If a time traveler were to set up a time machine at 177 Front St. E. they would be ideally situated with a very unique vantage point from which to witness the City of Toronto grow up around them. That’s because this location is essentially on the shoreline of the first settlement of York.
To get full story, the time traveler would start his or her journey in July 1759, facing west. They would appear about ten feet above the water, and thirty meters off shore. They would see nothing but trees on shore and off in the distance, a clearing and a wooden fort. If the traveler waited long enough they would soon see the French soldiers abandon Fort Rouillé (at what is now Exhibition Place), and set alight the wooden buildings and palisade. The fort was abandoned in July 1759 by the French garrison and discovered three days later by a British force who reported it as a smoldering ruin.
The temporal voyager would probably want to fast-forward through the next twenty years as nothing much happens. Maybe they’d slow it down a stitch just to watch the native population use the beach in this location, as they had done for centuries before, without any real interference from the Europeans save for the construction of a blockhouse at the mouth of the Don River.
The story of the property under the Time and Space Condos really started on September 23rd, 1787 when the British negotiated the purchase of more than a quarter million acres (1,000 km²) of land on the north shore of Lake Ontario. The site we’re following is some distance behind the canoe in this 1803 painting.
British dispatches record that in negotiations at the Carrying Place on the Bay of Quinte, John Collins, Deputy Surveyor-General secured on behalf of the Crown from three Mississauga chieftains, a tract of land known afterwards as the ‘Toronto Purchase’. In exchange for this land the native Canadians chiefs received 1700 pounds in cash and goods which included shrouds, hoes, shot, powder, guns, brass kettles, tobacco, knives, looking glasses, linen, laced hats, pieces of ribbon, fishhooks, gun flints, flowered flannel, blankets, broadcloth, serge and rum.
In 1793, Governor John Graves Simcoe came to the site and probably disembarked from the small boat that brought him to shore very close to our position. He named the new settlement ‘York’ which shows how imaginative he was, as there were already many such towns with that name all over the British Empire. The place was soon called Muddy York anyway because no doubt it was muddy and I reckon it needed another adjective just to differentiate it from other Yorks.
The very first settlement in 1793 was a small box of streets; the settlement boundary on the west was George Street, on the east Ontario Street, on the north it was Duchess Street (now Richmond), and the south road they called Palace Street (now Front) Street. The property we’re following is right on the lake shore, and mostly underwater at this time.
Three years later when Governor Simcoe moved the Parliament of Upper Canada from Niagara on the Lake (which was called Newark then) to ‘Muddy York’ he laid out a new plan for the settlement, dated 1796. Below I’ve marked out the acre lot that will be the future site of Time Space condos, approximately two hundred and twenty three years later.
The deal was that each settler had to make a road around their plots as part of their land claim process. That’s just what Governor Simcoe wrote John Jarvis, his Loyalist friend whom he invited to follow him north in the years after the American revolution. Jarvis was reluctant to give up his holdings in Newark, and so as incentive for him and some other prominent families to relocate he was promised a Park Lot near the lake shore of the new settlement. The only stipulation was that he had to make a road around it. These roads would all link up to form the first streets and, in time, the Jarvis family would give their name to major north south thoroughfare in the center of the city.
Simcoe’s choice of the first street names shows the profound influence of Georgian England on the genesis of the settlement. The new Colonial seat of government at York needed to leverage the strength of the British Monarchy, and so the main thoroughfare was King Street. The origins of these street names is important to understand Canada’s Colonial Age. There was essentially no police in these first small settlements, and so references to Crown figures and esp the Duke’s authority are important (as remember King Gorge III was mad, and his eldest son Frederick the Duke of Cornwall / Prince of Wales was acting Regent). George Street bore the name of King George himself, any one of them, perhaps George III, but more likely his son, the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV. Caroline St commemorated his wife, the unfortunate Caroline of Brunswick. The street was renamed Sherbourne many years later when she fell out of favour with the British people. Duke Street alluded to the Duke of Cornwall (The Prince of Wales, George IV) , Duchess Street to his wife, and Frederick Street so called because it was the Duke’s first Christian name.
Ontario Street referenced the footpath that the native Canadians used at that time, and had used for centuries before, which led to a canoe landing nearest to the carrying-place on the Island. Palace St was expected to be a grand majestic waterfront roadway that led to the ‘Palace of Government’, as Governor Simcoe called the new parliament buildings. These two small brick buildings were hardly palatial; they were situated between preset day Berkley street and Parliament street at the edge of town, two lots east and within easy view of the Time Traveler.
Completed in 1797, the red-brick structures were plagued by bad luck. They were burned by invading American forces in 1813, rebuilt in 1820 and burned again in 1824 (this time by accident). The fires and the nearby marsh (which was thought to be unhealthy) influenced the relocation of the parliament buildings, although the name of the street that connected them to the grid remains to this day, Parliament Street.
The land on which our temporal voyager is traveling from, the city block between ‘Palace St’ and the lake shore (The Esplanade of the future), east of Caroline St (Sherbourne) and west of Princess Street, would be about 1/2 on shore and half underwater at the very edge of the lake’s shallow, muddy beach.
If our traveler could glimpse the site in the summer of 1813, they’d see all manner of commercial activity happening on the busy waterfront. The mercantile commerce would by that point have evolved beyond Native Canadians trading pelts, to lake barges employed by major lumber concerns, and the schooners and packets of even more sophisticated trade.
From their position on the lake shore, the traveler situated at Time and Space condos would have just have a front row seat for the Battle of York. He or she would just have to look west over the harbour to see the Americans landing and burning Fort York, and then no doubt marching right underneath their feet along the lake shore to burn the Upper Canada’s Parliament Buildings (in retaliation for the British Navy having just done the same in Washington).
If we could advance the imagery from this point forward another twenty years we would see Gooderham & Worts gristmill pop-up just this side of the Don River, and the lake shore would soon have four major wharves and many smaller docks.
The Town of York became the City of Toronto in 1834 which is two years after James Worts and his brother-in-law William Gooderham arrived and established their flour milling business, and before they ever considered distilling anything.
Here’s the Bonnycastle Map titled, The Capital of Upper Canada 1834, Respectfully dedicated to HIS EXCELLENCY SIR JOHN COLBORNE K.C.B. Again I’ve added our location to the map.
Although the shoreline looks clean in the 1834 map, Toronto’s waterfront and the area where our time machine hovers was probably encrusted with timber piles, shacks and squatter buildings. The city had 9254 residents when counted in 1834. Ten years later the census would count 19,706 residents.
Here’s the scene in 1838 at the nearby Fish Market at the base of Jarvis Street. The triangular building in the background is the Coffin Block which preceded the triangular Gooderham bldg that is currently at the site (Front and Wellington).
The area where The Esplanade is today was then a busy harbour. There were different markets at the base of each street. There was a market below Caroline St too for many years, right up until the City decided to make The Esplanade.
The Esplanade was first proposed as a lake front beautification project. The Mayor and City Councillors planned to create a 100 feet (30 m) wide roadway in the late 1840s. Solid ground was to be made along the lake shore with new lots to be created in the water south of the road by using cribbing and landfill. The waterfront was extended to a survey line from the point of the Gooderham windmill west to a point due east of the old Fort Rouillé.
Originally made as an expressway for carriages and carts, the roadway eventually became the primarily conduit into the city for railroads. The various captains of industry behind the railroads struck deals with the Mayor and City Council in the early 1850s and in exchange for 40 feet (12 m) of the Esplanade, the railways underwrote the cost of filling-in the harbour. The Esplanade and infill project was complete by 1865. The project was the start of the railways taking over the entire Esplanade, and eventually the entire harbour area.
The first real glimpse of the property that I can find is in this 1880s era sketch of the city. By this point you can see its already an industrial workplace with ten buildings and around a central smoke stack or steam boiler providing energy to the complex. The factories here in Ward 2 were conveniently located beside a coal depot with ready access to lake freighters and railroad transportation. There was plenty of skilled labour too as some of the rural population moved off the farms and came in out of the woods to get jobs after Confederation in 1867.
Lyman Brothers & Co was listed in the 1851 Canada Business Directory as wholesale druggists, manufacturers and dealers in dye stuffs and clothiers’ materials-also in paints, colours, linseed oil, putty, &c., and importers of perfumery and chemicals, St. Lawrence buildings, King st., east. with the last part denoting the location of their retail store.
June 1894, the famous photographer F W Micklethwaite must have been standing on the property, right above our time traveler, when he snapped this famous picture seen below. I imagine he climbed some scaffolding around a chimney construction or perhaps a chimney demolition happening on the site. His body occupied an area that will soon be inside a Time and Space condominium, possible the penthouse suite. The date is 1894 when he faced east and snapped the image seen below. I look forward to snapping the same picture myself in a few years time.
You have to peer through the mist to make out the iconic white stone four story building the core of the distillery complex (just beyond the bend in the railway). Its easier to see the property’s next door neighbour directly below (off Princess) is the Elias Rogers and Company (coal dispensary).
Here is the property in Goad’s 1884 Fire Insurance Map of Toronto.
The 1894 fire insurance map, made ten years later, shows no real change at the site but the neighbours are more defined – the J & J Taylor Safe Works company is on the west (on Frederick) and the Elias Rogers Company coal dispensary or ‘Toronto Fuel Association’ as its labelled on the map, is next door on right, on Princess St.
From 1870 – 1890 we learn from Toronto municipal business directories that companies located here made machine oil, industrial chemicals, and soap.
We get another glimpse of the property in 1907 when the city of Toronto made an effort to document the Esplanade before another beautification project. The sight is pretty bleak and the railway’s presence on the Esplanade is very wide at this point.
The building that is not circled was occupied by either J Fisher & Co Manufacturing or the J & J Taylor Safe Works; its not clear which business was there in 1907.
The building that is circled was occupied by Magann Air Brake company. You can read about their patent http://www.google.ca/patents/US662152 The famous wheelwrights exhibited their air braking system at the 1914 Baltimore World’s Fair. The company was a leading engineering concern for many years with offices in Canada and the United States.
On the other side of the property, up on Front St, another type of rail transport is glimpsed in 1913.
Toronto Railway Company single-ended double-trucked streetcar #632 is seen bearing a YONGE route sign at Front and Sherbourne in this 1913 shot. The Toronto Railway Company built this car between 1899 and 1900. The class was retired soon after the Toronto Transportation Commission took over, and was certainly out of service by 1923. The photographer is unknown and the image is courtesy the John Knight collection.
We have yet to find any pictures of the property from this point forward until the 1970s.
Newsome and Gilbert Inc occupied the property in 1972. Below is a picture of the printing facility on the site which churned out legal stationary by the truckload. This shot was taken at the corner of Front and Sherbourne St. looking south east, directly at site – that smoke stack remains on the property to this day.
Newsome and Gilbert Inc. was actually a very old operation at the time. They had been providing fine printing and stationery to Canadian law offices since the 1880s and this plant marked the apex of their achievements.
After the demolition of Newsome Gilbert building, ten years later, and for the first time in hundreds of years, it was suddenly possible to stand on the property and see the Distillery District again.
And the property has been strangely under developed ever since the nineteen eighties. There was an Acura Dealership and a Sobey’s supermarket on site for many years, but even that is gone today.
Here’s the Acura Dealership where the time traveler started – this is the photo they used in their Canpages profile page. Mext time you’re in the area take a real good look at the property – it wont be like this much longer; development starts in 2017. Continue to see Time and Space condos, the future of 177 Front St E in Toronto.