Mystery of the Hanging Cat of Greenwood & Queen

Cartoon by Charles Jameson Grant, 1833

Mystery of the Hanging Cat of Greenwood & Queen

Once long ago, above the door of a tavern at the northwest corner of Kingston Road and Greenwood’s lane, there hung a sign. Now, most taverns had signs but this one was different. Forty years after the tavern closed people still remembered the sign described below.

19230817 GL Puritan Tavern sign hanged cat
Globe, August 17, 1923

rectoWhy would the innkeeper have such a macabre image outside the Puritan tavern? That is the mystery I set out to solve.

First I had to find the back story of the Greenwoods who owned the Puritan Tavern.

John Greenwood was born in 1822 in England. He married Anna or Anne Lowe and they had three children together. Their son Joseph (1845-1933) was born on December 7, 1845, in Leicester, Leicestershire, England. They lived in Hinckley, just outside Leicester, where John Greenwood was a carriage maker, but not just any kind of carriage maker. He made Hansom cabs. Joseph Hansom, invented the hansom cab in Hinckley in 1834.

Hansom Cab

Not long after the Greenwoods moved to Derby. Derby became an important centre as the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works, founded in 1840, hired wagon makers to make rolling stock for the railways.  Another major carriage maker was the firm of Herbert and Arthur Holmes, Coach and Harness Makers of Derby, Lichfield and London (Journal of the Society of Arts, July 11, 1856, p. 592).

The Greenwood’s son William was born in 1847 in Derby. Their daughter Elizabeth (1849-1932) was born on October 23, 1849, also in Derby. Their daughter Susanna (1850-1867) was born there in 1850. His wife Anna Lowe (1817–1852) passed away in 1852 back in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England, at the age of 35.

John Greenwood married Catharine Dwyer (1822-1897) in 1857 when he was 38 years old. She was known as Kate. The next year John Greenwood bought Lot 24 from the Estate of Henry William Savage.

1860 Tremaine North Shore Ashbridges Bay
County of York map by Tremaine 1860. The Greenwoods bought lots at the northwest corner of the sideroad in the centre of the map. Capt. Neville, married to the daughter of Mayor Munro, owned the east side of Greenwood Avenue. The creeks in the map are, from left to right, Hastings Creek, Ashbridge’s Creek, and Small’s Creek.

In 1862, someone reported the Greenwoods for keeping a disorderly house, usually a euphemism for a brothel, although they may only have been selling liquor without a tavern license as the meaning of the term expanded to include gambling and drinking. Today, Canada’s Criminal Code, at §197, defines it this way:

Disorderly house means a common bawdy-house, a common betting house or a common gaming house.

It was fairly clear even at the time that John Greenwood was a “sporting man” who liked betting and the manly sports usually associated with bars.

The eleventh meeting of the York Township Council was held on the 6th inst. Present – The Reeve, and Councillors Bull, Maglan and Playter.

Communications received and read, —
From G. James, Esq., complaining of John Greenwood, for keeping a disorderly house.” Globe, October 11, 1862

Memorial to John Greenwood, martyr, Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Globe, Nov. 8, 1862
Globe, Nov. 8, 1862

Son John continued the family betting tradition at Greenwood and Queen later.

Globe, Aug. 14, 1909
Globe, Aug. 14, 1909, John Greenwood, bookie, 1340 Queen Street East

John and Kate Greenwood opened the Puritan Tavern in 1864 at their home at the northwest corner of Kingston Road (now Queen Street East) though it is fairly obvious thay they were selling liquor without a license before that. The Puritan Hotel was not a temperance hotel as the name might lead one to believe, but was named after the famous Puritan martyr, John Greenwood. The Puritan was licensed to sell liquor.

“Mrs. Catherine Greenwood, Kingston Road, ice dealer and hotel proprietor, established in 1864 by John Greenwood, who was also a carriage maker and painter.”  History of Toronto and County of York Ontario.  Vol. I. Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, Publisher, 1885, 491.

The lane next to the inn became known as “Greenwood’s Lane” and later, “Greenwood Avenue”. It was not an easy time for the Greenwoods. William Greenwood, who worked for George Leslie and may have been a relative, was arrested in a shocking crime involving infanticide and the murder of beautiful young women. This Greenwood was luckier than the cat, one supposes, and only escaped hanging by committing suicide in his cell the night before his scheduled execution.

Greenwood the murderer

Life and times of William Greenwood: the murderer, who committed suicide in Toronto jail, on the night of the 22nd Feb., 1864, a few hours prior to the time appointed for his execution, published 1864.

Leslieville 1868 - Copy - Copy
Detail from the 1868 Gehle, Fawkes & Hassard Reconnaissance Sketches of the Toronto Area

This map shows the location of the Puritan, the inn owned by John and Catharine (Kate) Greenwood. It is at the north-west corner of Greenwood Lane (now Greenwood Avenue), and Kingston Road (now Queen Street East, where the Greenwood Variety store is today). If you look between the two creeks at the right-hand side of the map, the T-junction between Greenwood Lane and Kingston Rd is clear. Greenwood Lane was beginning to be developed by brickmakers. Greenwood Lane led to the couple’s market garden. Their ice business was just to the west of the inn.

Wood cut from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
John Greenwood
An imaginative rendering of a Puritan Tavern sign, but not the sign that hung outside John Greenwood’s Puritan Tavern

The name of the tavern was a kind of pun that would have been understood by their neighbours. John Greenwood was a Puritan preacher who was hung as a martyr. The Greenwood family were unlikely to have been active church goers, although they were surrounded by the devout. The Leslieville Methodist Church, at Ashport (now Vancouver Avenue) and the Kingston Road (Queen Street East) was only a few hundred yards away. Martyr books were very common in Protestant homes of the day and excerpts read on Sunday afternoons as entertainment and education. Though very pious, they were also very gory. The very sign on the Puritan was both a reference to John Greenwood and the Puritans, making fun of their religious neighbours perhaps!

Map for overlays
Detail from an 1878 County Atlas. The solid dark block on the north side of Kingston Road between Hastings Creek and Greenwood Avenue indicates that this was built up with a continuous row of stores and other buildings. The lower part of Greenwood Avenue on the west side is all brickyards. The Ashbridges purchased Captain Brett Neville’s 65 acres. Brick yard work was thirsty work.

Kate and John Greenwood had six children together.  Their son William John (1857–1882) was born on September 3, 1857 in Leslieville, York, Ontario. Their son Frederick (1859-1943) was born on January 15, 1859 in Leslieville. The Greenwoods are in the 1861 Census on John Greenwood King Street E., north side [now Queen Street East]. Their son Samuel (1862-1921) was born on March 30, 1862 and son Charles (1864-1907) was born on at their home in the inn on Kingston Road on June 8, 1864. Another innkeeper, William Vine of the Butcher’s Arms (on Mill Road, later known as Broadview Avenue) got several lots from John Greenwood in 1864. He may have won them betting with Greenwood.

18651107GL Greenwoods shooting grounds' - Copy
Globe, November 7, 1865

The Greenwood’s daughter Susanna passed away on October 18, 1867, at the age of 17. John Greenwood’s died four months later, on February 17, 1868, at the age of 48. He and Susanna may have died of tuberculosis. Some time after his death, “The Puritan Hotel” became known as “Greenwood’s Hotel”.

Greenwood John
Gravestone, John Greenwood, Catherine, William, Charles and Elizabeth, St. John of Norway Cemetery

In 1869, after her father’s death, another Susanna was born. Kate was 47 with a new-born and a handful of young children to feed, clothe and educate.

To make life as a single mother even more difficult, Kate could not read or write according to the 1871 Census. She took over the complete running of the inn, the ice business and a market garden.

Leslieville Directory 1873
Leslieville Directory 1873

An 1882 Directory lists her as the proprietess, Greenwood’s Hotel, and she regularly applied to the County or York for a tavern license and got it.

18820420GL Greenwood Tavern Leslieville
Globe, April 20, 1882 Granting of tavern license

In 1883 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show came to the Woodbine Racetrack during its first year of travel. No doubt Kate served many on their way to and from the racetrack. Her neighbour, Tom Beatty, drove the horse-drawn tramway that carried passengers along the Kingston Road from Ben Lamond to the Don River.

1883 City of Toronto Directory 1
1883 City of Toronto Directory for Leslieville
1883 City of Toronto Directory 2
1883 City of Toronto Directory for Leslieville

On May 22, 1885 The Globe reported that Catherine Greenwood had again been granted a tavern license.

In 1886, she was living at 1395 Queen Street East, but no longer operated the Puritan. Alpheus E. Brown took over the hotel and after that it passed through several hands, including Robert Milburn’s, until Richard O’Leary became the proprietor. On his death in 1891, it ceased to operate as a hotel and was torn down when Greenwood Avenue was widened. After she retired from the hotel, Kate Greenwood ran an ice cream parlour on the south side of Queen Street across the street from her son Frederick Greenwood’s house.

Frederick Greenwood House - Copy
The Frederick Greenwood House at Vancouver and Queen Street East. Photo by Joanne Doucette.
City Directory (Toronto R.L. Polk & Co., 1888), p. 580
City Directory (Toronto R.L. Polk & Co., 1888), p. 580. Catherine (Kate) Greenwood, 1411 Queen St E, Son Charles, worker in ice business, boards 1411 Queen St E, Son Frederick Greenwood, ice dealer, 1340 Queen St E, Son Samuel Greenwood, worker in ice business, boards 1411 Queen St. E.

City Directory (Toronto: R.L. Polk & Co., 1888), p. 580. Listing of Greenwoods in City of Toronto. Note:  Catherine Greenwood (widow of John) home 1411 Queen Street East, Charles Greenwood, ice, boards, 1411 Queen Street East, Samuel Greenwood, ice, boards 1411 Queen Street East. Frederick is across the road at 1340 Queen Street E. His home is there and also this is his business address

In 1892 she was living at 1411 Queen East where she died on April 27, 1897, at the age of 75. 1411 Queen Street East is probably the same house as 1395 Queen Street East, the street having been renumbered.

1884 Ashbridges creek in Goads Atlas
Ashbridges Creek in Goads Atlas, 1884.

This 1884 map shows one house across from the Wesleyan Chapel and that house was undoubtedly Kate Greenwood’s.

The most likely candidate and the only house that would be old enough is that at 1401 Queen Street East where the new Leslieville mural is going up right now. It is a classic centre gable “Ontario Cottage” though buried beneath ugly modern siding. The Ontario Cottage is a style of small house with three bays, usually one-and-a-half storeys with large windows and featuring that centre gable over the front door. They were usually rectangular with a centre hallway and rooms (often four) off the hallway. Many like this have later additions.

The Greenwood’s tombstone in St. John of Norway Cemetery reads:

“In Memory of John Greenwood Died Feb. 17 1868 Aged 46 Years Also his wife, Catherine Died April 27 1897 Aged 75 Years William J. Died Nov. 11 1882 Aged 25 Years Charles Died Dec. 31 1907 Aged 43 Years Elizabeth Died March 13 1932 Aged 81 Years”

John Greenwood’s sister Jane  searched, not knowing he was long dead, to find her long lost brother John. She advertised:

“Greenwood (John), COACH PAINTER, left Derby about 1849-50, to go to Toronto, America. Sister Jane would like to know. Daily Mail and Empire, Sept. 3, 1895.”

18950903DailyMailandEmpire John Greenwood
Daily Mail and Empire, September 3, 1895


Published by Leslieville Historical Society

Welcome to the Leslieville Historical Society's website. Please feel free to join us, to ask questions, to attend walking tours and other events, and to celebrate Leslieville's past while creating our future. Guy Anderson, President, Leslieville Historical Society and Joanne Doucette, local historian and webmaster.

2 thoughts on “Mystery of the Hanging Cat of Greenwood & Queen

  1. Hello Joanne.

    Many thanks for preparing these references to the Greenwood family.

    I live in Australia and my ancestors came from Ireland. My Great Grandfather John Clancy had a brother Michael Clancy who settled in Toronto around 1849. Michael had a daughter Bridget who married a John Greenwood and they lived at 1340 Queen Street East. At the age of 80 my grand uncle Micheal was also living at the same address along with his grandchildren Leila May and John Greenwood.

    I have four letters 1907 to 1910 sent to my Great-grandfather by Michael via his children including Bridget and Grand daughter Leila.

    As I will be visiting Toronto for a Rotary convention in June I am keen to make contact and or find out more about John and Bridget’s descendants.

    Kind regards
    Philip Clancy

    1. Hello Philip,

      Thank you for your email. I would be delighted to meet you when you are in Toronto and show you some of the sights and sites related to Greenwoods in Toronto as well as some of the local Irish history.

      I am updating the Greenwood Tree and then I would be happy to share it with you. Also, I am far from the best expert on the Greenwoods. There is another person who has researched this family extensively and is a Greenwood descendant. May I give that person your email address?

      Also I am going to update the Clancy line with the information I have from the databases here. Any information you could share about Michael and John’s father and mother would be very helpful. You can email me at if you wish.

      Best wishes,
      Joanne Doucette
      Leslieville Historical Society

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