Celebrating 150 Years of Richmond Hill, 1873-2023

by Andrea Kulesh
Published in the Richmond Hill Liberal, February 3, 2023

Although Richmond Hill is a bustling, thriving city today, there was a time it struggled to meet the population requirements needed to incorporate into a village, writes Andrea Kulesh

Richmond Hill is a busy, thriving city but it wasn’t always so. In the early 1800s, the area was sparsely populated. It was located along Yonge Street, which was the main road leading to the north from York (Toronto) for settlers and the businesses that served them. Although Richmond Hill was a recognized village with a post office, it took many years to accumulate (or attract) enough people to be able to incorporate a village in Upper Canada (Ontario). It seemed impossible given the requirements for the number of inhabitants needed to become a village.

In 1853, there were rumblings of incorporation, but it was out of the question without the required population. One of the main issues was the division of the village on Yonge Street, with Vaughan Township on the west and Markham Township on the east. Split between two rural townships, Richmond Hill’s urban issues were often ignored. The village remained divided, delaying the establishment of its own identity, though members of the community served on the Vaughan and Markham councils. One thousand residents were required to incorporate a village, and that was more than twice the population of Richmond Hill in 1853. Public meetings were held, but to no avail — they were simply short of the necessary population.

Four years later, in 1857, due to political changes, a special act was introduced with a reduced population requirement of 750. This prompted community leaders to reopen discussions of incorporation. The York Ridings’ Gazette newspaper set out to convince the community incorporation would be a positive step, helping to improve sidewalks, sewers, organized fire prevention and many sanitary problems that needed addressing. In fact, at that time there were the required 750 residents, but the community borders were considered too large of an area. (From Lot 42, just south of Major Mackenzie and Yonge Street, to Lot 52, just north of Elgin Mills, east to Bayview Avenue and west to Bathurst Street). A meeting was held on Oct. 30, 1857 for the residents to consider this recommendation again. Amos Wright Esq., M.P.P. was called to the chair with Matthew Teefy appointed secretary. “Various speakers claimed they were contributing liberally through taxes to Markham and Vaughan townships and receiving little or nothing in return.” Resolutions were submitted and “advocated with as much force by the gentlemen whose names are attached thereto. Moved by George P. Dickson Esq., seconded by David Bridgford Esq.” Once again the resolutions were discussed but the petitioners were defeated. The issue could not be passed with the current size of the borders. The area was judged too extensive — with Elgin Mills now included. Richmond Hill and was considered too “expansionist” in 1857.

A portion of the front page of the York Ridings' Gazette and Richmond Hill Advertiser from Friday, June 12, 1857 (courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library)
A portion of the front page of the York Ridings’ Gazette and Richmond Hill Advertiser of Friday, June 12, 1857 (courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library)

It would take a further 15 years to revisit incorporation. A newly reduced area was to make it all possible. Borders were altered and in 1872, it seemed likely that incorporation would pass. By this time, every ratepayer signed the petition and was presented to York county council. The bylaw was passed without delay, the proposal was approved on June 18, 1872, and Richmond Hill was finally set on the path to its municipal future. The date was set for Jan. 1, 1873.

An advertisement to elect Abraham Law as Reeve. Ad reads as follows: Municipality of Richmond Hill, V. R. Your vote and interest are respectfully submitted for A. Law, J. P. as Reeve at the forthcoming election (from Early Days in Richmond Hill by Robert Stamp)
An advertisement promoting Abraham Law for Reeve in the January 6, 1873 Richmond Hill election. (from Early Days in Richmond Hill: A History of the Community to 1930 by Robert Stamp; courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library)

An official announcement declaring the new village status was printed and distributed by Matthew Teefy — the returning officer on Dec. 14, 1872 — inviting nominations of candidates for the new offices of Reeve and four councillors, for the “said Incorporated Village.” The date for the voting was set for Jan. 6, 1873. Eligible voters turned out for the first time to elect their village council. The results announced by the York Herald, were:

  • Abraham Law — 1st Reeve of the Village of Richmond Hill.
  • Matthew Teefy (Postmaster) — Treasurer.
  • William Warren (Farmer) — Councillor.
  • William Powell (Farmer) — Councillor.
  • Jacob Brillinger (Farmer) — Councillor.
  • David Hopkins (General Store Owner) — Councillor.
Portrait of Abraham Law, taken by George Worthington (courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library)
Abraham Law, Richmond Hill’s first Reeve. Photograph taken by George Worthington who ran a photography business at 1245 Queen Street West, Toronto (courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library)

The first council meeting on Jan. 20, 1873, was located at the Division Court Room at the Robin Hood Hotel. Civic appointments were decided with Postmaster Matthew Teefy named village clerk and treasurer, a choice position he held for the next 31 years. The following citizens were appointed to the various positions:

  • George A. Barnard & Robert Law (the Reeve’s son) as Auditors.
  • Dennis O’Brien as Assessor.
  • John Brown as Licence Inspector.
  • John Velie (owner of the hotel where council met) as Pound Keeper.
  • Benjamin Davidson as Overseer of Highways.
  • Frederick Crawford as Fire & Nuisance Officer.
  • Robert Robinson, James Freek, & John Arnold as Fence Viewers.
  • James Daniels as Collector of Dog Taxes.
Public Notice. Whereas the Municipal Council of the County of York did, on the 19th day of June, 1872, enact a By-law (Number 2016), erecting Richmond Hill into an incorporated village, under the statute in such case mad and provided, by which the undersigned was appointed Returning Officer, to hold the first election: public notice here-by given to all whom it may concern, that a meeting of the duly qualified electors of the Incorporated Village of RIchmond Hill will be held in the Public Hall, in which the Third Division Court of the County of York is usually held, in the said village, at noon, on the last Monday but one in the current month of December (being the 23rd instant), for the nomination of candidates for the offices of Reeve and four Councillors, for the said Incorporated Village. M. Teefy, Returning Officer, Richmond Hill, December 14, 1872
The Public Notice published by Matthew Teefy, Returning Officer for the nomination of candidates for the Village or Richmond Hill’s first election (courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library)

The subsequent monthly meetings would see a succession of bylaws adopted. Finally, the first Richmond Hill council was able to take responsibility for setting the path to the future of what has become the City of Richmond Hill, 150 years later.

Andrea Kulesh is vice-president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society.

David Dunlap Observatory Park Design Public Consultation

Photograph of the David Dunlap Observatory (photograph by Peter Wilson)
The David Dunlap Observatory (photograph by Peter Wilson)

The City of Richmond Hill is seeking public feedback on proposed designs for an accessible pedestrian/cycling overpass bridge and pickleball facility at the Richmond Hill David Dunlap Observatory (RHDDO) Park.

An online survey is available until March 17, 2023 and a Virtual Information Centre will be held on Thursday, March 9 from 6 – 8 pm. For complete details, access to the survey and a link to register for the Virtual Information Centre, visit https://www.richmondhill.ca/en/find-or-learn-about/ddo-ongoing-projects.aspx.

The David Dunlap Observatory opened in 1935, and was built on land donated by Jessie Dunlap in memory of her husband David. The main Observatory building, pictured above, houses a 74-inch (1.88m) reflector telescope.

For more information on the David Dunlap Observatory, visit the City’s website at https://www.richmondhill.ca/en/find-or-learn-about/David-Dunlap-Observatory.aspx.

Old Mascots Never Retire – They Just Hang Up their Paws with Russ Horner

Photograph of Russ Horner as Toronto Argonauts mascot Scully with former Argos quarterback Doug Flutie
Russ Horner as Toronto Argonauts mascot Scully with former
Argos quarterback Doug Flutie in the 1990s

The Richmond Hill Historical Society is pleased to welcome Russ Horner to our next meeting, scheduled for Monday, February 20, 2023 at 7:30 pm. Our regularly scheduled meeting will be held in Wallace Hall at the Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church at 10166 Yonge Street.

After starting his character career at Canada’s Wonderland, Russ went on to make over 8,000 costume character appearances over 35 years. Russ shares the inside scoop on what it is really like in the unique “world” of costume character performing, training and managing, Although physically and emotionally rewarding and of course extremely fun, there is also a serious side to the business with great responsibilities, safety concerns and even dangers.

While we hope that you consider joining the Society as a member, guests are welcome to attend our meetings for $5, payable at the door.

Richmond Hill Speaker Series – Spring 2023

Marj Andre and Mary Kot are pleased to announce the Spring 2023 Richmond Hill Speaker Series. The series features 7 high calibre virtual talks featuring a wide-range of topics and speakers.

The entire series will be offered virtually so that you can enjoy these engaging and informative talks from the comfort of your own home and allows for a broad collection of presenters. Each talk runs from 10 am to 12 pm via Zoom.

Series Cost – $50 (+$2.88 handling and service fees) for all seven talks!

The series includes:

March 9th – Daniol Clair Coles: Sharing Indigenous Worldview: Reflections of Metis History and Experience

March 16th – Seth Klein: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency

March 23rd – Merilyn Simonds: The Many Astonishing Lives of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence

March 30th – Daniel Robert Laxer: Listening to the Fur Trade: A New History of it’s Sounds, Songs, and Ceremonies

April 6th – Deirdre McCorkindale: The Underground Railroad and Free Black Communities in Canada West

April 13th – Michael Arntfield: Cold Cases and Forensic Genealogy: The End of Whodunits?

April 20th – Lindsay Keegitah Borrows: How Indigenous Legal Traditions are Protecting the Environment for Canadians

For complete details on each program and tickets may be found at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/spring-2023-richmond-hill-speaker-series-tickets-523600552347

Built to Last: Heritage Properties from York County through to York Region

In undertaking some recent research into local land records, I stumbled across a great collection of heritage resources put together by the Regional Municipality of York. Entitled Built to Last: Heritage Properties from York County through to York Region, it includes a number of historic maps, miscellaneous historical information and a collection of heritage properties from across the region.

The site was created as a Canada 150 project and can be found at https://ww4.yorkmaps.ca/canada150/.

One of the most fascinating parts of the site (I think) is a “spyglass” that you can drag over a recent satellite view of York Region, which has been overlayed on the 1860 Tremaine Map of the County of York, Canada West, published by George R. Tremaine. Tremaine published a number of large county maps in the 1850s and 1860s, which have become invaluable for researchers across the province. Not only do they provide the standard information found on such maps, such as roads, churches, post offices, land owners, etc., but also small illustrations of notable buildings. It also serves as a form of business directory, with businesses and subscribers listed around the map itself.

If you would like to see the full 1860 Tremaine map, it can be viewed online by visiting York University’s website. We also have copies of the Tremaine map in the Richmond Hill Public Library’s Mary-Lou Griffin Local History Room, located on the 4th floor of Central Library at 1 Atkinson Street.

McMaster University has some great information about the Tremaine map of the County of Peel, including a fascinating video on its restoration. Visit McMaster University’s website at https://brighterworld.mcmaster.ca/articles/newly-conserved-rare-map-provides-vivid-snapshot-of-life-in-19th-century-ontario/ to learn more.

Learn more about built heritage in York Region by visiting Built to Last.

Society Confirms 2023 Executive

The Richmond Hill Historical Society is pleased to announce the confirmation of their Executive for the 2023 year. They are as follows:

Jim Vollmershausen, President
Andrea Kulesh, Past President
Laura McMullen, Treasurer
Vera Tachtaul, Secretary
Karen Dance, Membership
Kevin Dark, Programming
Barbara Di Mambro, Publicity

External Representatives

Agnes Parr, Heritage Richmond Hill
Cameron Telch, Heritage Centre Advisory Committee

The Society is still looking to fill the vacant position of Social Coordinator. Complete details may be found in our call for volunteer announcement. Anyone interested in this position is invited to contact Society President, Jim Vollmershausen at r.hillhistsoc at gmail.com.