A Picture of Prosperity and Contentment
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
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
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991