Bluffs Advocate

Background

Researching My House

Uncover fascinating history when you look for your house’s pedigree

By Dianne Elliott

            When I first moved to Haig in 1986, I was in the front garden pulling dandelions when an elderly man shuffled up in his bedroom slippers. He was, he said, Mr. Manlove, living with his sister down in the bottom house. He told me he was 98 years old. He told me that there had always been Manloves on Haig and that his sister wasn’t very nice to him. He said they had moved from the west to the east side of Haig at some point, but that she still owned both #1 and #2.
           How I wish I had sat him down and gotten him to tell me more.
           As I set out to research the origins of my house, I first found record of Manloves at the bottom of Haig in the 1920’s I also found that the Sheppard home had been in the family as early as 1911. I remember Jim Sheppard, and I knew he had been born and died in the kitchen of 72 Haig. His granddaughter still lives there. It is these things that make you feel close to the history of a place.
           In 1878, the land on which Haig is situated belonged to the Stewart Estate and stretched from Oaklands (now Warden) halfway to Victoria Park. Within the next decade it was sold to Amos and Hannah Harrington, part of a 10 acre lot valued at 1500 dollars. On May 28, 1889, Registered plan 914 shows that it was divided into 45 50-foot lots. It was called Harvey Street and was one of the first streets in the area to be subdivided.
           Over the years, houses gradually started appearing on Harvey. The 1911 census lists at least eight families; a fire insurance map of 1913 shows five houses on the west side and one, the big farmhouse at 79, on the east. As the street started to fill in, other signs of urbanization appeared. In 1915, Birchcliff School was built; in 1917, streetlights were installed on Kingston Road. Also that year a colt broke its leg on a culvert on Kingston Road, so we know they had been installed by then. And a big concern in council meeting minutes seemed to be dogs worrying sheep, which was remedied after a lot of palaver by hiring a dog catcher.
           In 1917, despite the war, my house and three small matching bungalows were built.
           In 1918, council started changing street names. Door to door mail delivery was starting (!) and they needed street names that were not similar to ones in Toronto. And so, during World War I, they named Harvey after General Haig. An unfortunate choice.
           At that time, the land from now 46 - 60 Haig was owned by George Green of 50 Haig. He had been the municipal assessor and had become collector and then administrator of the electrical system (HEP) before it went public. He used his home as his office. When there was a large enough population, an area would become wired and, if you wanted it, you paid Green and he would have you added you to the grid. Why he built these four identical cottages on lots 11 and 12 may have had something to do with the electric system but were more probably for city people to rent and enjoy the clean air of the Bluffs. They were never part of the Hunt Club or servant’s quarters for a hotel or mustering stations despite current lore. They may have been built for returning servicemen.
           In any event, George didn’t keep them long. In 1920, a Mr. Lawrence of Blantyre Street bought the land. In the 1921 census, the other three cottages are occupied, but mine is still vacant. The first permanent resident listed in the directory was 1924, seven years after it was built. As far as I can tell, I am the twelfth occupant.
           It doesn’t take much imagination to see the red coats of hunters riding through the trees after the deer and fox which still populate the Hunt Club or hear the shouts of the polo players down at the bottom of the road on the polo grounds. Knowing the history of your house helps connect you to that past. I would love to wander down Haig to Mr. Manlove’s and have that conversation again.


How to discover your house’s story

           Here are some of the steps you can take to find out about your house. These resources can be found in the Metro Toronto Reference Library or the Metro Archives. They are a real treasure and the staff are very helpful. Other information can be found online, including a guide to researching your house at www.toronto.ca/archives/yourhouse.htm
Anecdotes – Don’t be shy about talking to the older residents. You can pick up interesting tidbits.
City directories – These contain annual information about past tenants of a property, and you can learn a lot about the type of people who were attracted to your area. As far as I could find, 1918 is the first year that Harvey Street is mentioned in these Toronto books. It was in the separate location of Birch Cliff Village.
Building permits – These have largely disappeared for early Scarborough if issued for private homes. If you live in Toronto, though, chances are good that you will find a permit for your house.
Photographs – These do exist in the Toronto Archives. There is a 1930s one of Haig, but shows only the bottom part of the street. There is another in the archives from the 1920s that shows people clearing snow off the tracks of the radial railway at the top of Haig. There are many of Kingston Road at the time, and you can’t help but be struck by how rural it all was – mainly fields with the odd little pockets of houses.
Council Proceedings – In Scarborough, these tend to be a bit of a dry read. The Toronto Archives has a pretty complete set. You can glean little bits of information through the usual business.
Maps and atlases – Online is the very helpful Canadian County Atlas digital project which shows the owners of land in Canada in 1878. If you go to the list of landowners, you can often get information about them such as the occupation and the birthplace.
Voter lists – Incomplete, but they give a list of who was eligible to vote. They are in the archives.
Registered Plans – When an area was to be developed, a plan had to be filed. You can find them in the archives.
MPAC webpage – This page tells the year your house was built. Register yourself at www.mpac.ca.
Fire insurance plans and maps – Drawn up for insurance companies, the earliest available are from 1858 in Toronto. They can help you figure out when a house was built, of what material, the lot and its shape and size and the numbering. Some of these can be seen on line. Look up Goad’s maps.
Assessment rolls – Just as today, the assessment rolls show the value of the property. That can lead you to owners and details about them. There is a pretty complete set in the Metro Archives. For example, in 1917, the Hunt Club had 48.5 acres of land and also 30 dogs and 9 bitches.
Census – Both the 1901 and 1911 census are on line at www.automatedgenealogy.com. The 1921 census is also recently out and can be found on ancestry.com
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