We know what early Canada was like thanks in large measure to C. W. (Charles William) Jefferys, one of Canada’s finest historical artists and a North York homeowner for 29 years.
He bought a house at 4111 Yonge St., just north of York Mills and built circa 1833, in 1922 because it provided a wonderful view of the beautiful Don Valley, which appealed to him as an artist. Previously he had rented it in summertime. He designed a front doorcase with a high frieze and projecting cornice. He invited his friends, the Group of Seven artists to join him in painting the scenery.
Undertaking meticulous research, Jefferys earned acclaim for his early Canadiana illustrations of everything — log cabin construction, household items, farming implements, churches, mills, explorers, Indigenous Peoples, canoes, stagecoaches, sleighs and more.
His work was used in schoolchildren’s textbooks, and he did a three-volume series titled, “The Picture Gallery of Canadian History” for adults. Some of his impressionistic Canadian landscapes are in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
When the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, of which he was a founding member in 1908, wanted to grow fruits and vegetables to compensate for food shortages during the First World War, he suggested renting a 10-acre York Mills farm.
The club’s history by Margaret McBurney says, “Every Saturday during the summer members cheerfully donned overalls and old shirts and clambered onto streetcars for the jaunt up to Hoggs Hollow.”
Jefferys was the club’s president from 1923-24. He lived in the house until his death in 1951.
In 1956 the house, still in the family, was moved back on the lot to prevent it being demolished during widening of Yonge Street. However, his separate studio was demolished.
In 1992 the house received a historical designation protecting the façade from being altered or demolished. The house still exists. In 2000 the North York Historical Society commissioned a sculptured bust of him and put it in a nearby park.
The house was occupied by the family until 2012 when it sold for $1.2 million.
C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute near Keele and Finch in North York, opened in 1965, is named after him.
Susan Goldenberg is a director and membership chair of the North York Historical Society, which preserves North York’s heritage. The author of nine books, her latest being “Deadly Triangle: The Famous Architect, His Wife, Their Chauffeur, and Murder Most Foul,” has won both a Canadian Author’s Award and a Canadian Business Press Editors’ Award.