Thanks to Toronto historian Kathy Grant, I’m aware of the problem with the plaque wording.
Here’s the back story. We did our best three years ago in terms of due diligence, believing our sources were valid and checking with various authorities. However, this was before the word was out there on the Net that this was very likely not Harriet Tubman’s words even though a scholar discovered that the quote didn’t begin to appear until 2007. http://www.harriettubmanbiography.com/harriet-tubman-myths-and-facts.html
Here was one of our original sources for the quote:
Barbara Lee, Renegade for Peace and Justice: Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks for Me, 2008 see p. 125
Our own [belated] search for original 19th century sources came up with nothing, no evidence that Harriet Tubman said this or anything like this. However, there is an eerie echoe from another leading Black American:
How easy, then, by emphasis and omission to make children believe that every great soul the world ever saw was a white man’s soul; that every great thought the world ever knew was a white man’s thought; that every great deed the world ever did was a white man’s deed; that every great dream the world ever sang was a white man’s dream. — W.E.B. Dubois, W.E.B. Dubois, Darkwater: voices from within the veil, 1920, p. 2
The sentiments in the quote purportedly from Harriet Tubman are still true though the quotes we have from her are generally pithy and too the point.
But the real value of the plaque is not that quote but the recognition of the people and families who came here and made their homes here after escaping slavery. Their lives were hard, marked by tragedy all too often.
I can personally vouch for the research on that and am more than happy to share the sources with anyone who is interested. If it brings a little more light to this history through this particular crack, then good.
“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven”.
Harriet Tubman, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman by Sarah Hopkins Bradford, 1869
PS We should say up front that the quote is “attributed to Harriet Tubman”.
We hope you will be able to join us for at 11:30 a.m. on November 19, 2019, at The Logan Residences, 899 Queen Street East. The Leslieville Historical Society and The Daniels Corporation will unveil a plaque recognizing the Underground Railroad and the families who made their way to freedom, forming a black community here from the early 19th century.
Here is the wording of the plaque:
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always
remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach
for the stars to change the world.” -Harriet Tubman (1822-1913)
Many families came to Toronto in the1800s to
escape slavery, violence and oppression in the American South. They
courageously followed the dangerous path to freedom via the Underground Railroad
and some settled here, near the corner of Queen Street East and Logan Avenue.
While a few returned south after the Civil War (1861-1865), many remained,
helping to forge the identity of Leslieville today.
This plaque commemorates these families: the
Barrys, Cheneys, Dockertys,Harmons, Johnsons, Lewises, Sewells, Whitneys,
Wilrouses, Winders, Woodforksand others who came here from Kentucky, Maryland,
Virginia and other States.
BY THE LESLIEVILLE HISTORICAL SOCIETYWITH THE
DANIELS CORPORATION AND THEIR PARTNER STANLEY GARDEN
In 1793 Upper Canada passed law banning the import of slaves (first such law in British Empire (9 July). The Abolition Act decreed slave children born in Upper Canada from this day forward are to be freed when they are 25. In the 1840s and 1850s a series of American court decisions and laws tightened slavery’s grip and made escape even more dangerous. Increasingly, refugees from slavery headed to Canada, many using the secret network known as The Underground Railroad, but most travelling alone or in small family groups with no help from anyone, using the Northern Star to guide their way.
By the mid-1860s 60 to 75 black people lived here,
out of a population of Leslieville’s population of about 350. We honor their
contributions to our community where their descendants still live and work
Did you know that there was a creek at the east end of Austin Avenue?
In 1918, the foreman of George Leslie’s nursery recalled Leslie Creek:
a creek … also started near the sandpit and ran
through the gardens of Cooper’s, Bests and Hunters, crossed the road by the
Leslie Postoffice. Here it joined a small creek that drained the nursery, and
both crossed Leslie street under a bridge that has since been filled up by
John McPherson Ross (1859-1924), Globe, January 18, 1918
Leslie Creek originated in the area of Strathcona Avenue and Eastview Park from springs on the slope of a sandbar from the last Ice Age.
Over ten thousand years ago, the melting ice dumped sand, clay and gravel (“glacial drift”) on southern Ontario. It is about 26 meters thick over most of Toronto. As the ice melted, a lobe of the glacier filled the basin where Lake Ontario is now. This ice blocked the melt water from draining to the sea down the Saint Lawrence River. The ice was like a plug in a bathtub and a deep, cold melt water lake, Lake Iroquois, formed behind it. This lake was 55 meters (180 feet) deeper than Lake Ontario. All of Leslieville was under water. The Lake Iroquois shore-cliffs form a steep rise or escarpment north of Leslieville. The shore cliff can be seen clearly along Davenport Road and near Variety Village on Kingston Road. It is the long hill on Yonge Street south of St. Clair Avenue, known as “Gallows Hill”. South of this cliff lies a plain of sand deposited on Lake Iroquois’ bottom. Leslieville sits on the Lake Iroquois Sand Plain. The Plain, though tilted is still relatively flat, but far from featureless. Great rivers poured off the melting glacier, carrying huge amounts of sand and gravel into the Lake. There wave action and strong east-west offshore currents carried the sand and gravel westward, piling it up in bay-mouth bars. Behind the sandbars at the mouth of what are now the Humber in the west and the Don River in the east, large bays formed.
In the East End, these sand
bars form a ridge that stretches from Scarborough, west from the foot of Kennedy
Road for about five kilometers (three miles). The sandbar diverted the flow of Taylor Creek westward into the Don. To the south of it
more sandbars formed offshore under water, creating the long hill south of Danforth Avenue from Broadview through Leslieville to the Beach and the sand plain of Leslieville. The settlers
mined these glacial beaches for sand and gravel. The sandy loam was the basis of
Leslieville’s market garden industry. With compost and manure, it was fertile and
easy to till, ideal for carrots, potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables.
Leslie Creek was deeper and faster flowing before settlers deforested the flat, but tilted, sandy plain south of Danforth Avenue. Streams like this cut deep ravines into the loose Lake Iroquois sand plain that made market gardening so lucrative in Leslieville. Erosion exposed clay deposits from an earlier Ice Age, providing the raw material for brickmaking. Some families of market gardeners became brickmakers, like the Logans, while others, like the Papes, remained gardeners, florists and nurserymen.
Part 2: A Skating Rink and Park
According to Elsie Hays, an elderly resident that I interviewed 40 years ago, it was a small brook that ran through an orchard where she used to play with her sister, catching minnows and tadpoles. It crossed Gerrard where there is a shallow dip in the road to mark it. Entrepreneurs dammed the creek in the late nineteenth century to create Maple Leaf Skating Rink at Pape and Gerrard.
Part 3: A Cemetery by a Creek
In 1849 Toronto’s Jewish community opened the first Jewish graveyard west of Montreal on the west bank of Leslie Creek. It must have been an idyllic situation.
There is no synagogue in Leslieville but there has been a definite Jewish presence here from the mid-nineteenth century. In 1847 Judah G. Joseph was an optician and jeweler, with a store at 56 King Street East, Toronto. In 1849 his young son, Samuel, was dying and there was no Jewish cemetery nearer than Buffalo or Montreal in which to bury his boy. Abraham Nordheimer, a successful piano manufacturer, and Judah Joseph sought land on behalf of the Jewish community for a graveyard. At the time there were only 35 Jews living in Toronto.
They bought land 60 feet wide and 400 feet deep (about 18 by 12 meters) for £20 through the Chief Justice, John Beverly Robinson. The Robinson family, prominent members of the Family Compact, owned land in the neighborhood. (Part of Pape Avenue was called Robinson Street for some time.) For more about John Beverley Robinson to to: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/robinson_john_beverley_9E.html
They buried Judah Joseph’s son, Samuel, in 1850, probably near the cemetery gate where the gravestones are all under grass. The grave of Catherine, the wife of Alfred Braham, also buried in 1850, was the earliest Jewish grave in Toronto marked by a tombstone. After 1930 there were few interments, although the cemetery remained in use through the late 1940’s.
The Pape Avenue Cemetery (now known as the Holy Blossom Cemetery) still lies behind high walls, just south of the Matty Eckler Community Centre. This is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Ontario and indeed the oldest in Canada west of Montreal. It is inactive and permission is needed from Holy Blossom Temple to enter. Seven years after the cemetery was founded, the Jewish community established the first synagogue in Ontario in rented premises above Coombe’s drug store at Yonge and Richmond streets. It later became Holy Blossom Temple. In 1919 a new Jewish Cemetery on Jones Avenue, just north of Leslieville, was consecrated, fulfilling an old Toronto Jewish proverb: “Live in the west; buried in the east.”
Part 4: Leslie Creek: from Austin Avenue to the Bay
South of Austin Avenue, the creek flowed west of Marjory Avenue to diagonally south east to cross Dundas Street at Dagmar. It crossed at 61 Jones Avenue where there was heavy basement flooding. It ran behind the store front block on the north side of Queen Street (George Leslie’s house and selling grounds) and crossed Queen Street just west of his general store at the northwest corner of Queen and Curzon. It flowed through George Leslie’s nursery to cross Leslie Street and Eastern Avenue to enter Ashbridge’s Bay at the foot of Laing – the Gut. The Gut is where the City of Toronto Works Yard is now.
In 1910 city work crews buried Leslie Creek diverting its water into the municipal storm sewer system so that Austin Avenue could be extended. But the creek didn’t die. While water from rain and snow pours into the storm sewers, precipitation also sinks into the soil of gardens, lawns and parks, flowing as groundwater along the course of the old creek. Gone and totally forgotten, wet basements and faulty foundations along its way tell their own story.
Today there’s not much left to see of Leslie Creek, but if you look closely traces of the ravine remain. The dip in the lane way north of Austin Avenue is the old creek bed. If you look into backyards, remnants of the ravine west of Marjory Avenue south of Gerrard. The creek itself can still be heard running underground after a rainfall or in a spring thaw.
Part 5: The Street is Extended
Public infrastructure, which in those days meant sewers, paved streets and sidewalks, was essential to the success of any new subdivision, then and now. George Washington Badgerow believed the East End would become an important and prosperous part of Toronto. Even before he began Subdivision #549 where Austin Avenue is today, he pushed the City of Toronto to improve road access to his subdivision. He succeeded.
Brickmakers deepened and widened the ravine when they dug down to extract clay and sand for bricks. Leslie Creek blocked the extension of Austin Avenue eastward to Marjory until 1910.
New transportation technology demanded new streets.
When Austin Avenue was extended in 1910, the area was a streetcar suburb of Toronto. Under heavy pressure from the City of Toronto, the Toronto Street Railway Company extended its Gerrard line east from Pape Avenue to Leslie Street and, after that to Greenwood Avenue, but no further.
The private streetcar company’s line was extended from Pape to Leslie in 1906 and to Greenwood in 1909 The City of Toronto built its own Civic Car line from Greenwood Avenue to Main Street. In December 1912, the new line opened. Soon after the City built a streetcar line from Broadview to Main along Danforth Avenue. Like Badgerow, others could see a bright future for the East End.
And then people could see that this part of the east-end was being brought very, very near to downtown, and that it was a beautifully wooded stretch of land. The cars discovered Gerrard street. They have taken hundreds of home-site buyers and builders down there.Toronto Sunday World, December 22, 1912
But by the time Austin Avenue reached Marjory Avenue, there were over 2,000 automobiles registered in Canada – a mere handful, but by the outbreak of World War One there were over 50,000. Cars, the new technology, demanded the developed of a different kind of city street, one that could accommodate the wear and tear of mechanized transport.
Not everyone was in favour of improving roads. Some rural residents resented Torontonians and their noisy automobiles. In 1903 York County Council considered improving the roads, but:
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
The automobile revolutionized
Toronto’s cityscape, transforming the gravel and sand roads of the earlier
rural Leslieville and even the more recent “streetcar suburbs” created by the
extension of the streetcar system, especially the Civic Car line along Gerrard.
It is not coincidence that people in the East End stopped thinking of their community
as “Leslieville” around this time.
placed on a concrete base was first used in Paris, France in 1858 and first
used in the U.S. in 1870. Thirty years later bitulithic pavements, a mixture of
aggregate (crushed rock or gravel) and crude oil, began to be laid in Toronto. At
first the binder was produced using naturally occurring crude oil (mostly from
Trinidad), but in 1907 manufacturers began producing asphalt binders synthesized
from petroleum. By the 1920’s many of Toronto’s streets were paved with asphalt.
Portland cement (a mixture of cement, sand and gravel) was also being used in
road construction, as a base to support wooden block paving, bricks, cobble
stones, granite blocks, etc.
Local improvements could get expensive, especially when streets were extended. The ravine of Leslie Creek cut across the east end of Austin Avenue severing it from Marjory Avenue until 1909. The Russell family of brickmakers mined the banks of Leslie Creek for clay. Marjory Russell is believed to be the source of the name for this local street.
Austin Avenue was paved using new technology, but an old material: asphalt, a mixture of bitumen (crude oil) and aggregate, rolled on to streets hot. As automobiles began to multiply, drivers began to demand better roads and streets. Before asphalt this, the City of Toronto paved its streets with bricks (yes, there really were yellow brick roads), granite or wooden blocks. But the kind of pavement laid down in 1910 on Austin Avenue gave a smoother ride.
A writer in 1716 said, “Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes.” After the City of Toronto filled in the ravine of Leslie Creek and extended Austin Avenue to Marjory Avenue, property values went up as did tax assessment on Austin Avenue and Marjory Avenue.
Death is still with us and I wonder what the taxes are on theses Austin Avenue houses?
This is the story of the Breckles family who came to Canada like so many others did in the early 1900s. Escaping high unemployment and poverty in the industrial cities of Britain, they hoped for better overseas. Toronto was a mecca for many, including the Breckles. Let me be clear here. I am not related to this family nor do I pretend to know intimate details about their lives. This is just the story that the public record tells and I include it because I found that it was interesting both because a Breckles family was one of the first to live on Coady Avenue and because it moved me.
So let the story begin.
When Anthony Breckles was born on January 31, 1854, in Tunbridge Hill, Kent, England, his father, Anthony, was 26 and his mother, Elizabeth, was 25. He spent his early years in Ipswich, Kent, but by the time he was seven the family had moved to Birmingham in the Midlands where his father worked as a laborer.
Anderton Street, Ladywood
Alexandra Street, Ladywood
Courtyard, Ladywood, right are three lavatories shared by the the court and the houses
They lived in the Ladywood, a densely inhabited neighbourhood of it long straight streets of closely packed row housing. Behind the terraces back-to-back houses surrounded grimy courtyards with outdoor privys. Ladywood was to gain the reputation as the poorest place in the United Kingdom. High employment, squalor, deprivation, and high infant mortality were facts of life there. From time to time, cholera epidemics swept through.
By the time he was 17, Anthony Breckles was working as an iron moulder while his father worked as an engineer’s labourer. The family of nine lived in a back-to-back house behind Number 7 Chester Street. About forty men, women and children crammed into six narrow, dark houses and shared three outdoor toilets.
Doing the wash in the yard, 7 WIlliam Street, Ladywood
Puddlers at work
Anthony Breckles married Laura Lee on March 14, 1874 in St. Johns Church, Ladywood. He was 20 years old and worked in a blast furnace. He would spend all of his working life as an iron moulder. Laura Lee was from Hinckley in Leicestershire where my own mother was born. They were married in Ladywood. Their son Thomas William was born in October 17, 1874 in Ladywood. Mary “Minnie” 1876–1949 was born on May 1, 1876, in Ladywood. George was born in February 1880 in Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, England. Frederick James (1883-1918) was born on January 28, 1883, in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, eight miles northwest of Birmingham. In 1885 was born in Wednesbury followed by Walter 1888, Arthur 1890, and Lillian 1895 all in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, England.
White Swan pub, Wednesbury
Anthony Breckles worked as an iron moulder at the enormous Patent Shaft steel works. Their home, 108 Church Hill, was a step up, still a terrace, but bigger and fronting a main road. In 1901 son Thomas was working as a gasfitter. The Breckles had seven more children. In 1901, they were still living in the same house and Anthony was still at the Patent Shaft works where he was joined by sons George and Frederick. George worked as a puddler while Fred was a laborer in the tube works.
Patent Shaft Foundry
The Patent Shaft & Axletree Company at the turn of the 20th century
On April 29, 1903 Anthony Breckles and Laura Lee, both 49, and Walter (13), Arthur (11) and Lillian (9) boarded the S.S. Kensington of the Dominion Line, bound from Liverpool to Quebec. Anthony was ostensibly immigrating to Canada as a farmer, though he had never worked on the land. Farm labour was in demand in Canada so “farmer” he was. Their son Thomas William was already in Toronto, living at 148 Carlaw, just above Eastern Avenue and working as a butcher. He and brother Fred would open a retail butcher shop at 692 Queen Street East next to the Broadview Hotel around 1909. Anthony also became a butcher and worked in a shop on Gerrard Street East.
Toronto, Canada’s Queen City 1912 Broadview Hotel
In September 1903 a Toronto court granted an injunction against the strikers of the Iron Moulders Union at the Canada Foundry. Anthony Breckles had attempted to prevent strike breakers from crossing the picket line at the plant on the west side of Lansdowne Avenue just north of the CP rail line. Globe, Sep 7, 1903.
Canada Foundry, Lansdowne Avenue, three storey factory on right.
Canada Foundry, Lansdowne Avenue, right
In 1904 the family was living at 163 Pape Avenue. Anthony was still working as an iron moulder. Amy was working as a clerk. Arthur was an apprentice. Fred was a labourer. George was a trackman for the Toronto Street Railway, the privately-owned streetcar company. In 1910 Anthony Breckles was at 267 Booth Avenue.
Son Walter was still at home working as a tinsmith. In 1911 Frederick James Breckles lived at 1 Coady Avenue and working in the butcher shop at 692 Queen Street East. By this time his father was suffering the effects of diabetes.
By the time of the census in 1911, the Anthony Breckles and his family had moved to 106 Galt Avenue. Anthony was working as a labourer in a factory specializing in making wheels while sons Walter and Arthur were working as tinsmiths. All the men worked 50 hours a week. Anthony earned $450 a year while son Walter earned 500 and Arthur 550. Daughter Lillian worked at home as a dressmaker.
His wife Laura passed away on September 17, 1915, in the family home on Galt Avenue at the age of 61. They had been married 41 years.
Dying of diabetes before insulin
Anthony Breckles went into a diabetic coma and died on November 22, 1917, at 51 Belmont Street, Toronto, York, Ontario, at the age of 63, four years before Banting and Best discovered insulin. He lived long enough to see son Arthur marry Louise Powell on the 13th of June 1916 in a ceremony held at the Pape Avenue Baptist Church. Arthur was working in a munitions plant. He and his young bride lived at 62 Jones Avenue.