Yonge St - From Yorkville to Hogg's Hollow

Excerpts from Toronto the Old

Chapter XXV.


The perils and horrors encountered every spring and autumn by travellers and others in their ascent and descent of the precipitous sides of the Rosedale ravine, at the point where the primitive Yonge Street crossed it, were a local proverb and by-word: perils and horrors ranking for enormity with those associated with the passage of the Rouge, the Credit, the Sixteen, and a long list of other deeply ploughed watercourses intersected of necessity by the two great highways of Upper Canada.

All the conditions required to be fulfilled by the first settlers were these: "They must within the term of two years, clear fit for cultivation and fence, ten acres of the lot obtained; build a house 16 by 20 feet of logs or frame, with a shingle roof; also cut down all the timber in front of and the whole width of the lot (which is 20 chains, 133 feet wide), 33 feet of which must be cleared smooth and left for half of the public road."

On the 24th December, 1795, Mr. Jones writes to D. W. Smith, Acting Surveyor General:—"His Excellency was pleased to direct me, previous to my surveying the township of York, to proceed on Yonge Street, to survey and open a cart-road from the harbour at York to Lake Simcoe, which I am now busy at (i. e. I am busily engaged in the preparations for this work.) Mr. Pearse is to be with me in a few days' time with a detachment of about thirty of the Queen's Rangers, who are to assist in opening the said road."

Then in his Note-book and Journal for the new year 1796, he records the commencement of the survey, thus:—"Monday, 4th (January, 1796). Survey of Yonge Street. Begun at a Post near the Lake, York Harbour, on Bank, between Nos. 20 and 21, the course being Mile No. 1, N. 16 degrees W., eighty chains, from Black Oak Tree to Maple Tree on the right side, along the said Yonge Street: at eighteen chains, fifty links, small creek; at twenty-eight chains, small creek; course the same at thirty-two eighty: here First Concession. At, N. 35 W. to 40-50, At 39-50 swamp and creek, 10 links across, runs to the right: then N. 2 E., to 43 chains in the line. At 60-25, small creek runs to right; swampy to 73; N. 29 W. to 77, swamp on right. Then N. to 80 on line. Timber chiefly white and black oak to 60, and in many places windfalls thereon: maple, elm, beech, and a few oaks, black ash; l[416]oose soil. Mile No. 2 do. 80 chains; rising Pine Ridge to 9 on top," &c., and so on day by day, until Tuesday, February 16th, when the party reached the Landing.

For Mile No. 33 we have the entry. "Course do. (N. 9 W.) 80 chains; descended; at 10 chains, small creek; cross aforesaid small creek; at 30, several cedars to 35-50; at 33, creek about 30 links across, runs to left; at 80 chains, hemlock tree on the right bank small creek; hemlock, pine, a few oak; broken soil. At Mile 34, do., 53 chains to Pine tree marked at Landing; timber, yellow and white Pines; sandy soil; slight winds from the north; cloudy, cold weather."

Mr. Berczy brought over his sixty-four families in 1794. The most ancient inhabitants were thus of about seven years' standing. If we men of the second generation regarded Yonge Street as a route difficult to travel, what must the first immigrants from the Genesee country and Pennsylvania have found it to be? They brought with them vehicles and horses and families and some household stuff.

We happen to have a very vivid recollection of the scene presented along this particular section of Yonge Street, when the woods, heavy pine chiefly, after having been felled in a most confused manner, were being consumed by fire, or rather while the effort was being made to consume them. The whole space from near Mr. Walmsley's potteries to the rise beyond which Eglinton is situated, was, and continued long, a chaos of blackened timber, most dismaying to behold.

On the west side, opposite Mr. Ketchum's land, was a farm that had been modernized and beautified by two families in succession, who migrated hither from the West Indies, the Murrays and the Nantons. In particular, a long avenue of evergreen trees, planted by them and leading up to the house, was noticeable. While these families were the owners and occupants of this property, it was named by them Pilgrims' Farm. Subsequently Pilgrims' Farm passed into the hands of Mr. James Beaty, one of the representatives of Toronto in the House of Commons in Canada, who made it an occasional summer retreat, and called it Glen Grove.

Beyond Eglinton, in the descent to a rough irregular ravine, the home of Mr. Jonathan Hale was passed on the east side of the street; one of the Hales, who, as we have seen, were forward to undertake works of public utility at a time when appliances for the execution of such works were few. Mr. Hale's lot became afterwards a part of the estate of Jesse Ketchum of whom we have spoken.

It had been at one period known as the MacDougall farm, Mr. John MacDougall, of York, having been its owner from 1801 to 1820. Mr. MacDougall was the proprietor of the principal hotel of York. Among the names of those elected to various local offices at the annual Town-meeting held in 1799 at "the city of York," as the report in the Gazette and Oracle ambitiously speaks, that of Mr. MacDougall appears under the head of "Overseers of Highways and Roads and Fence-viewers." He and Mr. Clark were elected to act in this capacity for "the district of the city of York." That they did good service we learn from the applause which attended their labours. The leading editorial of the Gazette and Oracle of June 29, 1799, thus opens: "The public are much indebted to Mr. John MacDougall, who was appointed one of the pathmasters at the last Town-meeting, for his great assiduity and care in getting the streets cleared of the many and dangerous (especially at night) obstructions thereon; and we hope," the writer says, "by the same good conduct in his successors in the like office, to see the streets of this infant town vie with those of a maturer age, in cleanliness and safety."

In the number [440]of the same paper for July 20 (1799), Mr. MacDougall's colleague is eulogized, and thanked in the following terms: "The inhabitants of the west end of this Town return their most cordial thanks to Mr. Clark, pathmaster, for his uncommon exertions and assiduity in removing out of their street its many obstacles, so highly dangerous to the weary traveller." Mr. MacDougall was the first grantee of the farm immediately to the south of Glen Grove (lot number three).

One or two old farm houses of an antique New Jersey style, of two storeys, with steepish roofs and small windows, were then passed on the left. Some way further on, but still in the low land of the irregular ravine, another primitive rustic manufactory of that article of prime necessity, leather, was reached. This was "Lawrence's Tannery." A bridge over the stream here, which is a feeder to the Don, was sometimes spoken of as Hawke's bridge, from the name of its builder. In the hollow on the left, close to the Tannery, and overlooked from the road, was a cream-coloured respectable frame-house, the domicile of Mr. Lawrence himself. In his yard or garden, some hives of bees, when such things were rarities, used always to be looked at with curiosity in passing.

The banks of the Don are here on every side very bold, divided in some places into two stages by an intervening plateau. On a secondary flat thus formed, in the midst of a grass-grown clearing, to the left, as the traveller journeyed from York, there was erected at an early date the shell of a place of worship appertaining to the old Scottish Kirk, put up here through the zeal of Mr. James Hogg, a member of that communion, and the owner, for a time at least, of the flour mills in the valley, near the bridge. From him this locality was popularly known as Hogg's Hollow, despite the postal name of the place, York Mills.

It may be added that the destruction of the beautiful hereabout has to some extent a set-off in the fine geological studies displayed to the eye in the sides of the deep cuts at both ends of the great causeway. Lake Ontario's ancient floor here lifted up high and dry in the air, exhibits, stratum super stratum, the deposits of successive periods long ago.