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North York History

For thousands of years, the First Nations lived, hunted, travelled and bartered in the North York area. When John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, moved the capital from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Town of York in 1793, the foundations of the future growth were laid. York became an economic centre attracting merchants, entrepreneurs and settlers.

With about 50,000 acres of gently rolling countryside, and Yonge Street as the main road, villages sprang up at crossroads, and wherever there was water-power for mills. In 1922, the Township of North York was incorporated, with a population of 6,000.

North York Timeline

Map of North York – click image for full size

North York Pioneers and Landmarks
North York Pioneers and Landmarks c. 1878, by Ted Chirnside, 1956 (public domain courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Local History Articles

Roy Risebrough, long retired in this 1979 photo, in one of his early cases came across a tale of alcohol and drug addiction. - Jeff Goode/Torstar file photo
‘A Sordid Story of Drink and Dope’ from North York, 1927

North York historian Susan Goldenberg writes about ‘a sensational case that grabbed worldwide attention’ In 1927, while North York’s police department was in its early days, a sensational case occurred that grabbed worldwide attention. On January 2, Chief Roy Risebrough with constables Wilson and Smithson raided a house on Wilson Avenue where they found Mrs. Emma Heins lying dead on the bed and her common-law husband Arthur McCullough trying to hide illegal bootlegging equipment. What… Read more

Intersection of Sheppard Avenue and Yonge Street (northwest corner) in 1953. Photo by James V. Salmon. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.
5-year Manhunt for Suspect in 1947 Murder Ends in North York Intersection

North York police tipped off by salesperson at Yonge and Sheppard shoe store, writes Susan Goldenberg On January 8, 1953 after five years on the run, Walter Pavlukoff, a violent Canadian career criminal on the RCMP’s most wanted list for murdering a Vancouver bank manager, was arrested across the country in North York in broad daylight at a main intersection without a struggle. The arrest added to the lustre of North York’s police force as… Read more

Harry Winton bought author Mazo de la Roche's former home in North York, promising to turn a portion of it into a museum. - Toronto Star file photo
Bestselling Author Mazo de la Roche Called North York Home for 6 Years

Mansion still standing despite almost being demolished to pave the way for Bayview Avenue At the height of her career, bestselling Canadian author Mazo de la Roche lived in a mansion at the southwest corner of Bayview and Steeles that is still standing today, 80 years later. Her 16-novel soap-opera series about a nineteenth-century Ontario family, the Whiteoaks, and their home, Jalna, has sold over 11 million copies. Born Mazo Roche in 1879 in Newmarket,… Read more

Centerpoint Mall

Centerpoint Mall’s Americanized spelling still a mystery Mall’s story is representative of North York’s evolution, writes Susan Goldenberg BY SCARBOROUGH MIRROR AUG 3, 2022  Before: Robinson Dairy Farm – Toronto Public Library                              Now: Centerpoint Mall by Dan Pearce Metroland Why is the shopping mall at the southwest corner of Yonge and Steeles spelled Centerpoint, American spelling, rather than Centrepoint, British/Canadian spelling,… Read more

The Connaught Antitoxin Laboratories and University Farm opened in the Dufferin/Steeles area about a month before this photo was taken in November 1917, producing life-saving serums. - Toronto Star archives photo
Connaught Opened North York Facility to Help First World War Soldiers

Laboratories ‘produced life-saving serums against the main war front illnesses,’ writes Susan Goldenberg On rainy Oct. 25, 1917, in the midst of the First World War, a history-making medical event, little remembered today, occurred at the then-undeveloped north end of North York: the formal opening of facilities to produce serums to “protect the health of soldiers on the war front.” Under the administration of the University of Toronto, it was called Connaught Antitoxin Laboratories and… Read more

Charlotte de Grassi's father, Phillipe de Grassi
Cornelia de Grassi and the Upper Canada Rebellion: A Tale of Old North York

A thirteen-year-old girl, in acts of derring-do, helped the government side win in the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion. Cornelia de Grassi was the daughter of Phillipe de Grassi (shown in picture), descendant of a noble Italian family, who settled in what is now the Don Mills-Lawrence Avenue East area, on a 200-acre grant in 1831. He was a supporter of the government side in Upper Canada and wrote in his diary, “After a fire (in… Read more

This fleet of small airplanes flew over Toronto in September 1938 and landed at North York's Barker Field so that their pilots could visit the CNE. This photograph is taken prior to take-off in Hamilton. - Toronto Star file photo
Dufferin, Lawrence Business District Used to be Busy North York Airport

‘North York’s attraction was its proximity to the then-separate city of Toronto,’ writes Susan Goldenberg Hard to believe perhaps but what is now a business district at Dufferin and Lawrence near the Allen Expressway was a busy airport in the first half of last century. Nameless originally, it became Barker Field in honour of World War 1 Manitoba-born flying ace Lieutenant-Colonel William George Barker, recipient of the Victoria Cross and many other medals. He downed… Read more

Dunlap Model Farm

Mining magnate’s old home now clubhouse for North York golf club BY SUSAN GOLDENBERG | SCARBOROUGH MIRROR Dunlap’s ‘model’ farm had cows serenaded by music, pigs bathed in olive oil, writes Susan Goldenberg       Animals at “Donalda Farm” — established in 1914 by mining magnate, philanthropist, and amateur astronomer David Alexander Dunlap on 600 acres in the Don Valley — got deluxe care. Pigs at the farm — located south of York Mills… Read more

John Perkins Bull House, 450 Rustic Road, North York, built 1844, in 1964 photo by Pat Hart (NYHS photo)
Early Downsview Personalities

Downsview derives its name from prominent Downsview early settler John Perkins Bull’s farm, Downs View. The Perkins home was the location for many civic activities. After his marriage in 1844, John opened his house for religious services. As a Justice of the Peace for over thirty-five years, he was known as “Squire Bull” and court was held in his house and the jail was in the cellar. Later, Bull built a courtroom on the southwest… Read more

E.P. Taylor is shown in October 1973 leading Lord Durham, with jockey Sandy Hawley, to the winner's circle at Woodbine. - Ron Bull/Toronto Star file photo
Famed E.P. Taylor Horse Racing Empire Got its Start in North York

Family bequeathed home to Canadian Film Centre One of Canada’s largest-ever horse racing empires got its start in North York at a 10-hectare estate, Windfields, on Bayview Avenue between Lawrence and York Mills streets, owned by legendary Canadian business tycoon and thoroughbred racehorse breeder E.P. Taylor. He bought the land in 1932. Up until then, he had rented residences. Edward Plunket Taylor (1901-1989), generally known by his initials, was one of Canada’s wealthiest businesspeople. People… Read more

Milne House, Edwards Gardens
Fire Destroys Landmark House (Milne House, Edwards Gardens)

On November 27, 1962, an important part of North York history was destroyed, when a three-alarm fire swept through the 150-year-old Milne Homestead, a showpiece of the Metro Parks’ Edward Gardens (now the Toronto Botanical Gardens). After being alerted at 1.55 a.m., firefighters from five stations rushed to the scene. They fought to control the fire in a struggle that lasted until 7.00 a.m., but were unsuccessful. Fortunately, nobody was injured. According to The Enterprise newspaper, the blaze may have started… Read more

First Miss Canada Winner in 1946 was from North York

Marion Saver received $2,000 worth of merchandise, writes Susan Goldenberg Drum roll, please. On July 4, 1946, at the inaugural Miss Canada beauty pageant, the winner, defeating 58 other contestants, was lovely North Yorker Marion Saver, 21, who credited her victory largely to the rabbit’s foot lucky charm she had held. Three years earlier, she had been chosen Miss Toronto. The event, solely a swimsuit contest, was begun as part of Hamilton, Ontario’s centenary celebrations… Read more

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson signs autographs for Carol and Ian Bury on Jan. 22, 1965 at the official opening of Newtonbrook Secondary School in the area where Canada's 14th prime minister was born. - Harold Whyte/Toronto Star file photo
Former PM Lester Pearson’s Father a North York Minister

Former childhood home turned into ‘the first office skyscraper in the area,’ writes Susan Godenberg Lester Bowles Pearson, Canada’s 14th prime minister (1963-1968) as well as a Nobel Peace Prize winner (1957), was born April 23, 1897, in the Newton Brook Wesleyan Methodist Church manse, 5642 Yonge St. Newton Brook, named after the church, was the northernmost part of North York, stretching up to Steeles from around Cummer/Drewry Avenue. Lester’s father, Edwin Arthur Pearson, was… Read more

Main residence at Maryvale, Frank O'Connor's House, North York, in 1949. (Image by unknown photographer, courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)
Frank O’Connor Opened Laura Secord Shops on 100th Anniversary of Event

Home bequeathed to De La Salle Christian Brothers, writes Susan Goldenberg “King Candy” lived in North York many years. That’s how self-made millionaire Frank O’Connor, founder and owner of the Laura Secord chocolate stores across Canada and the Fanny Farmer U.S. candy chain, was known. Opened in 1913, the centennial of the real Laura Secord warning British forces in Ontario about an impending American attack, Laura Secord candy shops were an instant success with their… Read more

Patricia Hart, surrounded by a cheerful crowd, at her 1968 book signing, Gladys Allison Library, North York (Photo: Bill Chambers)
From the Archives: Patricia Hart’s “Pioneering in North York” 1968 Book Signing

See Rare Photos of an NYHS Special Event from 50 Years Ago Bill Chambers was a reporter/photographer at the old Willowdale Enterprise newspaper, just before Doug Dempsey sold his stake to the Mirror newspaper. In 1968, Mr. Chambers was on an Enterprise photo assignment covering Patricia Hart’s book signing of her Pioneering in North York: A History of the Borough, during a North York Historical Society meeting at the old Gladys Allison Library building (5126… Read more

Gamblers Arrested at Jolly Miller

Dozens of gamblers arrested in 1935 police raid at North York’s Jolly Miller Tavern ‘Illicit gambling dens flourished in Toronto the Good,’ writes Susan Goldenberg BY SUSAN GOLDENBERG | SCARBOROUGH MIRROR MAY 28, 2022 At 1 a.m., May 23, 1935, police smashed their way into North York’s historic Jolly Miller Tavern on Yonge Street near York Mills in what was, the Toronto Star reported at the time, the biggest raid on illegal “organized gambling” in… Read more

Gibson House Museum, photo: Sarah McCabe
Gibson House Museum

The David Gibson House is located at 5172 Yonge Street (Ward 23 Willowdale). It is a designated heritage site under by-law 27975 passed by North York City Council on December 15, 1980. The Gibson House Museum in North York is a red brick Georgian Revival farmhouse located on land that was acquired by the Gibson family in 1829. David and Elizabeth Gibson lived in a wood frame house on the site until they were forced… Read more

Gladys Allison the Driving Force Behind North York Library System

The Gladys Allison Building, since torn down, was home to North York’s first permanent library, writes Susan Goldenberg North York’s first permanent centrally located library building, opened Oct. 18, 1959, was called The Gladys Allison Building in honour of North York’s “First Lady of the Library.” Allison was the driving force behind the establishment of North York’s excellent public library system. It took her decades of unstinting effort. Born 1901, Gladys left school at 14… Read more

The golden lion, nicknamed "Henry" by library staff, is now located at North York Central Library (Photo: Sarah McCabe)
Golden Lion Hotel

February 2019 Update: The rare and exceptional golden lion sculpture, belonging to the North York Historical Society and on long-term loan to Toronto Public Library at the North York Central Library branch, is currently off view as the library completes renovations. If you’ve been on the sixth floor Canadiana department at the North York Central Library you will have seen a life-size golden lion in a glass case near the elevator. You probably wondered how… Read more

Ann O'Reilly Road
Heritage Street Names in the North York Community Area: Ann O’Reilly Road

2205 Sheppard Avenue East (new development) Ann O’Reilly married Patrick O’Sullivan, and in 1860 they opened a hotel on her father’s property, on the north-west corner of Victoria Park and Sheppard, near the proposed street. Patrick died the following year and his wife carried on the business. Their son, Michael, opened the O’Sullivan’s Corners Post Office in the hotel and became its first postmaster in 1892. Dinner at O’Sullivan’s Hotel was very popular until the… Read more

The 1850 Stong Farmhouse at Keele St. and Steeles Ave. in 1975
Historic Stong Family

Stong College, at York University, is named in honour of the loyalist family, whose land provided a significant portion of the university, and of nearby Black Creek Pioneer Village. The college provides courses in liberal arts, health services and creative writing, in what the university describes, as the “enriched pioneer spirit” of the Stongs. The Stong family came to Upper Canada from Pennsylvania as part of the loyalist migration from the U.S., following the American… Read more

Zion School, S.S. #12, Finch Ave. east of Leslie St., built 1869, photo circa 1890, North York Historical Society photo
Historic Zion Schoolhouse

The Schoolhouse is located at 1091 Finch Avenue East, (Ward 33, Don Valley East). It is a designated heritage site under by-law 27974 passed the North York City Council on December 15, 1980. Zion Schoolhouse has been owned by the City of Toronto since amalgamation of the City’s heritage museums in 2000, and is now managed and operated by the Toronto’s Cultural Services. The schoolhouse was built in 1869 by the citizens of the farming… Read more

William McDougall
Hon. William McDougall: Father of Confederation

William McDougall was born to Daniel McDougall and Hannah Matthews on January 25, 1822 He was raised on his grandfather John McDougall’s farm, lot 4, con.1 west of Yonge which his father acquired in 1826. (The property ran from Yonge to Bathurst and comprised the present-day streets of Glenview, Glengrove and Glencairn.) Among the events which the young McDougall witnessed was the burning of Montgomery’s Tavern during the Rebellion of 1837. Following his studies at… Read more

The Huron-Wendat Trail, opened in 2013, runs along North York’s Finch Hydro Corridor by a site (known as the Parsons Site) where archeological remains of an ancestral Huron-Wendat village were discovered.
Indigenous Artifacts From as Early as 1300 A.D. Found in North York

Susan Goldenberg talks about archeological discovery of Indigenous cultures Indigenous artifacts from as early as 1300 to 1500 A.D. have been discovered in North York by archaeologists in excavation digs. They include fragments of wood palisades, tools made of stone and animal bone, pottery, pipes, and human remains. The one thought to be oldest, circa 1300, a village plus an ossuary, was uncovered by chance in 1997, near Leslie Street and York Mills Road, when… Read more

John McKenzie House, located in central North York, was built in 1913. - Ontario Historical Society photo
John McKenzie House is a North York Landmark that was Saved

Century-old home is a preservation lesson, writes Susan Goldenberg The saving of historic John McKenzie House at 34 Parkview Ave., built near Yonge Street in 1913 when central North York began to flourish, is a preservation lesson. The house — three storeys, 12 rooms, three bathrooms, stained glass window, electricity (rare then), wraparound veranda — was built by McKenzie on former family farmland. There also were a milk house, stable and coach house. He and… Read more

Lawrence Plaza opened Oct. 29, 1953. - Dan Pearce/Torstar
Lawrence Plaza: Toronto’s First Suburban Shopping Centre Opened in 1953

At 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 29, 1953, a huge bang resounded throughout North York, as a cannon was fired at the northwest corner of Lawrence and Bathurst streets. It marked the exuberant official opening of two-storey Lawrence Plaza, Toronto’s first suburban shopping centre, and also then the city’s largest, a pivotal moment in North York’s modernization. Before, the land had been cow pasture. There were 40 retail shops on the ground floor, medical, dental and… Read more

Roy Risebrough, long retired in this 1979 photo, in one of his early cases came across a tale of alcohol and drug addiction. - Jeff Goode/Torstar file photo
Long-time North York Police Chief Roy Risebrough Retired Rather Than Amalgamate

‘Metro Council wanted to unify police and fire departments,’ writes Susan Goldenberg In April 1953 the Toronto area’s 13 municipalities, including a strongly opposed North York, were amalgamated as Metropolitan Toronto. Each municipality retained autonomy in local matters but services that crossed boundaries became Metro responsibilities — water supply, sewage disposal, public transit, education and health and welfare. But not policing and firefighting. There was a confusing repercussion. Each municipality had different coloured fire hydrants,… Read more

Graydon Hall is now an upscale events facility owned by the city of Toronto. - Colin McConnell/Toronto Star file photo
Next to Casa Loma in Toronto, there was Graydon Hall

Now owned by the city, Graydon Hall built in 1936 ‘by super-rich Toronto financier Henry Rupert Bain,’ writes Susan Goldenberg With 29 rooms, Graydon Hall — on Graydon Hall Drive south of Highway 401 and Don Mills Road — was once the grandest residence in the Toronto area after, of course, Casa Loma (with 98 rooms). It also has a dramatic history. Now a city-owned events facility, Graydon Hall was built in 1936 by super-rich… Read more

Then North York Mayor James Service examines a new building in his fast growing community. He advocated a name-change for North York. - Boris Spremo/Toronto Star file photo
North York Almost Switched Names to ‘Yonge’ in the 1960s

‘A referendum was suggested but not held,’ writes Susan Goldenberg In the late 1960s “Yonge” almost replaced North York as the community’s name and North York briefly had bilingual English/French stop signs. As North York transitioned from rural to urban in the 1960s some people, including then mayor James Service, thought it should change its name so that it would no longer be seen as a northern outpost of Toronto. Service hired image consultant Chris… Read more

In the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Etobicoke residents are rescued from the overflowing banks of the Humber River. - Courtesy TRCA
North York Constable Helped Out when Hurricane Hazel Slammed into Etobicoke

‘In Ontario 81 people were killed, 35 of them on one street alone,’ says Susan Goldenberg On October 15, 1954 Hurricane Hazel, the most famous and worst hurricane in Canadian history, roared through Toronto, leaving death and destruction in its wake. One of the witnesses was then-North Yorker Brian Weller who shared his recollections for this article. “As a four year old I clearly recall standing at the master bedroom of our home at 22… Read more

Aggie Hogg's Store and Don Library, circa 1925, on Don Mills Road. - North York Historical Society photo courtesy Toronto Public Library Digital Archive
North York Entrepreneur Aggie Hogg was Ahead of Her Time

Don Mills street named in honour of 19th century business owner, writes Susan Goldenberg “Aggie Hogg Gardens,” a short interior street alongside the green space in the middle of the Shops at Don Mills at Lawrence Avenue and Don Mills Road, is named in honour of a notable 19th century North York woman who was way ahead of her time. According to Patricia W. Hart’s “Pioneering in North York”, published in 1968, Aggie Hogg boldly… Read more

Home of Colonel Eric Phillips, date unknown (post-1943). Courtesy Toronto Public Library.
North York General Hospital’s Phillips House had Long Line of Rich Owners

‘Phillips made a fortune supplying glass to multi-millionaire Oshawa automaker,’ writes Susan Goldenberg If only the walls at Phillips House, on Buchan Court at Sheppard and Leslie, could talk! Now the child and adolescent mental health services headquarters of North York General Hospital, it has a long, colourful history. Phillips House wasn’t always the name nor was the property as small as it is today. Originally it was a 600-acre farm owned by William Armstrong,… Read more

People are seated on verandah of O'Sullivan's Hotel in North York. Patrick O'Sullivan, from Cork, Ireland, and his wife Ann opened the two-storey hotel in 1860. – Toronto Public Library archive
North York Historical Society’s Latest Plaque Commemorates O’Sullivan Hotel

Popular landmark opened in 1860, demolished in 1954, writes Susan Goldenberg The North York Historical Society on July 20 will unveil its latest heritage plaque, this time for the O’Sullivan Hotel, a popular North York gathering place for nearly a century. Located at the northwest corner of Old Sheppard Avenue, a few blocks north of Sheppard, and Victoria Park Ave., the two-storey hotel was opened in 1860 by Ann O’Reilly and Patrick O’Sullivan, the year… Read more

Shown in 1905, William Duncan III's son David Duncan built "Moatfield" c. 1865. The house was relocated in 1986 and is now the David Duncan House restaurant. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.
North York Pioneer William Duncan’s Legacy Lives on in Restaurant

“He bought a huge piece of land in 1827 along Sheppard for $3.50 an acre,” writes Susan Goldenberg William Duncan III (1801-1886) was a key figure in the development of the North York neighbourhood of Downsview. From Ireland, he bought a huge piece of land in 1827 along Sheppard between Dufferin and Keele for $3.50 an acre, naming it Dublin Farm. The small community at Sheppard and Dufferin that grew up around it was called… Read more

North York's Winnie Roach Leuszler, the first Canadian to swim the English Channel. - Toronto Star file photo
North York Woman First Canadian to Swim English Channel

‘Winnie went with only $36,’ writes Susan Goldenberg Aug. 16 will mark the 68th anniversary of North Yorker Winnifred “Winnie” Roach Leuszler, 25, making history as the first Canadian to swim the English Channel. The London, England Daily Mail invited the world’s top 20 swimmers from 10 countries to compete, swimming from France to England. The Daily Mail sent a one-way plane ticket. Winnie went with only $36. Swimming the front crawl at 40 strokes… Read more

Good friends enjoy a lunchtime walk through Edwards Gardens in this file photo from June 2002. - Tannis Toohey/Toronto Star file photo
North York’s Edwards Gardens Named after Millionaire who Cut City Good Deal

Businessman Rupert Edwards turned down more lucrative offers from private developers, writes Susan Goldenberg “Grab That Park!” the Toronto Star urged in an Aug. 6, 1955 editorial when millionaire Toronto businessman Rupert Edwards offered to sell his gorgeous 26-acre North York country estate at Leslie and Lawrence to the city for a bargain $160,000. He had been offered more than $400,000 by developers. “No person will object to his hope the park will bear his… Read more

CF Fairview is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. - Dan Pearce/Torstar
North York’s Fairview Mall Celebrates Half a Century in Business

Mall was northeast Toronto’s first regional shopping centre, writes Susan Goldenberg North York’s Fairview Mall is celebrating its 50-year golden jubilee. The two-level $20 million, then 100-store mall was swamped with shoppers and gawkers when it opened 50 years ago on August 5, 1970. There was a mammoth day-long traffic jam. Before 11 a.m. almost all 3,400 parking spaces were full and the traffic snarl jammed Sheppard Avenue, Don Mills Road and the Don Valley… Read more

This vintage Model T Ford, circa 1919, from the Craven Foundation Automobile Collection, was converted into a police wagon. Model T Fords were also converted into fire trucks, one of which served as North York’s first vehicle with firefighting capabilities. - Scanned from the Toronto Star
North York’s First Fire Truck was a Converted Model T Ford Car

‘The truck was so slow that bicyclists easily passed it,’ writes Susan Goldenberg In North York’s pioneering days firefighting was by water bucket brigade. In 1922, when North York became independent from York township, one of the first actions was to buy the community’s first-ever fire truck, a converted Model T Ford car, popular with small rural communities because it was sturdy, easy to use by volunteer firefighters with no formal training, and affordable. It… Read more

North York’s first movie theatre, the Willow, seen here in a 1963 photo provided by the North York Historical Society, opened in 1948 at Yonge Street and Norton Avenue. - Ted Chirnside photo
North York’s First Movie Theatre Opened on Yonge Street 1948

Willow theatre sold in 1987, demolished and replaced with condos, offices North York’s first movie theatre – the Willow, opened June 18, 1948, at Yonge Street and Norton Avenue, between Sheppard and Finch avenues, in the Willowdale area – signified that the community was no longer a rural backwater. The theatre had a distinctive yellow tiled marquee trimmed in red, plus an attached tall vertical sign that said in yellow vertical letters on a red… Read more

Telephone exchanges, like this typical one from 1899 with an unidentified operator, were opened in business establishments, stores and even residences. North York got its first exchange in 1925. - Bell Canada Historical Department
North York’s First Phone was its Only One From 1888 Until 1910

First telephone exchange opened in 1925, writes Susan Goldenberg It was a step into the modern era when, in 1888, North York general store Lindsay, Francis & Company obtained the first telephone in the then small, mostly rural community. It paid Bell Telephone $100 for a connection to its north Yonge Street premises. Alexander Graham Bell had invented the newfangled device 12 years earlier. The first phone installed in Canada was in 1881, in a… Read more

Roy Risebrough, North York's first police chief retired in 1957. He's pictured here in 1979. - Jeff Goode/Toronto Star file photo
North York’s First Police Chief Never Carried a Gun

‘For a year he was the entire force,’ writes Susan Goldenberg When North York became independent from York Township in 1922, Roy Risebrough, a farmer and leader of the independence movement, was appointed chief of police at $30 a week (equal to $450 today). For a year he was the entire force. A second police officer was appointed in 1923, a third in 1926 and a fourth in 1928. Risebrough never carried a pistol and… Read more

Yonge and Sheppard, looking north, in 1897. - North York Historical Society photo
North York’s First Schools — in Newtonbrook and Willowdale — Opened in 1801

‘Expenditures were frugal; at one school, $2.50 on repairs for the year,’ writes Susan Goldenberg With the fall school season approaching, it’s a good time to look back at education in North York in its early days. In 1801 the community’s first two schools were opened, one in Newtonbrook and the other in Willowdale, both centrally located. They were simple log structures, built within the road allowance because parents worried that if they were built… Read more

Antonio Fusillo, the brother of one of the workers who died in the Hoggs Hollow Disaster, is overcome with emotion as he examines Laurie Swim's memorial quilt unveiled at York Mills Subway station, March 17, 2010. - Jim Wilkes/Toronto Star file photo
North York’s Hoggs Hollow Disaster of 1960 Killed 5 Construction Workers

Disaster led to major overhaul of labour laws, writes Susan Goldenberg This year marks the 61st anniversary of North York’s terrible “Hoggs Hollow Disaster.” At 6 p.m. on March 17, 1960, twelve young Italian immigrant construction workers in their twenties installing a water main under the Don River at Hoggs Hollow near Yonge Street and York Mills Road were nearing the end of their shift when a fire suddenly erupted in the tunnel. They were… Read more

Oriole Public School in September 1956, Sheppard Ave. E, south side, between Provost Dr. and Old Leslie St. (Photo by James Victor Salmon courtesy Toronto Public Library)
North York’s Last Functioning One-Room Schoolhouse Served for 132 Years

Closure paved way to widening of Sheppard Avenue, writes Susan Goldenberg North York has the distinction of having had Toronto’s last functioning one-room little red schoolhouse – Oriole Public School on Sheppard near Leslie, open for 132 years, from 1826 to 1958. There were four buildings over the years. The first, built in 1826, was built with logs. The second, in 1848, the third, in 1874, and the fourth, in 1910, were all red brick.… Read more

"Off to the new science centre are Karl Brown; 5; Sandra Barrese; 5; and Stephanie Brown; 7; on a preview trip of the $30 million provincial Centennial project. The children were entranced with the imposing concrete face of the Raymond Moriyama-designed three-level building." (Photo by Reg Innell courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)
North York’s Ontario Science Centre a $30M Gamble that Paid Off

Centre broke new ground by encouraging visitors to ‘please touch’ the exhibits, writes Susan Goldenberg The Ontario Science Centre, 51 years old on Sept. 27, was a $30 million gamble, located in what was then outer North York — remote from downtown Toronto, with a little-known architect and a revolutionary concept of “please touch” the exhibits. The cost ballooned from a planned $5 million to $30 million; top officials, including the director, resigned during construction;… Read more

Prosperous land surveyor David Gibson was part of the Upper Canada Rebellion and was later pardoned. - North York Historical Society photo
North York’s Original Gibson House Torched by Government Soldiers

Pardoned for treason, David Gibson rebuilt his home which ‘still stands today, 170 years later,’ writes Susan Goldenberg There are two good reasons to visit Gibson House, North York’s best known historic site, at Park Home and Yonge Street across from the North York Civic Centre, in December. One, the enjoyable Christmastime festivities. Two, Dec. 7 marks the 181st anniversary of when the original house, built by prosperous land surveyor David Gibson, was burned down… Read more

Herb Carnegie, in 1987, poses with Flemington Public School students participating in his Future ACES, a program on the fundamentals of living. - Jim Russell/Toronto Star file photo
North Yorker Herb Carnegie a Hockey Trailblazer

‘He retired in 1954, then became a successful businessperson and philanthropist,’ writes Susan Goldenberg North Yorker Herb Carnegie was a trailblazer, the first black hockey star, in the 1940s into the early 1950s. Yet, he never made it into the National Hockey League because of his skin colour. The NHL was all-white. Born in 1919 to Jamaican immigrants, “Herbie” started playing hockey on North York’s frozen ponds at eight. At 18 he joined the junior… Read more

"Boom town: Architect Raymond Moriyama and North York Mayor Mel Lastman look over model of civic-centre expansion that is expected to spark a development boom," October 4, 1982 (Image by Dick Darrell, courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)
NYHS Remembers Mel Lastman (1933-2021)

The North York of today largely is due to Mel Lastman, mayor of North York for a record astounding twenty-five years, 1972-1997. He was in the lead in the transformation from a sleepy Toronto suburb into what he proudly called “downtown uptown.” Born in 1933 in Toronto’s Kensington Market to poor Jewish immigrants, he developed a cross-country chain, Bad Boy Furniture and Appliances, with the famous slogan – “Who’s better than Bad Boy? Nooobody!” In… Read more

Overtaxed and Underserviced, North York Broke Away from Toronto in 1922

‘Residents hauled ashes to fill potholes,’ writes Susan Goldenberg What is now North York has been around a very long time. In the early 1920s proof was found that animal life in North York dated back thousands of years when a farmer digging in a pit on his land discovered a six-foot tusk that an archaeologist estimated was between 10,000 and 25,000 years old. North York has a strong First Nations legacy. Between 1400 and… Read more

This photo, from 1912, shows a Toronto and York Radial Railway streetcar on Yonge Street (looking south on Yonge Street at Sherwood Avenue). - Public domain/courtesy of Toronto Public Library
Public Transit Started Rolling in North York in 1828

Stage coaches gave way to streetcars in 1890, writes Susan Goldenberg Public transit through North York began in 1828 with stage coaches from Toronto up to Lake Simcoe. Heated, electric streetcars with a smoking section and a speed of 12 miles per hour took over in 1890. The single-track line, used by both northbound and southbound streetcars, ran along the west side of Yonge Street to York Mills, where it crossed to the east side.… Read more

‘War Savings Bonds sales were huge in North York,’ recalls Allan Westwood. - Hamilton Spectator file photo
Remembering North York during the Second World War

Susan Goldenberg details life on the homefront during wartime Most North Yorkers during the Second World War were of English descent and strongly supported England. “They believed that England was always in the right, that it must be saved, that Canada should be at war because England was in trouble,” former North Yorker Allan Westwood said. He grew up in North York in the 1940s. “War Savings Bonds sales were huge in North York, out… Read more

Robert Hicks, first reeve of North York

North York turns 100 thanks in no small part to its first reeve, Robert Hicks ‘Fed up, North York wanted to secede,’ writes Susan Goldenberg BY NORTH YORK MIRROR APR 1, 2022 North York marks its 100th anniversary of independence this year so a salute to Robert Franklin Hicks, in the forefront of this achievement, then the community’s first reeve (equivalent of mayor), is merited. Robert Hicks Park and Robert Hicks Drive, both at Finch… Read more

York Mills Presbyterian Church Plaque
Some Interesting Early York Mills Residents

Thomas Mercer The Thomas Mercer family drove from Pennsylvania in 1794 in a wagon with a cow tethered behind, and when requesting land Mercer was offered one hundred acres in exchange for his wagon. Cornelius Anderson Cornelius Anderson, with his family of nine children, settled in York Mills around the time the Mercers did. During the War of 1812 he lost a horse pressed into service by the government and many years later he received… Read more

St Johns York Mills
St. John’s Anglican Church York Mills, 1816-2016

The bicentennial is just one year away for St. John’s York Mills Anglican Church, the oldest church in North York and the second oldest in Toronto. The oldest is St. James Cathedral, which is a parish church as well as a cathedral. St. James, at King and Church Streets in downtown Toronto, was started in 1807. St. John’s, located on Don Ridge Drive in the York Mills-Old Yonge Street district, was started in 1816. Before… Read more

St. John’s rehab in North York. - Dan Pearce/Torstar
St. John’s Rehab is North York’s Oldest Surviving Hospital

‘The 30-acre site was purchased for $18,000,’ writes Susan Goldenberg Eighty-seven years ago on Dec. 7, 1933 the cornerstone was laid for St. John’s Rehabilitation Hospital, today North York’s oldest surviving hospital. It was the Toronto area’s first rehabilitation hospital. Previously farmland, the 30-acre site was purchased for $18,000 — an outstanding bargain in retrospect. Today, houses in the area, with frontage from 55 to 140 square feet, cost around $2 million. The hospital was… Read more

Threshing on west side of Yonge Street, north of the North York Civic Centre, circa 1945. Given to the NYHS by Robert McQuillan.
Tales of Old North York

In 1960, long time North York resident, Harold Gray, collected and recounted anecdotes about early North York life. These stories are in the North York Historical Society’s scrapbooks which are currently being integrated into the North York Central Library’s Canadiana Department. Grinding for Tolls: In his grandfather’s time there was not much money around and a lot of the grinding was done by toll; that is, the miller charged a certain number of pounds (currency)… Read more

Patricia Hart, surrounded by a cheerful crowd, at her 1968 book signing, Gladys Allison Library, North York (Photo: Bill Chambers)
The Enterprise: North York’s First Newspaper

North York’s first newspaper was founded November 11, 1926 in Willowdale. Called The Enterprise, it was established by Robert Rankin, a printer, and Thomas Osbourne, a linotype operator. They thought the market was ripe for a community paper, as North York transitioned from a rural community to an urban one. The four-page weekly paper was first produced, in what used to be a store, just north of Yonge and Sheppard. The paper was given the… Read more

The Golden Lion, front and side, after his recent spa treatment.
The Golden Lion Roars Again!

We’re delighted to announce that the Society’s Golden Lion sculpture has received a condition assessment and special treatment by conservator Susan Maltby. In the fall of 2019, surface grime and debris were removed and now he shines again. As a follow-up to our recent post, The Golden Lion: His Own Tale (1960), the Society thought it would be good to check in with him and see what’s been on his mind these last 50 years.… Read more

Statue of the Golden Lion at Sharon Temple
The Golden Lion: His Own Tale (1960)

The handsome life-size golden lion sculpture (c. 1834) from the landmark Golden Lion Hotel, soon to be back on display at North York Central Library, is the emblem of the North York Historical Society. He’s seen and heard a lot in his 185+ years! Back in 1960, when he lived at Sharon Temple north of Toronto, his future was uncertain. What might have been on his mind? The York Pioneer and Historical Society published this… Read more

Swing Bridge Between Robert and James Hogg Farms
The Hogg Family

The Hogg family played an influential role in the early days of North York. James Hogg emigrated from Scotland and bought Thomas Arnold’s Mills and farm in 1824. Gradually he extended his holdings and renamed his property York Mills. In 1851, his sons were old enough to take over the property. John and William opened a subdivision called Hogg’s Hollow, and James, the youngest son, became a miller. John Hogg owned extensive property on both… Read more

Mazo de la Roche
The Home of Mazo de la Roche, 3950 Bayview Avenue

For more than two years, between 1976 and 1978, the fate of the onetime home in North York of Mazo de la Riche, author of the bestselling Jalna books about nineteenth-century Ontario, was fought over by preservationists versus developers. The struggle was as melodramatic in its way as the soap opera plot of her Jalna books. At issue was whether the 17-room fieldstone and stucco house would be razed to make way for a housing… Read more

Yonge and Sheppard, looking north, in 1897. - North York Historical Society photo
The Pioneer Life a Hard One and North York No Exception

Longest lasting log cabin in area survived 141 years, was demolished in 1956, writes Susan Goldenberg Next time you grumble about electrical, heating or plumbing problems, reflect on the hard life of North York’s pioneers in much of the 1800s. Land was cleared and log-cabin homes built by “bees” — co-operative gatherings of neighbours. Logs were notched to fit together at the corners, with cracks filled with wedge-shaped pieces of wood plastered with clay. The… Read more

Toronto Mayor David Crombie donned a conductor's hat and took the controls of a subway train carrying VIPs to officially open York Mills station. - Fred Ross/Toronto Star file photo
The Subway Comes to North York

‘The extension helped transform North York from mainly rural to urban,’ writes Susan Goldenberg March 30 marks two very significant milestones for when the subway finally came to North York. On March 30, 1973 the North Yonge subway extension to York Mills opened, and on March 30, 1974 the Sheppard and Finch stations followed — on the 20th anniversary of the opening of the original line from Union Station to Eglinton. The extension helped transform… Read more

Taylor Brothers Paper Mill, Don River, east side, south of Pottery Road; watercolour by Owen Staples, 1909 (courtesy Toronto Public Library)
The Taylor Brothers

John Taylor, Senior, a Methodist (1773-1868), his wife, Margaret Hawthorne, and seven children emigrated from Uttoxeter, County of Staffordshire, England, in 1821, settling initially in Cherry Valley, near Albany, New York. In 1825 they moved to Vaughan Township in Upper Canada and pioneered there for about nine years before coming to the forks of the Don River. In 1839, three sons, John, Thomas and George, purchased land from Samuel Sinclair (1797-1852), except for a portion… Read more

Windsor's Barb-B-Q on Yonge Street, just north of Sheppard Avenue, was owned by bookie/alleged racketeer Jimmy Windsor, who was gunned down in 1939. - Metroland file photo
Toronto’s First Gangland Murder in 1939 had North York Connection

Murder victim owned Windsor’s Barb-B-Q roadhouse on Yonge Street, writes Susan Goldenberg What all the Toronto newspapers called “Toronto’s First Gangland Murder” — the Jan. 7, 1939 shooting death of bookie/alleged racketeer Jimmy Windsor, 46 — had a North York connection. Earlier that day, according to newspaper stories, Jimmy, appearing carefree, had sung barbershop quartets at the Windsor’s Barb-B-Q and Dine and Dance, a roadhouse he owned and his son Jack ran on Yonge Street… Read more

Tim Morris, a descendent of the pioneering Toronto family the Cummers, poses for a photo near the corner of Yonge Street and Cummer Avenue in Willowdale in 2017. - Jesse Winter/Toronto Star file photo
What’s With Three Names for One Continuous North York Street

Cummer? Drewry? McNicoll? Susan Goldenberg explains Three names for effectively a single approximately 30-kilometre, east-west North York-Scarborough street! Drewry, starting west at Bathurst, becomes Cummer at Yonge, then, McNicoll at Leslie, extending east to Tapscott Road in Scarborough. It’s common for originally separate streets to retain their names despite being continuations, as imposing a uniform name would affect all the addresses. But usually just two different names are involved; three different names — as with… Read more

From left, Norman Boyd, Edwin Alonzo Boyd and William Jackson pictured escorted by police in Oct. 1952. - Toronto Star file photo
Where was Boyd Gang in September 1952? Hiding in North York, as it turns out

‘A mile north of Leslie and Sheppard they found an abandoned barn far back from the road and moved in,’ writes Susan Goldenberg Something all Canada wanted to know for eight nerve-racking days in September 1952 – where was the Boyd Gang, Canada’s most notorious cop killers, bank robbers and prison escapees? Surprisingly, hiding in a remote part of North York. On Sept. 16, 1952, North York police were catapulted into national attention and acclaim… Read more

Winnie Roach Leuszler
Willowdale Woman First Canadian to Swim English Channel

The recent brave attempt by five women to swim Lake Ontario length-wise by relay, brings back memories of a Willowdale woman, Winnifred “Winnie” Roach Leuszler, who was the first Canadian to swim the English Channel, doing so August 16, 1951. The Daily Mail of London, England, had invited the top 20 swimmers from around the world to compete in a cross-channel swim from France to England. The conditions were daunting – the temperature was only… Read more

Aerial view c. 1927 of land east and west of Yonge St. between Burndale Ave. and north of Finch Ave. The airfield is now York Cemetery.
York Cemetery Final Resting Place for Tim Horton, Russia’s Last Imperial Grand Duchess

Cemetery began as a big farm in the early 1800s, writes Susan Goldenberg Russia’s last imperial grand duchess, Canadian sports icons, war heroes and broadcasting legends are among those interred at York Cemetery, North York’s largest cemetery, near the North York Civic Centre. It hasn’t always been a cemetery. It began as a big farm in the early 1800s, 200 acres assembled by prominent North York pioneer Joseph Shepard. The land was purchased by the… Read more

Yorkdale Shopping Centre, the world’s largest enclosed shopping mall of its time, opened in North York on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 1964. - Rick Madonik/Toronto Star file photo
Yorkdale Shopping Centre Opened as World’s Largest Enclosed Shopping Mall

‘Yorkdale was regarded as a shopping wonder,’ writes Susan Goldenberg On Wednesday February 26, 1964, Yorkdale Shopping Centre, the world’s largest enclosed shopping mall of its time, opened in North York, attracting a huge crowd of 100,000 people. “It was like the Friday before Christmas,” the Toronto Star wrote. The official opening was at noon. The reigning Miss Canada cut an 18-inch wide ribbon before an invited audience of 100 VIPs who subsequently had a… Read more