Originally published in the Richmond Hill Liberal (November 2018) by Andrea Kulesh, President
Historically, Yonge Street has undergone constant improvement since its early beginnings. Currently, the town is experiencing construction of the new Metrolinx transportation system, “an integrated multimodal regional system that puts the traveller’s needs first.” In 1795, John Graves Simcoe, Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant-Governor, made similar plans, by engineering a highway using Aboriginal trails leading to Lake Simcoe, naming it after his friend, Sir George Yonge. This route would be a protected inland passage which had strategic and commercial potential. His troops cut away heavy bush to create a safe route for military and settlers alike.
Beginning as a muddy, stumpy walking trail, it slowly evolved and in the later 1800s was given a flattened gravel surface. People walked, rode horses and wagons to reach the new land opened up to settlers who were building farms, villages and towns along the route.
In 1894, the Metropolitan Street Railway Company proposed a new technology — an electric service connecting towns north of the city. Construction was completed in 1897 and Richmond Hill welcomed the new Radial Line as a link with established industrial and commercial activity. The line began in north Toronto and in time, eventually made its way to Sutton on Lake Simcoe. Service was four daily round trips between Richmond Hill and Toronto’s city limits. A one-way trip took 45 minutes, for 40 cents (65 cents, return).
In early 1930, the TYRR Metropolitan Division decided that the service was no longer viable and was closed down. The line was losing money and road competition was the main reason. Between 1925 and 1930, auto and truck traffic increased along Yonge Street from 4,925 to 11,163 per day, and bus traffic from two to 188 per day. Reeves from Richmond Hill, Markham, Vaughan and North York joined together and began the North Yonge Railway using the abandoned lines, with the new service beginning in July 1930. For 18 years this electric “streetcar” continued to move people around for work and pleasure, finally ending in October 1948 — replaced with TTC buses. This was the last surviving Toronto “Radial” — the end of an era, a mode of transportation that indeed put the “traveller’s needs first.”
—Andrea Kulesh is president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society and has been a member since 2004. The society can be found at www.rhhs.ca.
This past February, Richmond Hill Public Library’s Local History and Genealogy Librarian Peter Wilson shared the story of Susannah Maxwell, one of Richmond Hill’s prominent historical figures with the Richmond Hill Liberal.
At the time of her death in February of 1923, she had reached the astounding age of 117 and only a month short of her next birthday. She was likely the oldest person in Canada at the time of her death, made even more remarkable by the life she led. Born to free black parents in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, she barely escaped being captured and sold into slavery after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. She and her family escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad, eventually settling in the Brick Tenement on Yonge Street across from St. Mary’s Anglican Church.
While Susannah could earn what was known as a York Shilling, or about 12.5 cents per day in Richmond Hill, she could make as much as 50 cents per day 7 miles away in Markham. To support her family she would make the trek until she collapsed on her way home in a blizzard. She likely would have died if she had not been found by a dog who alerted others to her location. She eventually ran a laundry business out of her home with two of her daughters, Mary and Matilda, or Tillie as she was known. Mary died in 1899 and the Village Council agreed to pay for her funeral and grave in the Presbyterian Cemetery. Tillie died in 1920.
Susannah was an early orphan, and early widow and a mother who outlived all of her children.
Read the full story in the Richmond Hill Liberal. The story was also picked up by CityNEWS and was broadcast on February 28, 2019 and is viewable through their website.
Bert Hunt Bench Dedication Mill Pond Park – North of Mill Street on the walkway halfway towards the north end of the pond.
On behalf of the RHHS Executive Committee, we are pleased to extend an invitation to members who would like to attend the dedication of a park bench in Bert Hunt’s honour at Mill Pond, Tuesday August 28th, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.
Mayor Barrow will be on hand to dedicate the bench to Bert Hunt who was a great advocate of history and heritage in Richmond Hill. In his later years he was most adamant that Richmond Hill should have a larger museum and set into motion a flurry of meetings and feasibility studies to see if this was a possibility – to be included in the future Richmond Hill’s cultural plans.
In 2017, the Richmond Hill Historical Society gave the first Certificate of Recognition-The Bert Hunt Heritage Award and will continue to do so every year going forward to a deserving recipient. We are proud to be able to honour Bert Hunt in this way and are sure Bert would be very glad to have his name on a bench at Mill Pond where people can relax and ponder about the past and the future of his beloved town of Richmond Hill.