Eglinton Cityscapes – Transit and Transition
In developing the story of transit and transition along Eglinton Avenue West, we found a story that reflects Canadian urban history well, urban history in a very generic sense and a neighbourhood history that is still unfolding as new transit lines are built.
Our neighbourhood has always been a ‘working class’ neighbourhood. When the area finally developed as an affordable housing option for Toronto workers, it was mostly self-built. This slideshow is a succinct history of our self-built suburbs. The Paul Family home is one example of a house that was built by the inhabitants with help from friends, family and neighbours. Many of the self-built homes in the neighbourhood can still be seen. There were few services available in the early suburbs, but evidently the bread man and presumably the milkman were around.
The photo of the Ideal Bread delivery cart on Alameda Ave is all the more precious because the snow. The bread factory was on Dovercourt, initially a grocery and bakery belonging to the Dempster family. Imagine, loading up bread early in the morning at Dovercourt and travelling through snow and mud delivering bread to sparsed out family homes? I have seen in the Toronto Archives of an Ideal Bread wagon stuck in mud.
Photographs of the Paul family and homestead are displayed at 1596 Eglinton Ave. W. Incidentally, if you live in the neighbourhood and have a house 100+ years you can get a century plaque (I saw this in Spacing magazine.)
There were many brick works scattered across the city with a concentration following the escarpment just south of Eglinton. The history and methodology of brick making is much more appreciated in Toronto since Evergreen Brickworks opened near the Don Valley. However, there is also a nice synopsis here that mentions some of the brick works up in our area.
Going back to the beginning, a first attempt to market the neighbourhood was decidedly upper class, or at least upwardly mobile. An early brochure and book advertising the Toronto Highlands focuses on space, rolling hills and a luxurious ride on the Belt Line Railway.
In the brochure, the author opens by describing the “situation of Toronto, upon a gentle southerly slope” as “admirably adapted for the site of a great City”.
The Fairbank station area is described as a ‘boon’, where “local activity at the convergence of five important through fares, has already marked it out as a business centre”. The option are all splendid to the point where and there is also a warning of speculative buying in the area.
The Toronto Highlands brochure is available to view through the York University Digital Archives here.
While there are many floating comments and references to the historic ‘Five Points’, a reference to the five part intersection of Dufferin Street, Eglinton Avenue and Vaughn Road, it is difficult to find documented stories of the historically significant use of the escarpment and Vaughn Road by the First Nations before Colonialism took hold and populated the area. There are some notes with reference to Davenport here.
The 1891 marketing attempt of the Toronto Belt Land Corporation did not work so well. The neighbourhood didn’t really populate and develop until the turn of the century, and an influx of urban migrants arrived looking for work and affordable housing in Toronto. This sounds like a familiar rhetoric, doesn’t it?
In 1924, the Oakwood streetcar made travelling to the northern edges of the city possible for those working in the industrial areas closer to the lake. It is the opening of time and space in a very urban development sense. The building of Oakwood Ave is fairly well documented through photos in the Toronto Archives. There are 2 before and after photos from York Museum at 605 Oakwood. The detail in the streetcar photo is incredible.
The intersections of our Eglinton West streets are as diverse as the histories and stories themselves.
Our largest photo collection from York Museum is the story of Nathan Redmon. We have four photographs showcasing his truck yard, family home, business card and dapper sense of style. Visit 1563 Eglinton Ave to view these photos. Noting our working class and international roots, the story of Nathan Redmon is particularly inspiring.
Nathan Redmon came to Toronto from the United States in 1913. He took a job as a sleeping car porter. After saving his money for several years, he bought a truck and started his own cartage business. It grew to a fleet of nine trucks, one of the biggest in York Township. His entrepreneurial spirit and success was clearly a result of hard work and determination. By extension this also creates a link between our neighbourhood and the history of the Sleeping Car Porters
Sleeping car porters were mostly black men who had migrated to Canada. There were few other employment options available to them during the 1870s – 1950s, as racist attitudes prevailed socially. By the 1950s, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had successfully unionised, creating the first Black union in Canada. This wouldn’t have been significant if Black people were regarded as equal and welcomed into established unions at the beginning. (For more reading on this, check out Stanley Grizzle’s Book, “My Name’s Not George” or this blogpost.)
A closer look at our neighbourhood and history reveals many more interconnected stories among the people who have lived here, who work here, who move through our neighbourhood and the city which we are part of.
Please share the histories you know with us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.