Analysis of the Wallace family and their Cabbagetown lane housing projects

A Toronto laneway housing history

366H093 cover

Prepared 13 April 2009 for Prof. Gunter Gad (GGR366H1S, University of Toronto).

————— —— —————

In this paper:
Preface
The Wallace family holdings
Wellington’s sons
Keeping a close eye on their real estate
    Clara Street, 1884: Richard and the senior Wellington
    Dean Street, 1885–1890: Richard’s other laneway
    Wallace Avenue, 1885–1890: William’s shifty venture
    Wallace Avenue, 1885–1890: John Watson’s stake
Conclusion
Endnotes
Appendices
    Appendix A: figures
    Appendix B: Wallace family tree
    Appendix C: city directory listings by year — Richard and William
    Appendix D: figures

Preface

My research on laneway housing history in Toronto verified some expected findings, but it also yielded some surprising discoveries. I chose this topic due to my interest in contemporary laneway infill housing. I also began this endeavour wondering whether municipal hesitance for new laneway housing today stems from negative associations of laneway dwellings and mid-twentieth century slums built during the late 1800s. My primary research on old Cabbagetown (now Regent Park) revealed that these slums, some on privately built laneways, were developed when construction standards were lax and unregulated, particularly so around lesser populated areas of the former city liberties. The bulk of housing in this area was produced during the later 1880s and early 1890s, corresponding with the significant boom in both Toronto’s economy and population.

For the first part of this research project, I investigated five laneways located very close to one another. For this leg of the project, I refined my research focus to the history of three laneways. I excluded Briggs Ave. and Taylor St.: with minor exception, all housing on these two lanes were built by Daniel S. Briggs. The remaining laneways — Clara St., Dean St., and Wallace Ave. — were populated with lane housing built and owned by members of the Wallace family. Additional research helped uncover who they were and why they might have ventured into real estate.

The Wallace family holdings

The Wallace housing developments on Clara St., Dean St., and Wallace Ave. were built and mostly owned by two brothers, Richard and William. They are the focus of this report. My original hypothesis postulated these brothers were part of a gentry class whose history in Toronto reached to the earlier part of the nineteenth century. The City of Toronto’s Assessment Rolls, private city directories (such as Caverhill’s and Might’s), census records, and a few genealogical records helped to ultimately disprove this. As a side consequence, this work initiated a miniature genealogy project on the Wallace brood. They were from working class and pétit bourgeoisie backgrounds, and they had ways, perhaps through family members in banking, to obtain capital for real estate development.

As with their family, Richard and William were listed in census records as Protestant Irish immigrants of Methodist faith (a few of their siblings aligned with the Anglican church) [Figures 1–4].[1] The Wallace patriarch and matriarch, Wellington and Catherine, hailed from County Tipperary, Ireland. Details preceding their North American arrival required subscription access to Ireland’s digitized records. Shy of this, two findings helped provide a rough sketch: an online mailing list posting by an amateur genealogical researcher named G. Young and a transcription of a nineteenth century registry called the Griffiths Valuation of Ireland (probably a taxation registry).[2] Both reference the Wallace’s Tipperary provenance. Searches on Wellington (on the Ancestry.co.uk subscription search portal) revealed two brief citations linking him with the Royal Irish Constabulary, a nineteenth century national police force.[3] Young added that Catherine bore at least 13, possibly 14 children for Wellington; no fewer than three passed away in Ireland [Figure 5]. The rest of their children immigrated to North America: at least six settled in Toronto (one daughter married and settled in Montréal), while three settled in the New York/New Jersey area. Census records were confirmed for most of the Toronto siblings. Once Wellington and Catherine left Ireland, it is possible they lived in England for a few years before stopping first in Philadelphia, then moving to Toronto in 1882. Wellington Sr. was listed in the city directories between 1884 and 1888 as both a farmer and a labourer (and again a labourer in 1895), while assessment rolls for 1890 and 1891 listed him as “Gent.” — possibly “gentleman”, owing to his patriarch status or even a distinguished background in policing. The exact date of Wellington and Catherine’s deaths were not determined, but both were alive for the 1901 census count. At that time, Wellington, also known as “Will”, was three months shy of his 88th birthday while Catherine was 72. She was listed as a widow on the 1911 census count [Figure 3, at bottom].

Wellington’s sons

Some of their children immigrated to Canada beforehand. William Henry (b. 1855) and another brother, Wellington Jr. (b. 1856), arrived to Toronto in 1870. Richard (b. 1853) and an elder brother, Jeremiah (b. 1851), followed in 1874. A fifth brother born in England, James (b. 1874), arrived with his parents and worked in Toronto as a contractor before joining the Canadian forces along with his older brother, Wellington Jr. (see Appendix B for a family tree). It is possible that William and Wellington Jr., who where in their mid-teens when they landed, stayed with relatives in Toronto. Richard and Jeremiah, meanwhile, arrived as adults and likely established themselves independently.

Wellington Jr. and Jeremiah both had careers in Toronto’s financial sector: Wellington Jr. worked as a savings and loan teller after a stint as an assurance company accountant, while Jeremiah was a bank messenger. These brothers, given their banking connections, might have assisted with financing for Richard and William’s laneway houses, but this could not be confirmed. Both nevertheless would have provided strong loan references. Richard was listed as a labourer in the 1876 city directory, but by 1877 joined the police force as a constable. In 1878, he settled at a house on Ontario St. and remained there for several decades with his wife Isabella and three children. William was also listed in the 1879 city directory as a bank messenger before enlisting as a police constable by 1881. He married Annie in 1884, and they raised one daughter. Between 1901 and 1911, they separated.

Keeping a close eye on their real estate

On a matter of clarity, street re-numberings in Toronto occurred with frequency during these early periods when lot subdivisions and developments were most active. For example, William’s residence on Wilton Ave. changed from 278 to 294 to 338 within five years. Richard’s home was re-numbered at least once. City directories were reviewed for every year between 1875 and 1900 (and spot checks on 1867 and 1859). Richard and William were consistently listed as constables for Police Station No. 1. No address record verified station No. 1’s location, but Goad’s Atlas maps for 1884, 1890, 1894, 1899, and 1903, and a map inside Might’s Toronto City Directory of 1879 show a police station at 218 Wilton Ave. (later 252), near Parliament [Figures 6–8]. The Clara and Dean laneways were carved into the same block as the station, while Wallace Ave. was etched into an adjacent, subdivided block just east of Sackville St. The northwest corner of the block hosting the police station also featured Primitive Methodist Church at Oak and Parliament. With ready access to both the station and the family’s denominational church, Richard and William’s decision to build here (and possibly on their patrol beats) probably seemed a prudent, if not convenient plan.

The Wallace family’s real estate ventures began around when Wellington Sr. and Catherine came to Toronto. In the 1883 city directory street index, Wellington Sr. was listed at 19 Oak St. Across the street, William was listed as a boarder at 84 Oak St., though this might have been a typo for 34 Oak St., the front/rear property listed in 1883’s assessment rolls as split-owned between Richard and Wellington (it was unconfirmed whether this was Wellington Sr., or Jr.). It is possible that Wellington Jr., who by 1885 worked for Central Bank, allowed William to live with him while he built personal equity. Wellington Sr. moved to 1 Clara St. in 1884. By 1885, both Wellingtons lived at 1 Clara St., while William moved to a house on Wilton Ave. next door from where he would settle for several years. As mentioned in the next section, 34 Oak St. was soon sold, explaining possibly why the 1884–85 dwelling shuffle took place. The brothers Wallace may have owned and developed other real estate, but this barring database access to assessment rolls, this remains unknown.

Clara Street, 1884: Richard and the senior Wellington

1884 was a real estate watershed for the Wallaces. Goad’s Atlas of 1884 shows 17 and 19 Oak St. as two semi-detached, brick façade houses on the northwest corner of a medium-sized square lot roughly 218′ deep by 188′ wide (as mentioned earlier, Wellington Sr. and Catherine briefly lived at 19 Oak St.). This lot, labelled “1” on Goad’s Atlas (lot #1 on south side of Oak St.), also had two “untethered” houses built in anticipation of Clara St. Neither — later 2 and 6 Clara — was a Wallace holding. But across the future Clara St., a set of west-facing row houses situated on the western end of lot #2 (south side of Oak St.) were under construction. These were all built by the Wallaces: 1 Clara was owned and occupied by the senior Wellington from 1884, while 3–9 Clara were leased out by Richard. Also, three row houses on the northwest limit of lot #2 — 27–31 Oak St. — were owned by Richard (he also sold three other lots, 30–34 Oak St., which were used to build East Presbyterian Church before 1890). In all, the Wallaces owned half of lot #2 (once the back yard overhang for the odd-numbered Clara lots was included). Early assessment rolls might help verify from whom this land was purchased before Richard developed housing, whether he also built the 27–31 Oak houses, and whether the Wallaces held any stake in the eastern remainder of lot #2.

Dean Street, 1885–1890: Richard’s other laneway

Along with the east side of Clara St., Richard owned several lots on the Dean St. laneway. Goad’s Atlas of 1884 showed tentative lot demarcations for Dean St., but these were redrawn as narrower lots before housing was built on either side. Richard purchased seven east-facing (west side) lots for 2–14 Dean St., while lots and housing for the east side were purchased, held and traded by several independent parties. Between 1885 and 1889, Richard built narrow row houses on 2–14 Dean, while subdividing the back yards of 1–9 Clara St. to make room for another house at the top (north) end of the Dean St. He later built 16 Dean St., a semi-detached brick house; two attached houses next door, 15 and 17 Dean, were owned and built by other parties. These three newer houses were, according to assessment rolls, vacant in 1890, indicating that they were not yet finished.

Wallace Avenue, 1885–1890: William’s shifty venture

William, like Richard, delved into real estate, but did so in a fashion that seemed to obscure the intent of his ventures. Whereas Richard’s properties were consistently registered in assessment rolls by their laneway names, suggesting at least a municipal recognition of their existence, William pursued an ambiguous tack by creating Wallace Ave. and developing housing for on it. One ambiguity was the lane’s name, which at times was listed in Goad’s Atlas and city directories as Midland Place, and alternately as Wallace Ave. Another dubiety was how these lane houses were registered: assessment rolls officially designated both sides of Wallace Ave. as rear property dwellings of two houses located on Wilton Ave. This will be discussed momentarily.

The tract of land on which William’s houses were built was previously held by Thomas Davies, who owned the western two-thirds of lot #5 on the north side of Wilton Ave. (Daniel S. Briggs purchased the eastern third to develop Briggs Ave.). The few structures on the Davies tract were, according to Goad’s Atlas of 1884, little more than improvised roughcast shacks built as some of the earliest dwellings in St. David’s Ward. Most were demolished by Wallace to make room for row houses. The 1885 city directory listed William as a boarder at 276 Wilton Ave.; when assessment rolls were recorded that September, he had bought 276, 276 1/2, and 278, leasing out the latter.

In 1886, he bought most of the Davies tract (roughly 218′ deep by 105.5′ wide) which included the 282–286 Wilton lots; a freeholder at 280 delayed outright takeover until 1887. That year, William built two semidetached houses at the southwest corner of lot #5 (also the southwest corner of the former Davies tract) and moved into 278, the westernmost of the two; he leased the other, while selling 276 to John Watson. Although technically next door from the house he sold to Watson, William’s new home at 278 was first known as “294 Wilton” before changing to 338 Wilton in 1890. William then added three row houses on 342–346 (formerly 282–286) Wilton.

The Wallace Ave. laneway and William’s west-facing (east side) row houses were also under construction in 1887. These, oddly enough, were designated as rear additions to 346 Wilton — the southeastern house on the former Davies tract (and William’s easternmost Wilton holding) — even though none was near enough to be physically attached to 346. Goad’s Atlas of 1890 reveals the misleading nature of this scheme. William’s own home at 338 Wilton, situated at the corner of Wilton and Wallace, offered a common sense vantage from which these “at rear” designations could have been assigned. This is precisely what Watson did with his Wallace Ave. row housing behind 336 Wilton (formerly 276). But William may have dismissed doing this to keep his own home from being legally entangled with his lane houses in the event of legal complications. He might have also done this to sidestep property taxes or fees relating to municipal approval for new utility rights-of-way. Regardless, city assessments through at least 1895 showed Watson’s and William’s laneway houses as “rear” subdivisions behind 336 Wilton and 346 Wilton, respectively. Official “at rear” designations for these houses also mismatched Wallace Ave. mailing addresses. For example, “346 Wilton Ave., at no. 5 in rear” in assessment rolls was “5 Wallace Ave.” in city directories.

One subsequent transaction seems to allude further to the questionable motive behind William’s scheme. In 1891, he sold 346 Wilton Ave. to a Roman Catholic cooper named John Walsh but retained ownership over the rest of his holdings, including those on the laneway. While it is plausible that William (or the Wallace family) had no quarrels with Catholics — at a time when sectarian divisions were beginning to abate in Toronto — one nevertheless must wonder why an entire family, who were once Protestant minorities in an Irish Catholic county, left Ireland wholesale. Perhaps it was benignly due to the promise of economic opportunity in North America, or perhaps the decision was motivated by sectarian politics. They came during an ebb of Irish immigration to Canada.[4]

One must also acknowledge the social divisions between Protestants and Catholics in Toronto which, though improving somewhat, were still evident.[5] Most housing on these blocks, as with many holdings around the city, were overwhelmingly held by Protestants in a city run by the Orange Order.[6]

So did William sell 346 Wilton to Walsh to simply liquidate, or did he unload it on someone whom he considered an inferior while freeing himself from any thorny legal issues stemming from the 346 “at rear” lot houses (while still generating revenue from leasing them out)? If any of William’s properties were disposed to municipal scrutiny, 346 Wilton was perhaps most so given how the “3–13 rear” structures, literally around the block, were anything but adjacent to it. Did the Walshes — John and his widowed mother, Bridget — run into problems after the deal was closed? These are questions that could neither be confirmed nor dismissed through registry data alone, but the quick sale of only 346 Wilton so soon after construction seems more than just coincidence.

Wallace Avenue, 1885–1890: John Watson’s stake

As for the other Wallace Ave. laneway houses — “336 Wilton Ave., 2–16 rear” — these were completed in 1891 and owned by John Watson, a builder who spent most of his life in Toronto. He was born in Québec and son to an English Methodist immigrant who also was a carpenter. The 1867 city directory listed both men at the same Gerrard St. address. By 1875, the younger Watson settled on Mutual St. for at least the next quarter century. An obituary record confirmed his death in 1933 at the age of 89 (see Appendix D). While unknown, he likely had hands-on involvement with his Wallace Ave. properties. Photos taken by the City of Toronto in the 1940s before demolition for Regent Park reveal that Watson’s lane houses and William’s differed architecturally: William’s more closely mimicked Richard’s Dean St. lane houses [Figures 10–13]. According to changes on Goad’s Atlas maps of 1890 and 1894, Watson widened Wallace Ave. when he added his laneway houses.

Conclusion

These findings corroborate academic literature that chronicle how Toronto’s housing growth flourish during a period of free market speculation and development.[7] The speed at which these laneways appeared seems to support that very little municipal involvement in planning or permit approval ever occurred.[8] A search through the City of Toronto Archives failed to yield any record that the Wallaces applied for building permits on their laneway houses. Assessment rolls verified that the material used in constructing all of their laneway houses included roughcast, some with added brick front façades. While the front brick façades maintained an aesthetic integrity over the decades, the roughcast showed tremendous dilapidation by the 1940s. Photos taken then showed telltale signs of classic slum housing conditions: crumbling walls, rotting wood, and neglect from poor maintenance.

In addition, these houses were cramped compared to new houses under construction in the post-WWII suburbs of Don Mills. The economic incentive to renovate these structures was likely neither cost-effective nor desired by the municipal government, much less by middle-class home buyers in the market then. Given how city planners were invested in urban renewal, it comes as small surprise that this immediate area, built at the peak of a laissez-faire, Victorian age boom, was targeted for the Regent Park project while many slightly larger, newer houses built further east (and thus after city enforcement began to improve) remain standing today in today’s Cabbagetown.

Endnotes

  1. Goheen, Peter G. 1970. Victorian Toronto, 1850 to 1900: pattern and process of growth. Chicago: University of Chicago, p. 80–1. This mix is supported by Goheen’s observation that working class Protestants were typically aligned with Methodism, while higher class aspirations remained more closely linked with the Anglican church.
  2. Griffiths valuation of Ireland, 1848–1864. Searchable database, retrieved 9 April 2009.
  3. Ireland, the Royal Irish Constabulary 1816-1921. Citation from subscription database entry at Ancestry.co.uk. Search query: Wellington Wallace, Tipperary, Ireland.
  4. Careless, J.M.S. 1984. Toronto to 1918: an illustrated history. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, p. 120.
  5. Goheen, p. 77–8.
  6. Goheen, p. 78–9.
  7. Careless, p. 96.
  8. Careless, p. 179.

Appendix

Appendix A: figures

Appendix B: Wallace family tree
Wallace family tree

Wallace family tree


Appendix C: city directory listings by year — Richard and William
city directory listings by year — Richard and William

city directory listings by year — Richard and William


Appendix D: city directory listings by year — Wellington (Sr.), Wellington (Jr.), and John Watson
city directory listings by year — Wellington (Sr.), Wellington (Jr.), and John Watson

city directory listings by year — Wellington (Sr.), Wellington (Jr.), and John Watson

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