The Village That Was
"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.
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.
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.
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991