We’ve registered a Jane’s Walk, with a 10:30 am start at the East Parking Lot at Marie Curtis Park, for Sunday, May 6, 2012.
We owe many thanks to Councillor Grimes’ office for suggesting that we organize this walk, and for providing details about the Jane’s Walk registration process.
We owe thanks as well to Ruth Grier for providing details from her Jane’s Walk along the same route in May 2010. We are following in her footsteps. As well, we owe thanks to staff at Heritage Toronto, who have explained to us the tremendous value of such walks.
Below is a preliminary outline. Fact checking of information in this overview will be a first priority, as will be the addition of information related to the First Nations’ role in the history of Long Branch.
We appreciate the help we’ve received from Bert Crandall and Michael Harrison, in addressing factual errors in earlier drafts of this overview. Getting the facts straight, and avoiding the repetition of errors, is a key task in the development of our script.
Jane’s Walk – Long Branch to the Lakeshore Hospital Grounds
Sunday, May 6, 2012
10:30 am – 12:00 pm
This draft has been prepared by Jaan Pill. We welcome your comments, with a focus on ensuring information is accurate and that it presents a balanced overview of key points that we as residents feel it’s important to share.
Jaan Pill and Mike James will lead the walk, following a format established by long-time Long Branch resident Ruth Grier in a Jane’s Walk in May 2010.
Jaan Pill is a local resident and member of the Long Branch Historic Society. Mike James is a retired school principal with fond memories of growing up in the area in the 1960s. Mike James grew up in New Toronto, and got to know Long Branch well during those years. I’ve interviewed him for an oral history project and can attest that he has a highly detailed and vivid memory of buildings and personalities from those years.
Start: East Parking Lot at Marie Curtis Park
The walk begins at Marie Curtis Park at the mouth of the Etobicoke Creek, once a major wildlife habitat and scenic beauty location. The municipal boundary separating Toronto and Mississauga follows the original location of the mouth of the creek, which was some distance to the west of where it’s now located. We’ll show maps and aerial photographs to indicate the old boundary. We’ll specify how many metres of land a person would walk along, from current channel that delineates the mouth of Etobicoke Creek, in order to arrive at the Mississauga/Etobicoke border. The walk may include a visit to the border, so that it can be viewed up close.
The park was created as an aftermath of Hurricane Hazel in October 1954. Until the hurricane, what is now a park had been a community of small houses built upon the flood plain adjacent to the creek. The hurricane caused the deaths of seven people and the destruction of many houses.
The talk will include a discussion of Marie Curtis Park as a landfill site in its early years. A valuable reference on this topic is a report by Michael Harrison entitled Toward the ecological restoration of South Etobicoke (1997).
An $8-million Marie Curtis Park Revitalization project is currently under way in Long Branch. On the Mississauga side of Etobicoke Creek, the Lakeview Legacy Project has developed a plan to revitalize the area of parkland that includes the site of Canada’s first Aerodrome, which was managed by J.A.D. McCurdy, Canada’s first pilot and first person to fly an airplane in the British Empire. Also to the west are also located the Arsenal Lands where a Small Arms Plant employed many young women from across Canada during the Second World War.
The walk will also descrive conservation efforts in Long Branch both before and after Hurricane Hazel aimed at protecting the Etibicoke Creek watershed, with a view toward damage caused by flooding. Originally there was an Etobicoke Mimico Conservation Authority. The first head of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, formed some time after Hurricane Haze, was Herbert Richardson, known as the “Father of Conservation” in Ontario.
Colonel Samuel Smith
The British provinces of Upper and Lower Canada were created in 1791. John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, set out to settle the land with retired soldiers.
The archaeological remains of the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead are located on the school grounds of Parkview School at 85 Forty First St, east of Marie Curtis Park.
After military service with the Queen’s Rangers in the American Revolutionary War, Colonel Samuel Smith was granted a large tract of land in 1793 in Etobicoke. Originally a log cabin to which extensions and siding were added, the colonel’s house was in continuous use for about 152 years from 1797 until around 1949. When the house was demolished in 1955, the original log cabin was discovered inside the building.
Long Branch Park
In 1871 a son of the colonel named Samuel Bois Smith sold the house and 500 acres to James Eastwood. The latter sold oak and pine from the property and rafted logs down Etobicoke Creek.
In 1883, Eastwood sold 75 acres of the eastern portion of the property, which was subsequently developed into a summer resort named Long Branch Park. There are several versions of how the name was chosen. A generally accepted one is that the developer, Thomas Wilkie, was an American who had reputedly vacationed in Long Branch, New Jersey.
The Long Branch Hotel, a popular destination for Toronto’s elite citizens, was completed in 1887 and destroyed by fire in 1958. The hotel’s dock was a 45-minute boat ride from the end of Yonge Street. A high fence to keep out rowdy intruders surrounded the hotel property.
Development of cottages in the surrounding area began in 1910. The cottage era lasted until the 1930s, by which time many cottages had been winterized into permanent homes. When the Village of Long Branch was incorporated in 1931, it set up its own police force. Houses along Lake Promenade represent a range of architectural styles. Several old cottages west of Long Branch Avenue remain from an earlier era.
We will describe efforts by the Ratepayers Association of South Long Branch (RASL) to ensure that community interests are taken into account as development of properties proceeds along Lake Promenade and nearby areas.
After the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Way in 1939 plans to attract more residents led to bylaws, which allowed 50-foot lots and small apartment buildings. After the Second World War many veterans were given lots and larger properties began to be subdivided. In 1954 the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto was created as a federation of smaller municipalities. In 1967 a further change in municipal organization led to the creation of the Borough of Etobicoke, at which time the Village of Long Branch lost its independence.
Lakeshore Hospital Grounds
Our walk will take us from Long Branch to New Toronto. The original Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital site extended across 171 acres from Lake Shore Blvd. West to Lake Ontario and from what is now Thirteenth Street to Twenty Third Street.
The facility was called the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital when it ceased to operate in 1979. When it first opened, it was called the Mimico Branch Asylum. It’s also been known as the Mimico Insane Asylum; Mimico Hospital for the Insane; Ontario Hospital, Mimico; and later Ontario Hospital, New Toronto.
The hospital itself was east of Kipling. The land to the west of Kipling was the hospital farm where the patients worked. This land was cleared farmland when the first purchase was made for a hospital in 1888.
The facility was designed with an intention to integrate the physical environment into the care and treatment of patients. The patient “Cottages” were designed for specific illnesses and treatments and the outdoor space supported a wide range of therapeutic activities. Patients were involved in building and landscape projects along with farming. There was an “Amusement Ground” for dances and theatrical performances.
After the hospital was closed in 1979 it took over a decade of discussion before municipal and provincial governments decided to preserve the land for public purposes. An excellent overview of life at such facilities is provided in a book by Geoffrey Reaume (2009) entitled Remembrance of patients past: Patient life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870–1940.
Our walk will also discuss current proposals related to Stormwater Management in South Etobicoke.
Mike James, a key speaker during our walk, has what I would describe as a photographic memory of just about every building (what building was at a particular location in the 1960s, who ran which businesses, who the local characters were, etc.) along Lake Shore Blvd. West from the Long Branch GO Station to Dwight Avenue at the New Toronto/Mimico border.
Plus he can tell you the history of all of the land north of there and all the way south to the lake. He took me on a tour (which I video recorded and audio recorded) of the whole area some time ago. I’m looking forward to posting that tour to Vimeo.