Decoding City Directories to find out more about your home, your street, your city


1860 Map of York County by G.R. Tremaine

Ever wondered who lived where your home is long, long ago? Well, I can give you some idea because I have directories from the early twentieth century and the nineteenth century. But there are no street addresses in the earlier directories. Look at this example from 1866 for Leslieville.

1866 Mitchell's General Directory p 404

1866 Mitchell’s General Directory p 404

I think you’d agree that there is lots of information here. Who knew that there was a Leslieville Oil Company! They found pockets of natural gas, but no oil. The people are interesting and even more so if you know a little about them. R. Ambrose was a labourer in George Leslie’s Toronto Nursery. Later Ambroses became gardeners on the long-vanished Toronto Golf Club course at Upper Gerrard and Coxwell. The Ashbridge Estate still has a lovely old Ashbridge family home and hosts a flea market in the summer. James Berry was an African American who came north before the end of slavery. The Finucans and others were Irish Catholics who came here during the Potato Famine. William Higgins was Toronto’s first High Constable or chief of police. Henry Lewis was another black merchant. Logan Avenue is named for John Logan, a tall shy market gardener. James Morin built the Duke of York Tavern, in 1870. Alexander Muir wrote “The Maple Leaf Forever”. Pape Avenue is named after the Papes who specialized in growing flowers. Joseph Pape was one of Ontario’s first florists. Samuel Sewell was the patriarch of Leslieville’s black community. Thugs murdered his 15-year-old son, Isaac, ostensibly because he flirted with a white woman, but more probably that motive was piled on another — they robbed him of a substantial amount of money. There are so many stories, but from this you would not really have much idea where they actually lived.

1866 Mitchell's Generall Directory p 344The same Directory gives us more information, but only if you understand the rather cryptic language used. It lists every head of house (i.e. men) alphabetically for the Township of York East. Leslieville was in York East, but so was Riverside, the Village of Norway, etc. — and the City of Toronto.

Let’s look at a few examples: Ashbridge, Jesse Con 1 Lot 8f; Beaty, Hanah Con 1, Lot 15f (single women and widows were included, especially if they owned property); and Calendar, Henry, laborer, Con. 1, Lot 5h.

With that information we know within a city block or two where these people lived. But how?



Concessions, Lot numbers, Land Owners, 1796, Township of York East, from Victoria Park on the east to the Don River on the left. 

Maps say a lot, but you have to understand the language they are using or at least the basics.

1809 Ashbridge HouseJust as we begin learning French with basic phrases like “Bonjour” or “Merci beaucoup”, we begin with a few basic terms in the language of those who laid out the roads and side roads, farms and subdivisions — surveyors. If you own a home, you want an accurate survey to know where your property begins and ends or you may find yourself tearing down the new fence you just built and/or having a heated argument with your neighbour. So, now and then, surveyors used state-of-the-art equipment, to lay out a pattern of roads and property divisions called “lots”. In the Township of York East,  they began by carefully laying out an accurate base line — an imaginary, but crucial east-west line.  Then they laid out a second line and a third and a fourth and so on, like rungs on a ladder reach north from the lake — each rung at a equal, pre-determined distance from the base line. The area between the base line and the second line was called “the First Concession”; and between the second and third line it was “the Third Concession”.

They laid out another set of lines, but these ran north and south, again in pre-determined and equal distances. These lines were known as side lines. Between each sideline and the one to the west of it was a “farm lot” or simply called a “lot” of 200 acres. The lots are number from east to west, beginning at the Victoria Park, the boundary between the old Scarborough Township and the Township of York East.

In this way, the early surveyors laid out the Township of East York as a grid and their orderly lattice of concessions, sideroads, and lots is still with us today. When settlers or contractors “opened up” or built a road along the imaginary line, the road became known as “the First Concession Road” or “Base Line Road”; Second Concession Road; Third Concession Road; etc. In rural areas today, you will often hear, “Oh, so-and-so lives on the Second Concession”, meaning the Second Concession Road.

18510000 Leslieville Map


In our area, the First Concession Road became known as the Kingston Road or the road to Kingston. Parts of it later became known as “Queen Street”.

AshbridgesWhere Kingston Road bends and goes up the hill towards Woodbine Avenue, Lee Avenue and beyond, it is no longer on that imaginary line but follows an ancient First Nations trail. In fact most of our streets that run diagonally or meander lazily around hills and through valleys, are trails made by the Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Missisauga, and the Nations that went before them. This includes Kingston Road, Dawes Road, Broadview Avenue, Todmorden Road, Bayview Avenue, Rosedale Ravine Road, Davenport Road, and so many more. Some like the Ridge Road in this map have been completely forgotten.

1896 Map of Scarboro Left side

1896 Arthur Thompson Map of Scarboro (Left side)

Queen Street through the Beach is on the line of the First Concession Road. The roads alone the sidelines became known with numbers in most rural areas, but in our area the sideline roads have names. This Map of the TownshipsYorkScarboro, and Etobicoke from ca 1911 by C.H. MacDonald clearly shows the area streets with the numbered lots. People called the area between Queen Street and the bay and lake “the Broken Front” because it was the front of the grid but was not continuous, being cut up with coves and inlets.

19160000 CH MacDonald Map The Old East End

If we take an even more detailed part of the map above and flip it 90 degrees, we can see the names of the sidelines better.

19160000 CH MacDonald Beach and East Toronto - rotated.jpg

The sideline at the boundary with Scarborough Township is now Victoria Park Avenue. The next sideline, separting Lot 1 and 2, is Willow Avenue. Between Lot 2 and 3 is Beach Avenue, then spelled “Beach Avenue”. Then between Lot 3 and 4 is Main Street which becomes Southwood Drive south of Kingston Road. Sidelines here are not as straight as the first surveyors, mostly military men, would have wished because the steep hill and numerous ravines messed up their neat plan. The side line between Lot 4 and 5 was called “Morton Road” but is now “Norwood Road”. South of Kingston Road it is Lee Avenue.

Sideline 1912 2017
1-2 Willow Ave Willow Ave
2-3 Beach Ave Beech Ave
3-4 Main Street Hammersmith Ave, Southwood Rd, Main St
4-5 Lee Ave, Norwood Rd, Morton Rd Lee Ave, Norwood Rd, and roughly Westlake Ave
5-6 Woodbine Ave Woodbine Ave
6-7 Roughly along line of Berkeley Ave Now roughly along Edgewood Rd, then Beaton Ave, Wembley Rd, and Hillingdon Ave
7-8 Coxwell Ave Coxwell Ave
8-9 Morley Ave Woodfield Rd and closer to the Danforth it is Gillard Ave
9-10 Greenwood Ave Greenwood Rd
10-11 Leslie Street Leslie Street and north of the CNR tracks Condor Ave
11-12 Jones Ave Jones Ave
12-13 Carlaw Ave Carlaw Ave
13-14 DeGrasi St DeGrassi St and further north near the Danforth it is Hampton Ave
15 Broadview Ave Broadview Ave

2016 City of Toronto Interactive Map

Even today our houses sit in numbered subdivisions within the original farm lot.

So let’s decipher our examples. Keep in mind that while the sideline is not mentioned, we don’t really need it. There were very few streets opened up in 1866 and only two major Concession Roads: Queen Street and Danforth Avenue. Kingston Road being a First Nations Trail was “off the grid” and not a concession road in York East.


Ashbridge, Jesse Con 1 Lot 8f means Jesse Ashbridge, living on Queen Street between Woodfield Road and Greenwood Avenue, in Leslieville. “Con 1” is Concession One or the block of land that lies between the Baseline (Queen Street) and the Second Concession Road (Danforth Avenue). “f” is for “front”, meaning the south end of the block of land while “h” is for “hind” or “rear”, meaning on the south side of Danforth Avenue.

Ashbridges House

Jesse Ashbridge House, Queen Street East between Woodfield Road and Greenwood Avenue on the north side.

Beaty, Hanah Con 1, Lot 15f means Hannah Beatty (typos even back then) lived on Queen Street between Broadview and the Don River — in Riverside.

Calendar, Henry, laborer, Con. 1, Lot 5h is a lot trickier because Kingston Road intersects Lot 5 and though it says “h” for rear, he could be living on Kingston Road or near to Danforth Avenue, somewhere between Norwood Rd. or Westlake Ave. and Woodbine Avenue.

1860 Tremaine's Map of the County of York, Canada West

From Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, 1860

1866 Mitchell's Generall Directory p 344


1868 Map. Dawes Road is the diagonal road in the upper right. It ran all the way to Kingston Road which arches like a bow along the brow of the steep escarpment above the Beach.




We will follow the Jesse Ashbridge property.  Jesse Ashbridge died in 1874 of tuberculosis. His wife Emma Rooney died in 1919. Their son Wellington Ashbridge died in 1943 and Jesse Ashbridge Junior died in 1945. Wellington Ashbridge had two daughters: Dorothy died in 1996 and Winnifred in 2002.

1866 Mitchell's Generall Directory p 345

1884 Goads Atlas

1884 Goads Atlas

18840000 Goad's Map

1884 Ashbridge Estate

1866 Mitchell's Generall Directory p 346

1866 Mitchell's Generall Directory p 347

1866 Mitchell's Generall Directory p 348


1892, Abrey & Tyrell map

Riverdale 1893.jpg

Riverdale 1893

Goad 1899

1899 Goad’s Atlas





19100630 TS Ad Ashbridges Estate

Toronto Star, June 30, 1910






Detail Goad’s 1924

Goad’s Fire Atlas maps have a great deal of detail. For example, take the block of buildings from Vancouver Avenue (formerly Ashport) to Greenwood Avenue, on the north side of Queen Street. When someone planned a subdivision they had to register the plan with the Registry Office and they received a number for their new subdivision. The number 303E is the subdivision number for the storefronts and houses here. There are seven narrow north-south lots, numbered from east to west 1 to 7. 7 is the store on the northeast corner of Greenwood and Queen. The address is also given and for this store it is 1372 Queen Street East. It also tells us the construction of the buildings. Not surprisingly the reddish-brown brick-coloured buildings are brick. The yellowish builds are wooden. The red line in the lower left corner is the water line for a fire hydrant. The fire hydrant is a circle.

So if you wished to research the title for 1372 Queen Street East, you know it is in Concession One, Lot 10, Subdivision Plan 303E, Lot 7.  You could also check it in some of the other City Directories.

1891 City Directory

1891 City Directory

1906 City Directory1

1906 City Directory

1906 City Directory2

1906 City Directory (cont’d)

Queen St E north side 1911

Queen St E South side 1911

This should be entitled Queen Street SOUTH Side JD

1914 City Directory

1914 City Directory

1922 City Directory Queen and Greenwood

1922 City Directory

1922 City Directory Queen and Greenwood2

1922 City Directory (cont’)

View of Queen Street East at Greenwood AvenueView of Queen Street East at Greenwood Avenue, 1981


Photo by J. Doucette

Postscript: The Ashbridge Estate

Ashbridges Collage


19540609GM Pluck and Piety first - Copy (2)

Globe and Mail, June 9, 1954

19540609GM Pluck and Piety119540609GM Pluck and Piety19540609GM Pluck and Piety5 - Copy19540609GM Pluck and Piety4 - Copy

Ashbridge plaque

Globe and Mail, September 29, 1955.jpg


Ashbridge House, 1444 Queen St. E. July 1986 Toronto Public Library


Ashbridge willow - Copy

Ashbridge’s Willow

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