Cecil Street - The Early Days

The Following is a chronological tour complete with photographs and detailed explanation compiled by John Humphrey. This Tour through Cecil Streets history will be done over the next five months so enjoy the story of as John Puts it " A short Street with a Complex Past. 

The Following is a chronological tour complete with photographs and detailed explanation compiled by John Humphrey. This Tour through Cecil Streets history will be done over the next five months so enjoy the story of as John Puts it " A short Street with a Complex Past. 


Until the last quarter of the 19th Century, the land around Cecil Street was undeveloped, apart from a few homesteads scattered along Spadina Avenue. Spadina was an unusually wide north-south thoroughfare laid out 50 years earlier by Dr. William Warren Baldwin (1775-1844), a wealthy surgeon, militia officer, Chief Justice and M.P. His massive landholdings stretched down to the lake from his home on Davenport ridge called Spadina (an Ojibway word meaning steep hill). He planned a straight boulevard through the woods on the western edge of York township, “so that we can see the vessels passing up and down the bay”. By mid-century it ran from the military and rail lands at the water‟s edge up to farmlands north of College Street.
Even by the early 1870s, “Spadina had not more than two dozen houses upon its length north of Queen street, while College street .. was thickly interspersed with gardens, corn patches and vacant land.” (John Robertson: Landmarks). But the land had long been earmarked for urban expansion. A map of 1863 shows that, while devoid of buildings, future side streets to the east of Spadina had already been sectioned off, marked out and named by town planners. 

The NE corner of Spadina and College was open land, known as Spadina Commons, used as a military parade ground:

on Spadina‟s other side, opposite the future Cecil Street, a few modest cottages were scattered.

 North of College, beyond the gardens at the centre of Spadina Circle, the land was vacant. An 1876 „birdseye‟ sketch [below] shows the streets around Cecil clearly delineated, but mostly empty, including both sides of College. The distinctive tower of Knox College, just built, can be seen in the middle of Spadina Circle.

The first buildings on Cecil itself were a small row of modest 2-storey terraced homes on the south side and west end, near Spadina. Constructed in the late 1870s, and numbered 5-15, they still stand there today, renumbered 63-73. The 1881 Directory lists the occupants as a stationer, a furrier, a barrister, an accountant, and two book-keepers; they were middle class rather than bourgeois. The rest of Cecil was still open ground.

Toronto’s 1881 Directory:

Note the cricket field at Cecil &Henry!


In late 1881, a set of six spacious and elegant double-residences, Second Empire style with mansard roofs, was erected on the north side of Cecil Street. They became the keystones of future development on the street, and emblematic of its character. They attracted a top segment of the Toronto bourgeoisie, eager to move away from the congestion of the commercial downtown to what were still semi-rural outskirts. These buildings were recorded as Nos. 20-42 in the 1883 Toronto Directory:

Toronto’s 1883 Directory: ~

The layout of Cecil Street‟s north side is shown in Goad‟s 1884 City Plan

Another „birdseye‟ drawing, from 1886, shows the rapid construction underway:

No. 24/26 Cecil (below) on the corner of Ross, was one of the six buildings, all designed as semi-detached family dwellings. Nowadays this building is one unit, numbered 24:

To its east an identical double building was constructed, No. 20/22 [below]. It housed two separate households, and did so for several decades. Today two Chinese institutions occupy one half each: the Fung Leun Tong Society (No. 20, right) – an affinity group for members of the Sit and Seto family clans; and No. 22 (left) the Ming Yuet Buddhist Temple. Both moved in during the 1990s:

To the west of No. 24 Cecil, across Ross Street, was another identical double family residence, No. 28/30. Originally separate halves, now conjoined as No. 28, it changed from residential use to commercial offices in the 1990s, and is now a privately-owned student rooming house:

Three similar double family dwellings - Nos. 32/34, 36/38 & 40/42 – completed this housing project, occupying the stretch of land between Ross & Huron:

These three buildings survived for almost a century, but were demolished in 1970 to accommodate Toronto Hydro‟s Cecil Transmission Station (now fronted by the Julius Deutsch parkette). Neighbours and heritage activists opposed this development. To appease them, the building‟s shell was modified to disguise its purpose – with brick cladding, false cathedral windows, etc. - and supposedly to blend in with the older houses. [photo below]

The earliest occupants of these six upscale residences on Cecil were well-to-do. They all had Anglo names. The area has been called “Rosedale before Rosedale existed”.
Lt. Col. Joseph Martin Delamere (1849-1928) owned and occupied No. 24 - the eastern half of the present building - for over forty years, from 1881 until 1922. An Irish-born Protestant educated at Upper Canada College, Delamere became a career officer with the Queen‟s Own Rifles. He served during the 1870 Fenian Raids, and was involved in suppressing the 1885 „North West Rebellion‟, in actions against Big Bear, Poundmaker and various First Nations and Métis communities on the prairies. During that campaign, his regiment sustained a stunning defeat at Cut Knife Hill near Battleford. He became its commanding officer from 1896 to 1901.
The Delameres were Toronto gentry. His wife Elizabeth was a daughter of George Taylor Denison of „Rusholme‟, patriarch of the prominent Tory family; Denison had headed the town militia and formed the 2nd Battalion Queen‟s Own Rifles, which Delamere eventually commanded. Elizabeth‟s grandfather, also named George T Denison, was one of Toronto‟s earliest and biggest landowners; his „Bellevue‟ estate sat at the heart of what became the Kensington area, off Spadina.

Delamere‟s neighbours were of similar social stock. Censuses up until 1911 show all the north-side residences under single family occupancy, usually with servants. Several of them figure in Toronto‟s Society Blue Book of Elite Families published in the 1890s-1920s.
A crime report in 1884 indicates that their standard of living was enviable:

The victim of the robbery at No. 34 was Dr James Laughlin Hughes (1846-1935), a lifelong Orangeman (Grand Master even) who nonetheless actively denounced its policies in later years. An energetic educator, a prolific author and poet, he was the older brother of General Sir Sam Hughes, Canada‟s eccentric, bombastic wartime Minister of Militia & Defence. James L. Hughes served as Toronto‟s Chief Inspector of Schools from 1874 to 1913. He had a major impact as a passionate advocate of early childhood schooling, of women‟s right to vote, of the need to educate poor working class communities. But he also had a jingoistic, imperialist worldview expressed in his 1921 address to the Empire Club, on a favourite subject - Cadet Training in Schools:
“We got into this city in the last ten years nearly 30,000 foreigners and a very large number of children …. There is no other way in which I can make those boys conscious of the fact that they are British Canadian boys so quickly or so thoroughly as by training them to keep time to the old British tunes and follow that old British flag and wear the King's uniform. (Applause)”
[http://speeches.empireclub.org/62323/data?n=11]
He and his family moved over from Cecil Street to Henry Street in 1888.

Delamere‟s immediate neighbour, the first occupant of the other half of his building, No. 26, was Lewis H. Moffatt (1809-92), a member of Toronto‟s top commercial crust. Lewis rose through the ranks in his father‟s firm Gillespie, Moffatt of Montreal, a major wholesaler of imported dry goods, hardware and groceries. He built up a successful Toronto offshoot, Moffatt, Murray, which became agents for Phoenix Assurance of England. A director of the Bank of British North America; a charter member of Toronto‟s Board of Trade; a director of the Stock Exchange, of the Grand Trunk Railroad, and the Dominion Telegraph Company, he was also briefly a city alderman in the 1870s, and a lifelong leading member of the Anglican Church and Trinity College council. In 1886 Moffatt moved across Cecil Street to No. 35, until his death in 1892. His successor at 26 Cecil (until 1913) was Mrs Isabella Watson, née McBrien, a widowed descendant of Fermanagh gentry, and then (until 1921) her daughter Elizabeth Watson.
Cecil‟s south side, and its north side from Huron to Spadina, was developed in 1885-9. The houses were a bit less imposing and uniform, but still very substantial. Most survive today.

Goad‟s 1890 city plan shows Cecil Street almost entirely built upon, with elegant additions on both sides. Large residences had also gone up on both sides of Beverley near Cecil. And the upper part of Spadina, hitherto bare, was now lined with stores and houses:~

The earliest residents on Cecil‟s south side were also wealthy and Anglo.
● S. Bruce Harman, son of Samuel Harman (a former Assessment Commissioner and Mayor of Toronto), lived at No. 25 Cecil from 1888 to 1909. He had been Captain in the Queen‟s Own Rifles (i.e. Delamere‟s regiment) and wrote a book, ‟Twas 26 Years ago: Narrative of the Red River Expedition, 1870 about his colonial exploits.
● Charles Egerton Ryerson, the barrister/librarian son of famous educator Egerton Ryerson, lived at No. 27 from 1889 to 1909. He was a founder of Ontario‟s United Empire Loyalists, his American born grandfather having fought for the British during the War of Independence. (Nehemiah Merritt at No. 42 also belonged to this monarchist group). Charles Ryerson‟s son, Stanley Ryerson, a Communist historian and author of various influential books about the founding of English & French Canada, lived there after his father‟s death.
● At No. 31, 1886-1909, lived Hamilton Cassels, KC (1854-1925), prominent lawyer, president of the Bar Association, founder of the Penny Bank, director of several insurance companies. His wife, Mary Garwood Baldwin, was a daughter of W.W. Baldwin of „Spadina‟. [see p.3 above]
● Auguste Bolte lived in No. 36 in 1886, then crossed the street to No. 43 from 1888 to 1909. He ran a brewer‟s supply business and was consul of France in Toronto. In 1892 he married a daughter of Ontario‟s Chief Justice. The event was reported by the Morning Oregonian:
“After the ceremony the numerous guests were driven to the palatial residence of Chief Justice Armour, where the large array of numerous and costly presents was duly admired, after which an elaborate luncheon was done justice to by the guests, the bride and bridegroom's health being drunk in the choicest vintage of the continent of Europe. The happy couple left by the 7:20 train for an extended tour through the West. A number of the guests came down in yachts belonging to the R.C.Y.C. and royal salutes were fired during the ceremony from aboard the several yachts"
Houses numbered 23–35 on the south side of Cecil Street no longer exist, but we can piece together how they looked from various mid-20th Century photographs [see p 41-45 below].
The houses to their west, Nos. 37-45, do still survive:
 

Toronto‟s 1906 Society Blue Book listed eight householders on Cecil as among the city‟s
most „fashionable‟:

As late as 1909 - even as Jewish immigrants were beginning to fill the streets of “the Ward”,
further east - the residents of Cecil Street were still almost uniformly Anglo:
 

But by 1917, Toronto‟s Directory began to reveal major breaches in the previously solid ethnic wall:

 

 

Next Month A look at "The Jewish Cecil Street"