Philip W. Ellis, the visionary brother

When Philip W. Ellis purchased the old Metcalfe property south of the Bedford Park Hotel in 1889, he ended the pattern of Toronto businessmen buying land in the area to serve as country estates or hobby farms.

For James Metcalfe, who died a few years earlier, ‘Knockaloe’ was his luxurious country escape from the grind of working in the construction business in the city. For Alfred St. Germain, owner of the property north of the hotel, his 200 acres represented his reward to dabble at farming after a competitive career running a newspaper.

But for P.W. Ellis, the pastoral area held the potential to support his vision to create a community of 1,500 bungalows with a large local industry as its centerpiece. He was Bedford Park’s first developer.

No one had any reason to doubt his “Bedford Park Company’ proposal would materialize. He was president of the largest wholesale jewelry business in the country, with a firm employing more than 100 people at Yonge and Temperance streets in Toronto. And he looked the part; an imposing, handsome man with a full tailored beard – looking remarkably like King George V (although the future king at this point was only 24, nine years younger than Ellis).

‘PW’ was born in Toronto in 1856, the son of W.H. Ellis of Liverpool who made his money creating The Penny Post, Toronto’s first cheap newspaper. Despite training as a teacher at the Toronto Model School, young Ellis chose instead to apprentice in the jewelry business. He rose through the ranks until forming his own firm, P.W. Ellis & Co. in 1872 with his twin brother Matthew.

Ellis embraced the potential of real estate in the late 1880s and bought the 100-acre farm wrapped around today’s Woburn and Bedford Park avenues. Along with Matthew and younger brother William, he created the Bedford Park Company.

Ellis set about fixing up the old Metcalfe mansion. Gutted by fire two decades earlier, the three-storey home had been abandoned. He poured money into it to bring it back to life.

But by 1895, he was starting to lose interest in the neighbourhood, turning the house and day-to-day property management over to his brother William. His interest waned further three years later when the Town of North Toronto torpedoed the idea of building a factory in the small community even though the residential lots were starting to sell.

Back in Toronto, Ellis’s biggest accomplishments were still in front of him. In 1905 he became a member of the province’s Hydro Electric Commission and the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park Commission. His passionate belief in the potential of hydroelectricity resulted in his appointment as the first chairman of the Toronto City Hydro-Electric Commission (now Toronto Hydro) in 1911. He played a major role in its ambitious first project to install 100-watt streetlights every 80 to 100 feet in the city, making Toronto envy of other big cities on the continent.

He turned his attention next to public transit, becoming the first chairman of the Toronto Transportation Commission (now the TTC) in 1921. The new entity had the challenge to puling together nine amalgamated fare systems that existed within the city.

In 1928, his wholesale jewelry firm folded (although the retail business Ellis Brothers continued until absorbed by Ryrie Birks in 1933 to become Birks Ellis Ryrie, and later, just Birks). The following year, still at the helm of the TTC, Ellis died.

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of Community Life.

Advertisements
Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 1:23 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

The Ellis Brothers propose the first subdivision

In 1889, York Township Council was presented with a registered plan that proposed to turn the pastoral farming area north of Yonge and Lawrence into a busy factory/residential development.

Behind the plan were the enthusiastic Ellis brothers, wholesale jewellers from Toronto. They had recently purchased the decaying Metcalfe estate (where Blessed Sacrament Separate School now stands) and the more than 100 acres that went with it.

Most of their property was open pasture, providing lots of space for their Holstein cattle. But Philip William Ellis and his younger brother William Gordon Ellis had bigger plans in mind. Along with another brother, an uncle and other investors, they formed The Bedford Park Company and were proposing to carve their farm into 1,500 small housing lots with 20-foot frontages. These would be strung along two roads – Woburn Avenue and Bedford Avenue – running from Yonge Street west to today’s Bathurst Street.

The company’s name was probably borrowed from the Bedford Park Hotel to the north of the Ellis holdings. The office was located on Adelaide Street in downtown Toronto, just east of Yonge.

Any buyer interested in a lot would have an opportunity to place a bid on a specific piece of property during one of the company auctions. The successful bidder could then purchase the lot for $120, requiring a down payment of 60 cents, with payments of 60 cents every Thursday until it was paid off – presumably in less than four years.

The Ellis brothers hoped to attract buyers looking for cheaper prices on the outskirts of Toronto, people willing to commute into the city to work. It would mean residents would have to make the one-kilometre walk down and up the hill to Glengrove Avenue to catch the horse-drawn streetcar to Toronto. But there was every reason to believe that the service would eventually extend north into the new community.

The Ellises also hoped to attract buyers who wanted to not only live, but work, in the community. That was the thinking behind the proposed factory in the plan. What kind of factory doesn’t seem clear. Perhaps Philip and W.G. wanted township approval before getting into specifics.

It was an ambitious plan, but it collided with the recession that was starting to grip the country (sound familiar?). The intention to start building homes in 1891 didn’t happen. When Bedford Park became part of the Town of North Toronto in 1892, the brothers received approval for the housing plan. But the buyers were slow in coming. By 1897, there were still only 33 families in the area. And the following year, the town vetoed the proposal to build a factory.

Sales started to pick up; houses started to pop up along Woburn. By 1907, the company was still actively advertising the development to potential buyers. In 1912, there were still only 100 families in the whole area, which meant fewer than five per cent of the lots were occupied.

By the 1920s, many of the lots were filled with tiny white bungalows. However, none of those countless bungalows with their original white wood-frame siding exist today.

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Community Life.

The neighbourhood named after a hotel

BedfordParkHotel1915

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.

Published in: on June 30, 2009 at 6:30 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Confederation & Bedford Park

1867Families in the Bedford Park area grabbing a TTC family pass on Canada Day to head for Queen’s Park’s free entertainment, rides and crafts are repeating the very same excursion taken by area families 140 years ago.

July 1, 1867 may have marked Canada’s transition from colony to nation, but for the farm families north of the Lawrence properties it was a day off from chores. Many of them hopped into their wagons and buggies to make the trip down Yonge Street to join in the planned celebrations. They passed through the villages of Eglinton, Davisville, Deer Park and Yorkville on their way to the city.

The party would have been underway for hours by the time they arrived. Celebrations began the previous midnight with the tolling of the steeple bells at St. James Cathedral. A 21-gun salute took place before dawn, followed the long slow roasting of a whole ox over a bonfire; it would later be carved up and distributed to the poor. The 9:30 morning service at the Mechanics’ Institute behind the cathedral to bless the new Dominion was also likely over.

But there was probably still time to catch part of the military parade down city streets and join the picnics taking place down by the lake. A highlight was taking advantage of special boat trips around Toronto’s islands.

In the evening, many moved on to Queen’s Park to hear the concert band. As the sun set, Chinese lanterns added a fairytale atmosphere to the park. For those farm families prepared to make a late night of it, there was fireworks before they had to make the long trip back up Yonge in the dark.

It’s probable that two of the neighborhood’s most prominent landowners stayed overnight in Toronto in order to take part in a special banquet at the Music Hall above the Mechanics’ Institute. William McDougall and James Metcalfe, both Members of Parliament for the new Canada, likely watched as the featured speakers — John A. Macdonald and George Brown — buried their longtime political rivalry and concentrated on optimistic rhetoric to capture the excitement achieved in creating a new country.

McDougall didn’t spend much time on his farm at today’s Yonge and Ranleigh streets. He was actually representing Lanark County in Ottawa and had just been appointed to be Macdonald’s Minister of Public Works. Across the street from the McDougall farm was Metcalfe’s Knockloe estate (on the site of today’s Blessed Sacrament school). As president of the Royal Canadian Bank, Metcalfe had been encouraged to run for federal office for York East. He now represented all of York County east of the Yonge (on McDougall’s side) as well as Yorkville, Scarborough and Markham.
The MP for the west side of Yonge was William Pearce Howland, a prominent miller on the Humber River and finance minister in the former colony of Canada. He was named a minister in Macdonald’s cabinet, but would soon step down to become Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor.

Canada was now a country, but the cluster of farms north of the Lawrences wouldn’t become a village for another 25 years.

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Community Life.

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

James Metcalfe: peacocks roamed his farm

1858The story goes that James Metcalfe, on returning to Toronto in 1858 from Australia, gave a large banquet to which he invited all the people he owed money at the time he’d left about five years earlier. Under each guest’s plate was a cheque for the full amount owed — with interest.

Whether true or not, the anecdote nicely captures the highs and lows of Metcalfe’s varied career. At the time of the dinner — if it happened — he was definitely on one of his highs, busy building an impressive new home on a farm property north of Lawrence. Located on the site of today’s Blessed Sacrament Separate School, the impressive two-and-a-half storey estate was surrounded by landscaped gardens and a menagerie of exotic Australian birds: peacocks, cockatoos and pheasants. Everything was fenced in, including his prized horses and Holstein cattle, with the Crown jewel being his garishly carved white gates on Yonge Street, imported from England.

He probably never envisioned such wealth when he arrived in Canada West as a 19-year-old in 1841. Over the next 10 years he built a solid reputation as a contractor, having a hand in building St. James Cathedral and St. Lawrence Hall. One of his last projects was the quick construction of Trinity College on Queen Street, an alternative university established by Anglican Bishop John Strachan’s in response to the sectarian status given to the new University of Toronto by the provincial government. The original college is long gone. All that remains, perhaps no surprise, is Metcalfe’s monumental gate, sitting at the south end of Trinity Bellwoods Park.

In 1851, he dissolved the business. It was heavily in debt and he decided now was a good time to take advantage of the Australian gold rush. With his wife, Ellen Howson (probably a distant cousin) and their three-year-old son James, he ended up in Melbourne where his silk purse turned out to be not gold, but more construction. In a four-year period he built many of Melbourne’s impressive civic buildings before deciding to return to Canada.

As Metcalfe adapted to the life of a country squire in the Yonge-Lawrence area, he continued his contracting work and branched out into real estate. It was a comfortable life. In 1864 he became a local Justice of the Peace. The next year he was elected president of the Royal Canadian Bank. With the creation of Canada in 1867, he was urged to seek election as the first Member of Parliament for York East. He represented York East as the Reform Party member for the next 11 years, winning two elections by acclamation.

But, one year after Metcalfe was first elected, his house on Yonge Street caught fire. Rather than attempt to rebuild, he abandoned the blackened hulk for a new address in Yorkville.

He never returned to the community, died in 1886 and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. His son became a Methodist Church minister. His Yonge Street estate was later restored to its former glory by the Ellis brothers, who sold it in 1926 to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

The photograph of James Metcalfe is from Archives Canada.

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of Community Life.

The Durham Ox, the neighbourhood’s first real hotel

1840Yonge Lawrence Village – the business improvement area stretching up Yonge Street, from Lawrence to Yonge Boulevard – boasts more than 300 merchants and businesses. In the early 1800s, the same stretch of real estate never had more than one or two businesses.

It was a rural area devoted to farming, not commerce. Any business that did turn up was usually a sideline activity for the farmer owning the property. In 1799, Duke William Kendrick operated a shortlived potash business on his farm near present-day Cranbrooke. Soon after, Seneca Ketchum had more success when he opened a small store to the north of Kendrick’s property. It was the pioneer version of a convenience store, offering settlers boots, woven goods, meat and a myriad of other items.

When James Nightingale bought the old Duke William farm in the mid-1830s, he served as a butcher for his neighbors. It was the same butchery that was used by the Reformers who drove area cattle to the spot during the Rebellion of 1837.

A few years after the rebellion he bought about three acres at the south end of his property on Yonge Street, just north of today’s Woburn Avenue for 400 pounds. Here he built the first major business in the area: a two-storey whitewashed tavern which he named The Durham Ox.

Nightingale’s hotel — a name that seemed to find more common use than the official name — was the most substantial watering hole north of Eglinton before travelers descended to Anderson’s Tavern in Hogg’s Hollow. There was food and drink on the main floor and beds to rent on the second. A pump out front was popular with travellers and their horses. Attached to the north end of the building were sheds offering protection for carriages and wagons.

Thomas Nightingale was the inn’s landlord and it’s not certain if James took any active role in its operation. Within four years, James had actually sold his farm to Joseph Beckett, but Nightingales continued to own property in the area. Ignatius Nightingale bought the farm stretching from St. Germaine to the crest of Hogg’s Hollow in 1853. In the 1870s there were still Nightingales farming along Yonge.

John Miller took over The Durham Ox in 1857, but he probably didn’t take an active interest in it for long, because within a year he was managing Charles McBride’s new Prospect House, built on the site of the old Montgomery Tavern near Eglinton.

Perhaps it was just as well; the community’s first substantial hotel burned to the ground not long after.

Photo: This view of the Durham Ox Hotel was sketched in the early 1900s (long after the disappearance of the building) by Bernard Gloster. ©Toronto Public Library.

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Community Life.

Published in: on February 17, 2008 at 11:08 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,

Yonge Street never popular as a toll road

1837As angry farmers trudged out of Hogg’s Hollow on their way to Montgomery’s Tavern for the primary battle of Upper Canada’s Rebellion of 1837, it’s unlikely they were stopped at the toll-gate on the hill’s crest.The toll-gate, located near today’s Loblaws, was a tiny two-storey building on the west side of Yonge with a roof stretched over the roadway to a support on the far side.

Pedestrians were exempt from paying the toll, but the gatekeeper usually collected a few pence for a horse-drawn carriage by extending a bowl out the window in rougher weather. Some keepers may have extended half a coconut shell, although it’s doubtful coconuts were an easy commodity to come by. If the keeper was on duty in winter, sleighs were charged a similar toll.

The gatekeeper was usually a local landowner who had won the bid for the government contract. He was typically poorly paid, but one keeper — a local chicken farmer — complemented the wage by selling eggs to travelers and locals. Another keeper, Charles McBride, later became the owner of the local Bedford Park Hotel.

Initially, the tolls were used to help pay for the transformation of Yonge Street from mud to crushed stone. The street’s first toll-gate was erected at Yorkville in 1820, and 10 years later the second one, in our neighbourhood, was built. Three more turned up later, at Gallow’s Hill (just south of St. Clair), and at Langstaff and Elgin Mills roads.

But the income collected never came close to matching the construction costs — not surprising since travellers weren’t keen on paying to use a road that wasn’t yet fixed. In 1837 it was necessary for the government to kick in an extra £100,000 to keep the construction moving.

West Rouge tollboothBy 1845, the government cut off further funds and construction stopped. As a result, fewer people used the road north of Toronto and it became necessary for the government to compensate the gatekeepers who often didn’t collect enough to make it feasible.

To get out of the financial quagmire, the government sold Yonge Street (along with Dundas Street and Kingston Road) to a private company. But the resurfacing continued to absorb cash until the company defaulted on its interest payments, passing the roads back to the government. In 1865, the gates were sold to York County — for a quarter of the price they were worth 20 years earlier.

Over the next 30 years, opposition to the gates continued to mount because the collected tolls were no longer being used to maintain the roads. So, the government abolished them in the 1890s. Toll-roads disappeared for the next 100 years. With the advent of tolls on Highway 407 in 1999, coconut shells were replaced by transponders.

The Kingston Road toll-gate was very similar in design to the one that stood at the top of Hogg’s Holllow near today’s Loblaws.

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of Community Life.

Published in: on January 28, 2008 at 3:13 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

The Rebellion of 1837

1837In the first week of December 1837, community residents watched as a growing number of rebels streamed down Yonge Street — recently paved with crush stone — for an inevitable conflict with the government.

Some residents, like James Nightingale the butcher (at Brookdale Avenue) sympathized with the rebels’ frustration with the Family Compact that was tightly controlled by the colony’s wealthy families. Others, like farmer Peter Lawrence (at Lawrence Avenue), were appalled that citizens would resort to violence in opposing the crown and the Lieutenant-Governor.

Rebellion marchersThere were more than a hundred of them on the Sunday — rebels armed with pikes, pitchforks, clubs or rifles — coming from the townships to the north. They were seizing Tory sympathsizers as prisoners along the way. Their destination was Montgomery Tavern on the site of today’s post office at Yonge and Montgomery, just north of Eglinton. The impressive inn boasted 27 rooms on the main floor and 19 on the second.

But as big as the inn was, there was a problem. Rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie wasn’t expecting his supporters to gather until Thursday. He was unaware that some of the rebel leaders had advanced the order to march by three days to maintain the element of surprise. So, Montgomery Tavern had neither the space nor the food for the growing crowd.

By Tuesday, small groups of rebels were sent out into the neighbourhood to track down more food. Some of them made their way back up Yonge Street. One brigade seized meat from Nightingale’s slaughterhouse. Another group took cattle from the Ketchum family farm north of today’s Blythwood Road and herded them up to Nightingale’s.

Over the next few days there were several military skirmishes to the south in Toronto, incidents that were usually followed by hasty retreats back to the inn. By Thursday, government troops and Tory supporters arrived just south of today’s Eglinton Avenue and set up their cannon.

A direct hit into the wall of the tavern sent the rebels scattering. The Tory prisoners still being held in the tavern’s ballroom were brought outside by David Gibson and Leonard Watson to be marched back up Yonge. Gibson, a local politician and surveyor, was a one of the rebel leaders. Watson was the contractor who had just that year turned Yonge Street from a mud road into one with a hard surface.

They used that hard surface to take the prisoners about a kilometre north, hiding them behind Samuel Huson’s impressive new farmhouse in Lawrence Park. Once it was clear that troops were continuing to move north, the decision was made to release the Tories.

But the situation remained tense. One of the rebels, 21-year-old William Alves who had been an employee at Montgomery Tavern, aimed his gun at prisoner Archibald Macdonell, a Toronto wharf owner who had been captured Monday night. Macdonell grabbed another guard’s gun, forcing a standoff. He told Alves he regreted that he and others had taken up arms against the government. “It is a glorious cause,” replied Alves. “and I will die for it.”

However, Alves, Gibson and the other rebels took off, heading north past Lawrence’s farm and Nightingale’s slaughterhouse. Alves was captured and ordered transported from the Canadas for 14 years. Gibson escaped to the U.S. after his home was burned by the troops. He returned in 1849 and built a new house on his property which is now the Gibson House museum a block north of Mel Lastman Square.

Sketch (about 1921): The March of the Rebels upon Toronto in December, 1837, by C. W. Jefferys, from the Government of Ontario Art Collection

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of Community Life.

The Lawrences

1829For 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.

John Lawrence farmIt 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.

Published in: on December 24, 2007 at 6:09 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

“When I was your age, we had to walk miles to school!”

1816The Bedford Park neighbourhood didn’t acquire its first public school until 1911 — conveniently enough, called Bedford Park School. So, what exactly did not-so-eager young minds do about getting a formal education in the 100 years before that?

They walked or rode long distances to get to schools in other communities.

The first opportunity to go to school within trekking distance came in 1807 when the area’s merchant — Seneca Ketcham — along other members of the Church of England, opened a school in Hogg’s Hollow. The one-room log cabin was located near the river behind today’s Miller Restaurant.

It was an opportunity that didn’t last long. In less than a decade it was an abandonned, derelict building.

However, another school opened in 1816, this time on the east side of today’s Bayview Avenue, just north of Eglinton. It doesn’t seem to have had a name, but may very well have had a number — the usual way of identifying schools in the 1800s. This academic initiative survived much longer, eventually being purchased by York District Council in 1847 and replaced with a brick building three years later.

This second school was the site of many heated debates about the merits of Egerton Ryerson’s concept of free schooling. Toronto businessman Jesse Ketcham (Seneca’s brother) probably visited the school on a number of occasions to champion the idea of accessible education funded by government. Many local farmers banded together to loudly protest such a radical idea.

In 1817, the walk to school was somewhat reduced for those choosing to attend a school that opened in the Lawrence-Bathurst area. Like the first school, it doesn’t seem to have been around for long.

The fourth school worth the hike was opened on Yonge Street at St. Clemens Avenue in 1842. Actually, it wasn’t worth the hike to most folks in the area. There was nothing wrong with the school. Farmers still didn’t put much stock in schooling that prevented farm chores from getting done. One year of schooling was considered more than enough.

A large brick building, called Eglinton School, was built on Erskine Avenue in the 1880s to replace the St. Clemens location. The school is now known as John Fisher.

Catholic and high school students had to wait to 20th century to find schools within arduous walking distance. North Toronto Collegiate opened in 1910, while St. Monica’s in the same area opened six years later. Lawrence Park and Blessed Sacrament wouldn’t arrive until decades later.

When Bedford Park School opened in 1911, it was the pride of the neighbourhood with its imposing facade and large hallways. (Those same lofty hallways became the bane of the school 85 years later when the Harris government’s space use formula forced the Toronto school board to consider shutting the building down.)

As the community grew, so did the school. In 1927, students attending class in portables transferred to the new John Wanless School west of Yonge. The portables were moved to Strathgowan Avenue to house still more Bedford Park students who waited five more years for the opening of Blythwood School.

It was a surge in enrolment caused by a community that was now more urban than rural. Universal education meant all children were attending school, not just a few who evaded helping with the crops.

This article, written by Gary Schlee, originally appeared in the Winter 2005 issue of Community Life.