A bit of Berczy history: Who was ‘Berczy’?

15 Aug
Scannable Document on Aug 15, 2017, 9_53_36 AM

Self-portrait of William Moll Berczy, co-founder of Toronto.

Members at the Historical Society of Mecklenburg Upper Canada recently pointed out that the new Berczy Park currently does not provide much explanation of the park’s namesake, William Moll Berczy, other than the Berczy Family Sculpture plaque in the southeast quadrant of the park.

Drawing upon materials kindly provided by this Society, we offer a few highlights from their 1976 illustrated booklet, German Pioneers of Toronto and Markham Township: The Story of William Moll Berczy.  The booklet covers many intriguing elements of Berczy’s life. Among the details provided:

  • Berczy was baptized as ‘Johann Albrecht Ulrich Moll’ on Dec 10, 1744 in Wallerstein Germany.
  • In early adulthood, he served a diplomatic post in Poland during the Russian invasion in 1764.  During his wartime exploits, the Hungarian leader of a militia troop nicknamed him “Berczy”.
  • Later, after studying at the Academy of Arts in Vienna, he travelled Europe as  a diplomat and worked as a painter in Italy and England in the late 1700s.
  • One of his English arts patrons encouraged him to lead a group of German immigrants to New York State in America. He adopted the surname ‘Berczy’ for his family for this next stage in his life.
  • Under Berczy’s lead, the group of farmers and craftsmen eventually settled in Upper Canada in 1794.
  • Scannable Document on Aug 15, 2017, 9_54_34 AM

    Upper Canada Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe and Willam Berczy discuss the development of York (Toronto)

    Berczy met Upper Canada Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, who persuaded Berczy to settle his Germans on a 64,000 acre site in the newly founded town of York (Toronto). As part of the agreement, the German immigrants would construct a road (Yonge Street) from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe.

  • Upon completing the gruelling road-building project in late 1794, the group of 186 German men, women and children established the Markham Township, with farms, a saw and grist mill, school, etc. Berczy also explored the Rouge River as an faster, navigable route to Lake Ontario.
  • Unfortunately, in 1797, the Government of Upper Canada cancelled its land grants with the German settlers, leaving them in despair, and Berczy in bankruptcy.
  • Berczy travelled to England in 1799 to appeal the decision before the British Government. Although a British Committee decided in his favour in 1801, the ruling was not confirmed by the Executive Council of Upper Canada.
  • Back in Upper Canada, Berczy worked as an architect for the Town of York, consulting on the St. James Church and a Don River Bridge.
  • Joseph_Brant_by_William_Berczy_c.1807

    William Berczy painted this portrait of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, circa 1807.

    After settling with his creditors, Berczy relocated to Montreal and worked as a portrait painter. Several of his works are today part of the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

  • In 1812, Berczy departed for England, to  re-open his York land claim case. It is believed he died en-route to London, in New York, under mysterious circumstances on Feb 5, 1813, and is buried in the Trinity Cemetery near Wall Street.

 

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