Join us as we continue our visual tour of the history of the East End’s main drag from the Don to Victoria Park through Riverside, Leslieville, the Ashbridges neighbourhood, the Beach Triangle and the Beach. A nod of appreciation to the Riverdale Historical Society who has done amazing work to keep local history of Riverdale alive. To find out more about them and to join, go to: https://riverdalehistoricalsociety.com/
By Joanne Doucette. Joanne is a local historian, a past Chair of the Toronto Public Library, founding member of the Leslieville Historical Society, and co-founder of the DisAbled Women’s Network. She is retired and lives in the Coxwell-Gerrard neighbourhood. She is administrator for the Metis Minute Facebook Page and moderates the following Facebook groups: Midway, Toronto Beaches Historical Photos, and the Coxwell-Gerrard Facebook page.
This walk starts at Broadview Avenue and goes west along the south side to Baseball Place.
For the impact of new technology on women’s lives in the 1920’s see:
Why Labor Saving Technologies Don’t Save Labor: the History of Household Technology
The Toyota dealership on this block wasn’t the first car dealership here.
Car dealerships were often on the site of stables or blacksmith shops.
Christopher Thompson Bright was a descendent of Toronto’s first settlers, the Bright and Columbus family. His father, James Bright, had a blacksmith shop in this location on Queen Street which became a popular “man cave” where men socialized. At that time the area was called Don Mount from early days but by the 1870’s was known as Riverside.. The Bright family home was directly across the street from the blacksmith shop. The family sold the land there to the builder of Dingman’s Hall now the Broadview Hotel (more about this on a later walk).
Christopher Thompson Bright married into another old settler family, the Ashbridges. Leslieville’s founder George Leslie, a sociable man, liked to meet his friends in Bright’s blacksmith shop in Riverside. According to Leslie’s grandson the honours were reciprocated with Riverside men meeting in Leslie’s General Store and Post Office for a wee dram or two or three:
He also had a habit of entertaining three or four of his old cronies at 4’o’clock on weekday afternoons, serving scotch and water and crackers and cheddar cheese…that cheese dish is at home, a brown Wedgewood covered dish. Allan Morrison Masson, Unpublished manuscript, Oakville, ca. 1989
For another story about blacksmith shops by a man who lived on Queen Street in the 19th century go to:
Christopher Thompson had the old smithy torn down and built a new stable on the spot. Globe, August 31, 1880
As I found out when researching the nearby Johnston furniture store, “Washington Johnston” was a common name in the Johnston clan of Ulster, found not only in Ireland but in wherever the clan settled. George Washington Johnston, 1848-1912, started his working life as a farmer, became a waggon maker, moved to Toronto and became a carriagemaker in Cabbagetown, flourished and became a lumber merchant. He moved to Dowling Avenue in Parkdale when that suburb was a fashionable resort. He was cousin to Oscar Percival Johnston, Edward Blake Johnston and Alderman Frank Johnston and likely financed his cousins’ business ventures on Queen Street. So it seems that the statement that the two businesses and families, the furniture store and funeral parlour, were not related is at best “a little white lie.”
Keeping it in the family was very much a part of the tradition of that tight-knit community of Irish Methodists and integrating lumber, furniture making and even undertaking made sound business sense. Oscar Johnston and Washington Johnston Company made and sold furniture but also gramophones and records — and coffins.
According to long-time employees, Laura May Haug, most furniture stores at the time also operated as undertakers. Perhaps because of the scandal in the article above, the two businesses separated and Johnston Furniture incorporated as a limited company with the owner of Johnston Furniture being Oscar Percival. His brother Edward Blake Johnston (1874-1934) owned and operated the Washington-Johnston Funeral Home, also on Queen Street.
William John Hetherington, a bookkeeper who became wealthy through his lumber business, was married to Catherine Alvina Conboy, whose family owned the Conboy Carriage Company factory just to the south of the Riverdale Lumber Company and William Laking Lumber Company. The Hetheringtons, like the neighbouring Johnstons, were Methodists and Irish. His father had also been an accountant in a lumberyard.
William Russell Laking (1869-1952) went from being a groom in a stable to owning a stable to being a very wealthy lumber merchant in a very short time. How? By being in the right place at the right time. The place, Haliburton; the time, 1910. And he had the right equipment — horses. He got into the lumber business which made him rich in just a decade. This lumber yard on Queen Street was a branch of his business. Though not Irish, he was a Methodist like virtually all of the merchants in this block around 1920. He likely knew the others, including the Hetheringtons, through the Orange Order.
For more about the Conboy Carriage Company fire:
Chink, chink, Chinaman, Wash my pants; Put them into the boiler, And make them dance.
Many Torontonians who have resided in the city since the 1950s would probably be familiar with this doggerel about the older generation of Chinese Canadians. On one hand, this dowdy rhyme reflects the bigoted mind of its author. On the other hand, it characterizes, to a certain extent, a major facet of the life of the Chinese Canadian community before the 1960s. Lee Wa-Mai
For more about the history of Chinese laundries in Toronto go to Lee Wa-Mai’s article, Dance No More: Chinese Hand Laundries in Toronto:
For more about Chinese Canadians in the East End go to: https://leslievillehistory.com/2017/09/25/chinese-immigrants-the-old-east-end/
In researching this article, I found another William Laking from Lincolnshire, a distant relative of the lumberman. This William Laking had been a steward and kept the books for a private gentleman’s club. He was sacked, a disaster for someone “in service”. He left less than 100 pounds to his widow.
In the 19th century, as I know well from my extensive reading of newspapers from the era, suicides were reported, often in great and grisly detail. But this changed when authorities began to believe that reporting suicides encouraged others to kill themselves. Suicide stories in the media became taboo. Currently this is being challenged and some believe that it is important to name a suicide death for what it is. For more about this see:
Please check this website for the next part of this digital tour as we “walk” from the Don River to Victoria Park in a series that links together to form a chain.
My history of Leslieville is available for reading free of charge at:
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