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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 Langstaff Jail Farm

Langstaff Jail Farm on the northeast corner of today's Yonge Street and Highway 7. City of Toronto Archives
The corner of Yonge Street and Langstaff Road(Highway 7) had not seen as much action since its heyday as a mid-nineteenth century toll-gate. But through the summer of 1913, on land fronting the northeast corner of that old intersection, the City of Toronto had begun building its celebrated Industrial Farm or Langstaff Jail Farm.

In today's terminology, it was a minimum security facility for inebriates, first offenders, and petty criminals, an alternative to the dreaded Don Jail. But in 1913, and for years afterwards in the memory of local residents, it was simply "The Jail Farm."

Dormitory room at the Langstaff Jail Farm. City of Toronto Archives
Cottage No. 1, a modest but handsome red brick dormitory, was the first building completed. Soon it was joined by a kitchen and dining room complex, barns and silos, more dormitories, implement sheds and farm out-buildings, a pump house and water tower. The complex stood on some three square kilometres (about two square miles) of prime agricultural land, stretching from Yonge Street east to Bayview Avenue and north along Yonge.

Superintendent Hedley Basher ruled the Jail Farm operation with an iron hand. He had served with the military police during the First World War and ran the prison with the same rigid discipline. Neighbours remember Basher making his daily rounds on horseback, "often taking a hedge at full gallop" on his way to a trouble spot.

Yet there was little need for tight security for these minor offenders. There were no high fences nor armed guards. "An inmate could just sneak off and catch the radial car if the fancy took him," recalled one neighbour. Yet few did, since the penalty for "escaping" was a longer sentence at a harsher penal institution.

Neighbours soon grew accustomed to seeing groups of about fifteen inmates, identically dressed in uniforms of faded blue denim jeans and jackets, "hoeing, weeding, and cultivating crops in small [groups] all over the property." The farm became largely self-sufficient in providing food for its residents. Surplus labour was hired out to neighbouring farmers; wages went directly to the families of these "trusties."

Harry Suter remembered the Jail Farm as a "quiet neighbour" for the 100 or so households who bordered on it during the 1930s. Young Harry made the most of this opportunity, running "a black market for all the trusties who could afford smokes." Commerce was so good that Harry's greatest problem was "spending all my earnings without my mother finding out."

Harry Suter,"Taking a Look Back at the Old Jail Farm,"Thornhill Month(May 1987),p. 3

 

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Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991