Self-guided Tour: Bricks, Devils and a Pocket

Your mission …to explore strange familiar worlds; to seek out life amid urban civilization; to boldly go where everyone has gone before.

By Joanne Doucette

Looking east on the Danforth from Jones Avenue, Aug. 7, 1912


This self-guided tour encompasses the area bounded by Danforth on the north, Gerrard Street on the south, Jones Avenue on the west and Greenwood Avenue including the east side. Enjoy!

Map based on a 1955 Realtors’ Map in the City of Toronto Archives. The red numbers indicate the stops on the tour. How you reach them is up to you .
Danforth Avenue, Jones to Greenwood, south side, listings from the 1916 City of Toronto Directory. The addresses do not match modern addresses since, as houses and businesses filled in the empty lots, the City of Toronto renumbered the street. Numbered addresses were mandated by Canada Post. Note the blacksmith and harness-maker at 693 Danforth Avenue. Often gas stations took over the sites of blacksmith shops, as one business that catered to repairing vehicles and the engines that few them (horses to gasoline). I believe 693 is now the site of a car rental agency and was a service station.

By 1900 the brick industry was changing. Small, family-run operations run as a craft were could no longer compete. The easily-accessed soft blue clay near the surface along the creeks and the shore of Ashbridge’s Bay was running out. Machines were replacing hand labour and simple equipment. Women and girls were no longer welcome in the brickyards and neither were very young boys. In the earlier brickyards the whole family worked including children as young as three or four. craft, family-oriented, small scale. The early brickmakers did not advertise and simply served those who came to the brickyard gate to buy brick.

Note the curbside gas pumps. We want curbside delivery today, but not this!

By 1900 brick manufacturers turned to a soft sedimentary rock, shale, to make “shale brick”, but that shale lay deep below the surface and extracting the raw material became what we know of as open pit mining. More capital was needed for heavy machinery, advertising and shipping by rail. Capitalists stepped it and some were no longer brickmakers themselves. The owner of Standard Brick was a medical doctor.

Looking north on Greenwood Avenue, 1901, before the brick manufacturers came to mine the shale.

Soon 1905 four brickyards lay north of the rail line on Greenwood Avenue. They extracted blue clay and shale from deep quarries here by blasting with dynamite. It was dangerous and noisy. A steam shovel set on a railroad car on a portable narrow-gauge rail line hauled the broken rock up from the deep quarries to the brick plants at surface level along Greenwood Avenue. The shovel and the locomotive were called “a Dinky”; the cars were “Dinky cars”. Workers loaded the raw bricks onto pallets and then placed pallets on steel cars which ran into Sheldon and Sheldon drying tunnels. Brickmakers fired the dried bricks in scoved kilns or in up-draft kilns. In some cases rectangular down draft kilns were used.

Brickmakers depended on three basic ingredients to make their products: sand, clay or shale, and water. This explains why brickyards were virtually always located along creeks or shores.

All the four of the first brickyards north of the tracks turned out “very excellent hard red brick”. (M. B. Baker, “Clay & the Clay Industry of Ontario” in Ontario Bureau of Mines, no. 5, 1906, 110-111) The number of brick manufacturers on Greenwood quickly multiplied and the shale pits grew wider and deeper. By World War One the pit on the west side of Greenwood stretched almost to Danforth Avenue as did the quarry on the east side of the road. Each pit had more than one brick manufacturer working in it, each owning a piece of the valuable property in the hole. Originally each brick manufacturer dug their own hole but soon the holes merged together.

The brick industry began to reorganize after 1900. Brick plants and brick pits grew larger and larger brickyards, and even while becoming more and more mechanized, hired more workers until they were a major employer in the East End. As they mined deeper and deeper deposits, heavy machinery became essential and the industry became even more capital intensive so that bigger companies drove smaller companies out of business or gobbled them up just as their machinery was gobbling up the landscape.

Brickyard wagon Greenwood Avenue, Toronto Star, April 23, 1906
The Martin Machine that revolutionized brickmaking.

Builders and architects began to experiment with new forms and new building materials. From around 1900 brickmakers competed with manufacturers of cement bricks and blocks. As steel-framed buildings became more common, brick was no longer a structural element and became a veneer. The design of modern office towers and factories called for cement, not bricks. Art Deco in the 1920’s fashioned a Toronto downtown with elegant cement buildings.

Brickmakers had to use modern dryers, steel trucks, automatic cutting tables, disintegrators, brick machines, mould sanders, etc. to compete. One dry press machine could make more bricks in a day than the traditional hand-moulding brick yard could make in a year. To survive they had to expand their markets beyond the local builders and contractors who picked bricks up at the brick plant gate. There were fewer and fewer brick manufacturers. Essentially, there were several brick manufacturers sharing one big hole on the east side of Greenwood and others, including Albert H. Wagstaff, on the west side of Greenwood. By the 1930’s large plants using modern methods and machinery shipped bricks across the province from production centres. There were only 14 plants in York County in 1930 compared to 30 in 1906.


Harper’s Dump with the brick plants along Greenwood Avenue, looking southeast.

Just as the good blue brick clay was being used up, houses built of the very same brick spread over the East End, making remaining clay deposits inaccessible. Only shale was left and the shale pits, hemmed in by housing, could not expand. They could go down deeper. By the 1930’s, only the Price brickyard remained at 395 Greenwood Ave on the east side and was part of the Toronto Brick Company. It closed in 1946. In 1962 Price’s Parkhill Martin machine was moved to Don Valley Brickyard where it was reconditioned and is now on display at Evergreen Brickworks.

The derelict brickyards became subdivisions, schools and parks. Torbrick Road and its housing project, sit on the site of the yard. The Russell and Morley brickyards became Greenwood Park. St. Patrick’s Secondary School and Monarch Park Collegiate sit on old brick pits. Felstead Park was also a brickyard (Logan’s). St. St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School, its playing field and the housing south of it are all sitting on brickyards and claypits.

Spraying Greenwood Dump, Globe and Mail, August 15, 1950

Manufacturers used other brickyards for factories. The big brick yard on the west side of Greenwood Avenue became Harper’s Dump, the City of Toronto’s main garbage tip until 1952 when it was full. They also used the Price brick pit across the street. Dumping then shifted south of Eastern Ave, east of Leslie Street, filling the last of the Ashbridge’s Bay wetland. In 1965 the TTC opened the Greenwood Subway Yard, a 5,600-cubic meter car service and storage yard. 31.5 acres were purchased and some houses torn down make room for the yards. The Greenwood Yard opened at the same time as the first Bloor-Danforth subway line. Subway trains are cleaned, repaired and otherwise maintained at the Greenwood Yard. They are usually stored outside. The TTC has three yards, including the Greenwood Yard, that take care of the subway trains and the machinery needed to maintain tracks.

By Eric Trussler
Subway system trackage diagram (in service and under construction) 1963
Aerial photo looking west, 1965, showing the TTC Subway Yad, Toronto Brick pit and pond


Looking north on Greenwood Avenue around 1930

John Price was born in Bridgwater, Somerset, England, in 1845. His family had been brickmakers for generations. In 1869 John Price came to Canada and become a farmer, but it wasn’t long before he became a brickmaker again. In 1878, John Price founded his own plant on Greenwood Avenue. Among connoisseurs of bricks (they exist) the John Price red is considered perhaps the best brick ever made in Canada. It was a high quality face brick, used for the exteriors of buildings. Like many brickyard owners, John Price also dealt in real estate and development. His brickyard continued to grow becoming an even larger pit and a large employer.

In 1909, the Taylors, papermakers at Todmorden on the Don, sold their Don Valley Brickworks to Robert Davies. The Don Valley Brickworks and the John Price Brick Company were competitors, later to become one. The clay in the first John Price brickyard became depleted and John Price opened operations further north, above the GTR tracks, on the east side of Greenwood Avenue. John Price died May 27, 1916, but there were no shortages of Prices to carry on brickmaking.

By the 1920s the John Price red facing brick was the mark of a well-built, valuable home, used in Forest Hill and other upscale Toronto neighbourhoods.

Toronto Brick Company claypit, looking east with Monarch Park in the background.

Ad from 1925

In 1928 the Brandon Brick Company of Milton, Ontario, and the John Price Brickyard on Greenwood Avenue amalgamated to form the “Toronto Brick Company”. However, by the 1930’s, a combination of increased demand for bricks and mechanization of the brickmaking process depleted the brickfields. The land became too valuable for brickmaking. The anti-smoke bylaws limited heavy industry.

The only brickyard left operating was Price’s yard at 395 Greenwood Avenue. It became the Toronto Brick Company. The Toronto Brick Company closed in 1956 when the United Ceramics Limited of Germany acquired the Toronto Brick Company. It was Leslieville’s last brickyard. In 1962, the company relocated the Parkhill Martin Brick Machine from the former John Price Brickyard to the Don Valley Brickworks to make soft-mud bricks for the “antique” brick market.

A rainy day in the neighbourhood built over the Toronto Brick Company quarry. Photo by Joanne Doucette 2020


From Clay and the Clay Industry of Ontario.
Albert Wagstaff, 1902 (from a private collection)

Albert “Bert” Wagstaff was the Alderman Ward I and openly lived by “Live and let live”, making him seen as a man’s man, but also a womanizer, drunk and party animal. Wagstaf made all the varieties of brick then in demand but also specialized in purple and black brick. He lived at 326 Greenwood Avenue, a large house, hidden by later factory additions. He was a builder too. When he had an oversupply of bricks he built low-rise apartments including the Alberta and Louise on Dundas Street, the Avalon Apartments. and possibly Morley Court Apartments at Woodfield Road and Gerrard Street. He was known for having multiple mistresses, all of whom knew each other and were not adverse to partying solo with Bert or en masse. Family legend has it that he put a different mistress in each one of those apartment buildings — except The Vera. When he died, this not-so-upstanding Methodist brickmaker left his brick business to a drinking buddy, Albert Harper. Much of the rest he left to the daughter he adored, Vera Sparks. His marriage to his second wife was the kind the devil would have bolted out of hell to escape. He left her and the son who had turned against his father, very little. They sued and lost — after all a man’s home was his castle and he could do with his millions what he would.

Mr. and Mrs. Wagstaff in their car. Bert loved fast cars, fast horses and fast women. One night while out partying with “his girls”, the drunken brick manufacturer drove his limo into a ditch, injuring himself and several of the women.  They all fled the scene, exactly how is not known, leaving the upside automobile where farmers found it in the morning. No charges were laid as was always the case with Bert Wagstaff. This was not true of the older generation of Wagstaff men, including his father, David. Those Wagstaff brothers all had criminal records.
The Wagstaff brick plant on Wagstaff Drive is the only one still standing in the area. It has been repurposed. Photo shows The Left Field Brewery, one of many small businesses using the old buildings. Photo by Joanne Doucette.


In 1882 Gerrard Street was extended east to Logan’s Lane and the side lines (the side streets of today) were opened out. The extension of Gerrard Street allowed a way for people to avoid paying tolls on Kingston Road, decreasing the toll keeper’s revenues. In the 1890’s cash fare was 5 cents and one could buy 25 tickets for a dollar to ride the streetcar. Streetcar service was the essence of suburban life at that time and dissatisfaction with the Toronto Street Railway Company was perpetual. In December another district street car line was created along Gerrard Street East to Pape Avenue. In 1901 Alderman Oliver moved that the City Engineer report on the cost of extending of grading Gerrard Street from Pape Avenue to Greenwood Avenue “making if fit for street car tracks”. (Globe, September 17, 1901) The obstacle was a deep ravine, dug it even more by brickmakers, south of the railway tracks between Jones and Greenwood. It was called the “Devil’s Hollow” or “Devil’s Dip”.

In 1903 The York County Council considered the state of the roads and whether they should be improved. “Councillor Baird stated that he was very much opposed to paying out money for good roads and then have “the automobile fellow” come out on them from Toronto. He stated that these machines went at a terrific rate, and were very dangerous.” (Toronto Star, November 27, 1903)

In 1906 the Gerrard street car line was extended to Greenwood Avenue. Expectations rose in 1909 when the Area south of the Danforth between Don and the Beach was annexed by the City of Toronto. It was called Midway” by many. The boom was on. Empty spaces east of the Don filled up so that the area was fully developed by World War I. Real estate boom developers advertised a popularized form of the Arts and Craft bungalow, calling them “California-style bungalows” (Globe, April 14, 1922), and larger square Edwardian houses, called “villas”. Many of these buildings are remarkable similar in style — few models were apparently used. But there were exceptions. Many working class people also built their own homes and these houses may stand out on a street of “clones”.

In 1906 workers filled in the Devil’s Hollow with sand and gravel dug from the widening of Coxwell Avenue. Small locomotives carried the fill down to Prust Avenue and Gerrard Street on a light rail line laid specifically for the purpose, but the grade was still very steep.

In December, 1912, street cars began operating along Gerrard Street east of Pape. Mayor Hocken and City Controllers inaugurated the new Civic Streetcar line on Gerrard Street East, December 16. 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.

One of the many attempts to level the Devil. This is looking west from along Gerrard Street. Note Riverdale Collegiate on the right.

After the 1906 fill Hastings Creek still cut a 30-metre deep ravine north of Gerrard Street. By 1917 the soft, loose sand in the landfill under the streetcars had settled and was continuing to settle. The roadbed in the “Devil’s Hollow” threatened to derail the trolleys. The City of Toronto appointed a Committee to inspect “the gully south of Prust Avenue. This spot is considered a danger to public safety.” In 1919, the tracks were torn up again and more fill was dumped in. Now, much shallower, the ravine was considered a problem solved.


An Irish naavy with his gear, Notman studio photo

1846 to 1849 Irish navvies built Ontario’s first railroad, the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Railroad. In 1847 about 105,000 Irish emigrants left for British North America, driven out of their homeland by the Potato Famine or An Gorta Mor; many landed at the Simcoe Street docks.

In 1852 the Canadian Government announced plans to build a railway from Montreal to Toronto. The Grand Trunk (GTR) formed and won the charter to build a railway through Canada East and Canada West. Navvies built the line as quickly as possible. In 1856 the Grand Trunk Railway advertised that it was opened “Throughout to Toronto on Monday October 27”. The chief freight was grain, tan-bark, timber and cordwood — most of it still the produce of the forest. Irish backs and Irish brawn built the railroads of Ontario. The GTR ran through and local trains.

Irish navvies building the Grand Trunk Railway


1963 Public Domain, National Archives, USA

6 Condor Avenue was a brothel where James Earl Ray is reputed to have hid out in Toronto after assassinating Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. In 1993, to mark the 25th anniversary of King’s murder, journalists from the Ottawa Sun and Robert Benzie interviewed Ray at Nashville’s Riverbend Maximum Security Institution. Ray was a master of disguise, using multiple identities to escape capture. On May 6, 1968, Ray boarded a flight to London. The biggest manhunt in history ended on June 8, 1968, when officers arrested him at Heathrow Airport. “I don’t think I have much in common with these others,” Ray told the journalists. “I mean, Sirhan, he’s Arab from Jordan or wherever and Oswald, he was in politics. Here I am. I’m just involved in criminal activity. I just did dumb things like coming back to the United States from Canada.”


The Pocket lies between Danforth Avenue on the north, the Greenwood TTC yard on the east, Jones Avenue on the west, and the CNR train tracks on the south. The Pocket was originally developed as a subdivision called Eastmount, but that name has been lost in time.

Toronto Star, July 6, 1911

Toronto grew by almost 700% from 1851 to 1901 when some of the older houses in the Pocket were built. The 1880’s and 1890’s were decades of great population growth over the Don also nicknamed The Goose Flats. Reliable, efficient and inexpensive public transit, in the form of the streetcar, was the key to suburban living.
A typical 1912 house: Six-room bungalow: living room, dining room, and kitchen, downstairs; and three bedrooms upstairs: $2,400 – Last one of 6 comfortable homes, East End, brick front, 6 rooms and bathroom, beautifully decorated, concrete cellar and Pease furnace, verandah, $200 down, balance equal to rent; don’t miss this please. (Toronto Star, April 23, 1909)

Susan McMurray, co-founder and co-editor of The Pocket newsletter, and her neighbours made up the name for their neighbourhood, sandwiched between Greenwood Avenue, the subway yard, the rail corridor and Danforth Avenue. They launched their newsletter in 2003. In the 1990’s young urban professionals, nicknamed “Yuppies” somewhat unkindly, began buying houses in the Pocket. Many houses were rundown. The new owners often completely gutted and recreated from top to bottom. At that time, many decorated their walls austerely with white paint so they were also called white painters.

Ravina Crescent looking west to Jones Avenue, (Jones Avenue Baptist Church, centre)
September 26, 1913

An older resident recalled, “a ravine that cut through the area before it was turned into a landfill, then covered with buildings and greenery”. Ravina Crescent, a winding street south of Danforth Ave. follows the route of that branch of Hastings Creek, which was known as Ravine Creek and later Ravina Creek.” The Creek came first, Ravina Crescent followed. In 2006 some 3,000 people lived there. Most were between the ages of 15 and 65, according to a Statistics Canada report commissioned by the newsletter. More than a third were first-generation immigrants, and nearly 40 % identified themselves as visible minorities. Pocket residents work hard at improving their neighbourhood with events such as annual litter-pickups, tree-planting drives and a volunteer-built ice rink in the park. Ben Kerr, a busker and mayoral candidate, was probably the most famous Pocket resident. Ben Kerr Lane is named for him.

The steep wall of the clay pit at Shudell Avenue, March 10, 1927


From the Toronto Public Library. Line block on card, 1920. Inscribed in the print, l.l.: Head of Jones Ave. / on Danforth Road looking east / J. McP ROSS after sketch  The original artist was John McPherson Ross who lived in the area from 1863 to his death in the 1920’s. His drawing was copied in by 1920 Joseph Bernard Gloster (1878-1948). Gloster’s drawing was a proof for the line block in The Evening Telegram, Toronto, 23 December 1920, p. 10, illustrating Ross’ article “Danforth Ave. in Old Days”.

Crossing the Danforth At Jones and Danforth was an eight foot wide stream with a wooden bridge over it. (Interview with Harry Clark, c. 1977 in Local History Collection, Broadview & Gerrard Branch, Toronto Public Library)

…to cross the Danforth at Jones one had to go down a set of stairs, cross the road, then climb four more steps on the other side.…further down, on Jones, there was a bridge that crossed a creek which started at Langton, went underground in the direction of Ravina. (Interview with Mrs. Cooper, 456 Jones Ave c. 1997 in Local History Collection, Riverdale Branch, Toronto Public Library)

A mechanic works on a Donlands Dairy delivery truck in a garage on the south side of Danforth Avenue near Euston Avenue, 1929-1930


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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