Perth Avenue

Banner photo is of Perth Avenue Church, taken circa 1898.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

When railroad fever really ramped up in the 1880s, and numerous lines began to cut west of the city, they brought first interest and then industry to the sparsely populated hinterlands.  Much of this new activity was concentrated in the Dundas and Keele area where a young developer named Daniel Webster Clendenan had bought up an old racecourse and was busy turning it into a village.  The village would become the Junction which,  long after being absorbed by the city of Toronto, would become a darling of New York Times travel writers.  And while it’s perhaps the best known off-shoot of the westward expansion, there was another development that sprang from the crossed rails.

Originally noted as simply “NW Annex to the city,” it is known today as the Junction Triangle.  Looking at a map of the area, you can see why:

Junction_Triangle_map
Map by SimonP via Wikipedia – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode

Like its neighbour the Junction, this hunk of west Toronto was owned by a man keen to develop it into a thriving community.  His name was Simeon Heman Janes:

SH Janes
He really looks intent on breaking up something happening off-camera.  From Toronto Old and New by Graeme Mercer Adam, 1891.

Simeon Heman Janes was born in Oxford, Ontario in 1843.  His family, which was of Huguenot descent, came to Ontario from Massacheusetts – part of the United Empire Loyalist brigade that fled the U.S. at the end of the 18th century.

Simeon was a well-educated young man, having attended Victoria College where he graduated in 1866 with a Master’s Degree – and was made Valedictorian to boot.  Moving to Toronto a year later, he entered the retail world as a partner in Janes, Brayley and Newcombe (the latter you may recall from our visit to Church St), before moving to the wholesale side of things.

Janes Brayley and Newcombe 1870 TPL
Janes, Brayley and Newcombe’s Regent House at 51 King St E, as seen in 1870. The Merrick Bros next door appear to be hogging all the street lamps. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

But real estate soon proved to be Simeon’s true calling.

Janes and Minkler 1888 TCD
Some interesting capitalization and phrasing going on in this one. Janes and Minkler ad from the 1888 Toronto City Directory.

When a depression hit the housing market in 1879, savvy Janes bought up large tracts of land which he developed and later resold for great profit.  Of these, he is best remembered for developing The Annex – a seemingly, eternally “hot” neighbourhood in the city.   Lesser known is his hand in the Junction Triangle development – nonetheless, it was one of his pet projects and parts of the area still bear his mark.

Unlike other developers of the era who named streets for members of their families, Janes – who was known for “the cultivation of his literary tastes” – named his for his favourite writers.  Scattered throughout his new development were avenues named Hugo, Irving, Macaulay, Wallace and Tennyson.  But for the main thoroughfare Janes went a different route (that was an unintentional pun, you’ll be surprised to hear) and named it Churchill for Sir Randolph Churchill – you know, Winston’s father.  Alas, Churchill was even shorter-lived than its namesake, and within a year the avenue had been renamed Perth.

By 1889, with the blocks now carved and the streets named, construction began on a number of houses along the stretch.  At first, as with any new development, there were more houses than residents – and so, in that first year only seven homes were noted as being occupied.  Among the souls housed within, should you wish to know (no?  Too late), were Richard Perry, a real estate agent, George Dunning, a canner, John Free and David Kent, both carpenters and William Kehoe, a laborer.  But within a year or two, their number would grow significantly and the east side of the street was soon home to many families.

The bulk of these early residents worked at jobs which reflected the major industries of the late 19th-early 20th centuries.  Many worked for the Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk railways, as well as the Toronto Railway – the precursor of our TTC.  Likewise, a whole slew of Perth residents were Bell Telephone line men.  In fact, for a time, there were so many linemen on the block that Bell even had a company stable built at the NW corner of Perth and Bloor.

Bell Telephone Company workers eating lunch. - [1908?]
I’d imagine these Bell workers – seen here on a lunch break – are a good match for the company men that lived on Perth.  Heck, they might even be them.  Photo taken circa 1908. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives.
While their work for the telephone company and railroads could take them far afield, their religious needs, at least, were cared for much closer to home.  Even before there were yet a dozen residents on the street, two churches had sprung up, ready to welcome new flocks.

First on the scene was the Perth Avenue Methodist Church:

Methodist Church Perth and Ernest 1890s TPL
A view of the church looking NW from near the corner of Perth and Ernest. Taken shortly after the church was erected in 1889, you get a sense of how new the development was. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

The congregation, an offshoot of the St. Claren’s Avenue Church, purchased the land and built the 80’ X 40’ church for the tidy sum of $7,000 – and on March 10th, 1889 it opened its doors for its first service. 

In its early years, the church’s pastors lived outside the area and traveled in each day to attend to the 11AM and 7PM services.   The church’s second pastor, for instance – Reverend Edward Barras – made the commute from St. Andrew St, way over in Kensington Market.  Later, as the area developed, subsequent pastors were put up on nearby Symington at Wallace.  It was only in 1909, when the church’s nearest neighbour, James P. Street – a motorman for the Toronto Railway – moved out of the house next door that the Methodist pastors gained an official residence:

photo
The Methodist pastor’s residence today.

The second church to appear was the Anglican St. Martin’s in the Field, two blocks north of the Methodist church, at Macaulay:

St. Martin's Parish Perth picture - Landmarks of Toronto
St. Martin’s in the Field, as illustrated in Landmarks of Toronto, 1904.

Built in 1890, it was a simple structure – something John Ross Robertson made no bones about mentioning in his Landmarks of Toronto:

St Martin's Perth Landmarks of Toronto Plain and unornamented
That’ll really get them in the door.  From Landmarks of Toronto, 1904.

However, Ross Robertson did employ some flair when describing the fate of St. Martin’s first rector:

St Martin's Perth Landmarks of Toronto
Ah, yes “removed by death” – the pink slip that comes to us all. Landmarks of Toronto, 1904.

With the churches now open for business and more new houses cropping up along Perth, the neighbourhood now needed a school for the children who’d, doubtless, soon be roaming its streets.  And so in 1890, the north end of Perth, at Ruskin, became home to a public school:

Perth Public 1955 TPL
Perth Public School, as it appeared in 1955. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Initially the principal, Miss Lucy Polley, ran the school with just a couple of teachers and a caretaker, Thomas McClure.  But as the blocks in and around Perth were thronged with new families, the number of children to be collared and schooled grew.  And before long, the school not only needed a larger staff, but also better bathroom facilities:

Old PLumbing Perth
Here we see the original trough were sticky children were hosed off. Photo taken for the Health Department on November 11th, 1914. From the City of Toronto Archives.

And here we have the new and, apparently, improved washing-up area:

New Plumbing at Perth
“Look,” she seems to be saying, “the water comes out here and pours right onto the floor.” Curiously, this photo was taken on the same day as the previous “old plumbing” photo. Also curious is that the kids are carrying briefcases. City of Toronto Archives.

While the children were no doubt pleased with the improved plumbing, it very likely was of less import than the building of Perth Square next door:

Perth Avenue Square
White seems a poor choice for the type of work that man is doing.  September 16, 1913. From the City of Toronto Archives.

You’ll notice that there were a good number of kids out there enjoying themselves – but the real excitement came when there was a ball game on:

Perth Avenue Playground — Senior Baseball, Finals
He’s going to be late with that tag.  Senior Baseball Finals, August 28th, 1915.  From the City of Toronto Archives.

Here’s another fun action shot:

Perth Avenue Playground — Senior Baseball, Finals
I love those striped socks. And boy, the neighbourhood really turned out for these games, didn’t it?  There have been years when the Jays would’ve been grateful for this much attention. August 28, 1915. From the City of Toronto Archives.

So you see, it was quite a sweet, little community.  But of course, surrounded as it was by railroads, it wasn’t long before industry came knocking, hoping to capitalize on the nearness of the lines.

One of the earliest to appear was John C. Gilchrist’s planing mill:

John C Gilchrist Ernest Ave 1908
Illustrations of this sort always aimed to make the factory look like it took up half the city – just the same, this was a big site. John C. Gilchrist ad from the Toronto City Directory, 1908.

John Gilchrist, a Pickering native, first came to Toronto in 1884 and soon after fell into partnership with a fellow named Willoughby Power.  As Power and Gilchrist, the two manufactured sash and doors on Niagara St.   While this might not stir the blood for many of us, woodworking was Gilchrist’s passion.  As a young man he’d learned the trade at his father George’s Pickering planing mill, and according to his bio in the riveting Canadian Forest Industries magazine, “nothing appealed to him quite as keenly as mastering the details of a new machine or seeing how he could cut up a board to the most economical advantage.”

John C Gilchrist
Dreaming of woodcuts – John Gilchrist. From Canadian Forest Industries, 1922.

The Power and Gilchrist partnership appears to have been a successful one – but just the same, ol’ Willoughby eventually felt the need to retire.  This prompted John Gilchrist to begin a new partnership with his brother David – whose views on economical wood cuts are not known – and the firm was rechristened Gilchrist Brothers.

After the Great Fire of 1904 swept downtown Toronto, the Gilchrists, looking to put some space between their mill and the city center, settled on a large lot at Perth and Ernest.  At some point during this move, David Gilchrist appears to have fallen off because once the new mill was established in 1906 it was in John’s name alone.

In 1908, John Gilchrist – a man we now know to be devoted to his work – made certain he’d never leave its side, by moving his family into the house next door:

photo (2)
Built in 1889, the building’s certainly seen better days – but it was, no doubt, once a grand home. Actually, it was two grand homes – as you’ll note the double entrance.

And he proved a very good neighbour – not just to the mill but to the neighbourhood.  Becoming the Chairman of the Bloor and Lansdowne Business Men and Ratepayers’ Association – or the BLBMRA, as nobody called it – he invested heavily in the now burgeoning area.

Close on Gilchrist’s heels came the establishment of a number of other industries.  Among them was the Canadian Box and Lumber Co, which took up the large lot behind the Methodist church:

1913 Perth Goads
The Consumers Box and Lumber Co had an enormous lot across from Gilchrist’s mill. Detail from the Goads Fire Insurance Map, 1913.

As well as the Flint Varnish and Color Works:

Hardware Merchandising April - June 1916
W. T. Glidden would eventually take on the Works and rename it – quite imaginatively – Glidden.  As Glidden it would become a monstrous source of pollution in the area for decades to come.  From Hardware Merchandising, 1916.

By the time the First World War descended – and stole away John Gilchrist’s son, George – the last of the vacant lots in and around Perth Avenue had been filled by new homes.  The Methodist Church at Ernest had been shuttered but began anew in a similarly grand structure at the NE corner of Wallace – while poor, plain St. Martin’s would soon disappear altogether.  Numerous industries now hummed in all the back lots, and clanging trains continued to ring the whole.  

And so, with Simeon Janes development now complete, the neighbourhood came to rest and entered a long period where nothing much changed.   And I can personally attest to this, because this is my neighbourhood.   Perth Avenue is where I was born and raised and where I still consider “home” to be.  So I can tell you that much of what we’ve just looked at was still here when I was a kid.  Oh sure, there were some changes but, for the most part, the fabric of the neighbourhood remained the same.

Gilchrist faded away, naturally, but his mill became home to Ontario Hardwood in 1934 and they still have a presence on Ernest today.  As kids, we used to play around the site and I remember having the most burning need to know what was inside the large buildings.  One day, a neighbourhood boy came up just as I was kneeling for a peek under the warehouse door.  “You know what’s in there?” he asked.  I shook my head.  With a sweeping arm gesture, he said “Barbie dolls – as far as the eye can see!”   … it was a pretty mean thing to do, frankly.

Anyhow …

In the last few years, the area around Perth Avenue has woken from its long rest.  The old industries, minus Ontario Hardwood, have been moving out and a few of the factories left behind have been turned into lofts.  Those that were leveled will soon be home to scores of townhouses.

Ernest, which has always been more of an industrial alley than an avenue, is now prime real estate, thanks to the lovely, leafy rail path which crosses its western end, providing a perfect shortcut to the GO train.

And art has come to the area in a big way.  The former site of the Perth Avenue Methodist Church is now the photography studio of Michael Mahovlich: 

photo (3)

And the former Ontario Hardwood warehouse – the one filled with Barbie dolls – is now the Division Gallery :

photo (4)
The Division Gallery on Ernest Ave. While those figures on the roof are startling, there’s no cause for alarm – they’re, apparently, art.

As for the the lovely old Perth Public School , sadly I never knew it.  When I went to school there it was in its present, low-slung 1960s form.  Likewise, Perth Square is long gone – replaced by Perth Park which, though quite decent, does not invite lively baseball games.

And so it goes – things come and go.  I won’t lie, the loss of places I knew (even old factories no one else will ever miss) always hurt me.  Happily, though, there’s currently more coming than going – especially in the resident-department.  I just hope they’ll love the old neighbourhood as much as I do.

photo (5)
Looking south along the tracks that form the Junction Triangle’s west side, from the Wallace Bridge.  Off to the left, a large crane looms over Ernest Ave.

* Simeon Janes’s Tennyson Avenue did not last into the 20th century.  Also long gone are two streets he, delightfully, named Harold and Maude.  Harold was never built on, and Maud was later renamed Randolph – likely as a nod to Janes’s early ode to Sir Randolph Churchill.

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27 thoughts on “Perth Avenue

  1. Just laughed out loud at the “sticky children trough” and the church “devoid of ornamentation” getting them through the door. I never fail to be impressed at the way you make fairly ordinary looking streets I’ve never heard of both interesting and really funny.
    And sorry about the disappointment over the alleged Barbie warehouse…I wasn’t much for dolls, but even I had a decent collection of Barbies, including Pilot Barbie, who would fly all her look-alike friends away to a tropical location where she’d marry a doofy-looking Ken wearing an awful white jumpsuit, purple tuxedo jacket and glitter crown (yep, those were the actual clothes he came with), because for some reason I had a whole bridal set, complete with horrible puffy sleeved bridesmaid dresses. So yeah, if someone told me there was a warehouse full of non-revolting Barbie clothes (bearing in mind it was the early ’90s, so even clothes I deemed non-revolting at the time would still have been pretty damn bad), I would have been pretty salty too if I couldn’t gain access.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, thank you! I’m so glad you found it interesting – and funny! That really means a lot to me.
      Yeah, that Barbie trick was pretty mean. Even though I was fonder of Sindy dolls (because she had a big face like mine, and Barbie’s pointy face left me a bit cold), the idea of a warehouse packed to the rafters with shiny, Barbie-pod packages got me right in the “hope” gut. I think I knew he was probably full of it, but he seemed so sure and I wanted to believe.
      Wow, I can’t believe Ken came with that combo. Just the same, it’s tugging at some memory – I think I remember that horrid look.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m just glad my comment was fairly coherent…I left it late last night when I was really tired.
        Found him! https://i.pinimg.com/originals/7d/6c/c0/7d6cc0cfec09bfcdce40876a7e3dc9f7.jpg
        Bizarrely, it’s a 1989 Ken doll, which is odd because I know for a fact I got him for my 6th birthday, which was in 1991, because that was the year my mother borrowed a video camera from our neighbour, so it’s the only birthday we have on tape. There’s footage of my aunt laughing hysterically at him and undoing the butt flap of his jumpsuit. So I have to assume that someone gave me a two year old Ken that they found on clearance.
        I don’t really remember Sindy, but I had some old dolls of my mother’s from the ’60s, including a Tammy and a Midge (and best of all, a Mary Poppins doll complete with “Jolly Holiday” outfit). I think Tammy was OK, but Midge scared me because she had a mean face.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Holy smokes, you found him! Good work.
        I can’t believe that outfit. Why would a glitzy jumpsuit have a butt-flap? And the crown! I like that they don’t even bother showing him wearing it on the packaging. Or was he supposed to bestow it on Barbie? The whole is a hideous mystery.
        I’d never seen that Mary Poppins doll before, but I’d have loved one. And yeah, Midge looks scary. Right into the toy trunk with her, and good riddance.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Katherine,

    As always, wonderful!

    I’ll see you Oct 23 at the Carlu, for Heritage Toronto Awards. If you are not picked, there shall be kneecapping.

    All the best,

    RL

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Engaging and informative, as usual. Your history lessons never feel like history lessons, if you know what I mean. Keen observation and a light touch. “John Gilchrist – Dreaming of woodcuts.” 🙂 🙂

    This must have been a special post for you, the subject being so close to home. I echo your mourning of what’s lost through time, but you’re right – we can only move forward.

    Um, also. I read the comment above and sneaked over to the Heritage Toronto site to see what all this awards-business was about. Congratulations!! How wonderful to be a nominee for a Public History Award! I’m delighted but not at all surprised 🙂 GOOD LUCK!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Vanessa! I am so glad you think so. 🙂
      And you are so right – this was an important one for me. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for some time – and this being my 60th post, I thought it was a fitting entry.
      And THANK YOU! I am over-the-moon to be nominated, and very excited to attend the awards next week. It’s a great honor (and not a little overwhelming). I’ll keep you posted! 🙂

      Like

    2. Oh Vanessa, I almost forgot to send my update! Sadly, I did not win at the Awards – but I had such a fantastic night, and got to meet so many of my local heroes, that it kinda felt like I did. It really was lovely all around – such a honour to be part of it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, thank you for letting me know! Well, rest assured that you “won” in many other respects, such as the opportunity to meet and mingle with those who inspire you. Thanks for all you do. Congratulations!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Another great read, Kitt! I found it of particular interest, since I lived both on Macauley and then on Perth from 1988-1993. Those were great times! My house on Macauley (then MacaulAy- I remember when the spelling changed) was across the road from the Glidden factory, and it was a habit of mine to watch the workers in their hazmat suits going about their business at all hours. I used to love listening to the congregation of the church at Perth and Wallace on Saturdays… I think it was Baptist at the time? Oh, they could sing! Our neighbours then were mostly widows, it seemed: clad in black from head to toe. I too, used to wonder what lay behind the doors of all of those industrial looking buildings! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, thank you Kathleen! I’m so glad you think so – and so happy to hear you were a neighbour! Such a close one too. We must’ve crossed paths often.
      How strange about the change in spelling of Macaulay. I’ll have to look into why they did that. It seems such a trifling thing to do.
      I used to stand and listen to the choir singing at Wallace too! They were incredible. I think at the time it was a Seventh Day Adventist church. Strange to think it’ll be lofts eventually.
      And boy, do I remember all those widows.

      Like

  5. It’s YOUR neighborhood! (I mean, neighbourhood, of course!)

    Another grand post that makes me feel closer to Toronto …

    A few things, because I always have a few things to mention:

    1) And, this is important. I don’t think the Toronto Railway should ever, ever hire someone named Street. I think this is highly inappropriate.

    2) Those little girls in front of the newly installed plumbing? I’m pretty sure those are water fountains, rather than sinks. Which would make your initial description of a trough absolutely correct. Line up, kids, and git yer swallow of water! Just one, just one, move along, we only have four spigots here.

    3) Baseball!

    4) More baseball!

    5) I consider it, as always, the politeness of Canadians that the second baseman in the first photo has not crowded the plate for the runner.

    6) I love your neighbourhood. And, I love you for sharing it with us. Thank you! And, sending powerful good vibes … as you are honored tomorrow for the wonderful history you share with us. I hope you win!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Jackie! I’m sorry to report that I did not win, but your good vibes must’ve made it across the border because I feel as happy as if I had. It was such a lovely, glitzy night and I got to meet a number of people whose work I admire. And of course, having my pals here write such lovely comments (your points 1 through 6 couldn’t be finer) is all the kudos I need. … though it was a pretty nifty little statue they were handing out. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great read. I was impressed with the historical details. I live on Perth Avenue at Ernest Avenue and honestely can say that this is becoming a very trendy place to live. I am surrounded with exceptional neighbours and in fact have house keys to four different neighbours. Mike Mahovlich has a great photo studio and has some history as well, he is the son of Frank Mahovlich, who became a Hockey legend with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Art Studio next to Ontario Hardwood has intersting art and I even have my car in the photo, parked in front of the studio. Perth Avenue is becoming a place where young families are choosing to raise their children. It is a street where people say hello and share a story or two.

    Catherine, I can see why you were nominated for an award.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Okay, “removed by death” is the term of the week.
    What a fascinating history you’ve put together for us here, Katherine! You could probably write a whole book about this area, between the various developers, the role of the railway, the leisure activities and churches of the neighborhoods. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Cynthia, thank you! I’m so glad you liked it! And funny enough, I had the same thought about a book as I was researching this one – there were so many stories that I wanted to explore. I was able to whittle it down in the end, but I may have to revisit it one day to feel I did the neighbourhood justice 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I am working as the overnight security guard at the 26 Ernest condo development. This is my retirement job. Academically an historian. When I work at building sites like this I am all alone. I come prepared to investigate the diggings. What’s underground, lost to memory and view. I can access this armed with tools and flashlight. When I worked at the Fuse condo site at Dupont and Lansdowne I discovered old tunnels (going somewhere), lost sewers, buried rail sidings, metal barrels probably filled with something not very nice. It was an old Gen Electric facility. Pottery, cans, hardware, you name it. All subsoil. I dig the stuff out. The workers just come and dig up everything, make a hole, haul it way and pour concrete. But, I will be investigating what’s under the ground at Ernest Ave. Lovely wild grapes still thrive along one property line. Rabbits. Skunks. Feral cats. It’s a busy place at night if you’re patient and know what to look for.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The only thing so far is concerns the private rail siding that served 26 Ernest. It has an official number (690) but beyond that only that last night I made a careful inspection of the perimeter. The site has an odd or irregular shape. At the extreme north west corner there is what I am sure was the entranceway onto the property for that siding. The posts are heavy, steel, very old and have the perfect dimensions. You can tell a lot by fencing – when it was made, its purpose, who was the manufacturer, dates of manufacture. Further to the south is different fencing where the poplar trees have grown into and through it and that permits dating. Then also the grapes and currents and they were placed there deliberately. It is hard to access the inside of the property at that point but I will get there and look for the remanats of the railway.

        Also had a preliminary look at the Mahovolich site of the old Methodist church. That one tree out front…. I’ll find out when that property was built. The rear lanes are next due for examination.

        Like

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