Building Leslie Gardens

From 1836 to 1837 workers had straightened and planked the Kingston Road. It became a toll road, providing a reasonably good route for transporting products in and out of Toronto. Here, in 1842, Scottish gardener and tree grower, George Leslie, leased 20 acres of land from Charles Coxwell Small for a 21-year term. George’s landlord, Small, a member of the Family Compact and Clerk of the Crown, was the owner of extensive lands in the area. (Coxwell Avenue is named after him.) Small may have thought he got the better of the deal when he found someone foolish enough to lease his 20 acres of mucky swampland on the shores of Ashbridge’s Bay. The Toronto Nurseries was built on a tamarack-covered swamp (Larchmount Avenue recalls this). These 20 acres of rich black mud were the core of his nursery which would expand to 200 acres, the largest in Canada. George Leslie did not buy that land until the lease ran out in 1863. Then Small demanded an exorbitant price from Leslie and apparently got it. George Leslie valued that soft, rich dark muck and others recognized its worth, as shown in the Annual Report of the Bureau of Forestry for the Province of Ontario.

The memory of the tamaracks and reeds remained for decades. Marigold Gardens, the subdivision on Toronto Nurseries land, was nothing but “bulrushes and swamps”. Ward 8 News. “Short Stories of Leslieville” in Ward 8 News, February 9, 1979. Marigold Gardens is one street in the former Leslie Gardens subdivision built by realtor and contractor H. Addison Johnston.

Leslie Nurseries 1884 I’ve added notes and marked where the creeks were.
George Leslie attributed to John McPherson Ross ca 1907. John McPherson was a poor Scottish boy when George Leslie took him on as an apprentice. He rose to become foreman of the Toronto Nurseries and Leslie’s right-hand man. After George Leslie died, his sons made unwise investments, became embroiled in scandal, and lost the Toronto Nurseries. Most of it become housing, but a small portion along Eastern Ave continued under the ownership of John McPherson Ross. Caroline Avenue at the west side of Leslie Gardens is named after George Leslie’s first wife.

George Leslie died on June 14, 1893. George Leslie left a large estate with considerable real estate, including properties on Queen Street East, on Jones Avenue, on Curzon Street, on Eastern Avenue, and on Leslie Street, worth almost $115,000 in 1893. Not long after George Leslie died most of the Nurseries was sold. Before long most of the land was mortgaged to the Gooderhams and sold off around 1910. Some Leslie descendants still remember the grudge against the Gooderhams who “took” their land; others remember how like prodigal sons, John Knox and his brother George Leslie Jr., between the two, spent like millionaires, gambled, drank and womanized. The Leslie family’s loss was another family’s fortune.

Success Came by Giving People Made-to-Order Homes, The Canadian Builder and Carpenter, April 1916
H. Addison Johnston had made a name for himself building high-end homes in the Beach. He gained a reputation quality — “honestly built”… “genuine Johnston-built homes.” Toronto Star, March 1, 1919
The economy was still in the grip of a depression and Toronto City Council was hesitant about incurring more costs to provide work. Councillor Gibbons nailed it when he said, “These men are going hungry. We have been at this since last September and nothing done.” The municipality had few choices: make-work projects, welfare (the dole) or hungry, angry veterans who had already demonstrated that they could and would riot. But Council took a risk and agreed to put the sewers for Leslie Gardens out to tender. Addison Johnston was a canny man and an experienced builder and developer. Toronto Star, February 2, 1922
Leslie Gardens sat on the easternmost section of George Leslie’s Toronto Nurseries. A semi-bungalow was a house with a second story with slanted walls to the rooms –not full head-height walls. Globe, December 16, 1922
Globe, January 24, 1923
The Roaring Twenties was beginning to roar finally after the economic downturn that followed World War One. Globe, February 27, 1923
Leslie Gardens School construction, Globe, March 20, 1923
City Council approved laying the sewer system for Leslie Gardens at a cost of $63,618. Globe, April 17, 1923
Addison Johnston’s house-a-day plan explained. Larchmount was a new street in 1923 and built up quickly as was the rest of Leslie Gardens. Johnston used pre-fabricated or kit homes and an assembly line approach to putting them up. The fact that they were put up quickly does not mean that the construction was shoddy. However, because Leslieville Gardens was built on an old marsh at the edge of Ashbridge’s Bay, some of the houses may have settled and/or may have problems with wet basements. The black wet marsh mud was great for George Leslie’s nursery but didn’t necessarily make for the best residential building sites. Globe, May 10, 1923
Sales Larchmount Avenue Globe June 4, 1923
Globe, July 31, 1923. A building boom took off in the spring of 1923 after a short but sharp post-war depression and houses at 66, 68, 72 and 84 Larchmount Avenue sold quickly.
Looking east on Moseley Street with the Leslie Gardens Service Station on the left.

“The market for small house properties continues to be very active.” Toronto Real Estate News Aldridge and Leslie Gardens, Globe, July 21, 1923

This is a photo of the Leslie Gardens gas station on Eastern Avenue and Mosley Street, just west of Leslie Street. The view is looking east towards Leslie Street. The Leslie Garden’s Service Station’s address was 780 Eastern Avenue
42, 60 and 70 Larchmount Avenue were sold. The lots were narrow with 16 feet of frontage on the street but long at 100 feet. Toronto Star, July 26, 1923
photo from the 1970s
Globe, July 31, 1923
Leslie Gardens Service Station, Imperial Gasoline, ca. 1929
Toronto Star, August 13, 1923. Most of the new home buyers worked in the factories along Eastern Avenue and up Carlaw. To supplement their income and pay a portion of the mortgage, many let rooms or took on boarders.
Globe, August 17, 1923
Leslie Gardens, 1970s
The school was completed but the Board of Education needed to level the playground and parking area. Globe, October 31, 1923
Leslie Gardens, 1970s
Leslie Gardens school opens, Globe, December 4, 1913
Leslie Gardens School, 1923 (probably on the opening day) and Bruce Public School, 2014
Leslie Gardens 1924 included the east side of Caroline Avenue, Larchmount Avenue, Berkshire Avenue, Rushbrooke Avenue, Marigold Avenue (now Marigold Gardens) as well as the triangle of land at Eastern and Leslie Street.
Building the infrastructure of the Roaring Twenties, Toronto Star, January 18, 1924
photo from the 1970s
Leslie Gardens house for sale, Toronto Star, June 13, 1924
Leslie Gardens School was renamed Bruce Public School, June 28, 1924
Globe, July 1, 1924
Leslie Gardens, 1970s
Globe, October 2, 1924
Leslie Gardens, 1970s
For rent Globe, October 29, 1925. Some of the houses in Leslie Gardens were built for investment income and rented out.
Leslie Gardens, Toronto Star, March 11, 1926. In the early days of subdivision development, an investor or group of investors or sometimes a real estate company bought up a block on land and sold sections of 6-12 houses to builders. This was not true for Leslieville Gardens. Most of the houses there were built for and by Addison Johnston. However, 570 feet of street frontage was a sizeable amount of land enough for 20-30 houses.
Leslie Gardens, 1970s

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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