If there is an angel or a saint in the story of Riverdale Gardens it is William Prust, the creator of that quiet enclave dissected by Sandford and Bloomfield, and bounded by Gerrard on the south, Ivy on the north, Prust on the west and Greenwood on the east. William Prust was born on October 23, 1846, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. His father, Robert, was 29 and his mother, Frances (Fanny) Curtis, was 30. His father was a decorator and a house painter. Both worked hard and both died relatively young at a time when life expectancy among the working poor was short. There was, however, hope for a better life overseas in the colonies: Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The School of Hard Rocks
In the 1860s, the Canadian Land and Emigration Company of London, England bought 360,000 acres (150,000 ha) on the Canadian Shield north east of Peterborough. The Chair of this company was Judge Thomas Haliburton, well known as the author of “Sam Slick” and a politician. They planned on settling what has now been called “The Land Between” with farmers, working under the illusion that if a country could grow big trees, then it must be good farmland. A well-researched local history “Fragments of a Dream”, by Leopolda x L. Dobrzensky (1985), documents the history of the Canadian Land and Emigration Company lands including the village of Haliburton settled by would-be farmers in 1864.
Founding of Haliburton
The Canadian Land and Emigration Company of London, England, was incorporated in 1861 and purchased for settlement purposes in this region, nine adjoining wilderness townships comprising some 145,700 ha of land. The townplot of Haliburton was surveyed by 1864, a sawmill erected there that year, and a grist-mill built in 1865. Charles R. Stewart was appointed the first resident land agent, and the community was named in honour of Judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton, Chairman of the Company and famous for his stories of “Sam Slick”. Haliburton’s early growth was stimulated by the extensive operations of enterprising lumbermen such as Mossom Boyd, and by the arrival of the Victoria Railway in 1878.
Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario
Albert Henry Wagstaff
The charming devil in this story, Albert Henry Wagstaff was 24 years younger than William Prust and no immigrant and no stranger to the East End. He was born on September 10, 1870, in the family home on Kingston Road (later numbered 1142 Queen Street East). Both his father David Wagstaff and his mother, Matilda Sears, came from similar backgrounds. Their families had been craft brickmakers for generations. Albert Henry Wagstaff went to Leslie Street Public School where he won a prize for the maps he drew. Albert began working as a boy in the brickyards, learning the trade at his father and probably his mother’s side as the whole family, men and women, boys and girls, labored to make bricks by hand.
While he was growing up in a relatively prosperous Leslieville, a suburb of Toronto, the British settlers were struggling to build a community
Early drawing of the Village of Haliburton
in the bush, dealing with extreme weather unfamiliar to them, hordes of black flies in the spring, and an unforgiving terrain where soil, any soil, was scarce. In 1871, according to the Peterborough County Directory, the population of Dysart Township, where Haliburton village was located, was about 500. Guilford Township was, like Dysart, one of the block of nine townships owned by the Canadian Land and Emigration Company In 1871 the population of Guildford Township, where William Prust would move, was only fifteen.
William Prust married Ellen Addams on March 8, 1871, in his hometown, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. Ellen was living at 11 Sandford Terrace at the time of their marriage. She had been working as a servant. He worked as a house carpenter as well as a house painter. William and Ellen had six children in 13 years, two in Cheltenham and the rest in Ontario.
Haliburton and area from the official highway map of Ontario, 1950
In 1873 Robert Prust, Ellen Addams and their two oldest children, Ada Emily (Ady) and Robert, immigrated to Canada. Not long after, the Prust family moved to Haliburton from the south half of Lots 24 and 25, Concession Three, Guildford Township. Like many who settled on the supposedly good farmland of the Canadian Shield, he became, out of luck, choice or necessity, a jack-of-all-trades. He worked initially as a shoemaker, but also as a carpenter and builder. The Prusts bought Lot 1, Block 4 in Haliburton. Here he put up a house like the ones he would later build in Riverside Gardens –blocky, simple, of the best possible materials, including brick, and made to last, with care and attention to detail. He also constructed other homes in and around Haliburton. Four children, Robert William Bateman, Frances Mary, William Ewart, and Ellen Faustina were born in Haliburton, Ontario.
This 1878 map and pictures show the orchard that would become Prust’s pride and joy. James Richardson was a market gardener and apple grower. His land would become Albert Wagstaff’s quarry and later the TTC Subway Yard. Patrick Norton, James Wallace and Walker Morley would later recall the early days on Greenwood Avenue.
In 1881 William Prust was working as municipal assessor and was the Town Hall’s caretaker, while being listed as a shoemaker in the Census. He became the Clerk of the Municipality of Dysart and of the Division Court while continuing his business. William Prust was clerk of the Township of Dysart for 23 years and, at the same time, Clerk of the Division Court of Haliburton County for twenty years.
Haliburton, County Atlas 1887
In 1887, according to the Ontario Business Directory and Gazetteer, 1886-1887, William Prust was working as both a carpenter and insurance agent. The family were devout Anglicans and involved in the local St. George’s Church. He was a Church Warden and was the auditor for the parish for a while.
During these years Albert Henry Wagstaff was working in his father’s brickyard along with his brothers. Virtually all the older men in the Wagstaff family had served jail time, mostly for minor offences. They were tough men who were inclined to argue with their knuckles and their boots.
Albert Henry Wagstaff married Frances Gertrude Buckland on November 18, 1892.
That year David Wagstaff sold a 30 by 200-foot lot on the west side of Jones Avenue to his son Albert Wagstaff, assessed at $800 an acre, for one dollar. Bert build his new home at 40 Jones Avenue. That lot was 400 feet north of Queen. David Wagstaff sold the lot next door to another son, Charles, also for a dollar. The Wagstaffs moved into their new homes.
1891 Map of East End
Bert Wagstaff was 22 years old and apparently very much in love with Frances. They had three children together: David Henry, born April 15, 1893; Vera Winnifred born April 7, 1898; and Frances Irene was born on June 11, 1901.
Haliburton Town Hall, 1895
Meanwhile, in Haliburton, the economy was growing, based not on farming as much as on logging. Although there was some good arable land, much of the area was simply hard rock and lakes, perfect for cottages, but not cabbages.
Fenelon Falls Gazette, April 16, 1897
The Growing East End
From 1900 to 1913 the world’s economy expanded with a few serious dips including the Panic of 1907. There was a flood of British immigrants, as well as Canadians moving from the farm to the city. Between 1910 and 1912, Toronto also saw an extraordinary number of new factories, especially along Carlaw and Eastern Avenues. Those factory labourers and their foremen, the merchants who sold them food and clothing, and the doctors and other health professionals who cared for them all needed home.
In Toronto there was a housing shortage and rents soared up by 100 percent while wages grow by 32 percent. The rent-to- income ratio of skilled workers, such as carpenters and master brickmakers, increased from 19.4 percent in 1905 to 23.3 percent in 1913. Laborers who worked full time saw their rents go from 22.8 percent of their wages in 1900 to 35 percent in 1913. This offered great opportunities to some and hardship for others. Brickmakers like Albert Wagstaff could sell bricks as fast as they could produce them. Developers subdivided Leslieville and began building it as a working class suburb of Toronto. Real estate agents took husbands, wives and sometimes children, on what was often their first car ride – out to see a lot where their new home could be built. The poorer immigrants moved just outside the city limits and built their own homes, often flimsy tarpaper shacks such as those found in “Shacktown” between Greenwood and Coxwell. Some estimate that up to 15,000 houses were built by owners for their own use in the period between 1900 and 1913. Others, a little more affluent, looked for something better and either hired a builder to put up their larger, more comfortable homes or bought a new house already built by a contractor in a new subdivision.
Greenwood Avenue looking north October 20, 1901. City of Toronto Archives. The big shale pits have not yet been dug. Greenwood is a rural road lined with apple orchards. There is no underpass at the rail line. The sidewalk is made of planks. The roads in this area were notoriously bad. The soil was sand but there were numerous springs and, whenever it rained, the sand particles became wrapped in a coat of water turning them into miniature “ball bearings”, rolling instead of clumping. Another name for this is “quicksand”.
Property owners and investors wanted better access to their holdings. The old muddy roads, as seen in this photograph looking south on Greenwood Avenue on October 20, 1901, were not good enough for the streetcars on which the many travelled and the automobiles enjoyed by the few. East Enders pushed the City of Toronto to extend Gerrard Street eastward from Pape Avenue to East Toronto at Main Street and to span the Don Valley east to the Danforth with a new bridge, the Bloor Street Viaduct. At the very least they wanted a light at the dangerous crossing on Greenwood Avenue.
Toronto Star, January 26, 1899
The picture taken in 1901 shows the new light at the crossing.
Skating on Hastings Creek, The Devil’s Hollow
Extending Gerrard Street to Greenwood Avenue was challenging because of the deep ravine known as the “Devil’s Hollow” or the “Devil’s Dip”. Hastings Creek cut over 100 feet deep into the earth.
The Dominion Census of 1901 showed that the population of Toronto had grown from just over 9,000 in 1834 to over 300,000 in 1901. 90 percent of Toronto’s citizens were, like the Wagstaffs, of British ancestry. Haliburton was also very British and William Prust had become an important merchant and civic official there. He was the 1901 census commissioner for Haliburton and Township Clerk forDysart.
Albert Henry Wagstaff, 1902, courtesy of James Harris
Albert Henry Wagstaff and Frances Gertrude Buckland only had nine years. She died in February 3, 1902, aged 33 years, from chronic septic meningitis related to nephritis or kidney disease. (Today she would likely have lived with dialysis and a kidney transplant.) They had three children: David Henry, Vera Winifred, and Frances Irene who died at only nine months of age on March 18, 1902. Within only about six weeks Albert lost both his wife and his baby daughter. Maybe he wasn’t so much a devil, as bedeviled. He must have wondered if his little child would have survived with a mother. In the days before his first wife died he may not have had a drinking problem though he was no abstainer.
Frances Gertrude Buckland and Little Frances Irean’s tombstone in St. John of Norway Cemetery at Woodbine and Kingston Road.
Three months later, on June 4, 1902, in Muskoka, Bert Wagstaff married Margaret Diemal, his 22-year-old housekeeper and nanny to his children, nine years younger than him. No doubt he was still reeling from the loss of his wife and baby, and this could have been marriage “on the rebound”. However, it was common for a man, if he had small children, to remarry quickly after his wife died. This would substantially increase the chances of the children surviving to grow up. However, this certainly shocked his family, friends and the neighbourhood. Marrying a servant just wasn’t done. Class distinctions mattered, even though the Wagstaffs were rough, tough men who’d pulled themselves up by the straps on their hob-nailed boots.
1903 Goad Atlas, Map Lots 9 and 10
This map shows the subdivision plan for the Riverdale Gardens (#214), but it wasn’t built for another seven years. It also shows Hastings Creek running through a tunnel under the railway tracks and through the Devil’s Hollow. The deep clay pits have not yet been excavated from the orchard lands. Ashbridge’s Creek is visible on the right of the solid red line. The red line is the boundary between the City of Toronto and the Township of York East.
In the fall of 1903 seven out of the 20 landowners on Greenwood Avenue petitioned the City of Toronto to widen Greenwood’s Avenue between Queen and the railway tracks. The street was only the standard width of a street – 33 feet. Widening it to 66 feet would require the City to expropriate a 33 feet wide strip running north-south on the east side of Greenwood. Brick manufacturers wanted a wider road to transport their bricks by horse-drawn wagon into the city.
By 1904, there were brickyards, north of the railway tracks on Greenwood Avenue. What had been orchards was now a deep, gaping quarry. Albert Henry Wagstaff went into business for himself and built a large new modern plant on Greenwood Avenue just south of the level cross and adjoining the Grand Trunk Railway line. Originally he had only ten acres of brick clay about 75 feet deep, but he soon expanded his operations north of the tracks. It was a good location. He could easily go over the tracks on a level crossing to get to the quarry on the other side. He could load his bricks directly onto box cars on a siding for delivery across Ontario and even Canada. Other brickmakers considered Bert Wagstaff a highly skilled craftsman as well as a shrewd businessman. His brick works specialized in the purple and black brick that can still be seen on the Vera Apartments at Wagstaff and Greenwood.
Albert Wagstaff was not an armchair boss or a white-collar man. He had worked in his father’s brickyard from a very young age and continued to do hard physical labour through most of his life. In June 1905 he was working in his brickyard on Greenwood Avenue north of the railway line when he lost his balance and fell. The heavy post he was carrying toppled on top him causing internal injuries and damaging his shoulder.
Toronto Star, June 17, 1905
A map of the area from before Riverdale Gardens was built. Ivy is a short street running east off Jones Avenue and dead-ended at the ravine called the Devil’s Hollow.
In 1905 the City of Toronto applied to the courts for an order directing the Grand Trunk Railway to provide “proper protection” at the level crossing on Greenwood Avenue just north of Wagstaff Drive. By this time a number of sidings lined the north and south side of the GTR on both sides of Greenwood. These sidings served the new brickyards and the boxcars and flatcars blocked the view of the cross, adding to what was already a dangerous situation. The GTR argued that it shouldn’t have to put in any measures at its expense because it was there before Greenwood Avenue was built. Any safety measure should, therefore, the GTR argued, be paid for by the City of Toronto. The City’s lawyer produced copies of deeds going back to 1843 showing that the Sideroad there had already been laid out. The Provincial Land Surveyor confirmed that it had been a provincial “highway” since 1857.
Travelled the Road as Boys
James Wallace, 73 years of age, who lived in the vicinity of Greenwood’s avenue for forty-eight years, and who worked on the construction of the G.T.R., testified that fifty-four years ago  he had travelled over Greenwood’s lane, as it was then called, and he did statute labor on the road in 1858. Commissioner Jones testified that Greenwood’s lane was in existence and used as a highway in 1852. Patrick Norton, seventy-one years of age, recollected the G.T.R. being built, because he “cut 325 cords of wood off the right of way before those railway fellows got hold of it.” Hastings lane, as he knew it, was at that time a travelled highway, and the cattle guards were constructed there before the rails were laid. Louis Fitzgerald, a farmer of the second concession of York, testified that he had travelled the road for fifty-four years, and corroborated the other witness as to the crossing being planked and cattle guards constructed.
Walker Morley, who has known the road for fifty-five years, said there was a kind of a road through the bush prior to the G.T.R.; it was a lane left by the elder Hastings, by which the children to whom the rear of the farm had been given could get to their lots, and it was always a public lane. Globe, November 8, 1905
In September 1906 the privately-owned Gerrard street car line was extended to Greenwood Avenue, the boundary of the City of Toronto. That year Albert Wagstaff took over as head of the brick business founded by his father, David, in the 1860s, including an old brickyard owned by his father, David, on Greenwood Avenue. Albert used up that clay quickly and switched to knew technology.
Toronto Star, April 23, 1906
Albert Wagstaff extracted shale from the deep deposit north of the Grand Trunk Railway by using a steam shovel set on a railroad car on a portable narrow-gauge rail line. The shovel and the locomotive were called “a Dinky”; the cars were “Dinky cars”. 20-ton saddle engines were often used. The shale was blasted out with dynamite, dumped into dinky cars and steam engines hauled the raw material up the steep on cables to his nearby brick plant. The A.H. Wagstaff produced about three million bricks a year. His brick plant had “the latest and best machinery” including artificial dryers and down draft kilns. This allowed Wagstaff to make bricks all year round. He employed about 30 men. It was said that “few men being able to so thoroughly understand the mechanical part of the work, and at the same time successfully conduct the financial part of the business”. (Commemorative Biographical Record Of The County Of York Ontario Containing Biographical Sketches Of Prominent And Representative Citizens And Many Of The Early Settled Families Illustrated Toronto :J H. Beers and Co. 1907)
A curious ad appeared in the Toronto Star, July 7, 1906. The resident of 420 Greenwood Avenue, almost next door to William Prust’s future address, was James Emmerson. [Greenwood Avenue has since been renumbered.]
Toronto Star, July 7, 1906
William Prust did not come to Greenwood Avenue by accident. James Emmerson and William Prust knew each each other well. In a village of 500 people that was inevitable.
James Henry Emmerson was born on February 1, 1859, in Downpatrick, County Down, Ireland. Emmerson lived in Dundonald, Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1881 and worked as a laborer in a chemical factory. By 1885 he and his wife Mary Bicker and their son Daniel were living in Toronto. Around 1890 they moved to Dysart Township, Haliburton, where they had a farm. They seemed to move back and forth between Dysart and Toronto, but in 1900 they were still in Haliburton and they were there at the time of the 1901 Census. In the 1911 Census they were living in Haliburton Village, Dysart, Haliburton County. On October 19, 1936, James Emmerson died of a heart attack while working as a caretaker at the Consumer Gas complex at the foot of Parliament Street. The family home was 144 Woodington Avenue, Toronto one block east of Coxwell, three blocks north of Danforth Avenue, about a fifteen-minute walk from where he lived at the time of this 1906 ad.
The brickmakers were busy creating a landscape that looked and smelled and sounded like a medieval version of hell itself.
In 1908, William Prust resigned as Township Clerk and moved with his family to the East End of Toronto where he purchased an orchard at the northwest corner of Greenwood and Gerrard, adjoining Wagstaff’s brickyard. He too would, as developer, real estate agent and builder, manufacture a landscape, but one that was very different.
Instead of noise, dirt, explosions and general ugliness, Prust, also an experienced municipal official in a pioneering community, fathered a quiet, tidy subdivision of well-built houses of similar Edwardian design, with uniform set backs, on a few tree-lined streets.
Tragedy struck the Wagstaffs in April 1908, when their daughter Lila Alberta died from pneumonia at just under a year old. They were living at 40 Jones Avenue at the time.
City Engineer’s Map, 1910, showing the 1909 annexations in pink. The Town of East Toronto was annexed in 1908.
In 1909, the city annexed the Midway district, that stretch that included the Ashbridge farm and the Toronto Golf Course, between Greenwood Avenue and the Town of East Toronto.
This detail from a 1909 Dominion of Canada topographical map shows that much of Lot Ten was still covered with orchards but the brick pits were expanding along Greenwood Avenue. Hastings Creek is clearly marked on the map in blue along with the culvert under the GTR railroad line. Brickyards now extend along Greenwood all the way from Queen. The newly-coined name for the area along Gerrard, “Bricktown”, is well deserved given the intense development of the clay and shale deposits here.
Looking north east across the GTR Line towards the orchard where Torbrick Road is today. In the distance is the stack of the Logan brickyard. The photographer is standing where the Wagstaff brickmaking complex on Wagstaff Drive is today, now the home of a variety of businesses, including the Left Field Brewery.
The caption for this undecipherable photograph of the corner of Greenwood and Gerrard, showing sheep grazing in an orchard, reads:
GREEN PASTURES AT THE CORNER OF GREENWOOD AVENUE AND GERRARD STREET
As the city boundaries are pushed to the north and east, the area of “goose pastures” inevitably increases. This was necessary, if the inhabitants of these charmed squares were to have a chance at all, for the open spaces within the old city lines are now nearly all filled. The tired city dweller who has left within him a spark of enjoyment at sight of green fields may still find refreshment in the suburbs. A few weeks ago a nice crop of oats was harvested near the reservoir, and sheep and cattle are pasturing in east-end fields to this day. The market-gardeners have still a harvest to reap, and the sight of the fruits of autumn is ever comforting, though one’s pockets may not bulge with wealth. The Saturday afternoons and Sundays are again cool for walking. Let us renew our love for the farm by a visit to the few green spots that remain in Greater Toronto. Globe, June 4, 1909
Greenwood Avenue would finally be widened, but not until 1912, leading to a protracted lawsuit with the Logan Brickyard, and a much shorter and certainly more whimsical dispute with William Prust who had to pay part of the cost of the road work through a special assessment payable with his property taxes in 1909 even before the actual work was done. William Prust, having been a municipal official for so many years, knew how to calculate the proper amount that he owed to the City of Toronto and that is what he would pay and not 48 cents more. The Toronto Star article of November 9, 1909 says it all.
A World of Change
By 1910 the world of both the Wagstaffs and the Prusts was changing quickly.
Technically the Edwardian era was over as Edward VII died of pneumonia. His son, George V, succeeded him. The new field of market research began, developing advertising programs targeting specific audiences and this was soon reflected in the real estate ads. New technologies captured the imagination. The radio hobby craze swept Toronto. People adapted Quaker Oats boxes to build crystal, cat’s whisker radios. The movie star system was born when Florence Lawrence became “the Vitagraph Girl.” The Christian Endeavor Group, a strong element particularly within the Methodist Church, sought censorship of all motion pictures that show kissing. Bert Wagstaff, though a Methodist and a member of the Woodgreen Tabernacle at DeGrassi and Queen, was not held back by any prejudices against kissing as he developed a reputation as a “ladies’ man.” The first live remote broadcasts carried music into people’s homes.
Two very different men, one seen as the Devil incarnate by some and the other as an angel by others, left the mark on a very special corner of Leslieville. Albert Henry Wagstaff was a handsome charmer, excellent public speaker, astute businessman, inveterate gambler, chronic alcoholic and notorious womanizer. “Bert” Wagstaff owned the property between the backyards on the north side of Ivy Avenue and the railway tracks and much of the huge quarry that stretched from the tracks north to Danforth Avenue.
Thick black smoke from the kilns that burned day and night, all year round, wreathed the brick plant, brick pits, houses and people at the north end of Riverdale Gardens. The clang of heavy machinery from the brick presses and conveyor belts was constant. From time to time, deafening explosions rocked the neighbourhood as workers used dynamite to blast out the shale at the bottom of the quarry. Conveyor belts brought the bits of broken rock to the surface were special equipment thudded into fine powder which made up the basic material of the bricks. Deep ponds at the bottom of the brick pits tempted hot and unwary boys and youths to swim and, all too often drown. Where brick manufacturers had used up the clay, as they had in the Devil’s Hollow just west of Riverdale Gardens, they leased out the gaping craters as garbage dumps or locals simply used them for free. Where dumps appeared so did hordes of rats, clouds of flies and other pests, including thousands and thousands of crickets whose constant trill even competed with the din of the machinery and the roar of dynamite blasting.
In 1910 Ivy Avenue would become the border line between a heaven and a hell, or perhaps, even as some kind of residential purgatory.
1947 Dominion of Canada aerial photo showing the brickyards (outlined in red by Joanne Doucette) along the railway tracks on Greenwood. Ivy Avenue is in the bottom left corner of the picture. The top left corner is dominated by Harper’s Dump, the former clay quarry worked by Albert Wagstaff, the Bell Brothers, Standard Brick and others. The John Price or Toronto Brick Company pit is on the east side of Greenwood above the tracks.
Bell Bros shared the same clay quarry as Albert Wagstaff. This is the Bell Bros Brick plant on the west side of Greenwood Avenue in 1917.
This 1910 Goad’s Atlas map was based on information gathered the year before. It shows the old subdivision number 214 and a new lane running east west north of Gerrard. Gerrard Street has been subdivided to the edge of the Devil’s Hollow. On the west side of Greenwood between the tracks and Gerrard there are only two houses: the one closest to the railway tracks belonged to Bert Wagstaff and the other, a brick duplex, belonged to William Prust.
The deeply devout, sober and steady William Prust kept busy in his retirement – in his case working as a developer and builder, creating an ideal community on a small scale. He bought the apple orchard south of the brickyard and on it laid out new streets: Cheltenham (now Sandford), Bloomfield and, of course, Prust. He also owned the land on the south side of Ivy Avenue between Greenwood and Prust.
Toronto Star, May 1, 1910
One of the first houses built in Prust’s new subdivision was the home of Isaac Price and his wife Annie (Simpson), members of a closely connected and devout clan of brickmakers from Somerset, England.
The Isaac Prust House, 216 Greenwood Avenue, 1910
William Prust had a vision of a small “garden city”, promising that each house would have at least one fruit tree: “with fruit trees left on”. He named his development “Riverdale Gardens”.
Toronto Star, May 21, 1910 Riverdale Real estate: this 20 acres is Riverdale Gardens.
Builders, like Prust, wanted to create the feeling of a village, a new community which connected people together. Prust not only built the houses but also, in 1920, stores to serve Riverdale Gardens. These were at the southeast corner of Gerrard and Greenwood, including 1291 Gerrard Street East. However, since a planning act was not introduced to Ontario until almost WWI, these subdivisions could and did sit uncomfortably next to factories, brickyards, abattoirs, and garbage dumps.
He constructed Riverdale Gardens in the Edwardian Classicist style. This style lasted from 1900 to around 1920 though builders still put up homes like this even as late as the 1930’s.
Some examples of Edwardian houses
For more about the Edwardian house go to:
William Prust saw the need for houses in a style that would appeal to people more affluent than those in the Shacktown just to the east across Greenwood. His market was the new middle class of businessmen, merchants, office workers – mostly white-collar but still mostly British immigrants like their poorer neighbours. These middle class families were looking for well-built, affordable houses close to streetcars so that they could commute to work. More upscale downtown subdivisions were too expensive, but the so-called “streetcar” suburbs offered affordable options.
While Riverdale Gardens is remarkable for its large Edwardian villas or two to three story houses, most of the new subdivisions that spread across the farms of Leslieville offered, intentionally, a variety of designs. There were bungalows, small terraces, duplexes, triplexes and even quadraplexes, and, of course, large detached villas. Semi-detached houses met the demand for privacy and land from people who couldn’t afford a detached house. Often, members of an extended family lived in both halves of a duplex. Builders liked semis because they were highly profitable.
These new suburbs did not copy Victorian architecture, but struck out in a new “modern” direction, creating the Edwardian classicist style that particularly appealed to middleclass families. They built solid structures with straightforward, balanced layouts, uncluttered, straight rooflines without the turrets and towers the late Victorians loved so much. Ornamentation was understated. These houses usually have a smooth brick surface and many windows. They used local materials, like Leslieville’s brick, and often modern materials like Portland cement, particle board (e.g. Beaverboard) and, unfortunately, asbestos. “Edwardian” architecture was solid and British like King Edward VII who had matured from a licentious rebel into a capable and much-loved monarch. It was classicist in that it incorporated classical features such as colonettes, voussoirs, keystones, etc. but in a simple way that emphasized the mass and form of the building. Unlike Victorian architecture there are no finials, crestings or bargeboard. Cornice brackets and braces are block-like, echoing the form of the building. Architects designed windows and doors flat arches or plain stone lintels, often of Indiana limestone.
Modest homes like those in Riverdale Heights showcase their Edwardian heritage mostly on the front entrances and front facade. Other features include beamed ceilings, leaded and stained- glass windows, wide hallways and stairs, maple and oak floors, sometimes chestnut panelling.
Sandford Avenue was originally Cheltenham, after William Prust’s home town in England. It was renamed Sandford, the street his wife Ellen Addams had lived on. Sandford was also a small village, now part of Cheltenham.
Postcard of Sandford Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
Advertisements began appearing in newspapers offering lots and houses. In those days, when a new subdivision opened, no houses were built on it at first. Lots were sold by the foot of frontage. If someone bought a lot with 40 feet of frontage, for example, on Bloomfield Avenue, for $13 a foot, the lot would cost $520, more than most factory labourers made in a year. Lots on nearby Erie Terrace sold for as little as $5 a foot, on lots that were sometimes only 10 feet wide, for a total of $50, affordable to all by the poorest working class families.
Many of the lots were purchased by contractors who bought five to ten lots and erected houses which in turn were sold through a real estate agent. Others were bought directly by prospective homeowners who, in the case of Riverdale Gardens, hired a builder to put up their home on their lot. Other neighbourhoods close to Riverdale Gardens were characterized by a hodgepodge of owner-built houses from tiny shacks to substantial two-story houses. Streets grew almost organically without the uniform setbacks, similar style houses with matching ridge lines on the roofs and front yards that characterized Riverdale Gardens. Prust could and did set his own standards for design and construction. While each residence has its own character, there is a strong sense of continuity that was intentionally built into Riverdale Gardens.
In this ad from The Toronto Star, of September 9, 1911, lots in Riverdale Garden are going for from between $23 to $32 a foot of frontage. Greenwood Realty Company was acting as agents for William Prust and had a branch office at Greenwood and Gerrard. Note that there was some flexibility: a buyer could get a bigger lot, but not, beyond doubt, a smaller one. “These lots may be had in almost any frontage desired.” Prust did not want a Shacktown.
As the lots began to sell, the City of Toronto began work on the streets that Prust had laid out and named: Cheltenham, Bloomfield, Ivy and Prust. Builders began applying for building permits such as this one on Bloomfield near Prust.
Toronto Star, Oct. 19, 1911 building permit
The Wagstaff home, also Edwardian classic brick house, also from about 1911, is now buried behind factory additions, but can still be seen from the front steps of the Vera Apartments and from across the street. I took this photograph of the house tucked in behind Express Auto Collision Ltd. It was no doubt built of Wagstaff’s own red bricks.
The Wagstaff home on Greenwood at Wagstaff Drive. Photo by Joanne Doucette
Another daughter, Lulu Eveline, came into the world on July 16, 1911.
Three local bricks: a Wagstaff brick is left; an Ashbridge’s and Morley brick, centre; and an Isaac Price brick, right.
In the 1911 Census the 65-year-old William Prust was living right next to Albert Henry Wagstaff’s property. Prust is listed as a “gentleman”, meaning that he was retired and wealthy enough to live on his savings, but William Prust was as active as any retiree could hope to be.
Much of the East End was rural as this photo from August 7, 1912, showing the bridge over Hastings Creek on Danforth Avenue.
The listings below are from the 1912 City Directory, compiled in the summer of 1911 and reflecting conditions at that time. These are the streets of Riverdale Gardens, but Riverdale Gardens also included the north side of Gerrard and the west side of Greenwood to Wagstaff’s property.
Ivy, City of Toronto Directory 1912. There is an urban myth that Myrtle, Ivy and Harriet were three local women who could not get along. Therefore, the streets named after them never meet. However. a better explanation, though not as humorous, lies in the wide ravine scoured out by Hastings Creek. The ravine was called the Devil’s Hollow. Note also that Myrtle ended at Leslie – the west bank of the Devil’s Hollow.
Bloomfield, City of Toronto Directory, 1912
Cheltenham Avenue, now Sandford. City of Toronto Directory, 1912.
Prust, City of Toronto Directory, 1912 William Prust had laid out the Prust Avenue and started construction on four houses.
Gerrard Street north side, City of Toronto Directory, 1912.
1912 Mights Directory, Gerrard St north side Jones Ave intersects
Riverdale High School
Leslie St intersects
[No one is listed between Leslie and Redwood, neither individuals nor businesses. This was the Devil’s Hollow!] Hastings Ave intersects
Greenwood Ave intersects
1912 Mights Directory, Gerrard St south side
Jones av intersects
1063 Traders Bank of Canada (branch) [Pizza Pizza]
1065 Sharpe Bros., butchers
1065 Hayes, Edward J., confectionary
1071 Leidy, Fletcher E., real estate
1073-1075 Cowling, Arthur E., flour and feed
1077-1079 Rickaby, John A., grocer
1081 Babcock, William A
1085 Jerou, Joseph A
1087 Henneworth, John
1089 Wain, Frank
1091 Hempseed, Mrs. Jane
1095 Renwick, Mrs. Mary
1097 Murphy, Mrs. Harriet
1099 Rogers, William H
Construction (four houses)
1101 Gloster, Michael J
1103 Holmes, Herbert R., physician
1105 Strang, Blake
1107 Magee, Robert
1109 Reilly Hugh J
1111 Wallwin, Rev. Isaac B
1113 Coulter, Norman
1115 Evans, Lawrence C
1285 Webster, George
1287 Jones, Rev Richard J
Leslie st intersects
[No buildings between Leslie and Greenwood. The Devil’s Hollow again.]
Greenwood av intersects
Greenwood Avenue, west side, City of Toronto Directory, 1912
Greenwood Avenue, West side, City of Toronto Directory, 1912
Greenwood Avenue, east side, City of Toronto Directory, 1912 The eastern side of Greenwood became industrialized at the track where a former brickyard was partially occupied by a lumber yard, Eastern Supply Co. (later Bowden’s). The rest of the abandoned quarry was filled with garbage. The Toronto Community Housing project on Walpole was built on top of that dump. I remember some 35 years ago when I took my recycling to a depot on the old dump site – the Blue Box program had yet to come to Toronto. Incidentally Robert J. Billings was also a brickmaker from Bridgport, Somersetshire, the same place that John and Isaac Price came from. Billings Avenue is named for the family.
One of the houses on the east side of Greenwood Avenue north of the railway track that would be torn down to allow the widening of the street. A City Engineer took the photo on January 13, 1912.
Behind the boy and his dogs, across the field that would soon become a brick pit, stands Ashbridge’s Bush. Part of this woodlot was preserved as Monarch Park.
More applications for building permits appeared in the newspapers such as this one from The Toronto Star, January 4, 1912.
Toronto Star, Feb. 7, 1912
Lots continued to sell.
Toronto Star, Feb. 24, 1912
Toronto Star, March 9, 1912
Toronto Star, March 14, 1912
Toronto Star, May 15, 1912
In June, 1912, The City issued tenders again for the grading of Bloomfield, Prust to Greenwood; Cheltenham [Sandford], Prust to Greenwood; Ivy, 116 feet 10 ½ inches west of Prust to Greenwood.
225 Ivy Avenue, Toronto Star, June 8, 1912
225 Ivy Avenue, Toronto Star, June 8, 1912
Toronto Star, Aug. 2, 1912
The north east corner of Gerrard and Greenwood, a sheep pasture in 1909, was now described as “The Queen and Yonge corner of the East End”, stretching the truth more than a little. A gas station went in shortly after. Most of the strip malls in our area are on the sites of long-gone gas station. The cost of remediating the soils contaminated with petroleum products has ruled out housing, but with the real estate prices along Gerrard that too may change.
Toronto Star Oct. 10, 1912 90 Ivy Ave.
That fall finished houses began to appear for sale. All houses in Riverdale Gardens were made of brick, more expensive than clapboard or a veneer of brick on the front of a house, but more fire proof, more insulated, and made to last.
Toronto Star, Oct. 10, 1912 16 Sandford.
“Restricted” means that certain conditions were imposed on the builders. In this case Prust set most of the standards while the City set others. Note “the two fine apple trees”.
Toronto Star, Oct. 10, 1912 90 Ivy
In 1912 cars were costly, custom-made machines that only the rich could afford. Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company boldly announced that they would make “a motor car for the great multitude”. Ford created the moving assembly line for heavy manufacturing. It became the basis for industrial production. In Ford’s assembly line car plant, workers were paid an unheard of high wage and work only an eight-hour day. Ford wanted his workers to be able to afford his car. Before Ford, even middle class men and women relied on streetcars to reach their homes in “streetcar suburbs”.
“Profits in real estate investment depend primarily upon the location of the property. People of moderate means must turn to the eastern section of the city for homesites. The civic car lines on Gerrard Street and Danforth Ave guarantee this.” Toronto Star, November 8, 1912
Toronto Star, Nov. 30, 1912 88 – 94 Ivy Avenue
Toronto Star, Dec. 16, 1912 88 – 98 Ivy
On December 18, 1912, the first streetcars began running east from Greenwood Avenue to Main Street. Mayor Hocken and City Controllers inaugurated the new Civic Streetcar. The Mayor, Controllers, Alderman and city officials were in the first car. Ordinary citizens were in the others, free of charge for just that day. “No smoking will be allowed on the cars any day.” Globe, Dec. 14, 1912
In 1912 David Wagstaff sold the family home at 1140 Queen Street East, the brickyard and five and half acres of land on Queen street, between Coady and Brooklyn Avenues, to Charles Miller for $45,000 or about $8,000 an acre. The brickyard was subdivided houses with a row of new stores on Queen Street, including what is now the Tango Palace. Developers built Bertmount Avenue, named for Albert “Bert” Wagstaff, right through where the family home had been. David Wagstaff moved to a newer, much larger house at 650 Broadview Avenue. In 2006 Toronto City Council designated the David Wagstaff house at 650 as a historical home due to its unique architecture. Meanwhile his son Albert was busy producing bricks and his neighbor’s houses in a new “streetcar” suburb at the crossing of two major streetcar lines.
Toronto Sunday World, December 22, 1912
TO BE CONTINUED