All posts filed under: General History

PART II: Ivy Avenue between a Devil and an Angel

If there is an angel or a saint in the story of Riverdale Gardens it is William Prust, the creator of that quiet enclave dissected by Sandford and Bloomfield, and bounded by Gerrard on the south, Ivy on the north, Prust on the west and Greenwood on the east.  William Prust was born on October 23, 1846, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. His father, Robert, was 29 and his mother, Frances (Fanny) Curtis, was 30. His father was a decorator and a house painter. Both worked hard and both died relatively young at a time when life expectancy among the working poor was short. There was, however, hope for a better life overseas in the colonies: Canada, Australia and New Zealand.   The School of Hard Rocks In the 1860s, the Canadian Land and Emigration Company of London, England bought 360,000 acres (150,000 ha) on the Canadian Shield north east of Peterborough. The Chair of this company was Judge Thomas Haliburton, well known as the author of “Sam Slick” and a politician. They planned on settling …

Ivy Avenue: before it was the boundary between Heaven and Hell

How did Ivy Avenue come to be the boundary between a kind of local heaven and a very local hell?  Well, it’s a long story, but I always like starting about 12,000 years ago — perhaps the local historian’s equivalent of “once upon a time”. In that long ago time, the ice from the last glacier melted leaving a deep cold lake called “Lake Iroquois” by geologists. It covered all of the area south of Taylor Creek. In time the lake itself disappeared leaving a much smaller Lake Ontario behind. But that’s not all that was left behind. It left a hook-shaped sand and gravel bar (solid orange yellow on the map) that stretched from the Scarborough Bluffs west and north to just south of O’Connor Drive, diverting the Don River westward. It left behind a thick layer of sand (the yellow, speckled area on the map). It and the lakes before it left a deposit of clay, dark green, on the map, perfect for making bricks. This drew brickmakers to the older area of …

Ulster Stadium: Home of the Red Handers

Behind the decaying Ulster Arms between Greenwood and Coxwell Avenues, lies a neat few streets. Blocky houses, called “four squares” and post-War bungalows line Hertle and Highfield, making this enclave unique. Most of the houses in the surrounding neighbourhood are 25 to 30 years older, having been built between 1912 and 1930. But that is not all that makes this tidy corner of the East End special. Before 1925 this was a brickyard, the Morley-Ashbridge brick pit. When the brickmakers had used up the clay they left a rectangular crater in the ground – a muddy crater with a creek running through it. Ashbridges Creek crossed Gerrard in a ravine and through the brickyard, providing the water needed to make the bricks. Joseph Russell sold the property. An investor purchased it but instead of building houses, he built a stadium – Ulster Stadium, the home of “the Red Handers”, formally known as “the Ulster United Football Club”. On Friday, January 9, 1914,  a group of Irish Protestants, mostly members of the Orange Lodge, got together …

A Lost Street: Applegrove Avenune

What happened? How can a street be lost? Let’s go back to the beginning, around 1909 when Applegrove Avenue was a short street running from Morley Avenue, now Woodfield Road, to Ashdale Avenue — a mere two blocks. It ran through the Ashbridge’s large apple orchard, giving an obvious reason for the street name. Applegrove Avenue was 910 feet north of Queen Street East. A large brickyard lay between the west end of Applegrove Avenue and Greenwood Avenue. It did not extend to Coxwell in the east. In 1910 the City Engineer that one of the short streets running off of Applegrove be extended down to Queen Street. Ashdale Avenue south of Gerrard was just a short muddy track that dead-ended about 200 feet north of Queen. It ran north from Gerrard past over a level crossing at the railway tracks all the way to Danforth Avenue. The City Beautiful movement and the birth of the profession of town planning spurred the development of imaginative plans to remodel Toronto into an ideal city with broad avenues, …

Some Leslieville Street Names

It is sometimes difficult to trace the origins of street names. Clearly most Leslieville streets were named after families who lived here or after the builders who put up the houses on the street. Only a few, such as Eastern Avenue, are more or less self-explanatory. Moreover, street names changed over time. Doel became Dundas; Kingston Road became Queen Street, etc. Street names were changed because citizens requested it (as with Erie Terrace with became Craven Road) or because amalgamation with the City of Toronto led to confusing duplication of street names. A number of streets in the newly annexed areas had the same names as streets in the old City of Toronto so those streets were renamed. Street naming went through fads and suffered at the whim of politicians. In 1905, the City of Toronto’s Street Naming Sub-Committee (all aldermen) wanted all new streets running east and west to be called ‘avenues” and all north-south routes to be called “streets”. It wanted to do away with “place” and “square”. Luckily, the expense and unpopularity of the idea stopped …

Apple Time in the East End

If it was an apple in the Garden of Eden, would you need a snake to tell you to eat it? No! Canadians love apples! But did you know that commercial apple growing in Ontario got its start in Toronto’s East End? As we look around it might be hard to believe that apple orchards once flourished between the Danforth and Queen Street and from the Don River to Victoria Park. But there are clues and I’ve looked hard to find them. Why? Well, I love living here and I love apples! None of us can remember those orchards. By the end of the 1920s, older people looked back upon the days of Leslieville and Riverside’s apples. The area between Ashbridges Bay and Danforth Avenue was ideal for apple orchards. The sunshine, maximized on the south-facing slopes, and the rich soil created ideal conditions for apples. Gullies, cut by streams, ran south the heights near the Danforth, draining away frigid air away, preventing frost damage to spring blossoms. The farmers diverted the streams to feed …

Chinese Immigrants & The Old East End 

Thousands of Chinese are pouring in upon us. In 1931 Toronto did not see itself as a multi-cultural society. It saw itself as British and people sincerely believed that white people were superior and that the British Empire was the most civilized society ever. Society was openly racist and imperialist. Restrictive immigration laws were passed to keep Chinese, South Asian and black people out. Chinese men and women were officially not welcome to come to Canada. How did this specific community find itself the target of such prejudice? And were there Chinese Canadians in the East End? Around 1855 a few Chinese men came to Canada to work as miners and domestic servants (cooks and cleaners). In 1858 Britain created the Colony of British Columbia.  The same year, the first Chinese gold-miners arrive in British Columbia from San Francisco to work in the Fraser River Gold Rush. They trek north to the Fraser River along with thousands of other prospectors. Most of them are, like the majority of Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth century, from the …