Data collection for selected laneways of Briggs, Clara, Dean, Taylor, and Wallace-Midland in the St. David’s Ward Area

A Toronto laneway housing history

366H092 cover

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

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In this paper:
Preface
Scope
    Investigation
    Primary research materials
Findings
    Recurring owner (freeholder) names
    Occupant demographics
    Re-numbered street addresses
    Other primary sources: directories
    City of Toronto photography
    Appendices
Summary
Appendices
    Appendix A: figures
    Appendix B: plates
    Appendix C: assessment roll data

Preface

Several primary sources enable findings to be realized — some more readily than others. This overview examines five selected laneways. They were assessed as to whether each qualified as laneways, whether city building permits were issued, and what kind of structures existed on each lot. During this research, selected laneways were given greater attention over others.

Scope

Investigation

Laneway candidates, all confined within scope of the Wilton-Parliament-Oak-Sumach block:

  1. CLARA STREET: 1–12, odd and even; ~44ft (width) by ~242ft (length)
  2. DEAN STREET: 1–17, ODD AND EVEN; ~44ft (width) by ~249ft 4in. (length)
  3. MIDLAND PLACE (was WALLACE AVENUE); ~18ft 4in (width) by ~242ft (length)
  4. BRIGGS AVENUE: 1–16, SANS 11–15 ODD; ~29ft 4in (width) by ~139ft 4in. (length)
  5. TAYLOR STREET: 1–21, SANS 2–8 EVEN; ~44ft (width) by ~242ft (length): span of inclusive addresses only; ~44ft (width) by ~322ft 8in (length): span of Taylor to Sumach Street intersection

Primary research materials

These primary authorities are being (and have been) used to assist the research:

  1. GOAD’S ATLAS OF THE CITY OF TORONTO: editions 1884, 1890, 1894, 1899 and 1903
  2. CITY OF TORONTO ASSESSMENT RECORDS, ST DAVID’S WARD / WARD 2: 1880–1891, mixed sampling (dominantly 1890, 1891, 1894)
  3. CITY OF TORONTO ISSUED BUILDING PERMITS: post-1882
  4. CITY OF TORONTO DIRECTORY: edition 1891
  5. CITY OF TORONTO DEPT. OF PUBLIC WORKS PHOTOS: 6 Feb. 1935 – 27 July 1951

Findings

An 1890 inventory of today’s Regent Park and Cabbagetown — St. David’s Ward and, later, Ward 2 (inclusive of Plate 28 and the southern portion of Plate 27 in Goad’s Atlas) — yielded 55 laneway street candidates. Prevalence of laneways within the scope increased as one moved south towards Queen Street. The criteria for identifying laneways was refined as follows:

  1. By establishing a baseline scale on the “standard” 66-foot street widths designated for main arterials within the City of Toronto (often demarcating boundary lines of former park lots and concessions), several narrower width streets were singled out;
  2. These candidates was culled by identifying an incidence of dead-end streets. It did not eliminate other candidates, but it helped to discern shared traits of subdivided lanes;
  3. Next, narrower streets (some as narrow as eleven feet — Hanover Place — spurring north from Queen) were evaluated on the presence of numbered addresses of lots facing these lanes (versus unnamed lanes with no lots or structures abutting these lanes);
  4. In a few instances, either the lane name or street numbers for existing buildings facing that lane were not labelled. These were not eliminated as candidates, but laneways frequently appeared in a sans-serif type face, whereas municipally-planned arterials (e.g., Parliament, Queen) were invariably labelled with Victorian-era serifed letterset.
Recurring owner (freeholder) names

Assessment rolls aided to identify several names owning properties on these laneways. The baseline year of 1890 (corresponding to the year on the map plates provided for this exercise) established a series of owners, or freeholders, possessing several contiguous properties on one or both sides of a laneway. Most of these properties were leased out. In two cases — Wallace Avenue and Briggs Street — laneways were named by these property owners under their surname. This established a benchmark when working through preceding years of assessment rolls to isolate details such as year when a privately built laneway first appeared, who owned the subdivided lots on that new laneway, and who owned that land preceding the subdivision.

Owners possessing no fewer than three laneway properties lived in any dwellings sited on these lots. They either resided elsewhere or lived nearby. The turnover rate of renting occupants in these dwellings was fairly high, although a handful of names stayed at the same addresses for years. In one case, an occupant moved from one laneway to a dwelling on another:

  1. WILLIAM WALLACE. Owned all odd-numbered properties on Wallace Avenue laneway and others on Wilton Avenue. This laneway appeared in the assessment rolls in 1887, but not as an official street as recognized by the municipality. Wallace Avenue dwellings were addressed as 346 Wilton Avenue, “3 rear/5 rear/etc.” After 1890, the city identified Wallace Avenue as its own entity separate from Wilton, and from 1907 was referred to as Midland Place. Street numbers continued to be identified with the “rear” designation, suggesting a lack of laneway recognition. William Wallace was the likely developer of these dwellings.

    Note: One of William Wallace’s properties on Wilton Avenue was from 1891 owned and occupied by another party named John Walsh (accompanied by a Bridget Walsh). This acquisition by Walsh interrupted an otherwise contiguous set of Wallace-owned properties.

  2. RICHARD WALLACE. Owned multiple properties on Clara Street and Dean Street. Clara Street appeared as a laneway on Goad’s Atlas after 1884, although 1884 assessment rolls indicated at least one occupant living in an unnumbered dwelling. Richard Wallace, all but probably a close relative of William Wallace, was related to a Wellington Wallace (listed as a “gentleman”) who owned and occupied a single property in 1890 on 1 Clara Street. The remainder of odd-numbered properties on Clara were owned by Richard (who is registered with a 317 Ontario Street address). Richard Wallace owned all even-numbered properties on Dean Street. Wallace was probably the developer of these properties.
  3. DANIEL S. BRIGGS. All properties on Briggs Avenue — a short, dead-end offshoot from the Taylor Street laneway — were owned by Briggs. He also owned all odd-numbered properties on Taylor Street up and to its intersection with Sumach Street (Taylor Street continued east of Sumach; while excluded from this inventory, those properties were owned by other freeholders). Both Briggs Avenue and Taylor Street appeared on Goad’s Atlas sometime between the 1884 and 1890 editions. Briggs was probably the developer of these properties.
  4. JOHN STEWART, SR. In 1890 and 1891, Stewart owned even-numbered properties on Taylor Street between Briggs and Sumach. Other years have not been examined to determine when these properties were first acquired. It is unknown whether he developed these lots.
  5. WALKER McDONALD. Listed with an address of 18 King Street East, McDonald owned all odd-numbered properties on Dean Street’s east side (1–13 Dean) in the 1890 assessment rolls. Walker McDonald released or sold these properties after 1890. It is unknown whether he was the developer of these dwellings.
  6. WILLIAM E. TOWNSEND. In 1891, he owned every property once owned by McDonald.
  7. CHRISTOPHER W. THOMPSON and ALFRED J. ATKEY. By 1895, Thompson assumed ownership on three Townsend holdings: 1–3 Dean Street. Atkey assumed ownership over 5–13 Dean Street. 1892–1894 assessment rolls have not been examined yet for Dean Street.
  8. JOHN WATSON. Owned and developed all even-numbered Wallace Avenue dwellings.

Of those freeholders holding no more than two lots, several were owner-occupants. It is unclear whether they developed their properties or merely purchased them from another freeholder who developed them. The next logical step was searching City of Toronto’s building permits. This, however, yielded little information: even for names like William Wallace, no permit was found for dwelling construction. It is not conclusive that these dwellings were built without city approval, but it may indicate a possibility that the city had no oversight over these laneway properties.

Occupant demographics

Occupants typically had working class backgrounds. Many were listed in construction trades (e.g., bricklayer, carpenter, plumber, painter, etc.). Given the rapid development of properties and dwellings during this period of growth, it is conceivable that some of these labourers built the very dwellings which they or their neighbours inhabited. Several women were household heads, though no profession or age was listed (reflecting their legal status as lacking many of the citizenship rights which men enjoyed). If any women held an occupation, it was not logged. Other occupations indicated a concentrated working class presence and, for some individuals, transient occupations. One notable pattern was police presence: William Wallace and others were police constables. Incidentally, a police station was located on Wilton Avenue near Parliament Street. Some occupants were also employed as “T.S.R.”; this was probably in reference to the still-nascent Toronto Street Railway.

Re-numbered street addresses

Extra care is required to avoid confusion from changes to street address re-numberings. It was a common and recurring practice during the inception of a subdivision. For example, one house was originally 276 Wilton Avenue until 1887. In 1888, it became 280 Wilton Avenue; in 1889, it was again re-numbered to 288 Wilton. Finally, in 1890, the address was changed to 338 Wilton Avenue, and that address remained the same for the remainder of all subsequent assessment rolls. Similarly, the 346 Wilton laneway “rear” houses were originally identified as either 282/284 Wilton. When street renumbering occurred, it became necessary to identify recurring patterns of freeholder and occupant names from year to year and verify when and to what degree these occurred. Failure to consider this presented an inaccurate record of ownership changes (or lack thereof) from year to year.

Other primary sources: directories

As with building permits, the 1891 edition of the City of Toronto directory was used to verify information about owners and occupants for properties on one selected laneway, Wallace Avenue. The names listed closely matched the occupants on the 1891 assessment roll.

City of Toronto photography

Several photographs exist in the City Archives. A significant archive of 4×5-inch black-and-white images, shot mostly during the first few decades of the twentieth century, are readily available for previewing and, in some cases, digitized for online searching. The collection referenced was a Department of Public Works fonds shot mostly between the 1920s and 1950s. These photos reveal that several dwellings were in various states of disrepair indicating a combination of poor building materials and/or limited upkeep over the half century or so following their construction. The construction also indicated fairly compact, even cramped living conditions. Based on building measurements listed in the assessment rolls, these photos corroborate small dimensions. What remains indeterminate from these photos is whether these dwellings were attached to the city sewage system.

Appendices

Three sections of appendices are provided. The first section, Figures 1–6, are excerpts from Goad’s Atlas. The second section, Plates 1–26, are from the photography fonds. The third section are spreadsheet tables that were manually transcribed from city assessment rolls.

Summary

The reference data accessed to this point in the research project offers a cursory, yet insightful glimpse behind the workings of development in Toronto’s late Victorian era. The findings appear to support the idea that much of Toronto’s development then was managed by private interests without any real municipal-level planning involved, and the stakeholders in this prospective real estate market came from a variety of backgrounds. This would suggest that private development operated on a speculative private market where developing in the right place at the right time hoped to yield a high return-on-investment. It is safe to say that this was not social housing in any sense.

What could not be determined? Income levels of the land owners or their familial provenance. These could fill in a much-needed biography that otherwise cannot be gleaned from property tax assessment reports. Given how this was the first golden age of photography, it is possible — though unlikely — that public archives could yield photos of owner-developers or first occupants in these laneway houses. Original blueprints are all but likely no longer in existence. Also, city utilities could not be determined, so it remains in question whether these laneway houses were equipped with electricity or water/sewage connections. This being an era of transition toward modern amenities like these, it is possible that these were added later rather than integrated into the original floor plans. Regardless, the cramped conditions indicate that — sanitation or not — these conditions were likely challenging to those families who moved into these places, perhaps being their first urban dwelling.


Appendix

Appendix A: figures

Appendix B: plates

Appendix C: assessment roll data

View: assessment rolls data sets [pdf].