Q1. Where were East Toronto's Fire Halls No. 1, No. 2 & No. 3 originally located? (P9)
From little village, thriving town, to a part of Beaches heritageBy Beth Parker
There is a story connected to every community in the Beaches. The thriving intersection of Main and Gerrard goes back over 100 years to the time when it lay at the heart of the Village of East Toronto. Our busy streets of Kingston Road, Queen Street and Gerrard Street have been traveled by foot, horse and buggy, and now our busy rush hour traffic so people can commute to and from the Beaches, Toronto’s east end, and downtown.
In 1850, seventeen years before Confederation, a little village took root east of the new city of Toronto. The village was named "East Toronto" and covered most of what we know today as the northeast part of the Beaches as well as north to Danforth Avenue. The village was surrounded by market gardens and farmers’ fields, and was considered to be "quite a distance" from Toronto.
The arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway
The 1850s were important in the life and commerce of Toronto,and surrounding area, because of the arrival of the railway– the "iron horse". All of a sudden it was possible to move large quantities of supplies and building materials to help in construction and expansion. East Toronto was no exception to the benefits brought by railways. In 1883, the Grand Trunk Railway selected farmland five and half miles east of Toronto so it could build its new, and largest railway yards.
These railway yards cut short the existing Dawes Road, which originally ran from Kingston Road, past Danforth Avenue connecting to Victoria Park, and made Main Street the chief north-south roadway. The marshalling yards stretched along Gerrard Street (originally Lakeview Avenue) and included seven miles of sidings (enough to hold 420 cars), coal storage facilities and a 32-stall roundhouse. A traditional-looking railway station with a long, low roof was built on the north side of the tracks, east of the new bridge that crossed over Main Street behind today’s Norwood Terrace. Beaches
East Toronto grows and prospers
As construction proceeded, East Toronto grew. It was incorporated as East Toronto Village in 1888, partly through the organization of two influential landowners in the area, D.G. Stephenson and Benjamin Morton. There were
about 750 people living in the village at that time. The roads were poor, made of sand except for Main Street, and its few sidewalks were made of wood. The village council first met in the upstairs room of Fire Hall No. 2 (now Fire Station 226, see photo on page 18) then moved to a town hall at Swanwick and Main where Centre 55 is now located.
Records of the time say that these early meetings focused on streets and lane repairs as well as the establishment of a volunteer fire brigade.
East Toronto, in its "heyday" as a village and then a town, was a bustling centre with a "main street", called–of course–Main Street. Businesses lined Main south from the railway tracks, such as Taylor’s Cigar Shop, the Ideal Theatre and the Ulster Temple which produced both dancing and wrestling, on the west side at the foot of the bridge. The intersection at Gerrard created a busy commercial centre. It is here on the southeast corner that W.H. Snell opened a bakery and a grocery store. There was also a farmer’s market, a tailor and banks.
Despite its small size, East Toronto was quite independent compared to other villages of the time. It housed its own hospital and library in the YMCA. Later, the library relocated to Main Street in 1921 which is today's Main Street Branch (see Eastern Branch Public Library article on page 15). There were also three fire halls (Fire Hall No. 1 on Spruce Hill, No. 2 on Main Street and No. 3 on Dawes Road just north of Danforth), churches, schools, and a police station with jail cells.
East Toronto founded its own powerhouse at the corner of Wayland and Gerrard, and secured water rights from Lake Ontario delivered through land between Balsam and Beech Avenues. By 1900, electric street lighting was installed in East Toronto, furthering its independence as a separate community with its own particular identity.
Many industries also grew beside the tracks, such as Rogerson Coal at Osborne and Gerrard, coal yards at Danforth and Main, and the McMillim and Costain lumber and plaining mill just east of Norwood Terrace.
An historic church with stories to tell
One of the churches built in East Toronto was St. Saviour’s Anglican Church on Kimberley Avenue (formerly, Mary Street). It was constructed in 1891 by and for the railway workers and their families on land donated by Mary Swanwick Morton (wife of Benjamin Morton). The first service was held in "Morton Hall", now a residence behind the church on Swanwick. Inside you can see the original church bell. Some say it came from a train or a train station. You can also read the list of those who gave their lives in war, the calligraphy provided by Group of Seven painter, A.J. Casson. The church, with its small "village-like charm" was designed by Edwards & Webster, who also designed St. George’s Hall at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club.
Beautiful historic houses
There also were many attractive family homes built on streets such as Enderby, Swanwick, Bendlamond and Lyall. Here lived the middle class families and richer, local merchants and business owners. Swanwick was named after Mary Swanwick Morton (Benjam Morton’s wife) and their son, Edward Lyall Morton, lived on Lyall (the street that still bears his name). Another local merchant, Donald George Stephenson, became East Toronto’s first Reeve. According to local sources, he lived in the house at the corner of Enderby Road and Gerrard Street, and also built a series of row houses for railway workers on Norwood Terrace.
Lyall Avenue is definitely worth exploring today. Its houses were built between the 1880s and 1920s. In contrast to neighbouring streets where the railroad developed large plots of land, the fifty-foot lots along Lyall were developed by local landowners such as the Mortons. The result is a street of detached homes that display a mixture of architecture including high Victorian, Edwardian Classical and Toronto Bungalow designs. The first 60 houses on both sides of the street are protected as part of a designated heritage area
"I’ve been working on the railway , all the live long day !"
As a result of the construction and the railway activity, there were many transient workers living in the area, employed by the Grand Trunk. In order to house them, the Grand Truck built row houses, located on Gerrard Street, Swanwick and Stephenson Avenues. A YMCA originally (see photo on page 14) located on the south side of Gerrard also provided rooms for train crews The home of Donald George Stephenson, and local residents.
Housing conditions for workers at that time, however, were very poor. In order to address the growing deplorable conditions, the original YMCA was moved in 1903 to the northeast corner of Main and Gerrard. This larger and much grander building provided improved housing and space for community activities. The building was torn down in the 30’s where Ted Reeve Arena was later built, but the name "Grand Trunk Fields" remains to this day behind the arena. It is now the location of a favourite summer spot for baseball, and just north of the tracks, recreation and swimming is available at the Main Square Community Recreation Centre.
Connecting East Toronto with Toronto
During the late 1800’s independent street railways were being built as communities looked for ways to transport people to and from work by horse drawn "street rail cars" on tracks. In East Toronto, the Toronto & Scarboro Light and Power Company ran such a spur line connecting East Toronto to the City of Toronto. The tracks connected Kingston Road and Queen Street, and went east along Kingston Road to Blantyre and south on Blantyre to Queen. A branch extended north from Kingston Road via Walter, Lyall and Kimberley to Gerrard. The barns used to house these early street rail cars were located on Kingston Road near Notre Dame Convent.
East Toronto become a "lost village"
In 1903 East Toronto officially became a town, with Dr. W.R. Walters as its first mayor. Six years later, East Toronto was annexed as part of the City of Toronto. It population was now 5,000. Although it was still considered a distance from the city, transportation was improving and its fate as a "separate" community was sealed. The south part, the Beaches, developed as an attractive residential and recreational area. For many years the north part of the area remained industrial because of the location of the tracks. When the rail lines were relocated by CNR in 1908, the industrial area suffered an economic decline that lasted many years. By the 1940s the railway yard ceased to operate and in 1974 the original railway station was demolished and replaced by the Danforth GO Station.
To this day, 101 years later, the neighbourhood that defined most of the former north section of East Toronto maintains much of its intriguing turn-ofthe- 20th century identity. The Kingston Road Business Association designated the area as East Toronto Village. You can still visit the MacMillim and Costain block of stores at the southwest and southeast corners of Main and Gerrard, walk by Station 226 built on the site of one of the original fire halls, visit St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, and appreciate the houses on Lyall as well as the little railway houses that line Gerrard and Swanwick between Main and Kimberly. Perhaps even crossing the field in front of Ted Reeve Arena, you can hear the shouts and laughter of those hundreds of people that worked on our railroads and stayed in the YMCA at Main and Gerrard.
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