Time Travel Carlaw: Queen Street East Presbyterian and 181-183 Carlaw Avenue

1921-3Come with us way, way back to Carlaw Avenue 1921. We are going to walk up the east side of Carlaw all the way to Gerrard, experiencing some of the views and imagining some of the sounds and smells of Leslieville’s main industrial district. As we walk north away from Eastern Avenue towards Queen, we see how closely housing and factories sit. There was no city planning legislation in Ontario until just before World War One. Small working class houses line Carlaw up to Queen. Meet some new immigrants, mostly from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, along with some families who’ve been in Leslieville for years — Fogartys, Snooks and others.

British immigrants. - [1911?]

Immigrants from Britain, around 1911. City of Toronto Archives.

Queen St E Presbyterian Church and Leslie trees

From the Toronto Public Library.

A Presbyterian Church anchors the southeast corner of Queen and Carlaw. On November 16, 1877 local Presbyterians with the help of Rev. J.M. Cameron founded Leslieville Presbyterian Church. They worshipped in the Orange Hall (Gowan’s Hall). George Leslie, prominent nurseryman, is the first name in the Church’s register. On November 25th, 1877 they celebrated Holy Communion for the first time. Members built a new red brick Gothic church that opened on July 14, 1878. Henry Bauld Gordon (1854-1951) was the architect. It was laid out in the shape of a cross and seated 400.

18780712 Canada Presbyterian New Ser V 1 No 37 2

The Canadian Presbyterian, Vol. 1, No. 37, 2, July 12, 1878

The Rev. Abraham was the first supply, and helped organize the Sabbath school, but William Frizzell was the first pastor, inducted on October 17, 1882. His pay was $400 a year. The small congregation was united with Chalmers Church and Rev. Frizzell filled both pulpits. Frizzell was an Ulsterman like many in the church. From the start, the congregation was close to the Loyal Orange Order.

In 1883 the congregation built a large Sunday school.  They had a Young People’s Association and a Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavour.  A Willing Workers Society, formed in 1882, helped poor people. They raised money in concerts, lectures and social events. Annual picnics were held as excursions across the Lake to Port Dalhousie, nearer to home at places like the Humber or Victoria Park.  In 1887 about 150 children went to the Sunday School. That year Leslieville Presbyterian Church and Chalmers Church separated. Rev. Frizzell became Leslieville’s full-time pastor. The congregation was self-supporting and had over 300 members. In 1891 the Women’s Missionary Society formed.

Visiting speakers packed the church. Missionaries were popular.  The Church also held special services to spread the Gospel among local people. By the 1890s Leslieville was industrializing. Poor families packed houses along Eastern, Carlaw, Logan, etc.  Many were illiterate. They suffered from tuberculosis, typhoid and other infectious diseases. The Board of Education could not keep up with the growth in population.  The Church offered its Sunday School rooms until public schoolrooms were built. The area was no longer a rural village. In 1894, the congregation voted to change the name. In 1895 the name became Queen East Presbyterian Church. That year two members of the Women’s Missionary Society sailed to China as missionaries.

In 1895 Rev. Frizzell was a leader in the Sabbath Observance Alliance. On May 10, 1897, they packed churches to fight against Sunday streetcars.  William Frizzell argued:

A Sunday service would not be a benefit to workingmen; the day would become a holiday instead of a holy day; the day was set aside for rest and worship.

However, the referendum against Sunday street cars failed.

Many members fought in World War One. 31 died; many more were wounded. The 36th Ulster Division, famous for its bravery, was closely linked to the church. Later a stained glass window was dedicated to the “Red Handers”. The Great War changed Canada profoundly, giving women the vote, for example.  Presbyterians led the movement to women’s rights. For example, Rev. W. Hardy Andrews called for extension of the right to vote to women. Between 1912 and 1925, there were several votes on church union. In 1925, most Presbyterians joined the United Church of Canada.   Queen Street East Presbyterian Church voted against union.

On a Sunday night in 1924, while Hardy Andrews preached on “The Perils of the City”, including in crime among teenagers, two youths broke into the vestry and stole the collection.

In 1928, the congregation built a new Sunday School on Carlaw Avenue beside the church. In 1929 they had the church remodeled at a cost of $45,000.00. S. B. Coon & Son were the architects. Even in the Great Depression the church continued to sustain itself and reach out to the community around it. Queen Street East Presbyterian Church raised $9,055 in 1935.  The Women’s Auxiliary had raised $1,050 that year, a considerable sum at that time.

About 170 from the congregation served in World War Two. Nine died.

Fire almost destroyed the church on January 12, 1968. The banquet hall and most of the sanctuary were saved. Before the fire, Rev. John Robson and Sam Campbell, chair of the Board of Management, had planned to appeal to local businesses for money to modernize the structure. Thus the fire presented opportunities and dangers. There were many ideas about what should be done with the church and grounds. Some had wanted to build a seniors high rise with a church built in. Others worried about red tape and regulations surrounding government grants. Sharp disagreements lead to some members leaving the congregation. On Dec. 19, 1968 the re-built church was re-dedicated. The congregation decided to build a new addition on Carlaw. The tenants of the new building were needed to help defray costs. In 1970 John Robson and members of the congregation helped found the Riverdale Community Organization. In 1987 Rev. John C. Robson retired June after 33 years at Queen Street East Presbyterian Church. He died the next year. The South Riverdale Health Centre dedicated the meeting room which faces the church yard in memory of Dr. Robson.

Challenging times faced Queen Street East Presbyterian Church. Church attendance declined rapidly as society became secular and multicultural.  More people work on Sundays and William Frizzell would have been shocked at stores, malls, sporting facilities, etc., all open on the Sabbath. Virtually all of Leslieville’s churches have faced shrinking congregations. Some church buildings closed as there are no longer the revenues to support them. Queen Street East Presbyterian Church itself went through a long period of rapidly succeeding ministers, far different from the days of Frizzell, Andrews or Robson. The size of the congregation shrank, but became more multicultural, reflecting the neighbourhood. Moreover, these Presbyterians were well placed to deal with change as leadership had always sprung from the congregation itself. They called the pastors and governed the church’s life and had been tested in fire.

For more info:

Queen Street East Presbyterian Church
947 Queen St East (at Carlaw)
Toronto, ON M4M 1J9
Church Voice Mail: 416-465-1143


The first big factory we see on the east side of Carlaw as we cross Queen Street and head north is Kent McClain Ltd. But it won’t be the last. Both sides of Carlaw are lined with factories from Queen to Gerrard.

Here is a listing of the larger factories from the Toronto City Directory of 1921.

Carlaw Ave East Side
181-199 Kent-McClain, Ltd., showcases
201-213 Rolph, Clark, Stone Ltd., lithographers
235-245 Wm Wrigley Jr Co. Ltd. Gum makers
D. Shoup Co. Ltd., paper boxes
British American Wax Paper Co. Ltd.
235-245 Dunlop Tire Rubber Goods Co storage
Eaton Co. Factory
319      George Le Monte & Son, Ltd. Paper manufacturers
325      Connell Anthracite Mining Co. Ltd.
345      Roden Bros. Ltd., silversmiths
347- 353          Flexible Shaft Co. Ltd.
Stanley Piano Co., piano manufacturers
Toronto Hydro Electric System East End Station

GTR Bridge [CNR overpass at Gerrard and Carlaw]

Carlaw Ave West Side
254      Palmolive Company of Canada Ltd.
258 – 326        Phillips Manufacturing Co. Ltd., mouldings
328      Pratt Food Company of Canada Ltd.
330      The Canadian B. K. Morton Co. Ltd.
346      Frederick G. Harrold, coal
388      Jefferson Glass Co. Ltd.
Gerrard St. intersects

Kent-McClain, Ltd., 181-199 Carlaw Avenue, was a major employer manufacturing showcases, bookcases and other furniture for retailers, libraries, etc. As we walk by their factory, the sound of saws, lathes and other heavy equipment pours out of the open shop windows. The air is rich with the smell of sawdust.

torontoonkentmcclainlogoThis three-storey building was built in 1911 in the Edwardian Classicist style and was occupied by Kent-McClain until 1935. Many factories of this period were built in this style. But what is Edwardian Classicism? According to http://www.OntarioArchitecture.com

Edwardian architecture can be split into a few main categories. First there is the Edwardian Classicism which evolved from the Beaux Arts, and often overlapped with the Beaux Arts style. It was extravagant and powerful, perfect for public buildings as well as for new types of buildings that arose in response to the changing social climate of the time. Train stations, libraries and police stations were often built in the high style of Edwardian Classicism, as were commercial buildings and factories. The new electrical power stations in Niagara Falls were also in this overblown classical style.

Edwardian Classicism was popular from the late 1890s through to the First World War. These buildings were meant to impress with their solid massing and impressive facades, but they were also practical and sturdy, much valued in 2016 for condominiums and office space, as well as ground floor retail stores.

Many of the buildings on Carlaw were built with brick from Greenwood Avenue brickyards or the Don Valley brickyard. This building has the large windows typical of the period when electricity was first being introduced into factories. Cheap hydro-electricity helped make Carlaw the industrial success it was in the 1920s. The door way and windows are accented with a light grey limestone.  Like many factories of its time, it has a cornice with modillions with dentils and plain frieze below. If this is all Greek to you, you are on target. These architectural terms come from the buildings of ancient Greece like the Parthenon.

For a definition of building terms go to: http://www.ontarioarchitecture.com/Terms.html

Inside 183 Carlaw, there is a big eight-unit stained glass window featuring the Kent-McClain shield.

For more information about this and other Carlaw  Avenue buildings go  to: http://www.ontarioarchitecture.com/Terms.html

Back to the future of 2016, the building now hosts offices and studios.

181-183 Carlaw Avenue, the Kent-McLain factory. Photo used with the kind permission of Lennard Commercial Realty, Brokerage http://www.lennard.com/

181-183 Carlaw Avenue, the Kent-McLain factory. Photo used with the kind permission of Lennard Commercial Realty, Brokerage http://www.lennard.com/



In the 1920s Kent-McLain is major employer. This photo shows what the inside of their shop probably looked like.


A worker in a similar woodworking factory. Canadian Woodworker and Furniture Manufacturer, Vol. 22, No. 2, February, 1922


Toronto Star, February 6, 1918


Toronto Star, Dec. 12, 1910






A Kent-McClain showcase manufactured for a store at Yonge and Bloor. Canadian Woodworker and Furniture Manufacturer, Vol. 22, No. 10, October, 1922.

A Kent-McClain showcase manufactured for a store at Yonge and Bloor. Canadian Woodworker and Furniture Manufacturer, Vol. 22, No. 10, October, 1922


Proximity to the rail line allowed Kent-McClain to bring in materials such as oak, walnut and other high-quality hard woods as well as to ship out their products across Canada.

In the 1920s the rail sidings on Carlaw served the factories below. Future posts will take us to many of these buildings:

Brandram-Henderson Ltd. (paint & varnish) 377 Carlaw Ave.
Frank A. Bowden & Sons Ltd. (lumber) 377-387 Carlaw Ave.
International Varnish Co. Ltd. 371-375 Carlaw Ave.
Martin-Senour Co. Ltd. (paints) 371-375 Carlaw Ave.
Connell Anthracite Mining Co. Ltd. yd#5 325 Carlaw Ave.
Wrigley Building 245 Carlaw Ave.
Delco-Light Co. of Canada Ltd. 245 Carlaw Ave.
Dyment Ltd. (window displays) 245 Carlaw Ave.
Diamond State Fibre Co. of Canada Ltd. 245 Carlaw Ave. (fibreboard)
De Forest Radio Corp. Ltd.
General Fireproofing Co. 235 Carlaw Ave.
A. D. Shoup Co. Ltd. (paper boxes) 245 Carlaw Ave.
Blachford Shoe Mfg. Co. Ltd.
Geo. LaMonte & Son Ltd. (paper mfgs.) 319 Carlaw Ave.
Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. Ltd.(gum) 235-245 Carlaw Ave.
Rolph-Clarke-Stone Ltd. (litho.) 201-213 Carlaw Ave.
Kent-McClain Ltd. (showcase mfg.) 181-199 Carlaw Ave.
The Palmolive Co. of Canada Ltd. (soap) 58-64 Natalie St.
Phillips Mfg. Co. Ltd. (mouldings) 258-326 Carlaw Ave.
Pratt Food Co. of Canada Ltd. 328 Carlaw Ave. (poultry remedies)
Sturgeons Ltd. (painters supplies) 330 Carlaw Ave.
Frederick G. Harrold’s Coal Co. 346 Carlaw Ave.
Dominion Glass Co. Ltd. 388 Carlaw Ave.

This list was compiled from:



First Train on the new Toronto Viaduct 1927 Globe Sept 24 1927

First Train on the new Toronto Viaduct. Globe, September 24, 1927




Time Travel Carlaw: 1920s South of Eastern Avenue


City of Toronto Directory, 1921

Is time travel possible?

Maybe not literally (yet), but with a little imagination, some good pictures, and a smidgen of narrative, the past can come alive. Use your imagination to go up Carlaw Avenue in the mid-1920s with the Leslieville Historical Society.



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Foot of Carlaw Avenue, City of Toronto Archives




Goad’s Atlas,  1924 south of Eastern Avenue to Keating Street (now part of Lakeshore Blvd. E.) Brick buildings are red, wooden buildings are yellowish-brown). Lot numbers are shown, as well as subdivision numbers and even the numbers of houses.




The Packers’ Encyclopedia, 1922


The Packers’ Encyclopedia, 1922


The Packers’ Encyclopedia, 1922



First stop, just south of Eastern Avenue on the shore of what is left of Ashbridges Bay. A wave of pure stink washes over you. Raw sewage in the water competes with the over-powering smells from Fuller Stanbury Co., pork packers and the penetrating stench of tallow renderers on your

Shoe & Leather Journal, January 1, 1923

Shoe & Leather Journal, January 1, 1923

right hand as you face north. At your left H. B. J1921-5ohnston & Co.’s tannery reeks to high heaven. But that’s just one smell and we’ve just begun. Consumer’s Gas plants on Eastern Avenue near McGee are belching smoke into the air, as are dozens of factories.






Tannery Ashbridge’s Bay, 1926 (Toronto Public Library)

s0372_ss0079_it0166 001

Looking north from Eastern Avenue at the rail overpass into the industrial heart of Leslieville, wreathed in smog.

You hear the high-pitched squeal of frightened pigs as workers prod them down a chute from a box car at the railroad siding along Ashbridge’s Bay. Maybe it’s time to pick up the pace.

Walking is difficult as the street is in terrible shape, with deep ruts and potholes that seem bottomless. The new cement sidewalk is safer.


12 Carlaw Avenue, April 11, 1933 City of Toronto Archives

The streets are lined with small houses, some rundown, some even falling down. This is the poorest part of Leslieville. Some bear old Leslieville names like John Wise (not Wase) at #14, William Snook at #32 and Samuel Buckner at #136. But many more are immigrants who flooded into the neighbourhood just before World War One, drawn by the jobs in the factories and mills. Many houses hold two, three, even four families. Children are everywhere, their voices high and happy, as they play games of tag and hopscotch on the sidewalk. Boys hunch over marbles.



Goad’s Atlas, 1924, showing Eastern Avenue

Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West. - 1911

Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West. – 1911. City of Toronto Archives.

1921-2Rag and bone yards are tucked in among the tanneries, paint factories and slaughterhouses along Eastern Avenue. We call it recycling; they called it scavenging. It was work for the poorest of the poor, mostly new immigrants from the shtetls of Poland and the Ukraine.Samuel Cohen’s Veterans Rag and Waste at 101 Carlaw represents long hours of hauling goods by hand trucks and wagons from across downtown to the East End. Every grown up  who live in this crowded neighbourhood in the 1921 we are visiting knows what it was to work long hours.

I worked ten hours a day, six days a week. The only thing we could do because money was so low you couldn’t save anything or very little, so you had to work long hours to keep the table going.


But the rag pickers stand out in a world that was increasingly more and more dominated by one ethnic group.

And I think I should say that it was a WASP neighbourhood. As a matter of fact, I think it was Hughie Garner that said we were WASPO – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Orangemen. 



When I was a boy, very rarely you met anybody who wasn’t born here or Anglo-Saxon or whatever you call them.



Interior, October 30, 1913, City of Toronto Archives


Just north of Eastern Avenue, a small subsidiary of Dunlop Rubber produces Peerless heels and soles. There are many small plants scattered among the houses. People need to be able to walk to work. Their pay is not enough to support a family and pay for streetcar tickets. In another 80 years, the manufacturing plants will be gone and with them the blue-collar jobs that East Enders depended on. In the 1980s they would think of Carlaw as a ghost town of lost jobs and memories of days “on the shop floor”, where the sound of factory whistles carried above all the industrial noise and smoke from dozens of tall chimneys.

Smoke meant our men were working. 



Most of the factories that were here when I was a boy are now out in the suburbs. The buildings are now usually warehouses and most of them are empty.




To be continued





Weaving Our History: The Isaac Price House and the Underground Railroad

The Isaac Price House, 216 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto, Ontario

The Isaac Price House, 216 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto, Ontario

An interesting house from the outside, the Isaac Price House at 216 Greenwood is even more interesting in ways we cannot imagine as threads of history run through it, weaving into a larger tapestry that includes the Underground Railroad.

Isaac Price and Annie Margaret Simpson Price on their Golden Wedding Anniversary Toronto Star, Jan. 4, 1930

Isaac Price and Annie Margaret Simpson Price on their Golden Wedding Anniversary Toronto Star, Jan. 4, 1930

Isaac Price and Annie Margaret Price (nee Simpson) Toronto Star, Jan. 4, 1930

Isaac Price (Ike to his friends) was born on November 18, 1854 in Bridgwater, Somerset, England, into a family where the brickmaking trade was passed down through generations. John Price was the first brother to come to Canada, arriving in 1864, followed shortly by the rest of the family and many others from Bridgwater.

This large brick villa showcases the Price skill and their products. It is featured on this advertisement for Riverdale Gardens, the subdivision from Prust to Greenwood, north of Gerrard.  William Prust (1847-1927), an English shoemaker turned carpenter and contractor, lived on the west side of Greenwood just north of Annie and Isaac Price. The area was then an old orchard. Prust wanted to save the trees as much as he could and it was a positive selling point. The real estate agents claimed that every new home had a fruit tree in the yard. (Toronto Star, May 21, 1910). Most of the people moving into the new area were immigrants from Britain, but not all. Men and women, like Luella Price on Redwood Avenue and the Lightfoots on Morley Avenue (now Woodfield Road) were the descendents of those who had lived under slavery. Some had come up the Underground Railroad to Canada and stayed after slavery ended.

Riverdale Gardens and the Isaac Price House Toronto Star, May 21, 1910

Riverdale Gardens and the Isaac Price House Toronto Star, May 21, 1910


The builder of 216 Greenwood Avenue, Isaac Price, had a strong connection to abolitionism. In a BBC interview, March 23, 2007, historian Roger Evans described how the town of Bridgwater, Somerset, England, the original home to the Prices and many other brickmakers along Greenwood Avenue, became so firmly set against slavery.

Slavery by the British began in the mid-17th century. By 1685, at the time of the Monmouth Rebellion, it was in full swing.

After the Battle of Sedgemoor and the ensuing Bloody Assizes, when hundreds were hung, drawn and quartered, the King granted permission for convicted rebels to be taken into slavery.

With hundreds of Somerset men being transported, local feeling against slavery ran high. These were not the wealthy landowners, but yeoman of strong religious convictions, condemned into slavery. 

In total, 612 Somerset men were transported into slavery. They sailed in eight ships to the West Indies.

Many died during the voyage. Some died on the quayside awaiting their auction.

Within four years, the survivors were granted free pardons but most lacked the fare home.

Those who returned told their families and communities of life as a slave.

The descendents of "Red Legs", Barbados

The descendents of “Red Legs”, Barbados

In 1785 the men and women of Bridgwater, Somerset, sent a petition to Parliament calling for the abolition of the slave trade. Parliament did nothing, until 1807 when it outlawed British involvement in the slave trade. Bridgwater was the first British town to ask the Crown to do away with slavery.

Act of the British Parliament Abolishing the Slave Trade March 15, 1907

Act of the British Parliament Abolishing the Slave Trade March 15, 1807

See more at:  go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/somerset/content/articles/2007/02/19/abolition_somerset_and_slavery_feature.shtml

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) The white man's happiness cannot be purchased by the black man's misery.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s misery.

Britain’s involvement in the slave trade may have over and done with, but slavery was still going strong in America. Frederick Douglass, disguised as a “Black Jack” or free black sailor, escaped slavery and reached New York City. His became one of the strongest voices against slavery. Abraham Lincoln encouraged him to travel on tours in the United States but also in Canada and Europe. Douglass’ eloquent speeches helped build the abolition movement. He spoke in Bridgwater, Somerset on August 31, 1846 and asked his receptive audience to do everything they could to end slavery. The people of Bridgwater drew up another petition but this time they sent it to the town of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, asking the citizens to twin with them to fight slavery. More than 1,200 men and women of Bridgwater, England, signed that petition, ordinary men and women. Among them were a number of Prices, including the parents of Isaac and John Price and their other brothers, well known Leslieville brick manufacturers.

They came to a Leslieville that had a tradition of welcoming refugees who had escaped slavery.

Some of the first black residents appeared in the 1830s 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. 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). Descendents of Lewis Dockerty would continue the family tradition of being “horse whisperers”.

Shaws Tavern

George Brown, with the Globe newspaper (now the Globe and Mail), with his father and brothers were leaders in the fight against slavery.  George Leslie and George Brown were good friends and shared similar “Grit” beliefs.

The extinction of slavery would forever extinguish the slave trade, that scourge of a quarter of the globe, inflicting an amount of misery on the unoffending colored race which no pen can enumerate, and which will never be known  on this side of Time. (Globe, Jan. 6 , 1846)

Yet both free blacks and former slaves were subject to racism here: discrimination and even assault. At that time the acceptable term for people of colour was “coloured”; “Negro” was far too close to “nigger” and the Globe objected to the use of “Negro”. (Globe, Jan. 6 , 1846) However, whatever the efforts of white men and women to fight slavery, the black community itself organized effectively both to welcome and support refugees from south of the Mason-Dixon line.  The black churches, especially the Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal, organized for the “improvement” of their community.

Many refugees passed into Canada along the Niagara frontier, but also at Windsor and Sarnia.  South-western Ontario had substantial communities of African Americans. There were efforts to prevent black people from buying and owning a home wherever they wanted, creating in effect segregated communities, keeping people separate and unequal. Black leaders responded, “such a power we believe to be dangerous to liberty, and if carried into effect would not only deprive us of our civil rights, but would eventually exclude us from settling in any part of Canada.” Col. John Prince of Sandwich (now Windsor) was appalled, stating, “…no person has witnessed with deepest regret than I have the prejudices which unfortunately exist in too many parts of Canada… (Globe, Oct. 25, 1849). He hoped that with the passage of time the prejudice would die away and that African Canadians would enjoy all the rights and privileges of other Canadians.

Associations like the Elgin Association for the Social and Religious Improvement of the Coloured Population of Canada” formed to assist the refugees, but the Elgin Association also formed a separate community for people of colour where they could prove that black people were “moral and industrious” and worthy of full citizenship and equality.  Toronto money and organizers supported this endeavour. (Globe, Nov. 24, 1849)

The passage of a law allowing slave catchers to go anywhere in the Northern US to capture refugees created a flood across the border into Ontario. Punitive measures were enacted against those who helped escapees along the Underground Railroad.

In 1847 George Smith and William Cook, local farmers and brickmakers, opened a tavern at the south east corner of Leslie Street and Queen Street East. George Smith and William Cook were the ex-owners of Shaw’s Hotel (at Boston Avenue and Queen Street East). In 1852 their new venture was named Uncle Tom’s Cabin in what was likely a reference to “Doc” and the bestseller. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery book was originally to have carried the subtitle, The Man that Was a Thing. Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly ran in the Era newspaper from June 1851 until April 1852. Uncle Tom‘s Cabin quickly became a smash hit in the USA, Canada and Great Britain. A Montreal monthly periodical, The Maple Leaf, serialized the book, with an abridged conclusion, from July 1852, until the following June. The Globe, owned by George Brown, well-known newspaperman and abolitionist, printed extracts and the whole fifth chapter: Hundreds of young boys who, less than ten years later, would enter the Northern armies, devoured it in the one-volume edition.

Black History


Uncle Tom’s Cabin Hotel near Leslie and Queen Street. The building was torn down years ago but it was west of the Duke of York and south of Queen Street, directly across from George Leslie’s General Store at the corner of Curzon and Queen. (The man watering the horse may well have been Lewis Dockerty.)

It is likely that the Uncle Tom’s Cabin was used by former black slaves who worked for Thomas Carey and Richard B. Richards, cutting ice on Ashbridge’s Bay. Certainly Henry Lewis, another black businessman, had an ice house on Ashbridge’s Bay. Thomas Carey married Mary Ann Shadd (depicted above) who became the first woman editor of a newspaper in Canada, The Provincial Freeman. Neither lived in this area, but both had a great influence here.


I have found that black sailors stayed at Leslieville hotels, as they did other hotels and taverns on the shores of the Great Lakes. Known as “Black Jacks”, many had been slaves.

There are many refugees who “go down to the lakes in ships, that do business on the great waters;” and these fresh water sailors earn good wages in summer.

No opportunity presented of seeing this class, but the general report about them was that they “loafed around all winter, and spent all their earnings.” This is proof that they do work and earn money; and if they spend it just as other tars do, the fact only proves that the vocation of sailor affects blacks as it does whites. (Charles Twitchell Davis, and Henry Louis Gates, editors. The Slave’s Narrative. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 121.)

 black sailor

Captain Averill, an experienced sailor, explained why white captains preferred black crews:

 Colored men do very well for deck hands, and firemen, and the like of that. They are the best men we have. We have to pay them the same as white men, and I prefer them to some portion of our citizens. We have to keep them separate from white sailors. We cannot mix them. We always carry a black crew or a white one. We will take a crew of firemen, darkies, or a crew of deck hands, darkies. They are fully as good as white sailors, in regard to temperance. We can put more confidence in them than we can in white men. (Samuel Gridley Howe,  The Refugees from Slavery in Canada West. Boston: Wright & Potter, 1864, pp. 76-77)

Many Black Jacks were deeply involved in the Underground Railway.  At the risk of their lives, they distributed information about escape routes and pamphlets to blacks in southern ports. They also helped fugitives who stowed away on Great Lakes vessels to Canada.

Black sailor3

Black Jacks rescued a boy

By 1861, about 20 per cent of Leslieville’s population were black men, women and children (1861 Census).


Harriet Tubman


Josiah Henson had a harrowing escape from slavecatchers while leading the Lightfoots north on the Underground Railroad


Nancy and Josiah Henson


Map of the Underground Railway routes


Charles and Elizabeth Johnson lived near the Woodforks (or Woodforths).  James and Jane Woodfork were Baptists, the other major denomination among those coming from the US.  Their son Henry was born in Canada. Samuel and Susan Wilmore were also Baptist.  Their son George was born in the US.  Cecil Foster has observed that “[a]s long as there have been Blacks in Canada, there has been a church at the heart of the community” (Cecil Foster, A Place Called Heaven: The Meaning of Being Black in Canada, Harper Collins Publishers: Toronto, p. 54). Samuel Winder was born in the US, but his wife Susan and sons Lewis and Samuel were born in Ontario.  They were Baptists too. After his wife died Samuel Winder married Maria Sewell.

The Davis family were Episcopal Methodist.  John and Eliza Davis and their children Mary, William, John, Ezekiel and Jane were all born in the USA. Later William Davis became a music teacher, as did his daughter Eva (1891 Census). John and Mary Harmon had two sailor sons, Thomas and Edward.  All were Wesleyan Methodists, born in the USA. George and Harriet Wilrous were born in the USA, but their children Sarah, Loreen and Martha were all born in Ontario.

Henry Lewis and his wife Louisa Carey were born in Ontario. Both were Baptists. The black families became closely linked through marriage.  Louisa was the daughter of barber Isaac Carey who went into the ice business. Henry also became an ice dealer.

Globe 1851 ad for Henry Lewis Ice dealer

James and Elizabeth Whitley were born in the USA, but their son James was born in 1860 in Ontario. Some we know little about, like Darcy Wright, Aaron Finley, Robert Johnson, Daniel Harris (1861 Census) or William Browne (1871 Census) (sometimes the census keepers just recorded “Negro”). The Chorneys, William Browne and others lived closed to John and Elizabeth Logan which may suggest that these Scots Presbyterians, along with their Wesleyan Methodist neighbours shared George Brown’s hatred of slavery and open attitudes. (It seems that a child of one of these families was named “John Logan” while his brother was “George Washington”.) J. H. and M.A. Colbert, husband and wife, gardeners, also lived near the Logans in the 1851 Census.

Alfred Blackburn lived “across the Don” as did James Mink for a period. Alfred’s brother Thornton Blackburn began the first taxi service in Toronto.  James Mink owned a livery stable in downtown Toronto. His wife Eliza was white and there were a number of so-called mixed marriages. Samuel Fitzhue, an African American aged 50 (Methodist), married Ellen, an Englishwoman (Anglican), 20 years younger. (There was a Fitzhue Street in Leslieville in the mid 19th century.) He was a labourer in Leslieville (1871 Census). John French was born in the U.S., but his children Jane and Mary were born in Canada.  Their mother seems to have died.

Samuel and Rachel Sewell were gardeners near Logan and Queen.  Their farm lane became known as “Sewell’s Lane”, and later “Logan Avenue”.  Sons William and Isaac were born in the U.S. Son Samuel was born in Ontario. While Samuel Sewell Sr. claimed to have no religion in the 1851 Census, the rest of the Family was Baptist. Samuel Sewell Sr. was born in 1797 under slavery and died May 8 1873. He could be said to be the patriarch of Leslieville’s black community. He is buried in the Necropolis Cemetery with his family. His wife Rachel died in 1879 and is buried beside him. Son William died early at the age of 15 on Feb. 6, 1856, from scrofula or tuberculosis of the glands of the neck. Daughter Maria Sewell married Samuel Winder (Widower) on Jan. 21, 1847.

Leslieville’s black community in the mid-nineteenth century included P.H. Churney or Cheney, his wife Hannah, and their children Thomas, Augustus, Lora, Mary and Joseph. Like many of the black community they were Episcopal Methodists. Their family was marked by singular tragedy. On July 16, 1860, son William  drowned in the Don River while swimming near the King Street bridge. He was only eight. (Globe, July 16, 1860)

While Mrs. Barry was attending William Churney’s funeral, a fire broke out in the provisions store of Henry Barry on Queen Street in Leslieville.  A little boy aged four and a girl aged six died in the inferno. Their names were Rachel Barry and Sewell Barry.  The Globe newspaper blamed Henry Barry for losing “all control over himself” and not rescuing the children. The fact that the only fire truck had to come all the way from near Parliament and King must have played a factory in the total destruction of the one story wooden building. There was also no water available to fight the fire.  Being July and hot, the wells may have been dry.  “An old coloured woman”…”somewhat addicted to liquor” was blamed for starting the fire.

On July 21, 1856 Michael Barry (no relation to the black Barry family) and others of the Brook’s Bush gang murdered Isaiah Sewell by bashing him over the head. The Brook’s Bush gang was a collection of prostitutes, pickpockets, thieves and petty criminals whose headquarters was an old barn in what is now Withrow Park.  They were all white, mostly Irish but lead by Jane Ward, a vicious English prostitute. Jane Ward, like most of those present, was conveniently looking the other way when Sewell was murdered. A prostitute named Catherine Cogan flirted with Isaiah Sewell.  A witness said, “I heard someone say it was a shame for a white girl to be seen with a black man.” Samuel Sewell was a witness in the trial. He had sent his son to the mill road (Broadview Avenue) with money to buy hay. Isaiah was what we would call, “A good kid.” He never associated with the Brook’s Bush gang.  It was part of their modus operandi to ply a victim with alcohol and lure him with sex, and then rob him. Another witness testified, “ [Michael Barry] never spoke to the coloured boy. The coloured boy was standing with his back to Barry. Barry never spoke when he struck the blow. The blow was given with a black glass bottle…He fell immediately, never got up, and never spoke…when the blow was struck, Barry called the deceased a black b—g—r…” The money disappeared. Michael Barry was convicted of manslaughter, probably taking the fall for the others as he himself was not a gang member, just a “newbie”. For years the Brook’s Bush gang members boasted of getting away with killing a black man. (Globe, Oct. 30, 1856)

Murder Isaiah Sewell July 29 1856

Globe, July 29, 1856

The Sewell family plot in the Necropolis fairly shouts, “Research me! I am one of the most interesting historical sites around.”

The Barrys lived next to the Bird family, a white family, whose young son, James Bird, died fighting for the Union at the Battle of Chattanooga. Other volunteers from “over the Don” included William Henry Doel (1827-1903), Toronto pharmacist and Justice of the Peace. Like many in this neighbourhood he was a devout Methodist. Another, more famous Canadian, also enlisted. Like them he has an interesting “back story”.


Wilson Ruffin Abbott

Wilson Ruffin Abbott

Wilson Ruffin Abbott (1801–1876) was an American free man of colour. Born to a white father and a free woman of colour in Richmond, Virginia, Abbott left home when he was aged 15 to work as a steward on a Mississippi River steamer. He married Ellen Toyer, and moved to Mobile, Alabama. There they opened a grocery store, but left in 1834 after friends warned them that hostile white Alabamans were going to attack their business. Forced to leave Mobile by the animosity and threat of violence, the Abbotts went north to Toronto in 1835.

Wilson Ruffin Abbott fought for the Crown in the 1837 Upper Canadian Rebellion. In 1838, he and others established the Colored Wesleyan Methodist Church of Toronto. He was prominent in the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and elected as an Alderman for St. Patrick’s Ward on Toronto City Council. He was also a member of the Reform Central Committee. In 1840 Ellen Toyer Abbot organized the Queen Victoria Benevolent Society to help poor black women. She was known for her work for the British Methodist Episcopal Church.

According to Catherine Slaney, in Family Secrets: Crossing the Colour Line, (page 214), Josiah Bartlett Abbott (1793-1849) and Anne Wilson may have been Wilson Abbott’s father and mother. The Abbotts were a prominent New England family and Josiah was born in Connecticut. The couple married in Salem, New Jersey, but their faith, the Salem Society of Friend meeting, turned them away. (The Friends were also known as the Quakers.) They sold their farm and moved to Richmond, Virginia. In Richmond Josiah Bartlett Abbott began buying slaves. One of these women may also have been Wilson Abbott’s mother, but we do know that whoever she was, his mother was a “free woman of colour”.

Abigail Goodwin, Conductor on the Underground Railroad

Abigail Goodwin, Conductor on the Underground Railroad

Ironically, the very Quaker meeting in Salem, New Jersey, that rejected Josiah Bartlett Abbott and Anne Wilson became deeply involved in the Underground Railroad. The Goodwin sisters, Abigail (1793-1867) and Elizabeth (1789-1860), were conductors on the Underground Railroad and their house was a stop on a major route to freedom. Their home is the first New Jersey site to be accepted into the National Park Service’s National Underground railroad Network to Freedom Program. The Underground Railroad, painted by Charles T. Webber, shows Quaker women like the Goodwin sisters at work.


The Underground Railroad, painted by Charles T. Webber in 1893

Josiah Henson younger

Josiah Henson

While many escaped up the Underground Railroad with the help of white people, including Quakers, most Conductors were black like the famous Josiah Henson and Harriet Tubman. Yet most fugitive slaves made their way north with no one’s help but their own two feet and the North Star — and those who escaped with them. You can read Josiah Henson’s autobiography,

The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave,
Now an Inhabitant of Canada,
as Narrated by Himself

on line at:


Josiah Bartlett Abbot, owner of High Meadow in Henrico County, Virginia (just outside Richmond), a former hatter, became a prominent lawyer and financier. He was also the publisher of the Richmond Whig newspaper.

A Soldier of the 11th Virginia Infantry in which Lt. Walter R. Abbott fought

A Soldier of the 11th Virginia Infantry in which Lt. Walter R. Abbott fought

His son Lieutenant Walter Randolph Abbott (1838-1862) was killed in the battle known as Glendale to the Union soldiers and Frayser’s Farm to the Confederates. The Confederates, under General Longstreet, repeatedly charged the Union lines, in an effort to capture the Federal artillery. The fighting was incredibly savage. Confederate E. P. Alexander wrote:

No more desperate encounter took place in the war and nowhere else, to my knowledge, so much actual personal fighting with bayonet and butt of gun.

A Union bullet struck Walter Randolph Abbott in the head, killing him instantly, but “his natty gray uniform” was still impeccable. His wife had sewn his name on a strip of white cloth into the tops of socks, making his body identifiable on the battlefield (dog tags were not invented yet). The Union Army lose about 2,800 men but the Confederates lost 3,600. Both sides claimed it as a victory.

Death of Walter Randolph Abbott, From the Richmond Times Dispatch, June 1905.

Death of Walter Randolph Abbott, From the Richmond Times Dispatch, June 1905.

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On June 30, 1862, a battlefield artist, Alfred Waud, drew this picture of the Battle of Glendale. It was published in Harper’s Weekly, on August 9, 1862, (pp. 504-505). I have enhanced it digitally to make it more accessible to readers.

On June 30, 1862, a battlefield artist, Alfred Waud, drew this picture of the Battle of Glendale. It was published in Harper’s Weekly, on August 9, 1862, (pp. 504-505). I have enhanced it digitally to make it more accessible to readers.


While the Civil War was raging south of the border, Wilson Abbot was becoming a realtor, succeeding as a businessman in Toronto. By 1871 Wilson about owned 42 houses, 5 vacant lots and a warehouse. “With his wealth he was able to purchase the freedom of a number of escaped slaves, to keep his wife’s sister as a well-paid housekeeper, and to engage extensively in community affairs.” (Everett Jenkins, Pan-African Chronology II, p. 126).

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Canadian citizen Anderson Ruffin Abbott in a U.S. Army Uniform, 1863 Image Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library

Canadian citizen Anderson Ruffin Abbott in a U.S. Army Uniform, 1863 Image Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library

The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln 1868 Alonzo Chappel 1828-1887 Oil on canvas 52 x 98 in. Chicago History Museum purchase 1971.177, ICHi-52425 - See more at: http://www.civilwarinart.org/items/show/49#sthash.ZM7woJZS.dpuf

The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln, 1868
Alonzo Chappel, 1828-1887
Oil on canvas, 52 x 98 in.
Chicago History Museum purchase
1971.177, ICHi-52425 – See more at: http://www.civilwarinart.org/items/show/49#sthash.ZM7woJZS.dpuf

His son, Anderson Ruffin Abbott, was the first Canadian born African American surgeon. During the Civil War, he was one of the only eight black doctors involved with the Union Army, serving from 1863 to 1866. When he enlisted in 1863, the Union Army appointed Abbot as an acting assistant surgeon. This was before he got his medical degree although he did have a medical license. Dr. Abbott worked at the Contraband Hospital in Washington during the war and knew Abraham Lincoln well. He was one of the carefully chosen who were in the room, standing vigil, while Lincoln was dying. He is in the Alonzo Chappel painting below, but it takes a keen eye to find him. Later Mary Todd Lincoln gave Dr. Abbott with a shawl her husband had worn to the President’s first inauguration.

In 1866, after the war finished, Abbott returned to Toronto where, to supplement his medical license, he received a medical degree from the Toronto College of Medicine in 1867.  Abbott practiced in Ontario until his death in 1913.




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It is hard to imagine the carnage that Anderson Ruffin Abbott, William Henry Doel and other medical men and women had to deal with in the Civil War.

Wounded soldiers crowded into a hospital and they were the lucky ones.

Wounded soldiers crowded into a hospital and they were the lucky ones.

African Americans in Medicine in the Civil War Era




Men from Bridgwater travelled even further to enlist to fight for the freedom of black Americans. Stonemason William Jolley Nicholls is buried in Bridgwater’s Bristol Road cemetery. His family engraved on his tomb: “fought in the American Civil War for the abolition of slavery”. He fought in a number of battles, including the Battle of Mobile Bay, and was wounded.

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Not all white Canadians were anti-slavery.  Some like the Denisons supported the South in the Civil War.  But many white people here staunchly opposed slavery and poured a great deal of time, effort and money into welcoming refugees from slavery. Some of the early minstrel shows featured black men and women (born in the American South, not Ethiopia or Nubia as ads proclaimed with more than a little creative license).

Despite their contributions to society, black people were the object of everyday discrimination which sometimes escalated into violence.  Black men and women travelling alone were vulnerable to assault. Racist attitudes are epitomized by the jokes and parody in the very popular minstrel shows. White musicians, professional and amateur, put on “black face”, singing songs, playing banjos, dancing and performing slapstick skits.

The Stanley Minstrels! Concert! The Stanley Minstrels in returning their sincere thanks for the very liberal patronage, approbation, and applause, which was bestowed upon them at their two last Concerts, beg leave to announce, that they will give their third concert at the Saint Lawrence Hall, on Monday Evening the 12th March, 1855, On which occasion they will introduce an entire new programme, consisting of New Ethiopian melodies, witty sayings, jokes, black blunders, dancing, &c. To conclude with the Burlesque Ball. (Globe, March 9, 1855)

As black people settled into life in Ontario, they organized their own churches and associations, including organizations to help those escaping from the USA.  They also began to gain political power and white politicians solicited their votes.  This is a rather back-handed appeal to black voters in Toronto to support George Brown:

“I know you can both reason and judge quite as well as your white neighbours.”  “What did Mr. Brown’s paper say and what did Mr. Brown’s friends do, when the Fugitive Slave Bill was passed, making exiles of hundreds of your brethren, and exposing them to the cold charity of the world?  He denounced the atrocious wrong, and gave his means to shelter and support its victims.”(Globe,  December 12, 1857)

When the war was over, black Americans returned to the US though not to the South.  Instead they moved to the large cities of the American north and mid-west:  Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, etc. While some stayed most black people in Leslieville joined the exodus. Leslieville and Toronto too became whiter and whiter and racism became more open, acceptable and obvious. Immigration laws and policy tightened to keep people of colour out. Between 1896 and 1907, one and a half million immigrants came to Canada, but less than a thousand were black.

Blacks were not welcome here. Canada’s Immigration Act of 1910 prohibited “any race deemed unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada”.

On the other hand white immigrants from Britain received a financially incentive called the “British Bonus” for coming to Canada. Immigrants from Britain’s large cities like London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow and Belfast, poured into Leslieville from 1890 through to 1930 (with a gap in 1914-1918 when World War I was swallowing a generation).  They populated the new streets like Ashdale, Woodfield Road, Craven Road, Hiawatha Avenue, Prust Avenue, Gerrard Street East, etc. Some of these streets became whiter than snow thanks to the use of restrictive covenants in mortgages that kept the property to “Anglo Saxon Protestants”. But, at the same time, a black man was one of Toronto’s most powerful municipal politicians and black people did live here.


William Peyton Hubbard (1842 – April 13, 1935) was a successful baker who invented a new commercial stove the Hubbard Portable. He trained at the Toronto Normal School (the teachers’ college of the day located on the Ryerson Campus where its façade graces the Quadrangle).

Hubbard Stove Globe May 12 1892

Globe, May 12, 1892

But he was much more than a simple baker. He served as a City of Toronto alderman from 1894 to 1914 for Ward 1, which included both parts of Riverdale: Riverside and Leslieville. He was the first black Canadian to be elected to office in  this country. A dynamic speaker, skilled negotiator and popular man, he was Vice chair of the Toronto Board of Control in 1906 and served as acting Mayor when the Mayor was ill or away.

William Peyton Hubbard was a devout Anglican and sometimes the antics at City Hall offended his sense of right and wrong. Leslieville was still a place for city boys to have fun. Young men and men not so young drove their rigs out from downtown. Perhaps inspired by the nearby Woodbine Racetrack, they used the Leslieville’s streets, particularly Eastern Avenue, for racing. In 1896 Aldermen James. B. Boustead, William Peyton Hubbard, John Knox Leslie, J.J. Graham and Mayor Kennedy discussed the relationship of horse racing horses to Methodism at a City Council meeting.  The Mayor, in his inaugural address, had suggested that “certain streets be set apart for speeding horses.” Alderman Hubbard was shocked that the Mayor, who was supposed to be a good Methodist, should even think of such a thing. Leslieville Aldermen John Knox Leslie and J.J. Graham moved that Eastern Avenue from the GTR crossing to the Woodbine Racetrack be set apart for speeding. Kennedy supported the motion: The Mayor admitted being fond of a fast horse himself and he believed that there were thousands of people, Methodists among them, who would take a pleasure in witnessing the speeding. (Toronto Star, January 28, 1896)


William Peyton Hubbard (1842-1935), the first African Canadian city councillor in Toronto (first elected in 1894). Painted by W.A. Sherwood (1859-1919)

Alderman Hubbard stood up for the interests of Torontonians preventing the Georgian Pay Ship Canal and Power Aqueduct Company from taking over ownership of the city’s water supply. He chaired the committee that promoting provincial legislation that would allow the city itself to generate and devlop power: the origins of Toronto Hydro. This portrait of William Peyton Hubbard by W.A. Sherwood was commissioned by Ward One voters and hung at City Hall on November 15, 1913. When his wife Julia became seriously ill, he retired from politics but stayed on as the City of Toronto representative to the House of Industry. It was commonly called The Poor House and was on Elm Street (now the old building is incorporated into a YWCA housing project). Julia Luckett died three years later, in 1917 from a stroke.

Julia Luckett obit

Toronto Star, Dec. 11, 1917


William Peyton Hubbard by William Albert Sherwood, 1913. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Art Collection, Museums & Heritage Services

Courtesy of City of Toronto Art Collection, Museums & Heritage Services

How William Peyton Hubbard got into politics speaks of his character. After 16 years he got out of the baking business and became a taxi cab driver. (However, he loved baking up for the rest of his life.) Hubbard was:

…travelling on Don Mills Road when he noticed the cab in front of him was in danger of plunging into the icy Don River. Hubbard caught up to it and took control of the reins just in the nick of time.

The driver of the cab was drunk, and the grateful passenger who stepped out was George Brown

The driver of the cab was drunk, and the grateful passenger who stepped out was George Brown, the renowned politician, founder and publisher of The Globe. The short wiry youth had just spared the life of a future father of Confederation. Brown had been saved to fulfil his destiny by the man whose own destiny was to be “Toronto’s Grand Old Man,” “Cicero of Council” and the first black man to sit in the mayor’s chair.

John Brix Coleman, “Black Cicero”, Toronto Star, Aug. 27, 1983

It was George Brown who encouraged William  Peyton Hubbard to go into politics. William Peyton knew his Ward One voters well, including the brickmakers on Greenwood Avenue, many from that staunch Somerset anti-slavery tradition that gave them minds and hearts that were opened wider than many others of the time.

Isaac and Margaret Ann (Simpson) Price

The Don Rowing Club at the foot of Woodfield Road at Eastern Avenue in 1912, courtesy of the Don Rowing Club.

The Don Rowing Club at the foot of Woodfield Road at Eastern Avenue in 1912, courtesy of the Don Rowing Club.

Isaac was a champion athlete as a young man, representing the Leslieville Rowing Club in numerous races, and winning most. Years later the Toronto Star recalled Isaac Price’s days as an athlete, “Fifty years ago the late Mr. Price was one of the outstanding amateur scullers of Toronto and Ontario.” (Toronto Star, Oct. 13, 1934)

Annie Margaret Simpson Price was the daughter of William Simpson and Catherine Doherty, brickmakers who lived at 55 Curzon Street, in the heart of Leslieville. Two Simpson daughters married two Price brothers Isaac married Margaret Annie and Joseph married Sarah Jane Simpson. Brickmaker families formed a tightly knit web linked by both ties of business and marriage, as well as of friendship. Thomas Sawden, for whom Sawden Avenue, is named, was a close friend despite being a brick manufacturer competing with the Prices.

In 1888 like many other brickmakers, Isaac and Annie Price were still living in their old home on Queen Street East. The brick business had its upside down and, in 1897, during a major economic downturn, Isaac Price’s property taxes were in arrears. With the return of prosperity the Prices grew rich. They built their new home at 216 Greenwood around 1897, at the same time John Price was putting up his home at 100 Greenwood Avenue.

Price House 100 Greenwood Avenue

The John Price House, 100 Greenwood Avenue. Photo by Joanne Doucette

By 1930, Isaac and Annie Price were living at their new home, 294 Strathmore Boulevard, a neat, compact brick bungalow, much smaller than the villa at 216 Greenwood Avenue. Like many seniors today, the Prices had downsized. To see their new home follow this link


At the beginning of January, 1930, they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Isaac Price was involved in brickmaking in Toronto for over 50 years. His plant on Greenwood Avenue closed around 1933, during the Great Depression, and Isaac Price retired, only to die just over a year later on October 18, 1934. Margaret Annie Simpson died on February 18, 1949, at Toronto East General Hospital. But the life of 216 Greenwood Avenue went on.


Hubbard wedding Globe Sept 29 1936

Smith-Hubbard Wedding from the Globe, Sept. 29, 1936 Held At the Isaac Price House, 216 Greenwood Avenue

TTC commissioner Frederick Langdon Hubbard

TTC commissioner Frederick Langdon Hubbard

On September 26, 1936, Julia Margaret Hubbard (1910–1998) married John Binford Smith (1909-1974).

Julia Margaret’s father was Frederick Langdon Hubbard (1878-1953), another outstanding member of this interesting family. Hubbard worked for the Toronto Street Railway from 1906 to 1921, and served as the chair of the TTC from 1929 to 1930, vice-chair in 1931 and a commissioner from 1932 to 1939. He was the first African Canadian to serve in these roles on the TTC. Hubbard Avenue is named after him.

John Binford Smith, from the Lincoln University Yearbook

John Binford Smith, from the Lincoln University Yearbook, 1931

But Julia Margaret Hubbard was not only the granddaughter of William Peyton Hubbard, she was also the grandchild of Anderson Ruffin Abbott. Her wedding was an an evening affair held at the home of friend Cornell F. Milford, 216 Greenwood Avenue. The large drawing room of 216 Greenwood Avenue, with its big French stained glass windows, overlooked the well kept lawn and flower gardens that Annie and Isaac Price had planted and nurtured. The reception was held later in the Hubbard home at 662 Broadview Avenue. A historical plaque marks that Hubbard home. But her new husband has an interesting story as well. Researching the family history of black Canadians can be frustrating for many reasons. Often the sources are missing; sometimes the sources are racist and a researcher has to pick through a lot of garbage to find “a pearl”. But the ultimate wall is the way records were kept under slavery. On the long lists detailing each slaveholder’s human chattels, names rarely appear, just gender and age and sometimes a brief remark. So finding the thread of a family tree before the Civil War is rare. But in the case of John Binford Smith, I was able to trace his family further back.

Henry Claxton Binford, Educator, Newspaperman, and Mason Grand Master

Henry Claxton Binford, Educator, Newspaperman, and Mason Grand Master

Henry Claxton Binford, Educator, Newspaperman, and Mason Grand Master From The Afro American, Aug. 20, 1910, grandfather of John Binford Smith





Smith’s original name was John Allen Binford Jr., but he changed it when his mother remarried to Alonzo Smith. John Binford Smith was born in the Deep South, at Huntsville, Alabama. His father was John Allen Binford Sr. (1882–1937).  John Allen Binford Senior’s father was Henry Claxton (Clemens) Binford (1851–1911) born under slavery to a black mother, Amanda Clemens, and a white father, Peter Binford, whose names we know thanks to Freedman’s Bank Records. Peter Binford was from an illustrious Virginia Tidewater Family related to Robert E. Lee, the famous Confederate General.

Freedman’s Bank Record for Henry Claxton (Clemens) Binford

Freedman’s Bank Record for Henry Claxton (Clemens) Binford

The threads from Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, soldier and slave owner, meet in a house built by proud abolitionists and now the wedding place of descendents of enslaved men and women who had “made it” in “the land over Jordan”, Canada.

Peter Binford, the slave owner of Amanda Clemens, was born on January 31, 1817 in North Carolina. The family moved to the Huntsville area around 1826. This 44-year old lawyer enlisted in the Confederate army on April 26, to work as an assistant to the battlefield surgeons of the 4th Alabama Regiment. Perhaps he chose this non-combatant role because he still had a trace of the Quaker convictions he had been raised with. William Henry Doel and Anderson Ruffin Abbott would have known the work that Peter Binford did. Perhaps he worked himself to death caring for the wounded. In any case, Peter died of pneumonia on June 20, 1861 in Strasburg, Virginia. Dr. L. W. Shepherd said, “I shall always believe he died the victim of too high a sense of duty,” (Huntsville Democrat, May 19, 1961)

Soldiers of an Alabama Infantry Regiment, including an older soldier. There were many like Peter Binford in both Blue and Gray.

Soldiers of an Alabama Infantry Regiment, including an older soldier. There were many like Peter Binford in both Blue and Gray.

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Peter Binford can be found in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules. As noted, he was originally a Quaker, a member of the same pacifist denomination, the Society of Friends, as others in this story and indeed the Ashbridges family. Some of his Quaker ancestors freed their slaves out of religious conviction as over time slavery became less and less acceptable to this group that believed that all human beings, men and women, all backgrounds and origins were equal under God. In fact, that’s how they got the name “Quaker” as they shook or quaked while they stood before royalty and refused to take their hats off. On March 17, 1792, Quakers Thomas Chappell, John Chappell, Benjamin Chappell, and Agnes Chappell of Prince George County and Aquila Binford of Dinwiddie County:

…being fully persuaded that freedom is the natural right…do unto others…under our care one Negro of the following name Charles Rivers aged 22 yrs, we do therefore emancipate and set free the said Negro.

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The Hubbard-Smith marriage was a bright moment in a dreary decade as the Great Depression brought high unemployment and overcrowded housing to the area around Greenwood and Gerrard. Large houses were chopped up into flats. Families doubled up so that bungalows sometimes had a large number of inhabitants. The housing stock became run down. Although by all reports it was a good neighbourhood to live in and to grow up, it gained a reputation as a slum. By the early 1950s 216 Greenwood Avenue was a rooming house. It was no longer the “Little Britain” it had been called — although the presence of black families like the Lightfoots on Woodfield Road undermine the commonly held belief that the area was all white. The “East End” was now more varied, as Italian and Greek immigrants moved in.

Thomas Jefferson Lightfoots children

The Lightfoots of Woodfield Road

Arthur Lightfoot obit Globe and Mail Dec 11 1953

Globe and Mail, Dec, 11, 1953

Obituary Lewis Taylor Lightfoot Chicago Tribune 26 Jul 1975

Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1975

Thomas Jefferson Lightfoot2.

Jefferson Lightfoot. Josiah Henson was his Conductor on the Underground Railroad

216 Greenwood Avenue appeared again in the news in 1956 when John Michaelides, who lived there, wrote a Letter to the Editor calling for an end to the execution of Greek Cypriots who were trying to overthrow British rule on Cyprus. He wrote:

In case of war, how can he expect anyone to fight for the British again, since they see that they hand those who shed their blood for them in two world wars?

His poignant, but pointed question could apply to people across the crumbling British Empire. (Toronto Star, Sept 29 1956)

In 2003 216 Greenwood Avenue was in the news. David Nickle in The East York Mirror (Aug 1, 2003) described how two group homes one here and one on Simpson Avenue were facing a crisis. The homes were run by L’Arche Daybreak, an innovative program created by Jean Vanier, son of one of a Governor General of Canada, but were threatened with closure. The Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services took them to task for not being in compliance with City of Toronto Bylaws. They were given a deadline of September 30, 2003, to get things in order. 216 Greenwood Avenue which had been a group home for four adults with disabilities for years. L’Arche provides supportive housing based on a model of community involvement and volunteerism, infused with a gentle spirituality. L’Arche’s problem was that, although they complied with fire code and building code requirements, they needed the City of Toronto to confirm that they were a legal group home. However, they needed a variance of the zoning bylaw because they are within 250 metres of another residential care facilities. The City of Toronto’s Committee of Adjustment refused to consider it because L’Arche had fulfilled the requirement that a sign be posted letting residents of Greenwood and Simpson Avenues know about the hearing. They eventually got their variance.

The thread woven by Ike and Annie Price (Ike to his friends), his brother John and the other Prices and their friends who made 216 Greenwood Avenue ring with music and laughter, still runs through the old house. The shades of all those Red Legs who perished in the West Indies, as well as countless Africans and their descendents also weave strands through the brick and mortar. A strong cord woven by Frederick Douglass would be here too. Somewhere the Black Jacks who ferried so many across the Greats Lakes would maybe be dancing hornpipes. The memory of Abraham Lincoln is netted into the fabric here too. And those of Canadian volunteers like William Henry Doel and James Bird. But stronger still is the cord woven by Wilson Ruffin Abbott and his son, Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott and the thousands of men and women who came to freedom in Canada and their descendents some of whom live in this neighbourhood today. Although we may not think about history, we move through it daily, not only in the built environment of houses, factories, bridges, shops, schools and roads, but in our deepest beliefs and aspirations. The house where Julia Margaret Hubbard and John Binford Smith said their wedding vows still stands at 216 Greenwood, a reminder that we are living, woven into history, creating it with our everyday lives in our neighbourhoods and of the courage and tenacity of those who were here before us.

Abbott family group ca 1900 Anderson Ruffin Abbott fonds, Toronto Public Library. From left two right: two unknown men, Mrs. Grace Hubbard, Mr. Hubbard, Mrs. John Montgomery, Mrs. Rebecca Hollingsworth Galway, Mrs. Anderson Ruffin Abbott, Mr. John Montgomery, unidentified man.

Abbott family group ca 1900 Anderson Ruffin Abbott fonds, Toronto Public Library. From left two right: two unknown men, Mrs. Grace Hubbard, Mr. Hubbard, Mrs. John Montgomery, Mrs. Rebecca Hollingsworth Galway, Mrs. Anderson Ruffin Abbott, Mr. John Montgomery, unidentified man.

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Apple pickers1

Announcing a “Leslieville”, a new history by Joanne Doucette, available June 18, 2016.

George Leslie was Canada’s “Johnny Appleseed”, owner of the country in the 19th century. His apple trees, grown in this country’s largest tree nursery of the time, went across Canada and even both the Atlantic and Pacific to Europe and Asia. His efforts made orchards a major industry and apples a major Canadian export crop. His Toronto Nursery was responsible for trees on city streets and along country roads, in parks, public places and people’s yards from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. He promoted sustainable forestry before the concept was invented.

The book also tells of the Scottish Highlanders in the Napoleonic Wars and the Highland Clearances which formed their character and those descendants who played and still plays such a large role in history.

The book tells of the major industries in Leslieville: abattoirs and cattle ranching: growing vegetables, fruit and flowers; and brickmaking. Chapters explore the First Nations history of Leslieville, the life of the early settlers, taverns and shebeens, churches, crime, and so much more.

This book replaces Ms. Doucette’s earlier history  and includes up-to-date research and extensive new material, including the Leslie involvement in fighting slavery and the black community in Leslieville and much more.

Price $14.00 plus $10.00 for shipping and handling if requested by mail order. Cheques should be made out to “Joanne Doucette” and sent to: 330 Woodfield Road, Toronto, Ontario M4L 2X1. For more info: call 647-236-4980, email liatris52@sympatico.ca or visit http://www.leslievillehistory.com