Living with Divided Loyalties
Meanwhile, Vaughan Township attracted residents from the west side of Yonge Street.David Bridgeford served on Vaughan council through the 1850s, including terms as deputy-reeve and acting reeve. Reverend James Dick of the Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church was appointed Superintendent of Common Schools in the township for 1850, an office that required him to inspect each school four times a year. Also serving Vaughan through the 1850s were G.P. Dickson as auditor, Abraham Law and James Lawrence as assessors, and Matthew Teefy as returning officer.
Such work could be personally rewarding, but it drew energies and attentions away from the core of the Richmond Hill community. Any Vaughan council meeting was likely to spend more time on the interests of its rural population, or perhaps the concerns of its Concord,Maple, and Woodbridge communities, than on Richmond Hill itself. Similarly, a Markham council meeting could easily focus on the eastern half of the township rather than on the Yonge Street strip along its far western boundary.
Despite such divided loyalties, Richmond Hill thought of itself as a community and a number of activities helped pull together the two sides of Yonge Street. Hotels, stores, and churches naturally catered to both sides of town. The Yonge Street Agricultural Society of 1849 united farmers from both east and west and union school sections brought Markham and Vaughan children together for their education.
But no community can exist as a unified body unless it has its own government, and that could only happen in Richmond Hill if the settlement was incorporated as a separate village. The first attempt at incorporation came in 1853, but ground to a halt when it was discovered that provincial legislation required a community to have a population of one thousand to qualify as a village. That was more than twice the size of Richmond Hill.
George P. Dickson moved a motion for incorporation, seconded by David Bridgeford.Abraham Law moved, again seconded by Bridgeford, for a large village area - from Lot 43 (south of Major Mackenzie Drive) north to Lot 52 (beyond Elgin Mills Road), and from the second concession of Markham(Bayview Avenue) in the east to the second concession of Vaughan(Bathurst Street) in the west. Wright,George P. Dickson,Law, and William Warren were named to a committee to push for incorporation, with Teefy as secretary. 1
Once again, the Richmond Hill petitioners were defeated. While the proposed village now met population requirements of 750 persons, its area was judged too extensive. Including Elgin Mills within Richmond Hill was considered too expansionist in 1857. (Little did the politicians know how much more than just Elgin Mills would be brought into the town of Richmond Hill with regional government and boundary extensions of the 1970s!)
Fifteen years passed before the next attempt at incorporation was made in 1872, this time with a much-reduced area. Proposed corporate boundaries were Markham-Vaughan Road (Major Mackenzie Drive) on the south, the northerly limit of Lot 48 (about Levendale Road) on the north, an irregular line beyond the Mill Pond on the west, and a line about at today's Canadian National Railway tracks on the east. The outline of the village was by no means a perfect square or rectangle. The larger portion was on the west, or Vaughan, side of Yonge Street, with a significant "arm" extending into Vaughan to include the lots located on Mill and Richmond streets.
Through 1872, the York Herald set out to convince any doubters that incorporation would answer the community's many needs. "For many years we have been much in need of a better fire preventive organization, improved sidewalks, decent sewers, and other sanitary desideratums too numerous to mention." With incorporation, however, "our sidewalks would be kept clear of snow, and in repair; no loose planks to trip up the unwary; no pigs, geese or other nuisances would be allowed on the streets." 2
As this birthdate approached, harnessmaker, saddler, and budding local historian William Harrison wrote a glowing article for the York Herald, touting Richmond Hill as the ideal community of York County. The high elevation, he wrote, offered a "salubrious atmosphere, free of miasma and fog in the summer months, and a clear, bracing, appetizing air for the winter season." The community possessed "ample educational facilities" for young people, diverse business opportunities for adults, and a quiet life for retired farmers. Churches, lodges, and the temperance movement were all well established. And for one and all, concluded Harrison, the village "provides such amusements for the leisure hour as will combine the feat of reason with the flow of the soul." 4
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991