North York’s northwest “Downsview” neighbourhood got its name from “Downs View,” the farmstead home built in 1844 near Keele and Wilson by an important figure in North York history, John Perkins Bull, like many in the area of British descent.
“Downs” is British English for low hills covered in grass, used as pasture. Bull liked the view of his “downs” from his hilltop home. He owned 200 acres, given him in 1843 when he turned 21 by his father Bartholomew.
He was domineering. He called himself “Squire Bull.” “Squire” is British English for “a man of high social standing who owns and lives on an estate in a rural area, especially the chief landowner in such an area.”
Bull wasn’t the largest landowner; others also owned 200 acres, but he was the most prominent. He was active in promoting agricultural development in the area, a deputy reeve, and influential member of the local Wesleyan Methodist Church which originally met in his home. He married twice and had three boys and three girls.
The house was substantial — two floors with a pillared entrance, exterior painted white with blue around the top and sides of windows.
He served as a justice of the peace for 35 years. Usually this entailed going on a circuit, but Bull bulldozed over this rule. The roads then were muddy and potholed or plank with tolls. Bull found them an ordeal and decided to hold court proceedings at his home, building a courtroom at a corner of the veranda. He turned his basement into a jail for the convicted.
He hosted post-exam celebrations for teachers and pupils in his orchard, providing a hearty meal of poultry, sardines, pies, and cakes. Games and races followed.
In 1941 a descendant William Perkins Bull, born at Downs View, wrote a reference book From Oxford to Ontario: A History of the Downsview Community published by the Bull Foundation. The Toronto Public Library system has copies.
Rapid development beginning in the 1950s turned Downsview from rural to urban. Since the 1960s the residence has been the North Park Nursing Home.
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,” she has won both a Canadian Author’s Award and a Canadian Business Press Editors’ Award.