The Danforth Story
Danforth History Alive at Nisbet Lodge
Danforth History Alive at Nisbet Lodge
Nisbet Lodge opened in 1973 at 740 Pape Avenue, just north of the Danforth. It began as a retirement home that gradually evolved into long-term care. In 1993, the organization opened McClintock Manor a seniors housing building next door.
Over the years many of our residents had grown up or worked in the area. We have celebrated this connection with east Toronto with a Danforth History Gallery, Curio Cabinet and in 2008 published our first book called, “Our Danforth: one hundred years of memories”. It has sold over a 1,000 copies reflecting the keen interest in this part of the City. For those who like local history the following is an article entitled, “Reminiscences of Earlier Days on the Danforth”. It was published in the 1966 edition of The York Pioneer. Once COVID is over you are welcome to come for a tour of the gallery and its many historical photographs.
Taken in a taped interview with Mr. James E. Smith, who was born on Eastern Ave., opposite Cherry St. He went into real estate business in 1919 Gerrard St., but soon moved to Danforth and Broadview where he is today. His father, James, was an early member of the York Pioneer and Historical Society. Mr. Smith is the only surviving Charter Member of the Riverdale Kiwanis Club.
My recollections first of the Danforth, was coming in a horsecar from downtown where I lived and moving up to my father’s new property he bought just west of Pape Ave., on the north side of Danforth, which is now called Gough Ave. We had a large orchard there and at that time, to the best of my memory, there were only three or four houses on the north side of Danforth between Pape and Broadview.
At the corner of Pape there was a Mills family on the southwest corner, Frankland who had a slaughter house behind the house on the north east corner, and we lived just west of Pape on the north side of Danforth. When you got closer to Broadview there were three or four cottages where the Browns, two private detectives, lived, and a blacksmith shop at the corner of Broadview and Danforth.
On the south side there were two families from Broadview and Danforth, to the best of my memory – the Beasley family and the Hallet family. That represented Danforth Ave. when I lived there back in those days.
It was mostly market gardens. Mills at the corner had a large market garden, we had a large orchard. Playter had a market garden, Beasleys had a garden. Mrs. Beasley used to get arrested occasionally for practicing medicine without a license. They became quite rich family and the Mills became quite a rich on account of the properties – the oldest properties advanced in price. When we first moved out to the Danforth the property was worth three dollars a foot.
My father paid extra money to allow me to go to a city school. I went from Pape and Danforth to Boulton Ave. school cutting through the fields and it was a long trip especially during the winter. Mostly my father drove me to school in the winter months in his cutter because he attended business – he worked in the Market – St. Lawrence market – he was a buyer of hay and feed and grain and stuff for the Fire Dept., the Police Dept. and other large firms.
In my time on the Danforth, I want to let you know I moved away later on, for a while, and came back – during my time on the Danforth there were no European people whatever lived on the Danforth to my knowledge. They came after I moved away.
My father always claimed they’d have to build a viaduct across the Don river, but we had moved downtown again after that, prior to the viaduct being built. But as time went on I came back into business on the Danforth.
One of the things I remember most was that my parents used to allow me to go in my bare feet from the 24th of May till the beginning of September and it was a pleasure to me to get out in my bare feet and run in the muddy road along Danforth Ave. It was a mudhole – that was what made it so nice to run in, in your bare feet. The mud squeezing in between your toes was nice and soft.
There was a plank sidewalk along the Danforth and one thing I remember which struck me very funny was that one day I was walking along the sidewalk near Carlaw Ave., which stopped when it reached Danforth Ave., the sidewalk was all raised up and on my inspection underneath there was a great batch of English mushrooms that had forced the sidewalk up. I took them home and had a good feed. The only thing I can tell you mostly about the Danforth is that the north side was the country and the south side the city. In the fields, the pasture fields and the cow fields where the cows fed, and such like.
My first professional ball game that I remember seeing and I remember it quite well, was the corner of Broadview Ave., and Queen, and we had to go down a little street there and it is still there, knows as Baseball Place, where there was a few cottages. That would be back – I would be about 4 years old, I hadn’t started school, so it would be about 73 years ago. My mother’s nephew was pitching for Syracuse at that time, and they were playing Toronto. That is my first professional ball same and I’ve been a professional fan since.
Soccer, what we used to call football, now called soccer, was a game mostly played.
St. Barnabas’ Church then was on Ellerbeck Ave., and I went to Sunday school there. There was a burial ground at the back of the churchyard so people living on Ellerbeck are probably living where that old burial ground was, before they moved the church down to the Danforth.
I remember the Don river quite well. In the wintertime we used to sleigh ride down what is now known, I think, as Potter’s road. We’d start here at Broadview Ave., and go right down to the Don. In the summer time there was a damn built just about a hundred yards north of the bridge that crosses the Don on Potter’s road and we used to swim in there – that’s where I learned to swim, below the dam. Then when I got to be able to swim I could swim above the dam. The water was clean, nice and clean. It was a good running stream – in the spring of the year it used to wash the bridges away – across the Don such as Queen St. and the King St. bridges. It would rise and the ice would take the bridges away.
It was country – this was country – that was the outskirts of the city of Toronto. Of course it was all horses and buggies in those days. Broadview Ave. was a sand road and it was a hard job to get up to Danforth because of the sand. The blacksmith’s shop was here at the corner for people to take their horses to – and buggies and wagons to be repaired and such.
I think it was always called the Danforth, to the best of my memory. One thing I remember that stands out was the first five-cent movie which was right next door to my office – it is now a bowling alley. That’s the first moving picture theatre that I remember ever seeing. Mostly we picked apples during the apple season night and day to get rid of them. I was told there was 600 fruit trees on their property – we didn’t own it all – what we didn’t own we rented. I know I used to get sick of picking fruit. Very sick of it.
There’s a lot of things in my memory that probably wouldn’t be interesting to you, but very outstanding to me. The fields that we had to play in – so much opportunity for boys and girls to play – and of course we had to mind cows, and things like that, which kept us occupied. In the summer months, during my summer holiday my job was to pick black currants. I got 2c a quart, and I picked as many as twelve quarts in one day and got an extra cent because of picking a record amount of black currants in that day. The lady was very kind to me and instead of paying me 24c she made it 25, because I’d made the record.
Harris’s, what we used to call Harris’s boneyard – where they used to take all the dead horses – was east of Greenwood Ave. There was a country hotel, not far from Harris’s slaughter house, known as the Dutch farm, where sleighing parties in the wintertime would drive their sleighs out to and from the city and have a great affair. Where Greenwood Ave. is and where the new yard to Monarch Park is – it was known as Greenwood Ave. Bush – that’s the bush I used to go to pick flowers when it was spring of the year to take to my teacher at school. It was quite a bush, no trouble to get lost in if you didn’t know how to go around it. It is now known as Monarch Park.
You could buy land around Pape and Danforth for around $3 a foot. Some years later, I understand that Mr. Frankland sold the north west corner of Danforth and Pape, for a thousand dollars a foot. Such a price was never known before.
It wasn’t a village, it was just plain country. There was no village – the nearest store to our home at Pape and Danforth, was Broadview and Danforth. If I had to go to the grocery store, I had to go from there to Broadview and Danforth. Or, down to Gerrard and Pape. And I generally ran both ways. Probably that’s one of the reasons I’m over 70 years of age today.
The thing that stands out most in my mind was the fear that everyone had, that the world was coming to an end, when 1900 came in. But we were all mistaken. It just got around, and the news spread around the world was coming to an end, and people started to go to church, and such-like, with the fear that that thought brought on to people.
There was an inn, on Broadview Ave, about halfway between Danforth and Gerrard, on the east side of Broadview, and you could hardly get near it on account of the sand, the sand was so deep. It was an old country hotel with a verandah right across the front of it – I can see it now, standing there. But it disappeared a few years after we moved up here. I remember the Isolation hospital was on the west side of Broadview, not too far from where that hotel was. There’s a building across the south-west corner of Broadview, was a drug store, when I lived on Danforth, 71 years ago. The blacksmith’s shop was down at the Imperial Bank of Commerce. I believe they have a picture of that blacksmith’s shop in the bank. In fact he showed it to me.
Most of the storekeepers moved away from Danforth or have passed on. We have a candy store across here from my office, known as Danforth Sweets – has been here a great number of years – before I opened my office. There’s Caruso’s across here, they still own the building – they’re retired, they both passed on, but the family still owns the building – it is now a restaurant. Jupp’s shoe store has only recently within the last year or two – moved off the Danforth to Don Mills – they originally were in the shoe business when I was a boy on Queen Street. They moved up on to the Danforth when things started to boom for the Danforth district. Bill Humphries real estate, corner Lamb Ave., has been I believe the oldest real estate firm on the Danforth today. He was in business before I was. Palace theatre is one of the old theatres on the Danforth. Danforth, to me, as it grew, became one of the main streets of the east end of Toronto. Broadview and Danforth I used to use in my advertising, as a Gateway to the East End. It was a very busy street and an excellent business section. Everybody in business on the Danforth prospered. Today it had slowed up. In my opinion it will come back.
I sure would like to go back to the old days when Danforth was the country. There was a freedom in those days that we haven’t got today. Today, everybody is worried, in my opinion. In conversation with other people, I find they are worrying about taxes, being crowded out, worrying about their children, what kind of children they are playing with. When I was a boy we had so many fields to play in, we were allowed to run in our bare feet, there was a freedom to everything. Although, there was a law, also, and the law in my home was, that if I wasn’t in our house by nine o’clock at night, I don’t get out the nest night. That was in the summer months. The winter months, naturally, I’d want to be in before nine o’clock. But there seemed to be a freedom. There wasn’t the worry the hustle and bustle. If your horse felt like trotting a little bit, it trotted, and if it felt like walking, it walked. It took its time. Everybody didn’t rush and tear. Today it’s nothing but hustle and bustle.