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Chapter 6
Stagecoach Lines and Railway Tracks
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
The Village at Mid-Century
Harmony and Good Feeling: A Sunday School Picnic at the Richmond Hill Methodist Church, June 17, 1857
The Kinnear Murder Case
Hospitality on the Hill
Yonge Street By Stagecoach
Toll-Gates and Macadam Surfaces
Yonge Street on Foot and by Wagon
The "Oats, Straw and Hay" Railway
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

The Village at Mid-Century

Harness racing action at the annual Richmond Hill Spring Fair.
Richmond Hill proved a mystery to Richard Bonnycastle as he gathered impressions for his book, Canada and the Canadians in 1846. To this British-trained military engineer, "the vaunted Yonge Street mud road" was little more than a "Slough of Despond," and Richmond Hill itself left much to be desired. The Oak Ridges, wrote Bonnycastle, were "remarkable enough" and Dalby's Tavern was "a most comfortable resting-place for a wearied traveller. But of Richmond Hill," he concluded with a sigh of exasperation, "why so called I could never discover, for it is neither very highly picturesque, nor very highly poetical." 1

William Henry Smith, another mid-century chronicler of Canadian communities, at least avoided the sweeping generalizations of Bonnycastle. But Smith also found Richmond Hill a challenge as he collected details for his 1852 book, Canada: Past, Present and Future. Unlike most villages and small towns in Upper Canada, Richmond Hill lacked a major intersection or "four corners" - with buildings such as post office, bank, general store, and church - that told everyone where the centre was. Richmond Hill, wrote the perplexed Smith, was "a long village, stretching up and down the road for some distance. It is difficult," he continued, "to calculate the number of inhabitants, the houses being so scattered that it is scarcely safe to say what should be comprised within the legitimate limits of the village." 2

A typical village house built in the 1850s, located at 111 Richmond Street.
Both Bonnycastle and Smith passed on to other, more predictable communities, leaving Richmond Hill to its own peculiar existence. Had either visitor stayed longer, he might have counted some two to three hundred people living in the village in the mid-1800s. He might also have witnessed plenty of evidence of commercial activity along the stretch of Yonge Street, as well as new church and school buildings - all of which indicated a degree of community maturity.
The Fulton/Vanderburgh House at 32 Hillsview Avenue, dating from the 1840s.
Smith at least hinted at this when he summed Richmond Hill up as "a smart little place" before going on to describe Thornhill, the next community in his book. 3

What was this "smart little place" like in the middle of the nineteenth century? As Smith suggested, the majority of its houses and shops were strung out along Yonge Street, where Lots 46 and 47 had been subdivided on both sides of the road to provide small commercial and residential properties from Major Mackenzie Drive north to about Wright Street. But development had also begun to the west of Yonge, with a few homes along present-day
Examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dinnerware, found on the Fulton/Vanderburgh Site.Archaeological Services Inc.
Arnold,Centre,Richmond,Wright, and Mill streets as far west as the Mill Pond, and east on Church and Centre streets.

It was a busy community. By 1851, Richmond Hill boasted eight storekeepers, five innkeepers, three blacksmiths, six carpenters/cabinetmakers, three wagonmakers, a distiller, and three doctors. The
Examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dinnerware, found on the Fulton/Vanderburgh Site. Archaeological Services Inc.
Mill Pond to the west housed a sawmill operation, while other streams beyond the village core supported various gristmill and sawmill enterprises.

It was also a community that knew how to enjoy itself. Everyone turned out for Richmond Hill's first spring fair, sponsored by the recently formed Yonge Street Agricultural Society and held on the Queen's Birthday, the 24th of May, 1849. Villagers flocked to the two-acre site southwest of Arnold and Yonge streets, while crowds from the neighbouring countryside came in their horse-drawn buggies and wagons.

"Since there was no public address system available," wrote community historian Mary Dawson in later years, "a man with a loud voice, mounted on horseback, made the rounds of the hotels calling out the list of events, summoning the thirst quenchers to participate." 4 Sheep and hogs were exhibited in pens, poultry were shown in crates, and cattle were tied to fences. A tightrope walker displayed his art on a rope stretched between two hotels on opposite sides of Yonge Street, while horse races were held along the road itself.

Richmond Hill Methodist Church, dedicated on July 1, 1849.
While the village's social life was getting livelier, the churches of Richmond Hill were subsiding into a state of respectability. The transformation was especially noticeable among the Presbyterians. What a change it must have been to move from the fiery tenure of Reverend William Jenkins to the conservative regime of Reverend James Dick.Jenkins had continued to preach both religious and political radicalism until his death in 1843. But once Reverend Dick began his thirty-year stint as pastor in 1847, discussion seems to have focused more on choir stalls and organs than on voluntarism, disaffection, and rebellion.

Reverend James Dick, minister of the Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church, 1847-1877.
Village Methodists were also forsaking their once-radical past. Gone were the circuit riders, the saddlebag preachers and - except for special occasions - the open-air revival meetings that had formed the backbone of Yonge Street Methodism in the early years of the nineteenth century. Gone, too, were the years of meeting in settlers' cabins or sharing sanctuary space with the Presbyterians. In 1847, Richmond HillMethodists hired Reverend Robert Campbell as their resident minister and engaged Thomas Harris as architect to design a permanent church building on the east side of Yonge Street, about a block north of the Presbyterians.

Notice for a temperance lecture at the Richmond Hill Roman Catholic Church in April 1859.
Under the supervision of contractor Uriel Chamberlain, a frame of massive timber was soon erected and closed in. Even though the plastering of walls had not been completed, the church was opened and dedicated on July 1, 1849. Soon afterwards, the pews were finished and the tallow candles were replaced by gas lights. 5 Other denominations followed suit: the Roman Catholics built a church on Mill Street in 1857 and the Anglicans built one on Yonge Street, south of the Presbyterians, in 1872.

Meanwhile, the Monday-to-Friday life of village youngsters was being regulated with increasing efficiency. Throughout all of Upper Canada from the mid-1840s on, common schooling shifted away from tuition fees to public funding, and family control of education was gradually replaced by a publicly administered system. Richmond Hill's children moved from their old log school building to a new brick schoolhouse in 1847. The Richmond Hill Public School was administered by the elected trustees of Union School Section No. 3 of Markham and Vaughan townships. This and other "union" school sections formed by local ratepayers along Yonge Street both south and north of the village centre helped break down the administrative division between Markham and Vaughan townships and gave some feeling of commonality to Richmond Hill residents.

Richmond Hill Public School, opened in 1847, pictured in a 1908 photograph.
There was no secondary schooling in Richmond Hill until 1851, when "grammar school" classes began in a private residence. Two years later the Richmond Hill Grammar School moved into a building adjoining the public school and employed Reverend James Boyd as its headmaster. Boyd was a busy man, teaching all week in Richmond Hill, then serving as Presbyterian minister in Markham on Sundays. Still, he found time to develop a new approach to teaching geometry that was accepted by the provincial education authorities. 6 But like so many nineteenth-century schoolmasters and clergymen, Boyd's stay in Richmond Hill was brief; after four years he moved on to another church position in Waterloo County.

Village residents also concerned themselves with the continuing education and enrichment of the adult mind. The Richmond Hill Library Association held its inaugural meeting in December 1852, and guaranteed a highly respectable and moral tone for its work by electing Presbyterian minister James Dick as its first president. Twenty-one months later, the association reported 357 books on the shelves but only ten out to borrowers!

Record of the founding of the Richmond Hill Band in 1853.
The decade of the 1850s also gave birth to the community's first newspaper. The York Ridings Gazette and Richmond Hill Advertiser made its debut on June 12, 1857, with William Trudgeon as manager and editor, using lines from the poet Lord Byron to proclaim its mission: "With or without offence to friends or foes / We sketch the world just as it goes." Within two years, however, economic realities forced the newspaper through a number of name and ownership changes, while local political realities encouraged it to support Liberal policies and programs. Still, the revamped York Herald of March 25, 1859, now under the editorship of Malcolm McLeod, could still sport such a lofty motto as "Let sound reason weigh with us more than public opinion."

Notes

1. Sir Richard Henry Bonnycastle,Canada and the Canadians in 1846,vol. 1(London: Henry Colburn,1846),pp. 185-87.

2. William Henry Smith,Canada: Past, Present and Future(Toronto:Thomas Maclear,1852),p. 287.

3. Ibid.

4. The Liberal,May 11, 1977.

5. G. Elmore Reaman,A History of Vaughan Township(Toronto:University of Toronto Press,1971),p. 205.

6. Reverend James Boyd,"Memoir of the Rev. James Boyd of Crosshill, Ontario, 1814-1888" (N.P: n.d.), p. 6.

 


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Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991