December 31, 2008

Roncesvalles Village– A Guide to Some Area Names



Early 19th Century settlers played prominent roles in establishing the area:

Walter O’Hara

Colonel Walter O'Hara originally from Ireland was a prominent member of the British army in the 19th century, participating in battles against Napoleon, before immigrating to Toronto, where he fought on the side of the Government against William Lyon Mackenzie and his rebels. With a decent inheritance, O’Hara started buying land west of downtown Toronto.

In the mid-1800s O'Hara bought 210 hectares (525 Acres) of land and built a comfortable home called West Lodge at its centre, just north of Queen Street and east of Lansdowne Avenue. Named after his family's estate in Ireland, O’Hara lived at West Lodge with his wife and eight children. Granted more property on the western border of Toronto, which became the basis of the Brockton and Parkdale villages, he began subdividing his land, first creating 13 large lots with lake shore frontage.

Today, several streets in the Roncesvalles-Parkdale area north of Queen, between Parkside Dr. and Lansdowne Ave are named after his family, his homeland or after important events in his life.

O’Hara ran a north-south road to the lots on the lake shore and called it Roncesvalles after the Spanish village which was the site of a battle his regiment fought against Napoleon in Spain, O'Hara fought there in July, 1813 in a battle the British lost.

To the east he put in another north-south street between Dundas and Queen Streets called Sorauren, named after a battle a which occurred few weeks after Roncesvalles where the British carried the day.

Adding more streets, Alhambra Avenue (south of Bloor, west of Dundas Street West) was named for a fortress in Granada, in southern Spain.
Fermanagh Avenue was named after the county of his birth in Northern Ireland. Marion Street was named after O’Hara’s wife.

Constance Street and Geoffrey Street were named after two of his children. Walter Road since renamed Grenadier, and Ruth Avenue now Fern Avenue were after two other children.

When his wife Marion sold off the estate for development after O’Hara’s death in 1874 roads were laid out as West Lodge Avenue named after his estate and O’Hara Avenue.


John Howard

John Howard, architect, surveyor and Toronto’s first Chief Engineer, left his legacy in the Roncesvalles-High Park neighbourhood with High Park, its eponymous boulevard, plus Sunnyside and Indian Roads.

One of Toronto’s greatest benefactors, Howard bequeathed most of the land that is now High Park to the City of Toronto. The property between Bloor Street and the Queensway, Parkside Drive and Ellis Avenue is Toronto’s largest public space.

Back in 1836 John George Howard purchased a 165-acre property (66 hectares)west of Toronto for a sheep farm, which he dubbed Sunnyside. Most of the land to the west of Roncesvalles was part of John Howard's Sunnyside Farm, and the road Sunnyside Avenue runs parallel to Roncesvalles, one block west.

It was here that Howard designed and built Colborne Lodge, a Regency-style house in 1837 as the residence for himself and his wife Jemima. The Howards named their property 'High Park' as it was situated on the highest point of land along the shoreline. Howard retired here in 1855.

Howard set himself up as a real estate developer, and laid out streets and lots for sale. He called the main north-south street in his development, Indian Road, because it followed an old path heading north from Lake Ontario that may have been used originally by native people.

In 1873 Howard gave the city of Toronto 49 Hectares (122.5 acres) and upon his death the remaining 16 hectares (40 acres) reverted to public ownership.


J.J. Wright

Lastly, Wright Avenue, a west-east street, is named after J.J. Wright, Manager of the Toronto Electric Light Company. Wright Avenue used to be named Duncan Street, but was changed to Wright sometime around 1890.

John Joseph Wright introduced electric lighting to Toronto and pioneered the development and use of the electric street railway.

Born December 11, 1847 in Great Yarmouth, England, Wright arrived in Toronto in 1870 as a millwright. While visiting Philadelphia in 1876 to visit that city’s Centennial Exhibition, he attended lectures on electricity by Elihu Thomson and Edwin James Houston, partners in electrical experimentation. Impressing them, Wright found himself working with them on electrical generators and in 1879 helped install North America’s first electric-arc street lamp.

Upon Wright’s return to Toronto in early 1881, he built a trial generator in the back-room of the Firstbrook Brothers factory where he was employed. The generator powered arc lamps that Wright had designed and installed in some downtown businesses. Experimental ventures such as this prompted Toronto City Council to establish a committee in October 1881 to study the benefits of electric street lighting.

As one of many early electrical entrepreneurs vying for opportunities, in the summer of 1882 Wright opened Toronto’s first commercial power station using generators provided by Thomson and Houston of Philadelphia and driven by surplus steam from a nearby printing plant. As distribution wires were strung across the rooftops, Wright applied to use the poles of the newly organized Toronto Electric Light Company Limited.

In 1883 the Toronto Industrial Exhibition had decided to install an electric railway for demonstration purposes. Settling for an experimental engine built by Thomas Alva Edison and owned by Wright, it proved unable to move any cars. The exhibition tried again in 1884. By this time a Belgian inventor named Charles Van Depoele had met with J. J. Wright and constructed an electric railway running between the Crystal Palace, inside the Canadian Industrial Exhibition fairgrounds, and Strachan Avenue near the terminal of a Toronto Street Railway horsecar line. It was the first electric railway to be built in Canada. After five years of successful operation, the operators of the line went on to establish successful electric railway systems elsewhere.

In 1883 John Joseph Wright’s small company was absorbed by The Toronto Electric Light Company which was owned by Owned by Sir Henry Pellat, builder and owner of Casa Loma. Wright became superintendent and later, manager of the company, which had acquired a municipal street-light franchise in 1884, replacing the oil and kerosene lamps in Toronto. Wright maintained his position of manager 25 years until he appointment as Vice President in 1908.

Wright was an enthusiast “of all kinds of aquatic sports,” he belonged to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and spent many a weekend “speeding” across Lake Ontario, He was a stocky man with a large moustache and “the central figure of a jolly party.” He retired from the electrical industry about 1915, settled in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and moved to Newcastle in 1921. He died the following year and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.

1 comment:

Poetikat said...

I've always wondered where the name Roncesvalles came from. It hadn't crossed my mind in the era of Google, so thanks for filling me in.

Kat