Kingston Road – Toronto's gateway for over 200 years
Kingston Road has a 200-year heritage as Toronto's eastern gateway. Among our city's historic gateways, Yonge Street connected Toronto to Lake Simcoe and the forests of the north; Dundas Street linked Toronto to the American frontiers at Niagara and Detroit; Kingston Road knitted Toronto (or York as it was once called) through mostly farmland to the older city of Kingston and, from there, to the country's commercial centre of Montreal.
Until Highway 401 construction was completed in 1959, Kingston Road was the route from Toronto to points east, becoming the site of numerous inns and motels.
The first attempt to build a road from Toronto to the mouth of the Trent River in the city of Kingston, was in 1799. It was commissioned to an American named Asa Danforth Jr. at a cost of $90.00 per mile.
His effort ended in failure, although his name is attached to local streets. By 1817, the road was completed to Kingston.
More locally, Kingston Road brought the produce of farms and fields to St. Lawrence Market. In the 1800s and early 1900s there was little need to remember that "farmers feed cities." Much of what we ate necessarily came overland from local fields. Kingston Road was the vital link for farmers transporting produce and handmade goods from agricultural villages to the markets of the growing city of Toronto.
Across the length of Scarborough, Kingston Road was a desirable location for its convenient access to the city. Several historic farmsteads lined its route, including those of William Cornell, one of the city's pioneers, and the McCowan family. Famous inns, and the associated taverns, were landmarks along the way, including Half Way House and Gates Inn. For travellers on foot, in wagon or on horseback, getting to the city was time-consuming, and so they looked forward to a refreshing drink and overnight rest along the way.
The coming of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1856, and the Toronto and Nipissing line in 1871, diverted some commercial traffic away from Kingston Road. But for farmers, or for those making the seasonal trek to buy dry goods and manufactured provisions in the city, overland travel was more economical and efficient.
The opportunity to lay over at a good tavern and exchange news and banter with other travelers only added to Kingston Road's attraction.
As the city grew in the later 1800s, and particularly in the 1900s, Kingston Road was also a gateway to gracious country living for Torontonians leaving the city. Some withdrew to a grand country home, like Sir Donald Mann to his Fallingbrook mansion. Others left for a sociable retreat of riding, golf or tennis at the Toronto Hunt Club or picnicking above the Scarborough Bluffs. And then there were those who retreated to follow the religious life at the impressive, secluded St. Augustine's seminary, which was completed in 1913.
New modes of transportation brought changes to Kingston Road. By 1878 horse-drawn tramways served as far east as to Blantyre Avenue. But the biggest changes came when the electric streetcar or "radial" line was built past Toronto City limits beginning in 1893. Stop by stop, the Kingston Radial Rail lined along Kingston Road through Scarborough, eventually as far as West Hill. There the deep ravine of Highland Creek prevented the radial line from going farther.
With the twentieth century, personal vehicles also joined the radial cars along Kingston Road, making travel to and from the city far more convenient.
Business people like the Wests and the Harrisons could move their families to Kingston Road and treat southwestern Scarborough, which started to develop as a suburb. The Scarborough Bluffs became a recreational destination for picnickers and cycling enthusiasts. The opening of Scarborough Bluffs Park breathed new life into the Half Way House at Midland Avenue and Kingston Road and created a new opportunity for the Scarborough Bluffs Refreshment Room across the street.
Many people with longer memories know that Kingston Road is also part of "The King's Highway 2." Before the 401 was built, this was the main route across southern Ontario linking Windsor to the Quebec border.
In past issues we have rediscovered Lost Villages along Kingston Road, such as Leslieville, Norway and Ben Lamond. We have told the stories of Lost Creeks and of almost forgotten industries and amusement parks in our neighbourhood. In this second issue of our 10th year edition we want to restore our fading easterly link to old Kingston Road through the Victoria Park gateway. We will search out hidden places along the Bluffs and tell the stories of famous institutions and homes that line this historic street. Join us as we take a ride back in time along the route of the Kingston Road Radial line.