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.

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