Alexander Wood honoured as gay Toronto ‘pioneer’



Alexander Wood honoured as gay Toronto ‘pioneer’

The Church-Wellesley Business Improvement Area has taken steps to bring alive an interesting chapter of the area’s history with the unveiling of Del Newbigging’s statue of Alexander Wood. Facing south, from the corner of Alexander and Church Streets towards Maple Leaf Gardens, the sculpture’s base details some of the sad reasons for its subject’s notoriety:

ALEXANDER WOOD 1772 -1844

Militia Officer, Businessman, Public Servant, Justice of the Peace, Gay Pioneer

Alexander Wood came to Canada in 1793, settled in York (later Toronto) in 1797 and started a mercantile business, one of only three stores in York at that time. Within a year he was a lieutenant in the York Militia; he was appointed magistrate in 1800 and by 1805 was a Commissioner for the Court of Requests (a senior planning officer). He was involved in a homophobic scandal in 1810 and fled to Scotland, but in two years he was back in Canada and resumed his duties. In spite of ridicule and discrimination he had a successful career in public service: he was on the executive of nearly every society in York, often as Treasurer; he was manager of several businesses and acted for clients in land transactions. Wood died in 1844 at the age of seventy-two while in Scotland. The British Colonist paper called him one of Toronto’s “most respected inhabitants”.

Another panel reads as follows:

1810 The Scandal

In 1810, a woman reporting a rape to Magistrate Wood, said she had scraped her rapist. Wood inspected several suspects privately, requiring them to undress. To avoid the scandal caused by his unconventional behaviour, Wood fled to Scotland. After two years he returned to Canada but suffered ridicule and discrimination for the rest of his life.

The neighbourhood’s former nickname is explained this way:

1826 Molly Wood’s Bush

“Molly” was a derogatory name for a gay man. In 1826, when Alexander Wood purchased fifty acres of land east of Yonge Street, north of Carlton Street in York (Toronto), it was rudely referred to as Molly Wood’s Bush. It is now Toronto’s gay village. Three streets in the area are named for its founder: Alexander Street, Wood Street and Alexander Place.

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