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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.