May 18th, 2022
Booming Village, a Pathway to 'big' York

Q3. What was Victoria Park Avenue called in the 1830's and what was it used for? (P12)

Booming Village, a Pathway to 'big' York

From Coleman's Corners to Little York

by Melanie Milanich (edited by Beth Parker)

During the time from 1870 to the 1920s, there was another electric village that grew along the east end of Danforth.

Clem Dawes, for whom the Dawes Road was named, a farmer like the Playters, ran a hotel on the northwest corner of Dawes Road and Danforth Avenue. Son, David, was a blacksmith in Norway at Woodbine Avenue and Kingston Road. The area soon became a busy intersection, mostly because it gained a reputation for being a fun place for people from the city to go and "have a spree" (an evening of drinking and reveling!).

First known as Smith's Corners in 1860, the intersection changed its name in the 1870s to Coleman's Corners when Charles Coleman, another hotel owner in the area, was appointed the first Post Master of the intersection.

Like Chester, Coleman's Corners also experienced a "boom" period of growth. In 1883, the Grand Trunk railway decided to put a divisional Sorting yard at Dawes Road just south of Danforth. With a growing population and more development, the village was now called Little York, named after the first station stop on the Grand Truck, in relation to the City of York (now Toronto). It is interesting that even today, the rail lines for the GO and VIA trains still use some of these original tracks laid down in this period.

Little York was referred to in City directories right into the 1920s, although it was annexed to East Toronto in 1903, which itself was annexed to the city of Toronto in 1908.

Dawes Road: a Shortcut to the Market

Contrary to its current image, Dawes Road in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was several times its current length and played a not insignificant role in the agricultural and commercial development of Scarborough, North York, East York and Toronto.

This pathway, as local historian Gene Domagala points out in one of his columns, was in use as a main north-south route from the north to the St Lawrence Market in the early 1830s.

Old Dawes Road, now called Victoria Park Avenue, ran from Finch Avenue to St. Clair Avenue.

Going south from St. Clair, (then Moffat's Corners), Dawes Road continued along the present Dawes Road to south of Danforth where it currently ends. At that time, however, it then crossed the railway tracks to connect with Kingston Road near where Main Street is today, just north east of the village of Norway, at today's intersection of Woodbine and Kingston Road as the way to the market.

Dawes Road served as one of the busiest roads in this section of Ontario in the nineteenth century as farmers from the northern areas and along south brought their produce and livestock along Dawes Road to the market in the city. This route was a short cut to avoid having to travel to Don Mills Road to the west or Danforth Road to the east which was in bad repair. One historian tells the story of Mrs. Walton, who settled with her husband at Ellesmere and Old Dawes Road in 1823, carrying her butter and eggs 10 miles through the path in the woods to the market.

Dawes Road was also a major route for transporting lumber from the many saw mills in order to bring wood into the city for all the construction taking place in the growing city. In winter many logs of wood were hauled to York down Dawes Road in the winter.

Map by Chas. E. Goad -1884, Little York, Dawes Rd. crossing railway track, meeting Kingston Rd., Toronto Public Library

Dawes Road, from Native trail to Major Thoroughfare

A glance at a map indicates that the section does not follow a typical grid pattern along surveyed lots. Could Dawes Road been a native pathway before European settlement?

Evidence of the earliest human habitation along Dawes Road is on the south banks of Taylor Massey Creek. This was an Iroquois, precontact Huron settlement of the 15th century, first documented by David Boyle, then Victor Konrad as having a possible stratified midden and a nearby ossuary. Because Dawes Road did not follow normal survey lines a special by-law of the Home District was required in 1848 to make Dawes Road an "official" road. Avoiding crossing the streams of lost Ferris Creek make the diagonal route more practical for early inhabitants of the area.

Joanne Doucette, a local writer who is of native ancestry, maintains that it is traditionally understood that Dawes Road was a native trail.

Because there were many acres of unmaintained clergy lands and because the lots west of Woodbine were laid out horizontally with landowners only required to maintain the road that faced the front of their property, the Don and the Danforth remained a little used rural backyard.

The more populated, main east-west corridor for this area was Kingston Road. Major development did not take place along Danforth Avenue until the Toronto Civic Railway was built in 1913 connecting Broadview to Luttrell Ave. and then with construction of the Bloor Viaduct in 1918.

Big Event at the Racetrack

That being said, there was one important event in 1868 that brought the attention of the province and beyond. Charlie Gates held the Queen's Plate at his Newmarket racetrack behind his hotel just east of Woodbine when newspapers reported that 12,000 people attended and a horse could not be found for love or money.

Victoria Park Avenue (up to just north of Danforth) and Dawes Road from St. Clair north to Lawrence Avenue were the survey boundaries separating York Township from Scarborough. Where Taylor Massey Creek now crosses Victoria Park, near the subway entrance, was deep swampland not drained and filled in until the 1960s when the subway was extended.

Finding Little York Today

You can still find traces of Little York in the area.

Along Danforth Avenue in the immediate area you can find bay and gable Victorian houses built in 1890. There also are 1880s semi-detached homes with bric-a-brac built for railway workers on Coleman Avenue.

At 10 Dawes Road (left) just north of the railway tracks, there's a steam powered grist mill, built in the 1890s and originally called Chalmer's Flour Mill.

At 122 Dawes Road (below) there's an excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture built in 1885 - note the elaborate gingerbread trim. The home was owned by Charles Taylor, a maltster. A maltster selected cereal, mainly barley, from the growing fields that were used in the production of beer.

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