, the calm bay, and wide open sky characterizes the scene of work as one of Romantic ease. Like the previous aquatint, this widely distributed print attempts to both depict Toronto and its outskirts as admirable and beautiful.
Special attention should be paid to this specific viewpoint, as its legacy of a city couched by rural ease will reappear in Toronto's cultural memory.