History of Yorkville
Founded in 1830 by entrepreneur Joseph Bloor (after whom Bloor Street, one of Toronto's main thoroughfares, is named), the Village of Yorkville began as a residential suburb with two main industries, the first being the Yorkville Brick Yards in today's Ramsden Park, which manufactured Yorkville's famous yellow brick and can be seen at the historic Yorkville Firehall on Yorkville Avenue. The second industry was beer making with breweries such as The Severn Brewery and the Joseph Bloor Brewery. The neighbourhood's Victorian-style homes, quiet residential streets and picturesque gardens survived into the 20th century, when it was annexed by the City of Toronto.
In the 1960s, Yorkville was shabby and run down, yet flourished as Toronto's bohemian cultural centre. It was the breeding ground for some of Canada's most noted musical talents, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot, as well as then-underground literary figures such as Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn MacEwen and Dennis Lee. Yorkville was known as the Canadian capital of the hippie movement. The youth of the day, would flock to Yorkville's famous coffees houses such as the Purple Onion and The Myna Bird to hang out and be inspired by the talent, which resonated between the walls of these establishments. Love-ins and poetry readings went on at all hours of the day.
Major changes began to take place during the 1970's and into the 1980's, as many high end Bloor Street businesses such as Harry Rosen, Holt Renfrew and international designer brands began to attract chic boutiques, cafes, first class art galleries and salons to the area, and the famous coffee houses faded into the past. Numerous office towers took over Bloor Street and other major corridors, where various low rise buildings once existed.
During the 1980's, Bloor-Yorkville also caught onto the condominium trend and several were built on Bay and Bloor streets. An economic slump in the early 90's slowed construction, but by the mid 90's the condominium market soared to satisfy a pent up demand for residential units and the trend has continued into the next decade, as 20 new condominium towers have been built and another 6 major towers are planned, increasing the area population by at least 10,000 people.
With so many substantial changes ongoing, it was a welcome change to the concrete and glass facades, when the installation of the award winning Village of Yorkville Park took place in 1993, whereby the Joni Mitchell song, which references 'turning a park into a parking lot' was reversed and a beautiful gem of a 'park was placed where a parking lot' once existed. The park is enjoyed by city dwellers, office workers and tourists alike.
Bloor-Yorkville's transformation has come full circle, as construction is complete for the redevelopment of the Bloor Street corridor. The Bloor Street Transformation project has resulted in a vibrant commercial area, which is pedestrian friendly and provides a stimulating oasis to all those who stroll its boulevards.
Some architectural and historical highlights include:
77 Yorkville Avenue (Currently Seventy Seven)
In l837, the original building, located on the south-east corner of Yorkville and Bellair, is said to have been built by a hardy Scottish immigrant. He had felt the desire to erect a home designed to withstand the rigours of Highland living in the last century, and consequently, left us the legacy of one of our rare examples of early architecture.
Presently, the building is occupied by the "Paisley Shop", dealing in antiques. It is a typical Scottish-Georgian townhouse with tall symmetrical windows reminiscent of the fine, old 19th Century homes to be found in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is considered by many of our architects and antiquarians, as one of Toronto's best and most delightful examples of old world Georgian architecture.
Surprisingly enough, in this day of historical societies, information regarding the history of Yorkville is rare, but this building does have a definite story. The next tenant to follow the Scottish owner was better known to the Yorkville Villagers. John Daniels was the local sheriff, and also the proprietor of a saloon at the corner of Avenue Road and Bloor Street. No doubt, his police work didn't keep him fully occupied!
At the time of excavating the garden for the purpose of the present renovations, the remains of a tiny shed were found. This was once a 'cell' for the overnight detention of prisoners before the long trip to Toronto. No paved roads or subways in those days.
Although the Village of Yorkville eventually spread over the entire area from Sherbourne Street to Spadina, the core of the community was always, as it is to-day, that property traversed by Yorkville and Cumberland and bisected by Hazelton. The "village" part of Yorkville is simply the last surviving part of a tiny settlement that once provided Torontonians with a destination at the end of a walk through the countryside bounding the northern section of the old city.
The next time you have a stroll by this corner, have a good look at the "Sheriff's House".
162 Bloor Street West (Church of the Redeemer)
On September 3rd, 1871, the first service of the Church of the Redeemer as a separate parish was led by the first Rector Rev. Septimus Jones. The Bishop of Toronto, A. N. Bethune, preached to the almost 300 parishioners who attended the service to mark this important moment. Seven years later, on October 16th,1877, the cornerstone for the present Church at the corner of Bloor Street and Avenue Road was laid by Archdeacon Whitaker, provost of Trinity College, acting for the Bishop. The construction of the new building was completed in 1879. This newly established parish was birthed from St. Paul's Bloor Street. Before long, Church of the Redeemer enjoyed enough growth and prosperity so that, in 1885, the parish established a mission of its own at the corner of Davenport Road and Avenue Road, now called Church of the Messiah.
The Church of the Redeemer building was designed in a Gothic revival style. During the early years of the parish, there was seating for approximately 500 people. Between 1906 and 1929, stained glass windows were installed, depicting key moments in the life of Jesus and his disciples. The window immediately behind the altar, for example, illustrates the story of the Road to Emmaus. Most of the windows were designed by N. T. Lyons, a stained glass firm known for its naturalistic, three-dimensional style.
In 1904, the Casavant organ was installed in the Church. The only other Casavant organ in the diocese of Toronto that is older is presently housed in St. James Cathedral. The Parish Hall was built on the north side of the property in 1881 and the Rectory, to the east of the Church, was erected in 1891. The Parish continued to grow in strength and numbers throughout the first century of its life. While the landscape around the Church changed from one generation to the next, moving from veritable country lanes to a bustling downtown core, the property that was Church of the Redeemer continued to remain a constant at the corner of Bloor Street and Avenue Road.
By the late 1970's, Church of the Redeemer had like many other downtown churches fallen on hard times. Attendance had dropped so dramatically that by 1979 the community could no longer pay its way. On June 18th, 1979, a special vestry voted to voluntarily disestablish the parish. The land and air rights surrounding the Church building were sold to the developers of the Renaissance Centre in 1980, while ownership of the Church buildings passed from the parish to the Diocese of Toronto. The funds generated by this sale enabled the Parish to renovate the interior of the Church nave, chancel and sanctuary, and to build the third floor meeting space. The renovations were completed in 1982.
Through hard work, faith, and integrity in the Gospel, the parish community with a new incumbent, Rev. Tim Foley, began to grow once again. On April 20th, 1986, the Parish Church of the Redeemer was re-established, and in 1989 the Diocese of Toronto returned ownership of the Redeemer to the incumbent and wardens of the parish. The community celebrated the 125th anniversary of the parish in 1996.
The 21st century opened with new life for Church of the Redeemer. Church membership grew steadily to 350 families while Outreach programs, Christian Education initiatives, and worship services expanded to the point where there was a shortage of physical space. In 2000, the community embarked on an ambitious construction program. Earth was excavated beneath the building to make way for gathering space, meeting rooms, a kitchen and offices. Construction was completed in the fall of 2001.
Heliconian Hall - 35 Hazelton Avenue
The Toronto Heliconian Club is the oldest association of its kind in Canada. Founded in 1909 to give women in the arts and letters an opportunity to meet socially and intellectually, the club holds to its original purpose while responding to the changes of contemporary life.
It was formed by professional women in music, writing, painting, and drama who were later joined by those in dance, sculpture, architecture and other professions in or related to the humanities. The members range in age and experience from women who have earned great distinction to those in the early stages of their careers.
The club's founding was the inspiration of Mary Hewitt Smart, a teacher of singing at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. She invited to a meeting a number of women she thought would like to exchange ideas or simply enjoy social occasions together. The first meeting of the Heliconian club was held at the Tea-Pot Inn on Wednesday, January 20th, 1909, with 59 members present. The club recently had its 100th anniversary, and celebrations continue throughout 2009.
That day Mary Hewitt Smart was elected president. It was recorded that she represented "music" and that other officers represented "art" and "literary." This established the club's sectional structure to which dance, drama and humanities were later added. At the founding meeting, the members also decided on the name "Heliconian Club" which derives from Mount Helicon, the mythical abode of the Muses.
The home of the Heliconian club meets at 35 Hazelton Ave. It dates from 1875 when Yorkville was a rural village on the outskirts of Toronto. Originally a church and then the headquarters of a painters' union, the building was bought by the club in 1923 for $8,000 and named Heliconian Hall. Its architecture is Carpenter's Gothic with a simple board and batten exterior, and with the embellishment of a Victorian rose window and carved rafters in a high vaulted ceiling. Its good acoustical properties are a boon to this day to the club's musicians. Heliconian Hall is one of the few church buildings of this style in southern Ontario. It was designated a Toronto historic site in 1990 and a National Historic Site in 2008.
The Toronto Heliconian Club is unique, not only in its Edwardian beginnings and the Victorian architecture of Heliconian Hall, but as an enduring meeting place of women in the arts and letters. Membership is open to any professional woman in the arts who meets the qualifications set out in the club's by-laws.
Yorkville Public Library (22 Yorkville Avenue)
Little did we know that a 14 year old young lad who started to work in the U.S. cotton fields would one day have such an impact on the cultural fabric of major cities such as New York and Toronto. His name was Andrew Carnegie (l835-1919). He was a Scottish immigrant who amassed a fortune by first investing in the railroad and then by manufacturing steel in the U.S. Ultimately he became a philanthropist and one of his special interests was building libraries.
In 2003, we celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the Yorkville Public Library, located on the north side of Yorkville near Yonge Street. At the beginning of the 20th century the original library was housed in St. Paul's Hall (originally Yorkville's Town Hall) just around the corner on Yonge Street.
At that time, the chief librarian, James Bain, approached Carnegie and explained the need for $350,000.00. After lengthy negotiations, in January 1903 James Bertram, Carnegie's private secretary, sent Bain a "letter of promise". The philanthropist would grant $350,000 to Toronto to build a central library and three branch libraries, providing that the City provided the sites and supported the library operations by giving the libraries at least 10% of the grant amount each year.
Because of the generous endowment, the Yorkville Public Library was built on the lot east of the fire hall in l907. The building was designed by the City architect Robert McCallum. It was in accordance with the standard Carnegie library plan in the U.S. and modified only to the place and available materials. A flight of broad steps led to the doorway between paired columns supporting a pediment. The building was constructed of Ohio stone and finished throughout with massive quarter-cut oak.
The years passed by and slowly the community changed to incorporate more commercial uses. In the Sixties, the building became progressively more isolated and in l972 faced the prospect of demolition. Fortunately, due to the extreme efforts of the Historical Board and the Toronto Library Board, the building was saved. In l978, it was renovated and expanded as part of the Board's branch revitalization program.
Today, the neighbourhood library serves a varied population with diversified interests. The area residents range from young children to senior citizens. There are areas provided for casual reading, children's books, programmed activities, audio-visual materials, paperback books, magazines and current publications, internet stations, word processing workstations and an exhibit/art gallery.
The Yorkville Library now stands as an active landmark of Victorian public life in our area of Bloor Yorkville. We thank Andrew Carnegie for his vision and generosity.
Yorkville Firehall (34 Yorkville Avenue)
The charming Yorkville Firehall #312 is located at 34 Yorkville Avenue, just west of Yonge Street on the north side. It is one of the surviving gems of the old village of Yorkville and was originally built in 1876 on the design of S. H. Townsend.
Built of soft yellow brick, made in the Yorkville Brickyards, which were once located to the north (now converted into Ramsden Park). The Firehall was at the rear of the Yorkville Town Hall, which fronted Yonge Street. Ironically, a fire destroyed it.
Soon after, in 1890, a replacement building, designed by Mancel Willmot, was constructed using Yorkville yellow brick, but having red brick detail, and thereby improving upon the original.
Four years after the incorporation of the village, the Town Hall had been built. It ceased to service in this capacity after annexation in 1883, and it became a public hall and home for the York (Queen's York) Rangers and a public library. It was also renamed Firehall #10 in that year.
The Coat of Arms of the old village was removed from the high front gable of the Town Hall, and reinstalled on the front of the Firehall - an important reminder of those who formed the first Village Council. The first Councillors were John Severn, a brewer, Thomas Atkinson, a brickmaker, Reeve James Dobson, a carpenter, James Wallis, a blacksmith, and Peter Hutty, a butcher. It embodies an accurate representation of the nourishing and constructive group of working people who created the Village of Yorkville.
In 1975, some additions were made to allow the building to be retained, but still served contemporary firefighting requirements. Firehall #10 remains an active fire station under the direction of Captain Chris Bertram, and does have periodic times for public tours.
The Yorkville Coat of Arms - Located at 34 Yorkville Avenue
When the Village of Yorkville became incorporated in 1853, the first five elected Councillors wanted their own coat of arms. The shield bears five symbols. Each symbol represents the occupations of the Councillors. The jackplane represents builder James Dobson who was elected Reeve by that first Council and to ensure that no mistake would be made in interpretation, the letter "D' was added. The beer barrel with the letter "S" stands for brewer John Severn, who owned Severn's Brewery. Some 6,000 to 7,000 gallons of beer were produced each week! Severn served as both Councillor and later as Reeve on the Yorkville Council, and certainly kept the town in good spirits. Thomas
Atkinson, the maker of brick moulds and bricks is represented by a brick and the letter "A". The letter "H" is for Peter Hutty, a butcher, and a sheep's head is his symbol. Finally, blacksmith James Wallis is shown in the anvil and the letter "W" is for Wallis.
All the Councillors were working men, and it is only fitting that the popular Canadian symbol of the beaver, itself the symbol of industry and perseverance, should surmount the shield.
Above the red door of the Yorkville Fire Hall at 34 Yorkville Avenue, is Yorkville's coat of arms. It was originally on the town hall, but when the hall was destroyed by fire in l941, the coat of arms was saved and moved eventually to its present location.
Yorkville Town Hall (Square) Yorkville Avenue at Yonge Street
Old Yorkville Townhall Yorkville Townhall Site - Now Townhall Square Plaque commemorating the Village of Yorkville
The Yorkville Town Hall was the municipal building for the Town of Yorkville before annexation into the City of Toronto. Built in the mid-1800s, the 3 storey building served as an omnibus stop. Designed by William Hay, one of Toronto's most important early architects, the Yorkville Town Hall was built by William McGinnis, and opened on the site in 1860, fronting onto Yonge Street. High Victorian in style, it was constructed of local 'white' (yellow) bricks with red and blackened brick trim, and boasted three stained glass rose windows that illuminated a third-floor public hall seating 500. In its second-floor Council Chamber, local politicians debated, among other things, 'the running at large of Pigs and Swine and Poultry', the planking of sidewalks and the 'prevention of immoderate driving'. In 1861, the privately owned horse-drawn Toronto Street Railway commenced service from the Town Hall to the St. Lawrence Market. After the clock tower was completed in 1889, the Town Hall's bells sounded the working day and rang for fire alarms.
After annexation in 1883 ended Yorkville's village government, the Council Chamber was used as a public library. The building also housed the Yorkville Company of the York Rangers, the Naval Club, and the offices of the Toronto Street Railway, and had space for community use. The Yorkville Town Hall was destroyed by fire on November 12, 1941. All that remains in the carved stone coat-of-arms, since mounted on the Yorkville Fire Hall. Located north of Bloor on Yonge Street, it was demolished
With the cooperation of the City of Toronto, the Bloor-Yorkville BIA and area residents, today the Yorkville Town Hall is commemorated by Town Hall Square. An urban green space designed by Janet Rosenberg & Associates and built, along with the adjacent condominium, by Gerry Switzer and Great Gulf Homes
100 Yorkville Avenue (First Mount Sinai Hospital)
In August of 1913, four immigrant women from Toronto's Jewish community started knocking on neighbourhood doors to raise money for a hospital.
The Jewish immigrant population in Toronto was burgeoning; most of the new immigrants didn't speak English and were afraid of large institutions. And, sadly, not a hospital in the city would give Jewish doctors a place to practice.
It took them nine years, but by 1922, the Mrs. Cohn, Miller, Spiegel and Adler had raised $12,000, enough to buy a building at 100 Yorkville.
In 1923, The Hebrew Maternity and Convalescent Hospital opened its doors. When it was established, all 40 Jewish doctors in Toronto joined its staff. It received its first provincial grant of $1,500 in 1929. By 1934, it was overcrowded and had to renovate and expand its Yorkville building. In 1930, a new surgical wing was built by architects, Kaminker & Richmond, having a symmetrical classical design. The hospital remained on this site until 1953. Much has changed about that hospital since it opened. The name became Mount Sinai Hospital and it moved locations several times. It grew from 30 beds to 472 and it became, in very short order, one of North America's pre-eminent medical, teaching and research institutions.
Subsequently, the building at 100 Yorkville Avenue became a nurse's residence before becoming a senior citizens' home. The property was designated as a historical site in 1985, but the 1930 wing was partially demolished in 1988. The current owners have undertaken the rehabilitation of the remaining building, which has been repaired and made weather tight with the assistance of E.R.A. The stabilized structure was moved onto the sidewalk of Yorkville Avenue in 2006, while the new foundations for 100 Yorkville were constructed. It was moved back to its final location in 2008 and now houses Teatro Verde. 100 Yorkville is a residential/retail development with underground public parking.