Editor's Note: Columnist Philip Potempa is reporting from Toronto while traveling in Canada.
While writing columns from Toronto, Times readers have emailed me about the headlines and swirl of media coverage about Toronto's controversial scandal-attached Mayor Rob Ford.
While I haven't crossed paths with Mayor Ford, since this is my first visit to Toronto, I did a walking tour of the city Friday courtesy of guide Liz Devine, president of Jeeves Travel and Rainbow High Vacations at rainbowhighvacations.com.
Since I'm staying at the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville, located along Bloor Street, which is the high-end fashion shopping stretch akin to Chicago's Magnificent Mile, we crossed paths with the towering bronze statue, erected in May 2005, of Alexander Wood. Wood was one of the wealthy founding fathers of Toronto, which was previously named York.
Wood, who died at age 72 in 1844, ranks as one of the city's legendary scandalized leaders, and a story worthy to include, considering the name of this daily column is "Offbeat."
Born at Fetteresso near Stonehaven, Scotland, he settled in the town of York (today's Toronto) four years later. He established himself as one of the city's leading merchants and became a lieutenant in the York militia in 1798. But his primary pull was that of very successful and wealthy businessman, providing specialty luxury items imported from London.
He was appointed a city magistrate in 1800, and by 1810, was at the center of innuendos and controversy because of his behavior.
While investigating a reported rape case, the victim, referred to as "Miss Bailey," came to Wood claiming she did not know the identity of her attacker. However, she explained she had managed to scratch her unclothed attacker during the assault. Wood's unorthodox decision to launch his own investigation to find the attacker by personally examining a host of possible suspects, making the young men disrobe, caused great public ridicule and allegations of inappropriate conduct. Soon, there were allegations against the never-wed Wood that "Miss Bailey" never existed at all, and that Wood had fabricated the rape charge as an opportunity to engage in unsavory opportunities.
When confronted with the charges by his friend, Judge William Dummer Powell, Wood wrote back: "I have laid myself open to ridicule and malevolence, which I know not how to meet; that the thing will be made the subject of mirth and a handle to my enemies for a sneer I have every reason to expect." John Robinson, at the time a young law clerk in Powell's office, dubbed Wood "the Inspector General of Private Accounts," and the public attention caused Wood to flee to Scotland in October 1810.
Wood, who was also an expansive landowner, returned to the Toronto area (still called York at the time) by 1812, resuming his prior appointment as a magistrate and fought in the War of 1812 and served on the boards of several organizations. He died never married, with his siblings and parents having preceded him in death and therefore leaving no heirs prompting both the countries of Scotland and Canada to fight over the vast wealth and property he left behind.