Lord Simcoe’s Complaint
It’s a little-known fact that Canadians, unlike our counterparts in the United States of America, have a long weekend at the start of August. Like most public holidays, it’s a day off to commemorate a significant historical event, person or milestone in our history.
August’s statutory day off is something of a unique one, because it doesn’t necessarily have an analogue to a U.S. holiday. All of our other event days do:
- Victoria Day aligns with Memorial Day
- Canada Day is in the same week as Independence Day
- Thanksgiving is a little weird because it’s a month earlier than in the States, but almost always the same as Columbus Day
- Christmas and New Year’s are the same, and thank God for that, if only because the TV specials would be buggered up otherwise
But in August, we don’t so much have anything. And, I’m going to be honest with you, that’s made things a little difficult for us. When we’re so used to collectively taking a cue from our nearest neighbors and largest trading partners, it feels a bit like free-fall when we’re forced to come up with a theme for our own long weekend. We have nationalism, remembrance, harvest and Old World Heritage all sewn up — what the hell is left? Our own history?
Must we sink so low?
Fortunately, Canadians have stepped up and said convincingly, hell no. And so, come this August the 3rd 2009, we will be mowing our lawns, swimming in our lakes, maybe putting up some wallpaper or just having a BBQ, in celebration of … Civic Holiday.
Yep: Civic Holiday. Why not just call a spade a spade and get it over with, right? It’s a holiday, it started as a city-wide thing in Toronto, so there you have it — it’s civic, it’s a holiday, who the hell cares. If we want to piddle around with pretending that it means something, why, we should just start hanging flags all over the place while we’re at it.
It wasn’t always like this, of course. Civic Holiday had its roots in an actual celebration, declared in the former city of York by its grateful citizens to commemorate John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant (pronouned “luff-tenant”, thank you) Governor of Upper Canada. Upon arriving at the colony, he moved its capitol from the border with the United States to the more defensible Toronto (re-naming it York), rapidly introduced English civil and jury law, established regional courthouses and jails, and imported the English system of weights and measures. Against stiff resistance, he undertook the abolition of slavery in Upper Canada as early as 1793. One of the most energetic, creative, vital and interesting figures of our country’s early history, Simcoe was pivotal in shaping the local culture and setting the course the province would follow for generations to come.
Oh hey: He was also ravenously ambitious, entirely suspicious of this whole “democracy” business (saying, “I equally deprecate the darkness of Despotism as the Lunacy of Liberty”), and more in love with the idea of the British running North America than British North America itself. He died before he could ever be knighted, which was a rare accomplishment for a governor, and did so only a short time before becoming responsible for the entire colony of India.
Simcoe isn’t an easy figure to wrap one’s head around. He was a soldier who very much wanted to get on with soldiering, with a Let’s Go Empire attitude that’s decidedly incompatible with the modern way of thinking. But over the course of a remarkably short time in Canada, he accomplished a great deal: the city of London, Ontario owes its name to Simcoe, as does the Thames river that flows through it; both Yonge (which Torontonians staunchly, if not accurately, claim as the longest street in the world) and Dundas streets owe their construction to him; his efforts in the Act Against Slavery led to its abolition in Canada in 1810, nearly twenty-five years before the same could be said for the rest of the Empire.
But, on the other hand, he’s a complicated figure and occasionally a bit of a prick. So, in a manner that is actually rather appropriate to the defeats during his life, the holiday founded to celebrate Simcoe now relegates him to a secondary role, in favor of a term that could not be more generic if it were, “Holiday Day, The Day We Have Off.”
Personally, I feel otherwise. Thanksgiving may be the time that brings our families together, but we have no holiday to celebrate the difficult — and yet admirable — people in our lives. They are our friends, our siblings, our colleagues, our loved ones, our spouses — the people who accomplish so much that we cannot help admiring them, and yet who still frankly just make us tired sometimes. They make it difficult to unhesitatingly cheer for them, but deserve it all the same.
And so in tribute to all those folks, and most particularly to Mr. (for he never earned the title of Lord) Simcoe, I offer a toast in the style of a punch he might have sampled during his day:
Simcoe’s Complaint is a classic brandy punch, made in the manner that might have been practiced in the backwater of Upper Canada during the the 1790s. It takes liberty with the citrus, perhaps, but not so much as one might think — lemons and limes were widely available in the more urban areas of the American colonies during that time, and one can pretend the same would hold true for British colonies in the Canadas.
It is a blend of:
- 2 teaspoons of sugar (simple white sugar will work, but rough brown sugar is more fun)
- 3 oz. of brandy
- the juice of 1/2 a lime
- A few drops of vanilla extract
- a chilled tumbler
- crushed ice
The traditional method of building a punch like this is fairly rough-and-ready, and simply a matter of layering and violent shaking.
- To the chilled tumbler, first add the sugar. Try not to heap it in the middle of the glass, as it’ll take longer to dissolve that way.
- Over the sugar, pour the brandy. Try to coat the sugar fully, as you want the brandy to soak up as much of it before the next step.
- To that mixture, squeeze in the lime. A reasonably lush lime will probably produce anywhere from 3/4 to 1 oz. of juice.
- Add in a few drops of vanilla extract. A little goes a very, very long way.
- Fill the glass with crushed ice, and then shake.
Don’t look at me like that! This is the traditional method*, with requires you to take another tumbler and put the two of them together, shaking back and forth until the drink is thoroughly mixed. By the end, assuming that the glasses haven’t come apart and you’ve splashed half of it everywhere, you’ll have a nice slurry that’s evenly distributed from top to bottom in the glass. You’ll know it’s been shaken enough when the sugar is fully dissolved into the rest of the beverage.
* Which I freely admit is terrible, and why absolutely nobody but the enthusiastic recreationists and bar-room showoffs do it that way any more. You are entirely welcome to use a shaker, but do not strain out the crushed ice! That’s part of what makes it fresh and delicious.
Your Simcoe should be cold all the way through, with ice in every sip, and carry both the tang of the lime and the sweetness of the sugar. The brandy’s flavor should have its edge almost entirely taken away, leaving behind only its burnt-caramel body. It is a perfect drink to celebrate all those wonderful, imperfect people that make our lives interesting… if exhausting.