George Brown (1818-1880), a good Scotsman if ever there was one, desperately wanted to see Scotland’s national game brought to Toronto. He and his successors at The Globe published a series of articles over the years encouraging the playing of golf and the formation of a golf club here in Toronto.
James Lamond Smith brought golf came to Toronto in 1869. He played near Yorkville and near Kingston Road. In 1876, he and his friends formalized the arrangement, founding the Toronto Golf Course, the third oldest golf club in Canada, but oldest in Ontario. It used land east of Coxwell just north of the Woodbine Racetrack.
This was on the Small’s Farm at Small’s Corners. The site was leased from the heirs to the Charles Coxwell Estate. Charles Coxwell Small’s father, John Small, purchased a 200 acre farm on Lot Five, First Concession, from Paul Wilcott in 1801. Paul Wilcott was married to one of the Ashbridge daughters and each member of that family received at least 200 acres of land in the late 1790s.
John Small was a member of the Family Compact and notorious for a duel in which he shot and killed John White, a prominent member of the same clique. Charles Coxwell Small, like many of the Family Compact, had a secure (sinecure) government position and a house in town (or a “townhouse”) at King and Berkeley (still standing). He had a country estate where he raised prize-winning shorthorn cattle and hosted plowing matches. Charles Coxwell Small, for whom Coxwell Avenue is named, died in 1862, splitting his estate between six heirs. The Estate was tied up in litigation for years, making the small Lot 1 vacant and available.
An irate employee shot George Brown, editor of The Globe, on March 25, 1880. On May 9, just a month before the article above was written, Brown died of infection from the wound. One hopes that he had heard rumours that his beloved game was being played in Toronto.
The Toronto Golf Club had no clubhouse but kept their clubs, red jackets and other gear in a room on the second floor of the Woodbine Hotel. The Woodbine Hotel, owned by Joseph Duggan, was just across the road at the north-east corner of Kingston Road and Queen Street East. After the law suit ended, the owner could subdivide the land for housing and, in 1888, that’s what the owner did.
The Toronto Golf Club were homeless for a short period of time after the course was sold for housing. For short period they had a six-hole course on the oval of green turf within the larger oval of the Woodbine racetrack. Then they made a deal with Michael Fitzgerald who owned 30 acres of land at the top northwest corner of the lower part old Charles Coxwell Small Estate. A 1878 map shows the Dominion Telegraph Co. as owner of this 30 acres — probably held on speculation and then sold to Michael Fitzgerald. The Grand Trunk rail line cut the Estate into two parts. The Toronto Golf Club moved north to near Upper Gerrard and Wembley Road. At first they just leased the land from Fitzgerald. The Toronto Golf Club only played on the lower half — not above the tracks though they hand to deal with cinders that blew onto the greens from the steam locomotives. Around 1893 they made a binding arrangement with Fitzgerald and, in 1894 they proceeded to turn an old abandoned farmhouse (supposedly haunted) into their clubhouse. They began an ambitious program to improve the course and membership expanded rapidly. Even the trains stopped at the Toronto Golf Club. The Conductors called out, “Golf Grounds.” Judge W. Cassels bought 16 acres south of the course (near Highcroft) and sold it to the Toronto Golf Club for a dollar. In 1898 they leased other land to the east of Woodbine Avenue and this allowed them to expand to 18 holes. The formalities of actually purchasing the original 30 acres of land from Fitzgerald’s heirs were not closed until 1905.
The first Toronto Golf Club course (1876-1888) was on leased land where these houses are in this photo. Looking west along Queen Street from the top of the fire hall near Woodbine and Queen ca. 1905. Queen Street is on the left. Small’s Pond is visible just right of Centre. Kingston Road runs diagonally from left to right in the foreground.
1882 Ontario Quebec tournament. Hosted by Toronto Golf Club.
The WEEK, Vol. 13, no. 51 (Nov. 13, 1896)
Golf Magazine, Vol. III, No. 1, July 1898 Cover
Women from the Toronto Golf Club complained about the firing at the Toronto Police Force’s rifle range at the rear of Small’s Park, near to the Toronto Golf Club. Fearing getting shot, the women said “that the institution is a menace to public safety.” They took the owner, William H. Hill, to court. (Toronto Star, May 18, 1901)
In 1903 Gerrard Street was an unopened right of way across the Ashbridges Estate and Duggan’s 5 lots. East of Coxwell it was a poorly-maintained sandy road. Gerrard was opened a short distance east of Greenwood (200 feet to the City limit) and a short distance west of a new street north south off of Queen to Gerrard: Reid Avenue (later re-named Rhodes).
East of Coxwell Avenue the farmlands are mostly undeveloped with some development along Edgewood Avenue and Kingston Road, to the east of Small’s Pond. Small’s Creek was clean and ran down from the Grand Trunk Railway line (now the CNR) to cross Upper Gerrard and empty into Small’s Pond.
This area east of Coxwell was considered part of the little postal village of Norway which sprung up around the corner of Woodbine Avenue and Kingston Road. It was named “Norway” after the red pine that flourished on the sandy soil there. Red pine was commonly known as “Norway pine” in the nineteenth century. The Anglican Church of St. John served the people of Midway until St. Clement’s Church was built. The large (and beautiful) cemetery at St. John Norway is the burial place of many of the area’s pioneering families.
Mabel Thomson, Canadian Golf Champion, Toronto Star, September 26, 1906
Toronto Star, October 21, 1912
Afterword: After the Toronto Golf Club moved to Etobicoke
Some street name changes:
|DATE||Time line to 1912 Toronto Golf Club (Toronto Golf Club)|
|1801||July 18 Paul Wilcott sold 200 acre property to John Small|
|1859||Scotland hosts the first Open Golf Championship|
|1869||James Lamond Smith introduced golf to Toronto|
|1873||Royal Montreal is the first golf club formed in Canada, and in the present is the oldest continuously operating golf club in North America.|
|1876 – 1879||James Lamond Smith, Captain (President) & founder|
|1876||Toronto Golf Club established|
|1876-1889||Toronto Golf Club played just north of the Woodbine racetrack on leased land|
|1880||Toronto Golf Club had 30 members|
|1880 – 1888||R. H. Bethune, Captain (President)|
|1882||Organization incorporated as “The Toronto Golf Club”|
|1886||Aug. 7 Woodbine fire destroys Toronto Golf Club clubs and other equipment|
|1889||Charles Hunter, Captain (President)|
|1889||Toronto Golf Club evicted & Course near Queen north of Woodbine subdivided for housing.|
|1889||Toronto Golf Club had 6 hole short course at Woodbine|
|1890 – 1891||Col. G. A. Sweny, Captain (President)|
|1892 – 1893||Sir E. B. Osler, Captain (President)|
|1894 – 1908||Judge W. Cassels, Captain (President)|
|1894||Incorporated as the “Toronto Golf Club Association”|
|1894||Fernhill Land Company incorporated to manage the Fernhill property|
|1894||Fernhill Land Company purchased 30 acres Fernhill & Opened Club House|
|1894||Osler Cup presented to the Toronto Golf Club|
|1895 – 1910||William Troughton, Steward Toronto Golf Club|
|1895||Archie Smith, Toronto Golf Club Professional|
|1895||April Toronto Golf Club leased fields to the east, bringing course up to full 18 holes|
|1895||June Five Toronto Golf Club members charged with violating “The Lord’s Day Act”|
|1895||First Royal Canadian Golf Association annual tournament|
|1896||150 members (plus 125 lady associates)|
|1896||A. W. (Andy) Smith returned to Scotland|
|1899||Dec. 12 Five caddies charged under “Lord’s Day Act”|
|1899||May Clubhouse remodeled with an extension on the back known as “the new clubhouse”.|
|1900||George Cummings Toronto Golf Club Professional March 20 arrives from Scotland.|
|1900||George Cummings redesigned the course|
|1901||In and Out Gun Club|
|1905||George Cumming wins Canada Open|
|1909||Charles Cockshutt, Captain (President)|
|1909||A new charter and name is again officially “The Toronto Golf Club”|
|1909||City of Toronto annexed Midway|
|1910 – 1912||Col. G. A. Sweny, Captain (President)|
|1910 – 1912||J. Williams, Steward|
|1911||Jan. Toronto Golf Club purchased land Etobicoke Creek|
|1912||Oct. 12 Farewell dinner Club House|
|1912||Dec. 16 Civic Car line opened|
|1912||Jan. F. B. Robbins & Henry Pellatt buy Toronto Golf Club land for Kelvin Park Subdivision|
For more information about the history of the Toronto Golf Club, read Jack Batten’s 1976 book, The Toronto Golf Club 1876-1976.
Also see the Toronto Golf Club’s website at:
Some of the homes, gardens and streets of Kelvin Park on the old Toronto Golf Club grounds. Most are built in the Arts and Craft style. They range from tiny bungalows, “double bungalows” (duplexes), “semi-bungalows” (one and half story houses), villas (two storey houses) to the lovely William Williamson house on Hollywood Crescent with its wrought iron gates and beautiful gardens.
Here’s to the ferns of Fernhill, the happy ghosts of the golfers, and the City of Toronto workers who do their best with limited resources to keep access to Williamson Park Ravine open. Here they are rebuilding the stairs:
Finally please support the Friends of Small’s Creeks Ravines as they watch over, nurture, clean up and restore this little oasis of green on the old Toronto Golf Club grounds.