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Finch and Sheppard

By Deborah Sacrob, NYHS Board member


Finch Avenue
Finch Avenue is named after John Finch who bought land at Yonge and Finch in 1847 where he operated a tavern. Our research shows two names for the establishment, “John Finch’s Hotel” and “The Bird in Hand Inn.”

The tavern was originally owned by John Montgomery and his father Alexander. A rift in January 1827 broke up this father son duo and they actually sawed the establishment in two. Alexander lived in one half and John kept the half that was an Inn until leasing it to John Finch in the 1830s.

The Bird in Hand Inn
Yonge Street west side near Cummer

B.J. Gloster, Baldwin Collection of Canadiana (Public Domain)

Finch Avenue at Yonge Street (looking north from southwest side)

1957 Ted Chirnside TPL Digital Archives

Proceeding west on Finch from Yonge Street, at Dufferin Street, you come to the G. Ross Lord Dam and Reservoir. The western branch of the Don River runs through this area. George Ross Lord (1907-1986) was a noted engineer and conservationist, Chairman of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (1958-1972).
The G. Ross Lord Park is an outdoor recreation area with cycling and walking trails, fishing ponds, sports fields & a dog run.

In the early 2000s a powerful rainstorm caused a huge sinkhole on Finch just east of Dufferin. For the longest six weeks in recorded history, the bus I took to work at Dufferin and Finch was forced to be re-routed until the sinkhole was repaired!


G. Ross Lord Dam

R. Bull Toronto Star 2/23/1973

Finch Avenue East Zion School
Proceeding east along Finch at Yonge to just east of Leslie Street is the North York Zion Schoolhouse(built in 1896), located at 1091 Finch Avenue East. This building is an example of a rural one room schoolhouse built in 1896. Nearly sixty years ago, when I first arrived in Toronto, as a young child, I saw this one room schoolhouse and I was certain that we were in the farthest wilderness outpost possible!

Sheppard Avenue 

Sheppard Avenue is named after Joseph Shepard, an early settler in the area we now know as Willowdale. The street originally was known as Lansing Sideroad; Lansing was the name of a small village around Yonge and Sheppard.  It’s unknown why Sheppard Avenue has two “p” rather than just one as Joseph Shepard did. Joseph Shepard II built a general store at the northwest corner of Yonge and Sheppard, in 1860.  Benjamin Brown acquired it in 1888  and renamed it Brown’s store. Brothers William and George Dempsey acquired it in 1921  and changed the name to Dempsey’s General Store.  Years  later came to be known as Dempsey’s Hardware Store. To me, it was a “landmark” at that corner.

The official name of the federal government building located at 4900 Yonge Street, just north of Sheppard on the west side, is the Joseph Shepard Building. This is named after the first Joseph Shepard. 

The Golden Lion, North York Historical Society

The Golden Lion Hotel (approx. 1920) T.W. Pickett, Local History Collection, North York Central Library

The Golden Lion, built in 1824 by Thomas Sheppard, no relation to Joseph Shepard at the south west corner of Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue had the carved life-sized lion carved as a promotion. The North York Historical Society acquired the lion in 1960. The lion still reigns today and is on display near the new North York History Room on the fifth floor of the North York Central Library. If you look very closely at this photograph you can see the lion standing guard at the front door!!

Upper Canada Rebellion leader William Lyon Mackenzie hid in the tavern briefly before fleeing to the United States following the defeat of the rebels by government forces.

The Golden Lion today

Toronto Public Library, Digital Archives
John Finch’s Hotel – Wikipedia
Pioneering in North York, Patricia W. Hart
With thanks to Susan Goldenberg and to my memories