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

Susan Goldenberg Portrait
Susan Goldenberg is a director and membership chair of the North York Historical Society which preserves North York's heritage. - Marla Weingarten/photo

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 1650 the Hurons set up encampments along the banks of Black Creek, a Humber River tributary, where Pioneer Village now stands at Jane and Steeles. A narrow footpath through the woods on the eastern side of the Humber, known as the Toronto Carrying Place, saved the Hurons and early fur traders from a much longer voyage over the Great Lakes as they travelled to the upper lakes of Huron and Superior.

As settlers moved into North York, lots, each 200 acres, were laid out in a grid pattern with Yonge Street the dividing line between east and west.

North York Aerial View
Aerial view of North York in 1927. – North York Historical Society/photo

Until 1922 the area now known as North York was the northern part of York Township, with the city of Toronto the southern part. Mostly farmland, North York stretched from Steeles in the north, the Humber River on the west, Victoria Park on the east and a jagged southern line mainly running along Eglinton Avenue in the east, and then up Yonge Street to Lawrence in the west.

The farmers resented paying one-fifth of the taxes with little representation in the government and few services. Their one representative was defeated in 1920.

There was no garbage collection, no snow clearance, just thirteen street lamps and only dirt roads. Residents hauled ashes from their fireplaces to fill potholes.

The farmers organized a plebiscite for independence. Roy Risebrough, later North York’s first police chief, was put in charge as he had a car and could access the spread-out population of 6,000.

On July 17, 1922 by a margin of 393, separation was approved. A five-man council was chosen August 13. Their office was so tiny that the door had to be closed to make room for them.

Plans immediately were made for larger premises. Costing $35,000 ($500,000 today), the two-story building at Yonge and Empress in central North York opened in December 1923 with the council chamber on the second floor, featuring North York’s seal of incorporation.

The words ‘Progress With Economy’ surrounded an ornamental shield on which were emblazoned the Canadian beaver, a wheat sheaf, scales of justice, and maple leaves around the sides to symbolize a community of industrious people living in prosperity with fertile land, and dispensing justice and square dealing.

There were also municipal offices and a community hall.

Later repurposed as a courthouse, the building was partially demolished in 1989, with some of the faҫade retained.

Future mayors James Service and Mel Lastman proposed a civic centre in this vicinity as a brand new idea but actually it dates back to 1922.

Written by Susan Goldenberg. 

Originally published on July 13, 2018, on toronto.com.