Toronto Star, January 4, 2004 TORSTAR License
From 1836 to 1837 workers had straightened and planked the Kingston Road. It became a toll road, providing a reasonably good route for transporting products in and out of Toronto. Here, in 1842, Scottish gardener and tree grower, George Leslie, leased 20 acres of land from Charles Coxwell Small for a 21-year term. George’s landlord, Small, a member of the Family Compact and Clerk of the Crown, was the owner of extensive lands in the area. (Coxwell Avenue is named after him.) Small may have thought he got the better of the deal when he found someone foolish enough to lease his 20 acres of mucky swampland on the shores of Ashbridge’s Bay. The Toronto Nurseries was built on a tamarack-covered swamp (Larchmount Avenue recalls this). These 20 acres of rich black mud were the core of his nursery which would expand to 200 acres, the largest in Canada. George Leslie did not buy that land until the lease ran out in 1863. Then Small demanded an exorbitant price from Leslie and apparently got it. George Leslie valued that soft, rich dark muck and others recognized its worth, as shown in the Annual Report of the Bureau of Forestry for the Province of Ontario.
The memory of the tamaracks and reeds remained for decades. Marigold Gardens, the subdivision on Toronto Nurseries land, was nothing but “bulrushes and swamps”. Ward 8 News. “Short Stories of Leslieville” in Ward 8 News, February 9, 1979. Marigold Gardens is one street in the former Leslie Gardens subdivision built by realtor and contractor H. Addison Johnston.
George Leslie died on June 14, 1893. George Leslie left a large estate with considerable real estate, including properties on Queen Street East, on Jones Avenue, on Curzon Street, on Eastern Avenue, and on Leslie Street, worth almost $115,000 in 1893. Not long after George Leslie died most of the Nurseries was sold. Before long most of the land was mortgaged to the Gooderhams and sold off around 1910. Some Leslie descendants still remember the grudge against the Gooderhams who “took” their land; others remember how like prodigal sons, John Knox and his brother George Leslie Jr., between the two, spent like millionaires, gambled, drank and womanized. The Leslie family’s loss was another family’s fortune.
“The market for small house properties continues to be very active.” Toronto Real Estate News Aldridge and Leslie Gardens, Globe, July 21, 1923
By Joanne Doucette
Do you enjoy reading local history? Would you like to know more about the past of your neighbourhood? If you do, please read this.
Most, but not all, people who research and write about the history of neighbourhoods do not have advanced academic degrees, such as the very Harry Potterish picture of Professor John Ashley Soames Grenville, historian, taken in 1950 (Public Domain) featured above. The local historian is, like me, an amateur not a professional.
Many academic historians look down on local historians as muddlers who don’t get the big picture. And sometimes that is true, but often not.
Local history is a very democratic kind of practice, drawing on community histories (e.g., in the local history collections of our branch libraries), family history, genealogy and oral history. The best local history relies on meticulous and careful use of original and secondary sources as well as ongoing discussion with professional historians. But local historians have limited resources. Not everyone has the money to get those letters behind the name. We do not have access to the records, the peer-review process, conferences and journals of the academic historian. We rely on sources and our works are published informally – on blogs, Facebook groups, etc. My peers are those who read my posts and blogs and respond. And I am very grateful to you. But I rely on sources and sources are not always right.
There are basically two kinds of sources – primary sources and secondary sources.
Primary sources are things like newspaper accounts, letters, marriage licenses, death certificates, baptismal certificates, tax assessment rolls, etc. They are usually reliable but have to be “handled with care”. Sometimes original sources contain simple mistakes. Sometimes the originator actually lied. Sometimes they didn’t know what they were talking about. Not so different than today. Usually, the records are biased in ways that we now recognize – racist, sexist, etc.
Secondary sources are records written after the event. The writers rely on records that they might not understand or they may not have researched adequately. Or they too can intentionally distort the truth, often with “little white lies” that romanticize things – the “good old days”, etc.
And then there’s oral history. Memories fail and stories passed down often begin to stray from the facts though there’s usually a core that can be verified through researching primary and secondary sources – which leads me back to where I wanted to go.
Why am I saying all this?
When the Leslieville Historical Society wrote up a plaque to the Underground Railroad two years ago, we made a mistake. The quote didn’t begin to appear until 2007. We relied on secondary sources, even a leading U.S. politician, and the Harriet Tubman Monument and other apparently reliable sources for the following quote:
“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)
But, as a Toronto historian brought to my attention, Harriet Tubman said no such thing.
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, including some friendly folks with PhDs. We also ran the wording by the Ontario Black History Society which suggested some changes which we duly made. They shared generously of their time and sent representatives to the unveiling. While they gave us the go-ahead, the responsibility lies with us and more particularly me.
Here’s a quote from Harriet Tubman in a book from 1869 that we could have/should have used.:
“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
Sometimes, as when I wrote a small paragraph about Black World War one hero, Jeremiah Jones seven years ago, I did not have access to primary sources. I found nothing in the news of 1914-1920 about him and could not access his military records as they were not digitized yet.
So, I followed the lead of the CBC and noted that he was wounded at Vimy and Passchendaele. The journalist apparently relied on family history as recounted by a descendant, Adam Jones.
Jones was wounded at Vimy Ridge but not the other battle. (Yesterday I downloaded his military records online and double-checked.)
We work diligently to uncover lost histories but ask for fairness and respect for the work we get right and the service we provide to our communities. It is fair to ask for some courtesy when our sources fail us.
Public shaming is far from helpful and comes across as an attempt to silence. If local historians were to be silent, then the stories of ordinary families on ordinary streets would be lost. And I for one think that would be a shame because all families are extraordinary and all streets have stories to tell. We need to respect each other.
To quote a perceptive article:
“The academic historian is the discipline expert. They therefore have a responsibility to provide leadership. They should inspire amateur historians to increase their standards of scholarship. This needs understanding, trust and encouragement from academics. Not paternalism.”The Conversation, April 3, 2012
A Local Historian & Oral History
“Biography: Kathleen Adams, a graduate of Atlanta University in 1911, taught in the public schools of Atlanta for about 34 years, and also at the Carrie Steele Pitts Home, an institution for the care of orphans. She retired from teaching in 1957. A member of one of the prominent Black families of Atlanta, Mrs. Adams showed an early interest in history. She has preserved the history of her family in documents and memorabilia and has made tapes for the local historical society on the history of the Atlanta public schools. At the time of her interview, she was the historian and oldest active member of the First Congregational Church in Atlanta.
Description: The Black Women Oral History Project interviewed 72 African American women between 1976 and 1981. With support from the Schlesinger Library, the project recorded a cross section of women who had made significant contributions to American society during the first half of the 20th century.
Photograph taken by Judith Sedwick
Repository: Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.
Collection: Black Women Oral History Project”
I wonder how many in our neighbourhood have Red Seal builders in their family trees?
There is a small clue in this rather mundane article from the Toronto Star of October 25, 1917.
Lewis Rootham was a contractor who built many of the houses on the lower of Woodfield, Connaught and neighbouring streets. But he wasn’t just any old kind of contractor: he was a Red Seal builder. (see article below)
Some years ago, I had the opportunity to speak with one of his descendants and here is a transcript of part of that conversation:
“Lewis Rootham built the house in the early 1900s. He talked about the area being like old English countryside at first with grass and creek that ran into Ashbridges Bay. His dad and uncle used to swim there. He talked about Ashbridge who were said to be United Empire Loyalists with connections to royalty. The Ashbridges were deeded a lot of land, but my dad thought Jesse Ashbridge a bit odd because he cut the grass in the rain. My dad said the whole atmosphere of the neighbourhood changed with the relentless advance of civilization. He cited three major steps in the area’s development. First, stores opening on the south side of Queen Street, bringing more people to the street. Next, came the building of the TTC car barns and yard. That changed the atmosphere from that of the English countryside to mechanical. Then, the building of the big school north of the Ashbridges place, the Duke of Connaught, started a building boom. The Ashbridges kept 200 feet of frontage [on Queen Street]. He described the houses on one side of Woodfield Road (the Rootham house is at 42 Woodfield Road) as being low-class row houses, but said the other side had pretty good houses. He said his grandfather’s house was big, but unique in design because it had multiple levels. Master, living and front hall were on one level, but you went down two steps to dining and kitchen; up to bath and two bedrooms and up again to two more bedrooms. It was a great big house with only one bathroom. He remembers the fireplace as marvellous and the wood panelling and brickwork, all in classic English styling. He said times were tough later and his grandfather replaced the backyard with garages he could rent out to people with automobiles to have some money. He said the driveway was cinder and he was always getting hurt on it.”
By Joanne Doucette
I love collecting these old postcards. Most are from my collection though some are no longer in my file of old fragile paper things. Due to the rarity many go from that drawer in my desk to libraries and archives. Some I also give away as Christmas stocking stuffers for friends. I should also note that in many cases, rips, tears, fingerprints etc. have been carefully removed. In my youth retouching photos was one of my occupations. Joanne
There was no colour photography as we know it at the beginning of the 20th century. Postcards were carefully hand-painted, usually by women. While this makes every postcard a little different, it also means the quality of painting varied greatly. Some were pretty slapdash; others meticulously done. Most of these postcards have lived quite a life after they left the painter’s easel. Some were put away in drawers and, in 2021, are pristine. Most were left in sunlight and yellowed as the cheap paper they were printed on acidified. Some were handled more or less lovingly, with worn corners, tears, fingerprints and smudges. Others were mailed and got worse handling and all too often have traces of postmarks on the front. It is one of the most inexpensive but enjoyable of hobbies.
This is the actual black and white photograph from which the postcard was produced and it is easy to see “how much was lost in translation.”
By Joanne Doucette
By Joanne Doucette
If you lived in Toronto in the fall of 1918, you probably had a great sense of hope for a better future. The Great War to end all Wars seemed to be coming to an end. The Allied forces, including Canadian battalions, were sweeping back Germans along the Western Front.
Yet the men in the trenches were worn out. Casualties, both dead and wounded, were still high. The country was split over conscription and recruitment and training were ongoing. Men packed into military camps and aboard troop ships to Europe just as returning soldiers, mostly wounded, packed ships heading home.
Conditions for civilians “Over There” were horrendous as refugees tramped the roads, families cowered in basements and starvation stalked the towns and countryside.
And rumours of a new mystery illness had been appearing in letters from overseas and in the newspapers since the previous winter. China was diving into an epidemic and sick soldiers were beginning to die — Americans, British, Canadians, Australians, Indians, Africans, Russians, Germans, Austrians, Italians. The new illness seemed to be a form of the flu that once it took hold often progressed to a deadly pneumonia in an age without antivirals or antibiotics.
In Toronto, cases of pneumonia began to appear here and there in the papers. Often the victims were young and healthy with no preexisting conditions. These cases were not yet identified as influenza. But those who read the paper knew something dark was on the horizon. The military would be the vector, flu’s main line across the globe and to Toronto.
In mid September cases of influenza began to appear among the Polish soldiers at the Canadian Military training camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake. “Lieut.-Col. Le Pan does not anticipate any serious results from the epidemic.” Authorities seem to take the deaths of Josef Zabezyk and Kazinners Kolonaki, both Polish Americans, the first deaths, lightly. But were officials simply trying to reassure the public? This was wartime and the army authorities knew full well what was going on in Europe. Propaganda was “part and parcel” of war.
A week later the flu was in Toronto, but no deaths had yet been identified. Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Charles Hastings, offered guidelines to help prevent infection and spread of the new illness. Some are familiar to us 103 years later: avoid crowds, wash your hands, get outside (breathe pure air). Others seem downright weird: breath through your nose, chew your food well, “don’t let the waste products of digestion accumulate” (don’t be full of shit), avoid tight shoes. But the Pandemic of 2020-2022 offers advice just as useless and more dangerous: inject yourself with chlorine bleach, take pills vets prescribe for cows and horses, don’t get the COVID vaccine, diagnose and prescribe for yourself and your family, etc.
By September, Toronto had its first official flu death. Some schools were in quarantine as were some military centres in the city. Dr. George W. Ross was prescient.
People tried everything they could think of including cough drops to prevent getting the flu. They opened windows on streetcars and in homes, but dark jokes began to spread.
We opened the winda
And in flu Enza.
Masks were initially not recommended and then medical recommended them and soon political authorities mandated them. And some resisted.
Growth was exponential as Toronto entered the October from Hell.
October 12, 1918 Toronto’s Day from Hell
By October 12, the hospitals were triaging, turning away patients they thought might have a chance of survival or just accepting patients on a first-come-first-served basis. Doctors and nurses were not seeing those we would think would be least likely to survive: elderly, frail people and young children and infants. Those who were dying were, overwhelmingly, young and healthy men and women, in all neighbourhoods including older areas in the East End such as Riverside, Leslieville and Todmorden and new neighbourhoods spreading across the farm fields of the Ashbridges, Charles Coxwell Small, the Sammons, Cosburns and others. Even the new cottage communities along the Beach were not spared.
October 12, 1918, Toronto’s Day from Hell, began.
Like now, there simply were not enough trained and qualified doctors, nurses and other staff to care for the seriously ill. Voluntary in this case did not mean unpaid. Those doing the hands-on work of cleaning, feeding, and caring were then and now paid low wages and themselves falling prey to the Pandemic of their time.
A temporary lockdown began.
Dr. Hastings arranged for supplies and beds for overflow facilities. Big business began to move to combat the Pandemic.
Even the deeply religious no longer relied on prayer alone.
This man kept Thanksgiving by travelling to Toronto and playing billiards on arrival. He read the newspapers…and caught a chill.
More emergency measures put in places and more volunteers called for.
People began confronting those who refused to wear masks in public.
A vaccine was available at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. Mayo wasn’t sure if his jab would work for everyone and seemed unaware of side effects when he said, “We are not absolutely sure, except that we know the inoculation can do no harm.” Facilities couldn’t make it fast enough to give everyone the vaccine, but Dr. William James Mayo downplayed the flu, reassuring those who couldn’t get it or couldn’t afford it. Dr. Michael Mayo treats COVID patients today.
You could buy insurance against influenza, but how high were the premiums?
People quickly came up with new and supposedly improved masks.
And the numbers continued to rise, but, like now, statistics were hard to gather. But arrangements could be made for free delivery of free sup0plies to the home.
Quack cures and fake news abounded, mostly by word-of-mouth. Although the main stream media accepted ads like this, reporters were careful to adhere to the journalistic standards of the day. By and large, their stories were accurate.
A lot of people repurposed their Ultra-Violet home machines in 2020-2021. They bought them to disinfect the tubing, parts and masks of their CPAP machines safely and quickly. But many CPAP machines were also repurposed to become ventilators with new computer chips and the addition of oxygen.
They believed the First Wave had crested and November would be better.
This series of photographs will take you on a trip from downtown Toronto to Main Street on the new Toronto Viaduct, a raised railbed that lifted the train high above the city streets, eliminating several of the most dangerous level crossings such as the one at Queen near DeGrassi Street.
It was a fine autumnal morning (October 4th) when I put my equipage in motion from Queenston towards York, accompanied by a friend and a favourite pointer.
The diary of traveller Lieutenant Francis Hall as he travelled from Queenston (near Niagara-on-the-Lake) to York, published in 1818. This British army officer had served in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Napoleonic Wars with in the 14th Light Dragoons.
There are lost bridges (buried under fill and pavement in Leslieville. One of those lost creeks crossed at the end of Austin Avenue. City of Toronto Creek Locations 1912
Someone graciously shared a digital copy of this original subdivision plan which I have adjusted to make it a little straighter and easier to read.
We received this interesting note!
Thanks for pulling this information together. It appears that Allen Morris, listed as the son of policeman Gordon Morris of 59 Austin Ave in the 1911 and 1921 censuses, was Canadian football Hall of Famer “Teddy” Morris, real name Allen Byron Morris, who won 3 Grey Cups playing for the Toronto Argonauts (1931-39), and 3 more Grey Cups as their head coach (1945-49), becoming one of the giants of Toronto sports of the middle third of the twentieth century. I research Argonauts history and am working on a biography of Morris. He was famous for being tough as nails despite a small stature – they called him “Little Iron Man” – and it sounds like he grew up in a tough neighbour hood.
Dr. James Fraser
University of Guelph
For more about Teddy Morris go to: