For nearly 100 years, various members of the Lawrence family played prominent roles as farmers and merchants at the corner of Yonge Street and the Fourth Concession. So, it’s not surprising that the concession sideroad eventually came to be known as Lawrence Avenue.
But long before that, the route went by a variety of names. When the first Lawrence — Peter — turned up in the neighbourhood in 1812, the pathway was often referred to as Hale’s road. Jonathan Hale owned an impressive 400-acre farm on the southwest corner of the intersection (now Lawrence Park). It was certainly much more impressive than the half-acre Peter occupied on the west side Yonge, facing Hale’s. Peter lived there with his new wife, Elizabeth Cummer (her Willowdale family would evenually have a street named after them as well!). By the 1820s he was operating a small tannery.
It wasn’t until 1829 that Peter had the means to buy his own farm, 95 acres on the northeast corner of today’s Yonge and Lawrence. Seven years later he bought the farm across the street on the northwest corner and was the local justice of the peace. He also played a key role in building the first Methodist church in the area, at the top of the hill south of his farm (at Yonge & Glengrove).
Jacob Lawrence, possibly a son, built a sawmill in the Don Valley (at today’s Glendon College) and eventually operated the tannery on the southwest corner of Yonge and Lawrence. Still another Lawrence — George — later ran a general store and post office on Yonge; likely on the Peter’s property.
William Lawrence, who was born the year his father Peter bought his first large farm, ended up marrying the granddaughter of Jesse Ketcham, an original setller in the area who went on to become one of Toronto’s first successful industrialists.
In 1865, William bought the north half of the old Hale estate for $8,400. It included the stately ‘Kingsland’ home on the crest of a hill, built by the previous owner, Samuel Huson. His wife eventually inherited The old Ketcham property next door (the south half of the original Hale farm) was eventually inherited by William’s wife.
He expanded the ‘Kingsland’ house and outlying buildings until they encompassed the entire inner circle of today’s Lawrence Crescent. An expansive treelined drive ran from Yonge Street up to the house. Today it is Lympstone Avenue.
His son, John, sold their estate in 1907 for $47,000 to Joseph Montgomery who, interestingly, flipped the property a year later to Erie Realty for $1 and “an unidsclosed consideration.” Soon after, it was pruchased by Wilfred Dinnick to form the centrepiece of his ambitious suburb development: Lawrence Park.
Even as elegant new homes began to dot the Lawrence Park enclave, the road along the northern boundary of the subdivision (Lawrence) was still a dirt road with meadow grass growing down the centre. It remained that way until the 1920s.
Photo: Harvest time at the John Lawrence farm on the northwest corner of Yonge and Lawrence about 1895. ©Toronto Public Library.
This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Community Life.