In the early 1880s, the developers of Beaconsfield Village created a middle-class community that was inspired by the ‘streetcar suburbs’ that were common in the United States. We’ll examine the role of developers, architects and builders in creating this unusual Victorian community.
We met at the corner of Queen Street W/Beaconsfield Avenue.
The walk was led by Jon Harstone, an author and local historian who lives in the west end of Toronto. With a background in architectural history and archaeology, Jon is a former board member of Heritage Toronto and the former Chair of the Toronto Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC). I've done a couple walks with Jon in the past ... he quite knowledgeable and passionate.
In 1879, James Saurin McMurray, a prominent Toronto lawyer and land developer, bought a racetrack in this area. He subdivided the land in 1880 and created Beaconsfield Avenue running up the middle. At that time, it was with the city limits but was miles from the built-up area. What made this development attractive was its proximity to the train station at Queen Street W/Gladstone Avenue ... it was only five minutes by train into the city.
This six-unit commercial block was built in 1881 on both sides of Beasconsfield, framing the entrance of the street).
We headed north on Beaconsfield Avenue.
Beaconsfield Avenue was the centrepiece of McMurray's subdivision. By the end of 1881, the stretch between Queen and Argyle Streets was lined with 20 stately three-story homes on large lots. Most of the builders ran into financial difficulties, evidence that McMurray's vision of a suburban community based on the railway wasn't viable. The remaining houses on the street were built over the next 20 years. Most of the houses were owned by the wealthy and rented out to the middle class.
These two houses on the SE and SW corners of Beaconsfield Avenue and Argyle Street are twins.
Most of the houses on Argyle Street were built between 1880 and 1882.
Then we headed west on Afton Street ... most of the houses were built between 1888 and 1890.
Then we headed north on Lisgar Street.
|These were built in the last 20 years|
|A sleeping kitty in the window!|
There were quite a few houses on this street with heritage building designations.
We followed Mackenzie Crescent to Dovercourt Road and headed south ... many of the homes are from the early 1880s. I drive on Dovercourt to get to and from work nearly every day.
|This is a HUGE house!|
|From the front|
|Examples of "Ontario cottages"|
The Ideal Bread Company built this building and additions on the NE corner of Dovercourt Road/Argyle Street. Ideal amalgamated with Wonder Bakeries in 1938 and in 1957 ceased operation. After that the building was used for a variety of purposes, including a trophy factory and artist lofts. It has been designated a heritage building. A developer bought the property in 2003 and converted it to condos in 2007.
This was a former Methodist church on the NW corner of Dovercourt Road/Argyle Street which is now a Portuegese Catholic church.
|Over the years, I've seen lots of houses on|
Dovercourt like this one, gutted and renovated.
Our tour ended at Dovercourt Road/Queen Street W.
This is the Great Hall, which is on the SE corner. It was built in 1889 and housed the first west end YMCA in Toronto. The "Y" offered athletic facilities that included a gymnasium with a raised running track and a basement swimming pool. In 1912, the property was sold to the Royal Templars of Temperance, who conducted business in the building until 1940s. It was acquired by the Polish National Union and soon presses on the ground floor were rolling out copies of The Polish Voice newspaper. On the top floor, rooms were pressed into service as temporary shelter for Polish refugees fleeing the war in Europe. In the mid 1980s, the rumble of the presses were replaced by the sound of experimental music and avante-garde art. The Toronto School of Art eventually helped to establish it as an important address for Toronto's arts community. The Bristol recently opened on the street level (Gord and I had brunch there a couple weeks ago).
At the turn of the century, apartment buildings weren't allowed to be built in Toronto. To get around that, apartment buildings such as those next to the Great Hall, were built to look like houses.
I like doing these kinds of tours. Besides the fact I always learn a lot, they make me look at buildings differently. The Heritage Toronto tours are free but donations are appreciated.