Through the Highlands of York to Bond Lake Park
It is the summer of 1904. The Metropolitan Railway invites us to climb aboard a radial car at the Toronto city limits and travel north through the highlands of York County. Starting at the CPR crossing in North Toronto, our big green car glides north on Yonge Street, through the pleasant suburban villages of Deer Park, Davisville, Eglinton, and Bedford Park. Soon we are careening down the south slope of Hogg's Hollow as if on a roller coaster - the most talked-about part of any ride on the radial. Suddenly we are at the safety of the valley bottom, and then begin the long, slow climb up the north slope. Picking up speed, the car runs through Lansing and Willowdale, Finch's Corners and Newtonbrook, Thornhill, and Langstaff. Soon, the spires of Richmond Hill's churches come into view.
Richmond Hill, the Metropolitan Railway Guide Book and Time Table assures us, is a "picturesquely situated" community of some seven hundred inhabitants. From the tower of the Presbyterian Church "may be obtained a pleasing view of a wide range of scenery," while the village's elevation almost 200 metres (about 650 feet) above the level of Lake Ontario renders it "free from miasma and malaria [swamp fever]."
In addition to the usual list of handsome churches, imposing schools, fine hotels, and large public halls, the Metropolitan Guide Book singles out the following Richmond Hill attractions: a "well-equipped Fire Brigade," an "efficient Brass Band," and (in Matthew Teefy) "the oldest postmaster in Canada." The Guide Book also gives Richmond Hill full marks for its physical appearance: "sanitary conditions are excellent, its sidewalks concrete, and its streets beautiful with Canada's national tree, the Maple."
North of Richmond Hill and Elgin Mills, the "well-tilled lands with comfortable ivy-covered domiciles, commodious barns and silos" demonstrate that "this is a farming district second to none in the Province." At Jefferson we are "struck by the great elevation of the country hereabouts." Soon, our radial car approaches Bond Lake Park, the "Mecca of the pleasure seeker, nestling in a wooded dell to the right, one of the most beautiful sheets of water in Ontario."
On to Oak Ridges, on the height of land between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. We are now among the "famed Highlands of York County, a rugged, picturesque part of the country." From a height of some 250 metres (about 800 feet) above Lake Ontario, our car gently descends the north slope of the ridge, heading for Aurora and Newmarket.
"To the population of the towns and villages along the line of the Metropolitan," the company brochure reminds us, "electricity has proved a great boon. Farm lands within ten miles of the line increase in value considerably. The farmer can ship his produce to the city in an incredibly short time. By the Metropolitan Railway, the public are enabled to reach the Metropolis with considerable saving of time and money."
Well might the Metropolitan boast of its accomplishments. Statistics for the year ending June 30, 1904, showed healthy net earnings of $38,418 on 464,104 passengers carried. Its interurban service now offered eight trips daily between Toronto and Newmarket, covering the distance in a fast hour and a half. A ninth early morning run served the Richmond Hill-Toronto commuter traffic.
And then there was Bond Lake! For generations swimmers and boaters had enjoyed this twenty-two-hectare (fifty-five-acre), spring-fed lake in summer months, while curlers used its frozen ice for their winter sport. Then in 1899, the Metropolitan Railway purchased the eighty-hectare (two-hundred-acre) William Bell farm around the shores of the lake for its park. It built the necessary railway sidings and loading platforms, and began landscaping the grounds.
The virtues of Bond Lake Park are lavishly extolled in the Metropolitan Railway Guide Book and Time Table:
Add the value of relaxation: "To the business man worried with the cares of the office or store, or the mechanic weary with the toil of the workshop or factory, close confinement and long hours, the Park offers a delightful retreat where, under the shade of the beautiful trees, they may enjoy a siesta, feast their optics on the enchanting scenery, and inhale the exhilarating air of the region."
Everything was perfectly safe. "Bond Lake commends itself to parents as an ideal place to allow the little ones to roam around to their hearts' content without the remotest fear of any harm befalling them. An efficient staff of trustworthy attendants are always on duty in all parts of the Park, and the fact that there has never occurred a mishap of any kind here speaks volumes for this most delightful picnicking grounds."
Finally, the promise of romance. "A splendidly shaded promenade makes a nice approach from Yonge Street to the Pavilion, which is prettily situated on rising ground. This Pavilion, 60 x 60 in size, with dressed spruce floors always well oiled, is illuminated at night by 60 incandescent lights, and here excursionists may trip the light fantastic to the accompaniment of a piano supplied free by the management."
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991