Table of Contents
The Village at Mid-Century
Richmond Hill proved
a mystery to
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
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."
|Harness racing action at the
Richmond Hill Spring
Smith, another mid-century chronicler of Canadian communities, at least
avoided the sweeping generalizations of
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
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."
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
Yonge Street, as well
as new church and school buildings - all of which indicated a degree of
|A typical village house built in
the 1850s, located 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.
Fulton/Vanderburgh House at
Avenue, dating from the 1840s.
What was this
"smart little place" like in the middle of the nineteenth century? As
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
Drive north to about
Wright Street. But
development had also begun to the west of Yonge, with a few homes along
Mill streets as far
west as the
Mill Pond, and east on
|Examples of eighteenth- and
nineteenth-century dinnerware, found on the
Fulton/Vanderburgh Site.Archaeological Services
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.
Mill Pond to the west
housed a sawmill operation, while other streams beyond the village core
supported various gristmill and sawmill enterprises.
|Examples of eighteenth- and
nineteenth-century dinnerware, found on the
Fulton/Vanderburgh Site. Archaeological Services
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
Street Agricultural Society and held on the Queen's Birthday, the 24th
of May, 1849. Villagers flocked to the two-acre site southwest of
Yonge streets, while
crowds from the neighbouring countryside came in their horse-drawn buggies and
"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
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
Yonge Street, while
horse races were held along the road itself.
While the village's social life was getting livelier, the
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
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.
|Richmond Hill Methodist Church, dedicated on July 1,
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
Richmond HillMethodists hired
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
Dick, minister of the
Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church, 1847-1877.
Under the supervision of contractor
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
5 Other denominations followed suit: the
Mill Street in 1857 and
Yonge Street, south of
Presbyterians, in 1872.
|Notice for a temperance lecture at the
Richmond Hill Roman Catholic Church in April
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.
children moved from their old log school building to a new brick schoolhouse in
Public School was administered by the elected trustees of
Section No. 3 of
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
and gave some feeling of commonality to
There was no secondary schooling in
Richmond Hill until
1851, when "grammar school" classes began in a private residence. Two years
Grammar School moved into a building adjoining the
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
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
Public School, opened in 1847, pictured in a 1908
Village residents also
concerned themselves with the continuing education and enrichment of the adult
Hill Library Association held its inaugural meeting in December 1852,
and guaranteed a highly respectable and moral tone for its work by electing
James Dick as its first
president. Twenty-one months later, the association reported 357 books on the
shelves but only ten out to borrowers!
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
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
could still sport such a lofty motto as "Let sound reason weigh with us more
than public opinion."
|Record of the founding of the
Band in 1853.
Sir Richard Henry Bonnycastle,Canada and the Canadians in 1846,vol. 1(London: Henry Colburn,1846),pp. 185-87.
William Henry Smith,Canada: Past, Present and Future(Toronto:Thomas Maclear,1852),p. 287.
The Liberal,May 11, 1977.
G. Elmore Reaman,A History of Vaughan Township(Toronto:University of Toronto Press,1971),p. 205.
Reverend James Boyd,"Memoir of the Rev. James Boyd of Crosshill,
Ontario, 1814-1888" (N.P: n.d.),
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991