Friday, June 15, 2007

For the thousands of people who ride the Yonge Street subway line every day, travelling in from the suburbs to go to work every morning, and then going back home every evening, Summerhill may just be another subway station. Like it's next door neighbour, Rosedale, we blink up at it from our ipods or subway reading material, and we think about how no one seems to get on or off there very much.

If you ever come across the luxury to wander around downtown one day, though, you should get off there. Summerhill is an idyllic neighbourhood, and has been for over 150 years, long before Toronto ever stretched north of Bloor Street.

Like so many neighbourhood names in Toronto, the name "Summerhill" comes from the name of an old family estate that stood in the area. If you were the head of a prominent (as in, wealthy) Toronto family, you built a great estate and then gave it a grand sounding name. A man named Charles Thompson made a fortune in the transportation business. He had stagecoaches running up and down Yonge Street, and steamboats cruising around the Great Lakes, all carrying mail, products and people, too. He was essentially an early Toronto shipping tycoon.

In 1842, an architect named John Howard designed a mansion for Charles Thompson and his family, to suitably reflect the family fortunes. The family had bought up 200-acres of land between Yonge Street and Bayview Avenue, just south of St. Clair Avenue. They named their estate "Summer Hill" - originally the name was two words.

After a decade in his new home, though, Thompson's fortunes began to decrease. By the early 1850s, the railway had started to cut into Thompson's business. He was forced to sell off some of his land. He then converted some of his remaining land into an amusement park to make money. The newly christened Summer Hill Spring Park and Pleasure Grounds opened up, offering various amusements and attractions, rides and picturesque picnic spots. He even went so far as to open up his own drawing room as a dance hall. The hard times continued though. By 1864, Thompson had sold off much of the land and two years later, in 1866, the house and the remaining 75-acres were sold to a man named Larratt William Violett Smith.

Mr. Smith had a slightly more stable (and highly successful) career as a lawyer. He also was involved in other businesses on the side, and with his fortunes he was able to add a number of rooms to the house. Under his care, the number of rooms in the house grew to a total of 30. He really fixed the place up. Maybe he felt that the parlour's career as a dance hall had damaged the floor, because he bought a 60-by-30 foot Persian rug to cover it. He invested a quantity of money in landscaping the exterior and growing orchards. He was a great lover of birds, so he didn't allow any hunting on his property. The land became a favourite safe spot for several species.

Unfortunately, in 1909, the land was all subdivided and the Summer Hill mansion (pictured above in the top picture) was demolished. However, the coach house that dates back to the time of the mansion still survives in Summerhill Gardens. Get off at Summerhill station and go take a look!

While we're on the topic of commuting through Summerhill, let's talk about what is probably the most prominent landmark in the neighbourhood. The North Toronto or Summerhill Canadian Pacific Railway Station (pictured in the lower picture up at the top of this post) was built in 1916 by an architectural firm named Pearson and Darling. It was part of the Canadian Pacific Railway line running through the city of Toronto. It's on the east side of the street just south of modern day Summerhill subway station.

The clock tower at the station soars to a height of 43-metree (140-feet). The main terminal is three storeys. The station closed in the 1920s, and eventually became an LCBO store. Much of the station’s interior was covered up by the liquor store, but was recently restored by the LCBO.

GO Transit has proposed a "Midtown Line" as recently as 2000, but there are no firm plans. If the proposed line was ever built, the North Toronto Station would be opened up again, together with several other stations along the CPR line. It would be used by commuter trains to bypass Union Station.


I offer two separate walking tours that focus on the history of Toronto Street Names.
The History of Toronto Street Names Midtown Tour begins outside Summerhill Station and goes down to the front lawn of Queen's Park. It's offered on
Wednesdays and Fridays at 10.00 a.m.

The History of Toronto Street Names Downtown Tour begins at
Queen's Park and goes down to John and Wellington Streets. It's offered on
Wednesdays and Fridays at 1.00 p.m.

As with all the other tours, if you can't come out when it's offered, let me know and you can come on the walk when it's convenient for you!


Richard (Fiennes-Clinton)
Muddy York Walking Tours
telephone (416) 487-9017


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