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
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.
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.
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 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