The Dennis and Denison Families

John Dennis:  Mount Dennis is named after John Dennis, a Loyalist shipbuilder from Philadelphia who settled and farmed here in the early 1800’s. The Dennis family  operated a saw mill and a woollen factory on their properties, which took in most of the present day Mount Dennis neighbourhood, including 501 Alliance.

During the late 1800’s, Mount Dennis was known for its brick yards, the Conn Smythe Sand and Gravel pit, and a handful of market gardens that operated on the fertile plain of what is now Eglinton Flats.

Captain John Denison immigrated to York with his family after a personal invitation from John Graves Simcoe to come to the newly formed York. He lived in Castle Frank for a short period, but as English-speaking Anglican Protestants, the Denison Family received land grants: 100-acre (0.40 km2) park lots in the family’s name, developed into manor homes, farms and residences over the decades that followed. In 1815, Colonel George Taylor Denison, son of Captain John Denison, bought park lots 17 and 18 and built the Bellevue Homestead. The original road up to the homestead is now known as Denison Avenue in Toronto.

The Denison family had land holdings in west Toronto, with the family manor, Bellevue House, located in what is now Kensington Market. Numerous landmarks and streets in this neighbourhood and around west Toronto are named after the Denison family, including Denison Square, Avenue and Creek, Bellevue Avenue, Dovercourt Road, Rusholme Road, Ossington, Major, Robert, Borden, Lippincott streets. Denison Avenue used to be the family’s driveway from their house to Queen Street. St. Stephen’s-in-the-Field Church, the first Anglican Church west of Spadina, was founded and paid for entirely by Captain John’s grandson, Robert Denison, as a parish church for farm workers on his estate. The Kensington Market that is still presently used today was born out of a Denison family estate, the Belle Vue.

The Denison’s family motto, displayed on the family crest, is Perseverando. This translates to Perseverance in English. Perseverance was John Denison’s outstanding trait during the ten years he was engaged in his eccentric specialty of building winter roads where no one else dared to make them. The Denison family crest is a hand, its index finger pointing towards a star. For John Denison, that star was the North Star.

“John Denison, the first Canadian Denison, began life in York (Toronto) managing someone else’s farm; his son rented land to more than a hundred tenants, and his grandson developed the same land into urban residential sites. The Denison record, in effect, is the record of an evolving urban community.” This ownership of land and the development of land is how the Denison family accumulated their fortunes.

Another notable Denison was George Taylor Denison III, great-grandson of John Denison. He presided over the Toronto police court for 44 years and he had a reputation for an unconventional practice of law. The position of wealth and privilege accompanying land-ownership in Victorian Toronto afforded George Taylor Denison the opportunities that made these accomplishments possible. His grandfather fought with Gen. Isaac Brock in the War of 1812.

The Denisons played a consistent role in public life, involving themselves in issues affecting the growth and direction of Canadian nationhood. As soldiers, Loyalists, nationalists, and imperialists they played active roles in the War of 1812, the rebellion of 1837, the militia crises of 1854-1864, the Canada First movement, the loyalist crisis of 1888-1891, and the struggle for imperial unity 1893-1911.

Look for the impressive grave markers in the St John’s cemetery.