Search:
[To search all databases, click here]
Chapter 5
Tories and Reformers
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
A Picture of Prosperity and Contentment
The Most Pleasant Season
Maple Sugar Time
The Road to Rebellion
A Post Office and a Name on the Map
Colonel Moodie Rides Down Yonge Street
Rebels and Loyalists
Life and Death after the Rebellion
Aftermath of Rebellion
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
12 The Village Transformed
Epilogue
Appendices
Table of Illustrations
Index

A Picture of Prosperity and Contentment

Marion Smith Graham in front of the old Colonel Moodie home on Lot 49 East, Yonge Street
On the day after Christmas 1828, Mary and Fanny Gapper, sisters-in-law who lived south along Yonge Street, "set out in [their] Gloucester boots and walked two miles up the Street to the top of Richmond Hill." There they found a "little centre of population" clustered around "a Presbyterian church, a school, a store and a tavern." 1 The Gapper women may also have noticed a blacksmith's shop and a carpenter's shop on the east side of Yonge Street, south of present-day Lorne Avenue, on James Shaw's subdivided Lot 46. Perhaps they stayed in the village centre long enough to greet the daily stagecoach from York or Holland Landing, a new transportation service that improved communications along the entire line of Yonge Street.

Like most visitors and residents, Mary Gapper was impressed with the speed of Richmond Hill's advance towards becoming a more mature agricultural and commercial community. Mary had recently arrived from England with the intention of visiting for about a year with her two brothers - William Southby Gapper on Lot 38 West (Richvale) and Richard Gapper on Lot 40 East (Yonge Street and 16th Avenue). She ended up staying in Upper Canada and marrying one of her brothers' neighbours, Edward O'Brien.

In October 1828, she recorded her first impression of Yonge Street south of the village centre: "You have now a field or two quite cleared and almost level; now seven or eight dotted with stumps from four to five feet [more than a metre] high; now a field or a strip of land thickly set with high tapering poles. The fences are universally zig zag walls which are generally untidy, and at all times perhaps more picturesque than neat. The cottages are more or less distant from the road. They are mostly plank, with barns at hand. The road is very wide and by no means offensively straight. You meet waggons, horses, etc., at every hundred yards [about ninety metres]." 2

Less than a year and a half later, Mary upgraded her description. "Even during the short period of our residence much has been done," she wrote in March 1830. "The last improvement I have observed is the substitution in several instances of railing for the zig-zag fence." 3

Such improvements were the result of both individual initiative and general prosperity. The dominant characteristic of the regional economy at the time, notes one historian, was "dynamism" - a dynamism fuelled by a remarkable average annual population increase of 9 per cent. 4 Land values rose throughout the Richmond Hill area, especially along Yonge Street itself. "A few years ago, a lot was worth from 50 to 100 pounds," noted Reverend Isaac Fidler, a temporary resident who turned his keen observer's eye on the local scene. "A lot now is worth from one to two thousand pounds on many parts of Yonge Street."5 Along the road in the early 1830s, a frequent sign that property had changed hands and that a second wave of population was rolling in was the "springing up, at intervals, of houses of an improved style, with surroundings, lawns, sheltering plantations, winding drives, well-constructed entrance-gates, and so on, indicating an appreciation of the elegant and the comfortable." Reverend Henry Scadding recalled "two instances of this, which we used to contemplate with particular interest ... the cozy, English-looking residences, not far apart, with a cluster of appurtenances round each" of the Larratt Smith and Francis Boyd families. 6

The Smith residence that Scadding so admired was on the Twickenham Farm on the west side of Yonge Street just north of Richmond Hill. Sometime in 1836, Captain Larratt Smith had bought it and moved his family there. Smith, his wife, Mary, and their four young children had emigrated from Plymouth, England, to Upper Canada four years earlier, originally settling in a log cabin in Oro Township north of Barrie. Now they were moving to Richmond Hill to be closer to the centre of provincial society in Toronto. 7

That same year, a relative of the Smiths' named Francis Boyd bought a similar two-hundred-acre (eighty-hectare) farm on Yonge Street next to the Smith property. Boyd was one of the first stockmen to import improved breeds of cattle from England, and he boasted a "collection of really fine paintings, amongst them a Holbein." 8 The Smiths and the Boyds also had servants, "country girls" and "country boys" who carried water, chopped firewood, cleaned the lamps, and helped with the cooking and the washing. "A two-storied house with these amenities, and cultured, amiable neighbours," recounted Captain Smith's great-granddaughter almost a century and a half later, "was a far cry from the lonely log cabin in Oro." 9

Such prosperity impressed travellers who passed through Richmond Hill during the 1830s. Journeying along "a very good road, called Yonge-street," Joseph Bouchette noted that "the land on either side for a considerable depth is very fertile, and many settlements are already formed, where some of the farms are in a good state of cultivation." As surveyor general of Lower Canada, and author of a number of books and topographical maps, Bouchette spoke with some authority. 10

British writer Anna Jameson was equally effusive. Yonge Street, she observed, leads "through a well-settled and fertile country. There are some commodious, even elegant houses in the neighbourhood." 11 After a second carriage ride along the highway in the early autumn of 1837, Jameson remarked on "some of the finest land and most prosperous estates in Upper Canada" and "a perpetual succession of well-cultivated farms," all conveying a feeling of "security."

In retrospect, Jameson found it hard to believe that this part of the country would be "within a few weeks after, the scene of ill-advised rebellion, of tumult and murder!" 12

Notes

1. Audrey Saunders Miller, ed., The Journals of Mary O'Brien, 1828-1838(Toronto:Macmillan,1968),p. 29.

2. Ibid., p. 21.

3. Ibid., p. 93.

4. T.W. Acheson,"The Nature and Structure of York Commerce in the 1820's,"Canadian Historical Review,vol. 50(1969):406.

5. Reverend Isaac Fidler,Observations on Professions, Literature, Manners, and Emigration in the United States and Canada, Made During a Residence There in 1832(New York:J. & J. Harper,1833),p. 202.

6. Reverend Henry Scadding,Toronto of Old: Collections and Recollections Illustrative of the Early Settlement and Social Life of the Capital of Ontario(Toronto:Adam Stevenson,1873),p. 461.

7. Mary Larratt Smith,Young Mr. Smith in Upper Canada(Toronto:University of Toronto Press,1980),p. 9.

8. Scadding,Toronto of Old,p. 461.

9. Smith,Young Mr. Smith in Upper Canada,p.10.

10. Joseph Bouchette,The British Dominions in North America,vol. 1(London:Longman,1832),p. 90.

11. Anna Jameson,Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada,vol. 2(London:Saunders and Otley,1838),p. 7.

12. Ibid., vol. 3,p. 355.

 


Previous    Next

Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991