What’s the most colonial representation of colonial Toronto in Toronto? It might be a street marker built into the corner of a George Brown College buiding at Frederick Street and Adelaide Street East.
But the marker itself doesn’t read Frederick and Adelaide; rather, it reads Frederick and Duke. Frederick is still Frederick, but Duke doesn’t exist anyore.
The laughable part of this intersection is it was at one point named entirely for the same guy: Prince Frederick, The Duke of York of Great Britain.
At the time Duke and Frederick were named, the settlement containing them was also named for Duke Frederick: The Town of York. The Duke never visited the town named for him or likely had any direct role in its formation or growth. The British locales contained in his title also got a street name further west of the town – York Street. The Duke was also the son of KingGeorge, the reigning monarch at the time of the town’s founding, who had at least two other street names – King and George – named directly and indirectly for him.
And even more, nearly every street in early York was named by another Brit in charge of this colony: John Graves Simcoe, who didn’t like the indigenous name for the region — Tkaronto. Instead, when setting up his new town and the first few streets in it, he felt it more worthy honouring a man from his home country who scored a victory in his own continent as well as after other members of the British nobility and royalty.
The Town of York would revert to its indigenous name, albeit with an English spelling – Toronto. Duke Street would merge with and take on the name of the nearby rerouted Adelaide Street, named for another royal who likely didn’t have any contributions to the city either.
As a layered bonus, this wasn’t even the first time Duke Street was involved in a name change. The original Duke Street was today’s King Street. The original King Street was Palace Street, today’s Front Street. The Duke Street before this northern re-shifting was Duchess Street, named for the Duke’s royal counterpart. Duchess would move up a street too. It also merged with and took on the name of nearby Richmond Street. The streets of the original blocks of Toronto clearly had a colonial theme.
But today, the marker at Frederick and Adelaide Street still reads Frederick and Duke, still honouring the same guy.
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.
Victoria Park is a quaint public square located in downtown Brantford. It is found in the square block bordered by Market Street, George Street, Wellington Street, and Darling Street. While the park is in itself interesting, the surrounding streets and sites make for an interesting wander through Brantford’s past and present, and colonial and indigenous roots.
The square’s origins are from Lewis Burwell’s 1830 Town Plan of Brantford, a scheme that laid out the village’s original blocks. It provides the genesis for Brantford’s central grid system and lays out its street names as well as some of the city’s original landmarks.
It was not the first survey of Brantford and white settlers were living in Brantford prior to 1830 along with Indigenous peoples, but it was still an important development. Victoria Park appears as Municipal Public Square.
Although Victoria Park was laid out in 1830, it wasn’t fully landscaped until 1861. Its designer was John Turner and its diverging paths are intended to mimic the Union Jack flag.
A statue to Mohawk Leader and Brantford’s namesake Thayendanegea – anglicized name Joseph Brant – stands boldly in the centre of the park. The monument was unveiled in 1866 as a tribute to Thayendanegea’s allegiance to the British crown. The Brantford area was inhabited by the Haudenosaunee in 1700s. Brant himself is central to the city’s story in he ceded some lands for the place.
Facing the park on Wellington is the imposing Brant County Court House. The land was set aside in 1830 Town Plan and the building was designed later in 1851 by park designer John Turner.
The Brant Court House dons the Palladian style and is notable for its grand construction, great columns, and amazing symmetry.
The court house property takes up an entire block backing onto Nelson Street. A Jail and Registry Building make up other notable parts of the complex.
Opposite the Court House on its Market Street side is the Bell Telephone Company of Canada Building. Brantford is the “Telephone City” and the childhood home of the famed Alexander Graham Bell who lived on the outskirts of the city. The Bell Building is quite imposing and is highlighted by its clean grey facade and large central. Reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial, a monument to the inventor sits at its entrance.
On the other side of the court house is a complex consisting of municipal and provincial offices at George and Wellington Streets. The impressive complex was built in 1967 in a textbook Brutalist style and offers a modernist layer to the old square. Until 2021, this was the location of Brantford City Hall; it has since moved to the 1913 Federal Building at Dalhousie and Queen Streets.
The corner has a plaque about the Founding of Brantford, which notes Six Nations ceded the land for the city and the role of railways, agriculture, and industry in the city’s development.
Prior to 1967, Brantford City Hall was located several blocks to the south at the historic Market Square. Like Victoria Park and the Court House, this square was included in 1830 Town Plan. The hall was also designed by Turner. Today, Eaton Market Square stands in its place.
Finally, facing into Victoria Square on its eastern side is the former Brantford Public Library. Built in 1904, its erection was facilitated by a donation from the famed Carnegie family, who funded the construction of many libraries in Ontario in the early 20th century. Today, the building is a satellite campus for Wilfred Laurier University.
The stunning library somewhat echoes the Classical stylings of the Brant County Court House with its own great details, including a grand dome and large windows adorned with the names of iconic historical authors.
Many other sites can be found in and around Victoria Park Square, including a historic water fountain on its west side, several churches — some converted and some modernized — with historic ties to Brantford on the park’s east and south sides, and a gorgeous Bank of Montreal building on the southwest side.
The square and its surroundings have been made and remade through its life. All these buildings — and even lack of buildings (i.e. parking lots) — were one-time additions which changed the complexion of the park at various times. The park’s purpose as a public square remains today, so that original piece of history stands today for Brantford.
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.
In rough terms, the Hill District can be found from Avenue Road to Bathurst Street and the Canadian Pacific Railway to north of St. Clair Avenue.
The “Hill” is the Davenport Road Escarpment, a glacial leftover of the old Lake Iroquois. It is also called the “Davenport” Hill or the “Spadina” Hill – words with Indigenous connections and origins. Davenport was an old portage trail; its name in Ojibwe is Gete-Onigaming: “at the old portage”. Spadina is a transliteration of “Ishpadinaa” or “a place on a hill” (meaning Spadina Hill actually means “Place on a Hill-Hill”).
In the 19th century, the area that would become The Hill District was mainly made up of grand, hundred-acre-and-more estates owned by prominent early Toronto settler families. These included the Baldwins, the Austins, the Wells, the Nordheimers, and more. By the turn of the century, the large, open estates began to turn to subdivided lots with the beginnings of a street grid.
At this point, developers and newspapers began to formally refer to and market the area as the “Hill District” — “the finest and will be the most exclusive residential district”. Advertisements attracted potential buyers to areas such as College Heights near Bathurst between St. Clair and Eglinton, Dunvegan Heights on Forest Hill Road, and Walmer Hill and St. Clair Park, both adjoining upscale subdivisions northeast of Bathurst and St. Clair.
Coinciding with the growth of ‘The Hill District’, areas were annexed by the City of Toronto in the first decades of the 20th century. This included the annexation of Wychwood and Bracondale in 1909, which included parts of the Wells, Austin, and Nordheimer lands. Also included were areas north of St. Clair and south of Lonsdale Road, between Spadina Road and Avenue Road.
There were three noted neighbours of the early Hill District. James Austin, founder of Dominion Bank, was the owner of ‘Spadina’, an estate purchased from the Baldwins in 1866. Austin built Spadina House, the third version of the Baldwin manor. It was the next generation of homes to experience the spectacular vista of Toronto from the hill.
In the late 19th century, the western part of the Austin estate was subdivided into lots with laying out of Austin Terrace, Walmer Road, and Spadina Road.
An interesting part of the Spadina story was the corridor leading from Davenport Road to Austin Terrace. Although the Baldwins laid out Spadina Avenue south to the lake, the right of way running north of Bloor faced the challenge of Davenport Escarpment. Here, a set of wooden steps was built in the place of a road. At the top, running adjacent to Spadina House and it gardens was a green right of way. In 1913, the wooden steps were replaced by a sturdier construction which offered a less steep climb. (They would be replaced again in the 1980s to give us the present Baldwin Steps).
In the middle of the first decade of the 1900s, the very-interesting industrialist and land speculator Sir Henry Pellatt purchased property from the Austin and Wells estates for the construction of Casa Loma. The first structures completed were Pellatt Lodge and the horse stables on Walmer Road in 1905. His grand ‘castle’, which translated to ‘house of the hill”, was completed between 1911 and 1914.
An interesting episode in the construction of Casa Loma was Pellatt’s desire to expand his property at the expense of the Spadina Road steps and right of way. The Globe reported on Pellatt’s proposal:
The Works Committee of the City Council displayed gratuitous toleration of Sir Henry Pellatt’s ridiculous proposal to close Spadina road to Davenport road, and sell the right of way up the hill to enlarge the building site…
…It would be, were Davenport road widened, as it ought to be, comparatively easy to make a carriage road up to the hill…Perhaps the fear of the effect of such improment on his propety is the real motive for Sir Henry’s proposal. Whatever it is, he cannot have at any price what he is asking.”
The Globe, June 3, 1911.
More than the objection from the Works Committee, residents were also up in arms about the prospect of their direct access to the Dupont Streetcar being removed.
Sir John Craig Eaton was the son of Timothy Eaton, the famed department store baron. In 1908, Eaton purchased and razed the ‘Ravenswood’ house and estate, part of the Austin property, and constructed ‘Ardwold’, meaning “high green hill’, which was completed in 1911. Like Casa Loma and Spadina, Ardwold became the social hangout of ‘elite’ Toronto.
Eaton also funded and constructed Timothy Eaton Memorial Church on St. Clair Avenue near Dunvegan Road, opened in 1914.
In 1916, Casa Loma Architect E.J. Lennox moved into ‘Lenwil’ at 5 Austin Terrace at Walmer Road, on 3 acres of land from the Wells Estate. Lennox previously lived on Sherbourne Street.
The Rise of The Hill
In the 1920s, The Hill District further filled out with stately residences, ornate apartments, grand churches, and new (and proposed) roads.
In 1925, the Toronto Transportation Commission began running a coach service to the Hill, running a bus from Bay & Albert Streets to the district via Poplar Plains Road and Warren Road to Lonsdale & Orioles Roads. It gave Hill residents an alternative to the St. Clair and Dupont cars.
As the Hill intensified, new roads were proposed. Many were built, but some remained as only plans. In 1912, the former Nordheimer estate lands were the site for a proposed alternate road to Poplar Plains Road. The new road would have ran northwest from Davenport and Dupont through part of the Austin and Eaton lands to meet with Spadina Road near St. Clair. It never materialized.
In late 1920s, during the conceptualization of the St. Clair Reservoir to be located under the ravine, the idea of a highway through the lands resurfaced once more. While the reservoir was built along with a new bridge on Spadina Road, the road never materialized. (It would be another twenty years before another much more consequential highway project through Nordheimer Ravine — this one cutting through the valley west of Spadina and Road and down the street itself.)
A particularly interesting project was the Peter Pan Statue in a parkette at Avenue Road and St. Clair Avenue. The College Heights Association funded the installation of the statue, which was a replica of the sculptor Sr. George Frampton’s work in Kensington Gardens in London. It was unveiled on the northwest corner of the intersection on September 14, 1929.
Along with the Peter Pan Statue, a fountain was unveiled on the northeast corner. A donation by H.H. Williams, it too was a replica of a fountain found at the Peace Palace at The Hague.
The Neighbours, Revisited
The development and re-development of the area atop the Davenport Hill in the 1920s and 1930s featured some noteworthy episodes. In 1923, twelve plots opposite Casa Loma owned by the Pellatts were sold to a developer. These were four lots fronting onto Austin Terrace facing the castle and eight lots fronting onto Spadina Road and Walmer Road. In 1928, a plan was in place to build 26 semi-detached duplexes on the site. The caveat was the area required a zoning change, which was put to a vote:
Opposed were the following: R. A. Jones, K. M. Scott, F. E. McMulkin, Charles E. Walsh, W. C. R. Harris, Mary A. Rea, A. W. Austin, Mary R. Austin, Wm. A. Logie, Albert H. Austin, E. J. Lennox, C. W. Hookaway, Eleanor Guerney, H. L. Mathews, Helen McI. Kelley, Marjorie C. Pellatt, E. A. Bott, J. A. Rowland, Charles B. Boeckh, D. Macdonald; in favour, Lady Eaton and Eaton estate, H. J. Long, H. M. Pellatt, F. McMahon, and E. Renfrew.
Toronto Daily Star, May 19, 1928
Although not constructed until 1939, the homes were ultimately built along with a new road — now the appropriately named Castle View Avenue — connecting Walmer and Spadina. An aerial look at the subdivision shows a distinct departure from the surrounding neighbourhood and how the historic properties line inform today’s environment.
The land to the west of Casa Loma directly north of the escarpment was also redeveloped. By 1910, Austin Terrace was extended to Wells Hill Avenue. Austin Terrace west of Walmer Road was renamed to Theodore Avenue, but then renamed again to Wells Hill Crescent in 1914. By the end of the decade, Austin Terrace was extended to Hilton Avenue near Bathurst Street. Hilton Avenue would be absorbed into Austin Terrace by 1926, completing a route from Spadina to Bathurst.
Coincidentally, by 1923, the lot south of Austin Terrace and north of Davenport directly over the escarpment was bought for development. Austin Crescent was partially built to run south of Austin Terrace; it was later extended into the adjacent lot. Lyndhurst Court, the twinning cul-de-sac, was completed in the 1950s.
For the Eatons’ Ardwold, Sir John C. Eaton passed away in 1922. By 1936, his widow, Lady Flora Eaton, announced it no longer made sense to maintain the stately home as their children had grown up. The 11-acre was sold and subdivided into lots. The house was demolished, with its former site being located at the end of the cul de sac, Ardwold Gate.
The Other ‘Hill District’
North of St. Clair, The Hill District had a neighbour in Spadina Heights. The area was known as such since 1910, when the area organized into York School Section 30. In 1923, after a failed bid for Toronto annexation, the area re-branded and incorporated as the Village of Forest Hill. It saw annexation finally in 1967.
The Hill District at one time may have actually included Forest Hill. But as The Hill District came to refer to areas annexed by the City of Toronto south of Lonsdale Road, the areas to the north came to be their own region.
The Toronto Transportation Commission extended coach service to Forest Hill in 1925. Most of the street grid south of Lonsdale Avenue was filled with buildings by the time, and development moved north through Forest Hill later in the decade and into the next.
By the 1930s, The Hill District and Forest Hill became part of the next generation of ‘fashionable Toronto’ neighbourhoods, moving north from the lake. First there was Jarvis Street; then came Rosedale; then finally the Hills. For example, several Eaton houses were located along Dunvegan Rd in the 1930s, including Lady Eaton’s residence following her exit from Ardwold.
The Fall of The Hill District?
By the middle of the century, uses of ‘The Hill District’ diminished in the newspapers, possibly as other names gained prominence or the neighbourhood changed again. In modern times, the area is referred to with names such as The South Hill and Rathnelly. The City of Toronto in its neighbourhood profiles names the entire zone the “Casa Loma” neighhourhood.
Today, the Hill District is home to two amazing museum and event spaces, a stunning ravine, beautiful parks and parkettes, and thousands of people within its houses and apartment buildings — many with references to the escarpment and elevation. While ‘The Hill District’ may not be as prominent a name as a century ago, its legacy certainly lives on.
On November 17, 1919, The Globe ran an odd article about a scuffle in a Junction restaurant. The event highlighted how a restaurant worker, potentially an owner, asked some patrons to stop smoking in his establishment. The customers disagreed and threw his own plates at the man before fleeing.
While the events are bizarre, the article features several notable details that, taken with other sources and context, paint an interesting picture of historic Toronto. First, it informs of one of the first Chinese-operated restaurants outside the central core of Toronto and perhaps the first restaurant in The Junction neighbourhood. It references the Chinese population and restaurants of the city in the early 20th century. Finally, it alludes to the general depiction and treatment of the Chinese community at the time.
The first significant detail in The Globe article is the “restaurant at 2,904 Dundas Street West”. The name of the cafe is not given, but the potential proprietor is listed as a “Ying Buck”, who is unfortunately described as a ‘Chinaman’ and ‘Celestial’ with ‘Manchurian blood’.
The name of the restaurant in 1919 is tricky to identify. The City of Toronto Directory for the year 1919 lists a “Chinese Restaurant” at 2904 Dundas Street West. In the year prior, the address previously hosted a “Gus Freeman, restaurant.” The early City Directories did not explicitly name Chinese entreprises or their proprietors, which makes their identification through this source challenging. Eateries were simply listed as “Chinese restaurant.”
The actual name of the Chinese restaurant can be somewhat identified through other sources. The City of Toronto Archives displays a “Amo Cafe” in an image of Dundas Street West looking west of Mavety Street in 1923, which is consistent with the address 2904 Dundas West.
References to “The Amo Cafe” are scarce in other sources, but the next appearance of the restaurant were in October 1929. The Globe and Toronto Daily Star outlined another bizarre scenario in which the cafe’s owner, this time a Charlie Chong, was held up in front of patrons by two youths after midnight on October 28.
Several wanted ads connected to 2904 Dundas Street West pointed to the address as a Chinese restaurant. In May 1919, a restaurant at 2904 Dundas published a wanted ad for an ‘experienced waitress’, possibly at a time when the restaurant was recently open or about to open. In 1925, a chef at 2904 Dundas placed an ad looking for work, seeming self-identifying as ‘Chinese’ and ‘experienced.’
By the 1930s, the restaurant at 2904 Dundas Street West was finally named in the directories. First, it appeared as “Ging Ing restaurant” in 1931. Then by the middle of the decade, “Amo Cafe” is named with proprietor “Bing Ing” (possibly the same individual as Ging Ing). It is not clear whether what the restaurant was called between 1919 and 1922, but it was almost certainly a Chinese restaurant. The Amo Cafe is listed in the City Directories until 1969, the last year of digitized directories in the Toronto Public Library’s collection. It may have been open longer. Unfortunately, there are not many other details identifiable about the cafe, such as the menu, employees, or what it looked liked beyond some descriptions of the kitchen being located in the rear.
The other addresses and names outlined in the article also tell us a bit more about the world around The Amo Cafe in the Junction. While Ying Buck, the owner of the Amo Cafe, does not appear in any other sources, C. Ham – or at least his address – shows up in the 1919 City Directory. At 21 Hook Avenue, a Mrs. Margaret Ham is listed, which may be a relative of Ham. The surname appears to be of Chinese origin.
Detective Hazelwood and Police Station No. 9 are also in the sources. Hazelwood is named in several crime-related news items. The police station was also known as Keele Street Station. Dundas Street West was complete with many everyday establishments: eateries, butchers, banks, candy shops, bicycle shops, grocers, and more. The restaurant, the police station, and Ham’s potential residence could all be found in a kilometre radius.
The existence of the Amo Cafe within this Junction neighbourhood is particularly curious as it was not an obvious location for Chinese restaurants for the time. The 1919 City Directory had a subsection for Chinese establishments under its category of restaurants. In this subsection, 2904 Dundas West is the only restaurant listed on its street, and the only one listed outside of the core of Toronto. The majority of restaurants were listed under Queen Street, Yonge Street, and York Street. The early Chinese community settled in Toronto in The Ward on Elizabeth Street near Queen Street. It is not clear if there was a notable Chinese population in the Junction in the 1920s and beyond.
The diction and content of The Globe article is also worth mentioning, because it is unfortunately representative of media characterizations of the Chinese community of Toronto at the time. ‘Chinaman’ and ‘Celestial’, now racial slurs, were common descriptors. For example, there are 3,639 results for searches of ‘Chinaman’ in the The Globe’s newspaper archive for 1900 to 1929. Ying Buck’s “Manchurian blood”, although perhaps not a common racist phrase, is also a questionable choice of words as Manchuria is a region within China, but there are not enough details to know if The Globe knew of the man’s origin.
News articles about Chinese restaurants in Toronto in the early 20th century also seemed to lean towards unfortunate events, like the 1919 scuffle and 1929 robberies of The Amo Cafe. Even the headline “Chinaman Pelted With His Crockery” highlights a level of violence and sensationalism. Robberies, gambling and drug raids, mobs, fines, and explosions make up some of the topics of newsworthy events. There also seems to be a general sentiment of distrust of and mystery about Chinese establishments and the Chinese quarter.
Today, there are plethora of Chinese restaurants in Toronto. Its community is large and vibrant. Gains have been imperfect and disgusting societal biases still remain, but one can hope the world of today is a step up from the attitudes of the time of the Amo Cafe. In an interesting turn of events, 2904 Dundas Street West is a Chinese restaurant in 2022, resuming a century-old legacy for the historic property.
On February 18, 1963, The Toronto Daily Star ran an interesting article about new industrial buildings in Toronto. The piece highlighted the new refreshing look of modern factories.
The new plants were a departure from earlier, “blocky” factories, states the article. The new aesthetic could compare them to a church or a museum – works of art. Today, we might call this style “Modernist”. This may be a disputable point as Toronto’s Victorian and Edwardian industrial architecture is impressive, but the new factories in the post-war period certainly were of a different ilk.
The article interviewed architect James Crang, who made several interesting points. The looks of the new factories were marketing pieces. Their locations were on main roads, visible to the public — away from traditional locales next to railway lines.
Highlighted are several structures. Most notable is the Lido Industrial Products Ltd factory, found on Queen Elizabeth Boulevard in Etobicoke. Its interesting footprint is highlighted by the glass cylinder visible in aerial photos.
Unfortunately, it appears the Lido factory is no longer present, with the site now part of a commercial parking lot.
Webber Pharmaceuticals Ltd was located at 14 Ronson Drive, also in Etobicoke, and is adorned with arches. The building is still present too.
The Art Centre of Pringle and Booth photography services at 1133 Leslie Street in Don Mills is another structure that is still standing. It was built in 1959 and has heritage designation. It is now the Korean Canadian Cultural Centre.
Finally, Max Factor & Co. Cosmetics at 301 Danforth Road in Scarborough is also still standing under a different business.
The context of the article is quite important. Toronto was less than twenty years removed from the end of World War II. The city exploded with new populations and its geography was transformed to accommodate the change. Areas outside the old core of Toronto began to be redeveloped to house new communities and new industries — including these fancy plants.
In January, I looked at the origins of “Old” Streets of Toronto — that is, main Toronto roads that have the moniker “old” preceding their names. In many cases, these stories involved the re-routing of streets to create a more direct path for travellers. In doing so, the old paths were sometimes not eliminated.
Here are six (and a half) more “Old” Streets of Toronto and their quick histories:
Old Dundas Street
Year rerouted: ~1929
Historically, the main crossing over the Humber River on Dundas Street was located about two hundred metres south of the current bridge. This section of Dundas made up the old community of Lambton Mills and served as a main entrance into Toronto from the west on the Dundas highway. There were several versions of Dundas Street bridges here over the years — some made of wood, some iron, but all narrow for traffic and susceptible to the flooding waters of the Humber.
In 1929, a new high-level bridge was completed over the Humber. This altered the main course of Dundas Street to the north. The old course became “Old Dundas Street”. For nearly thirty years, the two Dundas Street bridges existed alongside each other. In 1954, the devastating effects of Hurricane Hazel left the Old Dundas Street bridge in a dilapidated state; it was finally demolished several years later. Today, Old Dundas Street exists on both sides of the Humber River mostly as a quiet residential street. Lambton House, a historic inn turned museum, is a leftover of Old Dundas Street and Lambton Mills’ prominence.
Old Weston Road
Year rerouted: ~1948
Weston Road takes an interesting route through northwest Toronto, running diagonally through its street grid from the historic town of Weston (makes sense, eh?) and creating some unconventional intersections. North of St. Clair Avenue, the route of Weston Road was historically located east of the present road on the other side of the train tracks. It made up the historic village of Carlton with St. Clair and Weston as its nexus. It is highlighted by the still standing, yet altered Heydon House Hotel, built 1890. Weston then ran south to join with Dundas Street.
Around the 1890s, another “branch” of the street was built north from Keele Street running parallel to the railway on its west side. This street took on the name “Weston Road South”. In the 1910s, the street was completed to join with the main Weston Road.
Perhaps because Weston Road South offered a more direct route south into the city, it formally became the more prominent road in the 1940s. First, an “Old Weston Road” began to refer to the section of Weston Road between the railway and Hillary Avenue. This meant that at one time a person could stand at the intersection of Weston Road, Old Weston Road, and Weston Road South. In 1948, Weston Road South became just Weston Road. Also, the entirety of the older eastern section of Weston Road was renamed Old Weston Road, save for the section between the tracks and Hillary which was added to Rogers Road. As the tracks to the south grew, the section of Old Weston near Dundas became severed from the rest of the road. Today, Old Weston Road is a mostly residential street.
Old Eglinton Avenue
Year rerouted: ~1957
For an east-west street that has become so vital to Toronto’s street grid and home to many neighbourhoods, it is difficult to imagine that Eglinton Avenue did not always exist in one harmonious stretch of road. However, it took some doing to make it into the street of today. Until the 1950s in the eastern half of Toronto, Eglinton Avenue terminated near Brentcliffe Road in Leaside and did not resume again until Victoria Park Avenue in Scarborough. The area in between them was about a five-kilometre stretch of farmland and two ravines — that is, both the east and west branches of the Don River. In the mid-1950s, a massive project was undertaken to join the two sections.
While an “Old Eglinton Avenue” seems to come out of the events of the 1950s, it seems a little unclear why. The street runs parallel to the “new” road for about half a kilometre west from Bermondsey Road. Like the surrounding area, it mostly houses industrial buildings. As Eglinton did not seem to exist between Leaside and Scarborough (at least not in any formal sense), the story of Old Eglinton is a bit of a mystery. Hiking The GTA has located an old roadbed for an “Old Eglinton Road“. This may have been a farm road or a line that divided farm lots. It is also notable how Old Eglinton Avenue aligns with a “pencilled in” Eglinton Avenue between Victoria Park and Leaside, so a theory may lay in that idea.
Old York Mills Road
Year rerouted: ~1972
The valley near Hogg’s Hollow has proven to be an obstacle to road transportation several times in its history. As I previously noted, Yonge Street was realigned in 1835 after skirting east to better tackle the West Don ravine’s topography. Because of this same geography, Wilson Avenue terminated at Mason Boulevard, meaning there was no direct east-west crossing at Yonge Street as we know it today. In 1972, a project was undertaken to extend Wilson to meet with Yonge and York Mills Road.
To make this extension happen, a curved road was constructed from Wilson Avenue which then crossed Yonge Street and joined York Mills Road between Campbell Crescent and York Ridge Road. This meant the straight section of York Mills near Yonge Street was effectively separated from the main route, becoming “Old York Mills Road”. Today, Old York Mills houses a trailhead, a passenger pickup zone for York Mills Station, a condominium, and a church.
Old Kennedy Road
Year rerouted: ~1987
Kennedy Road just north of Toronto is a prime example of how of a noticeable curve in a street sometimes denotes a street was re-engineered. Kennedy existed in two separate sections north and south of Steeles Avenue, the Scarborough-Markham town line. The roads were about six hundred metres apart, meaning a northbound traveller from Scarborough had to jog east and then north again to continue into Markham. The area as a whole is and was known as Milliken, a historic community with the uncommon characteristic of existing within both municipalities.
In 1987, the two sections of Kennedy Road were connected by a curving road running north from Steeles which veered east to meet the Markham section of Kennedy just north of the newly created Denison Street. The circumstances behind the re-alignment were unclear, but given Kennedy Road’s history as a ‘highway’ in Scarborough and the tendency in and around Toronto to harmonize streets within bordering jurisdictions, it is easily conceived why the jog was removed.
The eastern section of Kennedy became “orphaned” and was renamed Old Kennedy. Old Kennedy stops at Denison and continues on as Fresno Court, which in turn ends at a cul de sac. A fence separates it and Kennedy Road. Old Kennedy Road is an interesting mix of industrial and residential, with several older-looking houses near Steeles, perhaps lending back to the days when it was a hub in the village of Milliken.
Old Finch Avenue
Year rerouted: ~1993
Finch Avenue in Scarborough is relatively straight for much of its course from the North York town line to the Pickering town line — except in its most eastern part. Where Finch passed through Staines Road, the street at one time did a triangular job around the CPR tracks (the detour seems to have been created in the 20th century).
Further along, Finch did another jog up Sewell’s Road before meandering across the Rouge River and around its valley. It continued straight toward Kirkham’s Road (today’s Meadowvale Road). As there is today, there was an uncleared section of land across to Beare Road, thus one would have to jog up again to Plug Hat Road and back down to reach Finch again. The street resumed once more on its way to the Pickering Border. This stretch of Finch between Sewells and Kirkham’s made up the historic community of Hillside which had a church, school, and mill. The village made up much of the Rouge lands today from Sheppard Avenue/Twyn Rivers to Steeles Avenue.
By the 1980s, changes came to Finch Avenue. Morningside Avenue curved from the south to meet Finch. Then, in or around 1993, the street was extended further north of Finch. This changed the alignment of the Finch/Staines intersection and effectively split Finch Avenue. Travellers moving east on Finch had to now follow the curving street north to Morningside Avenue and then curve back south via the same street. The east-west street on the other side was “Old Finch Avenue”, following the older, winding alignment. Because of this, the street bunks the trend of “old” streets which were leftover sections of the re-routed street; there is/was not ever a “newer” Finch Avenue that existed alongside the street. Old Finch terminates at Meadowvale Avenue; after Beare Road, it becomes Finch again and continues into Pickering for another eight kilometres.
Today, Old Finch is mostly known for its ‘haunted’ Bailey bridge and being the northern border of the Toronto Zoo, whose postal address is 361A Old Finch Avenue. The reconfiguration at Staines also facilitated the Morningside Heights neighbourhood.
The Older Finch Avenue
Year rerouted: 1977
Old Finch Avenue in the Rouge Valley was not the first Old Finch in the city. There was once a severed section of the street near Victoria Park in the old community of L’Amoreaux when the street was realigned directly across the Scarborough-North York border. This curved realignment eliminated a jog along the town line for east-west travellers. This Old Finch Avenue was closed in 1977; Pawnee Avenue roughly follows its old right of way.
For a Google map of “Old” Toronto Streets, click here.
If you have any information to add or have any stories from any of these locations, leave a comment below or email email@example.com!
Toronto’s street grid is over 200 years old by colonial standards and even older with its Aboriginal trails. There have been additions and extensions, widenings and improvements. They have also been named to reflect the city’s past and present and it values (by those who do the naming, that is) – and to help the postal service.
The city is not a static object and neither are street names. Revisions and renamings have been an understated part of Toronto’s history. However, not all street renamings — proposed and actual — have gone over well. What is the mainly reason for this opposition? Simply put: History and Tradition. Whether successful or not, these episodes in Toronto’s history inform us how the city operated and why Toronto’s geography is as it is today.
Here are seven examples of controversial street name changes:
Old and New St. Patrick Street
In 1917, modern Dundas Street was created by amalgamating and connecting several smaller streets. One of these roads was St. Patrick Street, which ran between McCaul Street and Bathurst Street.
One group opposed to changing St. Patrick to Dundas was the St. Patrick’s Old Boys’ Association, which attended the old St. Patrick’s School on William Street. The group deputed to City Council, but was unsuccessful. The story was not all bad as William Street was later renamed to St. Patrick Street to keep the tradition.
In 1929, a dispute over the renaming of 54 Mimico streets spanned several council meetings. At issue, Toronto’s postal service requested the changes after Mimico and Long Branch were placed in the Toronto postal region. The difficulty was the added municipalities added duplicate street names to the region and potential confusion for postal workers. An ex-mayor attended a September 1929 council meeting arguing why the inclusion of ‘Mimico’ in the mailing addresses would not be sufficient enough for postal workers. Matters got heated in an October meeting when Mimico Mayor and Liberal candidate W.A. Edwards accused Minister of Health and Conservative candidate Dr. Godfrey of “insincerity” when Dr. Godfrey opposed the name changes when the mayor rejected Dr. Godfrey’s wish to have Stanley Avenue changed to Godfrey Crescent.
It is unclear whether the by-law change went through, but in the October council meeting, it was moved and seconded that a second reading for the proposed by-law change be conducted. The Mimico street grid remains generally intact since the 1920s, albeit with notable changes: Church Street is now Royal York Road, Salisbury Avenue is now Park Lawn Road, Brant Street is now Dalesford Avenue, and Winslow Avenue is now Douglas Avenue.
Long Branch Street Changes & Disappearances
In 1952, a ratepayers association in Etobicoke protested the changing of part of Lake Promenade Road to Island Road in Long Branch. Lake Promenade existed in two sections on either side of the main branch of Etobicoke Creek, running all the way to Applewood Creek. To eliminate confusion for postal workers, it was proposed for the western section of Lake Promenade be added to Island Rd, which it already connected to.
Residents of Island Road did not like the idea as a recent storm severely damaged and condemned several homes on Lake Promenade and the association with that event to their properties was unwanted. The change ultimately took place by 1955, although it ultimately did not matter as the fallout of Hurricane Hazel caused the expropriation of homes on Island and Lake Promenade near Lake Ontario and Etobicoke Creek, as well as the complete removal of Lake Promenade west of Forty Second Street, James Street west of Forty Second Street, all of Forty Third Street, and Island Road parellel to the lake. Today, much of the area is parkland.
The Pioneers of Scarborough
In 1957, Scarborough Council was tasked with submitting a list of alternate names for 210 streets duplicated elsewhere in the City. Metropolitan Toronto was standardizing operations and services across the city in the decade, including eliminating duplicates of street names.
Confusion over postal delivery was again at issue, but names on the list included Brumwell St, Cornell Avenue, Harris Avenue, Kennedy Road, Little’s Road, Lennox Avenue, Muir Drive, and Paterson Avenue — streets named for Scarborough pioneers. Most streets seem to exist today, save for Lennox Avenue and Agincourt’s Paterson Avenue, which became Reidmount Avenue.
The Many Orioles
In 1958, duplication was at issue again in midtown Toronto with a proposal to rename the similarly named Oriole Crescent, Oriole Gardens, and Oriole Road. The names were to become Holmfield Crescent, Lower Canada Gardens, and Campus College Road, respectively.
Fifteen “angry” women of the three streets united to protest the move, even going as far as saying they’d be willing to go to jail for taking down the new signs if they ever went up. They cited the beauty, history, and fame of the “Oriole” name and the inconvenience it’d cause for people living on those streets to having to change addresses on documents. Ultimately, the names remained as they were and as they are today.
A Mega-Maxome Avenue
In 1962, Willowdale residents protested the renaming and merger of Halstead and Maxome Avenue to Harkness Street. The three streets were disjointed and together would “form a mile long thoroughfare north of Finch Avenue.”
A resident of Maxome, representing 37 others on the street, argued the historical naming of the street, which was honouring a surveyor who laid out the original blocks of the area. Ultimately, the proposal did not go through. Curiously, Halstead and Harkness have disappeared from the map, having the name Maxome Avenue instead. Today, Maxome has a windy course, like it was strung together from a few different streets, creating a mega-street of sorts.
The family wrote North York Council a letter, outlining the connection and how several Scraces were even on North York Council. The street was renamed to Skymark after the development on the street, as the old street had a confusing spelling and was not easy to find. North York Controller Esther Shiner said the new name was “such a pretty name” and she would find something else to name after the Scraces. Of irony, Esther Shiner would later become the subject of a street herself.
“Citizens Protest Against Change In Street Name.” The Globe, 9 Oct. 1952, p. 12.
“’Godfrey Crescent’ Causes Verbal Tilt At Mimico Council.” The Globe, 15 Oct. 1929, p. 16.
“Keep Traditions: Opposes Renaming Traditions.” The Globe, 6 Mar. 1957, p. 4.
“Petty Politics Involved In Changing Street Names.” The Toronto Daily Star, 15 Oct. 1929, p. 5.
“Sees Lakeshore Trustees ‘Trying to Hoodwink Us’.” The Toronto Daily Star, 9 Oct. 1952, p. 26.
“St. Patrick Old Boys Form Strong Body.” The Globe, 7 Apr. 1917, p. 21.
“Street Name Change Bruises Family Pride.” The Globe and Mail, 10 Dec. 1979, p. 4.
“Street Name Change Fought By Residents.” The Globe, 8 Feb. 1962, p. 4.
“Would Go To Jail: 15 Angry Women Save Their Street Names.” The Globe, 5 June 1958, p. 23.
Note: This article is written without any prior affiliation to or contextual knowledge of the history of the Highland Memory Gardens or the family farms of North York. Their inclusion is as a reference tool to show change.
This is Highland Memory Gardens. It is located near the intersection of Don Mills and Steeles Avenues, in Toronto’s north end. The development of this cemetery and its surrounding area is an interesting look into the creation and evolution of this inner suburbs.
This is the area around Highland Memory Gardens in 1860. Historically, the area consisted of lot 21 (at today’s Finch Avenue) to lot 25 (at Steeles Avenue) of the Third Concession East of Yonge Street (Leslie Street), which were generally 200-acre lots extending to the Fourth Concession East (Woodbine Avenue/Highway 404). Notably absent is a middle road (now Don Mills Road) between the two concession roads. The cemetery itself is located along the east side of the top half lot 23 and the bottom half of lot 24.
As seen this 1878 map, the area was part of the larger community of L’Amoreaux (also spelled L’Amaroux). The village crossed both sides of the North York-Scaborough townline, with its spine running along Finch Avenue and lots extending to Steeles and Sheppard Avenue.
The L’Amoreaux Post Office stood just west of Victoria Park Avenue on the south side of a lost section of Finch Avenue (it would be re-aligned through the townline in the 1970s). Further west, a Methodist Church and cemetery, a Temperance Hall, and School House stood near Leslie Street.
Cutting diagonally through the large block was a creek, now named Duncan Creek. It ran from near Leslie and Steeles (where its namesake’s farming lots stood) to its terminus near Victoria Park and Finch. It does not to seem to have been a major source of industry, compared to the adjacent Don River which hosted a number of mills. In the 1916 map below, the creek slinks its away across lots, although its course is a bit off compared to the earlier maps and later aerial photographs.
This 1954 aerial photograph is a visual of the area and tells us that even by this decade, the area still maintained its largely rural character. A more precise view of the creek is visible along with the greenery running along its course.
For the area plot that would become the Highland Memory Gardens, 1953 was last year it existed as farm fields. A key reference point is the small roadway leading from Woodbine Avenue to a farm near the banks of Duncan Creek. This roadway was the divisor between lots 23 and 24.
The cemetery found a home to the west of Woodbine Avenue, with an entrance leading off the street. The initial layout of the cemetery is a circular path. Some “offshooting” paths seem to laid out as well.
By 1956, an “arm” shoots off the southern half of the main circle, looping west to connect to the main roadway.
By the close of the decade, the layout of the cemetery increased more with off shoots on the north of the main circle.
In 1962, more acreage is added westward and a pond on the north east corner of the plot seems to be more completed. The lawns of the ground look to be landscaped. A tiny building, potentially the administrative centre, appears at the top of the lot.
The midpoint of the decade saw few geographic changes, but the notable start of residential development to the west of the creek.
By 1968, the cemetery expands again to the west. It would be its last major territorial expansion. The subdivision to the west of the creek appears complete, clearly stopping at the property line midway between Woodbine and Leslie.
By the start of the 1970s, development starts to grow to the south of the cemetery, replacing the longtime farm buildings. An early Don Mills Road begins to curl in from the the south as well as an early McNiccol Avenue slinks from west to east.
By 1973, the farm buildings near the creek are razed as the land is about to be filled in by housing. The creek itself disappears under the subdivision to the south of the cemetery. The land north of the cemetery also sees new subdivisions.
By 1976, Don Mills Road is completed, seemingly bending through the area to provide a second access point to the cemetery. Townhouses are built between the creek and Don Mills Road.
By the 1980s, Highland Memory Gardens took on the form seen today. Highway 404 was completed in the late 1970s replacing the former Woodbine Avenue right of way. With that, the main entrance to the cemetery shifted to Don Mills Road with the old entrance off Woodbine being built over. Several other buildings would later fill the northeast corner.
Today, Highland Memory Gardens is part of the Hillcrest Village neighbourhood of Toronto, an area roughly encompassed by Steeles Avenue, Finch Avenue, Leslie Street, and Victoria Park Avenue.
The Zion Church and Schoolhouse still stand today as 19th century reminders, but references to the area as L’Amoreaux are non-existent today. The post office and its street are gone, with the Old Finch Avenue closed in 1977 and Pawnee Avenue roughly replacing it as the two Finches were connected. (The L’Amoreaux name does live on in Scarborough, of course.)
There is a trail and parkland which follows Duncan Creek; the Seneca Newnham Campus, founded in the late 1960s, now runs over a buried portion of the creek. The property lines of the 40-acre Highland Memory Gardens reference the old concession lots, offering a forgotten link to the past.
When one thinks of the history of Scarborough, the intersection of Midland Avenue and the 401 might not be the first thought. However, a site that once stood there for more the half the 20th century literally put the local community on the international scientific map. This was the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory.
The story of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory begins not in Scarborough, but on the grounds of King’s College in downtown Toronto in 1840. The school became the University of Toronto in 1850. Contrary to the dense district of today, the university was then sparsely populated – in other words, perfect conditions to minimize interference. The University granted 2.5 acres for a site that was located on the southwest side of today’s King’s College Circle.
The Globe described the laboratory:
“The first observatory was of logs, rough cast on the outside and plastered on the inside; it was completed during the summer of 1840 and observations were begun in September.”
The Globe, October 1, 1898
The second observatory was built in the autumn of 1853, replacing the wooden observatory on the same site. It was built of stone and the nails and fastenings were of copper and zinc.
In 1892, Toronto’s growing infrastructure began to spell the beginning of the end for the observatory. To be sure, as early as 1876, new structures on the university grounds began to impact the observatory, but it was nothing like the electric railway to come. Streetcars were electrified, first beginning with the Church Street line opened on August 17, 1892, and then the College Street line only steps from the building. Instead of recording magnetic changes, the observatory recorded the starting and stoppings of the trolleys. In 1896, Sir Frederick Stupart, the director at the observatory, took up the issue with the government. There would be no action until a report was received from a committee of meteorologists visiting from England that year. This report recommended the centre be moved far away — to Scarborough.
The observatory was relocated just south of the Agincourt Village centre at the current intersection of Midland Avenue and Sheppard Avenue where a Presbyterian Church and nearby Canadian National and Canadian Pacific stations stood. It was perfect in that no electric railway lines existed – at least not in seven miles and there was little prospect of any lines for many years (the railway did not interfere either). The observatory stood in a 4-acre field at the north end of the southern half of lot 16 (Midland Avenue) and Concession II (Ellesmere Avenue), belonging to the Forfar family. It was constructed over the summer of 1898 and opened in September. The first observations were made on September 10 and by the end of the month, all instruments had been moved from Toronto to the new site.
This Observatory was described in The Globe:
“…[It] consists of two parts, a circular stone collar nineteen feet in diameter, the walls two feet in thickness, the floor concrete and the roof covered with felt and gravel, in which on stone piers sunk in concrete to a depth of six feet below the floor are place the self-recording photographic instruments, namely, the declinometer for recording changes in the direction of the magnetic needle and the bifilar and vertical force instrument, for registering respectively changes in the horizontal and vertical components of the earth’s magnetism: above ground and connected with the cellar by a flight of steps is an erection which divided into two portions, in the larger of which absolute magnetic determinations will be made, piers being provided on which to place the necessary instruments, and an adjustable opening on the roof for transit work – and the smaller, an office, which will be heated by a copper stove.”
The Globe, October 1, 1898
The old Toronto Observatory continued to serve as the central office of the Dominion Meteorological Service. All photographic records from Agincourt were sent there for development. It also conducted astronomical studies. In 1908, the observatory was dismantled to accommodate an extension to King’s College Circle and possibly a new physics building. It was reconstructed brick by brick near Hart House, where it stands today as a students’ union. Some installations stand near its former location between Convocation Hall and the Sandford Fleming Building.
In 1899, severe earthquakes in Alaska were recorded at the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory. In 1903, the observatory recorded the largest magnetic storm on October 30 and 31, which Director Stupart “intimately” connected sunspots and magnetic disturbances on earth. The centre recorded more such magnetic storms attributed to sun sports on Aug 8, 1917. The Agincourt labs were useful in World War II against Germany for “calibration of master compasses and other apparatuses”.
The significance of the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory and its activities were very well documented and even world-renowned. In 1919, the Observatory was threatened by a proposed Toronto to Port Perry Hydro Radial, which had officials looking for a new site where electricity would not penetrate that observatory’s environment. It was of significant alarm as the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory was one of two of its kind in Canada and by far the more important of the pair. In 1957, a contagion of scientists from around the world visited Agincourt as a part of some sessions by the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics held at the University of Toronto. They asserted that they knew Agincourt better than Toronto as the village appeared in “thousands of International Geophysical maps” around the world.
Despite its importance, city growth once again spelled the end for the site. Meeting a similar fate to the Toronto Observatory seventy years before, the Agincourt Magnetic Observatory closed in March 1969. In the 1950s, Highway 401 was constructed next to the laboratory. Farms adjacent to the observatory began to turn into housing. Factories were built on either side of the property in the 1960s. On July 1, 1968, a new observatory opened in Ottawa. By 1971, the Agincourt structures were gone completely. Today, government offices stand in its place, hiding the great landmark once housed there.
“Astronomical Conversation.” The Globe, 21 Jan. 1903, p. 12.
“Chilly Weather.” The Globe, 14 Dec. 1898, p. 2.
Dobson, Jack. “Magnetic Observatory One of Canada’s First.” The Globe and Mail, 26 Nov. 1952, p. 3.
Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada. “Government of Canada / Gouvernement Du Canada.” Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Hazards Information Service, Government of Canada / Gouvernement Du Canada, 1 Mar. 2019, https://www.geomag.nrcan.gc.ca/obs/ott-en.php.