Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Just under one week ago, on June 14th, 2007 we passed the 107th anniversary of the death of William Mellis Christie. If that name is familiar, there's good reason, as there are plenty of things to remind the Torontonian of this man.

William Mellis Christie was born in Huntley, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on January 5th, 1829. He worked as a baker's apprentice in his native Scotland, but at the young age of nineteen he emmigrated to Canada. In 1848, he was working at a bakery in Toronto, and within just five years, he was a joint owner of a bakery in the city. Fifteen years later, in 1868, he joined with a man named Alexander Brown, to develop a new mechanical process for manufacturing biscuits. These biscuits would go on to be shipped across Canada. Together, these two men formed Christie, Brown and Company and their company went on to be very successful. In 1879, Christie bought his partner out, but kept the firm's name. Christie maintained ownership of all stocks in his company, and by 1899, the year before his death, the stocks were valued at a total of $500,000.00. The firm's cookie factory was located on Adelaide Street East and Frederick Street, where the George Brown School of Hospitality now stands. Across the street stands Toronto's First Post Office, which served as administrative offices for Christie, before it was eventually restored as a post office and postal museum (after several incarnations).

Apart from dedicating a lot of time to his bakery company, Christie had a number of other pursuits. He was an avid traveller, and in his later years, he travelled extensively through out Britain, Europe and North America. He was also involved in a lot of local extra curricular endeavours, including sponsorship of what has become the modern Canadian National Exhibition.

William Mellis Christie purchased a large mansion which still stands at the northeast corner of Queen's Park Circle East and Wellesley (diagonally across the corner from the Legislative Assembly). A present day view of the house is shown in the first picture for this entry, above.

William Mellis Christie died in his mansion on June 14th, 1900, and his son Robert inherited the house, and the mansion. The bakery company stayed in the family for about 20 years, until it was sold to Nabisco, an American based firm, which happily still produces the cookies under the Christie name. So, the company slogan can still ring out ... "Mister Christie, you make good cookies!!" Generations of locals grew up chanting that one.

A few final notes on William Mellis Christie, his family and his mansion ~ he is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, along with a number of his family members, including his wife and son. His afforementioned mansion, pictured above, eventually came to belong to an order of nuns known as the Sisters of Saint Joseph. They are an international benevolent order, who founded Toronto's Saint Michael's Hospital.

Christie Street in Toronto is named after William Mellis Christie. Christie Pits Park, originally named Willowvale Park, reflects both the family surname and the street. It is located at 750 Bloor Street West, just outside Christie Subway Station. The park has over 20-acres and is home to a number of athletic facilities, including sports fields, an ice rink and pools. The sloped boundaries of the park are often used by taboggoners in the winter. The second picture posted at the top of this entry shows a picture of some children in Christie Pits Park in 1914.

The park's history has been tainted by an unfortunate riot. On August 16, 1933, an anti-Semitic gang clashed with a local pro-Jewish gang. One of the park's baseball diamonds was being used for a series of games between local softball teams. On the evening of August 16th, one of the teams that was playing was predominantly Jewish. A rival gang displayed a large blanket with a swastika design on it, and a riot ensued. Both sides had come prepared for a fight, as tensions had been rising for a while. Members of both gangs were armed with clubs and steel pipes. Most of the fighting was broken up within a few hours, but there were sporadic outbreaks of violence until the early morning. Only one person was charged ~ he was found carrying a lead pipe.


I have an historic cemetery tour that visits the gravesite of the Christie family, as well as many others of local and national historical interest ~ including Timothy Eaton and family, William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Massey family and many others. This tour is offered on Sundays at 2.00 p.m. and Mondays at 10.00 a.m. If you can't do this tour then, let me know and we can set another time.

I also have two tours that talk about the history behind some of Toronto's street names. Have you ever wondered where the names of Toronto's streets and communities came from? This tour will explain a lot of them to you.

The History of Toronto's Street Names Midtown tour goes from Summerhill to Queen's Park, and runs Wednesdays and Fridays at 10.00 a.m.

The History of Toronto's Street Names Downtown tour goes from Queen's Park to John and Welllington Streets, and runs Wednesdays and Fridays at 1.00 p.m. Again, a special day and time can be arranged for any of these tours.


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


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