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December 13th, 2017
From Berkeley to Coxwell

Digging up Toronto's Small History




From Berkeley to Coxwell

While excavating for the construction of new headquarters for the Globe & Mail in 2013, workers came across the foundations of a building linked to early Torontoís most salacious scandal. Berkeley House, on the south side of King Street, just west of Berkeley Street, was the gracious home of an unassailable upper society family headed by John Small, and later by his son, Charles Coxwell Small. If the sonís name sounds familiar, our Coxwell Avenue and Smallís Creek are named after him.

John Small arrived in York (Toronto) with Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1793. He was appointed clerk of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. Along with many other holdings, he also purchased land for $50 on Torontoís waterfront, next to the First Parliament buildings .

The Famous Berkeley House on King Street

The block upon which John Small would build his home, southwest of King and Berkeley, was awkwardly grafted onto the original ten-block plan of the town of York. Here in 1805 he built a home that resembled an English country manor, which he named Berkeley House.


When John died in 1831, the property passed to his son, Charles Coxwell Small, who also inherited his fatherís clerkship. Charles enlarged the house into a handsome mansion that stood on the south side of King Street until 1925. On the southern part of the property, below Front Street, Charles planted fruit orchards on the shoreline of Toronto Bay, which was where the Esplanade runs today.

Industry Growing by The Don

However, in the growing city, the south portion of the property passed into industrial uses after the 1860s. Immediately south of Front, Consumersí Gas built the massive gas works buildings. Consumersí Gas operations stretched east to Trinity Street, as well as across the Don River at Booth and Eastern. Further south to the Esplanade, Joseph Simpson Knitting Mills located in 1871 and expanded to sixteen buildings that were operated after 1945 by the Monarch Knitting Company.

Through brilliant adaptive reuse, Consumersí Gas Purifying House is now home to the Canadian Opera Companyís Imperial Oil Theatre. Immediately to the south, several other Consumersí buildings have been repurposed as Canadian Stageís Berkeley Theatre. The knitting mills have been skilfully converted into the charming maze of offices and secluded courtyards at Berkeley Castle.

A Small Connection to the Beaches

Charles Coxwell Small also inherited an extensive holding in the east end, bordered by Queen Street, Danforth Avenue, Kingston Road and Coxwell Avenue. There his name was applied to Smallís Creek and Smallís Pond, where Orchard Park is today. Read more about Smallís Creek and Pond in the Beaches Living Guideís article ďLost Rivers of the BeachĒ (beachesliving.ca).

The lands of St. Johnís Cemetery passed through the hands of Charlesí daughter Louisa Goldsmith to sacred uses. Charles is, of course, most prominently commemorated by his middle name having been applied to Coxwell Avenue.

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