Berkeley Street

Banner photo is of Berkeley St looking north from Esplanade in 1907.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

When first laid out in the late 18th century, Berkeley formed the eastern border of the city.  During this period, however, it was a good deal shorter than the street we know today, running just a short distance between Lot St (now Queen) down to King St.  If you’re familiar with the street, you might be wondering what was done with the southern leg that ran from King on down to the Esplanade.  Well, that’s where it gets a bit weird – because that portion of the street was named Parliament.

Detail of 1834 Map showing Berkeley as Parliament
Here we have a detail of an 1834 map of Toronto showing the original naming. You’ll also note that we used to have a windmill – and thus, a Windmill St.

As I mentioned in my Marty the Millionaire post, this was because the city’s first parliament buildings sat at its foot.  But as for why only a portion of the street carried the name, well, that was something of a tribute to Mother England by the city’s forefathers.  As Henry Scadding explained it:

“-what is now called Berkeley Street was originally Parliament Street, a name which, like that borne by a well-known thoroughfare in Westminster, for a similar reason, indicated the fact that it led down to the Houses of Parliament.”

…which were these simple structures, built in 1796-7.

Parliament Buildings (1796-1813), Front St. E., s. side, between Berkeley & Parliament Sts 1890s
Having had a look at the neighbourhood, you probably won’t be surprised to learn the the area was plagued by howling wolves each night.  Drawing circa 1890s, courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Alas, these buildings were not long for this world – some visiting Americans would burn them down in 1813.  But the town was quick to replace them – five years later – with these Parliament Houses:

Second Parliament House Landmarks of Toronto - John Ross Robertson.jpg
From John Ross Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, 1894.

Now you might notice from the dates on the above illustration that this second site had an even shorter life than the first.  Once again, fire was the culprit – but this time a faulty flue was to blame:

Parliament Building Fire Description 1833 TCD
This explanation appeared in the 1833 Toronto City Directory – which tells you that no one was in any particular hurry to remove the remnants of the building.  It was probably easier to just add them to the listing.

After the fall of the first two, the town decided not to tempt fate with a third building on the accursed ground and so eventually moved parliament west, in 1830, to the block bound by Wellington and John, Front and Simcoe.

pictures-r-3938 1835 Third Parliament buildings TPL
The third Parliament Buildings and some dejected looking soldiers, 1835. Just right of centre, you can see Bishop Strachan’s house – if you visited this page before, you’ll know how much I like him (hint: not much.)  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

This move was probably quite welcome given that the city’s core had been shifting westward anyhow.  Also, it meant that parliament didn’t have to go on sharing the neighbourhood with Berkeley St’s other resident, the city jail:

Jail at Parliament and Berkeley 185-
The city jail at the bottom of Berkeley St, circa 1850s. A good bit more impressive than any of the various parliament houses, wasn’t it?  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Now, though it’d long decamped to the west end, the southern leg of Berkeley held onto the name Parliament till the early 1840s.  At that point the street name was given, not to the new site as you might expect, but to the first new street east of Berkeley – the Parliament we know today.  Got that?  No matter – let us move on…

While the jail continued to anchor the southern end of the street, other signs of life began to spring up along Berkeley in the 1830s and ’40s.  As with many once remote outposts of the city, it was the building of inns and taverns which brought the first growth spurts.  Among these was John Trebilcock’s New Jail Inn at Palace St (now Front) – which apparently sought to capitalize on travelers’ natural desire to be in close proximity to large penitentiaries.   Despite the fun locale, Trebilcock would eventually move to Queen and Victoria in 1847, where he opened the much more generic-sounding Union Inn.   But the void he left was quickly filled by Thomas O’Hern’s Hibernian Hotel – a name which no doubt gladdened the hearts of the many Irish immigrants arriving in the city at the time.

But the real hot spot was a block north, at the intersection of King and Berkeley.  It was here that the Kingston Road became King St – the city’s main thoroughfare – and so this junction acted as the gateway to Toronto for those traveling west from neighbouring towns.  And ready to welcome them was Daniel Dewdney’s Royal Oak Inn in the 1840s and ‘50s.  Dewdney’s venture wouldn’t last too long  – most likely because he himself didn’t – but the intersection was too prime to go without a hostelry for long.  And so, in its stead, came J. Matthews’ Garibaldi House – named, no doubt, in tribute to Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the most beloved, and much lauded, figures of the 19th century.

Now, I won’t bother pretending that this was some luxe destination like, say, the larger and posher Queen’s Hotel downtown.  But it was likely good enough for a meal, a drink and a place to bed down for the night.   And, as far as I’m concerned, it has one distinct advantage over the fancier digs that were available downtown: it still stands today.

Behold!  The Garibaldi House:

Garibaldi House
Garibaldi House, at 302 King St E, built 1860.

Of course, if you stopped in there today asking for a cot and a place to stable your horses, you’ll only startle the people working in the design firm that now inhabits the building. Disappointing, I know.  But in a development-mad city like Toronto, it’s truly a triumph that this building has been hugging that same corner for nearly 160 years.  Oh sure, it’s changed some – but for the most part it’s pretty close:

King St. E., n. side, looking e. to Berkeley St 1953
Garibaldi House as it appeared in 1953 – likely not much altered from its early days.  Detail is from a photo of King St. E. looking east, courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Unfortunately, what you don’t see – or rather feel – from these photos, is the way the intersection of Berkeley and King still feels very much like a gateway to the city.  It isn’t just that the original Garibaldi House still stands, along with other aged neighbours.  It’s something harder to pinpoint – a feeling that comes, perhaps, from the broadness of the crossroads, and the way King St sweeps off suddenly to the north-east – that tells you (okay, maybe just me) that you are at a border.  Here, despite the later development of Parliament St a block over, and a whole swath of city to the east, Berkeley holds firm to its original identity.

But north of here, at Queen?  Pfft, bit of a different story.

As with King, the NE corner of Berkeley and Queen is held by an old hotel:

Berkeley and Queen looking North cropped
I wish I had a clearer picture of the front for you but the tree and lamppost both conspired against me.

What today is the Cinema Ras convenience store (named, from what I can tell, for their video rentals), was once Thomas Patterson’s Prospect House.

This side view gives a better idea of its size:

Thomas Patterson Prospect House
The Berkeley St side of Prospect House, including a man who was hollering at me about something or other.

Born in Ireland in 1834, Thomas Patterson came to Toronto at 20 years of age and soon joined the police force.  A handful of years later (in this case, five) he joined the Grand Trunk Railway, which stationed him out in Belleville, as a railroad cop.  From there he flit back and forth between work with the railway and Toronto police force until he finally decided to get off that ride and open a flour and feed store, as one does.  This eventually led him into the hotel business and the building of the Prospect House in 1879.  He must’ve done quite well because, just two short years later, he was able to retire and the hotel was taken on by James Chamberlain.

Unfortunately for Chamberlain, his own prospects weren’t great (get it?) and the hotel was closed by 1886.   And so began its long – but happily, still continuing – run of hosting various retail concerns.

By this time, of course, Berkeley St was no longer the sleepy outpost it had once been. The Toronto and Nipissing Railway now ran across its foot at Esplanade, the St. Lawrence Foundry turned out steam engines at Front, and a handsome fire hall at Adelaide kept a watchful eye over the citizenry.

Fire Hall, Toronto, Berkeley St., s.w. cor. Adelaide St. E. 1870 TPL
That is one beard-y brigade. The Fire Hall at the SW corner of Berkeley and Adelaide, in 1871. It has since been replaced with an equally lovely fire hall, built in 1905.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

The street itself had been extended further north to Gerrard, and its length was now thronged with small homes.  The bulk of Berkeley St had become home to blue-collar families who worked a wide variety of jobs.  Amongst them were porters who worked for the railway, steam fitters at the foundry, and firemen from the hall.  There were also labourers, carpenters, butchers, safe-makers, carters, tailors and shoemakers.  There were even a couple of sailors in residence, as well as George Durnan, the Gilbraltor Point lighthouse keeper.

Berkeley and Adelaide looking south
Happily, a block of Berkeley’s original workmen’s cottages, built in the late 1870s, still line the east side between King and Adelaide.

Through the years, many of these residents would come and go, but there was one who really put down roots.  In 1861, Edwin Gledhill moved onto Berkeley just north of Sydenham and there he would stay for over 40 years.  Now, according to the city directories published each year, Gledhill was a music teacher – and while that was true, he was actually a bit more than that.

Born in England in 1830, Edwin was the son of Robert Gledhill, a singer who performed under the name Signor Salvi (seriously).  When the elder Gledhill sailed to New York to join opera-superstar Jenny Lind’s North American tour in 1851, Edwin went with him. Unfortunately, just a year after the tour ended, Robert Gledhill died and Edwin eventually moved here, to Toronto, to pursue his own career in music.

In addition to teaching music, Edwin also played piano at the Bond St Congregational Church and, most notably, began composing his own pieces.  Gledhill’s work would become so well-known that he was considered the most successful Canadian composer of parlour music.  And because parlour music was something you would play yourself, in your own home, this means I have some fun sheet music to show you now:

Chicora Edwin Gledhill 1881 Library and Archives Canada
The “Chicora” was a very popular pleasure steamer that sailed between Toronto and Niagara.  How it fared as a waltz, I can’t tell you – though “Chicora Rockaway” sounds like it might’ve been a toe-tapper.  Published in 1881.  Courtesy of Library and Archives of Canada.
1887 Not Ashamed of Christ Edwin Gledhill
This one’s a bit of a puzzler – I wouldn’t have thought this was a common enough sentiment to have to defend in song.  Published in 1887.
Waiting for the Tide 1871 Gledhill Library of Congress
Taken altogether, these song titles almost tell a story – though I hope bubbles on the water wasn’t  Clara’s response.  Published in 1871.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

That each of these songs – plus 20 or so others – were composed while Edwin Gledhill lived on Berkeley makes it all the more frustrating to me that I can’t show you the spot where he lived.  And that’s because, in the early 1960s, this happened:

Mono park south from shuter St 1963 Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library Toronto Star Archives
It looks a bit like a bomb’s hit it but that’s really just “progress”, apparently.  This view is looking south with Queen St visible along the top, and Berkeley meeting it almost at center.  From the Toronto Star Archives, 1963.

Yup.  As part of the great overhaul of the Moss Park area, Berkeley St from Sydenham to Shuter was leveled for an enormous development.

Here’s Berkeley looking north from Queen today:

No Exit Berkeley at Sydenham
If the “No Exit” sign doesn’t get the point across, the fence will.

Such was (and is) the design of these complexes and grounds, that Berkeley St simply ceases to exist here.  But should you be able to take wing and lift yourself over and through the fenced complex (or just walk the long way around the block), you will find that Berkeley magically reappears on the other side, and continues on its merry way – which today extends all the way up to Carlton.

But you know, the thing is, you can’t just remove a large chunk of a street and not affect the feel of the place.  And so, as a result of this sundering, Berkeley now has a kind of dual-personality.   The northern leg, which is almost exclusively residential, is today considered part of upscale Cabbagetown. While the original length of Berkeley, which ran south from Queen, retains the spirit of its working-class, industrial past.  And so, the end result is that of estranged siblings, tethered to each other in name alone.

Given Berkeley’s long history of change, not to mention the recent fashion for re-branding neighbourhoods in this city, it may just be a matter of time before it is re-jigged once more.  Were that to happen, I’d imagine it wouldn’t be too long before the memory of a united Berkeley went the way of our first Parliament St.

19 thoughts on “Berkeley Street

  1. I kind of love the sound of “John Trebilcock’s New Jail Inn.” It sounds like it might be a euphemism for something else…rather like “Mrs. Percy Chubb’s Home for Convalescent Officers,” which I think sounds amusingly like a brothel, but was apparently actually the home of an American couple in Wimbledon who donated a wing of their house to serve as a hospital during WWI (the house is still there, and is now a massive hotel and restaurant with extensive public gardens, so they could definitely spare the space).
    Anyway, I was amused by your comments about the burnt remains of Parliament – I guess it was easier to add them to the listing! And you would think that beardy fire brigade might be worried that beards were flammable, but apparently not! I loved the sheet music too…when I saw “Bubbles on the Water” my first thought was, “fart in a bathtub!” so I was happy that you commented on it too. Sounds like Gledhill wrote some real gems.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved Trebilcock’s New Jail Inn too! I was really sorry to find he had such a short run with it. Hard to beat Mrs. Percy Chubb’s Home for Convalescent Soldiers though – I’m glad it’s enjoyed greater renown.
      Ha! My first thought of “Bubbles on the Water” was of Clara drowning – your take is funnier, and certainly much less morbid.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do a little jump for joy when I see a new post of yours. The reference to Berkeley’s split resulting in “estranged siblings” is an apt (and kind of sad) observation. Your approach is informative and accessible, as always 🙂 Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Vanessa! I am so happy you enjoy them – that keeps a fire under me.
      To be honest, I worried I’d never get this one done because I’d buried myself under such an avalanche of Berkeley’s history. There were so many neat tidbits that it actually got a bit overwhelming. I may have to revisit it again some time soon, to tell more of its tales.
      Thanks again for visiting 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. As always, fabulous! But, very sorry for that Battle of York trouble (just one more thing I feel the need to apologize for these days).

    Those parlour tunes sure sound like real toe-tappers. Poor Edwin Gledhill, maybe he was just the saddest little fella and he thought that ‘Will Thou Leave Me,’ ‘Bubbles on the Water,’ and ‘Clara’s Response’ would explain why in the last song he was ‘Waiting for the Tide.’ Now, I’ve made myself sad just thinking about it.

    Happy 150th Canada Day! And, really, again, very sorry about the Parliament Building and that Battle of York business. (I saw a bumper sticker last week that said, “One Nation, Under Canada,” and I thought it was wonderful.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re just the best – thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. And honestly, there’s absolutely no need for you to apologize about that whole Battle of York thing – especially since I have a secret to tell you … (whispering now) It was my ancestor Zebulon Pike who led the US troops into York. Of course, he wouldn’t have known my father would move here a century and a half later…
      Anyhow …
      Thank you – and Happy Fourth of July to you! I hope you have a wonderful time and that baseball is very good to you 🙂


      1. My husband, Randy, just saw your comment and exclaimed (seriously, he exclaimed): “ZEBULON PIKE! Pike’s Peak!” He’s from Colorado so Pike’s Peak is near and dear to him and he knew (although I double-checked the Googler to make sure he wasn’t gaslighting me) that Pike’s Peak is named for your ancestor Zebulon Pike. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hooray! That made my day – it’s not very often (almost never, actually) that people know of old Zebulon – even with that big Peak sitting out there. I have the most frustrating urge to high-five you two 🙂


    1. Hi! It was named after Major John Small’s home – Berkeley House, built in 1794 – at the SW corner of King and Berkeley. Major Small named it for the town in England from which he came.


  4. Great blog entry! I used to work in the same building as the Canadian Opera Company and remember some great old maps in Berkeley Castle (later stolen from the building I heard).
    Related to the Berkely/Parliament part of your story is that the jail was the viewpoint of the well-known painting
    ‘Toronto, Canada West from the Top of the Jail, 1854’ by Edwin Whitefield – a copy of which (or perhaps the original?) is in the mayor’s office.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – so glad you enjoyed the piece! And I love the details about the maps at Berkeley Castle and the Whitefield painting in the Mayor’s office. Fun stuff! Thank you for sharing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s