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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Great site! Strangely, hunting for workers’ cottages has been my passion for the past few months and before I knew of the book Modest Hopes. Walking up Vaughan Rd. last summer I noticed an old farm like house at 672 and that got me going. I took photos with my iPhone and scanned Google maps gathering over 100 examples from all over Toronto. Grew up in Leslieville, but like you have hiked the obscure areas for years.
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