Table of Contents
Roses Bloom in
Lawrence knew his plants and flowers well - his father had been a
himself established his own wholesale and retail florist business in Toronto in
1898, and he was elected president of the Canadian Horticultural Society in
fortunately also knew a lot about local politics and land development. For
several years he served as a councillor in what was then the separate
municipality of North Toronto and pocketed a nice profit by developing the
suburban Lawrence Park neighbourhood.
|Aerial view of
greenhouses in the 1930s, looking west from the
National Railway tracks towards
Yonge Street. The
greenhouses are top centre, the
greenhouses lower left, and the
Park greenhouses to the right.
By the second decade of the twentieth century,
running out of land close to Toronto for growing his flowers or for selling off
as building lots. So in November 1911, for a price of $13,000, he purchased
John Palmer's farm on
the east side of
Richmond Hill. There,
on the village's sunny eastern slope, close to both
railway shipping facilities, he planned to set up a
greenhouse operation. Following his usual procedure, he
decided that any extra land could be profitably marketed as building lots.
William J. Lawrence greenhouses.
Lawrence's Richmond Hill complex quickly took shape
through the summer of 1912. The
site, near the
Northern Railway station, was dominated by a huge
greenhouse sitting along an east-west axis, 214 metres
long by 27 metres wide (about 700 by 90 feet), providing about a hectare of
flowers under glass. This
greenhouse was heated by steam from a boiler house to the
northeast. A third building, to the east of the
greenhouse, provided cold storage facilities, a packing
room, and an office.
Lawrence's Richmond Hill operation included five
greenhouse buildings, covering about 9100 square metres (about 98 000 square
feet). Under the glass he grew roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, and other
choice flowers and plants which stocked his Toronto wholesale and retail sales
outlets. As unassuming as they may have appeared, the roses helped put
Richmond Hill on the
map, for they won prizes at local and distant flower shows and drew delegations
of visiting horticulturalists to town. As far as flower growers were concerned,
all roads led to and from
Richmond Hill once
developed an extensive mail-order business that served points throughout the
province and beyond.
Yet all was not rosy for
Richmond Hill. In
January 1913, a section of the roof of his largest
greenhouse collapsed under the weight of the snow. In
March, this same building was heavily damaged by strong winds. The following
January, the manure building was damaged when a locomotive and carload of coal
skidded off the end of the
Northern Railway tracks. High winds in the spring of 1914 broke hundreds
of panes of
greenhouse glass and froze thousands of roses.
An equally severe setback was the one
experienced in the spring of 1913. The ever-cautious village ratepayers turned
down a by-law that would have loaned
$5,000 of public money, interest-free for ten years, to help him rebuild after
the snow and wind damage of the preceding winter. Discouraged by this turn of
ultimately sold his
greenhouse complex to
Cotton in 1919. This new firm carried on as "rose specialists" through
the 1920s, then became
Richmond Roses in
Richmond Hill had
extended beyond his own business. Not only did he attract visiting
horticulturalists to the village, but in April 1913, he introduced a rival
John Dunlop, to
Dunlop was also
considering opening a
greenhouse operation, and
Dunlop could be
induced to stay, since "it would be an advantage to the other florists here, as
the demand was very great, and large orders often come if the customer can be
supplied in one town."
John H. Dunlop was
running a well-established wholesale and retail florist operation in Toronto.
He, too, had served as president of the Canadian Horticultural Society and,
running out of space near the city. He had already purchased property on the
east side of town from
Thomas Hodgson and
Wright as a possible new location. When village council agreed to a low,
fixed assessment on the easterly two acres (about one hectare) if used only for
Dunlop made his
Dunlop had two
greenhousesnearing completion with plans for six more. As
early as March 1914, fifty of his
won first prize at the International Rose Show in New York City, and by April
1915, he was shipping Easter lilies to Montreal and ten to twelve thousand
carnations to various Canadian destinations weekly. The following April, his
entries took three firsts and two seconds at the National Flower Show in
sudden death in September 1930, his
greenhouses were purchased by
Mills, who had begun his
greenhouse business the same year as
Mills bought from
J. Sheardown four
acres (about one and a half hectares) of land on the north side of
Centre Street East.
There he built two greenhouses, set up
Limited, and made his reputation by concentrating exclusively on roses.
These roses won top prizes at Toronto's Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, were
shipped to the West on Trans-Canada Air Lines' first air-express flight in
1938, and were presented to Queen Elizabeth at Ottawa during the 1939 Royal
|Interior of the H.J.
Mills florist operation in 1948. Pictured left to right
Doug Lowrey,Alex Peters,Howard Van
Dyke,James Pollard,Stan Baker,H.J.
Mills were friendly competitors who often worked together
to fill large orders and bring visiting delegations of horticulturalists to
town. Their co-operation intensified during the years of the
War when they shared carloads of rationed coal and, when fuel ran out,
burned fence rails and all available odds and ends of lumber to keep their
The industry also worked with local residents in
Richmond Hill Horticultural Society. Growers
on the founding executive in April 1914, and fifty-four members were soon
signed up. Over the next few years, the
Richmond Hill Horticultural Society worked to realize its
twin aims of beautifying the village and increasing local interest in flower,
fruit, and vegetable growing. It distributed seeds and seedlings to school
children, offered prizes for flower and vegetable gardens, planted trees on
municipal property, and lobbied council for waste baskets in front of business
The active horticultural scene at
attracted other entrepreneurs, who opened greenhouse and nursery operations
throughout the 1910s and 1920s:
Henry Arnold and his
Floral Company, located north of the
and their nursery business; and
Walter Watson,H. Davis, and other
independent operators. Almost overnight, the horticultural industry made the
village famous and became
Richmond Hill's major
employer. By 1939, the industry was producing some four million roses annually,
employing upwards of one hundred workers, and pumping $250,000 in wages into
the local economy. And the village grew with its new industry. The population
began to rise for the first time since the 1870s - jumping from 652 in 1911 to
1055 in 1921, and rising again to 1295 by 1931. After listing a number of
properties that were being improved in August 1913,
The Liberal concluded that "we are at last
in the swim, and making rapid advance to Municipal importance." By December
The Liberal could no longer keep track of
improvements and concentrated instead on new residences being built -
twenty-seven in the preceding twelve-month period.
Garden Centre at
Elgin Mills in the
Many of these new homes were situated east of
Roseview Avenue and
Lawrence was developing the new subdivision of
Switching to his property developer's role, in 1913
began selling building lots along present-day
and all around the town, contractors were in great demand, and one of the most
sought-after builders was
(He had established a contracting business in the community in 1911, when he
was thirty years old.) Over the course of the next thirteen years, he built
about thirty-one houses, the
Blue and Orange Home north of town, the
McConaghy Public School on
Yonge Street, the
west of town, an
arena in the
village park, and
numerous commercial buildings. By the time of
Richmond Hill was a
|First home of contractor
Graham, which he built at 90
East in 1911.
Graham is sitting on the steps while her husband and eldest child,
Philip, sit in
their new 1914 Model-T Ford.
As the rose-growing industry
continued to prosper,it became a more distinct part of
identity, and was eventually written into the village's motto. In 1919, Council
asked local carriage builder and artist
Wright to design a crest for its official stationery and for the two
large signs erected at each end of the village which proclaimed
Richmond Hill as
"Toronto's Highest and Healthiest Suburb."Wright
took his design from the top of the coat of arms of the
Duke of Richmond, as a salute to the Duke's visit back in 1819 and his
possible role as the community's namesake.
also borrowed the Duke's motto, which was now uncannily appropriate:
"En la Rose Je
Fleuris," which freely translates as "Like the Rose I Bloom," "I Bloom
as the Rose," or "In the Rose, I Flourish."
July 12, 1912.
May 1, 1913.
March 26, 1914;
April 13, 1916.
October 20, 1938;
May 18, 1939.
Doris M. Fitzgerald," John Dunlop's Greenhouse Roses Turned
December into June,"The Liberal,October 12, 1965.
Dr. Lillian Langstaff," Agricultural Society Celebrates Fortieth
Anniversary,"The Liberal,November 25,
The Liberal,August 28, 1913;
"Biography of William H. Graham,"
Local History Collection, Richmond Hill Public Library.
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991