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 Avenue near Dufferin Street, commemorate him.
Hicks wasn’t a North Yorker from birth. He was born in 1866 near London, Ontario and owned a district flour and feed mill. In 1901, at 35, he sold it, moved to North York and became a successful dairy cattle farmer. His Holstein-Friesian cows won prizes. He was a director of the Holstein-Friesian Association of Canada, Toronto Milk Producers’ Association, and Canadian National Exhibition.
As of 1920, North York was still largely rural, dotted with farms, part of the Township of York consisting also of East York, York, Forest Hill and Swansea, which were becoming urbanized. North York was paying almost 23 per cent of the taxes, but the township council was concentrating on urban concerns, such as street lighting and sidewalks. North York’s requests for road improvements to make it easier to get farm products to market were ignored. It was the only section without a representative on the township council. Fed up, North York wanted to secede.
The farmers, with Hicks among the leaders, went into action immediately after the Ontario United Farmers Party, organized in 1914, won the 1919 Ontario provincial election. They felt the new government would be sympathetic. They gathered signatures on a petition, which led to a private member’s bill ordering a plebiscite to be held. It approved secession and North York became a separate municipality on June 13, 1922.
Hicks was elected reeve on Aug. 12, 1922. North York’s population was 6,000. He initiated a water supply system, municipal offices building, local hydro commission, public health board and a civic shield — “Progress with Economy.” Since council members lived in different parts of North York, he told them to inspect roads in their locale. Hugely popular, he was elected four more times.
Hicks predicted North York would reach a population of at least 100,000. It grew much more.
Susan Goldenberg is a director and membership chair of the North York Historical Society, which preserves North York’s heritage. For further information, visit www.nyhs.ca.