A in the East End: A gallery


Looking East on Queen at Hastings, Then


Looking east on Queen at Hastings, NOW


Alton Corner Store


Original with no labels from the City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1266 Item 17767 August 30 1929


Alton Ave on left: Plan for the new Greenwood Park, 1919


Clean-it-eria Ashdale Avenue, Toronto Star, March 16 1953


Ashdale Ave: Irish Sweepstakes winners, Toronto Star, March 19, 1949


Ashdale Ave: home of Irish Sweepstakes winners, Toronto Star, March 19, 1949


Pigeons on Ashdale, Toronto Star, August 13, 1941


From the Days when people truly believed that the sun would never set on the British Empire and other silly things.Veteran of the Zulu war, Ashdale Avenue, Toronto Star, September 2, 1942


Arnold Bros, head office, 956 Queen E.. - April 20, 1926

Arnold Bros, head office, 956 Queen E.. – April 20, 1926

Arnold Bros, girls at work, butter dept, abattoir. - April 21, 1926

Arnold Bros, women at work, butter dept, abattoir, April 21, 1926


Globe and Mail, June 9, 1954




Ashbridges Bay, by John Wilson, 1900


Ashbridges Bay, 1890s looking west towards Booth Avenue (buildings in distance are at what is now Booth and approx. Eastern Avenue).


Ashbridge’s Bush (Monarch Park)

1884 Erie Terrace in Goads Atlas

1884 Ashbridges Creek in Goads Atlas

Conant Upper canada sketches 85


A Coxwell Avenue Secret


Toronto Star, June 26, 1919

From Shacktown to Subsidized Housing


Housing: Downtown and Shacktown


Developers laid out new subdivisions beyond Shacktown to the east of Coxwell Avenue.

In 1909 the City of Toronto annexed the area south of the Danforth between Greenwood Avenue and the Beach. It included the area called “Midway”, on the former Ashbridge’s farm, between Greenwood and Coxwell Avenues.  All was not smooth sailing.  Many Midway residents had to rely on City water carts for drinking water. Their wells were too contaminated to ever allow them to be used again. Safe drinking water was an urgent necessity when even the City water was bad.


Toronto World, May 31, 1912


Toronto Star, May 17, 1912 The subdivision plan for Danforth-Woodbine Park.

DANFORTH-WOODBINE PARK is right in the heart of that new suburban section of the city where development is the most rapid and where values are going to increase by leaps and bounds.

DANFORTH-WOODBINE PARK is just such a subdivision as will prove the home seeker’s delight — where a man may build his home, and, while being in closest touch with the most convenient of transportation facilities within a half hour’s ride from the business sections, yet be away from the constant din of the congested sections of the city.


Danforth Woodbine Park. City of Toronto Interactive Map Aerial 2015 with Labels

DANFORTH-WOODBINE PARK is naturally a beautiful spot.

All the city conveniences are being applied for, such as sewage, granolithic walks [cement sidewalks], paved streets, electric lighting, gas.

And the property will be still further beautified by the addition of thousands of shade trees.

Tanner & Gates, Real Estate Brokers, 46 Victoria Street

Toronto Star, May 17, 1912


Many developers were inspired by the Garden City movement. Architects and designers wanted to create new kinds of suburbs with crescents, trees, vistas, harmonious and healthy.


The Canadian Courier, Vol, X, No. 23, January 4, 1911


The Canadian Courier, Vol, X, No. 23, January 4, 1911

The subdivision plans reflected this.


This layout in The Toronto Star, January 5, 1912, mirrors that of Woodbine Danforth Park, further north.



A 1920s bungalow in Kelvin Park. Photo by Joanne Doucette.


The Marsden, a bungalow plan from Aladdin Homes 1920 Catalogue.


The model home for Kelvin Park, Toronto Star, May 12, 1922

The Kelvin Park Model Home: Then and Now

Dream House vs Poor House


The House of Industry, also known as “The Pogie”, “The Poorhouse” or “The Workhouse”, Elm Street South Side between Elizabeth and Chestnut Streets. Built in 1848; closed 1947. From the Collection of the Toronto Public Library.



Children living in a one room tenement, ca. 1910 Photo by Jacob Riss. From the Collection of the Museum of the City of New York

For more about New York’s tenements go to: http://collections.mcny.org


Children living in a one-room shack in The Ward, Toronto.


The Canadian Courier, Vol. XIV, No. 9, August 2, 1913


British immigrants were just beginning to build Shacktown just outside the City limits. City Council was focus on the evils of the Ward, the low income neighbourhood where Toronto’s New City Hall is today.


The Shackers built their own houses where the land was cheap, taxes low, services non-existent.


Men breaking rocks to earn charity from the House of Industry (also known as “The Pogie” or “the Workhouse”). George Stuart Henry Reeve of York Township, 1906-1910, Premier of Ontario 1930-1934 Toronto Public Library photo breaking stone. House of Industry, photo Henry, Wikipedia

The City of Toronto felt no obligation to the and neither did the City of York where most of them lived.


In the Care of Poor People in the Township on the Borders of the City.

“You have roads that are a disgrace to York township, and why don’t you put men to work breaking stone for them?” demanded Mayor Oliver of reeve Henry [George S. Henry], of York township this morning, when the latter asked the Board of control to provide work for the unemployed in shacktown, just outside the city limits.

“We are breaking stone now,” said the reeve.

“Well, then, break more of it,”” replied the mayor.

“The city should be more generous.”

The Mayor: “We must be just first. I tell you that those people in Shacktown have been given enough clothing to last them four or five years. Toronto has given them $18,500. What more do you want?”

Toronto Star, February 26, 1908


Robin’s real estate ad, Toronto Star, June 19, 1912

Many of the houses in the Coxwell-Gerrard neighbourhood had been built by the owners themselves when the area was outside the City limits.   They did not want to live in a tenement either. They came to Canada for a better life and a better life for their children. They wanted sunshine, fresh air and places for their children to run, play and explore.


Owner-built bungalows in the Gerrard-Coxwell neighborhood. Photos by Joanne Doucette.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


City of Toronto Annexation Map, 1915 as updated by A. Douglas Ford, City Surveyor, City Surveyors Department, January 1, 1967

By the time of amalgamation in December, 1909, the East End was well on its way to becoming a working class, low income streetcar suburb of Toronto.

Good water, Good sewers, Good Housing

The biggest difference between being poor today may be the waning of the epidemic diseases. They swept through the City like the grim reaper, cutting down people of all ages. Children were especially vulnerable.



La Miseria by Cristóbal Rojas (1886)

The woman in the painting above died of consumption or phthisis. We called it tuberculosis or TB.

Most of us are immune. Doctors and nurses inoculated most of us when we just kids.


A common nickname for it was The White Plague. This was not because the bacillus that caused TB liked people with fair complexions better. TB consumed or ate its victims alive. They withered away to skin and bones, coughing their lungs out. It was also known as the “white death” from the paleness of its victims.

Tuberculosis was endemic in the big cities of the time. Crowded living situations and poor diet made low-income people particularly vulnerable to tuberculosis. TB was rampant in the slums of “the Ward” downtown but also in the new working class suburbs like the Gerrard-Coxwell neighbourhood.

There were no antibiotics to fight infectious diseases until Alexander Fleming found penicillin in 1928 and it wasn’t mass-produced in World War II.

One of the biggest differences between that era and today is the development of effective pharmaceuticals to treat infectious illnesses as well as inoculations to prevent diphtheria, typhus, typhoid fever, polio, etc.

Small pox has now been eliminated worldwide. Yet viruses still elude the best efforts of medicine and another flu epidemic, some say, could be as bad as the epidemic of 1918 to 1919.

Inadequate housing was, and still is, associated with tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is not the most infectious of infectious diseases. But crowded living conditions facilitate its spread.


The Canadian Courier, Vol. XIV, No. 9 (August 2nd, 1913)

An antibiotic resistant form of tuberculosis is now haunting the poorest of poor people, transients and homeless men, women and children. New strains of other diseases such as e-coli may mean that we too might see the kind of epidemics that our great-grandparents lived through — or did not live through. I hope not.

If two families, each with more than five children, live in a 10 by 15 foot shack, they are in harm’s way. If the parents of those little ones are worn out with exhaustion and worry, those children don’t get the care they need and deserve. If none of them gets enough food and enough good quality food, their house becomes a disease trap.

Erie Terrace

Erie Terrace (now Craven Road), 1916. 1916 Photographs courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives. Photo 2012 by the author.

Some streets, particularly Erie Terrace, later called Craven Road, were densely packed with small houses, some mere huts, without running water or sewage, with contaminated wells and over-flowing outhouses, creating a public health nightmare.

Hastings EvictionSome, including Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Charles Hastings, saw these Shacktowns as epidemics waiting to happen.


M.H.O. Hastings: I had no idea you needed cleaning up so badly. [between 1910 and 1914] Newton McConnell . Archives of Ontario.


Mail order bathroom from Eaton’s Catalogue, 1919



Ontario Department of Health, 1964





19090313-gl-british-housing-for-poorAfter the crisis brought on by an unprepared city and a bitter winter the Globe called for building a new kind of housing for low income people, as part of the City Beautiful movement then sweeping North America.


The Quadrangle – Almshouses, Bournville. Public Domain.

George Cadbury, the wealthy chocolate maker, had set up a trust to provide subsidized housing to low income workers.

The Trust built a housing estate outside of Birmingham, England, and rented the comfortable, well-built houses “at the low figures of from $5 to $14 per month.”


The Cadbury Project: Bournville, near Birmingham, England. Public Domain.

Each house was had the potential for a garden, an important consideration for those who looked to their own vegetable plot for spuds, cabbages, carrots and other mainstays of the British diet.


The Trust carefully handpicked its tenants from a long waiting list. A shopping mall was built in the heart of the housing project.

The project offered not only clean, comfortable and attractive housing; it was sustainable. The rents, though low, generated enough profit to the Trust to allow the building of more housing.


The Globe called for something similar to be done in Toronto:

To compare these buildings with the houses of Shacktown, on three sides of Toronto is not to our credit, and evidences the need of a stronger civic spirit than at present exists.

Globe, March 13, 1909

19090313-gl-british-housing-for-poor6HOUSING OF THE POOR IN CANADA

By Miss FitzGibbon

Speaking to the preceding papers on the housing of the poor, Miss FitzGibbon said that the great difficulties in Canada lay in the high rents and in the fact that there were almost no small and inexpensive houses. Thirteen to twenty-four dollars a month had to be paid for poor quarters by working-people. The remedies that are being tried are building societies, buying on the instalment plan and division of expense by two families living in one house.

But there is still a large class of people who can afford to pay only about five dollars a month in rent. Emigrants from the old countries should take into careful consideration the fact that rents in Canada are high—even in proportion to the higher salaries paid here than in the old lands.


Children scavenging for scrap metal to sell. The Canadian Courier, Vol. X, No. 18, September 30, 1911

Mary Agnes FitzGibbon, “Housing of the Poor in Canada” in Report of the International Congress of Women held in Toronto, Canada June 24th-30th, 1909 under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Canada. (Toronto: G. Parker & Sons), 140.


Our Slums
Decent housing to keep people fit to work seems a cheaper proposition than housing them when unfit in our hospitals, asylums and jails. We can never build from the top down. We must begin at the bottom up. We must not spend our time and money getting rid of slums, but rather spend brains preventing slums. Closing the doors after the horse has gone has been the policy of too many cities. Cannot Toronto do better?

Flora MacDonald Denison in The Toronto World, February 5, 1911


Children in the Ward, Toronto, The Canadian Courier, Vol. X, No. 18, September 30, 1911

Individual self-effort and private enterprise had not solved Toronto’s housing famine. Something new was needed.


In 1912, after this meeting,  Frank Beer, of the Canadian Manufacturers Association helped found an organization to build affordable housing. The other man key figure was Robert S. Gourlay, businessman and President of The Presbyterian Union for  Extension. It was Gourlay who had pushed for the founding of missions like Reid Avenue Presbyterian Church. It is now Rhodes Avenue United Church. There were others, both men and women.


globe-june-3-1912That wasn’t the name at first.

This private charity that built the houses. Then it sold them to low income people at cost and subsidized the mortgage. The main object of their plan was to provide affordable, healthy housing for returned soldiers. After World War Two, this type of plan was also offered. It was called “veterans’ housing”.

The Garden City concept was behind much of the  Toronto City Housing Company’s thinking.






Rivercourt, now the Bain Housing Co-op. The Canadian Courier Vol. XV. No. 9 , Jan. 31, 1914


S. B. Armstrong of Housing Co. Explains Problems of Large Cities.

Riverdale, January 13The exceedingly cold weather of last evening was largely responsible for the small audience that turned out at the Royal Canadian Bicycle Club Hall on Broadview Avenue to hear a very interesting address on “Toronto’s Housing Problem, by Mr. W. S. B. Armstrong of the Toronto Housing Company, at a meeting of the Riverdale Business Men’s Association.


Dead child and mother, a shacktown. Ca. 1900. Source Unknown. Public Domain

“The first question to be faced in this momentous problem is essentially one of health – health of the children and a decrease in the death rate being the striking result of reforms in other cities.

“The home is the fundamental unit of the country, and unless the home is kept on that basis a calamity will result. This the English communities keep in mind, their motto being: “One family to one house.”

The object is for each family to live in one house, with space enough around it for a garden. In Germany the people have developed large tenements, but their children do not get a fair chance in life.



Tenements at Park Avenue and 107th Street, New York City, ca. 1901. Library of Congress.

New York City has by far the worst housing of any city in the world, largely because of the tenements. But seemingly the people will live in no other kind of abode.

A Geographical Problem.

“Toronto’s housing problem is a geographical one. The slums of to-day were twenty-five years ago the aristocratic district of Toronto. This class now lives on the outskirts.

“The housing problem in any city is the same, and can be divided into three parts,” continued Mr. Armstrong. “The slums – a municipal sore and a wound that no municipality can ever hope to cure. Nor can a housing company. But the municipality can prevent the slums.

The second part is the foreign element. These people should be made to conform to the civilized mode of living in our city. Conditions in the foreign slums in Toronto are intolerable. These people should be compelled to live decently.

“The third part are the great body of wage earners. About half of the citizens of Toronto live in houses that they own. Eighty per cent of the wage earners renting a house, live in only part of a house. Can an average laboring man afford to pay $25 a month rental for a home? He can’t rent a decent abode for less. To this end he must need rent part of [the] house to another family or other people, and this is detrimental to the upbringing of his family. The problem in a word is to house the average wage earner and not to re-house the slums.”

Mr. Armstrong, in reply to a question put by Mr. James T. Upton, in that land ought to be bought on the outskirts of the city for housing blocks, replied that land had been acquired in the north-western and north-eastern sections of the city and that as soon as transportation facilities were installed the blocks would be built.

Toronto Star, January 13, 1914

After the War to End All Wars


Passchendaele, Now a Sea of Mud, November, 1917, Library and Archives Canada.


The soldiers started returning from France and Belgium.


Toronto Star, April 7, 1919

First came the wounded, blind, limbless, shell-shocked, gassed. Then came the others, troopship after troopship to Halifax. There the men boarded special trains for Toronto. Crowds met them both at Union Station and at the North Toronto Station (now an LLBO).


The 48th Highlanders detraining at the C.N.E. after World War One.

The Great War to End All Wars didn’t. The men who came home were angry, disillusioned and, most of all, disrespectful. These unemployed heroes no longer “knew their place”.


Mary Riter Hamilton, Trenches on the Somme, 1919

Finding Places for the Returning Heroes


Diverse organizations, including groups lead by women, came up with plans to provide housing.


Since the enlistment rate from the Coxwell-Gerrard neighbourhood was the highest enlistment in a Canadian city, casualties were high too. About every third house lost a man killed in action, died of wounds, or a victim of the diseases spread by trench life. The First World War devastated communities, robbing them of husbands, sons, brothers, friends and neighbors.

The other places with higher enlistment rates were First Nations and Metis communities. . Perhaps life on Reservations would have been very different if a generation of indigenous men had not been wasted. In some “Rezs” over half those who went never came back.

Boy soldiers were now men with wives and sometimes children. Young men in their twenties found that they could not get their first “civie” job. Men in their 30s and 40s expected to step back into their jobs in factory or mill. In many cases, it didn’t happen. to their shock they were unemployed…again.

They expected gratitude, at the very least, and they got that, but gratitude wouldn’t pay the bills.


At home frustration boiled over into violence in the early days of August, 1918.  The returning veterans hated “slackers”, and especially foreigners who had not endured the horrors of the trenches. These “foreigners” stayed in Canada and seemingly got rich while others died. It was a racist time and the war did not improve this aspect of Toronto.


Toronto World, August 5, 1918

toronto-star-august-7-1918-greek-rest-riot-actIn August, 1918, what came to be known as the “Greek Restaurant Riot” or the “1918 Anti-Greek Riots” saw thousands of veterans pouring onto Yonge Street and other city streets to loot and burn Greek-owned businesses. They fought pitched battles with the police on Toronto’s streets.


Globe, Aug. 6, 1918

The East End was not immune. Rioters assaulted a policeman who tried to stop the sacking and burning of a Greek restaurant at Broadview and Gerrard.

This xenophobic outpouring of resentment against foreigners who had not fought in the War reflected not only the racism widespread in Canada at the time but the thwarted sense of entitlement of war veterans.

For more information on the riots see:  Thomas W. Gallant, Michael Vitopoulos, George Treheles, The 1918 Anti-Greek Riot in Toronto, Toronto: Thessalonikeans Society of Metro Toronto, 2005

or see

When they went overseas in 1914, Empires and the hierarchies that ruled them seemed as eternal as the mud they had fought in at Ypres, the Somme, and Vimy. But in 1917 the Russian Revolution overthrew the Romanov dynasty. Bolsheviks massacred the British King’s cousin, Czar Nicholas and his family in a dark, secret cellar.

Nothing would ever be the same again. If Empires could fall and Kings be murdered by firing squads, no government was safe from civil unrest.

19190225-ts-east-end-impatientThe “cheek” of the returned soldiers appalled those who were accustomed to deference. Prime Ministers worried. Members of Parliament lost sleep. Those in the “Pink Palace” (Queen’s Park ) shook their heads as the soldiers returned to Shacktown. The Mayor, the City Council, Board of Control and City staff felt the heat of the men’s rage.

Highly unionized the Coxwell-Gerrard neighborhood became a nursery for radicals. Over the next five years strike after strike paralyzed the city. Transit workers, police, teachers, postal workers and more hit the picket lines and the street.


Globe, Dec. 18, 1918


In the civic elections in the winter of 1918, a housing shortage for working men and returning veterans was on everyone’s minds.

19240620-ts-postal-strikeMany suggested that the City build homes for working men in the suburbs, including the East End. Debates at Riverdale Collegiate between the various candidates focused on this issue. Globe, December 31, 1918

In February 1919 the City ‘s Board of Control recommended that the City appoint some prominent businessmen to lead its new Toronto Housing Commission.

H. H. Williams was a real estate agent closely connected to The Timothy Eaton Company. He had arranged the purchase of the property for their College Street store. It is now College Park.

Williams did not think much of tenants, preferring to sell houses, not rent them.




Toronto Housing Commission Appointed – Advisory Body Later.

Toronto’s new permanent Housing Commission consists of Sir John C. Eaton, Mr. H. H.


John Craig Eaton ca. 1911, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 363

Williams, Sir J. W. Woods, Mr. Frank A. Rolph, and Mr. J. Allen Ross.

The five names were submitted to the Board of Control to-day by the interim Housing Commission which consisted of civic officials, and the Board adopted the suggestion.

This honorary commission will organize and appoint an advisory committee representing the following interests: banking, loan, trust and insurance, manufacturing, mercantile, labor, returned soldiers, building and real estate, city and provincial government, each of which will be entitled to two representatives.

The procedure which will be followed may be indicated by the following recommendations from the officials’ report made some weeks ago:

That a company be formed with share capital to erect and sell moderate-sized dwellings.

That the city guarantee its bonds to the extent of 5 per cent of the value of land and houses, as already done in the case of the Toronto Housing Company.

That dividends to the subscribers be limited to 6 per cent.

That the Provincial and Dominion Governments, either jointly or separately, undertake to provide the funds by buying the bonds guaranteed by the city on a basis of 5 per cent interest.

That all vacant lands held by the city be available for such a company on more reasonable terms than would ordinarily apply.

globe-may-29-1919-frank-a-rolph-rolph-and-stoneMay Itself Be Company.

The foregoing recommendations were those made before the personnel of the new commission was announced, but there is no reason to believe that any different procedure will be followed.

It is conjectured that the commission may itself form a company without waiting for others and in that case the construction of hundreds of new houses would go on forthwith.

The officials’ report suggested a capitalization of $1,000,000, of which $250,000 would be paid up by the stockholders, and the other $750,000 guaranteed by the city and provided by the Government at 5 per cent. This is not exactly the Ontario Government’s plan, but the money could undoubtedly be obtained in this way by special legislation.

The report suggests that houses could be sold to citizens on an initial payment of ten per cent of the price, and paid for in instalments covering five to twenty years.

For a house selling for $3,000, the instalment would be $19.22 per month, for twenty years, assuming that the interest charged is 6 per cent. The initial payment would be $300.

The buyer would thus be getting a house for what it would cost to rent.

Will Be a Success.

The five members of the Permanent omission have consented to act, and the fact that Sir John

Eaton is identifying himself with the enterprise, guarantees that things will be done in a big way.

One of the most pressing reasons for the construction of new dwellings in the city is the need of accommodation for returned soldiers, and Sir John has taken the keenest interest in these men since the war began, his disbursements of his private funds on behalf of enlisted employes having run into seven figures. But even apart from this, Sir John is a public-spirited student of civic affairs, and the housing proposition is of an importance which appeals to his desire to serve his fellow men.

 Mr. H. H. Williams, the well-known real estate expert, has been very active during the war as an organizer of patriotic effort. The energy and business efficiency which he has displayed in this public capacity will be brought to bear upon the Housing Commission’s affairs. He is a Torontonian born and bred, has an intimate personal knowledge of the city and its needs. It is interesting to recall, in the present connection, that he began his career as a lumber merchant and builder.


Sir James Wood

Has Served the Empire.

Sir James W. Woods, president of Gordon MacKay & Co., ex-president of Toronto Board of Trade, and founder of the War Production Club in Toronto, has served the Imperial Government in New York as one of Canada’s “dollar-a-year” men in the purchase of war supplies, co-operating with the Morgan interests.

Mr. Frank A. Rolph, head of Rolph, Clark, Stone, Ltd., succeeded Lloyd Harris as chairman of the Canadian War Mission at Washington, having previously, at the cost of sacrificing his business interests, accepted the position of vice-chairman.

Mr. J. Allan Ross is vice-president of Wm. Wrigley, Jr., Co., Ltd., and has had an interesting career. Known as the holder of the American intercollegiate championship in 1906, he jumped into the night managership of the Bell Telephone Co. in Chicago in 1907, became associated with the Wrigley Company in 1909, and founded their Canadian business the following year.

Toronto Star, February 18, 1919

The Toronto Housing Commission would need strong leadership. Conflict and attacks from all sides would bedevil the organization from day one.

In February, 1919, as the post-war housing shortage worsened, representatives of the Great War Veterans Association (G.W.V.A.) wanted the Toronto Housing Commission to build houses in the suburbs where taxes were more affordable.

The G.W.V.A. was a forerunner of the Canadian Legion, but far more obviously politically active. For example, the G.W.V.A. endorsed some running for election, preferring “soldier candidates” with a known track record for leadership such as officers and non-commissioned officers sympathetic to the plight of other veterans.

They called each other “comrade” and some talked revolution.

Wants Suburban Houses Most.

Comrade Morani, of West Toronto G.W.V.A., advocates that the new Toronto Housing Commission build suburban dwellings. He believes that houses of 25-foot frontage in the centre of the city, would be too heavy a burden to the owner on account of the present system of assessment.

Toronto Star, February 21, 1919



Those owned by City Insufficient to Solve Housing Problem


All Members of Commission but Sir John Eaton Make First Survey

In company with Assessment Commissioner Forman and W. Swine, their newly-appointed manager, the members of the Toronto Housing Commission spent yesterday afternoon [May 14, 1919] in an inspection of the lands owned by the city which might be suitable for the purposes of the new project.

Although several thousand feet of such properties were included in the trip, the conclusion was arrived at that the amount of city property available will not be sufficient for the needs of the commission, and they will have to investigate the resources of the privately-owned lands of the city with a view to supplying this deficiency.

Sir John Eaton, who is out of town, was the only member of the commission not present.

The area covered during the afternoon extended from Morton road and Gerrard street east [and] as far west as Jane street, and in all some thirty blocks of land were visited.

It was considered desirable to apply the activities of the commission so far as possible to large blocks of land suitable for the erection of units from ten to twenty houses each.

Several such blocks were discovered.

To Meet Board of Control.

The commission has arranged a meeting with the Board of Control to-day, when the question of the acquisition of city lands will be discussed at length.

The erection of houses in such units would, it was felt, materially lower the cost of construction and accelerate building operations. The greater part of the land under consideration will cost less than forty dollars per foot, as a high price would tend to places the houses beyond the reach of the purchaser of limited means.

By making large purchases of both land and material it is anticipated that substantially-built houses can be sold by the commission at prices ranging from $3,000 upwards. The terms suggested include a first payment of ten per cent, the balance to be paid in monthly installments of principal and interest, extending over a long period of years.

These houses will be of sound construction, and the unit system will not of necessity involve that they be all of one type. Their frontage will probably be in the neighborhood of twenty-five feet.

Properties Inspected.

Swaine, who accepted the managership of the Housing scheme, went yesterday to New York, where he has been associated during the war with Sir James Woods of the War Mission. On his return the commission will open the temporary offices which it has acquired on the ground floor of the Temple Building. The permanent quarters of the commission will be on the ninth floor of that building.

The chief properties inspected yesterday were on Danforth avenue, Carlaw avenue, Dundas street east, Munro street, Cavell avenue, Leslie street, Jones avenue, Rhodes avenue, Coxwell avenue, Morton road, Shaw street, Roxton road, Montrose avenue, Edna street, Keel street and Jane street.

Globe, May 15, 1919


Notice of Registration of By-law

Notice is hereby given that a By-law was passed by the Council of the Corporation of the City of Toronto on the 9th day of May, 1919, to appoint “The Toronto Housing Commission,” and to authorize the borrowing of money for the purposes thereof, and that such By-law was registered in the Registry Office of the Registry Division of East Toronto on the 13th day of May, 1919.

Any motion to quash or set aside the same, or any part of thereof, must be made within three months after the first publication of this notice and cannot be made thereafter.

Dated the 14th day of May, 1919.


City Clerk. Toronto Star, May 21. 1919

At 11:00 am on May 15, 1919, workers left their jobs and marched into the streets of Winnipeg, leading to one of the biggest labour actions Canada has ever seen. Strikers included both the private and public sectors, and ranged from garment workers to police officers.

The Housing Commission moved quickly.




Toronto Star, June 26, 1919

Housing Commission Plans Coxwell

Those for Six-Roomed Houses Filed at City Hall

The Housing Commission’s plans for seven pairs of semi-detached houses on Coxwell avenue (price unstated) have been filed at the City Hall.

The houses are to have brick basements, stucco on the first floor, and clapboard on the second. They will have spruce floors, heavy table oilcloth on the kitchen and bathroom, dadoes, combination sink and tub, and a kitchen dresser supplied.

Each semi-detached house is 19 feet wide, and the dimensions are as follows:

First floor – Porch, 6 x 6t.; dining room, 8 ft. 3 in. x 11 ft.; living room, 14 ft. 3 in. x 9 ft. 6 in.; hall 4 ft. 6 in. x 10 ft.; kitchen, 10 ft. 9 in x 11 ft.

Second floor—Bedroom, 9 x 13 ft., bedroom, 11 ft. 3 in x 7 ft. 6 in.; bedroom, 7 ft. x9 ft. 3 in. Toronto Star, May 31, 1919



Semi-Detached Houses Built Back to Back Require Change in By-laws

Have you heard the very latest in house-designs? They are known as “quadruplex” houses, and, as their name implies, they are really four houses in one.

Everyone is familiar with the ordinary, semi-detached house.

Take two semi-detached dwellings and place them back to back, and you have the proposed “quadruplex” houses. For there are none of the houses yet erected in Toronto, but, if those behind the scheme are successful, there will be before long. In fact, it is proposed to put up 100 as quickly as possible.

There is a unique feature of the quadruplex houses. They will, of course, have no rear yards, all the lawn being at the front and side.

In order to give the kiddies plenty of room in which to play, it is proposed to erect two rows, leaving street between them open for pedestrian traffic only, thus making it safe for the little one to play to their hearts’ content.

Deliveries will be made from the two streets facing the outside rows of houses, there being plenty of room left between pairs.

It is claimed that by building in this way a considerable saving will be made in cost of construction, so that one of the houses may be purchased for $2,500. Each will have a lot of 25 foot frontage, and contain four rooms, a bath-room and a large reception-hall.

The only difficulty the promoters are “up against” is the fact that the city by-laws require so many feet of land at the rear of every dwelling. It is understood that an attempt is to be made to induce the authorities to make an exception in the case of quadruplex houses, as there will be all the required space, only not in the exact place the by-law says it must be situated.

Toronto Star, June 16, 1919

On June 21, 1919, the Royal North-West Mounted Police and hired union busters rode on horseback and fired into a crowd of thousands of workers, killing two and injuring countless others.

Not everyone liked their new Toronto Housing Commission homes.


Globe, November, 27, 1919

One solution to the housing problem was the building of small apartment buildings with four units, called a “Quadraplex”. So-called Quadraplexes were objectionable to many.

Sam McBride, Controller and later Mayor,

You’re forcing people for the want of homes to go into houses that are a disgrace to Toronto.

The City voted to allow the construction of these buildings. Toronto Star, December 5, 1919



Map from the City of Toronto Interactive map Aerial 2015 with added highlights by Joanne Doucette.
















The map above shows the subdivision that is discussed in the article to the right.

This pioneering subsidized housing project was in the Coxwell-Gerrard area. It covered the whole block of land between Coxwell and Hillingdon Avenue –from the Toronto Transit Commission’s property on Danforth Avenue to and including both sides of Hanson Street.

The City of Toronto changed the name of part of Stacey  to Woodville.

At some point it became no longer a Toronto Housing Commission project. Instead the City of Toronto took it over.

And trouble began.

Not In My Back Yard

In 1920 some people in the neighbourhood objected to the City of Toronto building subsidized housing. They formed the The Toronto Housing Commissioner Ratepayers’ Association Coxwell to fight the construction of this project..

These were the people who purchased at a subsidized cost their own housing — from the Toronto Housing Commission. The Toronto Housing Commission Ratepayers’ Association didn’t want City housing nearby. They feared lower quality housing or renters nearby.

They registered their objection to a cheaper grade of houses being built in rows on every street adjacent to the better houses of the Housing Commission.

They objected to the houses being rented, as tenants of the city in large numbers would lower the morale of the district.


From Goad’s Atlas, 1924. The Toronto Housing Commission built the neat row of duplexes on the west side of Coxwell Avenue. They sit between the railway tracks on the north and Fairford Avenue on the south. The east side is occupied by the T. Eaton Co. Ltd. delivery depot.

Later others would blame the area’s decline not on larger economic changes, but on renters.

In 1957, a 30-year resident of the neighbourhood stated that he had:

…seen during the course of that time a considerable deterioration, partly due to age but mainly from tenants with no pride in the appearance of the property they rent and with little regard for the property of owners who try to hold back the inevitable creation of a slum area.

Toronto Star, June 20, 1957

The families in the Toronto Housing Commission houses were mostly those of returning war veterans who had a strong sense of entitlement. City Architect G. F. W. Price tried to be reassuring:

My proposition is to erect the houses in pairs, not in rows, and I want to say that they will be just as well built and will look just as well as the Housing Commission houses. They will not be as wide of course, but otherwise their appearance will be just as good.

Toronto Star, May 4, 1920


Goad’s Atlas, 1923 Showing Woodrow (Stacey), Haig, Currie and Hanson, west of Willingdon. The City of Toronto built the neat rows of duplexes as subsidized housing. Few residents would know that today.


City Architect says they Will Look Just as Well as Housing Commission Dwellings.

Those people now living in the homes built by the Housing commission in the vicinity of Coxwell avenue have formed an association to protest against the City of Toronto constructing an inferior type of house adjacent to their homes.

Their homes are on four streets running east from Coxwell avenue, immediately south of the civic property, namely Stacey, Haig, Currie and Hanson.


Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, First Earl Haig. Also known as “Butcher Haig” and “the Butcher of the Somme”. Photo Evelyn Wood in Winnowed Memories, London: Cassell and Company, 1917, 126.

The Toronto Housing Commissioner Ratepayers’ Association, Coxwell avenue district, was organized last night to protest against this proposal of the city.

They registered their objection to a cheaper grade of houses being built in rows on every street adjacent to the better houses of the Housing Commission.

globe-october-31-1922-g-f-w-city-architectThey objected to the houses being rented, as tenants of the city in large numbers would lower the morale of the district.

They point out that ninety per cent of the occupants or prospective occupants of the houses were returning men who have invested most of their savings and gratuity in their homes.

Kerkhoff, 2 Currie avenue, was elected president of the association, and Mr. Duncan, 16 Currie avenue, its secretary-treasurer.

“Our plans are not such as to make a Shacktown or a tenement block of these houses,” said City Architect G. F. W. Price, when The Star asked him about the protest from the Coxwell avenue district.


“My proposition is to erect the houses in pairs, not in rows, and I want to say that they will be just as well built and will look just as well as the Housing Commission houses. They will not be as wide of course, but otherwise their appearance will be just as good.

Toronto World Jan 2 1918 Mayor T L Church

Toronto Mayor Thomas “Tommy” Church, Toronto World, Jan. 2, 1918

Mr. Price pointed out that the pictures published last night, comparing the Housing Commission houses with the ones planned for erection by the city, were so made that the latter were shown off to a disadvantage.

“I think we will be able to beat the price we gave,” added the City Architect, “when we come to build these houses in quantities.”

Mr. Price is opposed to the row idea, and he does not believe that the Fire Chief will stand for the elimination of the middle brick wall.

As for the objection that the city’s houses might be rented, and thereby fall into careless hands, to the detriment of the whole neighborhood, Mr. Price said that he doubted whether the city could or would rent them. Why should it when the houses could be bought and carried for just about the same amount as the rental, or even less?

“Mayor Church said that the Coxwell avenue complaints would be taken up by the Board of Control to-morrow. Toronto Star, May 4, 1920


Globe, October 18, 1923

Toronto’s Housing Needs

Philadelphia requires 30,000 homes; Detroit, 30,000: Washington, 10,000; Toronto, at least that number.

All up and down the continent the same story is being told—the story of house scarcity, abnormal rents, overcrowding, and the consequent non-demolition of buildings which ought to be torn down as unfit for human habitation.

The menace to health, happiness, and morality no one can estimate.

In New York, apartments are at such a premium that space is being saved by building single beds into the walls, one above another, like steamer berths.

The ancient jest about sleeping in bathtubs has become a reality. It is stated that “children by the hundred are sleeping in bathtubs in which crib mattresses have been placed.”

In Chicago several hundred residents are living in houseboats.

Toronto’s problem may not be as acute as that of some of the larger American cities, but here it is complicated by the severity of the winter and the consequent necessity of substantial buildings.

And while the city is fortunately free from the tenement evil, it has street upon street of houses—and not in the slum districts alone—where every house, or every second house, is occupied by more than one family, though built to accommodate only one.

The resulting promiscuity of life, the disappearance of family privacy, is often times an invitation to immorality as well as to disease.

The Health Department is unable to destroy unsanitary buildings because the families thus thrown upon the street would have nowhere else to go.

The overcrowding of homes must be judged in the light of the statement that “where the average number of persons per room is two, the death rate is more than twice what it is where the average number of persons is less than one.”

But what is the remedy for overcrowding?

The construction of more and still more homes is the only solution. Towards the encouragement of such construction it is the duty of the civic authorities to bend their energies.

Any measure which will lighten the tax burden upon residential properties will encourage building operations.

Any measure which will afford cheaper land will have the same effect. The transfer of a portion of the taxes now levied upon improved property to the vacant land which is held by speculators will result not only in a lighter tax upon homes, but will discourage the holding of land out of use and will force it upon the market at prices which builders can afford to pay. But this is not enough.

The far-out lands must be brought into competition with the close-in areas. This is a problem for the Transportation Commission and the Hydro radials to solve.

In the meantime the city itself must continue to take a hand in the building game. It will not thereby discourage private builders, for there is a market for all the houses which these can erect.

Toronto should also take advantage of the offer of the Housing Company to enter upon a new program of apartment building. There should be no hesitation about furnishing capital for an established company with a dividend limited by statute and a record of successful construction and normal rents.

Toronto Star, November 20, 1920

Neat duplexes, mostly owner occupied. line these streets to this day. One model, repeated over and over, distinctly resembles the Toronto Housing Commission houses on Coxwell.

There is a lesson in this for those who would restrict municipal housing schemes to the construction of what might be called “creditable” houses – homes which visitors to the city could be shown with pride.

Undoubtedly such dwellings serve a useful purpose, and those erected by Toronto’s Housing Commission will long be a monument to the public spirit of its members.

But here are artisans who would gladly put their own labor into the building of much less pretentious structures, if they could get cheap land, cheap material, and cheap credit from the city.

Every house so built, no matter how humble, would relieve the pressure upon the downtown slum-districts which breed mental defectives, and would lift some family into the home-owning class in a healthy outlying district, where the “steady progression” which has taken place in other Shacktowns would be repeated.

Toronto Star, April 9, 1920

Despite the best efforts of the Toronto Housing Commission the housing shortage continued into the early 1920s. The economy was in a brief depression following the War.

In those days almost all rental leases expired May 1. This created a spike in demand for rental accommodation every spring. The Toronto Star suggested that, in order to deal with the crisis “Toronto may even have to relax its building restrictions for a time in order that humble homes may be constructed to meet the pressing need.”

The Editor remarked that “…the emergency is such that even Shacktowns upon the outskirts would be justified.”

The reasoning was that experience showed that the tarpaper shacks would be replaced with better, brick houses as this had happened in places like the Midway Shacktown (Gerrard Coxwell). Toronto Star, April 30, 1920



By 1923, there was a building boom across Toronto as prosperity had returning following the brief depression of 1919. The area filled in with rows of brick bungalows, detached, duplexes and triplexes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Winter Weather Has Left very Little Frost in Ground

An amazing number of houses and stores are now under construction in the four corners of Toronto within the city limits. The depth of frost varies in the numerous localities, running from six to eighteen inches deep, but builders claim little frost has entered the ground since December, and the heavy blanket of snow has acted as protection or the earth.

The Danforth district has witnessed a continued activity in home building during the stormy months, and a large number of houses are now in the process of construction in the Danforth and Woodbine, north of Danforth avenue, where houses valued from $4,000 to $7,000 are rapidly filling up the subdivisions, Danforth Gardens, Monarch Park, the Gledhill and Parkview avenue districts adding a large share to present-day new homes now building are filling Patricia Park, Jones avenue, Woodbine, Leslie and Pape avenues.

Building Is General.

The building impulse is also evident south of Danforth and Gerrard street east from Main street to Coxwell avenue, including the new subdivision, Kelvin Park Beach, which is astir with scores of houses rising above the snow-cloaked fields. Variety in architecture and price underlie the building movement of this district, and homes range in value from $5,000 to $9,000. The ring of the hammers of the builders in the Gerrard street east district echoes over the hills south to Kingston road, where from the city limits at Victoria Park avenue to Queen street, with its lake frontage streets, are building up with blocks of homes valued from $4,500 to $8,000. During the last few days cellars have been excavated in the new Bingham avenue subdivision and Glenmount Park.

Globe, February 27, 1923

Shacktown was no more.


Bee hive.jpgThe Bees in Our Neighborhood

There are bees that buzz and make honey and sometimes, when frightened, sting.

There are bees that buzz and make houses and never sting — or charge money. In a building bee neighbors got together and built a house for free.

The homeowner already would have dug the basement. A skilled worker would have laid the concrete floor and foundation long enough in advance to allow the cement to cure.

19080502-shacks2-with-caption-2The family would have ordered any supplies needed or scavenged for them. Maybe they’d pop over to Hamilton’s Hardware store on Gerrard for some nails or putty for the window.


Then and Now: Ashdale and Fairford. Demolition by neglect: the bungalow in the foreground is on its last legs. Photo on right courtesy of Karen Hamilton.

The woman of the household and her friends would have baked and cooked their very best pies and cakes and wholesome hearty food.



Then the buzz began as neighbors streamed down Coxwell, Rhodes, Craven, Ashdale, Hiawatha, Woodfield or Hiawatha, laughing and chatting as they came. Men, women and children went to work.

19080502-gl-shacks-4-with-captionPeople with little money still live here. They rely on family, friends, church, food banks and hope to get through.

When they could afford it they built a bungalow, using their own hands and the help of the community. Often they used a kit and assembled it, following instructions. it was like putting a jigsaw together. Sometimes they just bought a plan. Many of the men in the Coxwell-Gerrard area were skilled tradesmen: carpenters, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, roofers, etc.

globe-april-30-1925-building-bungalows-danforth-districtMinimum wage jobs, casual day labor, pensions disability ground people down.  The grinding still goes on, quietly in the background, but relentless.

We live in an increasingly affluent area, no longer affordable to the families of those who built it. Scattered through it are the renovated shacks, now neat bungalows. And Coxwell Avenue reminds us of a time when subsidized housing was respectable, desirable and quite feasible.




Shacktown: Pump in the White Man


 The Canadian Courier, Vol. V, No. 1, December 5, 1908

The Canadian Courier, Vol. V, No. 1, December 5, 1908


The Englishman in Canada has most of his troubles when he arrives.

Historical/miscellaneous slides.. - [1970?]

Shacktown began at a time of great expectations. There was an economic depression in Britain, following on an earlier depression in the 1890s. Unemployment soared and the big industrialized cities of Britain had high levels of poverty. The future looked bleak for many working class people in places like Belfast, Glasgow, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and other manufacturing centres. Governments and private charities sponsored immigration so that Britons could move to Canada where there was hope for a better future. The cost of a boat trip to Canada enabled many to escape poverty at home by going “to the Colonies”. A flood of immigrants to Canada from the big cities of Britain poured into Canada, and especially into Toronto, creating a housing boom and providing labour for the growing manufacturing sector here.


Wanted Settlers with British Ideals, John Wilson Bengough, Cartoon, March 19, 1908


Pump in the White Man


Scottish immigrants, The Canadian Courier, Vol. XI, No. 14 March 2, 1912

These immigrants usually came as families, as immigrants still do today. Often a father, son or brother came first and a year or two later the rest of the family. Thus extended families of several generations landed at the docks or Union Station. When asked, “Why did you come to Canada?” They often replied, “To better myself”.


All they had was the clothes they wore and what they could carry. They wanted and found better jobs, better homes and better education for themselves and their children. For most it was a life of hard work in the factories and plants in Toronto. While their homes were just outside the city limits, they lived as close to the city line as possible and walked to work.


“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby”

The first few summers in Shacktown were wonderful. The winters were very mild and everyone had lots of coal for the stove. For many these were the happiest days of their lives.


There is more fun in Shacktown that in your big city. You don’t know what delightful things are happening right near you.

I know a couple and they hadn’t a red cent.

Ant they got married!

They started in at Shacktown. Their first shelter was a few boards leaned up against a fence, and they snuggled under. Talk about your honeymoons! The millions left from the famous dead financier could not have added to their joy.

They have got a cottage now, and they own it, but no gold could take away from her the memory of her honeymoon in Shacktown.

They cooked amazing dinners outdoors. They sat under the moon for amazing nights. Sometimes they didn’t know where their breakfasts were coming from, but nevertheless they slept well. Twined in one another’s arms, they slept well and long. The morning brought them a new day, and the year a new house. She has a bedroom in blue – sky blue – and white, with colonial furniture; but she often longs for nights – old nights – cuddled in blankets under a shed. 

Toronto Star, April 12, 1913

For most this was the first time they’d been able to buy their own homes, however humble they might have been.  Most men had relatively good jobs in a growing economy. For most they could really believe that they had a chance to get ahead.  If all their dreams could not be lived in their life time, they expected that the lives of their children would continue to improve through education and hard work – the proverbial “elbow grease”. This was a time when the belief in progress permeated all levels of society. They expected good schools and libraries so that they and their children “could get ahead”.

Between 1902 and 1914, of the approximately 2.85 million newcomers who arrived on Canadian soil, 1.18 million had English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh or other British roots.

Most of these families were incredibly frugal by today’s standards, saving so that they could own their own homes and forever be safe from the fear of eviction. Eviction and homelessness were only one pay envelope away for poor families. Owning your own home was the golden grail for the first generation of immigrants to Toronto. Shacktown suburbs made that dream a possibility.  Everyone hoped to replace their shack with something better someday soon.



Shacks were not all the same. Skilled tradesmen built some. People were proud of these “carpenter-built” tar paper boxes. Others were just patched together and the wind whistled through.


Self-help built Shacktown


The first few summers in Shacktown were wonderful. The winters were very mild and everyone had lots of coal for the stove. For many these were the happiest days of their lives.



Mrs Eric Owen (Elsie MacLean) and daughter, Sheila Owen, looking north from 49 Alcinca Avenue, Picture, 1911, attributed to Eric Trevor Owen, Toronto Public Library



Chester Presbyterian Church, Broadview Ave (west side, just north of Danforth Ave.). Rev. Alan L. McFadyen was the convenor or co-ordinator for the Shacktown Relief Fund for East York. He worked tirelessly with volunteers to feed, warm, clothe and comfort everyone regardless of their faith or lack of faith.


A Housing Famine: when even these couples couldn’t find “suitable” housing, what hope for the poor immigrant?


Homeless woman, Toronto, in Emerson G. Hough, “The Sowing,” The Canadian Courier, Vol. IV, No. 20 (October 17th, 1908


Homeless in Toronto, in Emerson G. Hough, “The Sowing,” The Canadian Courier, Vol. IV, No. 20 (October 17th, 1908)


The Globe sets up the Shacktown Relief Fund to provide food, clothes, fuel, medical care and even jobs until the crisis is over.


Stuart Lyon, editor, The Globe, who put the resources of the newspaper behind the Shacktown Relief Fund


Britton B Cooke, the investigative reporter who went door to door to uncover the starvation in Shacktown. Photo: The Canadian Courier Vol. VII, No. 9. Jan. 19, 1910






Britton B. Cooke Had Wide Experience in Field of Literature


Britton Bertrand Cooke died on July 11, 1923 of tuberculosis in the Parfait Sanatorium, Gravenhurst, Muskoka. He born in 1890 in St. Lambert, Quebec originally and was only 33 when he died after several years of suffering from TB. After leaving school he worked as a reporter for The Globe.

He showed promise at once, having a style of unusual vividness and color and his work was early distinguished. Those who observed Mr. Cooke’s writing at that time will still remember the campaign he carried on about the year 1908 for the welfare of the residents of “Shacktown,” as Earlscourt was then called. During a particularly severe winter the plucky new residents from the British Isles who had built modest homes for themselves on the fringe of the city endured much hardship, and Mr. Cooke by his vivid articles in The Globe aroused much sympathy, and a substantial fund for their assistance resulted.
Globe, July 12, 1923

Cooke later went to work for The Toronto Star, wrote for Collier’s Weekly and became Editor of the Canadian edition of Collier’s. Then he worked for Maclean’s Magazine for a while. Towards the end of his life he worked as a publicist for a number of big corporations, including Bell Telephone and Dominion Textiles. He left his wife, Jean Dewar, and three small children.


bracondaleBracondale Shacktown. City of Toronto Archives. Bathurst St., looking east to Davenport Road; before Bathurst St. made to run straight up hill Picture, 1910, Toronto Public Library A father in Shacktown: Now is no time to stand on ceremony when you have seven little kids who are going to be hungry soon. Toronto Star, Jan 31, 1908


And still there was money to be made in Shacktown.



Toronto World Cartoon: After 1912, Dr. Charles Hastings, Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, began evicting hundreds each year. Why? They didn’t have “the modern conveniences” — a toilet, a sink, a bathtub, and a connection to the sanitary sewer system. Shacktown was full of “typhoid traps”.



“M.H.O. Hastings: I had no idea you needed cleaning up so badly.” Newton McConnell cartoonist, regarding Charles Hastings, [between 1910 and 1914], Archives of Ontario

Bloor Street west near the Humber. - 1907

Shacktown road

star-photographer-jeff-goode-lake-simcoe-ice-hut-1983-toronto-star-licenseThe closest most of us get to a shack today. Star photographer Jeff Goode .Lake Simcoe ice hut, 1983, Toronto Star License From the Toronto Star Archives Toronto Public Library



New house Danforth Ave ca 1921 William James Fonds



Coxwell Avenue



Toronto Star, March 22, 1918 267 Coxwell Avenue


Child scavenging for coal, Feb. 17, 1917, Library and Archives Canada.


Shacktown Church. City of Toronto Archives, 1907. English St. Michael’s and All Angels, Anglican Church This church was opened in 1907 on St. Clair Ave. W., s. side, e. of Vaughan Rd. It was altered in 1908, and in 1909 was moved along St. Clair Ave. to a new site, St. Clair Ave. W., s. side, e. of Wychwood Ave. Winter of 1907-1908

Wychwood Street through orchard. - [ca. 1907]

Williams butcher and grocery store, Deer Park. - 1908

Williams butcher and grocery store, Deer Park Shacktown, 1908

Wooden houses, Wychwood. - [ca. 1907]

Wychwood, Shacktown [ca. 1907] Frame houses are beginning to replace some of the shacks.


The Canadian Courier, Vol. X, No. 18, September 30, 1911 Children collecting scrap metal


The Canadian Courier, Vol. X, No. 18, September 30, 1911


The Canadian Courier, Vol. X, No. 18, September 30, 1911


St. Monica’s Anglican Church, 1907, Toronto Public Library Rev. Robert Gay, Toronto Public Library


The closest most of us get to a shack today. Star photographer Jeff Goode .Lake Simcoe ice hut, 1983, Toronto Star License From the Toronto Star Archives Toronto Public Library

Fairbank area, York Township. - [ca. 1911]

Fairbank Shacktown [ca. 1911] View is looking north from Rochdale Avenue. Harvie Avenue is on left. Nairn Avenue is on right. Rowntree Creek runs through centre of photograph. Prospect Cemetery is at upper left.


1915 City of Toronto Annexation Map




1903 Map of the East End. The darker yellow areas are in Toronto. The beige areas are in the Township of York. While there were a few patches of shacktowns within the City of Toronto, the biggest and the worst were just outside the City Boundary — “out of bounds”.


Not for Ourselves but For Others


Who were they? Unknown black family, Archives of Ontario.

Who were Granison and Luella Price and why should 6A Redwood Avenue be considered a heritage building? And what was the Eureka Club that first met there?

Before I answer these questions, I want to say that sadly I do not have pictures of Luella and Granison. I do have a picture of what is likely Luella’s brother William Cooper.

When I first started researching my neighbourhood some twenty years ago or more, I was told that there were no black people in Leslieville. Oral history I found in the local history collection at the Toronto Public Library supported this.

And I think I should say that it was a WASP neighbourhood. As a matter of fact, I think it was Hughie Garner that said we were WASPO – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Orangemen. Olwen Anderson

It was a predominantly English, Irish and Scotch stronghold. Bruce N. Rooney

When I was a boy, very rarely you met anybody who wasn’t born here or Anglo-Saxon or whatever you call them. Harry Wilmot

I did discover a few black families living in Leslieville around the time of the 1851 and 1861 Censuses and my first book, Pigs, Flowers and Bricks: A History of Leslieville to 1920, reflected a  Leslieville that I assumed was basically an Anglo-Celtic village. I self-published it. One representative of a well known Canadian publisher of local history books first told me that my book was “too local” and then that it needed to be all of the history up to the present. When I pressed him he told me that, “You aren’t the kind of person we want to represent us with a book. We prefer someone like Jane Pitfield [author of Leaside].” This left me wondering if I was too poor, too heavy, too indigenous or….?

But I continued to research and found to my astonishment that almost a quarter of the population of Leslieville in 1861 was black. Not only that but they were leaders in the community, owned stores, businesses and their descendents are still here. More African-Americans moved north throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and I have found many records of black families on Morse, Caroline, Greenwood, Ashdale, Woodfield, and other local streets. So how did they become invisible to their neighbours? Was it because people did not want to acknowledge their presence, their humanity? What was behind the erasure of black Canadians from the history we were taught in school? Who gained from this and who lost? When did discrimination start to become unrespectable and human rights become the law of the land?  Are there descendents of the Eureka Club women who could tell us stories, share pictures, validate this wonderful history?


Robert Edward Lee Cooper left Maryland for Hamilton, Ohio where he built a life for himself and his family. Their father William Cooper was a railway engineer in the period directly after the Civil War when the colour bar seemed to slip for a while allowing black men into occupations like this. Soon they would find that they were allowed to be porters but not rise to become conductors.

When Luella Cooper was born on June 30, 1858, in Maryland. Her father, William, was 21, and her mother, Mary, was 20. This was before the Emancipation Declaration which freed slaves on January 1,1864. It appears that her father may have been enslaved although there are records of Coopers as free people of colour in at that time. They were the descendants of white fathers and black mothers as was Luella. By the Civil War almost half of Maryland’s black population were free people of color. Maryland stayed in the Union during the Civil War although many supported slavery. Because it stayed in the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t apply to Maryland. Many people moved from Maryland to Washington, D.C. during the Civil War both because of employment opportunities and to be free. In the fall of 1864 Maryland voted to free its enslaved people.

Luella Cooper was living in Washington, District of Columbia, USA, in 1870 at the time of the US Federal Census. She married Granison Thomas Grandison Price on June 16, 1875, in the District of Columbia, USA. He was a messenger for the US Government. Both were listed as “mulatto”.

Granison Thomas Price was born on March 1, 1857, in Maryland, USA, the son of Eliza, a black woman and Grandison Taylor Price, a farmer of moderate means in Rowlesburg, West Virginia, USA. His father was married to Abigail Ford and had a large family of children with her, as well as more children with Eliza, including William (1855) and Abram (1849). He had a white half-brother also named Granison or Grandison. Many family trees confuse the two men.


A member of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery

West Virginia did not support slavery and withdrew from the Confederacy, separating from the rest of Virginia which strongly supported slavery. It became the 35th state admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863. In West Virginia most slave owners were small landowners like his father. His father, Grandison Taylor Price, enlisted and fought in the West Virginia Infantry for the Union as a lowly private.

A “G. Price” served with the 11th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, enlisting on October 8, 1863. He was a waiter. On October 25, he was appointed a sergeant. (U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 for G Price.)

It seems likely that this was Granison Price. This unit served mostly in Louisiana and Texas. He was probably mustered out of service with his regiment in 1865 at New Orleans.


A G. Price served in this Regiment of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery

Luella and Granison’s (or Grandison’s) only son was born on August 27, 1877, in Washington, District of Columbia, USA and apparently died in infancy as he is not in any other record.

Luella Cooper lived in Washington, District of Columbia, USA, in 1880 with her parents. Some of her family were living in Ohio by this time. Her father is listed as living in Ohio the same year, but that is not at all unlikely as William Cooper was an engineer and black men who worked on the railroad travelled widely. Some of the family lived to Hamilton, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati. His brother, William Price, married Jennie Bronston there in 1925.

When the Civil War was over, black Americans returned to the US though not to the South.  Instead they moved to the large cities of the American north and mid-west:  Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, etc. While some stayed most black people in Leslieville joined the exodus. Others came north to escape Jim Crow laws and the violent racism of the South. However, Leslieville and Toronto too became whiter and whiter as the 19th century drew to a close.

By 18961887 the Prices were living in Toronto where Luella was working as a dressmaker. They lived downtown on York Street. The heart of the business district now was the heart of Toronto’s black community then. They were members of the First Baptist Church when they lived in Toronto. The Prices were devout Baptists and seemed to have been warm and generous people. They must have saved every penny and worked long hours to build up savings to invest in their businesses. He was a barber in 1891 but soon became a porter on the railroad and worked for the CPR. By 1893 Luella had her own restaurant there at 192 York Street. Her foster son Robert Lynch was born in 1881 in the USA. Robert J. Lynch  was a waiter on the railway. By 1896 they were living on Morse Street in the East End as the wealthy landowners of York Street cleared the houses to build offices and factories.


The 1901 Census shows Mary Cooper, probably Luella’s mother, living with them in the Prices in their boarding house.


Grand Trunk Pacific Railway – Chef and porters standing beside the train, 1914, Library and Archives Canada

Toronto was emphatically not a multicultural or tolerant society in 1910. Racism became more open, acceptable and obvious than it had been before the Civil War when thousands followed the North Star to Canada with or without the help of the Underground Railroad.


Canadian Courier, Vol. VIII, No. 17, September 17, 1910 racist ad

Racists ads like this were common and even the Toronto Star mocked black people openly.


Emancipation Day Celebrated by an Excursion from Toronto to Waterloo To-day

 “Come out de patch,” said the good-natured conductor at the Union Station this morning as a black cloud appeared at the eastern horizon of the Union Station. It was the Emancipation day excursion, which this year is being held at Waterloo.  There were colored people from all parts of the city, and they were all happy.

 Big Eliza was on hand and occupied two seats in a first-class car.

 Two excellent bands accompanied the excursionists and lustily played plantation melodies as the train moved out of the Union Station at 8 o’clock.

 To-day the colored people will own Waterloo and Berlin [now Kitchener].

 They will view the sights and eat gingerbread during the day, and to-night there will be the historic cake walk, when negroes’ short and tall, stout and slim, lean and willowy, fat and billowy will do their utmost to outrival all competitors in the grand walk for fame and cake.”

Toronto Star, August 1, 1894

Immigration laws and policy tightened to keep people of colour out. Between 1896 and 1907, one and a half million immigrants came to Canada, but less than a thousand were black.


Canadian Courier, Vol. XI, No. 18, March 3, 1912 Racist stereotyping

Black people were not welcome here. Canada’s Immigration Act of 1910 prohibited “any race deemed unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada”. On the other hand white immigrants from Britain received a financially incentive called the “British Bonus” for coming to Canada. Immigrants from Britain’s large cities like London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow and Belfast, poured into Leslieville from 1890 through to 1930 (with a gap in 1914-1918 when World War I was swallowing a generation).  They populated the new streets like Ashdale, Woodfield Road, Craven Road, Hiawatha Avenue, Prust Avenue, Gerrard Street East, etc. Some of these streets became whiter than snow thanks to the use of restrictive covenants in mortgages that kept the property to “Anglo Saxon Protestants”. But, at the same time, a black man was one of Toronto’s most powerful municipal politicians and black people did live here. I am tracing the history and genealogy of some of those black families.

Granison worked on the railroad as a porter as did their foster son. They ran a boarding house where some of the most prominent people in the black community stayed from time to time.

In 1910 Granison and Luella built a tiny frame house on Redwood Avenue, near Greenwood and Gerrard, in Toronto’s east end and moved there from 105 Morse Street.

That year something extraordinary happened.

Luella Price and a handful of other women met in her home at 6A Redwood Avenue to discuss how to help someone in their community who needed help. They saw one individual in need in their community and put their resources together to meet that need, banding together as the Eureka Club or the Eureka Friendly Club. Their motto was “Not for ourselves, but for others”.

As a Globe article of June 5, 1923 said:

Effective Work Being Done. So it is evident that those of the colored people who have achieved prominence in the affairs of the community are not losing sight of the needs of their less fortunate countrymen.


Poverty was not a black problem, but a human problem:

As for those who need the help of the social worker, their problems are unemployment, illness, desertion – just the same problems that confront the poor of any other race in our city.

The women of the Eureka Club were determined to reach out with assistance, tactfully and privately, on a one-to-one basis. Whatever the need was they quietly met it to the best of their ability.  They never sought publicity and, by and large, they didn’t get it. The Toronto Star of October 16, 1980 was an exception:

The Eureka group has done everything: Assisting with rent, hospital or funeral payments, visiting shut-ins, distributing food and clothing, supplying glasses for children, making cancer pads; awarding scholarships to students entering university, coating a wheelchair to Bloor-View Children’s Hospital, assisting churches in purchasing hymnals…Their work, ever since that first session 70 years ago to help one needy individual, has been largely in the black community, but not confined to it.


The Eureka Club was never larger than eighteen women.

toronto-star-october-16-1980-articleViola Deas was another of those involved in the Eureka Club. Her husband Horatio, like many of the spouses of the Eureka Club, was a railway porter as was Luella’s husband, Granison. This may have been one of the things this handful of women had in common as, in this case, it was not their church. They came from all denominations: Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, etc. Some lived in the East End. Viola Deas was later to live on Caroline Street.


Canadian Courier, Vol. V, No. 23 May 8, 1909

In 1980 at its 70th anniversary, the Eureka Friendly Club was the oldest black women’s organization in Ontario.

The Prices like most in the black community worked hard, saved their money and used it wisely. Most owned their own homes. By 1914 the Prices had earned enough money for Luella to take a vacation. On May 4, 1914 she sailed aboard the Bermudian from Hamilton, Bermuda to New York City. From there she probably took a train to Toronto.

In 1915, at the age of 57, Luella Price had secured a permit for a three-storey brick apartment house to cost $9,500, on the site of  the Price’s home. (Toronto Star, Feb. 6, 1915)


Toronto Star, Feb. 6, 1915

The apartment at 6A Redwood Avenue is still standing.


6A Redwood Avenue, Birthplace of the Eureka Club Photo by Joanne Doucette

Granison Thomas Price passed away on April 10, 1921, in the Hospital for the Incurables, Toronto, Ontario, at the age of 64. He had had a stroke some years earlier and was partially paralyzed. They had been married 45 years.

Luella Cooper continued to live in her apartment building on Redwood Avenue until she died on June 15, 1935, in York, Ontario. She was 76 years old. Her foster son, Robert C. Lynch reported her death. She was buried beside Granison in the St. John of Norway Cemetery, on June 18, 1935. On her death certificate the neat handwriting of Robert J. Lynch has her “racial origin” as “Canadian”, but an official has crossed this out and written in “Coloured”.


Only two years, on May 7, 1937, one of her neighbours only a few blocks away wrote to the Toronto Star:


Toronto Star, May 7, 1937

We are beginning to understand more about how some people literally “don’t count”, disappear from records and become invisible to their neighbours. Professional historians are mostly of European heritage, well-off and have never experienced the denial of housing, the inability to get a decent job, or violence because of their complexion. For most of the twentieth century, racism in Canada was the norm. People truly believed, and some still believe, that other people are racially inferior. They do not want to acknowledge their presence, their humanity and wish somehow time could be rolled back to whiter, brighter days. The history being taught in our schools is increasingly highlighting that of indigenous peoples, black Canadians, and others who are no longer Toronto’s minority, but majority. The Boards of Directors of corporations that are the backbone of the economy are still mostly European in origin and male.  People do gain and others do lose when discrimination permeates a society.   It is no longer good enough to place the burden of fighting racism on those who are the target of this malign heritage. It’s up to us all and we all win when we can truly see each other.

The Leslieville Historical Society has proposed that a plaque be placed near Logan and Queen to recognize the Underground Railroad and the black families of Leslieville. It is to be put in place in 2018. Check this website for updates or the Leslieville Historical Society Facebook page.

For more about the Underground Railroad and Leslieville go to:


For a copy of my new book, Leslieville: Pigs, Flowers and Bricks, 2016, go to


You can read it online or download it free as a PDF. This edition does include the history of black Canadians, but not as a separate chapter. Instead, they are woven through the book. I did this because a chapter is insufficient and smacks of tokenism. Black men and women have been here since Simcoe and the British landed at York, now Toronto in the 1790s. They do not stand outside Toronto’s history but are an integral part of it. However, I wanted to acknowledge that we are all living on the homeland of various First Nations, including the Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabe. I have been researching my own roots and struggling with Metis/metis/bois brules/chicot identity. We live and work and many like me retire on the traditional territory of the Mississauga of the New Credit. All my relations.