Q3. Which great event in Toronto's history influenced a boom in the brick making industry? (P32)
Brick Yards in Toronto's East End
After the Great Toronto Fire in 1904, houses and buildings were required to be built out of brick. The brick making business was in great demand.
During the early 20th century, there were at least 36 brick yards in and around the edges of Toronto, all making bricks for the thousands of homes and factories being built in and around the growing city. If you pay attention you will notice there are two major types of bricks, red brick and yellow (buff) brick.
In Toronto’s east end, two areas in particular had the type of soil ideal for making bricks: the Don Valley (where the largest Don Valley Brick Works was located) and the area between Leslie and Coxwell, which became Greenwood Avenue.
The clay along Greenwood was mined from local quarries, one located at Monarch Park, another at the site of today’s Greenwood Park. One clay bed, believed to be deposited by the ancient Lake Iroquois, was about 5 meters deep. Clay deposits in the Greenwood Park area are described by one writer: “The top layers of the peaty clay have been leached of any lime and consequently, the brick burns to the bright red colour.”
By 1870 a directory listed nine brick makers in Leslieville and between 1874 and 1880 several more opened. These yards were medium sized with about ten men who produced an average of one million bricks a year.
Once the clay was extracted, brick making was carried out at one of ten brick yards located along Greenwood Avenue. Along with market gardening, brick making became the main source of employment in Toronto’s east end, and apparently a constant source of dust and smoke!
By the 1930s, the clay deposits on Greenwood were almost depleted. Only Price's yard remained at 395 Greenwood, by then called the Toronto Brick Company, and it did not close until the 1950s. Some abandoned yards became housing sites, others were converted to parks, e.g. Morley's yard at Dundas Street became Greenwood Park and Wagstaff's Monarch Park. Today the only reminder of this once important industry are sloping contours of the parks and a few street names running off Greenwood – Wagstaff Drive and Sawden Avenue.
Brick Yards East of the Don River
Greenwood Avenue: more than just brick works.
Near the Greenwood clay quarry, a local businessman built a racetrack for car racing just before the start of World War 1. The large motor dome apparently attracted thousands of people. The track, was eventually sold and became the public park we now know as Greenwood Park, which opened in 1920. Just west of the park, a large sports stadium was built called Ulster Stadium (south of Gerrard St., between Woodfield and Greenwood). In 1930, the Canadian Football League tells us that Oshawa and Toronto Balmy Beach played each other at the stadium in the first football game to be held in eastern Canada under floodlights. The only reminder today is the Ulster Arms Tavern on Gerrard St. and the name “Athletic Avenue.”
Leslieville Stories References:
The Toronto City Directory of 1868
Goldsmith, Borgal & Company Ltd. Architects
Lost Rivers of Toronto
Greenwood Avenue’s history of bricks, by Gene Domagala
Toronto’s Little India: A Brief Neighbourhood History,
Bauder and Suorinneni, Ryerson University
The "Nabes" - Toronto's Wonderful Neighbourhood
Movie Houses, by John Sebert
Toronto Now and Then by J. Clarence Duff
Celebrating 75 Years, WoodGreen 1937-2012
The Danforth in Pictures - Toronto Public Library
Ray Corley's research published by Transit Toronto
Also thanks to Bruce King
Please send your comments about our featured articles to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also let us know what subject would you like to see in our future issues.