Excerpts from York Township: An historical summary

York Township began its existence under our present municipal system in 1850. That system was established in 1849 under the famous Municipal Corporations Act of Hon. Robert Baldwin. “York Township and its peninsula” formed one of the townships on the north shore of Lake Ontario laid out in 1793 by direction of John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, now the province of Ontario. The township extended from Scarborough to the Humber River and north from the lake shore to Vaughan and Markham. In York Township, on the lake shore, near the mouth of the Don River, Simcoe set out, also in 1793, a plot of thirty acres for the Town of York to which he moved the seat of government of the province from Newark, now Niagara. The town plot, in terms of present day Toronto, was hounded on the north by Duchess Street, on the west by George Street and on the east by the original Parliament Street, now Berkeley Street.

By 1834 the original plot of thirty acres of “our Royal Town of York,” as Simcoe termed it, had become an area extending from Parliament Street westward along the shore to Bathurst Street; thence north on Bathurst Street to the present Dundas Street, east across Dundas to Yonge Street and continuing east on Queen Street back to Parliament Street. This was the area incorporated as the City of Toronto in 1834. The additions to Simcoe’s original plot were made hy annexing portions of York Township, including “the peninsula”, now the Island. Toronto’s growth thereafter was by annexations of portions of York Township until 1912 after which this policy was reversed by Toronto. While this policy affected the growth of Toronto it profoundly affected the development of York Township.

Toronto acquired its municipal status of 1834 by special legislative enactment. It was sixteen years later when Robert Baldwin’s Municipal Corporations Act brought local government by one general law to the communities of Upper Canada.

The public school in his community, erected in 1909, bears the name of Mr. Syme. Syme Road, east of Rockcliffe Boulevard, has become an important thoroughfare leading to St. Clair Avenue. Mr. Syme was one of the founders of Victoria Presbyterian Church on Annette Street, then in Toronto Junction. During its construction he and R. L. McCormack became guarantors for the completion of the structure. The collapse of the land boom at the time had left most of the original guarantors insolvent.
This period, from 1903 on, was marked by the enlargement in instalments of municipal powers for York Township by special legislative enactment. Among the first off such provisions was that of constructing and taxing sidewalks, roadways and similar works as local improvements, as in towns and villages. It was the period also which marked the return of the Baldwin system of County Councils. Mr. Henry was the first reeve to be a member of the County Council since 1898.

By 1905 Toronto had expanded almost to the limit of its boundaries and had reached nearly the limit of its borrowing powers. In the sixteen years following the annexations which had ended with that of Parkdale in 1889 the city had integrated and further developed those areas. To maintain its financial rating Toronto again required room for expansion. In 1905 the city began an annexation program which at the conclusion of Mr. Henry’s reeve-ship, included not only the town of East Toronto and the city of West Toronto but also heavily urbanized areas of York Township including Deer Park, Wychwood, Bracondale, the Midway and Balmy Beach. Appeals of ratepayers, in those areas, opposed to annexation to Toronto resulted in Council declaring by resolution that it took a neutral position with regard to petitions for annexation. Earlier Council had ordered that stakes be placed on the west side of Avenue Road south of St. Clair Avenue to better define the street allowance beyond the city limits.
Local option campaigns to reduce the number of hotel licenses and contests over by-laws to provide public owned hydro-electric power featured municipal affairs in Ontario generally. Hydro electric power was not a new thing in York Township. A generating plant was built on the Humber near Scarlett Road in 1901.

Until the advent of the new roadway, which was renamed Trethewey Drive in honor of its donor, this charming part of the Black Creek valley and its woods had been a sequestered spot known almost only to those whose farms it once had been a part. When made accessible to the general public its existence was to many a pleasant discovery. The Trethewey fields fronting on Jane Street became Toronto’s earliest airfield when Count Jacques de Lesseps in his aeroplane, “the Scarab”, used them as a base when he made flights over Toronto fifty years ago. Mr. Trethewey died in 1926. He was a well know figure in the great days of Cobalt where he discovered what became the famous Trethewey silver mine.

The industries, of which Ferranti Ltd., was amongst the first, established on the Trethewey lands contributed greatly to the industrial assessment needed to lessen the tax burden carried by residential property. Access to these industries from Weston Road and the west was provided in 1929 by the construction of the Ray Avenue subway. As this industrial development was in school section of a township the school taxes benefited School Section No. 28, Mount Dennis, only.

Swansea, or School Section No. 22, withdrew to be a village in 1925. With this incorporation Toronto’s encirclement by urbanized municipalities was complete. But for York Township, the parent municipal body, these separations meant leaving the less improved areas to carry on the municipality. A halt had to be called if an integrated municipality was ever again to be established. York Township’s deputation to the Ontario Parliament Buildings to request the necessary legislation was received by Hon. W. F. Nickle, then Attorney-General. “How’s crops?” the Attorney-General asked of Deputy Reeve R. J. McGregor by way of greeting. Mr. McGregor had to explain to Mr. Nickle that farms in York Township were things of the past. A good beginning to a call for the purpose of informing Mr. Nickle of the unusual position of York as a township. The York Township Act of 1926, as a consequence, provided that no part of the township could be annexed to any adjoining /
municipality, nor be incorporated as a separate municipality

…..the large amount of unpaid taxes served to show the desperate plight of home owners in his municipality. While relief measures were general, as the needs were countrywide, certain municipalities in the province had problems peculiar to themselves. Efforts were made in York Township to raise funds on a voluntary basis and thus avoid a levy by taxation for direct relief. School teachers and all directly employed by the municipality had been contributing, voluntarily, five per cent of their salaries toward relief. This became a fixed levy of ten per cent on all salaries. The formation of a Citizens’ Emergency Relief Committee in 1932 was an act of citizenship on a scale beyond what had been thought possible in such a dismembered and disturbed municipality as York had been. Professor E. D. MacPhee was general chairman, Robert Fennell was chairman of the finance and campaign committee, S. McAdam was honorary secretary and the Toronto General Trusts Corporation was honorary treasurer. Also serving on the committee were, W. H. Jeeves, James Knox, H. C. Jeffries, E. W. Murchison, D. F. Benson, T. A. McGillivray, H. M. Turner, A. B. Cooper, T. H. Hancock, Dr. W. E. Pearson and G. W. Brown. Mr. Gray was honorary chairman of the organization and J. Robbins secretary with headquarters at the township offices, 40 Jarvis Street. In a campaign to raise $200,000 in October, 1932 the committee appealed to leaders of industry in Toronto for support. The committee pointed out that for the coming winter of 1932-33 York Township would require $1,000,000 to take care of its unemployed. Towards this the municipality must raise $200,000. “The governments have assured us the balance if we can procure this amount. There will be about 4,000 unemployed families, representing approximately 16,000 people, who must have food, clothing and warmth this winter. The majority of the wage earners of these families were formerly employed in Toronto industries. Many of these families moved into York Township because smaller and cheaper houses were available and, therefore, taxation lower. It is a known fact that no other municipality adjoining Toronto has anything like the percentage of families on Relief that York Township has.”

While the problem of financing relief measures overshadowed everything else 1932 saw another advance in York Township administration by the appointment by council of a court of revision of three members. Special legislation had been enacted for the purpose. Previously members of council sat as a court of revision and had to decide the appeals of ratepayers against their assessments. The first members of the appointed court of revision were Sam. Clouston, Charles Johnston and Stephen Reynolds. The “economy budget” for 1933 could not be followed as planned by reason of the great increase in unemployment and the dropping off in the tax collections. Prpciiies, particularly vacant land, were being abandoned by owners unable to pay taxes. Mr. Gray, on 6 November, 1933, declared that the advance of the depression had “not only resulted in the destitution of a higher percentage of citizens and consequent higher relief costs than is the case in almost any other Ontario municipality, but also in the reduced financial ability of our other citizens to bear the burden of a balanced budget.” He recommended that Council make application to the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board to place the township administration under provincial supervision in order that the municipality might receive financial assistance. After a struggle of more than two years to keep afloat independently the burden of relief payments had become to heavy. On 24 November York Township’s application for provincial supervision was granted and the following were named as the Committee, of Supervisors, Thomas Bradshaw, Chairman; A. J. B. Gray, Harold C. Jeffries, Lancelot A. S. Dack and Donald C. McClelland. Ontario municipalities from Windsor eastward in such numbers were forced to accept provincial supervision that what had been set up as a temporary supervising authority became in 1934 the Department of Municipal Affairs. Mr. Gray served as deputy minister of the department from 1941 to 1947. Subsequently he became Assessment Commissioner of Toronto and later of the Toronto Metropolitan Area.
The establishing of a Public School Board in 1933 replaced the eleven School Sections and their Boards of Trustees. This ended the anomaly of have and have not communities in the same municipality so far as schools and their equipment were concerned.

Though Toronto lost at every step in the courts the delay resulting from the litigation enabled the city to continue for two years charging the old rate of 20 cents. Hospitalization costs of indigent and unemployed were mounting monthly. Although York County paid the bills it in turn collected a portion from the local municipality. The Hospitalization Committee of York County Council reported in 1934 that hospital costs for indigent patients in the local municipalities in 1933 had reached the alarming total of $205,233. It had budgeted for $190,908.72 for 1934 and by October the accounts had reached $212,434.

Representatives of the unit of the Victorian Order of Nurses, established in York Township in July 1933, pointed out that given the staff it could reduce hospitalization costs; in certain cases costs could be halved. The president, H. A. Griffin, senior principal of York Township public schools under the recently formed township public school board, and Miss Mary Ferguson, nurse in charge, with some of their colleagues waited on the County Council at its November session, 1934 and pointed out that many aged and ill persons, then being sent to hospital, could be cared for at home by visiting nurses of the Victorian Order.

Home care could be given infant and obstetrical cases to a greater extent. This resulted in the County authorities appointing Dr. H. M. Cook, deputy reeve of Forest Hill, to supervise hospital accounts. Another result was that municipal grants to the order followed on a scale that enabled it to increase its staff and extend its nursing service. The first officers of the V.O.N. in York Township, in addition to Mr. Griffin, were H.C. Jeffries, first vice-president; Mrs. William Spence, second vice-president; secretary, Mrs. J. P. Denneny; treasurer, T. M. Sutton. Mrs. A. E. Naylor was convenor of the nursing advisory committee and became secretary shortly after organization. Dr. C. A. Warren, medical officer of health, was medical adviser.

Miss Ferguson had three assistants and their transportation equipment was one motor car. Miss Ferguson served for three years in York Township. Later she was transferred to national headquarters at Ottawa where she is a regional supervisor. At this time the order in York Township has eleven nurses with four motor cars. Miss Bessie Wilson is in charge as District Director of Nurses.

Among the various durable measures of Mr. MacRae’s long reeveship was that which resulted in the creation of the York Township Public Library Board in 1945. To Mount Dennis is due much credit for the leadership given in bringing this about. Since 1928 Mount Dennis had had a public library organization serving School Section No. 28. When School Sections were dissolved in 1933 provision was made for the organization to continue as the Mount Dennis Public Library Board. Charles Webster was chairman of the first Mount Dennis Board and his colleagues were S. C. Belsey, J. W. Feitham, and Dr. Harry Bateman. The first librarian was Miss Helen Irving. Space was rented in rooms upstairs in the old Major theatre, later the Legion Hall.

The first York Township Public Library Board was Reeve F. J. MacRae, George Evans, Laurence E. Grigg, F. J. McDermott and Dr. Stanley Harper. Its first meeting was on 8 February, 1945. George Hinton was appointed Secretary-Treasurer. The Mount Dennis library of 6,000 volumes became the nucleus of the new system. In September, 1946 a small branch library was opened at the corner of Vaughan Road and Oakwood Avenue. In 1948 a Bookmobile began a weekly round of calls to points in the municipality. It was the first to give full Bookmobile service in Ontario. By 1951a Library in a new building in each of the three wards was established. The Main Library, with administration offices, and Bookmobile headquarters is at 1745 Eglinton Avenue near Dufferin Street; a branch at 1123 Weston Road, Mount Dennis; and another at 610 Jane Street, near Dundas Street in Ward Three. These buildings are of the latest design in functional structures. In 1953 these three Libraries and the Bookmobile circulated over 266,000 books, had nearly 21,000 residents as registered library members and had a book collection totalling over 62,000 volumes. The staff which consisted of one professional librarian and two clerical assistants in 1946 consists in 1954 of eight professional librarians and six clerical workers full time as well as several part time workers. Circulation rose from 53,000 in 1946 to 266,600 in 1953.

An organized parks development and recreation program was begun in 1946, the last year of Mr. MacRae’s eventful regime of utility. The decision to locate the township offices on Eglinton Avenue came after the sale in 1948 to the Board of Education of the block on Keele Street on which now stands the George Harvey Vocational School.
Reeve Beech’s first year, 1949, was signalized by the changing of election day from New Year’s to the second Saturday in December. In 1952 election day was changed to the first Saturday. Mr. Beech was elected a member of the Ontario Legislature for South York in 1951.

Mr. Beech with his successor as Reeve, Fred W. Hall, were mainly responsible for a project, begun in 1951, which provides low cost housing for elderly persons. Beech-Hall apartments, on Cordella Avenue and Humber Boulevard, completed in 1952, consist of sixteen two-storey brick buildings each having eight suites. The rates vary from $29.50 to $85.75 per month according to the size of the suite. Included with these buildings is Norman C. McEachren Recreation Hall, named after the leader of the project. Construction of the apartments was financed by means of a first mortgage loan of $575,000 from Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation at al,2 per cent amortized over forty years; also a provincial grant of $56,360 under the Elderly Persons Housing Aid Act and an advance of an equal amount from the township. This housing undertaking is vested in the York Township Housing Coinpany, Ltd. Reeve Hall is president, Mr. McEachren is vice-president, and the directors are Deputy Reeve Chris. Tonks, Councillor Mrs. Florence Gell, W. G. Beech, M.P.P., Gardiner Taylor and Ronald Hall. Municipal officials conduct the administration and there are no salaries. Mr. Hall, the clerk, is secretary of the company; Mr. Chessar, the treasurer, is treasurer and John Silvester, Commissioner of Welfare and Personnel Officer, is superintendent. The Norman C. McEachren Recreation Hall, which cost $28,000, was financed by a grant of $5,000 under the Community Halls Act, $5,000 by the township and contributions of citizens. This project is a demonstration of what can be accomplished under existing legislation by a municipality in providing low cost housing for its elderly citizens.

York Township in 1954 became one of the thirteen area municipalities comprising metropolitan Toronto and Reeve Fred W. Hail