Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Origin Stories

In February 2013, the magazine Spacing published an admiring article titled "Tiny House Society of Craven Rd.", which included a theory on the origins of this quirky street:
Craven Road was once known as Erie Terrace, but before that, these lots that now house tiny buildings were attached to the back of properties on Ashdale Avenue — properties that used to extend back from the road over 140 feet. [Jack Ridout, a real estate agent whose family grew up on the road] says those who lived in the houses gave people materials to build places at the back of their lots. When there was a dispute over whose land belonged to whom around 1910, the City stepped in, expropriated the land, and created a tiny road between the houses on Ashdale and the rear lots.
The mention of building materials probably springs from this 1907 ad in the Toronto Star:
"$10 A FOOT – Erie Terrace, 100 feet north of Gerrard street cars, no money down, lumber supplied to build. Davis, 75 Adelaide east."

And the idea that the narrow laneway was carved out of the backyards of Ashdale Avenue may be derived from the fact that when the City widened Erie Terrace in 1916, they did so by buying a chunk of the Ashdale residents' backyards.

But Erie Terrace was always its own road. The most detailed account of its history comes from the 2011 book Pigs, Flowers and Bricks: A History of Leslieville to 1920, an epic labour of love by Joanne Doucette:
Craven – originally Erie Terrace. This street was developed as a 'shacktown', outside of Toronto, in the 1890s. It has many tiny owner-built houses. Ashdale Avenue was not subdivided until later. No houses were built until later when its large lots were sold to more affluent buyers. This is why Craven Road only has houses on the east side. Ashdale Avenue's bigger homes were built with their backs turned on disreputable Erie Terrace. The rowdy poor of Erie Terrace were often accused of trespassing.  
When the City of Toronto widened Erie Terrace, Ashdale's home owners had nothing to gain. They lost some of their property and taxes went up to pay for the wider street. A deal was made. The City of Toronto put up a tall wooden fence to keep the poor out of Ashdale yards. [See the post "On the Fence" for an alternate explanation.]  
In 1923 the name was changed to Craven Road to eliminate some of the stigma attached to living there. (p202) 
Doucette elaborates elsewhere in the book:
Immigrants from England poured into the East End, drawn by cheap housing and jobs: 
"Already people are beginning to move, and the East End is filling up rapidly with citizens from other parts of the city, and many are coming in from the country." (Toronto Star, March 12, 1895) 
Shacktowns, like that on Erie Terrace, developed just outside the Toronto limits where municipal regulations did not reach. In York Township taxes were low and services non-existent. Speculators carved Erie Terrace up into tiny lots that even the very poor could afford.
Goad's Atlas of 1890 (Plate 50) shows that Edmund Henry Duggan owned four lots immediately east of the Ashbridge estate. Duggan was involved with the Toronto House Building Association which had developed Parkdale in 1875. One of the goals of the Association (later called the Land Security Company) was to allow low income families to own their own homes. Duggan's holdings were laid out in tiny lots.

Erie Terrace became a linear slum perched on a sandy gully. The east side of the street was densely inhabited while the west side, under other ownership, remained undeveloped until later. (p176)
Here is the map she mentions, courtesy of Nathan Ng's fantastic online resource that makes the Chas. E. Goad Company's historic fire-insurance maps of Toronto clickably interactive (Ng recently completed a second online map resource site, Historical Maps of Toronto):

(Click here for full-size map)
1890 Atlas of the City of Toronto
Note the big red line that marks the boundary of the City of Toronto. In 1890, if you lived east of Greenwood Avenue and north of Queen Street, you were "beyond the pale". On the right side of the map you can see the then-independent city of East Toronto.

The future site of Erie Terrace lies east of the Ashbridge Estate, in the vertical strips of land marked with E.H. Duggan's name, in an unincorporated district midway between the two cities (imaginatively dubbed "Midway"). Since this area was not covered by any city's fire protection, there was probably not much interest from insurance companies in covering it, which is why Goad's early fire maps don't bother with plates to fill in any detail here. Same in the atlas's 1893, 1899, and 1903 editions. (In fact, if you want to see what the area looked like in 1851, when it was just a big blank space without even a Coxwell Road, head over to W. Xavier Snelgrove's Toronto Maps and scroll to the last one at the bottom of the page.)

But Midway finally gets some attention in this 1910 map, a year after Toronto annexed it and East Toronto on December 15, 1909:

(Click here for full-size map)
1910 Atlas of the City of Toronto, plate 101
Erie Terrace sits awkwardly on the edge of four detail plates, so I've Photoshopped them together as best I can:

(Click here for full-size map)
1910 Atlas of the City of Toronto, plates 106, 107, 109 and 110
There are several interesting elements in the detail below. The first is that Fairford Avenue doesn't run through to Coxwell. It's just a stump connecting Hiawatha to Ashdale. The second is that Woodfield Avenue doesn't even exist yet – it's a river, not a street. And the third oddness is that while there are a few structures on Erie Terrace, the land they sit on is not marked with parcel boundaries.

(Click image for full-size version)
1910 Atlas of the City of Toronto, plates 106 and 109 
The label "Reserve" might mean that this strip of land has some unusual legal status. And yet this is 1910, four years after Erie Terrace had begun being advertised by real estate agents.

Some answers just beget more questions...

[Next Post: Fun with Math]