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Chapter 8
Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
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
7 The Neighbours at Mid-Century
8 Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
Living with Divided Loyalties
A Time and a Place for Swimming
Community Spirit
The First Village Council
"Wants of the Village"
"A Local View of 1874"
Who Was Who in the 1873 Municipal Elections
The Richmond Hill Fire Brigade
Fighting Fires with Hand Pumpers
The Trench Carriage Works
Miss Aiken Then Sang "The Woodland Tree"
Life in the Newly Incorporated Village
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

Living with Divided Loyalties

Employees in front of Archibald Wright's carriage and undertaking business on the west side of Yonge Street (present-day site of Marshall Funeral Home) sometime in the 1880s.
The mid-century health of the surrounding townships proved a mixed blessing to a Richmond Hill still struggling to establish its own civic identity. Agricultural prosperity was naturally welcomed, for it put extra cash in the hands of nearby farm families, and brought them into town with money to spend at Richmond Hill's stores and service industries. Yet this same prosperity and population growth only strengthened the political fabric of those surrounding townships at the expense of Richmond Hill.

Village of Richmond Hill in 1878. Ted Chirnside,Richmond Hill Pioneers Map
While Markham and Vaughan in the south and Whitchurch and King to the north established their own civic identities as townships within the York County and Upper Canadian municipal system, Richmond Hill lacked any official corporate existence beyond its designation as a post office. The community's identity was further complicated by the fact that Yonge Street divided it into two parts. Everything east of the street was officially part of either Markham or Whitchurch Township; everything to the west lay in Vaughan or King Township.

Richmond Hill and vicinity in 1878. Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee
Richmond Hill residents, therefore, were forced to work for their civic goals through these several township councils. In 1850, Amos Wright, a local Richmond Hill entrepreneur with interests in milling and farming, was elected the first reeve of Markham after rural municipal institutions were established in Upper Canada. Wright relished public life and enjoyed the confidence of local electors, and in 1851 he began a sixteen-year stint as member of the Canadian Parliament for the riding of East York.

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.

Amos Wright, first reeve of Markham Township in 1850, member of Parliament for East York from 1851-67, and chairman of the October 1857 meeting that supported the incorporation of Richmond Hill as a village. National Archives of Canada, PA 33494
The Amos Wright home at 19 Church Street North, built about 1840. The home is now owned by the Town of Richmond Hill and is being considered as a possible future site for the Richmond Hill Museum.
After this population requirement was lowered to 750, Richmond Hill community leaders called a meeting in October 1857 to reopen the incorporation question. Member of Parliament Amos Wright chaired proceedings, and postmaster Matthew Teefy acted as secretary. Various speakers claimed they were contributing liberally through taxes to Markham and Vaughan townships and receiving little or nothing in return.

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

The call goes out for nominations for Richmond Hill's first village council.
But there were few doubters; timing and tactics were ideal, and it was third time lucky for Richmond Hill. A petition signed by nearly every ratepayer in the proposed village went before York County Council. The necessary bylaw passed quickly through its various stages without going into committee, county council approved incorporation on June 19, and the province put up no obstacles. The incorporated village of Richmond Hill would come into existence on January 1, 1873. 3

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

Notes

1. York Ridings' Gazette,October 30, 1857.

2. York Herald,March 22, 1872, and June 21, 1872.

3. "A By-Law to Incorporate the Village of Richmond Hill, 19th June 1872." By-Laws Passed at the Second Meeting of the Council of the County of York, 1872.

4. York Herald,November 8, 1872.

 


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