Saturday June 4, 2016
The former village of Eglinton isn’t a ghost town in the classical sense because there are more people living there than ever. The little village of Eglinton has been replaced by Yonge and Eglinton, the third busiest intersection in the city. The ghost of the old village still remains lightly stamped on the intersection but in danger of fading away forever in spite of it’s role in the Rebellion of 1837.
The intersection of Yonge and Eglinton was originally the starting point for the survey of the townships in the GTA. Lot 1 on the west side of Eglinton was part of a large grant given to Baron de Hoen for his service to the British in the American Revolutionary War. The Baron lost his fortune and began selling some of his property and in 1830 he sold lot 1 to John Montgomery who had been a partner in the Bird in Hand, a tavern at Yonge and Finch. The village of Eglinton was centred just north of the main intersection at Montgomery Street. This is the highest point on John Montgomery’s property along Yonge Street. This is where he chose to build a hotel he called Montgomery’s Tavern. It became a favourite watering hole along Yonge Street for both men and horses. Short-lived, it became legendary because it would be burnt down just five years later in the Rebellion of 1837. The county atlas map below shows Eglinton as it existed in 1877.
As early as 1824 John Montgomery was associated with a rebel movement which was intent on taking control of the government away from the Family Compact. By 1837 William Lyon Mackenzie had 400 to 500 rebels stirred up for open rebellion. The meeting place for the rebels was to be Montgomery’s Tavern. When the rebellion was crushed the tavern was burned in retaliation for Montgomery’s part in the plot. John was arrested and convicted of high treason. He was sentenced to death but it was commuted to life banishment in Tasmania. Montgomery escaped and went to the US where he stayed until he was pardoned in 1843. At his trial Montgomery claimed he was convicted by perjurers and that the judge and witnesses would all be dead and he would still be living on Yonge Street. He built a new hotel on the site of the first one and outlived everyone at the trial. By the 1890’s there was still a hotel here but now it was known as Oulcott’s Hotel as seen in the picture below.
The hotel was used as the post office until 1932 when it was torn down and replaced with Postal Station K. The site is currently under development as Montgomery Square, a much needed condo project, but the old post office is being preserved. That is good because it is a rare example of a government building that bears the emblem for Edward VIII who abdicated the throne.
On the north side on Montgomery Street a Masonic Hall was built in 1874. When it burned down in 1881 the town bought the lot and built a town hall. The town hall stood until the make work projects of the Depression Era led to the building being demolished and replaced with Police Station 53. The building currently serves as the Anne Johnston Health Station.
Behind the former police station stands the fire hall built in 1932.
The biggest industry in Eglinton was the Pears Brick yards. In 1885 the Pears brothers were looking for new source of clay for their brick industry because their yards opposite the Rosedale Subway station were exhausted. John Montgomery’s former property on lot 1 contained a large deposit of clay beside a 40 meter tall, 1 kilometer long drumlin. Avenue road runs up the drumlin, which is a glacial deposit. By 1891 they had a crew of 50 men making 3 million bricks per year. Pears produced both red and yellow bricks as two coloured brick construction was popular in Ontario at that time. They operated the brick yard until 1926 when it was sold to the city as a park. Often remembered as Pears Park it is officially known as Eglinton Park. This view from the west side of the park gives some idea of the amount of clay that was removed from the brick yards.
The first school in Eglinton was a one room log building on Yonge Street built in 1842. By the 1890’s it had been replaced with a two story brick school on Erskine Avenue. In 1912 a new school was built on the corner of Mount Pleasant and Eglinton and the school on Erskine became the John Fisher School. The original brick building remains hidden behind multiple additions and can still be seen from the east side of the building. The windows in the picture below are part of that original structure.
The first street in Eglinton, other than the concession roads, was Victoria Street. In 1857 a plan was put forward for the first subdivision in the town on a piece of property belonging to Jessie Ketchum. Part of the arrangement was that a given road would be constructed to connect Yonge Street with the 1st line east (Bayview). On the east side of Yonge Street Blythwood has been continued onto lot 3 which formerly belonged to two Snider families and is known today as Lytton Boulevard. The house marked on the map as E&W Snider (just to the left of the red arrow) was built in 1828 and is the oldest remaining building from the village of Eglinton. It is featured in the cover photo. Eglinton was merged with Davisville in 1890 to create North Toronto. When the North Toronto was annexed to Toronto in 1912 the street was renamed Blythwood to avoid confusion with Victoria Street downtown. The bridge over Burke Brook is seen in this 1915 archive photo.
Zion Baptist Church stood on Yonge Street just north of Castlefield but even 100 years ago property taxes were higher on Yonge Street and so the church was moved around the corner. The church was braced with a tensioning wire that still runs across the auditorium. It has had a couple of expansions that can be seen in the picture below. The lighter brick tower, and some offices were added in 1938 but by 1955 the church had outgrown the building again. A new church building was erected and the congregation moved into Blythwood Baptist Church the next year. The front addition was made in the last few years under the ownership of Castlefield Community Church.
The Capital Theatre was built on the north west corner of Castlefield and Yonge Street in 1922. It was built about 10 meters back from the street because a little shop occupied the corner. In 1924 the 3 story Capital Building was erected in front with the little shop enclosed inside. The side of the building shows the line where the more ornate Capital Building starts. This site has recently been sold to a developer and a condo proposal is expected soon.
When Toronto got it’s first subway line in 1954 the northern terminal was at Eglinton. This forever changed the intersection and transformed it into a major hub in the city. Now it is one of the fastest growing communities and with the coming Eglinton LRT this is only going to increase. The bus terminal on the south west corner has been abandoned since 2004 and is waiting to see what it’s fate will be. One proposal has several buildings including an 80 story hotel. They are still trying to replace Montgomery’s Tavern I guess.
The Rebellion of 1837 which started and finished on Lot 1 led to government reform and the democratic system we have today.
Google maps link: Eglinton
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