LYTTON PARK'S HERITAGE

ORIGINS OF THE LYTTON PARK AREA

On this site, c. 1450 A.D., stood what may have been the first human settlement in North Toronto as a Wendat village. The settlement, which covered about 2 hectares, was probably palisaded and included several longhouses. Surrounding it would have been many hectares of cleared land for the ‘Three Sisters’ (corn, squash and beans) agriculture practiced by the peoples of the Great Lakes area, including the Iroquois, Haudenosaunee Five Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca). The hill on the site is thought to be man-made, the result of the practice of burrowing food stocks underground.

The area’s Indigenous history was obscured by the renaming of the site, first as Jackes-Eglinton in the 1800’s after the property owner at the time, and then again in 1927 when a new school was built and named after Edmund Allenby, a prominent British war hero and Imperial Governor. It’s not clear what Allenby’s connection to Canada was.

David Boyle, later appointed Provincial Archaeologist, first examined the Indigenous artifact remains in 1887. When the site was excavated, there were eighty-one pottery works found, eighteen worked bone pieces, two pipes and one lithic. Among the eighty-one pottery types that were found were twelve Huron incised, one Onondaga Triangular, one Roebuck Corn Ear and two Toronto Trailed. Twenty-seven other pottery types were also found, only one piece was unidentifiable.

A series of ‘lost rivers’ were found near the settlement such as Mud Creek and Willow Creek that now run underground.

More recently, Eglinton Park was the site of Pears Brickyard, established in 1885 to manufacture bricks. The City of Toronto purchased it for parkland in 1926. The park’s shape and location in a valley are characteristic of Toronto parks located in former brick yards or sand pits. Early photographs show Mud Creek in the background of the Pears Brickyard, but it is unclear today exactly what route the creek followed and if any of the original bank remains. 

Lytton Park was a 200 acre farm lot granted to John MacDougall, a United Empire Loyalist. In 1828, the Snider family built the first house in the neighbourhood at 744 Duplex Avenue between Lytton and Glencairn as pictured below. It is one of the oldest private residences in Toronto. 

The Jackes Site
Snider Farm House

CAPITOL THEATRE

The Capitol Theatre has been a landmark in North Toronto for over 100 years and one of only a few remaining original vaudeville/movie houses built in Toronto in 1918.  This spectacular theatre is an important example of the Odeon cinema-style architecture, featuring a romantic  grand interior and sumptuous seats. The building was especially valued during the Great Depression in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when anyone with the money to buy a ticket could find respite from the hardship of daily life inside the theatre’s palatial interior.  Its attractive decorative brick exterior and iconic marquee are a physical manifestation of the famous quote by renowned theatre architect S. Charles Lee, ‘The show started on the sidewalk’.

For over 100 years The Capitol Theatre has been part of the visual culture of Toronto’s Lawrence/Lytton Park neighbourhood.  It’s an enduring reminder of our community history and collective memories, and is both an architecturally and socially important historical feature of Toronto’s past.  Today, the Capitol Theatre continues to serve the community as a successful event theatre where local residents, businesses, schools and community groups host a wide variety of events from fairy-tale weddings, anniversary and birthday celebrations and charity fundraisers to concerts and major corporate events.   The building was recently purchased by Madison Homes and will be redeveloped. LPRO successfully nominated the Capitol Theatre Complex as a Heritage Listing, thereby saving an important facade of North Toronto history.

Capitol Theatre circa ?
Capitol Theatre today

LOYAL ORANGE LODGE/ EGLINTON SCHOOL

LPRO is proud to announce that the Loyal Orange Lodge/Eglinton School has received City Heritage Listing.  North Toronto’s first school sits off a private laneway directly behind the block of retail properties fronting onto Yonge Street between Castlefiled and St. Clements Avenues.  Built in 1850, the one room brick schoolhouse, now known as the Eglinton Orange Hall, was originally Eglinton School, the sole school for the Village of Eglinton.  Today it’s one of North Toronto’s oldest buildings.

The original Eglinton School was a one-room log schoolhouse built in 1842 on a lot severed from the George Ward farm, on the southwest corner of Yonge and St. Clements Avenue.  The Ward farm also provides the site for St. Clement’s Anglican Church and St. Clement’s School.  A fire destroyed the original wooden schoolhouse, and in 1850 a brick building was constructed on the same site.  It continued to serve the students as the area school until the construction and opening of a larger Eglinton Public School in 1887, now known as John Fisher Public School on Erskine Avenue.

The building was also the birthplace of several of North Toronto’s great churches. It served as the Anglican church until the congregation completed construction of St. Clement’s Church west of the subject property in 1892. It was then home to Eglinton Presbyterian Church until that congregation moved to 14 St. Clements, on the northwest corner of Yonge and St. Clements. In 1908 the Members of the Orange Lodge purchased the land and building from the Presbyterian Church and moved it to the current site off the laneway.  They continue to own it to this day.

LPRO is committed to keeping these historically significant and grand old buildings safe from the wrecking ball so that we may preserve them for future generations.

Eglinton School / Orange Hall 1958
Orange Lodge Today

VERNA PATRONELLA JOHNSTON

North Toronto has a fascinating history and one individual, Verna Patronella Johnston (1909-1996), was an important contributor to it.

Verna was an Ojibway author, mother, grandmother and mentor, known for her work in helping Indigenous youth adapt to urban life. She exhibited a strong presence in both her community of Cape Crocker and the City of Toronto.

When one of Verna’s granddaughters expressed interest in taking a secretarial course, Verna insisted that she attend Shaw’s Business College in Toronto. The prospective student was interested in moving but was intimidated by the city and being away from home. Verna decided to relocate to Toronto with two of her granddaughters and provided a comfortable and safe home for them within a small third floor apartment. The girls enrolled in business courses and had the support necessary to face new experiences with more ease. They knew of other Indigenous students in boarding homes who struggled with social acceptance by their boarding families and felt disconnected with the city as a result. But Verna’s granddaughters’ experiences were not free from difficulties. Verna insisted that the girls invite non-Indigenous students to the house, as she believed that part of living in the city was to establish new relationships. However this effort was thwarted as the girls faced several rejected invitations.

Eventually three more of Verna’s granddaughters came to Toronto to attend school. The apartment wasn’t big enough so in 1996 Verna rented a large house in North Toronto, in a nice residential area close to public transportation. This was not the first time Verna had opened her home and heart to multiple youth. Before moving to Toronto with her granddaughters she worked as a foster mother for many years. The new home on Blythwood Road was the first boarding house for Indigenous students run by an Indigenous person and Verna ran it for several years. By 1972 the boarding house had moved to a new locations on McGill Street before closing in 1973. During this period of her life in Toronto Verna wrote and published a book, Tales of Nokomis, which features stories of teaching by Nokomis (grandmother) that were passed down orally to her in her own youth. 

In 1976 Verna Patronella Johnston was awarded the title of Indian Woman of The Year by the Native Women’s Association. In 1976 her inspirational life story was written and presented in I am Nokomis, Too by R. M. Vanderburgh. 

Adapted from First Story Toronto