Deerlick Creek is located in the post-war Parkwoods-Donalda neighbourhood of North York. The stream runs roughly 3 kilometres from its northern point its mouth at the Don River, making it a tributary to the larger river and part of its watershed. Deerlick Creek passes through a couple of parks — Brookbanks Park and Lynedock Park — and crosses several streets. It is an interesting stroll through nature and suburbia, and through the layers of pre-contact, colonial, and post-war Toronto.
Deerlick Creek was given its name in the 19th century (as early as 1841) by farmers of the area, when deer and salmon could be found in the ravine. Unlike other colonial-era waterways in Toronto, there does not appear to have been mills or industry built on the stream, which suggests it was not a forceful current.
The current headwaters of the creek are in Lynedock Park, a locale which also has a middle school. The neighbourhood north of York Mills Road around the creek dates mostly from the early 1960s and is dotted with mostly post-war bungalows.
Curiously, these houses were not the first to be built here. In the 1950s, there were at least six houses built before the current neighborhood. Driveways curled up from York Mills Road, branching off to the houses. Deerlick Creek ran in the middle of them. In 1965, most of the houses were integrated in the neighbourhood. Beginning in the 1970s, more of the houses were razed for other homes and apartment buildings. Possibly two houses remain today — one house for certain and a potentially altered house. Both homes are identifiable through through their odd orientations compared to the street. Their garages face away from the street, pointing to the repositioning of their driveways, as well as a front door placed to the side in one.
Deerlick Creek was channelized and straightened beginning around 1960 when the neighbourhood was under construction. At its most northern point, the stream disappears into a culvert at Roywood Drive. A footbridge connects the park and schoolyard to the neighboorhood. There are improvements happening along the creek to combat area basement flooding.
Deerlick Creek ventures south under Lynedock Crescent. It is not clear how wide and powerful it might have been historically, but today, it is a narrow, shallow, and murky-looking waterway. Then, it disappears briefly under York Mills Drive.
On the other side, the ravine is part of Brookbanks Park. Deerlick Creek snakes around the park with paved and unpaved paths on either side of it and bridges crossing the creek. The stream is narrow here too and not fast flowing. Evidence of erosion is visible with some retaining walls. While a ‘wild’ element remains on a small level, sections have likely been straightened
Brookbanks Park is the physical heart of the Parkwoods-Donalda neighbourhood. It has multiple entry points and is a well used and valuable greenspace for the surrounding community. This interconnectedness is also present when one looks up from the ravine to see the backs of houses. The neighbourhood was built beginning in the 1960s. A by-product of the development was a lot of of the tree canopy in the ravine was lost. One would think its bio-diversity was also negatively impacted too.
Deerlick Creek passes under Brookbanks Drive. Like its similarly named park, the street also slinks through the neighbourhood. There is a great vista of the Brookbanks Ravine on the south side of the street which highlights its contours and the tree canopy.
Interestingly, this area has some tangible pre-contact history. Dr. Mima Kapches conducted digs in Deerlick Creek ravine in the 1980s and 1990s. The digs resulted in the discovery of a Meadowood cache blade from 1000 BCE and a small pebble containing a human face in effigy believed to be from 4700 BCE. Jason-Ramsey Brown writes that the discoveries have some archeologists believing the area of Deerlick Creek may have a season pottery production and firing campsite.
In the 1970s, the Toronto Field Naturalists surveyed Brookbanks Ravine and Deerlick Creek and noted 105 species of birds and 167 species of trees could be found in the valley. It also noted that while deer may have roamed freely a century ago, now the largest animal groups were squirrels and skunks. The Naturalists also noted the ravine was threatened by “tidying by the parks department and construction on the edge of the ravine by homeowners.”
Brookbanks Park ends at Cassandra Drive where a narrow path leads one to and from the park. Deerlick Creek veers southwest, under the highway, and flowing into the Don River at a golf course. An unpaved path seems to run next to its course, although it is unclear how far it stretches.
North from Brookbanks Drive, Valley Woods Drive is an interesting street sandwiched between the Don Valley Parkway and the ravine. Valley Woods itself was laid out beginning in 1965, much like the rest of the neighbourhood. At the foot of the street is Citadel Village, which at the time of its construction was a representation of idyllic, post-war, suburban living.
Citadel Village was designed by Tampold & Wells and was completed in 1967. It is a collection of townhouses surrounding a circular apartment — presumably the “citadel”. A 1966 promotional advertisement described Citadel Village as a “southern European village on a mountaintop with a thickly wooded ravine on the east and a panoramic view of the city to the west.” Other selling points in ads in the following years highlight the family-friendly development particularly in its spaciousness and lack of traffic, comfort, and proximity to local amenities and downtown (15 minutes by the new Don Valley Parkway!). Citadel Village is listed as Toronto heritage property.
Valley Woods Road slinks up the side of the ravine with connections to the park. It also has a bus serving the street. At the top of the street at York Mills Road, a new condominium and planned community are under construction, named “The Ravine”. The development will consist of several towers and homes, and replaces rental townhouses previously on the site. It is the next layer in the history of Deerlick Creek and its surrounding communities.
“The Biggest Townhouses In Town.” The Toronto Daily Star, 9 Nov. 1968, p. 59.
Note: This is Part II of a two-part series about the Notorious Brook’s Bush Gang. You can read Part I here.
In August 1857, James Gokey alias DeLavelle, Thomas Readmond, Andrew Jenkins, and Samuel Hannon, who were described as “four stout fellows”, and Susan McCormack and Mary A. Walton, “abandoned females”, were charged with being connected to the gang of thieves who infested Brook’s Bush, and who would pounce upon travellers passing the Don Bridge, rob and assault them, and otherwise “conduct themselves in a most lawless manner”. The constable who arrested them visited the bush and said the eastern end of the city was not safe from the low characters who infest it. The party were fined, sent to break stones, and sent to prison.
The episode provides a great account of the operations of the gang. First, it describes the physical and possibly social identity of the group. The men were stout and imposing – the kind that would be involved in physical assaults and worse. The description of the women as “abandoned” has been described previously, and their inclusion with men in the acts was common. The Don Bridge would come to be a common setting for their crimes, which would culminate in their most dastardly act a few years later. The general sentiment was of lawlessness and danger, particularly in their area. The gang were also targets of the police and were often sentenced to monetary fines, or breaking stones at the House of Industry when they could not pay, or time in prison.
A Series of ‘Motley Spectacles’
Over the next five years, the Brooks Bush Gang were involved in several robberies and assaults which terrorized the east end. In October 1857, six males and five female “disorderlys” of Brook’s Bush were brought into custody by Sergeant Smith, who dealt frequently with the group, and charged with disorderly conduct. They were fined 20s and those unable to pay were sent to gaol for a month and ordered to be kept at hard labour.
The year 1858 was eventful for the gang. On New Year’s Day, The Globe reported a Samuel Hannah, who was known to police, was charged with “uttering a flash bill”. He visited Mercer’s eating house at 24 Church Street at Wellington Street and paid with a counterfeit bill. The landlady, Mrs Verena as per the 1859 City Directories, told him the bill was bad. She informed the police and Hannah was arrested and “committed…as a rogue and vagabond to hard labour in the common gaol for one month.”
Later in January, denizens of the Brooks Bush Gang were charged with several acts of robbery. Those involved were Catherine O’Brien, Catherine Hogan, Bridget McGuire, and Matthew Flynn, the latter of who was described as a “rough-looking fellow”. The crimes included hen houses being robbed, clothes stolen off clotheslines, and other thefts which have led to citizens’ inability to leave any items in gardens and yards. Two officers, including Sergeant Smith, pursued two thieves on Parliament Street and caught up with one of them. Flynn hid in a culvert at Gerrard and Parliament Streets with his stolen goods hidden in a nearby culvert. Among the property were shirts, a pail, an axe, an iron pot, and other things. Flynn was going back to the Bush after the robberies. The officers found at the site poultry, two geese, three lanterns, two boilers, and other property. O’Brien, Hogan, and McGuire were also waiting there with supper for Flynn and his accomplice. In court, Flynn acted with “great effrontery” and “appeared as if he had been recently drunk”. He defended himself that the goods were his own and he was protecting them from his landlord who he owed rent. However, several people — Francis Langrill, Mrs Hagarty and Mrs Murphy — refuted the story and identified the items. In the directory for the year, Langrill was listed as a “butcher, 30 St. Lawrence arcade, house Parliament Street”. A Patrick Hagerty was listed at 279 Parliament Street between Gerrard and Dundas. The identities of the ladies are unknown. Flynn was later reported to be sent to the Penitentiary for two years.
Following the thefts, a reader of The Globe wrote into the newspaper expressing a hope that “there will not be too much clemency shown towards him”. He lamented how City and York Township authorities have allowed the group to annoy the public and residents of the area. The only course was to make an example of the group and clear the bush of its denizens so local inhabitants can live a little easier.
The following month, Sergeant Smith placed Patrick Matthews, Samuel Jocelyn, Catherine O’Brien, Catherin Cogan, and Margaret MacGuire in front of the bar again. Smith had found stolen property such as axes, lanterns, tins, boilers, and geese and fowls. Richard Boles of Sumach Street, who had three fowls and an axe stolen, went to the Brooks Bush shanty and said he recognized Matthews, who told Boles that he would “knock the brains out of any person who dared to enter”. The alleged victim appears in the 1859-60 Caverhill Toronto City Directory, listed as “Richard Bowles”, a labourer at 185 Sumach Street in the Dundas Street area. In July, William Brown, Robert Brown, J. Pigeon, P. Matthews, James Hallachy, and Samuel Josleyn were brought up with the charge. Sergeant Smith said he went to the shanty and found several of the prisoners and three females, which he took into custody. The females said they were in the shanty all night and Pigeon, R. Brown, Hallachy, and a man named Smith not in custody came back early in the morning with the poultry. Robert Brown, John Pigeon, and Hallachy were founded guilty and a sentence was deferred.
In April 1858, James Harrachy, William Brown, Patrick Matthews, Samuel Josleyn, Robert Brown, and Bridget McGuire were brought again to the bar for crimes of theft. William Brown was acquitted, but the others were found guilty. Robert Brown was imprisoned for ten days in the city prison and then in the provincial penitentiary (in Kingston, Ontario) for three years and three months. Harrachy was committed to ten days for larceny; Matthews for three years and three months in the penitentiary; Josleyn was sentenced to three years and four months and McGuire to two years and one month. John Pigeon was charged with larceny and committed to ten days in the city prison and five years in the penitentiary.
In June, three ruffians of the Brook’s Bush attacked two men on Queen Street. One of the victims got away but the other was struck in the face, neck, and shoulders with a black bottle and severely cut.
In September, Cornelius Leary was charged with assaulting a feeble-looking woman, Mary Sheppard. The lady said she had a dispute with Leary in which he struck her and dragged her toward a shed. She fell and he stepped on her, severely injuring her. Constables said both prisoners (it is unclear if this meant Sheppard too) were part of the Brooks Bush gang. Leary was fined $5 but was unable to pay, so he was sent to break stones for a month.
In November, Jane McDonald, Margaret Evans, Sarah Fielder, Mary Ann Walton, Mary Crooks, James Brown, and Thomas Willis appeared in court and “presented a very motley spectacle.” The men were fined $5 and the women were sent to prison for a month. In an odd layer to the story, Mary Cary, also of the gang, went to the police station to find them, but behaved “disorderly”. She too was arrested and sent to gaol for a month.
In May 1859, four coats and a bag of coppers were stolen from Leak and Matthews, soap and candle manufacturers on Palace Street (today’s Front Street East). The Directories identified this at 62 Palace Street near George Street. There was also a “Leak’s Wharf” associated with the business at the foot of George Street. A witness heard them chuckling over the haul. Several days later, several officers on The Esplanade were monitoring the water for “persons bathing during prohibited hours” and attending to arriving and departing steamers, when they interrogated four suspicious fellows. One had a bundle in his hand. They were taken into custody — they were Thomas O’Brien, John Connolly, Barker Coulder, and John Scott of the Brooks’ Bush Gang. They appeared to be sheltering in an old boat moored off the Esplanade.
Also in May, William Reid and Henry Miller, of the gang were brought up on the charge of stopping a young man on the Don Bridge. They offered to leave the city and were discharged. The judge was about to send them to prison for a month as “disorderly characters” but relented after hearing their pleas.
Maurice Malone, John Clyde, John Esson, Margaret Hagarty, Elizabeth Nolan, Mary Ann Pickley, Mary Ann Flanaghan and Bridget Drew were sent to gaol for a month each. William Edwards and Francis Curran were sent for 14 days for disorderly conduct as well as Charles White for a similar offence with hard labour.
In August 1859, the Globe reported a number were in custody for assaulting Edward Closghey. There was a chase for them. Among the party is a desperado named John Clyde, who replaced the former ringleader, Carr, who was committed to the Penitentiary. James Tuck, Denis O’Dowd, Edward Short, Martin Kelly, William Macpherson, Marry Ann O’Bryan and Elizabeth Nolan were brought in for assaulting Edward McCloskey. The victim fell into the company of Clyde, Kelly Marry Ann O’Bryan, and Nolan on Carlton Street. They had a bottle of whiskey and asked him to drink part of it, which he did. He paid a dime and tried to leave but was stopped by Clyde. Clyde struck him and tried to kill him with the help of Martin Kelly. Eliza Nolan tried to protect the victim. McCloskey got away and Clyde threatened him again not to tell on him or “he would make him suffer for it.” Clyde and Kelly, the attackers, were sent to Assize Court. Nolan got “only two months in gaol” for protecting McCloskey. O’Dowd was discharged for previous good behaviour. The others were sent to gaol for three months.
In September 1859, William McPherson, John Burns, Jeremiah Leivy, James Tuch, James Brown, Thomas Richardson, James Cochrane, John Eppison, Mary Anne Pickely, Mary Anne Walton, Sarah Fidder, Ellen McDonald, Margaret Hill, Mary Crooks, Mary Sheppard and Isabella Convony were found at the bush and arrested. The offences are unknown. The females were sent to gaol for fourteen days and the men for a month.
The Murder of John Sheridan Hogan
On December 1st, 1859, Mr John Sheridan Hogan, a journalist turned member of parliament for Grey County for the Province of Canada, was visiting a female acquaintance on Terauley Street ( now Bay Street). The unmarried 44-year-old man left the home at 8:30 to visit the office of the new editor of TheBritish Colonist, his publication. It was the last time he was seen alive.
Hogan’s disappearance was not noted by police until months after his last known sighting. He lived a peculiar life in Toronto, having few friends and no family and living a transient life with the Rossin Hotel as his base. His sudden disappearance was a mystery. His body was found washed up at the mouth of the Don River in March 1861, some sixteen months later, by some fishermen. He was identified by Mrs Laurie, the acquaintance he visited on the December night, identified a broach or patch she put on his clothing.
Suspicion quickly turned to the Brook’s Bush Gang for having something to do with Hogan’s death. His final location at the mouth of the river suggested he had washed down from somewhere upriver — potentially the Queen Street bridge, a location the gang had notoriously terrorized over the past five or so years. But pinning it on The Brooks Bush Gang was a task.
The key to the case was the testimony of Ellen McGillick, a member of the Brook’s Bush Gang present when Hogan was murdered. In the four years leading up to the event, McGillick had often given witness testimony about the actions of the gang, which the Police trusted as truth. The detective on the case, a Colgan, hailed from the same Irish place as McGillick and went to question her. McGillick told him about the murder and who was involved. Arrests were made soon after of Jane Ward, James Brown, also known as ‘English Jim’, William Reid and Mary Crooks.
McGillick testified seeing two men struggling with each other and another woman with them on the east end of the Don Bridge. The woman, who turned out to be Jane Ward, told one of the men, James Brown, to throw the other man, Hogan, off the bridge. She also noted other gang members were present and how they spoke of tying Hogan’s legs before throwing him into the river. Ward also told McGillick how she robbed the man and was holding a rock and handkerchief. Members of the gang after the murder threatened McGillick not to say anything about it. McGillick finally added that there was blood on the rail of the bridge and Brown had gone the next day to clear it; police corroborated by finding blood on the bridge.
In a trial in April 1861, John Sherrick and Jane Ward of the Brooks Bush Gang were acquitted. James Brown was found guilty that fall in a separate trial. He was retried again in 1862 with the same result. Brown was a labourer born near Cambridge, England in 1830. He moved to the United States and then Toronto in 1852, hoping to find work in shipyards. At some point, he fell in with the Brook’s Bush Gang (the first mention of him in the newspapers was November 1858). Brown was hung in front of spectators on March 10, 1862, at the York County Courthouse on Adelaide Street. It was the last public execution in Toronto.
The End of The Brooks Bush Gang
After the Hogan trial, references to the Brooks Bush Gang dwindled. In August 1862, members of the gang were charged with assaulting and robbing a farmer a short distance from the city. They were tried at Yorkville as the crime was outside city limits. In 1864, John Smith was violently assaulted and nearly robbed near the Don River by two ‘desperadoes’. The victim was possibly a property owner as the Smith family was known east of the Don. The attack was very much like the antics of the Brook’s Bush gang, “who infested the neighbourhood some time ago”, which signified that although they were not behind the attack, the gang was no longer present and their memory still haunted the area. Interestingly, Charles Sauriol noted how E.T. Seton said members of the gang destroyed his cabin in 1875, although this may be dubious as it was much after the early 1860s.
In the following years, stories of past members crept up in the news. In 1864, Mary Ann Pickley was found dead. Since the murder and police broke up the gang, she had been living “here there and everywhere” but mostly in jail. The Globe reported she was one of the last of the gang with almost all of them dead. In 1868, the Globe reported Kate (possibly Catherine) Cogan, “the last of the Brook’s Bush Gang”, was arrested for breaking windows. Similarly, the newspaper also wrote in 1872 about a former member of the gang, Bill Reid, who was described as “probably the last who will ever be seen of the once dreaded Brooks Bush Gang” and how nineteen years ago he was “conspicuous even among the lawless community, and he was connected to them about the time of the murder of” Hogan. Finally, Jane Ward moved to Guelph in the mid-1860s, changing her name to Jane Lewis and saying very little of her past life. She wound up in the Wellington County House of Industry for the remainder of her life, dying in 1904. She was said by newspapers of the time to be the last member of the Brook’s Bush Gang.
The former haunts of the Brook’s Bush Gang east of the Don River disappeared too, leaving little geographic trace of the gang. By 1880, the lot near the Don Jail was subdivided, houses were built on it, and Holly Brook was buried. Even Withrow Park, the other possibility for the gang’s headquarters, was made a public park by 1910. In 1912, the Butcher’s Arms, the old hangout of the Brook’s Bush Gang, was torn down for houses, where a strip of Edwardian-style, century-aged homes stands there today.
The Globe also reported in 1924 on the upcoming demolition of a house at 154 Carlton Street at Homewood Avenue which stood on the site of a former Brook’s Bush Gang headquarters. There are few details of this “shanty”. The Oldright House was built in the 1870s according to The Globe piece and some of the gang’s belongings were found when the house was constructed. Its location was appropriately situated in the east side of the core of Toronto where the gang did some of their criminal activities.
The east end of Toronto was transformed in the decades following the end of the gang. In addition to the redevelopment of the specific woodlots mentioned above, the general area was laid out with streets and landmarks. ‘Brook’s Bush’ as a district name understandably fell out of use. On March 25, 1888, the area of Riverside was annexed by the city of Toronto (Riverside replaced ‘Don Mount’ as a name in 1880, the latter was likely used alongside Brook’s Bush; Riverdale later came into use in the early 20th century). Police protection, a lacking factor which allowed the Brook’s Bush Gang to prevail as a menace, was cited as a reason for annexation.
Appendix I: List of Members
Michael Barry (possibly an affiliate), Jane Ward, Catherine Cogan (possibly also listed as Catherine Hogan or Kate Cogan), Andrew Jenkins, Catherine O’Brien, John Clyde, Samuel Joslin, James Gokey alias DeLavelle, Thomas Redmond, Samuel Hannon (possibly also listed as Samuel Hannah), Susan McCormack, Mary A. Walton, Bridget McGuire, Matthew Flynn, Patrick Matthews, Margaret Maguire, William Brown, Robert Brown, John Pigeon, James Hallachy, Cornelius Leary, Jane McDonald, Margaret Evans, Sarah Fielder, Mary Crooks, James Brown, Thomas Wills, Mary Cary, “Yankee” Mary (unclear if she was one of the listed Marys), Robert Wagstaff, Thomas O’Brien, John Connolly, Barker Coulter, John Scott, William (Bill) Reid, Maurice Malone, John Esson, Margaret Hagarty, Elizabeth Nolan, Mary Ann Pickley, Mary Ann Flanaghan, Bridget Drew, a man named Carr, James Tuck (or Tuch), Denis O’Dowd, Edward Short, Martin Kelly, William MacPherson (possibly an affiliate), Mary Ann O’Bryan, John Burns, Jeremiah Leivy, Thomas Richardson, James Cochrane, Johm Eppsion, Sarah Fidder, Ellen McDonald, Margaret Hill, Mary Sheppard, Isabella Convony, Ellen McGillick, John Sherrick, John Coteau, William Dillon, Charles Gerne, Andrew McGuire, John Hudie, Patrick Fogarty, William Eppison, Sarah Hill, Anna Maria Gregory, Mary Carey, Catharine Dalton, Bridget Kane, Francis Furdon, Esther McDonell, Margaret Adams, Rachel Smith, and James Curtain.
“Another Landmark In Danger.” The Globe, 19 Apr. 1924, p. 14.
“Article.” The Globe, 19 Feb. 1859, p. 2.
Bonnell, Jennifer. Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History of Toronto’s Don River Valley. University of Toronto Press, 2014.
BOYLE, D. Township of Scarboro 1796-1896. Book ON DEMAND LTD, 2014.
“The Brook’s Bush Gang Again.” The Globe, 15 Aug. 1859, p. 2.
“Buglary and Capture of The Robbers.” The Globe, 6 May 1859, p. 3.
“’The Butchers’ Arms,’ Once Rendezvous of Notorious Gang, Is Being Torn Down.” The Globe, 29 Apr. 1912, p. 9.
“City News: A Notorious Character.” The Globe, 15 Feb. 1872, p. 1.
“City News: Assault and Attempted Robbery.” The Globe, 10 May 1864, p. 1.
“City News: Found Dead.” The Globe, 18 Nov. 1864, p. 2.
“City News: Police Court.” The Globe, 1 Aug. 1862, p. 2.
“City Police Court: A Month’s Stone Breaking For A Supper.” The Globe, 1 Jan. 1858, p. 2.
“City Police: A Parcel of Thieves.” The Globe, 28 Jan. 1858, p. 2.
“City Police: Another Gang Arrested.” The Globe, 11 Aug. 1857, p. 3.
“City Police: Brook’s Bush.” The Globe, 24 Feb. 1858, p. 2.
“City Police: Cowardly Assault.” The Globe, 7 Sept. 1858, p. 2.
“City Police: Disorderlies.” The Globe, 24 May 1859, p. 3.
“City Police: Drunk and Disorderly.” The Globe, 10 May 1859, p. 3.
“City Police: The Book’s Bush Gang.” The Globe, 16 Aug. 1859, p. 2.
“City Police: The Brook’s Bush Gang.” The Globe, 16 Nov. 1858, p. 2.
“City Police: The Brook’s Bush Gang.” The Globe, 19 Sept. 1859, p. 2.
“City Police: The Brooks’ Bush Gang.” The Globe, 6 Feb. 1858, p. 3.
“City Police: The Disorderlys at Brook’s Bush.” The Globe, 24 Oct. 1857, p. 2.
“Collectors’ Notice.” The Globe, 30 Mar. 1859, p. 4.
COLLINS, JOSEPH EDMUND. Four Canadian Highwayman. OUTLOOK Verlag, 2018.
Craig, Jessica Calafia. “Dreams of Slaughter.”
“Died This Day: James Brown, 1862.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Mar. 2007, p. S9.
“Distressing Case.” The Globe, 25 Dec. 1857, p. 2.
Hopkins, J. Castell. Canada: An Encyclopaedia of the Country; the Canadian Dominion Considered in Its Historic Relations, Its Natural Resources, Its Material Progress and Its National Development, by a Corps of Eminent Writers and Specialists. Edited by J. Castell Hopkins. 1898.
Horwood, Harold, and Edward Butts. Bandits & Privateers: Canada in the Age of Gunpowder. CNIB, 1991.
James, Robert W., and John Rae. John Rae Political Economist: An Account of His Life and a Compilation of His Main Writings. University of Toronto Press, 1965.
2022 marks ten years for Scenes From Toronto. This year, I committed to a goal of two articles a month when possible. Out of 24 possible articles in the month, I published 17. Although I did not match my goal, I am proud of that output.
2022 also followed the momentum of the previous year in creating original, research-based articles, drawing on primary and secondary sources, as well as the work of great historians and writers. I hope they have added to Toronto’s rich local heritage scene and telling the city’s lesser known (hi)stories.
The Best of 2022
To mark the year, I have compiled my favourite ten articles.
1. “Old” Toronto Streets: An exploration of a peculiarity in Toronto’s geography and streets. This is a multi-parter.
6. The Rise of The Hill District, Toronto: The origin of one of Toronto’s exclusive neighbourhoods is an interesting tale of the who’s who in Toronto history and a period in which Old Toronto’s street grid began to fill up.
Note: This is Part I of a two-part series about the history of the Brook’s Bush Gang. You can read Part II here.
From the 1850s to the early 1860s, the east end of Toronto on both sides of the Don River was terrorized by the criminal dealings of the infamous Brook’s Bush Gang, a mix-gendered gang of desperadoes and thieves. The history of the group is an interesting, rare, and dangerous chapter in Toronto history.
“A Batch of Disorderlies”
In January 1855, Sergeant McCaffrey received some information that the eastern end of the city “was infested by a number of depraved young females who lived more like brutes than human beings.” He proceeded to the place known as “Brook’s bush” and found a gang of “unfortunates” living in an “Indian hut” made of several layers of large pines, “rudely thrown together and a cavity preserved in the centred by upright poles and cross pieces”. They were huddled around a fire. He found a large pot, some bread, some herrings, and a jar of whiskey. There were some men and the females were a “motley group”, with one having a “contusion on her nose” and two with black eyes. The others had scratches and scars. The Sergeant brought them before the bar and charged them with “living disorderly, good-for-nothing lives”. McCaffrey noted the group’s experience ranged from twelve or thirteen years old to about twenty years old. The men — four of them — were fined 10s. each and the seven women received gaol (jail) time of a month each.
In August 1856, The Globe described the locality of Brook’s Bush as “being infected with a horde of the most dangerous characters of both sexes, and has become such a ‘prodigious public nuisance’ that coercive means must be adopted to rid the place of the gang of plunderers, from whom life nor property are safe.” William Davis, a councillor who owned property in the bush, lodged a complaint and five persons of each sex — “the lowest of the low” — were arrested.
These two accounts are telling representations of who the Brooks Bush Gang were and their miscreant dealings in the mid-19th century. The gang would go on to have multiple shady episodes culminating in their alleged involvement in a high-profile murder.
Many fundamental details about the Brook’s Bush Gang are unclear, such its origins, nature, and size, and structure. One can infer Sergeant McCaffrey’s account in early 1855 that the group was set up in the area at least in the year prior and perhaps had already had a reputation with the police for them to warrant a visit resulting in being taken into custody, fined, and sent to prison. Their shabby living conditions also suggests their lower-class status. It is not clear what work the members did, if any. The size of the group is also difficult to measure. In some accounts eleven or twelve members of the group are arrested at one time. The roster of characters also likely changed as members exited the group, most prominently from going to jail. The newspaper note at least seventy individuals part of or affiliated with the gang at some point between 1856 to 1861.
Where was Brook’s Bush?
Brook‘s Bush, the home base of the dangerous group, was located on the east side of the Don River. Jennifer Bonnell, a historian on the Don River, wrote the east end of Toronto in the 19th century was a place for the undesirables, so it offered the conditions for a miscreant group like the Brooks Bush Gang to exist. The community now known as Riverdale was not annexed to Toronto until the 1880s and police enforcement of the group and area was a difficult because of this reason.
In an August 1931 issue of Maclean’s, Brook’s Bush is described as a forty-acre woodlot with a clearing in the middle and an abandoned barn where the group’s headquarters were located. Toronto environmentalist Charles Sauriol similarly described the Brook’s Bush as a “forty acre heavily-wooded area, just east of the Don River.” He also cited an ‘old-timer’ in saying the area “above Winchester” was the “territory where gambling, cock-fighting, and bull pitting flourished.” There is some dispute over the bush’s exact location and its size.
Bonnell stated both Maclean’s and Sauriol placed the bush north of the Don Jail. However, maps may lead us to a different conclusion. She cited the 1860 and 1878 County Atlases of York in stating that bush was on the property of a Daniel Brook. The identity and history of Brook are vague and confusing, highlighted by the fact that there are at least three different spellings of his name to refer to him, the bush, and the gang. Scarborough historian David Boyle published in his The Township of Scarboro, 1796-1896 that a Captain Daniel Brooke “owned the bush in York township which, in after years, formed a rendezvous for the notorious ‘Brooke’s Bush Gang'”. According to maps, Brook owned at least two properties east of the Don River in 1860. The first was a 10-acre property found directly east of the Don Jail, bordering on the west side of Logan Avenue just north of Gerrard Street. It appears in the 1860 map as “D.B.” but is later labelled in the 1878 map as Daniel Brook. The northern property is slightly more confusing. In the 1860 map, “D.B.” appears again on the east side of Logan, north of today’s Bain Avenue. It was about 10 acres. In the 1878 map, this property is attributed to George Vincent; however, two lots totaling 20 acres north of it are found under Daniel Brooks. Bonnell stated local historians have corroborated the location of Brook’s Bush on the modern site of Withrow Park.
There is evidence to support both Brook’s Bush location hypotheses — that is, whether it was located east of the Don Jail or on the site of Withrow Park. In his 1908 Landmarks of TorontoVolume V, storied Toronto historian John Ross Robertson wrote about the Butchers’ Arms Tavern, which was located on Broadview Avenue between Sparkhall and Hogarth Avenues. Robertson stated the establishment was a gaming bar, both for cockfighting and betting men who came from the nearby racetrack south of Queen Street near the Don River. He also wrote it attracted more “objectionable characters of the notorious ‘Brooks Bush gang”. According to Ross, the gang’s headquarters were “a short distance to the east.” Indeed, at its shortest length, the Butchers’ Arms and The Bush is about 600 metres and corresponds to the Withrow Park area.
In 1912, The Globe reported the Butchers’ Arms was being torn down to accommodate new housing. The tavern was described here as the rendezvous of the notorious Brooks’ Bush Gang of highway robbers and murderers. John Playter of Danforth Avenue (and of the modern Playter Estates), the great-grandson of early York settler Captain John Playter, relayed the history of the tavern and the gang to the newspaper. He remembered them as a group of “low class men and women” who were “called the Brooks’ Bush gang because they camped in the bush owned by Mr. Brooks near the thoroughfare now known as Simpson Avenue”. Mr. Playter’s description seems to corresponds to the southern Brooks lot close to Gerrard and east of the Don Jail. The property was roughly bordered by Simpson Avenue, Langley Avenue, Howland Road, and Logan Avenue. To add a layer, Simpson Avenue between Howland and Logan was named Brooke Avenue; it was renamed to Simpson by 1910.
The 1856 murder of Isaiah Sewell may offer some geographic details which might clear things up. As Leslieville historian Joanne Doucette wrote, the Sewells lived near Queen Street and Logan Avenue (Logan itself was Sewell’s Lane for a time). On the day of the murder, Sewell was to travel to Broadview Avenue to purchase some hay. William Rhodes, a witness who lived about twenty acres from the Sewells, mentioned to go from the Sewell’s at Queen and Logan to Broadview that “it would not be the nearest road to go through Brook’s Bush”. He also stated Sewell was no more than twenty acres away from the bush when he was found dead. On that day, Rhodes was returning back from Toronto when crossed the Grand Trunk railway (now the Canadian National railway) track north of Queen Street and was near the “edge of the bush” when he saw a crowd. When he went to investigate, he was told by one of the members Sewell was killed, at which point Rhodes went to Sewell as he knew the boy. Another witness, Andrew Jenkins of the gang, first saw Sewell standing near the railway track about 40 yards near some women of the gang. Sewell went to go talk to Catherine Cogan when he was struck and killed from behind. Cogan stated she went to the creek after he was struck to get water to bather his forehead and breast. There are other depositions of gang members going for water at the time of the murder.
The geography of the murder suggested Sewell was murdered near the Grand Trunk Railway where it crossed Logan Avenue. This was on the edge of Brook’s Bush, likely within 20 acres of it as suggested by Rhodes’ account. Taking the two locations, the distance was roughly 15 acres for the southern Brook property and roughly 35-acres for the northern property. In regards to the creek accessed by the gang, according to Lost Rivers Toronto, the Holly Brook Creek meandered east and west of Logan Avenue north of the railway. A longer branch flowed east of Logan, including in the northern Brooks lot in Withrow Park where its physical indent is perhaps most visible. It had smaller branches flowing northwest from Logan toward Simpson and Howland in the southern Brook lot.
Perhaps the matter is settled most in an April 1861 Globe article covering the John Sheridan Hogan murder trial. The trial itself shown a lot of light on the gang. The newspaper noted that police reports had appeared on averaged once a week for the last four years on the Brooke’s bush gang, but the exact locality was never actually known. The newspaper said:
Brooke’s Bush was one of ten lots selected by well-known citizens at the time Toronto was incorporated. The other two lots have been cleared but there was still a lot of Brooke’s Bush to be cleared. It is beautiful situated east of the Don, and about a quarter due mile east of from the Industrial Farm and New Gaol. The trees afford good shelter to the “gang” who have made it their place of resort. In the winter they take take possession of a dilapidated barn which stands on the adjoined lot — there being no building whatever on the lot known as “Brooke’s Bush” — and of an old stable in the rear of a brewery which was built near the place a few years ago since the owner of which gave up building some time ago.
The Globe, April 8, 1861
It is also possible, as Doucette has pointed out, that both properties were part of the bush and they operated as a sort of region. In March 1859, a collector advertised in The Globe the sale of cordwood and timber at Oxleys’ Tavern on Queen Street “for arrears of taxes due on the property commonly known as Brook’s Bush, situated and lying in School Section No. 6, in the Township of York East.”
The Women of Brook’s Bush
A fascinating dimension to the Brook’s Bush Gang is the presence, nature, and involvement of women in a very visible way. It is not clear why so many women found themselves in the gang or what were their origins and circumstances. It is, however, apparent that women played a noted role in the history of the Brook’s Bush Gang.
There have been general descriptions of the group as a band of desperado, thieves, and prostitutes. The focus on the latter as an identity and behaviour for women is a curious topic. Jane Ward and Catherine Cogan, particularly the latter, might have been acting in those roles in the murder of Isaiah Sewell. Joanne Doucette wrote Jane Ward was “a vicious English prostitute” and was known as the “The Bandit Queen of Riverdale”. She was born in Yorkshire and came to Canada at age 4. By 1861, she was about 25 years old; and she was “seduced from the paths of virtue”, right around the time she left her parents’ care and joined the Brook’s Bush Gang”. She was described as “a small and rather sharp-featured woman” in one account, but tall, well-made, and a “regular” appearance with marks on her face in another. She was “very passionate and vindictive” and long ruled the members of the gang, suggesting she had a prominent placement in the group, if not actually leading it. After her time in the gang, she was noted as having two self-indulges: tobacco and cheap whiskey. In fact, “she was rarely seen in public without a pipe in her lips, and trailing a haze of smoke from the cheapest and strongest tobacco she could find.”
Ward and another prostitute Ellen McGillick engaged MPP John Sheridan Hogan before murdering him in December 1859. McGillick was described in the MacLean’s article about the murder by W. Stewart Wallace:
“Though only twenty-three years of age, she had been “on the street” for four years; and had, prior to that period, been married and deserted by her husband. She was a tall, strapping girl, and would have been attractive had her face not been scarred by smallpox. She had often been in the police court, but the police magistrate afterward testified that he had always found her frank and truthful. She had sunk so low, perchance, that the only way she could keep her selfrespect was by telling the truth.”
Maclean’s Magazine, August 15, 1931
In April of 1859, another woman of the gang named “Yankee Mary”, described as “of frail character”, accosted a retired militia man with her seductive words. It is unclear if she herself was a prostitute, but they bought some spirits and he followed her to the east end. He woke up without clothes and without his possessions, namely his watch, stock, hat, and wallet with a few dollars contained it it. Mary was tracked to the Brook’s Bush and found with a man named Wagstaff. They were searched and arrested after the soldier’s items were located.
Following this, women of the Brook’s Bush Gang seemed to have played important roles in the gang’s crimes, even committing them themselves. In February 1859, a woman was stopped on the Queen Street (then Kingston Road) between the Don River and the first toll gate and stripped of her shawl and other articles. Three women were the attackers, whose refuge was said to be the “notorious locality”, called Brooks’ Bush. The Globe noted travellers dread passing on the road as of late, which was “feared with thieves”. In the gang’s two connected murders, women played active roles. In the Sewell case, in addition to engaging with the man, Cogan picked up a piece of newspaper with the man’s money, which Ward then had her possession and said she would return to the authorities. It is unclear if the money ever was returned. As noted, Ward and McGillick also played roles in the murder of Hogan, engaging with the MPP on the Don Bridge and with Ward robbing him.
Finally, there is also an interesting and repeated allusion to female gang members as “abandoned” individuals in the records. Susan McCormack and Mary A. Walton were described as such when they were charged by the police in August 1857. In December 1857, Sergeant Smith found a mother lying in little hay and snow and rain with her dead infant in her arm with no covering. The mother, Bridget McGuire and her baby, was brought to City Hall Station and then the Hospital. The child died from the cold. McGuire was described as a woman of “abandoned character.” In June 1858, a similar story occurred as another abandoned woman Mary Ann Walton had given birth in Brook’s Bush but “the infant had not been seen for some time” and it was thought it had been “foully dealt with”. It is unclear what an “abandoned woman” directly entails, but one can infer these women lacked familial ties, were vagrants and homeless, and/or prostitutes. It is worth mentioning the bush was “known was the resort of abandoned characters, and has been more than once the scene of robberies and outrages”, which means the term may not have been exclusive to women.
The Isaiah Sewell Murder
In July 1856, The Globe reported the murder of a Isaiah Sewell, a “coloured boy”. Michael Barry was identified as the killer and he was tried for murder in the following montj. Barry was at Brook’s Bush on the day of the murder, but he did not seem to have been part of the group officially. Sewell lived on Kingston Road (today’s Queen Street) near the Don River and was sent to Mill Road (Broadview Avenue) by his father with 10 pounds to buy hay. Instead, he found himself at or near the bush which was not the most direct path to his destination. Sewell was not part of the gang.
Sewell was standing near the Grand Trunk Railroad tracks when he was then engaged by Catherine Cogan of the Brook’s Bush Gang. Someone present recalled hearing that “it was a shame for a white girl to be seen with a black man”; it is not known who uttered the words. The party had been drinking and Sewell gave Cogan money for a drink. Cogan had spoken to Sewell for about 5 minutes. Barry then came from behind Sewell and cracked his skull with a glass bottle. As he did, he called him a “black b–g-r” and told him to go away. Barry also said “he [Sewell] was scheming” and would kick him to make him leave. After the strike, Sewell turned or was turned onto his back. Cogan picked up a piece of newspaper and money which had fallen from Sewell. A passer-byer investigating the murder later got the money from Jane Ward but he only counted it and Ward would return it to the authorities. Several members went to the creek for water and Sewell’s hands or face was washed. Some of the gang claimed they did not see the blow and did not know Barry or Sewell. A doctor confirmed Sewell died from the blow from a “concussion of the brain”. Barry was tried in October 1856 for Sewell’s willful murder and found guilty of manslaughter.
Historian Joanne Doucette contextualized the murder in social terms. It was the first racially-motivated murder in Toronto and possibly Ontario. The Sewells were Black gardeners and landowners in Leslieville. Part of Logan Avenue was for a time named “Sewell’s Lane”. The family was part of Leslieville’s Black community in the 19th century. Doucette described the Brook’s Bush Gang as “all white, mostly Irish”. The gangs way of operating was to ply a victim with alcohol, lure him with sex, and then rob him. Doucette also noted the gang boasted for years about the murder. Barry allowed the group to take the fall for the murder as a affiliate of the gang. None of the members were directly implicated for the murder as no one ever claimed direct involvement.
The Sewell case was an extreme case of the capabilities of the Brook’s Bush Gang. At the same time, it was a precursor to their activities over the next five or six years, which included at least one more high profile murder.
A&P is part of Toronto’s retail history, especially so because the franchise does not exist anymore in the city.
In the 1950s, the American-based company, formally called the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., opened several new super markets in Toronto’s outer communities. These stores and their eventful inaugurations offer a lens into not only the history of the brand, but also the emergence and evolution of Toronto’s inner suburbs.
5559 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
The A&P at 5559 Dundas Street West at Brown’s Line opened on July 8, 1952. As the advertisement notes, it opened at the junction of two highways: Five (Dundas) and Twenty-Seven (Brown’s Line). It also backed onto a Canadian Pacific rail line. At the time of its opening, the intersection was sparsely populated. The larger community at the western edge of the Toronto area was Eatonville, best known for being the farming property of its namesake family and department store barons, the Eatons.
Very much in line with other store inaugurations in the period, the A&P advertisement presented the event as a multi-day spectacle. It was broadcasted over radio, with American singer and radio personality Smilin’ Jack Smith hosting. The famed 48th Highlanders band also played. The opening day flyer touts the supermarket as a “Parking Heaven” with plenty free parking. A map also boasted that “all roads” led to the supermarket, noting all the local major roads and the connecting communities. Many cars and people are depicted, including a long line filing towards and into the large glass store entrance. Altogether, it is very optimistic, with new life and new development now existing outside Toronto’s historic busy core.
The Globe and Mail reported the new super market cost $1,000,000 and included a warehouse building and a rail siding. It wrote: “The huge one-story structure provides consumers with the ultimate in shopping conveniences and affords the company the latest facilities for the efficient distribution of groceries in Ontario.”
By the end of the decade, the area had transformed along with the new store. Brown’s Line and Highway 27 were absorbed by the new Highway 427. The new interchange with Dundas resembled a cloverleaf. This development may have inspired the naming of the adjacent Cloverdale Mall directly across from A&P in 1956, an open air shopping centre whose anchor was another super market, Dominion.
Since 1952, the Dundas Street A&P has undergone a few noted changes. First, it is now Food Basics, which was founded in 1995 as a discount super market subsidiary under the A&P brand. Second, the complex’s area expanded, including an office space. This office is the Metro Ontario Division headquarters. Metro, a Quebec super market chain, acquired A&P Canada in 2005. Interestingly, at the Cloverdale Mall across the street, Dominion was acquired by A&P in the 1980s; the store is now a Metro.
25 Glen Watford Drive, Scarborough
The A&P at 25 Glen Watford Drive at Sheppard Avenue opened on March 21, 1957. It served the historic village of Agincourt, a community with roots in the 19th century whose nexus was the crossroads of Church Street (Midland Avenue) and Lansing Road (Sheppard Avenue). First Street, depicted in the advertisement’s map, was part of an Edwardian residential subdivision. In the 1950s, the community opened its earliest post-war subdivision east of the Agincourt High School. In 1959, bus service ran from Kennedy Road to Sheppard Avenue, looping at Glen Watford, Rural Avenue, and Midland; it was one of the first to serve northern Scarborough.
Like the Dundas Street store, the store opening was a week-long affair. It featured giveaways to shoppers, and a radio broadcast, featuring Scarborough Board of Health Officer and Agincourt resident, C.D. Farquharson. Free parking and parcel pickups were emphasized. Nearly thirty stores in Toronto and area were listed, some with details such as having air conditioning.
The evolution of the area around 25 Glen Watford contains some interesting developments. By the 1960s, Lansing Road became Sheppard Avenue; and Church Street merged with Midland Avenue to the south. First Avenue also became Agincourt Avenue. In 1963, the CP crossing on Sheppard was replaced by a rail overpass; the tracks were temporarily rerouted north during construction. Sheppard Avenue was also widened and Glen Watford was rerouted to curve towards Sheppard.
In the late 1970s, the Glen Watford A&P was torn down. In its place, a strip mall was erected. A larger building also went up to the south, taking up space formerly occupied by properties on the north side of Sheppard removed in the improvements along the street the decade prior. This latter building was a roller rink called Roller World.
In the mid-1980s, the area experienced its greatest evolution. In 1984, Hong Kong born developers bought the roller rink and transformed it into the Dragon Centre, an indoor Chinese mall (the former rink became a circular walkway for shoppers). It was the first of its kind in Toronto and Canada. The development spurred a change in Agincourt and Scarborough’s demographics, bringing East Asian residents and businesses to the area, including the strip mall to the north which replaced the A&P and the Glen Watford Plaza across the street, today’s Dynasty Centre.
The Dragon Centre wasn’t without controversy in the early years, however. Residents complained about the planning of the mall, particularly the parking and gridlock. There were also racist, xenophobic sentiments. Still, the mall endured, becoming a fixture in Agincourt.
Today, the East Asian nexus on Glen Watford is set to endure another change. A development proposal has two condominium buildings to be erected on the site. A project entitled “Dragon Centre Stories” exists to preserve the memory of the places set to be replaced.
2939 Dufferin Street, North York
The A&P at 2939 Dufferin Street south of Lawrence Avenue opened on March 11, 1958. After WWII, Dufferin north of Eglinton Avenue filled out as an arterial street with commercial and industrial uses, and its surrounding residential streets with bungalows, schools, and churches. The Dufferin Street A&P backed onto Barker Stream, a tributary of Castle Frank Brook.
Like the other A&P stores, the opening of the Dufferin store featured contests and giveaways, including “free Cokes for everyone!” It also praised its car-friendly qualities: a giant parking lot, parcel pickup, and “all roads in North West Toronto” led to it. This automobile haven was in the immediately geography too; directly next to the A&P was a drive-in ice cream spot, Tastee Freez. An archival image of the Dufferin A&P offers a comparison with the image in the 1958 ad; the stores are very similar with a noted difference being the positioning of the logo’d tower.
Today, the A&P store is a Lady York Foods, an Italian grocery store. A Dairy Queen is now on the same lot as the former The Tastee Freez. The transformation to Lady York Foods is particularly intriguing because it represents the general shift in demographics in the Dufferin-Lawrence area: The community is largely Italian-speaking.
Do you remember these three A&P super markets or any other early A&P stores? Leave a comment below!
Riverdale Avenue is located in the namesake neighbourhood of Riverdale, an area in the east end of the old city of Toronto. Found a short distance north of Gerrard Street East, the street runs about a kilometre between Broadview Avenue and Kiswick Street (between Pape Avenue and Jones Street). Riverdale Avenue is layered in its development with lost and gained extensions, buried waterways, and disappearing transit lines.
Riverdale Avenue was historically located on lot 14, a 200-acre parcel granted by John Graves Simcoe to John Cox in 1796. It was situated roughly between Broadview Avenue to just west of Logan Avenue, south of Danforth Avenue to the lake. The John Cox cottage, built before 1807 and currently the oldest home in Toronto still used as a residence, sits on the property.
By 1815, the lot passed on to William Smith, which was then subdivided to his heirs in 1839. The 1860 Tremaine’s Map shows the property attributed to Thomas S. Smith. By 1878, the Illustrated Atlas of York County shows the property was divided further: the bottom two-thirds went to B. Langley (possibly for the namesake street currently on the street) and a road with smaller lots. The atlas shows the community around the lots was Don Mount and a post office was located at today’s Queen and Broadview.
In the 1884 Goad’s Map, the street in 1878 had a name: Smith. It is also labelled as Plan 373. The street stopped at the lot line, roughly two thirds to Logan Avenue. Also in 1884, Don Mount, now going by Riverside, and the lands east to Greenwood Avenue were annexed by the City of Toronto.
By the 1890s, Smith Street was extended into Lot 13. Between Logan Avenue and Carlaw Avenue, only the north side of the street was built as the south side constituted part of the William Harris Estate. The property also had a part of Holly Brook, also known as Heward Creek, running through it, which may or may not have impacted its later development.
Smith was also interrupted at Carlaw by another section of the Harris Property. A house now with a street address of 450 Pape Avenue was built on the lot in 1902, now known as the William Harris/Cranfield House. On the other end of the property at Pape, Smith Street continued in a separate section until MacDonald Street, now Kiswick Street.
The Lost Riverdale Avenue
In August 1887, the Board of Works recommended the opening of new street, free of cost to the city opposite Smith Street on the other side of Broadview Avenue; this was the first Riverdale Avenue.
The new street was proposed to run “…from Broadview Avenue to a connection with a street leading westerly through Riverdale Park to a new 50 feet street on the east side of the new line of the Don River, giving a connection with Winchester street at the bridge…”. In September, the motion to open the street was passed. It was surveyed with lots and appeared on maps in the 1880s and 90s. The 1895 City of Toronto Directory shows “a lane”, possibly referring to Riverdale Avenue, listed under 380 Broadview Avenue. The address also hosted six residents, Riverside Park (seemingly used interchangibly with Riverdale Park), Isolation Hospital, and Vacant Lots.
In 1903, a by-law was inexplicably passed to close the street. Interestingly, in April 1904, Riverdale residents complained “bitterly of the odors” in Riverdale Park from the burning of garbage in the park’s dump “on the extension of Smith Street”. It is unclear if this was Riverdale Avenue, but the street did not appear on maps for much longer after 1903. Riverdale Park was a garbage dump from around the turn on the century to the 1920s; green pipes found today on the property are exhaust tubes for methane.
A New Riverdale Avenue
In the first decade of the 1900s, ‘Riverdale’ came into common use to refer to the neighbourhood. Riverdale Park itself was used since the late 1870s and the park was officially opened 1880, so the neighbourhood was seemingly named after the park, rather than the more obvious reverse. In 1905, Smith Street from Broadview Avenue to Carlaw Avenue was renamed to Riverdale Avenue, taking over the name of the closed street it was once connected to. East of Pape, the road was still Smith Street. A confused rider of the streetcar on Broadview wrote to The Star in 1906 asking about the renaming as some trolley drivers still referred to the street as Smith, while other drivers used the new name. The newspaper set the record straight: west of the intervening Harris property, the street was Riverdale; east of it was Smith Street.
By 1913, the south side of Riverdale between Logan and Pape, part of the Harris Estate, was subdivided under plan 445E. The move allowed for the extensions of Langley Avenue, Victor Avenue, and Simpson Avenue across to Carlaw. The circumstances surrounding this development are unclear, but the branch of Heward Creek/Holly Brook which ran diagonally through the lot stopped appearing on Toronto maps around this time according to Lost Rivers Toronto. Leslieville Creek, which ran through Smith Street, was also potentially buried in the 1910s.
In 1922, Riverdale Avenue was finally extended into the remaining Harris Estate east of Carlaw. The property was subdivided into lots under Plan 587E; some of it became the yard for Pape Avenue School. It was also one of the few remaining tracts left in Riverdale as most of the district by then had been subdivided and redeveloped. Growth in North Riverdale was aided by the opening of The Prince Edward Viaduct in 1918.
The extension was instrumental in Toronto’s transit expansion: it provided a key east-west link for a streetcar line on Pape and Carlaw in an growing, under-served part of the city. Langley Avenue was considered in the role in during World War I, but the idea was rejected by residents as it passed by the school; it even got as far as putting up trolley poles before the plan was nixed. The Globe reported in December 1922 that even with the line, development had yet to come to street. Even though water and sewer lines were passed on the street, there were no sidewalks and only pavement for the tracks. In effect, the corridor was a streetcar right of way. This sparse development would be rectified in short time as the 1924 Goad’s Map shows a very built-on Riverdale Avenue.
The tram line was eventually absorbed into the Harbord car and followed a winding route through Toronto’s west, central, and east areas. The line closed in 1966 and its tracks were removed. Finally, Riverdale Avenue was completed with the disconnected section of Smith Street from Pape to Kiswick being absorbed by and renamed to Riverdale around 1926. Ahead of its renaming, The Daily Star provided some funny commentary.
The Three Riverdale Avenues
Today, Riverdale Avenue can be thought of in three sections based on their histories and geographies: Broadview-Carlaw, Carlaw-Pape, and Pape-Kiswick. Each have distinct visual differences and vibes which point to their layered development.
The western and oldest part of the street between Broadview and Carlaw is narrow, accommodating only eastbound, local traffic. Trees hang over the road in several spots making for a quaint stroll. It boasts houses mostly dating from the 1880s to the 1910s with oldest homes located on its north side near Broadview — the old Lot 14 — including two heritage homes: 1885 William Jefferies House and 1890-91 John Vick House. The south side between Logan and Carlaw as the ‘youngest’ with mostly 1910s constructions.
Riverdale between Carlaw and Pape makes up the avenue’s ‘newest’ and busiest section. The houses lining the street are semi-detached bungalows built in the 1920s. Whereas Broadview-Carlaw is a local road, this central section is more of a through street with four lanes at its widest to accommodate parking, heavier traffic, and public transit, such as the Pape bus and its predecessor Harbord streetcar. Travellers coming from Broadview or Logan might note how Riverdale ‘opens up’ at Carlaw with its larger road surface and fewer trees. They would also see how this middle section is slightly misaligned with the rest of the avenue because of its width.
Finally, from Pape to Kiswick, the street mixes the qualities of the other two sections. It offers two-way traffic like the Carlaw-Pape section to the west, but is narrow like Broadview to Carlaw. The residences themselves are mostly Edwardian detached and semi-detached homes from the 1910s and 1920s, offering a middle ground in age in the three sections.
With its history and environment, the storied Guild Inn is one of the most unique places in Toronto. Its ninety-year history has evoked a lot nostalgia, both for its visitors and the city’s built heritage as a whole.
The Guild Inn sits on a tract of land that was known as Lot 13 Concession C on Scarborough’s waterfront. It was part of the Scarboro Village Post Office Community. The lot was owned, among others, by the Humphreys family in the 19th century.
The Guild Inn story begins in 1914 when the property came under the ownership of General Harold Child Bickford. He built a 15-bedroom, two-winged house on the parcel, naming it Ranelagh Park. The home would later go on to be known as The Bickford House.
The Guild of All Arts
In July 1932, Rosa Breithaupt Hewetson bought the Bickford House and the 40-acre property. Together with her new husband H. Spencer Clark, they began to transform it into The Guild of All Arts.
The Toronto Daily Star described its early concept:
“A unique venture into realms of co-operative living will shortly be attempted by a group of Toronto writers, artists, professors and business men, in protest against the standardization of art, education and industry in modern life….
‘The movement is not communistic” was the first declaration.”
Toronto Daily Star, August 27, 1932
Two notable artists who worked at the Guild of All Arts at some point were English sculptor Dorothy Dick and Hungarian-born Torontonian Nicholas Hornyansky.
The Guild of All Arts was accessible south of Kingston Road via a side road (possibly today’s Livingston Avenue) that “twisted into a low forest and glided least into a clearing 1,000 feet from the edge of the cliffs”.
A column by ‘The Homemaker’ in the Daily Star in April 1933 set the scene:
“About forty acres of beautiful countryside, bordered by steep cliffs running down to the water’s edge, surround the house and the barn, which members of the community have been making over into homes, studios, and workshops.
Everywhere there were fine stone fireplaces. In one upper room, beautifully proportioned, we found, under the rafters, a large loom set up, and the weaver ready to talk to us of the possibilities of Ontario wool and Ontario flax – possibilities still, apparently, in the infancy of their development.
About twenty-two residents are not on the place, including a goodly number of children, and visiting children were fascinated by the perfect playhouse that had been built for them. It did seem a fine atmosphere for children, with so much of the real country about them and the real fundamental activities of life from which to learn their lessons, tangible and otherwise.”
Toronto Daily Star, April 29, 1933
The Guild Inn began as this artists’ colony, a legacy that is perhaps not as visible in the current incarnation of the property. The Osterhout Log Cabin — along with The 1940 Sculptor’s Cabin near the north entrance of the property — is one of those remaining markers. The Osterhout Cabin came with the Bickford property when the Clarks bought it. It later served as the work place for sculptor-in-residence Elizabeth Fraser Williamson. A plaque dedicated to her is displayed nearby. A marker about the log cabin itself places the construction as the oldest building in Scarborough dating to 1795, but further research has rather placed its origin to the Humphreys family in the mid-nineteenth century.
The Guild Inn
By the end of the 1930s, the Clarks began to make The Guild of All Arts into The Guild Inn, running it as an event space and country inn, a rural getaway atop the Scarborough Bluffs. In the following decade, they expanded the building and its operations, making it a vacation destination for bridal couples and more.
In the latter part of and following the end of World War II, the Guild Inn’s operations were interrupted to aid in the war effort and recovery. Its building and grounds were leased by the Clarks to the Department of Pensions as a ‘convalescent home to restore the health of men nerve-shattered in the Canadian armed services”. The arts were part of the process.
In the 1950s, the Clarks sold the hundreds of acres they acquired near the Guild Inn to a developer to build a new planned community. Spencer Clark managed the project. The new community was called Guildwood Village and opened in the late 1950s.
Guildwood Parkway runs through the centre of Guildwood Village, curling south from Kingston Road. Part of the road was renamed from Eglinton East, a severed section of the main road to the west. The neighbourhood entrance at Kingston is adorned by the salvaged former gates of the Stanley Barracks (New Fort York). Running off the side of the parkway were curving, tree-lined residential streets, one of which is Toynbee Trail, which hosted a series of model homes collectively called the Avenue of Homes.
Several landmarks opened in the early years along Guildwood Parkway: the Guildwood Presbyterian Church, the Guildwood Village Shopping Centre, and Sir Wilfred Laurier Collegiate. Interestingly, the school’s opening in 1965 seems to have coincided with the closure of four streets east of Livingston and south of Guildwood Parkway. These streets, particularly Woodvale Road, ran right up to the Bluffs.
The Sculpture Garden
On the Guild’s grounds themselves, the Clarks had great plans as well. In 1958, The Globe reported that “a funicular railway, an outdoor Amphitheatre that will seat 1,500 persons, and a copy of the Hampton Court maze” were part of “the third stage of Spencer Clark’s dream”. The incline railway would have ran 300 feet from the top of the bluffs to the base where a cabana night club would be located. It was never built. The maze, however, did become an attraction in the early 1960s and onwards. The amphitheater would have to wait. In 1965, they also added a six-storey hotel addition.
Perhaps the biggest change was the addition of a unique sculpture park. In the 1960s, Spencer Clark began to collect architectural fragments from demolished buildings in and around Toronto. His method was laborious:
“Sometimes it meant standing all day long, often in a bitter winter wind, cajoling, begging and bribing workmen to bring them down, from some great height, in one piece. This would be after Mr. Clark had arranged with the wrecking company for the purchase of the piece. But the final arbitrator was the man swinging the wrecker’s ball, he discovered. And once down, these enormous pieces – each weighs anywhere from half a ton to six tons – had to be carted many miles to the collector’s Scarborough property.”
The Globe and Mail, August 6, 1970
More than just preserving the intangible heritage of the buildings, Clark’s goal was to save the craftmanship and skill inherent to the buildings, an objective which directly fit in with the initial vision of The Guild Of All Arts. The collection is a notable what’s what of iconic former Toronto landmarks:
The Banker’s Bond Building, formerly at 60 King Street West
The Temple Building, formerly at Bay Street and Richmond Street West
The Old Toronto Star Building, formerly at 80 King Street West
The Old Globe and Mail Building, formerly at York Street and King Street West
Victoria Park School (S.S. 23), formerly at Victoria Park Avenue and Highway 401
The Granite Club, formerly at St. Clair West near Yonge Street
The Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building, formerly at 90 Albert Street
In 1977, with the Clarks growing older and business costs rising, the couple sold the Guild Inn to the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and Metro Toronto City Council. The goal was to protect the site by keeping it in the public trust. Spencer Clark had been thinking about how to best ensure the Inn and its grounds’ future, including a plan in 1971 to bestow some lakefront parkland to the province.
Clark continued to manage it for another five years, however. In 1982, in time for the The Guild of All Arts’ fiftieth anniversary, they added the park’s centrepiece: The Greek Theatre. The sculpture was made from salvaged columns of the Bank of Toronto building, formerly at King and Bay Streets, which was demolished to make way for its ambitious successor, the Toronto-Dominion Centre. The theatre is located on the former spot of the Hampton Court maze. It serves as a backdrop for performances and photoshoots.
A Future Uncertain
From the 1980s, the prevailing theme surrounding the Guild Inn was its future. In an interview with the Globe and Mail in 1981, Mr. Clark himself expressed his desire to “make sure they don’t change this place into just another commercial motel or glorified hamburger stand.” Rosa Clark died in that year, followed by her husband five years later. The City of Toronto leased the site to a developer who managed and operated the Inn. It was a money-losing operation in need of repairs until its closure in 2001. Although the park remained opened, the Inn was boarded up while proposals came through about how to revitalize it.
In 2017, the Guild Inn finally reopened as an event venue to much adulation. The 1965 hotel was demolished and in its place a new modern entertainment space was established. The Clark Centre for The Arts opened in 2022 as cultural facility in a 1960s era storage building on the property.
The City of Toronto continues to manage the grounds with the advocacy, help, and promotion from The Friends of Guild Park. The group’s motto for the park is ‘Where Art Meets Nature’, which neatly captures intersection park and its great trails with the artistry all over the grounds and its in history. Today, The Guild Inn Estate is a marvel for visitors old and new who may get a taste of its past and present.
The Hill District in Toronto is a lost neighbourhood — well, somewhat. The name may not be in prominent use, but its geography is certainly still there. The events of the 19th century and early 20th century that led to the rise of this interesting district involve pre-historic escarpments, stately houses, prominent Torontonians, unbuilt plans, and more.