The Story of a Marsh — Now a Harbor

The Windsor Star, May 12, 1928

What Toronto Has Accomplished…The Windsor Star, May 12, 1912

Toronto in the Good Ole Days, Toronto Sunday World, May 10, 1914


How the bones of Leslieville residents ended up in a schoolyard in Corktown

It’s a long story that deserves to be told.

Children play with human bones, Toronto Star, May 6, 1959
Children play with human bones, Toronto Star, May 6, 1959
Children play with human bones, Toronto Star, May 6, 1959
Children play with human bones, Toronto Star, May 6, 1959

A long time ago, before most of us knew anything about pandemics, social isolation (quarantine) and social distancing, Toronto knew epidemic disease too well. Travellers bought it here: some were sick when they arrived, others appeared healthy but were already infected. But these weren’t tourists or people returning home after a business trip or a holiday oversea. These were what some term “economic refugees”. They were Irish fleeing the Potato Famine, hoping to find food and a home, desperate, some already beginning to starve. There was no Canadian Border Agency to stop them. They had no visas, they just came.

The Instigator

On August 20, 1845, the curator of Dublin’s Botanic Gardens. David Moore, discovered the potato blight Phytophthora. The wind or a careless botanist carried the spores of this American mould (an oocyte, not a fungus) across the Atlantic to Europe.  Since potatoes spread vegetatively, the Irish potatoes were genetically alike: clones. Several varieties of potato were grown in Ireland, and the very worst of them — lumpers — were what the peasants ate. With no genetic diversity, the lumper variety that the Irish ate had no resistance to the unknown pathogen. Potato blight withered the foliage in the field, turned the spuds in the ground into a gooey, stinking inedible mass and even rotted the tubers in storage. 

The potato was the staple food for poor people across Western Europe by this time. But the Irish poor were particularly reliant on it. Potatoes provide everything except calcium and vitamins A and D, which are readily available from milk, and many Irish families kept a cow and, if a little more prosperous, a pig. A simple diet of potatoes and milk did provide a healthy diet for people with little access to other foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Potatoes are easy to grow. A large crop can be grown on a tiny plot of land. Few tools are required, just a spade and a pot and a peat fire to cook your spuds on. Potatoes produced more food per acre than any other crop Irish farmers had grown before. They produced more calories per acre. Rye was the only grain that could be depended on to ripen in the short, rainy summers of Northern Europe that extended from the North Sea to the Ural Mountains. Four times as many people could live on potatoes from the same amount of soil that produced rye. Potatoes could be planted in the fallow fields required for the cultivation of rye.  One acre could feed eight people. A working man could live on three kilos of potatoes a day, supplemented by milk.  He could eat 16 potatoes at a sitting. 

Aerial view of the Lazy Beds on North Rona, Ireland, by Nanooki, 2016, Public Domain

Potatoes came to be propagated in lazybeds, a kind of raised row of self-draining potato hills, throughout Ireland. Lazybeds could be prepared on any type of ground regardless of stones, soil quality or even how level it was. The ridges of lazybeds show up on aerial photos of long abandoned fields in Ireland.

The Irish tenant farmer raised a pig not to be eaten but to pay the annual rent. Most tenant farmers sold other crops, such as wheat and oats, to pay the rent.  Landlords had grown wealthy exporting these cash crops to England.  Food exports continued without slowing throughout the Famine.  The British government could have banned the export of grain during the Famine, saving many lives. They didn’t.

Only in Ireland that did the potato became the sole subsistence crop. Disaster struck Ireland in 1846 when a blight struck the potato, robbing the common people of sustenance and hope.  In 1846 winter was particularly severe.  This was the mid-nineteenth century Little Ice Age.  Starving people foraged through snowdrifts for weeds, roots or anything edible.  People stole turnips, sheep and goats. Pigs disappeared. Dogs and cats disappeared. People ate nettles and other wild plants in order to survive.  Beggars wandered the roads, sleeping in ditches and under bridges, in rags. In the footsteps of famine followed cholera and typhus, sweeping millions of Irish away like a tide sweeps sand off rocks.

“Had only one child or a few children been so afflicted…aid would have been immediately forthcoming from relatives, neighbours, even strangers. But there were thousands of them, and they were everywhere, inside and outside hovels, in the towns and along the roads. They no longer spoke, much less cried; they just stared with a gaunt unmeaning vacancy, a kind of insanity, a stupid, despairing look that asked for nothing, expected nothing, received nothing.”

Bridget O’Donnell and her children

Grosse Île

Officers Quarters, Grosse Île

Nearly 30,000 came Irish came to Canada in 1845.  This was more than twice those arriving in 1844. 

The blight did not strike again in 1847, but by then many had nothing left.  They had sold everything they had for food.  They ate their seed potatoes and could not any to plant. In 1848 the blight would strike again.

The landlords were strongly motivated to send their tenant farmers to North America. If a tenant was driven into the Poor House by starvation, the landlord had to pay 12£.  The landlord could put a family on a coffin ship for only 6£. 

It usually took five to eight weeks to reach North America. But in 1847 late sea ice slowed the trip.  Canada was not the destination of choice for most Irish Catholics.  They wanted to go the U.S. But, aware of the rising tide of poor and sick Irish, the American government raised a tariff on the immigrant ships and passed a rule making the ship master responsible financially for his immigrant passengers for up to two years.  So, the ships headed for Canada.

In 1847, 90,000 Irish landed at Quebec. 

The quarantine station at Grosse Île

Ships anchored in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to drop their passengers at the quarantine station on Grosse Île.  Immigrants needed a health certificate in order to go on.   “Coffin ships” were hulks (“old tubs”) used in the lumber trade out of Quebec. With holds full of pine, they floated high and were seaworthy. Without lumber they were sieves.

Irish coffin ships

“The fever fleet” with Irish crowded below deck without water, food or toilets.  These were the poorest of Ireland’s poor; the workhouse or the landlord paid their fares just to be rid of them.  The fare was one or two pounds, but people didn’t have enough food and starved on the way or died of typhus. Many subsisted on “rat stew”. 40,000 died on the ships or shortly after debarking. Their bodies were usually thrown into the sea. Starvation, cholera, typhus and other diseases killed as many as over two million Irish.  Most lie in unmarked graves, unrecorded, on the shores of the St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario or in the cities of the Great Lakes, in the lakes or in the sea itself.

Those who governed Canada was not uninformed. They knew by April of 1847, according to an article published in the Quebec City newspaper Le Canadien, that 100,000–possibly 200,000–Irish immigrants would come up the Gulf of the St. Lawrence that year, nearly two months before the first ships arrived. They knew that 28,000 Irish in absolute destitution had embarked from Liverpool and Irish ports. Yet Doctor Douglas, in charge of the quarantine station on Grosse Île, was not given the extra funds he requested. So, on May 4, 1847, he opened up his hospital with his usual staff of just three. Consequently, the hospital and the whole island was swamped by sick immigrants who died in the woods, on the beaches, in sheds and tents, virtually unattended. The Famine did not discriminate.  Grosse Ile itself had a Catholic and a Protestant chapel.

Memorial cross, Grosse Île

The first Irish Memorial on the island can be seen as the boat approaches the island. The Ancient Order of Hibernians put up a 50-foot high Celtic Cross on August 15, 1909, in memory of the Irish buried on Grosse Ile.  The base of the cross has inscriptions on 3 sides – in Gaelic, English and French. Both the English and French translations have a less bitter inscription than that of the Gaelic. The Inscription in both French and English read:

...to the sacred memory of thousands of Irish who, in order to preserve their faith, suffered famine and exile, and, victims of typhus, ended their sorrowful pilgrimage here, comforted and strengthened by the Canadian Priests. Those who sow in tears reap in joy.

The Gaelic inscription reads:

Children of the Gael died in their thousands on this island having fled from the laws of the foreign tyrants and an artificial famine in the years 1847-48. God’s loyal blessing upon them. Let this monument be a token to their name and honour from the Gaels of America. God Save Ireland.

The Irish Stone

The Black Rock, Irish Commemorative Stone, Montreal, courtesy of Coastal Elite from Halifax, Canada – The Black Rock: Irish Commemorative Stone, Montreal, 2017, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90571606

At Montreal passengers changed to barges and steam ships, stopping to unload dead and dying. 

In the centre of a railed-in spot of land at Point St. Charles, within a hundred yards or so of the Victoria Bridge, that wondrous structure which spans the broad St. Lawrence, there is a huge boulder, taken from the bed of the river, and placed on a platform of roughly hewn stone; and on that boulder there is this inscription:

TO Preserve from desecration THE REMAINS OF 6 THOUSAND IMMIGRANTS, Who died of Ship-fever, A.D. 1847-8, This stone is erected by the WORKMEN OF MESSRS. PETO, BRASSEY, and BETTS, Employed in the Construction of the Victoria Bridge, A.D. 1859.

As the immigrants moved up the St. Lawrence and into Lake Ontario, ports along the way tried to hustle them on. Though the Government knew in advance for several months that thousands of destitute Irish were coming, little was done. There was not enough food, beds, doctors, medicine or shelter. Saving money was more important that saving Irish lives, particularly Catholic ones. Lord Grey stressed in a communiqué to Governor General Lord Elgin said: “The importance of enforcing the strictest economy in affording such assistance, if not rigidly guarded, may have the effect of inducing the emigrants to relax in their exertions to provide for themselves.”

The Government only provided a daily ration of three quarters of a pound of bread and meat. A pound of raw beef has about 600 calories. A half pound of whole wheat bread has about 450 calories. Their diet allowed just over 1,000 calories a day.  The Government also restricted shelter in the board of health immigrant sheds to a maximum of six days or even less. Many perished who might have lived had politicians and officials provided the extra funding requested by local authorities. Instead, they continuously pushed the immigrants farther up the river to no set destination.

Toronto 1847

A portrait of Michael Power, the first bishop of Toronto. This is a colourized version of a black and white portrait painted posthumously, after his death. By Good Old Pete – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=116575690

In Toronto, a Roman Catholic bishop did his best to prepare for the looming disaster. In 1841 the Catholic Church divided Upper Canada into two dioceses.  Michael Power, an Irish Canadian born in Halifax, became Toronto’s first Catholic bishop. His father was a sailor; his mother kept a boarding house. He and many of his priests and parishioners as well as many other Torontonians prepared themselves to do what they could. Toronto had only 21,000 residents then.  38,560 immigrants were to come to Toronto that year. 

Looking across Toronto Harbour to the City of Toronto from where the fisher folk lived on Toronto Island, Pictorial Times of London, 1846

The Jane Black was the first famine ship from Ireland to arrive in Toronto. She arrived from Limerick on May 23, 1847.

The Provincial Secretary, Dominic J. Daly, instructed Mayor W.H. Boulton to build hospitals and sheds for the migrants. He promised that the City of Toronto would be reimbursed by the Province of Upper Canada, but Daly also pointed out in his directives, on June 7, that municipalities were responsible for direct aid through their mandated Boards of Health. The Immigrant Sheds or “Fever Sheds” were near the Toronto General Hospital at King and John Streets.  Even those who were very sick were only allowed to lie there for 6 days.  Then they went to a convalescent home near Bathurst and Front, walked down the roads leading out of Toronto to find work and sustenance or died on the way, lying unburied in fields and under hedges.

Thus began a flood inland. Before June 7, 1847, only 2,592 migrants had landed in Toronto, less than seven percent of the season’s total migrants came to Toronto. By late June 1847, city officials knew that sick migrants were not being landed in Montreal or Kingston (or ports along the way). Instead, they were being passed on to Toronto, which one local described as “a general Lazaretto” or pest house.

On June 8, the City of Toronto landed 700 men, women, and children. Of these 250 (adults) were described as “indigent”; they arrived from Kingston at the “expense of the Government”. Local journalists noted these poorer migrants came from the south and west of Ireland. The adults in “good circumstances” came from Ulster and England.

Landing place and wharf at the foot of Simcoe Street, 1841.

Those who managed to make it to Toronto had to disembark at Reese’s Wharf, near the foot of Simcoe Street, where the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is now. Edward McElderry, the local Emigration Agent and representative of the Government of the Province of Canada and Constable John B Townsend, the Clerk of the Toronto Board of Health, processed them in a make-shift shed. Simcoe Street docks: the “quay at Toronto was crowded with a throng of dying and diseased abjects; the living and the dead lay huddled together in horrible embrace,” reported The Times of London.

They arrive here to the extent of about 300 to 600 by any steamer.  The sick are immediately sent to the hospital which has been given up to them entirely and the healthy are fed and allowed to occupy the Immigrant Sheds for 24 hours; at the expiration of this time, they are obliged to keep moving, their rations are stopped and if they are found begging are imprisoned at once.  Means of conveyance are provided by the Corporation to take them off sat once to the country, and they are accordingly carried off “willy-nilly” some 16 or 20 miles, North, South, East and West and quickly put down, leaving the country to support them by giving them employment….It is a great pity we have not some railroads going on, if only to give employment to these thousands of destitute Irish swarming among us.  The hospitals contain over 600 and besides the sick and convalescent, we have hundreds of widows and orphans to provide for. — Larratt Smith

No one was immune. When the typhus –ridden ships arrived to disembark refugees from the Potato Famine, clergy including Catholic Bishop Michael Power and Anglican Bishop John Strachan and the rector of Little Trinity19 (who died of fever), doctors, many government officials and volunteers there for them. As the Bishops and other priests bent over to hear every word and administer the Last Rites, the fleas and lice that spread typhus moved from the dying to the living.

A Toronto doctor lamented:

“Victim after victim is offered at the shrine of duty… The physician is compelled almost to exist in an atmosphere highly impregnated with poisonous miasma; and in the discharge of a most but imperious duty, which his obligations forbid him from betraying, in innumerable instances pays for his devotion with his life…. During the imported fatal fever which has ravaged this country, we have had to deplore the decrease of many valued members of the profession.”

As June passed hundreds more immigrants came, and the Board of Health came under heavy pressure to meet the needs of the sick migrants while coming up with money for medicines, beds, and larger buildings. Infectious patients should not be admitted to the General Hospital where they could spread pestilence to Torontonians.

The City passed sanitary regulations to set up Emigrant Sheds to quarantine the victims of typhus and cholera. The Board of Health contracted the building of sheds on the grounds of the General Hospital. They were at first 50×10’ with open-side and with 2 rows of seats, “to protect the emigrants therein from the sun’s rays”. The first in the city, were established at the north-west corner of King and John for cholera. Other sheds were set up near Bathurst (site of Lamborghini dealership) for typhus.

Toronto Board of Health,



JUNE 19, 1847.

First—That all Emigrants arriving at this Port by Steamers or other Vessels be landed at the Wharf at the foot of Simcoe-street, commonly known as Dr. Rees’ Wharf, and there only. And the Master of any Steamer or other Vessel violating this Regulation, will subject himself to the penalties prescribed by the City Law in that case, made and provided.

SECOND—That all Emigrants arriving at this Port, at the public charge except only those who come hither to join their friends or connections residing in, or in the immediate neighbourhood of this City, be forwarded to their intended destination by the very first conveyance, by land or water, which the Board of Health or the Emigrant Agent may provide for that purpose. That after the means of conveyance, as aforesaid, shall have been provided for them, no such Emigrants shall be permitted to occupy the Emigrant Sheds, or to receive the Government allowance of provisions, except only in case of sickness of the Emigrant or his family, and except in such special cases as may be sanctioned by the Board of Health.

THIRD—That provision being made for all such Emigrants during their necessary detention in the City, no such Emigrant will be allowed to seek alms or beg in the City, and anyone found doing so, will be immediately arrested and punished according to the City Laws, in such case made and provided.

FOURTH—All Tavern-keepers, Boarding or Lodging—Housekeepers, and other persons having Emigrants staying in their premises, are required to make immediate report to the High Bailiff, or other Officer on duty at the City Hall of any sick person who may be staying in their houses; and any Tavern, Boarding or Lodging-Housekeeper, who shall neglect to make such report of any sick person who may be in their premises, will, upon conviction, be fined conformably to the Law.

FIFTH—That the Medical Officer in charge of the Emigrant Hospital, be required to visit the Emigrant Sheds, morning and evening of each day, for the purpose of examining and removing to the Hospital all sick Emigrants, who may require medical treatment, and that the said officers be also required to visit all Steamers, or other Vessels which may arrive at this Port with Emigrants, immediately on the arrival of such Steamer or other Vessel, for the same purpose as above stated.

Published by Order of the Board of Health, Charles Daly, C.C.C. Clerk’s Office, Toronto, June 19th, 1847.

By the end of June, the Board of Health moved the General Hospital from King and John Streets. Its former buildings became the temporary home of the Emigrant Hospital. On July 9, 1847, the Toronto Mirror newspaper reported:

The state of the emigrants daily becomes worse and worse. On Wednesday, the Steamer Sovereign brought up 1,000 souls. This is a horrible traffic in human blood…what the ultimate results are to be, we shudder to contemplate: but if, in December such an extent of utter want of food prevails, whence is sustenance to come, in May, June and July, and should the potato no longer be looked forward to, as a means of relief? This is a question that should come home to the heart of every man who has a heart.

Forced to leave the City of Toronto, thousands of Irish immigrants spread out east along the Kingston Road, north on Yonge Street and west on Dundas Street. They found whatever help they could on their way. Some found work and stayed in the towns and villages along those roads. Others kept going until many ended up in the U.SA.

Leslieville, 1868

The Famine did not discriminate.  Michael Power died on October 1, 1847 of typhus. He was 42. His grieving diocese buried him under the altar of St. Michael’s Cathedral, still under construction. In November 1847, Edward McElderry, the emigration agent who had met all incoming Irish refugees at Reese’s Wharf, died of typhus.

St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, built 1824, replaced in 1889. The church was on Power Street on the east side of south of Queen Street East.

To Leslieville

The Famine and Black ‘47 changed Toronto and Leslieville forever. By 1851-52 the Irish were Toronto’s largest ethnic group.  Toronto had a large Irish Catholic element, but an even larger Irish Protestant contingent.

Many Irish Catholics emigrated to Leslieville during and after the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. The Fogartys, Finucans, Flynns, Larkins, Ryans, Hollands, Kavanaughs and others lived between Curzon and Leslie, north of the Kingston Road.  Here they had small market gardens or slaughterhouses of their own, but Irish Catholics also took on the jobs no one else wanted. Working people did not put their economic security in “one basket”.  The whole family worked at whatever they could find. They laboured for low wages in market gardens, cut ice, fished and did the unskilled jobs in brickyards.  

St. Paul’s Church, Power Street, November 23, 1922 Roman Catholics worshipped at the first St. Paul’s Church (completed in 1826) at Queen and Power streets. This is a later building still standing today. There is a memorial to the victims of the Irish Potato Famine in front of the church.
St. Paul’s Separate School, Queen Street East., south side, between Power and Sackville Street. This building was torn down and replaced by a new school on Sackville Street.
SAINT MICHAEL’S CEMETERY, 1855 Toronto’s first Roman Catholic Cemetery was beside St. Paul’s Church which was established as a Parish in 1822. This cemetery was rapidly filled as a result of the many deaths following 1847 Irish potato famine. By the mid-1850’s another catholic cemetery was needed to serve the growing number of Parishes in Toronto. Purchased in 1854 by the Bishop of Toronto, Rt. Rev. Armand Francois Marie, Comte De Charbonnel, St. Michael’s Cemetery was opened in 1855 at the present location in Deer Park, then well north of the City of Toronto. His successor, Bishop John Joseph Lynch, enlarged the cemetery in 1866. To meet the needs of the growing catholic population Mount Hope Cemetery was opened in 1900 in north Toronto. Originally St. Michael’s Cemetery was administered by the Rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral. The Toronto Catholic Cemetery Association assumed the responsibility in 1961. Over the years some 29,000 were buried in the ten-acre cemetery. Location, just off Yonge Street, south of St. Clair Avenue.

Until 1878, the Catholics of Leslieville walked down to St. Paul’s on Power Street for mass or St. Paul’s sent out priests to celebrate mass in their homes or in the Catholic school. There was only one Catholic graveyard in Toronto: St. Paul’s at Power Street and Queen. Leslieville Catholics buried their dead there until, in 1855 the graveyard at St. Paul’s became too full for even one more body and was closed.  And that’s how the bones of Leslieville residents ended up in a schoolyard in Corktown.

Location St. Paul’s Burial Ground 2021 Aerial

Six Laner to Soar, Globe and Mail, May 4, 1954


Looking for the Ghost of Leslie Creek

a creek … also started near the sandpit and ran through the gardens of Cooper’s, Bests and Hunters, crossed the road by the Leslie Postoffice. Here it joined a small creek that drained the nursery, and both crossed Leslie street under a bridge that has since been filled up by intersecting sewers.  
The Globe, January 18, 1918

Not much left to see of the creek and most of us don’t know it was there. But like all ghosts, it still can haunt us even many years later.

1211 Queen St. East – curb heaved up by frost and T.S.R. pole – May 4, 1915

This photo of 1211 Queen Street East shows a ghost of Leslie Creek.

Leslie Creek (now underground) crossed Queen Street and this curb was once a bridge, May 4, 1915

Leslie Creek originated in springs on the slope of the hill in the area of Strathcona Avenue and Eastview Park.

Goad’s Fire Plan, 1884, Plate 31 This was the year Riverside and Leslieville became part of the City of Toronto.
Leslie Creek, 1884. Leslie Creek is on the left, Hastings Creek is on the right. Sometimes they joined before entering Ashbridges Bay and sometimes they stayed separate. Both ran into Ashbridge’s Bay where the Loblaw’s Superstore parking lot is today. It was a cove called “The Gut” where fisher folk moored their boats.

It crossed the railway tracks where Gerrard Square’s parking garage is now.

Leslieville creeks 1909, labelled

According to Elsie Hays, an old East Ender that I interviewed, it was a small brook that ran through an orchard west of Galt Avenue. She caught minnows in it when she was a child (before World War One).  It crossed Gerrard where there is a shallow dip in the road to mark it. 

Two branches of the creek came together and crossed the GO Train tracks (GTR) east of Marjory Avenue where it took a turn left.  One branch of Leslie Creek was dammed in the late nineteenth century to form Maple Leaf Skating Rink at Pape and Gerrard, behind the Maple Leaf Tavern. There are remnants of a ravine west of Marjory Avenue south of Gerrard. Then the creek swung diagonally southeast to cross Dundas at Dagmar.

1902 map showing Leslie Creek

It continued south to cross Jones Avenue at #61 Jones Avenue where there was heavy basement flooding.

Flooded cellars on Jones Avenue were nothing new, but this must have been exceptional. Globe, April 26, 1918

It ran behind the stores on the north side of Queen Street (George Leslie’s house and selling grounds) and crossed at 1211 Queen Street East.

1211 Queen St. East, the house has since been torn down, May 4, 1915
1211 Queen St. East – curb heaved up by frost and T.S.R. 00

From there It continued south, curving east to enter Ashbridge’s Bay at the foot of Laing Street where there was a cove called the Gut.

The Gut is where the Loblaws Super Store and City of Toronto Works Yard are now.

A map of Ashbridge’s Bay showing Leslie Street, the old shoreline and the marsh. Don’t be confused. South is at the top of the map and north is on the bottom — the opposite of what we are used to.
The Duke of York Tavern, May 4, 1915
The Duke of York Tavern, May 4, 1915
Ashbridge’s Bay 1852
Ashbridges Bay, John Willson, 1900

Location, Location, Location

A Graphic Presentation of Toronto’s Real Estate Activity, Toronto Star, May 1, 1912

Graphic Presentation of Toronto’s Real Estate Activity, Toronto Star, May 1, 1912, p. 8-9
The Real Estate Map, Toronto Star, May 1, 1912
Graphic Presentation of Toronto’s Real Estate Activity, Toronto Star, May 1, 1912 p 10
Graphic Presentation of Toronto’s Real Estate Activity, Toronto Star, May 1, 1912 p. 8
Graphic Presentation of Toronto’s Real Estate Activity, Toronto Star, May 1, 1912 p 9

Key to the Map

The Neighbourhoods


The corner of Morse Street & Queen Street East, April 1959

Queen Street East looking west to Morse Street – [ca. April, 1959]
Southeast corner Morse and Queen Street – [ca. April, 1959]

A little lost street, Doel Avenue

Part One: the Doels of Doel Avenue

John Doel’s tavern
William Mackenzie and his rebels met in John Doel’s tavern to plan (poorly) their 1837 Upper Canadian Rebellion.
Biography of John Doel and his son William Henry Doel, for whom Doel Avenue was named.
William Henry Doel, Justice of the Peace, pharmacist, with a store and home at what is now Broadview and Dundas Street.
William Henry Doel was adamantly against slavery and enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the American Civil War. He often assisted with operations, providing pain relief where he could.

Part Two: The Lost Doel Avenue

13 & 15 Doel Avenue April 29, 1953 This duplex is still standing though renumbered as part of Dundas Street East.
18 Doel Avenue, April 29, 1959 This house is also still standing, but the front has been changed beyond recognition. Some of the neighbouring houses retain the spindly pedestals and cornices in this photograph. None of the surviving pedestals or the posts they sit on are quite as off kilter as those in the photo.
Goad’s Fire Atlas Plan, 1924, 106 (Pape to Craven south of Gerrard) showing Doel Avenue (now part of Dundas Street East).
1924 Goad’s Atlas detail. That’s Jones Avenue on the left. Doel Avenue runs east from Jones Avenue. The houses are numbered (small numbers) as are the lots (larger numbers). The subdivision plan # is 591.
1955 Realtor’s map of Metropolitan Toronto (shows Dundas Street route through East End)
Doel Avenue looking east from Jones Avenue April 7, 1953
Doel Avenue looking east from Curzon Street, April 7, 1953
Doel Avenue looking east from Leslie Street April 7, 1953
Doel Avenue looking east from opposite #22, April 7, 1953
Doel Avenue looking east from opposite #79, April 7, 1953
Doel Avenue looking east from opposite #103, April 7, 1953
Approval to extend Dundas Street eastward, Globe and Mail, June 27,1950
1-49 Doel Avenue 1934 South side
12-48 Doel Avenue 1934 North side
58-118 Doel Avenue 1934 North side
79-135 Doel Avenue 1934 South side


Rolph Clark Stone April 1951

Rolph Clark Stone April 1951
Rolph Clark Stone April 1951
Rolph Clark Stone April 1951
Rolph Clark Stone April 1951
Rolph Clark Stone April 1951
Rolph Clark Stone April 1951
Rolph Clark Stone April 1951

Ashbridge’s Creek: twins: one captured, one free

Morley Avenue and Gerrard Street fill operations, April 28, 1912

Morley Avenue and Gerrard St fill April 28, 1912

Looking east across Woodfield Road (then called Morley Avenue) towards Coxwell. Ashbridges Creek is in the deep ravine. A culvert has been installed under Gerrard Street to carry the creek south.

City of Toronto Locomotive No. 6, Morley Avenue fill, July 18, 1912

Workers will install a cement artificial creek about 18-30 metres below the surface. They will then fill in the ravine with sand.

Filling in Ashdale Ravine, Morley Avenue (Woodfield Road), July 18, 1912

A miniature steam locomotive (a dinky), and miniature rail cars (dinky cars) will carry sand dug out from the underpass on Coxwell Avenue along a temporary narrow gauge set of tracks to Woodfield Road.

Dinkies for Civic Car Line Toronto Star, August 18, 1911
Dinkies at work, Canadian Courier, October 18, 1911
Gerrard car line construction, Toronto Star, November 16, 1911

The culvert crosses Gerrard where the Lahore Tikka restaurant is today.

Looking west along Gerrard Street from Woodfield Road over the filled in Ashdale Ravine, July 15, 2019 photo by Joanne Doucette

The photo from just before the Pandemic was shot looking west along Gerrard Street across the landfill and over the buried Ashbridge’s Creek.

Gerrard St E construction, October 11, 1911 (Colourized)

Ashbridge’s Creek is now two creeks: the creek in the concrete sewer pipes and a groundwater creek flowing through the soil and sediment outside of the concrete sewer culverts.

Cement mixer and labourers, Gerrard Streetcar line, July 6, 1912
Cement mixer and labourers at work, Greenwood to Coxwell Avenue, Toronto Star, November 8, 1910
Morley avenue (Woodfield Road), Globe, December 28, 1912

The creek began in springs near Michael Garron Hospital.

Flooding Gerrard and Coxwell, Toronto World, November 10, 1913

It flows across Danforth Avenue, across the tracks at Rhodes Avenue and diagonally under the Roden school yard.

Lost Creeks 1909 Topographical map with labels

It crosses Woodfield Road, half way between Fairford and Gerrard.

Believed to be an early photo of Ashbridges Creek from around 1912, just before it was put under ground in pipes.

From there it continues on a diagonal to cross just west of Highfield. It flows south, under the Duke of Connaught school yard, and crosses Queen Street where the Russell streetcar barns are. From there the hidden groundwater creek makes its way south to the lake.

Route & Car barns, Toronto Star, December 11, 1912
One fare system, Civic Streetcars, Toronto Sunday World, February 8, 1914
Civic car line, Toronto Star, December 16, 1912
First Gerrard Streetcar, December 18, 1912, leaving from the foot of Redwood Avenue, heading east.
Ticket, Civic car line, Toronto Star, December 19, 1912
Toronto Civic Railways Car No. 3 – February 24, 1913

The Continued Creation of Cherry Beach (featuring 1935)


TD Bank Robbery, Queen & Logan, Toronto Star, August 14, 1964

TD Bank Robbery, Queen & Logan, Toronto Star, August 14, 1964, page 1

Streetcar demolished, Globe, November 18, 1904

Queen Street East crossing looking north – [1890s]
Queen Street East at the Grand Trunk Railway crossing by Degrassi Street. View is looking north-west on Queen Street East.

The north side of Queen Street East near Degrassi Street, facing the Grand Trunk Railway’s Riverdale Station.
The north side of Queen Street East facing McGee Street, adjacent to the Grand Trunk Railway’s Riverdale Station, visible on the left of the image.
The north side of Queen Street East at the Grand Trunk Railway crossing by Degrassi Street. View is looking north-east on Queen Street East. Visible in the background is the Dunlop Rubber factory.
Queen Street East and Degrassi Street. View is looking north-west between 1920 and 1926

Mugg’s Island Golf Course: To Be or Not to Be

By Joanne Doucette

While researching material for an upcoming book on the history of Toronto’s golf courses, I found myself with a huge amount of material even for one small golf course — that on Mugg’s Island. Every writer has to know how to cut and what to leave in and then find an editor to cut even more! Some suggest that I should just “stick to golf” and leave out some of the more controversial aspects of sports history such as anti-Semitism, racism and sexism. Some suggest that to explore these is just “identity politics”. Even the largest social media site will not allow me to publish what I’m putting here today as they consider it offends community standards. But I’m plunging ahead because I need your feedback. Read on!

Toronto Island – January 1, 1917
Mugg’s Island, January 1, 1917

Muggs Island, also known as Mugg’s Landing, is part of the group of Islands collectively known as “Toronto Island”. Landfill operations had expanded the island from 11 to 47 acres of sand and brush by 1920. Taking advantage of this, William George Whitehouse, a young English engineer who lived on Centre Island, laid out a makeshift 18-hole golf course on Mugg’s Island in 1921.[1] It lasted only a few short summers. However, it wasn’t the first make-shift course there.

Mugg’s Landing, the vaudeville show, Brantford Daily Expositor, October 3, 1888

It was a group of campers, in fact, who gave Mugg’s Island its name. In the 1880s four carefree bachelors – Chester Hughes, Jack Crean, Warring Kennedy and Jack Lye (who later became the Monarch of Mugg’s) – pitched their tent near one William Burns’ icehouse. The lads used to row, paddle or sail to work each day. One time, when rowing back from the city, they spotted a sign floating on the water, which had been tossed out after a play at the “Royal” that had closed. They towed the cast-off sign to their tent site and proudly erected it. The name of the play – and subsequently of their camp and its wild little island – was “Mugg’s Landing.”[2]

North from Mugg’s Landing, April 8, 1911

In the 1890’s John George “Jack” Lye, and his friends got permission to build a cabin on Mugg’s Island. The young men also built their own nine-hole golf course there – cutting holes in the sand with their jackknives just as Toronto Golf Club members were doing in the East End. The Mugg’s Island golfers were young, but not poor boys. They were the sons of Toronto’s elite, some of whom belonged to the Toronto Golf Club, like Colonel Sweny and the Cassels, also had summer cottages on the Island. Lye recalled, “A group of young fellows who chummed around together, including our leader Warring Kennedy and myself, were asked by Warring’s dad, Mayor Kennedy, to build a camp on the island and to keep away undesirables. This we undertook to do.”[3]

Muggs Island, 1921

However, after World War One, Mugg’s original stopped coming, leaving “King John” Lye to rule Mugg’s Island alone. The golf course he and his friends laid out had not been used since the young men went off to war in 1914-1918. Some, such as Chester Hughes, never came back, dying in the trenches. Their course disappeared into the tall grass and poison ivy. Recalled young golfer George Hevenor, “It wasn’t really golf. We just chipped balls out of sand into tin cans.”2 Later, as a member of the Summit Golf Club, Hevenor won the club championship four times. Alongside representing Canada on two occasions as a member of Canadian Seniors Golf team, Hevenor also became a director of the Royal Canadian Golf Association. Not bad for a kid whose early experiences of the game were fostered on Mugg’s Island.

However, the story was far from over. Islanders have a well-earned reputation for being persistent. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again – at least six times!

In 1928 a spokesman for Stanley Thompson, proposed a nine-hole public course on Mugg’s Island at a cost of $45,000. The course could also be expanded to 18 holes by extending the layout across Long Pond using a pull-boat to get golfers across, but plans fell through.

Centre Island’s Manitou Hotel, December 8, 1945 TPL Collection

In 1930 William James Sutherland, secretary of Centre Island’s Businessmen’s Association, again proposed building a nine-hole course on Mugg’s Island to the City of Toronto Parks Committee. Sutherland owned the Hotel Manitou “for Gentiles of refinement” and the proposal was on letterhead with that slogan on it. Alderman Sam Factor immediately tackled the anti-Semitism. By this time the Jewish population of Toronto was about 50,000, and not to be ignored. Other city politicians opposed the proposal. Nevertheless, the City of Toronto Parks Commission negotiated with golf architects Millar and Cumming to lay it out.

Sam Factor, newly elected alderman, Globe, January 2, 1929

That spring the T.T.C. opened a miniature golf course at Hanlan’s Point. It lasted only one season.

Three years later “Gentiles Only” signs went up at Balmy Beach and Jewish and Italian men and women fought Nazis and Swastika Club members in a public park — the infamous Christie Pits Riots. That year Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau, opened.

Gentiles only Toronto Island sign Toronto Star, March 29, 1930
Toronto Star, August 2, 1933
Anti-semitic riot at Christie Pits park – August 16, 1933
Discriminating Signs Banned on Island, Globe, February 4, 1934

By 1936 when the Toronto Island Ratepayers’ Association met in Hotel Manitou and Sutherland again lead the move to build a nine-hole course on Mugg’s Island, Sam Factor was Toronto’s only Liberal Member of Parliament. Lobbying for the course continued through 1937, but anti-Semitism left a sour taste that the City of Toronto just wouldn’t or couldn’t swallow as World War Two loomed on the horizon. However, other golf clubs also barred Jews as well as Black Canadians and other visible and not so visible minorities.

Toronto Star, June 23, 1937

In 1939 George McCordick proposed building a 3,000-yard nine-hole course and a clubhouse on Mugg’s Island. The Parks Committee turned him down. By this point “King John” Lye was old. The golf course he and his friends laid out had not been used since the young men went off to war in 1914-1918. Some, such as Chester Hughes, never came back, dying in the trenches. By 1944 when King John Lye died there were few traces of their Mugg’s Island course left.

In 1949 Parks Commissioner Walter Love began negotiating to buy the old York Mills golf layout for a municipal golf course.The Parks Commission considered other sites, including Mugg’s Island, but a bridge would be needed to Centre Island and the plan fell through.

In 1956 the new Metropolitan Toronto took over control of the Toronto Islands. There was again a proposal that Mugg’s Island be turned into a golf course and, again, it got nowhere.  

Miniature golf, Centre Island, June 1964

In 1963 Metro Parks Commissioner Thomas “Tommy” Thompson created an amusement park at Centre Island with a miniature golf course. This mini-putt still operates.

[1] Toronto Star, June 15, 1921

[2] Sally Gibson, More Than an Island (Toronto: Irwin Publishing, 1984), pp. 98-99

[3] Toronto Star, June 18, 1966


Brooklyn Avenue: Some Resources from the Early Days of the Street (Updatd October 22, 2022)

By Joanne Doucette (liatris52@sympatico.ca)

This post includes:

  1. The Owners & Real Estate Developers
  2. Maps
  3. An Assessment Roll, 1897
  4. List of landowners owing back taxes
  5. City Directories
  6. 1891 Census

The Owners & Developers

Typical Ontario brickyard 1880s

In 1884 when the area was still Leslieville there was no Brooklyn Avenue and it is not listed in the 1885 Polk’s City Directory or the 1886 Polk’s City Directory.  A real estate company owned by James Armstrong and John J. Cook sold most of the property on the street. Brooklyn Avenue was named for a small creek that ran down through it, across Queen Street and down to Ashbridges Bay. Brickmakers followed the banks of these rivulets to look for deposits of the blue clay that they could use to make good bricks. Brooklyn Avenue ran through two brickyards. John Russell owned the brickyard on the west side of Brooklyn Avenue and David Wagstaff owned the brickyard on the east side.

John Russell Globe, July 5, 1902
James Armstrong, Brooklyn Avenue, pavement, Globe, May 4, 1886
Lots sold on Brooklyn Ave, Globe, June 24, 1886
Lots sold Brooklyn Ave, Globe, February 15, 1887
Lots sold Brooklyn Ave, Globe, March 26, 1887
Lots for sale, Armstrong & Cook, Globe, November 8, 1887
Lots for sale, Globe, February 18, 1888
lots for sale, Globe, July 21, 1888
Lots for sale cheap, Globe, August 27, 1892
James Armstrong, Armstrong & Cook dead, Globe, October 13, 1919
Both John Cook and James Armstrong died very wealthy men. James Armstrong, Armstrong & Cook, will, Globe, December 4, 1919
Realtor mourned John J Cook, Armstrong & Cook, Globe, June 5, 1933
The women of the family rarely get a mention. She was an exception and must have been an exceptional woman. Mrs John J Cook obituary, Globe, March 28, 1935


1851 map showing the area before the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway (now the GO Train line). The Holy Blossom Cemetery is on Pape Avenue.
1860 map shows the new Grand Trunk Rail line. George Leslie’s nursery is in the lower right, but he had not yet made his fortune and purchased the Widmer property on the west side of Jones Avenue or the Beaton property on the right.
Brooklyn Avenue doesn’t yet exist in 1884
Goad’s Atlas Plan, 1884
Plan of the City of Toronto 1885 Brooklyn Avenue area. Three creeks ran through the area. Holly Creek on the left crossed Gerrard and Carlaw Avenue. Leslie Creek in the middle gave Brooklyn Avenue its name — “brook” meaning a small creek and “lyn” from “linn” — A waterfall or cataract, or a ravine down which its water rushes https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/linn#English The creek on the right is Hastings Creek.
1888 Plan of the City of Toronto and Suburbs by Penson, showing a new street: Brooklyn Avenue

Assessment Roll, Brooklyn Avenue, 1897

1890 Assessment Roll p. 47
1890 Assessment Roll p 48

Often property owners were slow, sometimes very late, in paying their property taxes. Brickyard owners and those with connections at City Hall made a practice of this at times. John Russell found that sometimes too late was really TOO LATE. When he didn’t pay his taxes on one of his many brickyards, the City of Toronto seized it for back taxes and sold it to create an industrial park on Carlaw Avenue that still stands today albeit re-invented as condos and boutiques. Russell fought it all the way to the Privy Council in London, England, but lost. Below is a list from the Toronto Star of November 4, 1897, of those property owners who were in default of their taxes. Many were absentee landowners, holding on to lots as investment opportunities.

Tax arrears, Toronto Star, November 4, 1897

Assessment appeals, Armstrong & Cook, Globe, June 9, 1897

City of Toronto Directories, 1887-1899

1887 City Directory
1888 City Directory







1891 Census