Wood’s Hotel From Mud Roads and Plank Sidewalks Part 12

From Mud Roads and Plank Sidewalks Part 12

By Samuel Herbert (1876-1966)

Carlaw and Queen
The Leslie Hotel (right) was a corner store on Nov. 5, 1948. A doctor’s home is on the left where the drugstore is today. It was built on land that had been part of William Wood’s property, The section of Carlaw Avenue just north of Queen had also been part of The Leslieville Hotel’s grounds.


Where Carlaw Avenue now cuts through north of Queen Street there was situated on the north side of the Kingston Road a hotel called “Woods Hotel.”

Carlaw and Queen 1884
Close up of Carlaw and Queen from the 1884 Goad’s Atlas. Note that Carlaw Avenue does not go through north of Queen. The buildings on the left were probably the stables for the Leslieville Hotel which is the red (brick) building across the street from the Presbyterian Church. The zoo, conservatory and other buildings are to the east of the hotel and like the stables are made of wood (yellow on the map).

A row of tall poplar trees shaded the front. In the yard behind the hotel, was a small zoo. Peacocks, guinea hens, a couple of monkeys and a number of dogs of different nationalities. 

An old darkey, who, gossip said, was an ex-slave was the custodian of the animals, and he was also the porter of the hotel.

For more about the use of derogatory terms and the role of racism see the background section.

The hotel people cut down six of the tall trees which were at the front and shaped the stumps in the form of chairs, and they were really easy and nice to sit in.

There was also a large wooden watering trough for horses. I remember watching a fight in front of the hotel and one of the men knocked the other into the watering trough and held him there until he was thoroughly soaked. It seemed to wash all the fight out of him.

A detail from a City of Toronto Archive photo, August 31, 1983 Where the Shoppers’ Drug Mart is today was a grocery store. The Leslieville hotel was a variety store in 1983.
Celine’s Garden Restaurant, closed 2015 Photo by J. Patterson
Thirsty Duck
Courtesy of Toronto Pubs https://torontopubs.wordpress.com/2016/12/12/the-thirsty-duck/

About the use of the term “darkie” in the article.

I debated within myself whether to censor this out of the quote. The racism of Sam Herbert’s day was open and largely unrecognized, being so widely held as it was. Today racism is generally more subtle but it would not surprise many of us if we heard similar terms tumble out of the mouth of the former president of the U.S.A. Not all shared (or share) that prejudice or used its poisonous language. George Leslie, the gardener who dominated Leslieville, others like John Logan and William Woods, owner of the Leslieville Hotel, shared Reform (Liberal politics) with its strong anti-slavery element.The Toronto Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1851 and included supporters from “Over the Don”. Leslieville’s thriving Black community participated in this struggle. Ice merchants like Henry Lewis of Leslieville, hotel keepers like James Barry of Leslieville, other entrepreneurs, farmers like the Sewells, and others. They organized to assist refugees and fight slavery, even enlisting in the Union army.

Some of the first Black residents appeared in the 1830’s in what was to become Leslieville. Around 1834 or 1835, an English settler named Charles Watkins built a tavern near the northwest corner of Boston Avenue and Queen Street East, just east of where the Leslieville Hotel was to be built around 1876. Watkins liked farming more than running an inn so he rented the inn out. The first landlord, Sandy Watson, kept the inn until about 1847. Then James Shaw rented the place and it became known as Shaw’s Hotel. It was one of the first taverns in Leslieville. According to John Ross Robertson:

Mr. Shaw was very fond of horses, and it was one of the sights of the neighbourhood to see the black hostler, an old escaped slave known as ‘Doc’, trot out Mr. Shaw’s team to water every morning. John Ross Robertson, Landmarks, Vol. III, p. 320

“Doc” was Lewis Doherty (or Dockerty), an American who escaped here with his family. The picture below shows Lewis Doherty holding a horse in front of Shaw’s Hotel (northwest corner of Queen Street and Boston Avenue). Many in the Black community here worked in the hotels, especially with horses.

About William Woods and The Leslieville Hotel

William Woods had experience running a grocery store and then a hotel downtown before he started his own and it appears from the beginning that his hotel was different from most of the day.

Woods before numbering
The numbering of houses on streets in Leslieville did not begin until door-to-door mail delivery begin. The Post Office had Queen numbered in 1886. This time line shows how William Woods was listed in the Directory each year, but the listings reflected the cataloging done the previous summer.

William Woods, proprietor of the “Leslie Hotel,” Kingston Road, was born in King’s County, Ireland, and came to Canada in May 1853. For seven years [or until 1860] he occupied a position in the house of Robert Reford, establishing himself in the grocery and liquor business at the corner of Caroline and King streets afterwards.  From this locality he removed to the corner of Sackville and King streets, remaining there till he bought and took possession of the above hotel [in Leslieville] in 1876 History of Toronto and County of York Ontario.  Vol. I. Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, Publisher, 1885, 489 – 490.

He actually began as a grocer in Leslieville before getting a hotel license. In 1876 William Woods opened the Leslie Hotel near today’s Carlaw and Queen. His hotel, named “The Leslieville Hotel” had rooms, a meeting hall that could hold 200, a restaurant and a bar.

Cherry Hill Tavern, old four-poster bed. - September 23, 1928
Cherry Hill Tavern, old four-poster bed. – September 23, 1928

[William Woods] bought and took possession of the above hotel in 1876. In connection with this hotel he has a garden and conservatory and also owns a lot near the lake for the use of guests desirous of boating or fishing.  His premises have a frontage of 81 x 230 feet. History of Toronto and County of York Ontario.  Vol. I. Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, Publisher, 1885, 489 – 490.

A time line showing 972 Queen and it’s neighbours through the years.

He is listed in the 1881 Census as a hotel keeper. One of the permanent residents of the hotel was James Barry, born in Africa sometime around 1820, probably the porter and zookeeper in Sam Herbert’s article. [The Census was careful to record if a refugee from slavery was born in the U.S. Barry may have been one of the last to be carried on a slave ship to America.] Fanny Wright was a domestic, probably the hotel’s housekeeper. All were members of the Church of England.

Bar room

Tavern keepers offered food, drink and shelter to travelers and their horses, but taverns were also social centers.  Taverns and inns were not just places to get drunk. Militia musters, fairs, agricultural society dinners, election banquets, political meetings, church services, dances, and parties were held in taverns.

Mass Meeting of Electors in Leslieville.

A mass meeting of electors of East York was held on Wednesday in the hall adjoining Wood’s store, Leslieville. Mr. Alex. Gibb was called to the chair, and opened the meeting with a few remarks, and concluded by calling upon Mr. G.W. Badgerow, the reform candidate for the Riding, who after a few preliminary remarks, in which he expressed a hope that his opponent would put in an appearance in order that they might have a free discussion of the questions now before the country, said that these questions were altogether different from those which were decided upon by the electors upon the 17th of September last…The meeting closed with three cheers for the Queen, a similar honour being given to each of the candidates. Globe, Nov. 18, 1879

A large number of the electors of East York assembled at Wood’s Hall, Leslieville yesterday. Among those present were Messrs. Geo. Badgerow, M.P.P., W.H. Doel, J.O., George Leslie, Jr., Alexander Bigg, W. Woods, F. Farendon, J. Mallendine, J.M. Ross, George Martin, John Strader, T. Holland, J. Farrell, Julian Schmidt, Jr., Wm. Perry, J. Taylor, and others.

Mr. Woods occupied the chair. Globe, March 24, 1882

Some hotels, including some Leslieville hotels, but not THE LESLIEVILLE HOTEL offered illegal pleasures such cockfighting, dog fights, poker and prostitution.

…the man who owned a fighting dog was better known than the Mayor of the city. A story of the old days, when there was a battle royal every Saturday night between the adherents of the Orange and Green or a mix-up betwixt the volunteer firemen and the bluecoats, will earn a footing quicker than an invitation to the house to lubricate. Toronto Star, April 6, 1901

One function that was unique to William Woods’ hotel was the use of his hall for court cases, which may lead to a certain amount of animosity against him among Leslieville’s rowdies.

Wood’s Hall, next to the Leslieville Tavern likely had some kind of stage and was used for a wide variety of purposes. It would not, however, have been the formal court room pictured here.

THREATENING AT DON MOUNT. – Thomas Pierce was brought up before Mr. John Hamilton, J.P., at Wood’s Hotel, Kingston Road, on Friday evening last, charged with threatening to assault Gus Williams. He was bound over to keep the peace towards the complainant. Globe, Sept. 1, 1879

The Modern Dance of Death A Sermon in Six Cartoons. No. 2. ca. 1855-1891 NARCH 4A DON MOUNT WIFE-BEATING CASE.

A man named Charles Ashby, who had been drinking for some time, is charged with having committed a most flagrant assault upon his wife Elizabeth on Saturday and Sunday, and from his kicks and blows her face and body were covered with bruises.

The inhuman treatment she has received from the hands of her husband, together with the effect of an illness which followed immediately after the birth of her last child some time ago, have apparently contributed to reduce her to a sate of partial mental aberration.

County Constable Woods attempted to serve a summons on the husband yesterday, as it was intended that an investigation should be made into the facts last night at Wood’s Hall, Kingston road, but he could not be found. Later on a warrant was issued by Mr. Doel, J.P., but the attempt to make a service met with a like result. It was then seen that Ashby had escaped.

In view of the necessity of providing for the poor woman, she was brought up last evening at Wood’s Hall on the charge of insanity. Dr. Carroll testified that he had known Mrs. Ashby since last January. His opinion as a medical man, was that with proper treatment she would recover, but if neglected she would become worse. She was melancholic, and without proper attention she might become suicidal.

The poor woman was attended last evening by two of her boys and her little girl. Questions were put to her by Mr. Doel, a few of which she answered, but the others appeared to be beyond the grasp of her mind and to them she was silent.

She was then committed to gaol [jail] as a lunatic and will be brought up before Judge Mackenzie on Wednesday next. Her children, it is expected, will be well taken care of by the neighbors. Globe, August 5, 1879

Woods himself was assaulted again and again over the years, but managed to retain his sanity and his livelihood, having more resources and far more status than many victims of violence.

The rowdies had their revenge on William Woods over the years.

At the Criminal Court yesterday, before Mr. Justice Falconbridge, Frederick Collins, charged with perjury, was dismissed, the witnesses failing to appear. Michael Roe, charged with wounding William Woods … asked time to prepare his defense, when the case was postponed until the next Assizes and the prisoner allowed bail of two sureties at $400 each. Globe, Feb. 3, 1880

William Woods testified against one member of a gang that was involved in a brutal murder, kicking a lone man to death behind his home on McGee Street. This was gang violence, young men fueled with liquor and jealous of any attention other men to “their women”. One gang was based in Leslieville; the other west of the railway tracks. A local athletic star, rower Hugh Wise and one of his friends, were falsely accused of the murder and sent to penitentiary for manslaughter based on the testimony of William Ashby and another man who had originally been convicted of the murder but once in prison changed their stories and alleged that Wise and his friend and done the deed.

Ashby, the Crown Witness, Charged with Perjury at the Trial.

The Long murder case, which was thought to have been finally closed by the committal of Wise and Phillips to the penitentiary, has been re-opened at the Police Court by the preliminary investigation in the case of Wm. Ashby, accused of perjury at the trial. Robert Tyson, official stenographer, testified that the document put into court was a correct transcript of the evidence given by Wm. Ashby at the trial of Wise and Phillips on the 18th of January last. The copy was produced, and the question, “Had you a piece of railroad iron with you on the night of the row?” and Ashby’s answer in the negative were read by Mr. Murdock.

Robert Dickey, sworn, said he was in the Leslieville Hotel on the night of July 12th, about 8 o’clock, when Ashby and Cooper, with two other young men, came in and had a couple of drinks. Ashby then sprang upon the end of the bar counter, and witness saw something sticking out of his pocket and seized the article and drew it partially out, but Ashby pulled it away from him.


and on the end, but on the inside, was a heavy piece of iron. Ashby wound the skin two or three times round his hand, and swung it in the air, after which he restored it to his pocket and left the hotel.

William Woods, bar-tender at the Leslieville Hotel, corroborated the evidence of the previous witness.

…Wm. McFadyen said that after Long had been assaulted he heard Ashby say to a party of young men, but not to himself personally, that he (Ashby) had “put the boots to the son of a —–.”

Hugh Kelly said that he was present when Long was being beaten, and Ashby aimed a vicious kick at the prostrate form of Long, and hit Wise, who was endeavouring to shield Long. Wise did not say “there’s life in the —— yet,” and throw Long to the ground, and kick him again. William Long was in the bar-room of the Leslieville Hotel the day after the row, and heard Ashby say, “I’m only a little fellow, but I had more to do with it than any of you; and if it had not been for Wise he would have got more than he did.” Globe, Feb. 16, 1883

Criminal gangs don’t like those who testify against them.

The number of licensed hotels for Leslieville’s small population was large. Many catered to summer visitors and those who came out to enjoy the races at the Woodbine track (Coxwell and Queen). To serve liquor, an inn had to have been licensed.  As noted, the north side of Leslieville was in the Township of York until 1884 while the south side was in the City of Toronto. Liquor licences were issued by both for the areas in their jurisdiction. Both taverns licenses on a yearly basis. The innkeeper or hotel keeper had to show that he had the necessary number of rooms ready to accommodate travelers. A saloon was not required to have rooms while a shop license was a license to sell liquor but not for consumption on the premises.

There were legal places to drink and lots of illegal ones too – and lots of rowdies to make a pub owner’s life interesting.

The other night some young men from Toronto gave an entertainment and dance in Gowan Hall. After the dance was over, almost three o’clock next morning, they amused themselves by breaking fences and gas lamps on the Kingston road, and breaking over County Constable Wood’s door. The constable was awakened, and it is said learned the name of two of the rowdies; and on Saturday afternoon he laid an information, and obtained warrants of arrest from W.H. Doel, J.P. for John Forbes and James Ryan. Globe, April 26, 1880

Bar room brawl. Public domain
Rowdies brawling in the street. Public domain


Two men near the railroad track, Kingston-road, fought yesterday morning, and they bit, gouged, and kicked each other like barbarians. Globe, April 29, 1882


Yesterday afternoon about five o’clock a disgraceful scene occurred on the Kingston-road. Five rowdies, natives of Corktown, including a well-known character nicknamed Paddy the Lash, were driving towards the city, and when opposite the residence of Mr. Russell, Sr., came to words, stopped the waggon, dismounted, and had a rough and tumble fight, kicking, biting, and gouging each other, rolling over and over on the road. Finally they were separated Globe
May 15, 1882

Little Trinity Church at 425 King Street East ca 1950

William Woods was a man of some status in the community, elected as a County of York public school trustee and a devout Christian, active in the Little Trinity parish in Corktown.



Mr. Wood, school trustee, at an interview with the directors of the Exhibition Association yesterday, obtained permission for the pupils of the Leslieville Public and Separate Schools and the Norway Public School to visit the great show to-day. The could news could not be made known to the children before closing school on account of some neglect or irregularity on the part of the servants of the Montreal Telegraph Co. Mr. Wood having sent a telegram in time but which was not received. Globe, Sept. 16, 1881

The closing exercises of the school in Section No. 6 took place yesterday afternoon under the direction of Mr. Lannin, the master…Before distributing the prizes, the children were addressed by Dr. Carroll and Mr. Vennell. The following comprise the list: A Bible from Mr. Woods for the greatest number of verses from Scripture recited, Hallie Sawyer; a Bible from Mr. Woods for best specimen of handwriting, Willie Wallace; by Mrs. Manson, two prizes for recitation – 1st, John Taylor; 2nd. George Manson.  Globe, July 8, 1882

There were only two licensed hotels on the north side of Kingston Road (Queen Street East) in Leslieville —  The Leslieville Hotel (William Woods) at Carlaw and Queen and The Puritan Hotel (Catherine Greenwood) at Greenwood and Queen. Joseph Trebilcock ran George Leslie’s post office and corner store at Curzon and Queen and applied for a license as a liquor store. Only two of the old hotels from both sides of Queen Street in Leslieville remain: the Duke of York (1870) and The Leslieville Hotel (approximately 1876).


Notwithstanding the resolution of the Board of License Commissioners for East York to supply the list of successful applicants first to a country paper and withhold it from the city dailies, the Riverside reporter of THE GLOBE has got the names of the successful ones in his district. They are as follows: Taverns – B. Tomlin, T. Farr, J. Mallindine, Riverside; W. Woods, Mrs. Greenwood, Leslieville; Charles Heber, Dutch Farm; Ira Bates and John Ross, Norway. Shop licenses – John Coombe and James Murray, Riverside.  The applications of Messrs. Trebilcock (Leslieville) and A. Tiffin (Riverside) will receive further consideration by the Commissioners on Saturday next. Globe, April 20, 1882

George Leslie’s store at the northwest corner of Queen and Curzon became a liquor store as well when Joseph Trebilcock got his license.


The following tavern and shop keepers of this vicinity took out their licenses on Thursday and paid the necessary fees: John Ross and Ira Bates (Norway), Terrence Farr, John Mallindine, B. Tomlin, John Coombe, James Murray (Riverside), William Woods and Joseph Trebilcock (Leslieville), Andrew Henderson, Catharine Greenwood, Kingston-road. Globe, April 29, 1882

By 1884, the north side of Queen Street and the rest of Leslieville had been amalgamated into the City of Toronto. The City’s liquor laws required each hotel to have at least six fully-furnished bedrooms for rent. Some owners did not bother to rent the rooms, getting their income from the bar only, and keeping the rooms only to comply with their license. The hotels in the Township of York (north side of Queen Street) were notorious. Since they were outside the City of Toronto, Toronto’s police were absent, but the County Constables were stretched thin and rarely patrolled the area. William Wood’s “The Leslieville Hotel” was a real hotel with rooms, a public hall and a bar, but some were simply the front room of a house with a rough bar installed.

And the rough housing went on.

The Modern Dance of Death A Sermon in Six Cartoons. No. 2. ca. 1855-1891 NARCH 3

A CHARIVARI – A gang of young men and boys disturbed the peace of the residents in St. Matthew’s Ward [this included much of Leslieville] on New Year’s Eve by parading the streets with a charivari band for the purpose of serenading a newly married couple residing in the neighbourhood. P.C. Crawford took down the names of several of the offenders. Toronto Daily Mail, Jan. 2, 1885

FOSTER’S FOOLISHNESS– Toronto Daily Mail, Jan. 2, 1885 a man named Foster entered the Leslieville hotel about eight o’clock Thursday night, and made things lively by assaulting the proprietor [William Woods] and several other persons. P.C. Crawford was sent for, but on his arrival the ruffian had made good his retreat. Proceedings will be taken against him. Toronto Daily Mail, Jan. 2, 1885


A meeting of East York License Commissioners was held yesterday afternoon, when the following liquor licenses were granted: — York Township __ William Brunskill, Ira Bates, David B. Birrell, George Empringham, Sarah Hackett, Michael O’Sullivan, William Woods and Teresa Wall, taverns. Markham Township – Robert Ash, beer and wine; Catharine Button, Annie Milley, John Torrance, taverns. Scarboro’, Norman Burton, Daniel Beldon, George Corfield, Wm. Keeler, Joseph Moon, taverns; J. Davies, six months, beer and wine. Markham Village, T G Percy, Edwin C Hall, John Jerman, taverns. Richmond Hill, Benjamin Baillinger and John Balmer, taverns. Colin A McKinnon and James Gates, York Township, refused.  Globe, April 29, 1887

The Modern Dance of Death A Sermon in Six Cartoons. No. 2. ca. 1855-1891 NARCH 2Leslieville men had a reputation for fighting with their feet, kicking their opponents when they were down:

A fight occurred in Jones’ hotel [E.A. Jones hotel, formerly Morin House, now the Duke of York], on the Kingston road, Monday night, during which a Leslieville bricklayer named Allcock was badly kicked about the face.  Constable Patterson, one of the mounted policemen, arrested Gus Hamilton as the guilty party yesterday morning. Globe, September 21, 1887

William Woods was a devout Anglican, a school trustee and a prominent man in Leslieville and he didn’t welcome the kind of illegal activity that many men (and some women) came “over the Don” to find. It seems he paid for this with many a beating until one final brutal assault ended his career as a hotel-keeper.

Jeremiah Johnson, cab-driver, was arrested and lodged in Agnes street station yesterday evening for assaulting William Woods, of Kingston road, and inflicting serious bodily injury on his person. A man named James Dorsey was arrested on the same charge. Globe, Dec. 29, 1887

A Serious Case from Norway.

Before Mr. Wingfield and Mr. Doel, justices of the peace, at the Court-house yesterday, Jennie Novel, Jeremiah Johnston, John Brumagin and Alice Mason were tried on a charge of feloniously wounding William Woods at his hotel at Norway on the 27th December.  The charge is that the prisoners visited Woods’ hotel, with others, and beat him with a loaded whip, broke a number of bottles and glasses, and drank liquor which they found in the place, without any provocation on the part of Woods. The damage done was to the extent of about $60 or $70.  Novel and Johnston were committed for trial. The others were remanded pending some further arrests which will probably be made in connection with the case.  Mr. N.G. Bigelow conducted the case for the prosecution.  Messrs. Patterson and Murdock appeared for the prisoners. Globe, Jan. 7, 1888

True Bill Found Yesterday.
The grand jury found true bills in the following cases: Robert Neil, alias Robert Thompson, for the murder of John Rutledge; Emerson Dollery, Alexander Romain, Adam Scholes, Thomas Drynan, Robert Kirk and Henry Jackson, feloniously wounding James Richard; Jeremiah Johnston, James Norval, Gus Hamilton and Michael Rae, unlawful injury to property; Jeremiah Johnston, James Norval, Gus Hamilton and Michael Rae, feloniously wounding William Woods. Globe,
Jan. 24, 1888

After this beating, obviously seriously injured, William Woods gave up the hotel business.


Hard drinking, binge-drinking and chronic alcoholism were perpetual problems. Alcohol was cheap and life was hard for many. Many women came to see drinking as an assault on their families, robbing the family of the husband’s pay and health. By this point, William Woods might well have agreed with them. He sold the Leslieville Hotel to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) for Leslieville’s very own Temperance Hall. It was conveniently located right across the street from the Presbyterian Church, a bastion of temperance.  The pastor, Rev. William Frizzell fought against liquor and organized his congregation to do so. (Globe, January 22, 1887)

Queen St E Presbyterian Church and Leslie trees
Queen Street East Presbyterian Church

Temperance gave women a sense of power in their lives at a time when they were still disenfranchised politically.

There were plenty of targets for their anger: licensed and unlicensed taverns, saloons and liquor stores, as well as bootleggers.

Group of WCTU meet in Toronto 1889 TPL
Group of WCTU meet in Toronto 1889

They had the support, not only of the churches, but the working man’s paper, The Toronto Star:


Low Whisky Dives That Are Operated Under City Licenses

Rendezvous of Thieves and Shameless Women—No Pretense Made to Respectability—Few Victuals Sold, But Immense Quantities of Liquor Disposed OF at All Hours of the day and Night—The City Council to Blame.

The present license system in Toronto has much to answer for. To it is due the existence of some of the most objectionable resorts in the city. Under its cloak the liquor law and other laws against immorality are publicly or semi-publicly violated.

When I speak of the license system I have reference to the system by which men who have frequently been convicted of the illegal sale of liquor can secure the sanction of the city to run resorts with no pretence to respectability.

As it is now an application need only be made to that august body known as the Property Committee of the City Council and permission is secured.

 A year or two ago a faint bluff was made that the issuing of these licenses was under the control of the police because the police were asked for a report before the application would be considered. But in most cases where the report was unfavorable, the request was granted, for there were always ward heelers enough around to force the goodly representatives of the people at City Hall to give their consent.

Lately, however, even the report from the police is not asked for. The result is that at the present time the city is beginning to swarm with beer and whisky dives that bear the very innocent name of “all night restaurants.”

There are a few decent and respectable places where meals can be had at any hour of the day or night. There are many where a dollar is turned over in liquor to every cent that is made of victuals.

Nor is this the most objectionable feature of the places. They are the resorts of fallen and degraded women and men that have almost by their acts severed themselves from the human race.

 In these holes the frequenters of the police court are found in numbers.

 There are, of course, grades in these places, but the highest grade of these liquor dives is altogether too low for a city that lays claim to morality as does Toronto.

The other evening I went out on a tour of investigation.  At the door of a York street establishment a young woman was sitting in order that the approach of the police might be made known to the people on the inside.

I was allowed to pass the sentinel without being challenged and on stepping inside I found what was once a store divided on the one side with stalls. On the other side was a short counter.

There was not enough food in sight to feed a dyspeptic pug dog though the place is supposed to be an eating house.

Each of the stalls contained a table and four chairs and all of these were fairly well occupied.

The sight was disgusting. There were men and women in various stages of intoxication, drinking beer and telling the vilest sort of stories.

In the motley throng were young men who have served terms of imprisonment for crimes that they were led into by frequenting resorts of this kind: young men who are not yet recorded in the calendar of crime, but who are in a fair way to have the distinction before many months have passed.

The women, some young, some older, for the most part were of that class that has fallen as low as it is possible to fall. Without reputation, shame, or honor, they assemble in such places as this to gather what pleasure they can out of brutal pastime.

I crossed the road and went in to see a man who for so long kept a dive on Elizabeth street. There were not as many people there that evening as there sometimes are, but it is hardly necessary to say that they were the sort of people that respectable citizens would not care to entertain. 

 Another old-timer runs a similar place on King street west. His patrons are of a better class. His is the sort of establishment where “respectable” young men entertain ladies of doubtful reputation.

 A very fair meal can be had, and all the beer that is necessary to wash it down.  Private rooms are provided for ladies and their escorts and no questions are asked. 

 Still another old-timer has a place on Adelaide street near Simcoe.  It is placarded all over with bills announcing that oysters have arrived, but if a past record counts of anything he will not trust to oysters to bring him an income.

In his time, he has contributed more than a moiety to the provincial and civic coffers in the way of fines.

He formerly ran an establishment on York street and though he is not at the old stand, the old stand is there doing business as usual.

And another old-timer is back in our midst. He has a restaurant on Queen street, west of the avenue. He has not long been there, but long enough to be caught selling liquor and fined.

He and his better half did not when they lived together enjoy that domestic felicity which is conducive to happiness. The result was that she applied to Magistrate Denison for an order of protection and was granted her request.

Her husband was cast upon the cold world and she continued the business. She had been well instructed while she submitted to her husband and when he was ordered to quit the place, she continued right along to sell liquor. She was fined for so doing.

Recently she moved from Yonge street to King street east, where she is now to be found. Then there is another woman who was proprietress of a restaurant on York street for some years. She left the rather doubtful place and now she is selling liquor on Queen, a few blocks west of Yonge. She may not be there herself all the time, for when last I heard of her, she was doing time across the Don, because she could not pay a fine.

It is quite impossible for the police to break up these resorts, while the present license system is in vogue.

Aldermen do not or should not know the vice of the dens that they license. They why should they undertake to issue the licenses? The matter should be left entirely in the hands of the police who know the character of the places as well as the people who run them.

It is a shame the one man, for instance, who has run a whisky dive in the city for many years should be granted an eating-house and a cigar license as he was granted them within the last fortnight.

It is a shame that similar licenses should year after year be granted to a dozen others whom I have located as having been convicted of law-breaking.

And just here there is room for another protest. When these dive-keepers are convicted Inspector Dexter out of the goodness of his heart postpones the cases from week to week to give the guilty an opportunity to scrape together their fine.

That is not the spirit of the law. The Ontario Government never intended that money should be extorted out of people guilty of violating the liquor law. The idea was to stamp out illicit selling and regulate the legal sale and this can best be done by vigorously prosecuting the offenders and giving them no time in which to pay their fines.

The community can well afford to pay the board of such people in jail.

Some years ago the good fathers of the city though they could manage pedlars’ licenses.

What was the result?

Just before the exhibition crooks from all over the continent were in the habit of coming to Toronto and procuring a license that give them the freedom of the city.

The vagrancy act, the great preventive of crime, was in this way rendered useless and Toronto was overrun with blacklegs.

Now the police regulate these licenses. As a result, pedlars are more respected and citizens are better protected.

The revolution brought about in this way could also be brought about with regard to these all-night eating houses. A few night restaurants are a convenience, but when the great majority of them has degenerated into grog-shops, haunts of thieves, institutions where all the vices are permitted, it is high time that something was done to bring about a change. Toronto Star, October 20, 1894

World's WCTU convention held in Toronto in 1897 TPL
World’s WCTU convention held in Toronto in 1897, Toronto Public Library

In 1901 there were only five hotels left “over the Don”.  The Toronto Star published an article on April 6, 1901 on Leslieville’s taverns. By that time, there was only one liquor store and five hotels left in Toronto’s East End “across the Don”.

By 1908 temperance supporters were moving to reduce liquor licenses across Ontario. They were well organized and well financed. They divided Ward One, including East Toronto, into seven districts. Charles Bully was in charge of Gerrard Street, east of the Don and north to city limits; E. O. Weston – Don River to Logan Avenue, between Gerrard and Queen Streets; Walter Davidson – Logan Avenue to Greenwood Avenue, between Gerrard and Queen Streets; and H. Radcliffe – Don to Greenwood Avenue, south of Queen Street. They elected a Finance Committee that included a representative of the Salvation Army. They were highly successful in restricting liquor in the City’s newly acquired suburbs east of Greenwood Avenue.


A Good Deal of Money Has Been Spent on Structures Where Some of People Will Ask The Commissioners to Cancel Licenses—Three Aspects that Worry the Board. The handling of the reduction question preparatory to the first of May, with reference to the hotels situated in the residential districts of Toronto, is the one which will give the License Commissioners a good deal of worry.

For this there are principally three reasons. The first one that the feeling throughout the city is that Toronto’s residential districts should be free of hotels and liquor stores, as was shown in the vote of January first, when Ward Six piled up the biggest majority in favor of reduction, as a protest against the forcing of a shop license in the residential district of Parkdale.

The second cause of worry to the commissioners is that there are no laws governing what is a residential district and what is not in the strict sense of the term. There are the civic by-laws, declaring certain locations to be residential, which means that in the future all factories and certain kinds of stores are excluded, but in a number of instances there are locations more residential than some of those declared so.

What License Act Says

Further, that is not the intention to limit the commissioners to the already declared residential districts is shown by the Liquor License Act which says:

“A petition signed by not less than 75 persons, being at least a majority in number of the electors in any polling sub-division, may be presented to the Board of Licensing Commissioners, for any city praying than any tavern license issued for any premises situated in the said polling sub-division be not renewed on the ground that the locality that the same are situate in is a residential and not a business locality…The third cause of anxiety to the commissioners is the fact that in cutting off the hotels in residential districts they will have to deal with four practically new hotels upon which upwards of $125,000 have been spent during the past few years.

Beginning at the east end of the city, in the newly-annexed district, there is not a hotel in the residential belt. One of the five existing houses is close to it, that of R. Harris, at the corner of Main street and Kingston road… Toronto Star, February 25, 1909

Many young people were persuaded to take THE PLEDGE.

In 1916 Ontario prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages except native wine (generally considered vile stuff), for purposes other than medicinal or scientific. Doctors began writing prescriptions for liquor to their more desperate patients who carried the precious medicine home in brown paper bags. In 1919 The Volstead Act passed in the U.S. and the rum-running era began. Many Canadians smuggled liquor across the Great Lakes at night. Al Capone is rumored to have had a late-night rendezvous with local rum runners at Cherry Beach. In 1924 Ontario voted to keep prohibition, but the next year near beer, watered down beer, was allowed.

Prohibition was repealed in Ontario in 1926. The Liquor Control Act placed the sale of alcoholic beverages under government control. Liquor was and is sold in government liquor stores while the large brewers founded the Brewers Retail to sell beer.

LipsThatTouchLiquor picture
A group of guys in drag poking fun at the WCTU. Source unknown.

In 1934 strong beer and liquor were again allowed in hotels and taverns under bizarre rules that ruled until only a few decades go. For example, you weren’t allowed to pick up your beer and walk to another table with it. Instead you had to get a waiter or the bartender to do it for you!  Beer is now available in grocery stores (some). Women can enter a bar without a man and are not confined to a separate entrance for “Ladies and Escorts”. The silliness of some of this beggars belief, but people across Canada got to make fun of our now vanished obsession with keeping Ontario virtuous and dry. And, of course, most people were neither virtuous or dry.

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.

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