The focus was on neighborhood street shapes and open spaces as families and individuals know these through daily activity: What are the routes you take through the streets? What are the spaces in which you linger?
A visitor who is organizing a social ride for this summer for the advocacy group, Cycle Toronto Ward 21 posted this notice at market square:
Do you have a favourite back alley or laneway? One with character, good graffiti, history or something of interest? Help me map out a back alley cycling tour. email me at email@example.com thanx Jude
market square will be contributing local history questions for the fifth annual Trivia Open Night fundraiser for Wychwood Open Door on February 22, 2014 at the Barns see http://www.wychwoodopendoor.org/
Life at the City Edge
The origin of street shapes and open spaces in our neighbourhood through the photographs of William James for The Toronto Daily Star 100 years ago
For William James, the top of Bathurst Hill offered an excellent vantage point on the city. To get here he would have walked from his home on Major Street along Harbord Street and taken the streetcar north on Bathurst to the Toronto Railway Company’s last stop, at the foot of the hill. He used Wychwood Bracondale and its surrounding area to record the type of change that was taking place in the other newly annexed districts of the city. His documentation of modest and grandiose residential building projects is a record of the moment when the fabric of our neighbourhood was woven.
James arrived in Toronto from England in 1906. Having been an amateur photographer, he saw an opportunity to turn professional when stereoscopic cards, postcards had become popular and pictorial editions of newspapers were being launched.
The Toronto Star Weekly, a weekend edition of The Toronto Daily Star, was first published in 1910. It chronicled city life with vivid images, occasionally sensationalist writing and a strong human interest focus. The Star had highest circulation among Toronto’s handful of dailies.
below “Press photographers (1907)”
“reducing grade on bathurst street looking north” below, documents the achievement of an important step in the struggle to connect the Wychwood Bracondale district to the larger city. The steep grade of the Davenport embankment made Bathurst Hill a difficult climb for all horse drawn and motor vehicles. With the 1909 annexation of the district, road improvement along with other infrastructure enhanced the quality of life and triggered a building boom here.
In this moment of radical physical change to the city,The Toronto Star Weekly ran a photo feature “Old and new landmarks” to orient readers to the changing landscape. Many Torontonians were transplants from the countryside and would have recognized isolated relics of farming history.
“Last Toronto snake fence in Toronto, Gwynne Estate, Dufferin Street”
Fences were used to mark property boundaries and protect fields from animals. Snake fences were a sight in common in pre-Confederation Ontario. Their material and design reflect the large size of farm properties and abundance of wood. By the 1870s snake fences were considered to be wasteful of fields and timber and by 1913 they were admired as memorials to a past rural world.
The pattern of roads in Toronto was set in through the system for the division of land for settlement. Rural roads were maintained by farmers whose properties bordered on them. The major roads of the urban street grid plan emerged from this land survey checker board.
North of the city boundary at Queen Street, the land was divided into 100 acre “park lots” to and then from Bloor Street to St. Clair Avenue into larger 200 acre “farm lots”.
A typical farm lay-out echoed the geometry of the land survey. The “bush” was at the back of the property. A tree-lined drive from the public street led to the house surrounded by the outbuildings, barn and kitchen garden.
“Wychwood street through orchard (1907?)”
Wychwood Avenue–the remains of an orchard is incorporated into the design of the street–a merging of rural and urban landscapes.
“A street in Earlscourt (Toronto) 1910?”
Farms were sliced up and sold as individual building lots or planned residential subdivisions.
Wychwood Park, just west of Bathurst and Davenport, was a private community for artists. It was designed to feel as though the cottage-style homes there had existed in the forest setting for centuries. The spring-fed pond at its centre and the road that circled the park focused residents inwardly, away from the area transforming around it.
“Residences in Wychwood Park, Toronto, the Only Private Colony of Its Kind in Canada”, The Toronto Star Weekly October 26, 1912
Garrison Creek, between Christie and Dufferin Streets, flowed through settler John Bull’s large property, inspiring the farm’s name, “Springmount”, that was passed on to one of the streets built on the buried creek.
Farms were subdivided into building lots and, before the 1909 annexation, sold without access to city services. Low taxes and the possibility of building a home out of wood rather than the more expensive brick, the only alternative in Toronto, attracted many buyers.
Land speculators sold market-garden sized building lots by appealing to workers’ desire for self-sufficiency at a moment when food prices were rising steeply. They also promised buyers that, as others joined them in the outlying districts, they too could act as “subdividers” by selling portions of their land as smaller building lots.
Once annexation was assured, a different form of subdivision began to shape the neighbourhood. Land, especially along the top of the Davenport embankment, attracted developers who had the funds to put together more elegant subdivisions. The value of properties rose exponentially with the addition of parks, sidewalks, street lamps, mature trees and strict building restrictions that guaranteed the construction of large brick homes.
In general, the straight streets emerged from farms while the curving ones were carved more artistically from large estate properties situated in the rise above the city. A founding partner of Wychwood Park broke off his segment of land converting Braemar Avenue to, Braemar Gardens, a crescent of homes in the typical garden fronted house phalanx that turned its back to the park and connected to the thoroughfare, Christie street.
The winding Davenport Road marks the edge of a pre-historic lake. It evolved from aboriginal trail to settlement route to commercial toll road that was, by 1913 a suburban road with a streetcar line that connected this area with the factories in the Dupont and Lansdowne area. Farmhouses were still visible on the edges of its embankment-hugging route.
East of Spadina and north of Davenport street patterns were affected by the Nordheimer Ravine.
This estate, from which the ravine gets its name, was built by the largest manufacturer of pianos in Canada at a moment when piano were a must-have item for every respectable home. The southern tip and stream of the Nordheimer Ravine was buried in the 1970s when the Spadina subway line was built.
Another ravine-set private park estate was “Ardwold”, home of Sir John Eaton and Lady Eaton on Spadina Road.
“Beautiful New Home of Toronto Merchant Prince” The Toronto Star Weekly June 29, 1912
Ardwold Gate, like Casa Loma, became too expensive to maintain with the post-Annexation rise in the tax rate. Unlike Casa Loma it was razed and the land sold to developers. The shape of the carriage drive is the only remnant of the home of “Toronto’s merchant prince”.
Road widening and streetcar line installation on St. Clair involved moving massive amounts of earth. The connectivity of the road and transportation system trumped that of the ravine system and Nordheimer was truncated from Cedar Vale Ravine.
Below in a “Old Landmarks Giving Place to New” photo spread in The Toronto Star Weekly, July 19,1913 it is announced that Sir Henry Pellat’s Casa Loma, on Spadina Road rising above Davenport, is near completion.
Another photo is captioned “The Site of the Civic Car Barns for the Car Line on St. Clair Avenue, Toronto “The corner of Bracondale and Benson avenues on the Bathurst Street hill, Toronto, which the city is about to expropriate as a site for car barns for the St. Clair avenue civic car line. The St. Alban’s Cricket Club is opposing expropriation. The building at the right is the Edwards factory. Bracondale avenue, the street on the left, leads south to Wychwood Park, the beautiful little private…”
Toronto’s transit system grew from an assortment of private companies developing their own lines into districts that had sufficient guaranteed ridership to turn a profit. Toronto Civic Railway was set up as an agency of the City to install and run the St.Clair streetcar line and so spur economic investment and settlement in its newly annexed north west region.
1916 Toronto streetcar routes map produced by Chiclets company (detail)
The mash-up of transit lines as well as the cost of electricity was such a source of discontent that there was a widespread call for utilities to be regulated and run by City owned companies.
In 1913 Home Smith struck a deal with the City, in exchange for road and other infrastructure along with annexation of the Bloor-Humber district he would donate valuable park land along the river which, with some expropriation of adjoining lands, the City could transform into a landmark scenic drive.
“The Beautiful Bend in the Humber at Bloor Street—one of the prettiest spots on the Humber River is the valley in which lies the much discussed property of Mr. Home Smith’s syndicate.” The Toronto Star Weekly October 12, 1912
Sir Henry Pellat’s venture into park subdivision development involved a proposal similar to that of Home Smith. The City would provide services and a scenic road along the Cedar Vale Ravine and Connaught Estate Park would be an important scheme of civic beatification, connecting city dwellers to the natural topography within city boudaries.
Cedar Vale bridge opening, June 5, 1913
However, City council was already over-extended. It had agreed to extend sewers north on Yonge Street to North Toronto and already having moved on Home Smith’s proposal it was wary of further costly commitments.
The Toronto Daily Star July 22, 1913
The traces of the Connaught Park Estate can be seen at the entrance gate and boulevard at the intersection of Claxton and Bathurst Streets. A local history group organized to restore the gates. Interpreting their significance Terry McAuliffe wrote, “These stone and iron gates , a developer’s folly, …were to be a grand entrance to an immense subdivision named Cedar Vale, that was to stretch from Vaughn Road to Eglinton Avenue, and about half as far west. This boulevard, to be named Connaught Drive after the Governor General of the day, was to progress majestically to a rather ornate circle, then veer right to cross Cedarvale Ravine and march proudly all the way to Eglinton Avenue.”
Read about this local history landmark: Connaught Gate History