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Chapter 11
The Flowering of Richmond Hill
Table of Contents

Title Page
Author's Preface
1 The Road through Richmond Hill
2 First Peoples on the Land
3 The European Settlers Arrive
4 From Miles' Hill to Richmond Hill: The Birth of a Community
5 Tories and Reformers
6 Stagecoach Lines and Railway Tracks
7 The Neighbours at Mid-Century
8 Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
9 Picture Post Card Village of the 1880s and 1890s
10 Rails through Richmond Hill
11 The Flowering of Richmond Hill
The Village That Was
"On the Green of Richmond Hill"
The Village that Was
Roses Bloom in Richmond Hill
Mrs. P.L. Grant Urges That "Local Option" Be Retained
The Women's Institute and the Library
The Women of Richmond Hill
War Comes to Richmond Hill
Richmond Hill Men Who Served in the First World War 1914-1918
South on Yonge Street
North on Yonge Street
East on Centre Street
The Langstaff Jail Farm
War and Remembrance
12 The Village Transformed
Epilogue
Appendices
Table of Illustrations
Index

The Village That Was

Radial railway station and entrance to the Park Grounds at Yonge Street and Lorne Avenue, decorated for the 1911 Old Boys Reunion.
On the Saturday of Labour Day Weekend in the year 1911, "hundreds of old friends" converged on the village for the Richmond Hill Old Boys Reunion and Picnic. "Decorations in profusion" adorned most of the business places and residences along Yonge Street, and many of the homes along the side streets. Banners strung across Yonge proclaimed "God Save the King," "For Auld Lang Syne," "Old Boys, The Town Is Yours," and "Welcome! We Like You As Much As Ever." The Public School was draped with red, white, and blue bunting, and bore the motto "We Are Glad to See You Home Once More."

"Probably the village never looked as pretty as it did that morning at 10 o'clock," reported The Liberal.1 While a late morning rain "seriously disarranged the decorations" it failed to "dampen the spirits" of residents and visitors.

Richmond Hill Old Boys Reunion of 1911.
At about two o'clock in the afternoon, a procession formed in the centre of town, and with music provided by the Richmond Hill Village Band and the band of the Queen's Own Regiment, the parade headed for the town's southern boundary. Despite many changes over the years, the Old Boys knew they were in the right place when they spied Tom Riley and Dave Benson driving John Thompson's stagecoach, a relic from pre-radial days.

At today's Major Mackenzie Drive the marchers met "the contingent from the City." The augmented procession then re-formed, and marched towards the Public School. There William Wiley and C.H. Ellston of the Toronto Old Boys' Association formally presented the village with a flagstaff, which had earlier been erected in front of the school, and which The Liberal considered "probably the handsomest in the county." 2

Frank Wiley, one of the community's oldest residents, raised a new flag to the top of the flagstaff. The band of the Queen's Own played "God Save the King" and the Village Band followed with "Rule Britannia." The parade continued to the north end of the community, then retraced its steps back to the Town Park, passing under an evergreen arch at Yonge Street and Lorne Avenue.

Some two thousand people enjoyed the festivities at the park that afternoon. There were speeches by William Pratt and Peter Savage, telegrams read from distinguished Old Boys unable to attend, and prizes awarded to local marksmen who had distinguished themselves at the recent British Empire rifle competition at Bisley, England. There were baseball games, lacrosse matches, and footraces for the athletically inclined.

And the ladies? They got to serve afternoon tea in the old arena, 350 revellers at a sitting. That was the extent of their participation in the 1911 Reunion. Otherwise, it was an all-male Richmond Hill that captured public attention on that first Saturday in September - a village of parades and brass bands, flagstaffs and speeches, guns and sporting events.

The Richmond Hill of 1911 had the image of a "village that was," of a community caught in a kind of time warp, of a town waiting for something to happen. Little had changed in Richmond Hill during the first decade of the twentieth century, despite the bright future promised by the Metropolitan radial railway and the Canadian Northern steam line. Population had increased at a snail's pace - from 629 in 1901 to 652 ten years later.

Disappointed in the economic conditions, R.E. Law puts his house, lot, and furnishings up for auction in September 1905. Mr. Law is "leaving for the West."
Industrial growth was next to non-existent. True, the Devonshire Dairy had established its Richmond Hill Creamery in 1899, purchasing cream from local dairy farmers and shipping it to Toronto by radial railway, where it was used to make ice cream, but that was the only major new business since the arrival of the radial railway. While Gormley boomed in the years after 1906 thanks to the Canadian Northern Railway, and Lake Wilcox prepared to welcome a new brickworks, the core of the old village languished.

Councillors had long bemoaned the lack of commercial and industrial development, and in February 1906 established a special committee to induce industries to locate in Richmond Hill. In keeping with tradition, however, little happened for the next few years. Then in the summer of 1912, business development arrived from an unusual quarter: William Lawrence built a greenhouse. It may not have been what the councillors were expecting, but the Toronto florist's rose-growing business turned out to be the catalyst that led to the late blooming of Richmond Hill.

Notes

1. The Liberal,September 7, 1911.

2. Ibid.

 


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Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991