Monthly Archives: December 2021

One-Storey Worker’s Cottages

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Over the years we’ve featured numerous mansions of the wealthy from the early years of the city of Toronto. However, the story of the working-class people who built the city is equally as important. The working class was drawn largely from recent immigrants who came to Canada fleeing persecution, landlessness, and famine with the idea of free land and lots of available work. What they found was overcrowded living conditions in cramped quarters, low-paying jobs, and years of toil to earn money to bring their families to join them. Very often they would move into places like The Ward where they lived in slum conditions with multiple families packed into small rental units. They also worked for years in the hopes that one day they could own their own little cottage that they could call their family home.

There were five designs for these workers homes but the most basic was the one-storey cottage. Beginning around 200 years ago, these cottages were usually built around a central hall plan with four rooms. Two bedrooms on one side of the hall and a parlour and kitchen on the other side. Sometimes the kitchen was in an extension on the back and there were three bedrooms. Washroom facilities were in the outhouse in the back yard. Most people had to walk to their workplace and so these homes were built close to the industrial areas. In some cases, such as Gooderham & Worts, the employer built the homes for their employees. Most of these homes were very basic but some, like 52 De Grassi in the cover photo, were much more ornate. To investigate some examples of these homes I went to Leslieville, which was a working-class community on the east side of the Don River. I parked across from 10 Lewis Avenue and went for a walk. I wonder if the 9 over 9 windows are original to this cottage.

The cottage at 26 Lewis Street is an example of one that could use a little bit of attention. The roof seems to have a bit of a sag to it and the front drain pipe is becoming detached from the roof. Many of the worker’s cottages that used to line our streets in the working-class neighbourhoods have been lost to poor maintenance over the years.

86-90 Lewis Street is a row of three attached cottages. Unlike many of the small cottages in Leslieville, this row of housing was added to the original heritage register in 1973. At the time, they were just four years shy of reaching the century mark.

Walking around the corner and going east on Queen Street you will quickly come to Saulter Street. This street also contains a selection of interesting residential styles including several of the little one-storey cottages. The home at 30 Saulter Street is board and batten construction where the small strips of wood, or batten, are used to seal the spaces between the boards. A small window in the transom above the door lets more light into the home.

The cottage at 38 Saulter Street has been painted blue and has the house number in the glass in the transom window. It also has a neat little Gothic window in the centre gable.

A few of these small cottages were decorated with some fancy gingerbread. 58 Saulter is one of those that has a decorative bargeboard.

Audley Street is just a few houses long but it starts off with a pair of attached cottages at numbers 2-4. Number 2 has angel stone on the front gables and both have had their brickwork painted over.

The homes between 2 and 14 Audley Street are all original cottages except for number 10 which is a replacement. Number 12 has had a veneer of angel stone added to the front but then it looks like the stone was painted a drab colour. Thankfully they painted the door frame green to give it a bit of colour.

79 Knox Avenue is another of these homes that have been decorated with some fancy scrollwork on the gable as well as on the ends of the drainpipes. The main windows have some interesting glazing and the south one has some stained glass in the upper panel.

There are a few of these cottages scattered on almost every street throughout Leslieville, including along Eastern Avenue. The cottage at 523 Eastern Avenue is still occupied and looks to be in pretty good repair although the siding isn’t original.

Walking, or driving, around Leslieville can be an exercise in the appreciation of our city’s architectural heritage with respect to the accommodation of our early working-class heroes.

Further reading on this subject can be found in the excellent book “Modest Hopes” by Don Loucks & Leslie Valpy.

Google Maps Link: Leslieville

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Doube’s Trestle Bridge

Sunday, December 19, 2021

On June 1, 2021 The Great Trail reverted back to its origial name of The Trans Canada Trail, which better defines this 28,000 kilometre long national trail. There’s a 53.8 kilometre section of the trail that is known as The Kawartha Trans Canada Trail. I set out to cover a small section in the middle that contains the famous Doube’s Trestle Bridge. There are a few parking spots on Orange Corner Road where you can enjoy this location which is just a short drive north of the GTA.

Starting in the 1850s, several railway lines were run north from communities along Lake Ontario including Whitby, Port Hope, Cobourg, Trenton and Belleville. These lines were intended to draw business from the larger towns to the north to their harbours and access to Toronto and Hamilton markets. Eventually these lines were connected by east west lines running between these northern towns. Peterborough and Lindsay were not connected and part of the solution was to run a line between the two. This line had to cross Buttermilk Valley and they built a 1500 foot (457 metres) wooden trestle to carry the rail line. It stood about 100 feet (29 metres) above the valley floor on the Omemee-Peterborough Line which was locally known as The Missing Link. The line was taken over by The Canadian National Railway in 1921 and track and trestle improvements were completed to accommodate heavier trains. The trestle was filled in from both ends and the centre span over the creek was converted to a steel trestle 500 feet long (150 metres). By the end of 1988 the line was abandoned and the rails lifted. Although the line was purchased in 2000 as a potential rail trail corridor it was the construction of the Trans Canada Trail that really got things moving as this was identified as a major link. By the end of 2010, 53 kilometers of the Kawarthas Trans Canada Trail was 95% complete and it would be finished in 2014. The railings below identify the steel bridge structure.

The view looking south from the bridge shows the small size of Buttermilk Creek compared to the wide ravine that stretches out on either side. About 12,000 years ago the last ice age was retreating and there was a large sheet of ice up to a kilometer thick covering this area. A large river of meltwater was flowing under the ice creating the valley below and depositing the large drumlins made of sand and gravel that dot the local countryside.

The view looking north is equally impressive with the tops of the cedars far below.

The south west end of the trestle has a park bench where you can sit and rest and look out over the valley. There’s a small trail here that will allow you to get a view of the side of the trestle. Going very far down this trail would be unadvisable because it would be easy to slip and require a rescue.

The photo below was taken from the book The Last Trains From Lindsay by Keith Hansen and shows the trestle and berm in May 1974. It gives a good idea of the height of the trestle and the size of the berm created when the ends were filled in. Also notice how the trees have been kept cleared off of the berm.

Just beyond the trestle there was a herd of cattle wandering around in the trees on the side of the hill. When they saw that I had a camera they all came down closer to the fence. They started to “Moo” at me as if I was supposed to open the gate and let them out. That wasn’t happening, there was already enough horse poo on the trail without letting 50 cows have a go at it.

There are two old trestle overpasses between Orange Corner Road and Highway 7. They allowed farmers to move livestock and equipment from one side of the tracks to the other as the rail lines often cut through the centre of a farmer’s property. This is the second of the two as you walk west and this one shows the depth of cut that the line made when it emerged from the Buttermilk Creek Valley and back onto the local topography. This part of the province is dominated by some pretty impressive glacial formations including large drumlins on the farmlands on both sides of the trail.

One of the least likely things to see on top of a tall berm is a stranded canoe. It’s obviously not going to be paddled too far in its current condition. It looks like it should have some wildflowers planted in it so that at least the local polinators can enjoy it.

Fire was always a threat in the days of steam engines because of sparks and cinders that would blow out of the smoke stack. To reduce the potential to start a fire the railway would keep the trees cleared away from the tracks for 50 feet on either side. That would have left the berm along this railway exposed to the sun and the wind and it would not have been a very nice hike on days with extreme weather conditions. Fortunately the slopes of the berm have been allowed to grow into a nice little strip of woodland.

Highway 7 passes over the old rail line on a high level concrete bridge and this is the point at which I turned around. According to the trail map at the trestle bridge, this is 3.5 kilometres from the parking spots on Orange Corner Road.

You really get to appreciate the height of the trestle above the surrounding farmland on the eastbound part of the trail. The filled-in section of the former wooden trestle runs well above the roof of the barn and the farm house just beyond it.

The views from the trestle will change with the seasons making this a year-round trail but we wonder how great it would be on a cold windy day in the middle of winter.

Google Maps Link: Doube’s Trestle Bridge

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Windfields Estate

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Windfields Estate is one of several grand estates that were built for the wealthy when Bayview Avenue north of Eglinton was home to those who could afford to escape the city. Windfields Estate is now home to the Canadian Film Centre who invite the public to enjoy the grounds. It is also connected to Windfields Park and to check the two of them out we took advantage of parking at York Mills Arena and walked down through the park system until we reached Windfields. There isn’t really any public parking on the grounds so unless you live in the area, this is likely your best option.

The site amounts to 20 acres of an original 200-acre lot. Peter Whitney was a United Empire Loyalist who cleared the land for farming. His family would sell the west half of the farm to William Bell in 1873 and the County Atlas from 4 years later shows where it was located relative to modern Bayview Avenue and York Mills Road. Wilket Creek has been highlighted in blue while the area that would become Windfields Estate is outlined in green.

From the parking lot, you can follow the paved trail or walk closer to Wilket Creek. If you take the lower route you will come to a set of stairs that lead back up to the main trail.

The park is fairly narrow as it follows the creek south toward Windfields Park. Where the greenbelt widens out into the park there is a buried culvert that used to carry a private road across the creek. The road has been removed but it followed the depression toward the modern subdivision in the distance.

There is a small dam on Wilket Creek that would have retained a pond of water for the horses to enjoy. Currently, there are still a couple of layers of wood in the bottom of the two sluice gates and by adding additional ones the farmhands at Windfields were able to control the size of their pond.

As long as Bayview Avenue crossed the Don River on a single lane bridge it remained a farming area. With the development of the high-level bridge over the river in the late 1920s, the area opened for the development of estates for the wealthy who were looking for places to indulge their horse riding pleasures. The farm was bought by Bayview Heights Limited in 1928. The 20-acre estate lot was then bought by Edward Plunkett (E. B.) Taylor in 1932 so that he could develop an equestrian estate for his wife Winnifred. She apparently gave the name Windfields to the estate while walking through the fields on a windy day. It is interesting to note that the apple orchard which is shown on the count atlas is still in place. The smaller trees set in between the apple trees are plums and pears.

The estate property was landscaped with two hedgerows to compliment the existing three small woodlots. There are 55 gardens and more than 200 trees outside of the main woodlots. There is also a row of about 15 Japanese Cherry Trees that will be interesting to observe in the spring rather than trying to get into High Park to see their Japanese Cherry Trees. The grounds were laid out in the typical estate style of the times and the worker’s cottages, stables and greenhouse estalished a pattern simular to a small English village. The gardens behind the house transitioned to the pool at the back of the yard.

The mansion is in the process of having some restoration work done on it. The north end, at the left in this photo, was added after the Second World War.

The most attention to detail was given to the front door. There’s a Palladian window in the gable above the door and a swan’s neck pediment above the door.

In 1946 three workers’ cottages were added to the property creating a little cluster of buildings which included the stables and the greenhouse. The one below was known as Cottage C.

Each of the three cottages has its own design with the one below having two mirrored units. They were added in 1946 and built to a design by architect Earl C. Morgan and referred to as cottage AB.

Cottage D is the smallest of the units. Just to the west of the cluster of cottages are two buildings that were added by the City of Toronto after they took over maintenance of the parklands. There’s a garage and a workshop which have been built to blend into the style of the cottages and stables.

The stables were designed at the same time as the house and also in the Georgian Revival style of architecture. The side of the stables that faces the house is adorned with a portico with columns. The stables housed the Taylor family’s personal horses that they would ride around their estate and very like the estates of some of their horse-loving neighbours. You can read about several of them in our feature Bayview Estates.

The estate was even provided with its own greenhouse so that fresh flowers and garden plants could be grown year-round. It was added in 1952 and built from a kit sold by Lord and Burnham who have been designing premium greenhouses since 1849. The small building at the end closest to the house was used as a potting shed.

The gatehouse was also designed in 1946 at the same time as the workers’ cottages. A swimming pool and cabana, or change room, was also built behind the main house that same year. The gatehouse is set apart from the other buildings and was used by E. P. Taylor as his office. In 1969 the Taylors bequeathed the property to the borough of North York although members of the family continued to live there until 1987. The next year the Canadian Film Centre was founded by Canadian film-maker Norman Jewison. What started as a film school has grown into a training facility for people involved in many aspects of film, television and other digital media.

In 1961 on Edward Taylor’s breeding farm in Oshawa, known as Windfields Farm, Northern Dancer was foaled. After being named “Canadian champion two-year colt” in 1963 he went on to have an even bigger year in 1964. This is when he won the Kentucky Derby, among other prestigious races, becoming the first Canadian bred horse to do so. He was retired to stud work and sired some other famous racehorses including Nijinsky who won the English Tripple Crown. The newest building on the site was opened in 2014 and is named the Northern Dancer Pavillion. It was built over the old swimming pool and cabanas.

The Canadian Film Centre provides an interactive map that will allow you to explore the site and even lets you identify the types of trees on the grounds.

Associated blogs: Bayview Estates, Japanese Cherry Trees – High Park.

Google Maps Link: Winfields

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St. Alban the Martyr Cathedral Toronto

Sunday, December 5, 2021

This is the story of a cathedral that was almost built, but not quite. Up until less than a hundred years ago, the spire on St. James Church was the tallest structure in early Toronto. It represented the Church of England in the early city. When John Strachan was made the First Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto in 1839 he was allowed to use the St. James Church but there was a problem. The parishioners had financed the church and were unwilling to turn it over to the Bishop for his use. The home church of the Bishop is known as a cathedral and is the most powerful church in the diocese. From the middle-ages, cathedrals have been grandly designed and were intended to reflect the majesty of God. In 1843 Strachan opened the cathedral establishment fund with the intention of giving Toronto one of these grand buildings.

Neither Strachan nor his successor would see the building started, it would have to wait until 1883. Arthur Sweatman was the third Bishop of Toronto and he oversaw the purchase of 4.5 acres of land in the newly developing Seaton Village area just west of the expanding city. The plot was made available by a syndicate that was developing a prestigious housing development in the area. They put up $5,244, half of the purchase price, and promised another $2,000 if the choir and chancel were completed by 1886. The archive picture below shows the construction of the east end of the cathedral during 1886.

The diagram below is from Wikipedia and shows the most common parts of Christian Cathedrals. The basic layout has been in place since Roman times and the intention is to create the most spectacular building in the region. When St Alban the Martyr Cathedral was planned it was intended that Toronto should have such a building.

Sod was turned on August 20, 1885, but the cornerstone wouldn’t be laid until the following year. Funding for the building wouldn’t be consistent and work was slow to progress. When Canada went into a depression in the 1890s money was diverted to building local parishes which were badly needed by the expanding city. The portion of the cathedral in the picture below, taken on July 14, 2021, was completed by 1891 and that was about as far as they got.

The archival sketch below shows the cathedral as it stood in 1898. By this time they had consecrated the choir and the crypt below it. They moved their worship services into the crypt while they waited a few years, or so they thought, for the rest of the cathedral to be completed. This turned out to be the end of the original design.

The synod of the diocese renewed its commitment to completing the cathedral in 1910. The new plans called for the elimination of the two western towers which were to be replaced with a single central tower. This would have been placed on the south side in the corner where the transept met the aisle. Twenty-five years after the cornerstone was laid the same trowel was used to initiate the new construction. Problems arose immediately when the tenders came back $200,000 over budget. World War 1 broke out before there was a resolution and the project was once again put on hold. Construction wouldn’t begin again until 1956 when the western end of the building was closed in with a short brick structure. The idea of a cathedral at St. Alban the Martyr had already been over since 1935.

The aerial photo below from Toronto Archives shows the choir end of the cathedral with the foundations of the transepts and the nave forming the outline of a cross. The Bishop’s house can be seen circled just above the cathedral and three of Toronto’s bishops would live here before 1935.

The original plans for the cathedral included a 135 foot (41 meters) tower on the southwest corner while a shorter one adorned the northwest corner. This image below was taken from The West Annex News and gives you a good idea of what the other three-quarters of the building would have looked like if completed as designed.

Starting in 1918 St. James Church downtown began to lobby to be the cathedral for the Toronto Diocese although it wouldn’t happen until the middle of the Great Depression. In 1935 St. James Church was confirmed as the cathedral and St. Alban was downgraded to a local parish. The bishop moved downtown and the church carried on until 1964. That’s when St. George College rented the property and they continue to occupy it today. They built their school buildings on the old foundations for the proposed cathedral.

Their rather typical educational building sits on top of some pretty impressive stone footings that were intended to support a much grander building.

The footings at the western end of the building haven’t been built on but it doesn’t look like there are any grand towers in their near future.

A lot has changed since the original conception with its two grand towers. These were downgraded to a single tower in 1910 and finally, in 1956 they settled for one of the most unimaginative spires in Christendom.

Between 1885 and 1886 the church also built a home for the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. The diocese went by the short name of “See” and this was the home of the bishop from 1885 until 1935.

We close with a view of the west end of the proposed cathedral. This is where the parishioners would have entered for the services.

Some of the grand cathedrals in Europe took centuries to be complete but in Toronto, we lost the will to finish our cathedral almost as soon as it was planned.

Google Maps Link: St. Alban the Martyr

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