In 1873, Charles McBride built the most imposing commercial establishment yet seen in the neighbourhood: a substantial two-storey hotel on the west side of Yonge Street just south of Fairlawn.
No other building between the Lawrences’ farms and Hogg’s Hollow was as significant as the new Bedford Park Hotel. The stretch’s original hotel, the Durham Ox, just to the south, had perished in flames several years earlier, and James Metcalfe’s fine estate south of that had also been gutted by fire.
The question is: where did McBride come up with the name Bedford Park? It was a name that would spread to a street to the south, a post office at the corner of that street, and, ultimately, the whole community. The Bedford Park garden community in London, England, was still two years away from inception. The Bedford Parks in Illinois, the Bronx and Australia also did not yet exist. Whether McBride borrowed the name from elsewhere or created it, Bedford Park continues to be name most often used to define the neighbourhood.
Innkeeping was not new to Charles McBride. In 1858 he purchased the infamous Montgomery Tavern, site of the one major skirmish in Upper Canada’s Rebellion of 1837. Renaming it Prospect House, he managed it (or rented it out) for the next decade. York’s Township Council often held its meetings there.
McBride’s great-grandfather was the original doorkeeper and caterer to the first Legislative and Executive Council of Upper Canada. His grandfather acquired a huge farm in Willowdale where Charles grew up. It faced today’s Mel Lastman Square and stretched east all the way to Leslie Street.
In the early 1870s, Charles bought the farm on Yonge Street between Fairlawn and Brookdale that ran west in a narrow strip to today’s Falkirk Street. He then purchased the 26-year-old Finch’s Hotel at Yonge and Finch and promptly tore it down so he could use the timber to build his Bedford Park Hotel next to his farmhouse.
It was a grand wood frame building, boasting a two-storey porch and ornate metal eavestroughing. Additional rooms extended north over the driving sheds, giving the hotel an expanse that dwarfed the quaint bungalow farmhouse to the south.
For 35 years it thrived as a hotel, until 1908 when the area’s vote to prohibit the sale of alcohol turned the building into a temperance house. In keeping with its dry status, the Bedford Park became the first home of Fairlawn Avenue United Church seven years later.
In the 1930s, storefronts wrapped themselves around the front end of the hotel, burying the once imposing structure. And there the Bedford Park remained hidden until, exactly 100 years after its construction, it was replaced by a four-storey building now occupied by Black’s Cameras.
This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Community Life.