Attempting to describe what most Bedford Park area properties looked like exactly 200 years ago isn’t too difficult. Trees. And more trees.
Most of the land was still forest, covered with beech trees and some pine. The golden-bronze carpet of beech leaves on the forest floor was steadily turning brown in November 1804. The only break in the canopy of branches and pine needles was a single muddy road (Yonge Street) and a few paths, like the one along the Fourth Concession Line (Lawrence Avenue).
Clinging to Yonge Street were a handful of farms. The west side, north of Lawrence, had been the domain of the four Kendrick brothers. But most of them had left. Joseph had just sold his corner farm (northwest Yonge and Lawrence) to Duncan Cameron, a fur trader. His brother Duke still owned the next farm, but since the failure of his potash business (near Cranbrooke), he spent most of his time at his home in the Town of York.
The next farm was Kendrick property in name only. Hiram never occupied the site, instead renting it to Seneca Ketchum, who ran a thriving general store/tannery/cobblery/agricultural rental business. In fact, if the area farmers needed something, chances are Ketchum arranged to make it available.
Only John, the oldest Kendrick brother, still lived at his Yonge Street farm at the top of the hill overlooking what would later become Hogg’s Hollow. Just this month (200 year ago, that is), his daughter Mary married blacksmith Leonard Marsh who likely lived with his brother William on the north side of the hollow.
The east side of Yonge was an even quieter scene. The farm on the northeast corner at Lawrence had belonged to Bernard Carey, a United Empire Loyalist. But in 1803 he sold it to his son-in-law Jonathon Hale who would later buy the 200-acre farm south of Lawrence as well.
All the remaining land on the east side – from present-day Ranleigh to Loblaws – was still Crown land, waiting for the first settlers to hack a dent into the leafy canopy.
The season for farming was over for the settlers. As they headed into the winter, they used the time removed more trees and stumps, build bigger dwellings and out-buildings, and take on tasks, like weaving, to supplement the family income.
Yonge Street was everybody’s lifeline. There were plenty of farms to the north and south, so traffic wasn’t unusual. But it was excruciating. The road was nothing more than a morass of mud, ornery tree stumps, and potholes, all churned up by fall rains.
Settlers heading south to the Town York, or north to the new mills on the Don River, usually made the trip on horseback. The thought of slogging along Yonge in carriages and wagons wasn’t a welcome one. But, soon there would freezing temperatures and snow – and, once again, travelling on Upper Canada’s first ‘street’ would become easier, for riders and sleighs.
This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Fall 2004 issue of Community Life.