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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

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

‘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

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

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

At right in this 1897 photo is Brown (Willowdale) School (1892-1963), a later school, on the west side of Yonge St., looking north from Park Home Ave. (Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library)
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

Susan Goldenberg Portrait
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Goulding Barns
Heritage Street Names in the North York Community Area: Goulding Avenue

Goulding Avenue, west of Yonge Street between Steeles Avenue West and Drewry Avenue, and nearby Goulding Park and Goulding Community Centre, are named for the Thomas Goulding family. The family owned land in the area in the 1800s. Thomas was the first to purchase property. He had served in the Peninsular War as a veterinary surgeon and was able to practice over a wide area in Upper Canada. One son, Robert, purchased adjoining property. William,… Read more

North York 1927
Timeline of North York

1796 Yonge Street opened.2 York Mills established as a transfer point for Northwest Company boats. Boats went up the Don River to York Mills then were hauled on wheels to Holland Landing.2 1801 Samuel Heron built a mill at York Mills but went bankrupt two years later.2 1804 Andrew McGlashan emigrated from Scotland and built a log cabin east of Bayview Avenue and north of York Mills Road.2 1815 Andrew McGlashan sold the south half of… Read more