The 185-acre farm of former Toronto publisher Alfred St. Germain may have had a Yonge Street address, but the estate itself probably wasn’t visible from the road. Despite its vista view from a height of land, the house was buried deep within the property.
The farm lane — which, no surprise, is today’s St. Germain Avenue — ran west of Yonge for more than a kilometre. At the beginning of the lane, off to the right, was a small two-storey white house that likely served as a farm worker’s home. After all, St. Germain’s property was a ‘hobby’ farm, not the sort of place a retired businessman would be operating himself.
The worker’s house still stands, one of the oldest buildings in the area. Located on the west side of the alley behind the Yonge Street stores between St. Germain and Melrose, the house also once served as the manse for Dewi Sant Welsh United Church around the corner.
St. Germain’s farm lane continued west, past today’s Elm Road and up the hill to what is now Avenue Road. The house was probably located around today’s Safari Bar and Grill. In 1907, the Toronto World newspaper described the home as having “two acres of lawns and a gravelled driveway, together with a brick carriage house.”
In time, the carriage house probably served as a garage for St. Germain’s automobiles, like his Still topless auto — probably one of the first cars in the neighbourhood. His interest in horseless carriages was evident when he ran a newspaper ad in 1898 promoting his planned First Canadian Autocar that would hold 25 people and effortlessly chug up the hilly ravines north of his farm. Nothing seems to have come of it.
The Toronto World article went on to talk about the estate’s “well-kept garden, with 6 acres of orchard.” That apple grove, to the north of the farmhouse, explains the name of the street two blocks north of St. Germain — Old Orchard Grove.
Alfred St. Germain became one of the publishers of the Herald in his hometown, Kingston, while still in his early 20s. He left it behind to follow the promise of the California gold rush, and later ended up in Toronto where he started Canada’s first one-penny daily newspaper, the Toronto Evening Journal.
The newspaper, which supported the party of John A. Macdonald in its march towards Confederation, helped make St. Germain’s fortune by attracting plenty of advertising at low rates and serving about 5,000 readers. When he retired in 1882, he began buying up most of the property on Yonge Street’s Lot 8 West, north of the Bedford Park Hotel.
In the 1890s, St. Germain played a leading role in North Toronto’s opposition to the high fares, poor service and shady practices of the Metropolitan Railway Company that had recently extended its electric railway service past his estate to Hogg’s Hollow. His letter-writing campaign helped prompt an inquiry, but neither fares nor service improved much in subsequent years. It’s a good thing St. Germain had that Still parked in his carriage house.
St. Germain died at his farm in 1908 and the following year his property was sold to the Melrose Realty Company to create a subdivision.
This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of Community Life.