Banner image is of Melinda St looking west to Bay, circa 1910. Courtesy of Toronto City Archives.
Street-wise, the Financial District (as we now know it) is much as it was when first laid out as New Town in the late 1790s. It is where the famed Toronto grid is sparest and, to my mind, most evident. But, happily, there are a few oddball streets to be found here – rare cuts into the old town lots which make for short passages between the monolithic complexes which now straddle whole blocks here. Jordan and Melinda are two of these.
Looking at them today, it’s hard to imagine they were ever meant as anything more than service lanes or alleys. They’re not even strictly separate streets anymore. They’ve been cut down and soldered together – making one curving pass where once there were two. Worse yet, they’ve become anonymous, forgotten, unknown. And this is truly a shame because they’ve each been the backdrop to some remarkable events in this city’s history.
But before we get to that, I suppose we should first have a look at how they began.
When the town of York was laid out, its first 10 blocks were centered between George and Ontario, Duchess (Richmond) and Palace (Front.) At the time, it was expected that as the town matured it would grow eastward – an idea that was probably helped along by the fact that Yonge St to the west, south of Queen, was a boggy swamp. According to Henry Scadding, in Toronto of Old:
“Yonge St beyond, where it approached the shore of the harbour, was unfrequented. In spring and autumn it was a notorious slough.”
Because of this, the road south along Yonge originally veered eastward at Queen St until it reached firmer ground past modern Victoria.
Here we have an illustration of Yonge and Queen by Scadding himself. Though it dates from 1830 – when some improvements had been made – you still get a sense of what a mucky pass it must’ve been.
Of course, the upside to this was that you could pick up some land in the area for a song. And by song, of course, I mean cold, hard cash – just less of it than you’d expect. And by cold, hard cash, I mean odd bits of customized paper that bore a vague semblance to what we might consider legal tender:
One such resident to take advantage of this cheaper land, just west of Yonge, was a American named John Vanzant. … Though it might have been Van Zandt. Or maybe even Vanzantee? No one really seemed sure.
Here we have John Van Zandt’s petition for land, from 1800:
And on the back of the very same petition, we now have John Vanzantee:
And just for some added variety, here he is as John Van Zantee:
As you can see, it’s a bit difficult to pin down his actual name at this late date but for all our sakes (really, my sanity), from here on in, I’m going to stick with just one spelling.
Happily, there are some details about Van Zant’s life that are a little firmer. For one thing, he was a tanner and we know that his shop stood at the SW corner of Yonge and Adelaide. Also, like many other early citizens, he wore another cap – that of a “pathmaster” or, as it was more formally known, “Overseer of Highways and Fence Viewers”:
So you see, he really wasn’t doing too badly. He had good deal of land, a thriving business, a title of some import amongst the local citizenry …
Ah, but then came the events of 1812, and suddenly things became a little sticky for some Americans like Van Zant – specifically, those who had not taken an oath of allegiance to the British. Having missed his opportunity to do so – supposing he’d ever had any interest in such a thing – he was ordered to give up his land and business and head back to the States.
With little choice left to him, Van Zant was now forced to make hasty arrangements to sell off his business and land. The tannery he sold to Jesse Ketchum (whom we got to know in Delineating Richmond) – thereby making that gentleman’s fortune. As for the land, that would be purchased by a clock maker named Jordan Post. (See? Told you he was coming.)
Now, as unhappy a situation as this no doubt was, it seems fairly straightforward: you’re forced to leave town, you do the best you can to get some money for your possessions, you pack everything else up and you beat it for the border. But in Van Zant’s case, it really wasn’t. And that’s because, some years before receiving the eviction notice, his young daughter Stella had died and he’d buried her on the land which was now to become Post’s.
As you might imagine, this added a rather sad wrinkle to what might’ve otherwise been an easy arrangement. I mean, even supposing the family had any desire to exhume and move Stella elsewhere – the short grace period he’d been given would’ve limited the possibility. Not to mention there were few common burying grounds established in the town, and it’s a fair bet none would’ve felt like a particularly fitting resting place for the daughter of a family being given the boot. And so, quite naturally, Van Zant chose to leave little Stella where she lay and to instead do his best to ensure her peace was not disturbed.
Jordan Post, waiting on the sidelines to take possession of the land, was sensitive to Van Zant’s wishes and so an arrangement to protect the little grave was worked into their agreement.
This naturally called for a document of considerable size:
According to their agreement, Post would take possession of Van Zant’s land minus Stella’s grave, a “piece of ground six feet in length by four feet in breadth adjoining the uppermost western corner of the lot of land.” (Today, this would be near(ish) the SE corner of Bay and King.)
With this sad business now attended to, Van Zant returned to the States and Jordan Post became the owner of the large swath of land bound by King on the north, Market (today’s Wellington) to the south, Bay on the west and Yonge to the east:
As for Jordan Post, he’d been born in Connecticut in 1767 and had come to York as a young man, caught up in the Loyalist wave which swept through Upper Canada in the late 1790s. A clock maker by trade, he set up his shop on Duke St (now Adelaide) in 1802. A few years later, he married a local woman named Melinda Woodruff and had a passel of children – passel here meaning seven. (Two of this brood are notable, if only for their names: Sephronia and Desdemona. Handles like those no doubt lent the girls a degree of glamour in rough and tumble Muddy York.)
Of course, though Post was an American, like Van Zant, he’d obviously said the right things to the right people at the right time and so was allowed to stay and prosper through the War of 1812.
Now this is the point when I’d love to share a picture of Jordan Post with you. But sadly, I haven’t got one. I can, however, share Henry Scadding’s memory of him – which does a pretty good job of putting a face to the name:
“Mr. Post was a tall New Englander of grave address. He was, moreover, a clockmaker by trade, and always wore spectacles. From the formal cut of his apparel and hair, he was, quite erroneously, sometimes supposed to be of the Mennonist or Quaker persuasion.”
Over the years, in addition to tinkering with gears and chimes in his shop, Post also acted as an overseer of highways, kept an inn at Bay and King and, as we’ve seen, invested in real estate. And, naturally, it was this last pursuit which would make his fortune.
By the 1820s, in addition to Van Zant’s land, Post owned hundreds of acres across York, Scarborough and even in Hungerford, Ontario. But come the 1830s, Post was ready for a change of scene. Now in his late 60s, he sold his Toronto land, packed everything up and moved east to Scarborough – not to retire, mind you, but to open a saw mill.
About now you might well be thinking “sure, a saw mill, whatever – but what about little Stella’s grave?” Well … that part’s a bit tricky. What I can tell you is that the promise for keeping her grave inviolate was handed on and, at least within this period, I believe her grave lay undisturbed.
Now about this time, to commemorate Post’s connection with the land between Bay and Yonge, two streets were carved through the block – much as you would mark a hot-crossed bun – with one running from King to Market (today’s Wellington) and the other from Bay, east to Yonge:
These two new streets, as you’ve probably already figured out, were named for Jordan and his wife Melinda.
Now, some believe the naming was Post’s own idea – while others think it was the town’s tribute to the two. Myself, I lean towards the latter – if only because it appears there was some early confusion as to what Mrs Post’s name actually was:
And perhaps as a result of the same bad tip:
Anyhow, though the two streets were laid out at the same time, Melinda would hang in development-limbo for awhile, while folks moved onto Jordan almost immediately.
As for these early Jordan St residents, they were for the most part tradesmen. There were brick makers, blacksmiths, carpenters and, for some reason, an inordinately large number of boot and shoe men. (That sounds like it might be a euphemism for something but no, they really did just make boots and shoes.) And while, no doubt, these were all very interesting trades, there are a couple of Jordan St residents of this period that stand out.
One of these was a man named Gurd – William Gurd:
William Gurd is thought to be one of the first gunsmiths in Upper Canada. And, in fact, it was ol’ Gurdy himself who was responsible for an innovation wherein the gun locks were converted from flintlocks. (Yeah, I’ve got no idea either.)
Now, the other great Jordan St stand out is a bit of twofer, as they say: the Christian Guardian Newspaper and the Rev. James Richardson:
The Christian Guardian was just a young paper when it moved onto Jordan St. Begun in the summer of 1829, with the famed Egerton Ryerson at the helm, the paper was originally intended as a means of communicating directly to members of the Methodist Church. But thanks to its strong Reform-flavoured editorials, which became more pronounced with Rev. Richardson as editor, it was soon being circulated by a much wider audience.
One popular topic addressed by Richardson, and particularly relished by readers, was that of the Clergy Reserves – which had long been a sore point for many early Upper Canadians.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere previously, the Clergy Reserves dictated that one-seventh of all public land (nearly 2.5 million acres in total) was held for “support of the Protestant clergy”, and so was dedicated for use by the Church of England. Or at least, that’s how ol’ Bishop Strachan interpreted it. And as head of the all-powerful Family Compact, the moneyed and titled band who ruled Upper Canada, Strachan went to great lengths to see that it was so.
Naturally, other churches felt that this was not a little unfair and that the glut of acreage should be spread around a bit. But the good Rev. Richardson had an even more radical view – he didn’t think any church should be given the land:
But that was Richardson all over again. His stance on the Clergy Reserves was, in a way, an extension of his desire for a complete separation of Church and State. As such, he didn’t believe that any church should receive money from the government:
Now, I’m happy to tell you that Richardson not only wrote this stuff but he lived it too. When, in 1836, he discovered that the Wesleyan Methodist conference (of which he was a member) had accepted support from the government, he was so disheartened and humiliated that he resigned his post.
After leaving the Wesleyan conference, Richardson moved to New York where he took charge of a Methodist Church in Auburn. But one year later, in 1837, he found himself homesick for York – now called Toronto – and came back to start anew. Once home, he found himself warmly welcomed by the Methodist Episcopal Church conference. (If you find the various church factions hard to keep track of, welcome to the club.) From then on, he worked tirelessly for the church, as well as for the Canadian Bible Society, where he was made a vice-president.
At his death in 1875, at age 85, he was remembered by all as tremendously hard-working, humble and saintly – yet fierce in his convictions. As his successor Albert Carman put it:
“Detesting sham everywhere, he could not for a moment bear it in religion.”
Incidentally, there is one further detail I’d like to share with you about Rev. Richardson.
Long before he ever joined the Methodist Church or put ink to paper to rankle the Family Compact, James Richardson had served as a lieutenant with the Provincial Marine. Entering the service in 1809, he was still in its ranks when the War of 1812 began. As the Provinicial Marine was swept into duty with the Royal Navy, young Richardson would find himself at the Battle of Fort Oswego in 1814. The clash, which would claim a number of lives on both sides, spared Richardson – but he was not unscathed. As told in his own words, from Thomas Webster’s “Life of Rev. James Richardson”:
“The shots with which they complimented us were evidently hot, for they set our ship on fire three times. One of them made so free with me, as to carry off my left arm just below the shoulder, which rendered amputation at the socket joint necessary.”
Apparently, beyond that brief account, Richardson did not discuss his missing arm or the circumstances of its loss much. He didn’t talk about how he’d nearly bled to death or how the ensuing fever nearly killed him. If and when he mentioned it at all, he’d simply refer to it as a “wound.”
Not surprisingly, it was after the end of the war and his recovery, that James Richardson felt very strongly that “God had a work for him to do.”
And so in a way, the War of 1812 becomes the common thread in the development of our two streets. The same war that forced John Van Zant to give up his land, opening the door to Jordan and Melinda Post, made a devout man of Richardson who then felt compelled to set up shop on Jordan St to share his beliefs in the pages of the Christian Guardian.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post – which now feels like ages ago, doesn’t it? – Jordan and Melinda have been the backdrop to an incredible amount of Toronto’s history, of which these stories are just a few. And so, to do these neglected streets justice, I’ll be returning to them in my next post. After all, we still have the grave of Stella Van Zant to consider, haven’t we?