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.

Richmond Hill’s Bond Lake Park was Once a Major Attraction

Little evidence of park remains, but it was a happening spot in the first 20 years of the 20th century, writes Jim Vollmershausen
Originally published in the Richmond Hill Liberal, September 15, 2022

The Bond Lake Hotel and stables, circa 1920s. - Richmond Hill Public Library photo
The Bond Lake Hotel and stables, circa 1920s. – Richmond Hill Public Library photo

Today, Bond Lake, just south of Oak Ridges on Yonge Street, is a popular part of the Oak Ridges Trail, whether as an entry to the full length (260 kilometres) of the trail or the short loop around the lake itself. One has to wonder if the hundreds of people who enjoy the lake trails today realize that, 120 years ago, thousands of people were enjoying what the lake and its park had to offer.

From the earliest days of Richmond Hill, settlers and townsfolk used Bond Lake for fishing, swimming and boating in the summer, and curling in the winter. This casual use changed after 1899, though, when the Metropolitan Railway, which had just reached Richmond Hill the year before, began to extend its line north toward Newmarket. The railway needed more power to supply the line as it was extended, and Bond Lake provided a good supply of water for the generating station they built near its shore.

The Mary T. cruising Bond Lake in June 1927. - Richmond Hill Public Library photo
The Mary T. cruising Bond Lake in June 1927. – Richmond Hill Public Library photo

Knowing the lake was already a popular spot, the railway bought the farm surrounding the lake. Soon, landscaping was underway and railway siding and the Bond Lake Station were built to welcome the tourists they hoped to attract to the lake.

Inside the Bond Lake Powerhouse, circa 1900. The fly-wheel was approximately 18 feet in diameter. - Richmond Hill Public Library photo
Inside the Bond Lake Powerhouse, circa 1900. The fly-wheel was approximately 18 feet in diameter. – Richmond Hill Public Library photo

The railway did its best to try to create a real tourist attraction just a short rail ride from the growing Toronto area. Using surplus power from the generating station, Bond Lake Park became the first “electric” park in Ontario, and it quickly began to experience amazing attendance. In the 1901 season alone, 60,000 visitors passed through the park gates. This was great news for the railway — in addition to their park visit, the vast majority of these tourists also paid fares on the railway to get there. It is certain that local businesses also benefitted from this influx of visitors. A nearby tavern and a local hotel would have enjoyed a real increase in business as a result.

The railway did not skimp on park amenities. In addition to traditional picnic facilities, pleasant landscaping and access to swimming, fishing and boating, the park soon boasted a large concert pavilion, baseball grounds, a wading pool and a merry-go-round. Sunday school and company picnics were popular, and the park also attracted family groups and young couples. Rowboats were available for rent, or you could tour the lake in a larger launch.

The Radial Railway arriving at Bond Lake Park in June 1924. - Toronto Public Library photo
The Radial Railway arriving at Bond Lake Park in June 1924. – Toronto Public Library photo

The Metropolitan Railway Guidebook was eloquent in its praise for the park and its offerings. Clean air and cool breezes, clean water and few mosquitoes were all part of the pitch to attract visitors north, hopefully by rail. It touted the park, with its lake and trees and amenities, as a perfect place to relax, enjoy the outdoors, or even find romance through its pleasant promenades and dancing in the pavilion to a small orchestra.

Bond Lake Park was a going concern through the first 20 years of the 20th century, though its future came into question when the Toronto Transit Commission acquired the Metropolitan Railway Company in 1922. By 1929, the TTC was ready to close down the Radial Line north of Toronto due to poor ridership, and its primary interest in transit left little room for the park at Bond Lake. The park saw its last visitors in 1929.

Today, there is little evidence of Bond Lake Park to be found. Two crumbling brick pillars mark the old entrance on Yonge Street, and scattered along the trail beside the lake, hikers might find the remains of a few foundations or a twisted and partially buried merry-go-round. It’s difficult to imagine 60,000 visitors enjoying this beautiful spot in 1901.

—Jim Vollmershausen is the president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society

The Story of Richmond Hill’s ‘Langstaff Corners’ is One of Constant Change

The intersection of Yonge Street and Langstaff Road (Hwy. 7) has changed so much, the roads no longer intersect, writes Andrea Kulesh

Published online by the Richmond Hill Liberal on June 23, 2022

An image of Cook's Hotel, circa 1910, Langstaff Corners in Richmond Hill. - TPL Digital Archive
Cook’s Hotel, circa 1910, Langstaff Corners in Richmond Hill. – TPL Digital Archive

In the late 1700s, European settlement began in the area where these two roads would be built. The land on the northwest corner, Lot No. 35, was purchased by the Abner Miles family, some of the earliest arrivals. John Langstaff arrived from New Jersey a few years later and soon met and married Lucy Miles. Upon her father’s death, around 1808, they took ownership of the property. John was a very industrious person. He began as a teacher in the Thornhill area, joined the York militia to fight in the War of 1812 and, upon returning, supplemented farming with multiple businesses including a store, a smithy and factories for the manufacture of pails, shingles and eaves troughs. The area soon came to be known locally as Langstaff Corners.

We have all noticed that Richmond Hill’s Yonge Street corridor is rapidly changing. Future plans for major intersection highrise “hubs” are underway and many well-known “local” corners will alter so much that they will become unrecognizable. One such “corner” that has already changed multiple times is Yonge Street and Langstaff Road (Hwy. 7). Now-a-days, Hwy. 7 doesn’t even intersect — it is a raised roadway with ramps for access to Yonge Street.

Yonge quickly became the major link north from York. Businesses were taking root to serve local farms and to facilitate travel more easily on Yonge. By the 1830s, the Upper Canada Legislature had authorized tolls to be collected to fund road improvements, and Toll Gate No. 3 was erected at the intersection. By mid-century, Langstaff Corners had become a major stopping place for travellers on the road from Toronto to Richmond Hill and north. The toll house stood on the southwest corner and alongside it, Langstaff’s first post office opened in 1870. On that same corner, for some years, the Langstaff family enjoyed riding around an oval half-mile racetrack. The Yorkshire House, a hotel under the management of William and Jane Cook occupied the northwest corner. The Munshaw family farmed the southwest corner throughout much of the 19th century.

The original Langstaff farm stayed in the family until 1893 when the Boyle family purchased the property. The City of Toronto subsequently bought the land in 1911, just prior to the First World War, when it became part of the city’s Industrial Farm and came to be known as the Langstaff Jail Farm or the “Jail Farm.” This institution was active until the late 1950s when the operation was finally closed. The land stood unused for years with many of the buildings standing empty.

Photograph of the main building of the "Langstaff" Jail Farm around 1960. The front faced north and the back side was on Langstaff Road. (Toronto Industrial Farm). There were over 30 buildings on this site — all since demolished. - City of Toronto archives
This photo is the main building of the “Langstaff” Jail Farm around 1960. The front faced north and the back side was on Langstaff Road. (Toronto Industrial Farm). There were over 30 buildings on this site — all since demolished. – City of Toronto archives

In 1978, the Langstaff GO Station was opened along the Richmond Hill Railway Line, replaced by a new, larger and more modern one in 2005. Also, in 1978, proposals for a planned hydro corridor were tabled resulting in a large swath of the Miles/Munshaw/Langstaff farmland being utilized for this purpose, paralleling Hwy. 7 on the north side by 1985.

By 1982, Toronto council began selling the Langstaff Jail Farm property, (it encompassed a desirable block of real estate bounded by Yonge, Bayview Avenue, Hwy. 7 and 16th Sideroad). Developers quickly purchased this very large acreage and an incredible amount of development began quickly including housing, stores, schools, parks and roads. The new High Tech Road became the east-west gateway from Yonge to Bayview with multiple big box stores lining the south side. “Old” Langstaff Road remained, but the access was moved south of Hwy. 7 off Yonge Street.

The ever changing Langstaff Corners continues to have huge pressure on it. The Ontario government has announced its intention to increase population density through its proposed “transit oriented community” (TOC) — planned developments in the areas located on both sides of Hwy. 407 at Yonge Street — a new skyline will appear. In the Toronto Star on April 16, 2022, Ontario Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma was quoted as saying “a TOC is a place where people will wake up in the morning, take an elevator down, perhaps drop off their child at daycare, access a (transit) station, go to work, come back home on transit and pick up something for dinner at a local grocery store.” Langstaff Corners will be developed for this new purpose.

Photograph of John Langstaff - Early Days of Richmond Hill
John Langstaff – Early Days of Richmond Hill

Such is the future of the corner where Toll Gate No. 3 stood for the purpose of collecting tolls to improve a very early Yonge Street — the gateway to the north. It will take years for this plan to come to fruition, but the ongoing history of “Langstaff Corners” continues …

-Andrea Kulesh is the vice-president with the Richmond Hill Historical Society

A Rail Link Between Richmond Hill and Toronto

On Nov. 19, 1896, the first electric train of the Metropolitan Street Railway Company arrived in Richmond Hill
by Jim Vollmershausen
originally published in The Liberal, February 2022

A photograph of passengers boarding car 56 at the Metropolitan Railway Station in Richmond Hill at Yonge Street and Lorne Avenue. - Courtesy of RHPL
A photograph of passengers boarding car 56 at the Metropolitan Railway Station in Richmond Hill at Yonge Street and Lorne Avenue. – Courtesy of RHPL

In the last year or so, there has been some excitement in Richmond Hill about the extension of subway service to the City. People are looking forward to a fast and convenient connection to Toronto.

This isn’t the first time, though, that citizens of Richmond Hill have been excited about the development of a rail link with Toronto. In 1896, there had already been a number of years of speculation, planning and ultimately the construction of a rail link connecting Richmond Hill and the northern sections of Toronto’s Electric Rail System. On November 19, 1896, the first electric train of the Metropolitan Street Railway Company arrived in Richmond Hill along a track that paralleled Yonge Street. Residents now had an opportunity to travel to Toronto in 45 minutes rather than the 3 hours it took by stagecoach. The cost was 40 cents a trip or 60 cents return, and there were four round trips a day.

An early casualty of this new development was John Thompson’s Stagecoach Line, but, by all accounts, other businesses in Richmond Hill flourished, and the population grew. Richmond Hill was so easily reached from Toronto, in fact, that predictions were made that Richmond Hill could become a suburb of the much bigger city to the south. By 1899, the benefits of a Railway connection with Toronto were extended to Newmarket, as well.

Metropolitan Street Railway Company (later the Toronto and York Radial Railway Company) power house at Bond Lake. - Courtesy of RHPL
Metropolitan Street Railway Company (later the Toronto and York Radial Railway Company) power house at Bond Lake. – Courtesy of RHPL

The Metropolitan Street Railway Company contributed a further benefit to Richmond Hill when it bought some land near Bond Lake to build a generating station, and subsequently developed the first park in Ontario with electric lights. Residents and tourists were able to take advantage of baseball facilities, a pavilion and, of course, swimming, boating and fishing.

In 1904, the Metropolitan Street Railway Company was purchased by the Toronto and York Radial Railway Company, a larger company that meant more tracks in Ontario and more trains in Richmond Hill. 1904 also brought a second Railway to Richmond Hill, when the James Bay Railway Company built a station in as a stop on its freight line from Toronto to Sudbury — Richmond Hill residents and businesses were now blessed with reliable rail transportation for both freight and passengers.

Children packed onto car 42 of the Toronto and York Radial Railway, ca. 1920s. - Courtesy of RHPL
Children packed onto car 42 of the Toronto and York Radial Railway, ca. 1920s. – Courtesy of RHPL

In 1912, Richmond Hill officials were able to take further advantage of the Railways presence when they arranged a deal with the Toronto and York railway Company to buy surplus power from the Railway’s generating station at Bond Lake. The result was that, on Dec. 30, 1912, the first electric street lights were lit in Richmond Hill. Soon after, stores and shops were also able to benefit from this new development, as well as many homes.

The Radial Electric Railway continued to serve Richmond Hill, even after the Toronto Transit Commission became the owner in 1922. By 1929, though, the Commission was planning to close the service due to poor ridership, a move that the communities north of Toronto were not happy with. In 1930, Richmond Hill, along with North York, Markham, and Vaughan purchased the railway, renamed it the North Yonge Railways, and carried on serving their communities for another 18 years.

A train arriving at the Canadian Northern (later Canadian National) Railway station in Richmond Hill. - Courtesy of RHPL
A train arriving at the Canadian Northern (later Canadian National) Railway station in
Richmond Hill. – Courtesy of RHPL

The end of the Electric Railways came with the rationing of power in Ontario after the end of the war. The North Yonge Railways was a huge consumer of electricity, so a temporary fix was found in 1948 by replacing the trains with buses. Though initially unpopular, the buses caught on quite quickly, ridership ballooned and profits were realized. A vote in 1949 did away with the old railway, and the Electric Railway was no more.

Though Richmond Hill has benefited from GO Trains for some time, the notion of a regular subway connection with Toronto is as exciting now as electric train service was in 1896.

—Jim Vollmershausen is the president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society

Patterson Village Holds a Special Place in Richmond Hill’s History

The Patterson Brothers established the company town known as ‘The Patch’ in 1871, writes Vera Tachtaul

by Vera Tachtaul, Richmond Hill Historical Society

Published in the Richmond Hill Liberal, Thursday, October 28, 2021

Exterior shot of Patterson Church – Ruth Redelmeier

Patterson Village once stood by a wooden sidewalk that stretched from Yonge Street, along Vaughan Side Road (known today as Major Mackenzie Drive) to the factory site, where once long ago, many men commuted by foot from Richmond Hill.

Peter Patterson and his brothers, Alfred and Robert, who had moved from New York state to Upper Canada in the late 1840s to market a fanning mill (a machine for screening grain), had done so well in Richmond Hill that they decided to purchase 100 acres of land on the north side of Vaughan Sideroad, west of Bathurst Street, to expand the business.

The Patterson brothers grew their business around a sawmill and a blacksmith shop, and by 1855, an agricultural implement factory known as Patterson and Brothers Agricultural Manufacturers was established.

To accompany this enterprise, the Patterson Brothers established their own “company town.” Patterson Village (which was sometimes referred to as the ‘The Patch’ by many local residents) was a tightly knit town that included about 25 cottages for married employees, a boarding house for single workers, and had a population of about 200 people by 1871.

There was a Methodist Church, a post office, and a school established by 1872 for the convenience of its workers. Wages were exceptional, being based on the day’s labour rather than piecework. Employees of Patterson and Brothers earned an average $39 per month, which was a considerable sum for the time.

Although technically beyond today’s city boundaries, Patterson and Bro. was very closely linked with Richmond Hill because their workers often went into town to shop, which added immensely to the local economy.

At the agricultural plants’ peak, four teams of heavy horses were kept busy hauling the implements they made to the railway station in Richmond Hill. Since they were unable to obtain a spur line from the railroad, and with competition lurking, the plant was moved to Woodstock in 1891.

Factory buildings of Patterson Brothers, manufacturers of agricultural implements, located three kilometres west of Richmond Hill, along today’s Major Mackenzie Drive. – Richmond Hill Public Library

In 2006, the company This Land Archaeology Inc., under the supervision of William D. Finlayson, PhD., FRSC, worked on the complete excavation of the village.

Over a two-year period, findings included 16 cellars, and 36 privy pits in the subsoil, with excavations producing 291,911 artifacts, as well as an estimated 1,113,097 small artifacts, which helped illustrate the social and economic status of those who once worked there.

The excavation of a stone foundation of a church uncovered the location of the Methodist Church that once stood there, as well as the complete excavation of the boarding house.

Finlayson wrote, “We knew from archival research that there was a boarding house associated with the Village. Early census data revealed that six men lived in a two-story boarding house, and that the numbers of boarders later increased to 20 to 30 men.

“Historical data also indicates,” he continued, “that the boarding house was run by an independent individual, and that (those who lived in boarding houses) were served with very good meals and accommodation,” (Finlayson 2017:104).

As part of the dig at Patterson Village, there were several Indian artifacts uncovered in the subsoil, confirming that a Huron-Wendat village may have occupied the area prior to 1500 A.D.

The most unique find the archeologists noted was that there was no visible evidence of indigenous artifacts on the surface area. It was noted that by the time Peter Patterson bought the 100 acres of land, it was recorded that the lot was covered in large pine trees typical of abandoned agricultural fields of Indigenous peoples.

William D. (Bill) Finlayson, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., is the senior archaeologist in Ontario with over 54 years of experience in the field. One of his many noteworthy accomplishments was being voted a Specially-Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada for his innovations in Ontario archaeology. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The total excavation of Patterson Village by “This Land Archaeology Inc.” is documented in his book “The Archaeology of Patterson Village: A 19th Century Company Town in the Township of Vaughan, Ontario” – first in the “Our Lands Speak Series” and is available through I C Publishing. The Patterson site is the largest Euro-Canadian excavation to date.

Vera Tachtaul is a member of the Richmond Hill Historical Society

May marks 25 years since Richmond Hill’s final Spring Fair

City’s rapid growth meant interest in agriculture waned, writes Mary Jane Celsie

Mary Jane Celsie
Richmond Hill Liberal

Published in the Richmond Hill Liberal, Thursday, May 6, 2021

A poster for the Richmond Hill Agricultural Society’s Spring Fair in 1852. This month marks the 25th anniversary since the closing of the society, as well as the city’s final spring fair. – Richmond Hill Historical Society

It may be hard to believe now, as we drive up a Yonge Street lined with plazas and highrise condos, but only a few decades ago, Richmond Hill was flanked east of Bayview and west of Bathurst with family farms.

Farms that had been an integral part of the community, well before the village of Richmond Hill itself was incorporated in 1873.

The Yonge Street Agricultural Society was formed in early April of 1849, and by May 2 of that year had organized a one-day agricultural fair, held on a site west of Yonge Street and south of Arnold.

It was a simple beginning, consisting of mostly farm animal exhibits and competitions, but there was added entertainment in the form of a tightrope walker, performing on a rope stretched above Yonge Street between two hotels, and horse races held on the street itself.

Community historian Mary Dawson, writing in the Liberal years later, tells us that “Since there was no public address system available, a man with a loud voice, mounted on horseback, made the rounds of the hotels calling out the list of events, summoning the thirst quenchers to participate.”

It must have been quite the lively scene.

By 1851, the Fair Committee had settled on the date of the fair as Queen Victoria’s birthday, on or about May 24. Still a one-day event, the fair moved from venue to venue (usually a farmer’s land) until 1866, when it was held at the Town Park at Arnold and Church for the first time.

Since council had asked for a fee of $25 for use of the grounds, admission had to be increased to 25 cents for adults, 10 cents for children and 10 cents with each exhibitor’s entry form.

Fortunately, these fees also covered the cost of the Teston Band, which played live during the festivities for $20.

Initial prize lists focused on livestock judging, as well as harness racing, but in later years other sporting events such as human foot races and a football tournament were added.

By the 1960s, the prize lists had been expanded to include domestic sciences such as needlework and flower arranging, and even prizes for schoolchildren, such as essay writing, penmanship and arts and crafts.

Equine events included show jumping and a Western Horse Show held under the lights in the evening. By now, the fair itself was held over an entire weekend and a small midway was added as well.

For both the fair and the Agricultural Society, 1985 was a significant year, with the election of its first female president.

Kathleen “Kay” Smith, who had worked with the Society for 25 years, was elected, finally acknowledging the dedication of the women behind the scenes in organizing, cooking, baking and arranging events.

In the words of Fred Thomas, a former president himself, “Kay’s the best president they’ve had for quite a few years. She works hard.”

This was also the year the fair moved from the constrained conditions of the Town Park to Richmond Green, where exhibitors and attendees could enjoy purpose-built facilities such as the Pig Barn for animal exhibits, as well as an expanded midway.

However, with the rapid growth of Richmond Hill during the 80s and 90s, the family farms were developed into housing, and interest in agriculture waned.

The Richmond Hill Agricultural Society, and its Spring Fair, ended in 1996, after 147 years. This brief history, therefore, marks the 25th anniversary of its passing.

Those of us who grew up in Richmond Hill in the 1960s remember it fondly.

Mary Jane Celsie is a member of the Richmond Hill Historical Society.

Dr. Duncumb’s Hall — Gone But Not Forgotten

by Norman McMullen
Published in the Richmond Hill Liberal, February 11, 2021

Whatever its fate, the site of the Richmond Hill doctor’s hall holds its place in history, writes Norman McMullen

It’s not likely that many residents of Richmond Hill would be interested in knowing that the Archives Committee at St. Mary’s Anglican Church recently acquired three gnarly and aged yellow bricks.

These items were received following the destruction of Dr. Duncumb’s Hall, formerly located at 10027 Yonge St., almost directly opposite the church.

The future of the property that formerly hosted Dr. Duncumb’s Hall, located at 10027 Yonge St. in Richmond Hill, has been under discussion for some time. – Richmond Hill Historical Society

The future of the property has been under discussion for some time, and late last year, the building met its fate; some have said “demolition by neglect”.

Built for Dr. John Duncumb between late 1857 and 1861, the building served as a courtroom, where he presided as a Justice of the Peace.

His career was short-lived, due to “financial indiscretions” and the structure was eventually converted into a public hall.

Between 1864 and 1872, it served as a place of worship for the local Anglican congregation. Apparently some of the faithful even referred to the structure as “Dr. Duncumb’s Church”!

After Dr. Duncumb’s death by 1875, the hall was renovated for residential use by Lucy Nicholls. Through Lucy’s son Hesse and his wife, the property remained in the family until 1963.

After that, several major modifications were made to the building, allowing rental space for various businesses. Sadly, its gradual decline continued as well.

The Hall was built in a classic revival style, representative of popular designs often used for early official buildings.

According to a York Herald notice in February, 1862:

“On Thursday evening, the 13th inst., Dr. Duncumb opened his Hall in a grand manner. We understand about 200 ladies and gentlemen were present. The doctor entertained his guests in first-rate style to wine and cake; and having engaged the Quadrille Band from Toronto, dancing was the order of the night.”

It is believed to have been one of the earliest brick structures in Richmond Hill, representing an important part of our early justice system, public entertainment, community events, meetings and church services.

It is interesting to note that with the establishment and naming of St. Mary’s in 1872, the congregation simply moved across the street. Dr. Duncumb continued his connections with the Anglicans, although he was frequently at odds with Clergy and some parishioners — especially John Robert Arnold, who was no doubt an entrepreneurial competitor.

It was Arnold who donated the land for establishment of St. Mary’s.

Dr. Duncumb’s death was noted by the York Herald’s obituary of Dec. 10, 1875:

“…Having resisted his native country, (Beverley, Yorkshire, England) he returned to Canada in 1837, and a few years later took up his residence in the Village, where by his professional skill and shrewd business talents, he acquired considerable property; but his career, successful though it was, like all other earthly careers, came to a close, and his powerful frame, in obedience to the common law of nature, yielded to the fierce onslaughts of the grim monster, his lion head was bowed and his stentorian voice was hushed in death…”

So even though his hall has vanished, the bell continues to ring today, in tribute to this remarkable citizen of Richmond Hill.

It is comforting to know that the city directed the Heritage and Urban Design staff to carefully remove any items of historic and architectural significance, prior to demolition of the hall.

I understand this includes the following: About 70 pieces of whole heritage bricks, the original fan-shaped window and three flat head windows, along with two stained glass windows.

These items are now safely stored at the Operations Centre. Hopefully these items will reappear in whatever structure that continues the fascinating story of Dr. Duncumb’s hall.

Norman McMullen is a member of the Richmond Hill Historical Society and Chair of the Archives Committee at St. Mary’s Anglican Church.

The Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837: Richmond Hill had a Ringside Seat

Originally published in the Richmond Hill Liberal, September 24, 2020
by Jim Vollmershausen

While the events that led to the Rebellion of 1837 were unfolding, the citizens of Richmond Hill were not on the outside, looking in – they were right in the middle of it.

The Moodie House – courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library

In the decades following the arrival of the first settlers, the Richmond Hill area became a thriving agricultural community, served by many shops and businesses. By the 1830s, this prosperity began to attract a more affluent group of settlers who were buying up properties and beginning to influence local politics.

These newcomers tended to be British, Church of England, more well-to-do, and much more apt to turn to the ruling elite in York for assistance. The original settlers were much more self-sufficient. They had cleared land, built cabins, sowed crops and gained title to property. In their experience, the government in York did not have their interests at heart. By 1830, these two groups of Richmond Hill residents clearly represented the simmering conflict in Upper Canada between the ruling tories and the less-privileged reformers.

The man who came to lead the reformers was William Lyon Mackenzie. In the years leading up to 1837, Mackenzie worked tirelessly to effect reforms through his work in the assembly, his newspaper columns – he even took his grievances to Britain. Consistently rebuffed, by 1837, he was beginning to call for armed revolt.

Richmond Hill’s tory contingent – the Moodies, the Gappers, the O’Brians, and others – were not impressed with the reformers demands. Their view was that they were well served by the government in what was now known as Toronto.

Other families in Richmond Hill, however, were much more receptive to the reformers’ call for change. A couple of years of poor harvests, coupled with an economic recession that included tighter credit and the recall of loans made for very difficult times for farmers. By early December of 1837, MacKenzie’s call to arms seemed like a good option.

Emboldened by troops leaving Toronto to help suppress a rebellion in Lower Canada, men from Richmond Hill and areas to the north began to gather in response to MacKenzie’s appeal to take up arms. On Monday, Dec. 4, they began to march down Yonge Street from places like Holland Landing, picking up supporters as they went. Later that afternoon, Captain Hugh Stewart observed the marchers as they passed by Crews Tavern, just north of Richmond Hill, and raised the alarm. A number of loyalists met at Robert Moodie’s house, just south of the tavern.

David Bridgeford – courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library

After a first attempt to warn the forces in Toronto about the rebels failed, Moodie, his friend David Bridgeford, and others decided to ride south. Moodie, Bridgeford and Captain Stewart made it as far as Montgomery’s Tavern, near Eglinton Street, where the rebels were gathering. After being confronted by rebel guards, shots were fired, Moodie was fatally shot and Stewart was captured. David Bridgeford was able to evade the rebels and made it to Government House. By Dec. 7, there had been one skirmish south of Montgomery’s Tavern and a final, albeit short battle at the tavern itself – and the rebels were defeated.

In the end, Richmond Hill saw it all. The village contributed tory loyalists and rebel reformers to the Rebellion of 1837. A tory stalwart, Robert Moodie, was killed on the first day of action, and many rebels were captured and imprisoned. Though the rebels were defeated, their reform views did not disappear. In the thirty years between the rebellion and confederation, many of their issues were part of the ongoing process of change.

-Jim Vollmershausen is the president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society

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