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Message from the President (Sep 17, 2020)

In my last message, some weeks ago, I spent a fair bit of time worrying about uncertainties, decisions the Society might have to make, and decisions we all will have to make about getting together. I asked you to think about that last issue, and let me know your views. I’m pleased to say that many of you responded, and your views were clear – you would prefer virtual meetings

The Executive had similar views, so we proceeded to set up a Zoom meeting for last Thursday. Thank goodness Marj Andre was able to facilitate the whole thing, and we actually had our first Executive meeting by Zoom. It wasn’t perfect (I couldn’t get my audio to work, so I was on the phone), but we had a good meeting nonetheless and covered quite a bit of ground.

One of the more important items we discussed was responding to your preference for virtual Society meetings. Feeling we probably needed more time to get our (my) technology up to speed, we agreed that we would hold our first Zoom regular meeting on Monday, October 19th, which is when we would normally have met. So please mark the date. We’ll be in touch well in advance to give you some information on connecting to a Zoom meeting. I’ve participated in Zoom meetings on my cell, and I know my tablet will work as well. I think most laptops have cameras built in, and I have a webcam attached to my desktop monitor – so there are several ways to connect.

Another important item on our agenda was the question of 2020 and 2021 fees. We decided that, since 2020 was going to be sort of a non-year in terms of the Society, we would simply roll any fees that were paid for 2020 over to 2021 Some of you may choose to leave your 2020 fee in place and still pay for 2021 – that’s totally up to you. But we felt it was important to acknowledge the loss of our 2020 activities, and give our members a choice.

There were a number of other items discussed, as well:

  • I expect many of you saw the article in the Liberal about Richmond Hill’s Rose industry I’m pleased to let you know that the next article – on the Rebellion of 1837 – has been submitted. So keep your eye out – hopefully, it will appear soon.
  • I should have mentioned this in my last message, but we did determine that, as long as I am sending out these messages, we would forego our newsletter. Normally, another newsletter would be coming out around now – so don’t look for it.
  • We did get some information (thanks again, Marj) on two buildings we have been interested in. There has been no new developments regarding the Jefferson Schoolhouse – a demolition permit was denied by Council, and now we’re waiting for next steps. Also as you probably know, Dr. Duncomb’s Hall on Yonge Street was demolished, though I believe the Society helped ensure that original materials from the front façade of the building were salvaged and are stored at the Operations Centre. I’m not aware of any interior material that was salvaged.
  • Some of you may be wondering what became of the Bert Hunt Heritage Award this year – it would normally have been awarded at the Strawberry Social in June. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and it’s been decided to just wait until June 2021, when we can hopefully make the presentation in person.
  • And finally, you may have noticed that there are by-elections underway for York Region School Board Trustees in Wards 1, 2 and 4. It may be out of sync, and the pandemic will certainly influence how voting occurs, but I would urge you all to look for information and be sure to vote.

The last thing I wanted to mention was the availability of Walking Tours in Richmond Hill in October. Maggie Mackenzie is organizing these tours, and there are still spots available. I’ve included a lot of information about the tours below.

So that’s it for this message. I hope you found it useful. I’ll be sending out another one in a few weeks.

Thanks for your attention, and keep on staying safe.

I really hope I’ll see you soon.

Jim

Walk and Learn Heritage Tour Series

Enjoy fresh air, exercise and a healthy physically distanced walk through a historic neighbourhood and discover your community heritage! Tours are approximately 1.5 -2 hours long and take place rain or shine. Pre-registration required. COVID protocols will be in place.

The Village Backstreets

In contrast to the present-day traffic and commerce along Yonge Street, Richmond Hill’s side streets have historically been a quiet refuge. It was on these village backstreets that the ordinary citizens of the Victorian and Edwardian community lived in their comfortable but unpretentious houses. The village backstreets remain a desirable place to live, with large shade trees lining the streets, picket or plated fences, beautiful gardens and many fine old buildings.

Tuesday Oct 6, 10:00 AM
$4.20 per person
Elgin Barrow Arena Parking Lot
E-Reg Code: 60760

North Yonge Street

North Yonge Street in the village core is a unique part of the city featuring a history of politics, education, medicine and the arts!

Tuesday Oct 13, 10:00 AM
$4.20 per person
Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Art Parking Lot
E-Reg Code: 60761

Mill Pond History

Today’s Mill Pond is a place of recreation, but did you know when it was first created in the mid-1830s, it was a hub of industry and commerce.

Tuesday Oct 20, 10:00 AM
$4.20 per person
Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Art Parking Lot
E-Reg Code: 60762

Pre-Registration required for all tours. Please go to www.richmondhill.ca/en/find-or-learn-about/Heritage-Programs.aspx

Message from the President (Sep 1, 2020)

The last time you heard from me was in our May – August Newsletter, when I had the opportunity to reflect on the challenges we were all facing in the midst of a COVID-19 lockdown. When I look back on my comments at that time, I’m struck by how I was looking forward to getting back to some kind of normal, when we could have meetings, share our stories of how we coped with isolation and social distancing and generally carry on from where we left off – always the optimist.

Well, it’s now a few months later, and we are still faced with a lot of uncertainty. As much as Stage 3 has allowed us to experience a greater degree of normalcy, albeit with continued social distancing, the wearing of masks, and limits to social gatherings, we still don’t know when we might see the end of COVID-19 restrictions. We certainly don’t know when the Executive might be able to get together, or when we’ll be able to schedule our regular meetings. Even further, we don’t know what kind of decisions any of us will be making about how we live our lives. We all have our own circumstances to consider, which, in terms of the Society, will lead to very personal choices about whether or not we would even be comfortable in attending any kind of a meeting in the near future.

I thought it was important to let you know that, in spite of all the uncertainties, we have been thinking about how and when the Historical Society can get back into business. Based on discussions with the Church, we know that the earliest possible opportunity to use Wallace Hall for a meeting would be October, though we don’t know what limitations and protocols we might be faced with. I’m also concerned that circumstances might make any fall meetings unlikely.

Perhaps more importantly, we also don’t know what your views about attending a face-to-face meeting might be. This is something I would really appreciate your feedback on – how comfortable would you be to attend a meeting? Another option we have is to go high-tech and try a virtual meeting via ZOOM. I know that this is a very manageable option, and if you would prefer to give it a try rather than go to a meeting, I would be happy to set it up. My understanding is that it would be available to anyone with access to a computer.

So please get back to me on the question of whether you would prefer a face-to-face meeting or a virtual meeting via ZOOM. I will react accordingly.

In the meantime, we are looking to get an Executive Meeting organized soon (either face-to-face or virtual), where we will discuss such issues as budgets, fees, timing and scheduling, programming and speakers, and the format for a first meeting. When we have more information, I will let you know. Until we are back on a regular schedule, I intend to stay in touch with you through these messages – I hope you find them useful.

Thanks for your attention, and keep on staying safe – and please let me know what you prefer – real meetings or a ZOOM meeting.

Richmond Hill: Rose Capital of Canada

Originally published in the Richmond Hill Liberal, July 30, 2020
by Andrea Kulesh

H.J. Mills florist operation in 1948. – Richmond Hill Public Library Archives

At the beginning of the 1900s, Richmond Hill hadn’t changed much since its incorporation as a village in 1873. The population had actually reduced in size and in response the village council met to discuss strategies to encourage industry to move to the “Hill”. The village offered easy transport for goods and people with the Metropolitan Radial Line on Yonge Street and the nearby CN railway.

In addition vacant land was ready to be developed. William Lawrence, known for building Lawrence Park, was one of the first to take advantage of the council’s invitation. He also ran a floral business in Toronto and wished to expand, and it turned out that the available land in Richmond Hill was perfect for building greenhouses.

He moved his family to Richmond Hill in 1912, and built his first conservatory at the corner of Roseview and Pugsley Streets. He built his home at the west corner of the property where it remains today. John H. Dunlop (a former President of the Canadian Horticultural Society) was encouraged by his friend Lawrence to join him in order to expand his business. Dunlop was a keen horticulturalist who loved growing roses. The Bedford Park Floral Company soon followed, with Henry Arnold at the helm, and H.J. Mills built his first greenhouses in 1912, as well.

Dunlop won a first prize at the International Rose Show in New York City in 1914 with 50 of his “Richmond Roses” and repeated this success in Philadelphia, winning three first prize places. He developed rose varieties that were internationally acclaimed, helping to highlight this specialized industry that was “blooming” in the village. In 1914, the growers and a number of local residents founded the Richmond Hill Garden &Horticultural Society. The society worked to increase interest in all horticulture and to assist in beautifying the village, roles it continues to play today.

The industry flourished, and led to a rapid rise in population and a subsequent need for homes (27 new homes in 1918) in turn expanding existing businesses and encouraging others to move to Richmond Hill. Lawrence sold off unused portions of his greenhouse property, developing the “Roseview Gardens” subdivision. During these years, the greenhouses grew in number. The four largest growers covered several acres near the railway lines, north to Dunlop Street. Each had several buildings with huge chimneys for heating and exhaust and railway spurs to offload supplies and transport their products.

Roses were shipped across Canada at a time when there were no refrigerator cars. The flowers were individually wrapped in paper and boxed with ice to keep them fresh which allowed them to withstand a three-day trip to Edmonton. Mother’s Day was the biggest holiday and it would take every employee to be on hand to get the roses ready for transport. Often the companies would work together to fill large orders. By the 1930s Richmond Hill had attained its reputation as the Rose Capital of Canada.

As the floriculture industry grew, it became a more distinct part of the village’s identity and was even written into the village motto: “En la Rose Je Flouris”- “Like the Rose, I Flourish”. The industry thrived for many years but began to decline with global competition, local business taxes and poor economic conditions. Mills Roses was the last of this trade in the city, closing in June 1982.

Andrea Kulesh is the past president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society

We Will Remember

A brief history of the Richmond Hill Cenotaph by Peter Wilson

Originally published online by the Richmond Hill Liberal on April 14, 2020

Coun. Lois Hancey reads the names of donors during the laying of wreaths at the Nov. 12, 1972 Remembrance Day Ceremony. – David Barbour/The Liberal

For nearly a century, the Richmond Hill Cenotaph has stood sentinel in the heart of the city. At the time of its 1923 unveiling, Col. William Nisbet Ponton declared: “Their names are engraved forevermore in the stone of remembrance.” He added that, “the situation of the monument, in the centre of the loyal county of York, before a schoolhouse, where it would inspire the generations of future citizens was also most appropriate.”

The Cenotaph’s origins date to a village council meeting of Feb. 13, 1918, where Reeve William Pugsley suggested something to honour the memory of “our boys who have fallen in the war.” The reeve and village clerk A.J. Hume were directed to research a suitable memorial, and within a month proposals were received from several marble dealers. At the council’s Dec. 16, 1918 meeting, a motion passed to commission a monument similar to a model by the Thomson Monument Company.

Reeve Thomas H. Trench organized a meeting for June 9, 1919 at the Masonic Hall to launch a fundraising campaign. In addition to a subscription scheme, a resolution was passed asking ratepayers to co-operate with council’s holding a Field Day on Aug. 4, 1919; the first of many with proceeds earmarked for the building of a monument.

Fundraising and planning took another four years, in which the future of the Cenotaph was put to question. At the Field Day meeting June 26, 1922, considerable interest was voiced over having a Memorial Hall instead. But the majority of returning soldiers preferred a monument, a point well-articulated in a heartfelt November 1922 letter by Louis Teetzel to The Liberal. He wrote, “(the soldiers) have won a place in the world’s history for all time to come … we express ourselves in favour of a permanent monument … that will keep alive in the people the sentimental side of the memorial.”

To settle the matter, a referendum was held during the municipal election on Jan. 1, 1923. It was resoundingly in favour of a monument: 170 votes to 55.

Finally, the Cenotaph was designed by Toronto architect Charles MacKay Willmott — and built at a cost of $4,960 by Nicholson and Curtis (stonework), J. Reynolds (lettering), J. Sheardown (foundation), J. T. Startup (levelling and sodding), and the Architectural Bronze Co. (lamps).

The Richmond Hill Cenotaph as it appeared in 2018, when we marked the centenary of the end of First World War. – Peter Wilson photo

It was dedicated on Aug. 5, 1923, during the Grand Reunion of the Old Boys and Girls. It originally honoured the six individuals etched on the bottom panels who lost their lives in the Great War. A seventh, Starr McMahon who died in 1918 with the Merchant Navy, was added later. And the five-sided stone recognizes 36 soldiers from the First World War, “who so nobly served and by the grace of God whose lives were spared.”

Sadly, the Second World War required the addition of 13 names along the top of the monument. Later plaques recognized those who died in the cause of peace in Hong Kong during the Second World War, as well as those who died in the Korean War and on deployment as peacekeepers.

We will remember.

—Peter Wilson is a member of the Richmond Hill Historical Society. He is also the Local History and Genealogy Librarian at Richmond Hill Public Library.

Names of the Fallen

The following heroes from our community made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War and the Second World War. These are the brave men whose names are etched on the Richmond Hill Cenotaph.

The First World War

C. Cleland Caldwell

William Case

Arthur C. Cooper

Earl Hughes

Starr McMahon

Wellington C. Monkman

Harold Rowley

The Second World War

Jack Beresford

Fred Carter

Jack Collin

Ernest Goode

Donald Graham

Fred Greene

George Hawkes

James Ley

Vernon Mitchell

Roy Russell

John Sloan

Ernest White

Eric Wilson

RHHS Meeting Cancelled – Monday, April 20

Just a reminder that the Richmond Hill Historical Society has cancelled our monthly meetings until further notice. Our next meeting had been scheduled for April 20, 2020.

Protecting the health, safety, and well-being of our members and our community is our primary concern. This is the second consecutive meeting cancelled for the Society this year – this is in itself an historic moment – in our 46th year of our existence in the community.

We know that you all look forward to our great speakers each month and our Society’s fellowship. We will notify the membership when we will be able to return to Society meetings at Wallace Hall.

Stay safe.

RHHS Meeting Cancelled – Monday, March 16

With the ongoing and developing situation surrounding the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Richmond Hill Historical Society has made the decision to cancel our regular meetings until further notice.

Our next meeting was scheduled for Monday, March 16, 2020 but will no longer be held.

We have made this decision out of an abundance of caution and will provide updates on future meetings as the situation continues to develop.

Jefferson School House Decision

Jefferson School House

The Richmond Hill Historical Society was pleased with the outcome of the Wednesday, February 12, 2020 City Council meeting, when Council voted unanimously to deny an application to demolish the Jefferson Schoolhouse. Council also passed a motion asking City staff to look at options for preserving and restoring the Schoolhouse, including the option of the City purchasing the property.

During their deliberations, Councilors discussed a few of those options, including one that would see the building restored and used, perhaps, as a new school, or one that would see the building restored and become part of a larger development on the site. The Historical Society was also pleased to have been part of the efforts to save the Schoolhouse. The Society was a delegate at Council’s meeting on January 22nd, when Council first discussed the application to demolish, and presented a petition to Council advocating for the Schoolhouse’s preservation. The Society also spoke to Council at the meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12th, urging Councillors to save the building.

Needless to say, we were happy with the result.

I Read Canadian with Melanie Florence

Heritage Week and I Read Canadian Afternoon Tea at the Heritage Centre

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Two sittings to choose from: 1 p.m. or 2:30 p.m.

  • Sip some warmth into winter with an afternoon tea at the Heritage Centre
  • Enjoy sweet treats, scones with cream and jam and signature tea, coffee or hot chocolate
  • Celebrate Ontario Trust Heritage Week with a reading by celebrated author Melanie Florence

Cost: $12.50 per person tax included

The City of Richmond Hill’s Heritage Centre is located at 19 Church Street North. To learn more and to make your reservation, visit the Heritage Centre website’s Afternoon Tea page or call 905.780.3802.

There will also be a free Open House on the same day from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. Come and discover what is happening at the Centre as part of Ontario Heritage Week. Visit the current exhibit Coming Up Roses and learn about the history of the rose growing industry that put Richmond Hill on the map as the “rose capital of Canada.” Melanie will give deliver another reading at 2:15 pm.

The Milk Bag Project

We are very excited to be welcoming Sharon Gusz, an active volunteer and trainer for MILKBAGSunlimited to the Society Meeting on Monday, February 17, 2020.

MILKBAGSunlimited was launched by Angela Kesthely in Toronto, Ontario following the devastating Haitian Earthquake of 2010. Their objective is to providing finished milk mats mattresses made by volunteers to people who have nothing but bare earth or cardboard to sleep on. While saving the planet from discarded, non-recyclable milk bags, the team headed by Angela realized that by giving people the tools and the coaching, income opportunities could be created.

Our speaker, Sharon, is a retired teacher who taught in York Region for over 33 years, including 7 right here in Richmond Hill. Since her retirement in 2013, she has become an active volunteer and trainer for MILKBagsunlimited. She has trained students in over 50 schools in York Region and hosts 3 monthly weaving groups with adults.

Join us as Sharon shares more about this wonderful organization and shows us how we can not only save the environment…but also empower people!

Sharon is encouraging attendees to bring milk bags that can then be given to volunteers for use.

York-Sutton Railway History

Discovery what it was like to ride the rails in the 1850s and 1900s.

On January 4, 2020, the Canadian Railway Preservation and Restoration Society (CRPRA) will be holding an event at the Richmond Hill Public Library Central Branch on a history of the York-Sutton railway. You have a choice of two 1 hour sessions on January 4th, either from 10:15 am – 11:15 am OR 11:45 am – 12:45 pm. The cost is $5.00.

Games, trivia, hands-on with rails…fun for the entire family.

Register online by visiting the CRPRA website at https://www.crpra.org/community.php.

The Canadian Railway Preservation and Restoration Association, is a federally incorporated non-profit organization that strives to protect, preserve, and restore railroad tracks. We also promote rail safety and educate future engineers.