May 17th, 2022
A lost village and neighbourhood returns

Q1. Who were two important founding settlers in Leslieville and what were their contributions? (P7)

The Beaches Golden Era of Amusement Parks

By Beth Parker

W alk along Queen Street East between the bridge over the Don Valley Parkway and the trendy Beaches, and you’ll find yourself steeped in history, character and charm. Here you’ll walk by old and newer buildings, funky boutiques, food shops and bakeries, second hand stores, computer emporiums, retro cafes and antique dealers. Some of the industrial buildings in the area have been turned into lofts, others now used for office space, with restaurants and shops on the main floor. There are grand old entertainment venues, such as the Opera House as well as reminders of the importance of street railways in Toronto’s past.

Leslieville is one of those neighbourhoods in Toronto that provides an eclectic mix of industrial revolution-style buildings, low-rise streetscapes, and streets packed with houses of all shapes and sizes. And these days, it seems that something new has been added every time you walk by.

Still, if you look carefully you will find signs of the pre-industrial years. This was important farmland to the City of Toronto (then York), and the majority of employment consisted of nursery/agricultural workers. Today, many of the streets are named to commemorate those market gardeners such as Leslie, Pape, Logan, Greenwood, Cosburn, Sammon and Playter.

Early Days Of Farml and , Trees And Clay Quarries

Over one hundred years ago, the area between Leslie Street and Pape Avenue and Queen Street East and Lake Ontario provided excellent farmland as well as rich clay deposits, most likely left behind by the ancient Lake Iroquois.

This meant that the early settlers in the area were successful farmers, and their descendants either worked as market gardeners or at one of the many nearby brick yards that sprung up because of the quarries.

Two important founding settlers, the Ashbridges in 1793, and George Leslie, about 60 years later, made an outstanding contribution and a lasting impact to the way in which Leslieville, and the surrounding area developed and grew.

(below) Queen Street at Pape Avenue, April 1934 – City of Toronto Archives

A Founding Family Of Toronto , The Ashbridges

The Ashbridge family and its members were some of the first settlers east of the Don River. The Ashbridge family came to the Town of York from Pennsylvania. In 1793 they were granted 600 acres (2.4 km2), stretching from Lake Ontario to Danforth Avenue. They immediately began clearing land, including making pathways. One such “path” from the Don eastward became Kingston Road, and was later renamed Queen Street East. The path leading into their farm was the route of the current Woodfield Road.

Although the family first lived in a log cabin (the foundation still exists, now a rock garden), in 1809 the family built a frame house nearby, on the east side of Ashbridge’s Creek (which they, of course, named!) Neither of these buildings exist today but an archaeological search over a decade ago found various artifacts from the homes and evidence of their existence. The same “dig” also found evidence of ancient Native occupation.

You can still visit the family estate at 1444 Queen Street East. In 1911-12, the family finally sold most of their land , with the exception of the current Ashbridge site along Queen, which they occupied until 1997. Houses were then built on Ashdale to accommodate the growing neighbourhood. Read more about the Ashbridge family and their 200 year history in “Street and Place Names” on page 30.

Leslie And Sons Establish The Toronto Nurseries And The Villiage of Leslieville

As with many villages, Leslieville was established around a single business. George Leslie was a Scottish horticulturalist who moved to Canada with his family from England in 1824 and settled into the Streetsville area in Mississauga. Young George Leslie had worked as a gardener in Scotland and soon found work here. George worked for William Allan whose son, George William Allan became a good friend, and he planted many of the first trees that were planted in Allan Gardens.

In 1845, George leased 10 acres of land on Kingston Road (now named Queen Street) close to today’s Leslie Street, and started a garden nursery. It soon expanded to 200 acres. The nursery's street address was 1164 Queen Street East, and it was called “The Toronto Nurseries”.

Toronto Nurseries was advertised (by George, of course) as “the largest nursery in the British Empire.” He was not exaggerating. Leslie’s nursery became the largest business in Canada at the time and Leslie an internationally recognized horticulturalist. As one of the founding members of the Toronto Horticultural Society, Leslie provided very helpful planting advice to Torontonians and southern Ontarians looking to establish trees, bushes and flowers in their gardens. In fact, many of his trees were transplanted to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Allan’s Gardens and along Toronto’s streets to provide shade and beauty.

In the Toronto Directory for 1868/69, the nursery was described this way:

"Importations are annually made from
England of ornamental, deciduous and
evergreen trees, exclusive of what is raised
by [Leslie] himself, so as to afford an
extensive and varied assortment. In all
its departments every care and attention
that a thorough knowledge and experience
in the nursery line may suggest, is readily
taken advantage of. From this fact, and
the already high reputation of the Toronto
Nurseries, continued prosperity must be the

Leslie and his sons made an impact in many ways. George Leslie became the first Postmaster in the Leslie Post Office, which was first located in the family store. Leslie Grove Park at Queen Street East and Jones Avenue was once the family’s property, with an established arboretum. Today it is still a lovely place, and location for the annual Leslie Grove Tree Festival. And many years later of course, the Village of Leslieville bears the family name after George began to call the area around his home “Leslieville” soon after arriving in Canada.

Leslieville Around Confederation

As the area of Leslieville grew, two of its earliest features were the Leslie Post Office located at their family store on 1164 Queen Street and the following year, a large Wesleyan Methodist Church which was made of brick and could seat 500 people. In 1863 the Leslieville Public School was built in the village, as a one-room schoolhouse. The present school, Leslieville Junior Public School, was built in 1962.

In 1867, Canada became a country. That same year, the principal at Leslieville Public School, Alexander Muir, entered a song-writing contest held to celebrate the Confederation. He didn’t win, but we still today enjoy the words and music to “The Maple Leaf Forever”. (See “The Legend of the Maple Tree at Maple Cottage” published in the 2011, Spring/ Summer of Beaches Living Guide or follow the Landmarks link online at

By the mid 1860s, Leslieville had a population of 450 people, a public school, a separate Catholic school, a blacksmith shop, an edge tool factory, a large distillery, brewery and vinegar factory, several brick yards and daily mail delivery.

Leslieville was one of several little villages where people could rest on their way from the Town of York to Kingston, then, the "First Capital" of Canada (named June 15, 1841). They would go by horse and buggy, and trolley, and villages such as Leslieville, Ashdale, Norway and Ben Lamond provided places for weary travellers to rest.

Toronto Absorbs Leslieville and Changes Street Name

In 1884, Leslieville and its neighbouring village, Riverside, were annexed to the new city of Toronto. It was at this time that the name Queen Street was given to the stretch of Kingston Road up to where Queen and Kingston Road meet. It was also at this time that the name Midway was applied to the area between Greenwood and Kew Beach or Norway (the intersection of Kingston Road and Woodbine Avenue).

Gradually, the farmlands in Toronto’s east end were developed as residential communities, including the former Ashbridge properties.

Village Grows into an Industrial District

One historian notes that at the turn of the century Coxwell Avenue was a quiet, dirt road, but with the growth of Toronto, and the necessity for street railways, it soon became one of the most important and busiest north-south streets in the area – and the only one to have its own street car.

Leslieville and the surrounding area also saw growth and change. From 1900 on, the area became home for light industry such as tanning, printing, metal processing, food processing, soap making, and of course, brick making. Carlaw Avenue, for example, was once home to a series of industrial buildings that have recently been redeveloped for residential use. These include The Garment Factory at 233, the Wrigley Building and the Rolph Stone Printing building. Another factory a block north (on Colgate Avenue),is no longer in existence. It was a soap and toiletries factory called the Colgate Building.

The industrial nature of the area meant that it was always considered a working class area, with the unfortunate side effects of industrial areas. Air pollution, fumes and dirty smoke that accompanied such industrial activities before there was proper environmental protection intensified in the early 1900s. Residents in the neighbourhood, for example, remember how dust and smoke from nearby brick making factories would dirty their laundry, hung on clotheslines.

Named fo r a Duke, the Queen ’s Son

The Ashbridge family sold their orchard for the construction of The Duke of Connaught School (then on Morley Avenue, later renamed Woodfield Road). The school opened in 1912 and was named after The Duke of Connaught, who was the Governor-General of Canada and the son of Queen Victoria. This year marks its 100th anniversary.

In a 1917 Star Weekly article, the first principal of Duke of Connaught describes how he had trepidation about moving to a new school in what was called “the Midway district”, because he considered it to be in the middle of nowhere!

Balmy Beach Park (1876 – 1930 – Present)

Lesl iev ille Post Ind ust rialization Although for many years, it seemed that Torontonians almost forgot about the original little village of Leslieville, during the 1980s, there was a renewed interest in the community and its roots. In 1987, new street signs bearing the words “Leslieville” were installed in the area north of Eastern, south of the tracks, east of Carlaw and west of Coxwell.

Today, Leslieville is one of the new sought-after neighbourhoods in Toronto. Its boundaries are defined, once more, as the area east of the Don River, south east of the Canadian National railway line up to Coxwell Avenue.

The many reminders of its industrial past add to the charm of the neighbourhood. Many of the old factories and buildings have been redeveloped or are in the process of being re-purposed for office space, retail and residences. Fortunately, with careful restoration, many are keeping their original architectural features. Some are also part of Toronto’s burgeoning film industry, with several film studios near Eastern and Carlaw.

The village returns with charm and character

Leslieville’s charm hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2005, the New York Times described the area as “one of Toronto's hippest places to dine, drink, shop and live.” The former industrial and residential community, which borders neighbourhoods that extend along Eastern Avenue, has a rich and interesting history. Every old building has a story to tell about Toronto’s past. Even the names of the streets give us a bit of history and bring back memories.

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