About Leslieville in Toronto

In my spare time, I’ve been making trips to Toronto Archives to learn a little more about Leslieville. That, plus what people email me, is provided here.

Where is Leslieville?

The area known as Leslieville is located east of the Don River in Toronto, and is located between Riverdale to the west and The Beaches to the east; the one thing one can get specific about is the location of the nursery that was owned by George Leslie and Sons. Its extent was from Queen Street south to the lake, where the marshes were, and from one block east of Pape (Heward Ave.) all the way over to Leslie Street.

It derived its name from the Leslie Post Office, operated by George Leslie’s family.

When George Leslie opened his nursery, Queen Street wasn’t Queen Street — it was only renamed when the area was annexed by the city of Toronto in 1884. Queen Street was Kingston Road up until that point. When the city of Toronto annexed the property, the services that would be provided by the city — water and sewage — increased the property values, and the bridge across the Don River made it much more accessible. An area that was, until this time, inhabited by relatively few people per square mile (there were a number of market gardeners), suddenly became open to development. Comparing maps from one decade to the next, most market farms (which were small) were further subdivided and turned into housing developments.

There were a number of businesses in the area — many of them existed to serve the needs of the inhabitants. Others were there, like the brickworks, because the Don River area was full of clay. Others serviced and worked the trains.

The nursery

Established in 1848, it originally occupied over 150 acres. In his advertisement in C.E. Anderson & Co’s Toronto City Directory for 1868-69, it was written about George Leslie and sons:

“The Toronto Nurseries were established in 1849 by George Leslie, Esq., and comprise an area of one hundred and fifty acres, and are, without exception, the most extensive in the Dominion, embracing every description of fruit and ornamental trees, shrubs, hedge plants, deciduous flowering shrubs and grape vines. The grounds are admirably adapted for nursery productions. Mr. Leslie keeps up a regular correspondence with some of the principal nurseries in Great Britain and the United States, and spares no expense in adding to his stock all acquisitions of merit. Importations are annually made from England of ornamental, deciduous and evergreen trees, exclusive of what is raised by himself, so as to afford an extensive and varied assortment. In all its departments every care and attention that a thorough knowledge and experience in the nursery line may suggest, is readily taken advantage of. From this fact, and the already high reputation of the Toronto Nurseries, continued prosperity must be the reward.”

The nursery’s street address was 1164 Queen Street. If you want to learn more about the plants, shrubs, and trees he sold, check out my Facebook page or buy the eBook,Pioneer Gardening in Toronto: the trees, plants & lore of George Leslie.

The Toronto city directory of 1868 notes that Leslieville had a population of 450 people, and was located two miles east of Toronto on the Kingston Road. The Leslie Post Office was established in 1858. By 1868, the village had a common school, a separate school, a Wesleyan Methodist church of Brick, erected in 1859, capable of seating 500 people (this was a significant church!) three hotels, a blacksmith shop, an edge tool factory, a large distillery, brewery and vinegar factory, several brickyards, and Daily Mail.

Goad’s fire maps covered the area by 1890. You can see how little development there was.

Stephen Barr tells me that back in 1893, a major economic panic (recession) hit Toronto, and slowed construction down, especially for speculative house building, until the economy started picking up again at the turn of the 20th century. Indeed, even by the 1910 Goad’s fire map, there still doesn’t seem to have been any construction on the east side of Caroline Ave (although Goad’s was not up to date in its prior editions of the 1890 map, and didn’t show the houses that interest me on them, even though they had been constructed and were lived in and taxed). Largely, the Leslie Nursery was not yet built upon.

What is my interest in all of this? I live in one of the houses that is over a century old in Leslieville. When exactly was my house built? Curiosity led me to the Toronto Archives, located about half-way between Casa Loma and the Dupont subway station.

Leslieville today

I’ve received a lovely email message from D.Ellis, who grew up in the neighbourhood a few years ago. Here are a couple of things that are more or less enduring — and both have great food.

BBFishandChips

B&B Fish and Chips: It’s been in the same place for probably fifty years (I’m hoping to find out when it originally opened: do you know? Tastiest fish and chips in Toronto — Amy Pataki of the Toronto Star liked them best of the fish and chips places she visited.

JoyTheatre

Stratenger’s – it used to be the Joy Theatre many years ago. I’ve heard that children used to be able to get into the movies by bringing a milk bottle, which had a 5 cent deposit. From being a movie theatre, it became a strip joint (!) and then several bars. It’s latest incarnation has both a bar and an Indian restaurant. Good Indian food, and the bar has the best thin-crust pizza in all of Toronto. They have a brick wood-burning fogolar (pizza oven). Go! Eat!

George Hutchison used to live at 25 Caroline Avenue, and moved out of the neighbourhood to Scarborough back in 1949. He wrote me:

Our house was situated on the east side of the street opposite the lane running between Caroline and Winnifred Avenue. To the south of the lane was an overgrown field with an old shack occupied by an old man we kids called “The Hermit.” He was a surly old recluse who, sadly, died alone in the dead of winter. I vaguely remember him being carried out, frozen stiff in a rickety armchair (or maybe it was in a dream). Memories of the street remain with me, fond memories as well as tragic ones, of dreaded telegraph boys riding their bikes to homes of parents whose boys had been killed or injured overseas… Or of people crowding their verandas banging pots and pans and ringing bells as war ended… Or the celebratory street dance on Winnifred a few days later… Up at the top of the street was Lou’s Variety. Lou was an enormous man who strained to dip for the ice cream in the deep chest of the cluttered shop. It was there I purchased my first popsicle. Lou also offered little brown bags of assorted candies that could be had for two cents. For decades after, Lou’s name remained out front as a string of immigrant shopkeepers took his place. The sign remained.

I’ve attached an article that George wrote for publication about life in Toronto in the ’40’s.

John, who owns Pentimento Gallery, has had some interesting discoveries while making renovations: the architect found the remnants of a foundation for a significant building that existed on the location of the gallery, which may have been part of George Leslie’s store.

If you’re interested in specifics about Caroline Ave., click here!

 

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