Monthly Archives: May 2011

Doors Open at Metropolitan United

On Saturday 28 May, the Metropolitan United Church at Queen and Church streets was one of the nearly 150 sites that participated in Toronto’s “Doors Open.”  Judging from the comments, the historic church was greatly appreciated.


                       The Metropolitan United Church


The first church was constructed in 1818 near King and Bay streets. In 1833, the congregation relocated to Adelaide Street. In 1868 the church purchased McGill Square, located at Queen and Church streets, at a cost of $25,000. The first church service at the new location was held in 1872. It was originally the Metropolitan Methodist Church, but became part of the United Church of Canada in 1925.


A view of the Gothic tower of the Metropolitan United Church. It survived the great fire of 1928 that destroyed the remainder of the building. The cost of rebuilding the church and the church house was $400,000, a staggering amount in that day. The first service in the new structure was held on 15 December 1929. In the tower at “The Met,” as many affectionately refer to the church, is the first tuned Carillon in North America. The original set of 22 bells were donated by Chester Massey. Today, the sound of the bells ring out over the downtown area every Sunday morning. “The Met” is a church that ministers to the downtown community, especially through its “Out of the Cold” program.


The Interior of the Metropolitan United Church. The communion table in the chancel, carved of California soft oak, depicts the Last Supper as portrayed by Leonardo de Vinci.

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The stained-glass windows of the church. The left-hand picture is the memorial window, dedicated to those who died in Great War (1914-18) The right-hand picture is the great Chancel Window, framed by a magnificent Gothic arch.


                        Doors Open



Metropolitan Silver Band, founded in 1934, performing at Doors Open.


A practice session of the musical “Joseph and “The Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat” during Doors Open Toronto. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical will be performed on Friday 3 June and Saturday 4 June at 8 pm 2011.


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Posted by on May 31, 2011 in Toronto


Service to Honour Victims’ of the Empress of Ireland

I recently attended a service in Mount Pleasant Cemetery to honour the memory of those members of the Salvation Army who perished when the Canadian Pacific Liner “The Empress of Ireland” sank in the icy waters of the St. Lawrence River on 29 May 1914. The occasion was the 97th anniversary of Canada’s greatest maritime tragedy. Of the 1477 passengers aboard, 1012 drowned when the majestic liner collided with the Norwegian collier “The Storstad,” which sliced a 20-foot-deep hole into the starboard side of “The Empress.” The ship sank in fourteen minutes, many of the passengers never awakening from their slumbers.  By comparison, on the “Titanic,” 807 passengers died, while on “The Empress,” 840 drowned. The total loss of life was greater on the “Titanic” as more of the crew failed to escape.  

For the recent (97th) commemorative service, a Norwegian radio station sent a crew to Canada to record the proceedings for their listeners.



   Order of Service for the 95th and 97th memorial services for victims of the “Empress of Ireland.”


                    Monument in Mount Pleasant Cemetery to those who perished on “The Empress”


Youth band of the Ontario Central East Division playing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” In 1914, the Canadian Staff Band played this hymn on the deck of the ill-fated ship as it pulled away from the pier in Quebec City.


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                            Placing the wreath on the memorial monument

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For the ceremony, each year small flags are placed on the graves of Salvationists who died in the disaster. Over 150 members of the Salvation Army perished; many of them are buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Archive pics. of Toronto

          The 1914 funeral service for those who drowned on “The Empress of Ireland.”



If anyone viewing this post knows how to contact a member of the Aldridge family, would they please contact me at tayloronhistory@gmail. Ernest Aldridge was one of the bandsmen of the Canadian Staff Band who drowned on “The Empress” in 1914.

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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Toronto


Queen Street West’s Urban Philosophers

“One must look west from University Avenue on Queen Street to capture the visual flavour of old downtown.” M. Kluchner, Toronto the Way It Was (Toronto: Whitecap Books, 1988)

“‘Arrogantly Shabby’ is the motto of Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. The same might apply to Toronto’s Queen Street West.” Robert Frazier, Atlanta, Georgia

“London England’s Carnaby Street is Britain’s Queen Street West. Pity they lack the real thing!”—The author


Photographs Displaying the Thoughts of Queen Street’s Urban Philosophers

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 Near Queen and Spadina                Graffiti Alley


                           On wall near Queen and Spadina


                             Wall near Queen and Simcoe streets 


Mayor Ford’s thought on streetcars ( painted on wall near Queen and Simcoe streets)


Thoughts about Queen Street West from the book “The Villages Within.”


Queen Street is perhaps the liveliest and most interesting street in the city, a destination for Torontonians and tourists alike, a Mecca of trendy restaurants, sidewalk cafes, bizarre shops, and exotic boutiques. Young people have voted the Black Bull’s patio the most popular outdoor drinking venue in the city.

Many visit Queen Street West simply to observe the eclectic mixture of people strolling along the crowded sidewalks, a few displaying unusual attire. Some believe that the outfits worn by the older tourists are even more outlandish.

The street is a place to connect with others. Sometimes a new friend is found or an old acquaintanceship renewed. Each spring the sweet scent of marijuana drifts lazily in the warm air. Bare flesh and body jewellery bloom in profusion, displayed on parts of the body that were well hidden during the winter months.

Adding to the street’s hip and cool image, one of the city’s most expensive eateries offers its clientele valet service to park their cars. By contrast, street people, who wear special outfits of their own, retrieve cigarette butts and beg spare coins as they hover in doorways or position themselves in favourite locations beside the curb or under a tree. They watch the affluent and young pass by sporting their trendy outfits, many of them clutching a container of specialty coffee or the odd hand-rolled joint. Few streets in the city exhibit such contrast.

When the brightness of the day fades to the soft light of evening, garish neon signs become more prominent. Well-worn doorways lead to stairs that ascend to the second-floor levels. The thumping beat from gigantic speakers intrudes into the night air like rhythmic tribal drums of a long-lost civilization. The sights and sounds lure the youthful crowd, enticing them to seek entrance to the pubs, bars, and restaurants. For some, the evening’s goal is to attend the ever-popular Rivoli, and listen to the music of a not-yet-famous group, or to experience a popular underground comedian. Not until the early hours of the morning will the party crowd depart the scene, and even then, they will likely seek an after-hours club or quasi-illegal booze can. There is the endless cycle of nightlife on Queen Street West that is unrivalled throughout the city.

However, during the daylight hours, the street displays another scene, one that few are aware of it, as they rarely raise their eyes above the ground-floor level of the buildings. The upper storeys are rich in architectural detail and history. Gables, pointed dormers, parapets, tall brick chimneys, and ornate cornices with dentils and modillions gaze down silently on a streetscape that is foreign to the time that created them.

The hip Queen Street scene of today resembles a movie set superimposed on an ancient background. However, the original nineteenth-century stage remains amazingly intact, although a visitor must ignore the numerous modern-day actors and props if they wish to discover the former days of this fascinating street. This is one of the few Victorian commercial streetscapes that remains in Toronto. The city has designated it a Heritage Preservation Area. To explore its architecture is to enter a doorway into the past.

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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Toronto


Historic Fort York

Visiting Fort York 

Today I walked among the oldest surviving buildings in our city. The fort was destroyed during the American invasion of York in April of 1813. It was rebuilt during the years 1814-1815, and remained Toronto’s main defensive infrastructure for many decades. The buildings today contain excellent displays outlining the history of the fort. A recent article in the Star newspaper reported that archaeological investigations are now trying to pinpoint the foundations of Government House, built in 1800 as the official residence of the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. Next year will be the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and the fort will figure prominently in the celebrations.




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The brief passage (below) about Fort York is from the book The Villages Within, a tongue-in-cheek version of the history of Toronto.  

Shortly after Governor Simcoe relocated the provincial government from the Niagara Region and established it at York, he ordered the military to construct fortifications near the western entrance to the harbour. No doubt, few of the colonists greeted the idea with enthusiasm, as they preferred Dorchester’s method of “bottle fortification.” However, once the construction began, I am certain that they admitted that it was a novel idea, and although it was hard on the back, it was easier on the liver. This was fortunate, as Dodd’s Little Liver Pills had not yet been invented.

When Fort York was completed, they referred to the land surrounding it as the Military Reserve. It extended west to present-day Dufferin Street, east to Spadina, north to Queen Street, and south to Lake Ontario.

In the 1790s, the Toronto Islands of modern times was a peninsula, as there was no eastern gap. A severe storm severed the connection to the mainland in 1858. When it was a peninsula, it provided shelter against the storms of the lake and offered protection should American forces invade from across Lake Ontario. People from the town of York could walk to the islands. It’s a pity the islands did not remain as a peninsula, as it would have reduced crowding at today’s ferry terminals. In addition, people who wish to fly from the island airport could have walked to the terminal from Ward’s Island.

It would serve them right.

I suppose Elizabeth missed the bright lights of her native isle, because the Simcoes finally decided to return to England. During the years following the departure of the Simcoes, York continued to expand. An increase in population was inevitable in a town with no television or internet services to amuse the inhabitants.


Pictorial History of Fort York

The four photographs below are from the displays contained within the fort.



Fort York as it appeared from the shoreline in the first decade of the nineteenth century



Sketch showing the location of the fort and its surroundings.


Library and Archives Canada – c 7434

This anonymous print from the year 1813, depicts the damage inflicted on the American troops when the British exploded Fort York’s powder magazine. The American commander of the invasion, Brigadier-General Zebulon Pike, was killed in the explosion. The blast was seen and heard as far away as the mouth of the Niagara River.



City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 809

After many years of neglect, Fort York was restored by the City of Toronto and was reopened on Victoria Day in 1934.


Photos from my Recent Visit to the Fort

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The 1815 Barracks, showing the bunk beds and eating tables for the troops. Alcoholic drinks were forbidden. A replica of a sign that was posted for the soldiers states, “no tippling allowed.”


Uniforms on pegs in the 1815 barracks.


Costumed volunteers at the fort performing a popular early nineteenth-century dance.


Musician providing music for the dance.


Kitchen of the officers’ quarters, where a chicken is roasting in a reflector oven. The spit was turned by hand.


Volunteer cook in the kitchen of the officers’ quarters.


Children preparing food in the officers’ kitchen.


Costumed volunteer in the kitchen of the officers’ quarters.


Dining table in the officers’ mess.


View from the officers’ quarters during a rain storm.


The 1813 blockhouse. Farewell to Fort York until my next visit.

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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Toronto


Victoria Day in Canada



When I was a child, we referred to Victoria Day as “Fire-Cracker Day.” There were few public displays of fireworks, and even if there had been, it would have required a streetcar ticket to travel to the site. We lived in the Township of York, and up and down the street, on Victoria Day, we sat on our front veranda and watched as our dad ignited the firecrackers. When our supply was exhausted, we watched the neighbours’ displays.


The History of Canada’s Spring holiday – Victoria Day

Queen Victoria, born 24 May 1819, ascended the British throne in 1837, at eighteen years of age, on the death of her uncle, King William 1V. The legislature of Canada West, the province later renamed Ontario, established the monarch’s birthday as a holiday in 1845, naming it Empire Day. This was an act of true homage to the queen, as in 1845 Christmas Day was not granted to employees as a time off work. It was solely at the discretion of the employer.

If 24 May were on a Saturday or Sunday, the holiday was observed on the following Monday. In 1867, when four Canadian provinces joined to create the Dominion of Canada, they continued to celebrate the holiday in Ontario. In 1876, Victoria was crowned Empress of India, which engendered further prestige for the monarch.

When Victoria died in 1901, after reigning sixty-four years, the Parliament of Canada established the 24th as a national holiday, and changed its name to Victoria Day. In 1952, the government decided that the Victoria Day holiday would occur each year on the Monday prior to 25 May, and this has remained to the present era.

Today, many people suggest that the name of the holiday in May be changed. They consider it a hangover from colonial days, and assert that it has no meaning in Canada today. Dumping one’s heritage is not an indication of national maturity. Every nation has holidays and symbols that represent its past. Americans celebrate Columbus Day, to honour an Italian who never set foot on their soil.

Quebec treasures the fleur-de-lis in its provincial flag, despite the fact that it is an ancient symbol specifically associated with the Bourbon monarchs of France. To accuse the Quebecois of colonial immaturity, because they honour their royal past, would be unthinkable. Today, most Quebecers ignore the historical significance of the symbols on their flag, and they would never consider replacing them with ones that are more modern.

In ancient times, Italy was colonized by the Greeks, whose culture and architecture became integrated into the Roman civilization. Even today, Italians would never dream of eliminating the Greek building styles and names from their cities because they originated in a foreign country. The past is an ever-abiding component of the present. Today, Queen Victoria’s name graces cities, streets, and colleges. We refer to architecture, fashions, literature, and even wallpaper as Victorian. It is also the name of an era in history.

Perhaps the problem is that we have a holiday named after a British queen, but none for our important Canadian personages. Macdonald, Cartier, and Laurier are not honoured by a special day. To correct this imbalance, Canada should commence paying homage to our own heroes, but not by eliminating personages from our past. To recognize and respect a nation’s heritage is a sign of cultural maturity.

My grandfather understood these principles. Though he was a proud Newfoundlander, he was also a loyal Canadian. Newfoundland and Canada shared a common heritage, but there were vast differences. For example, Dominion Day (Canada Day) was not a part of his past. In Newfoundland, 1 July commemorated the battle of Beaumont Hummel, which occurred during the First World War. In his native village, they had not celebrated Victoria Day. However, though he honoured his own heritage, he embraced the traditions of his adopted country. As an immigrant, he said that he felt that he was a “true” Canadian, because he had chosen the country, rather than receiving his citizenship by a mere accident of birth.


Below is a section from the book Arse Over Teakettle that describes a Victoria Day weekend enjoyed by a family in Toronto during the Second World War. 

On the Friday before the Victoria Day holiday in 1945, my dad splurged and spent three dollars on firecrackers at a store on Oakwood Avenue. Among them were a Burning Schoolhouse, Pinwheels, Comets, Whiz-bangs, Fountains, and Sparklers. However, the most impressive were the Roman Candles, which rocketed flares high into the night sky. They exploded in bursts of sparkling colour, and sizzled noisily as they fell earthward.

My father told me that when he had been a boy in Newfoundland, the people of Burin referred to the 24th holiday as Trouting Day. It was when men and boys journeyed to the ponds for the opening of the trout-fishing season. When his brothers had been young men living in Toronto, when prohibition ended and alcohol sales resumed, they had referred to the day as the “May two-four day.” This referred to the date in May, as well as the slang expression for a case of twenty-four bottles of beer, a “Two-Four,” the most common way they packaged the brew.

On our street in Toronto, as the sun dipped slowly toward the western horizon, our anticipation increased. We gathered on the veranda, and anxiously waited for night skies to blanket the city. There were a few public displays in the parks, but none within easy travelling distance of our home. As a result, families in our neighbourhood purchased their own fireworks. After dark, we lit “whiz-bangs,” also referred to as “squibs,” which were small firecrackers, and tossed them into the street, where they exploded like gunshots. We waved sparklers in the air forming patterns of light. Finally, my dad set-off the serious firecrackers. Showers of flames burst from the curbs beside the sidewalk and rocket flares exploded, the scene reminiscent of a battlefield. My brother and I cheered as the Burning Schoolhouse was demolished in flames.

Neighbours staggered their contributions so that not everyone’s displays were at the same time. All up and down Lauder Avenue, for over an hour, the night sky was broken with burst of light. When one family had exhausted their supply, they watched the other’s contributions. Adults supervised carefully, to prevent a mishap.

My brother Ken was entranced, and never lost his love of fireworks. Even as an adult, he travelled considerable distances throughout the city to observe displays. On the night of 24 May 1945, I sat beside him and shared the excitement. After we went upstairs to bed, we crept into the front bedroom to see the last explosions. A few teenagers always acquired some firecrackers and set them off after the families with young children had retired from the scene. The next day, when Ken and I walked to school, we saw in the curbs the charred remains of the previous night’s revelries.

Like “next-day” pumpkins and retired Christmas trees, they were sad reminders of a glorious time well spent.

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Posted by on May 22, 2011 in Toronto


Moon Bean Coffee Company (Cafe) – Kensington Market


Painting of the Moon Bean Coffee Company at St. 30 Andrew Street, Kensington Market  (Acrylic on stretched canvas, 16’ x 20”)


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Moon Bean Coffee Company

The Information Below is from the book The Villages Within, which includes a history of the Kensington Market and a walking tour of this fascinating village contained within the city’s downtown core.  

The Moon Bean Coffee Company, 30 St. Andrew Street.

This coffee house is one of the most interesting in the city, contained within a house that was built in 1873. It was unoccupied in 1874, but the following year, Thomas Peters, a labourer, moved into the premises.

The Moon Bean Cafe of today roasts and grinds its own beans. The smoke from a small metal chimney above the roaster allows the smell of the coffee to permeate the air for a considerable distance, carrying on the breeze to the surrounding shops. I cannot express the degree of pleasure that I have experienced on cool mornings when I turn the corner at Spadina and walk along St. Andrew Avenue, savouring the rich bouquet of the fresh coffee.

The tops of the small tables inside consist of solid wood planks that have been cut to size. Make sure to visit the back room, as it is an opportunity to experience the inside of a rear building extension typical of the houses in that era. In the outside rear patio, you can view similar extensions on the other houses. They usually contained the kitchens of the homes. In the front patio of the “Moon Bean,” you may enjoy a cup of coffee and watch the shoppers and residents pass by on the street.

In the roof, there is a gable to allow light into the third-floor level. One of the modillions (brackets) under the eave is missing. However, this is the only thing the cafe lacks. Modern coffee chain stores cannot hold a candle to this inimitable establishment. 

Note re error in above quote:

When writing about the Moon Bean Cafe in “The Villages Within,” I stated that the back room of the present-day cafe was the kitchen of the original home. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The back room was at one time a shed, and the passageway leading from the middle room to the the back room was the 1873 kitchen. I apologize for the error.


 A recent visit to the Moon Bean Coffee Company inspired me to further investigate the property. This post is a result of my latest research. 

    Map of the area where the house is located that contains the Moon Bean Cafe.   


The 1884 Goad’s Atlas map shows the 1873 house, on the north side of St. Andrew Street. It is the left-hand side of the two houses labelled #9. The space at the front of the house, the rear garden, and laneway behind the house are visible.  


This photo, taken from the rear patio of the Moon Bean, shows the two semi-detached 1873 houses and their chimneys. The Moon Bean is the house with the exposed brick, and a mural of liquid pouring from an upside-down coffee mug. The white building (with the four small windows) was a shed, and is now the back room of the cafe.     

         Diagram of the 1873 house at 30 St. Andrew Street


The above diagram depicts how the 1873 likely appeared. The parlour is now the middle room of the cafe. The facade of the house, facing St. Andrew Street, was demolished when an addition was built on the front of the house. The hallway shown in the diagram still exists, but is no longer visible from inside the cafe. It is now used mainly for storage space, and contains the stairs that lead to the second floor. However, the door leading from the parlour to the hallway, remains on the east wall of the middle room (see photo below). The narrow passageway of the cafe of today, which leads to the back room, was a part of the kitchen of the old house. It is narrow as the present-day washrooms occupy most of this area. The tiles in the hallway remain from the days when the entire space was employed as a kitchen. The tiles are likely from the 1930s or perhaps as late as the 1950s. The washrooms of today also reveal the kitchen tiles. The toilet facilities of the 1873 house would have been located in an outhouse in the rear garden.     


Tiles in the present-day passageway that leads to the back room. They were at one time in the kitchen of the home.



The hallway on the east side of the house, which is no longer visible from inside the cafe.


Rolled-tin ceiling in the hallway. This type of ceiling would have at one time covered the parlour of the old house.


Revisiting the Moon Bean Cafe

Since writing the small section in the book The Villages Within,” as previously stated, I have revisited the cafe many times. It is my favourite place in the market to enjoy a cup of coffee. There are other places within the Kensington Market to have a coffee, but few offer the unique atmosphere and fresh-roasted brew that the Moon Bean Coffee Company provides. As it is located within one of the most historic homes in the Market, even though the building has been greatly altered, it retains a little of the atmosphere of yesteryear. However, its coffee-presentation is modern, as it offers organic and fair-trade coffees, which are roasted on the premises.

The Moon Bean has been in the Kensington Market since 1995. Prior to that year, the old house was occupied by a clothing store. When Thomas Peters and his family moved into this modest labourer’s home in 1875, the attractive red-brick house, set back from the street, likely had a small lawn and flower garden at the front. The outdoor patio facing St. Andrew Street occupies the space today. The front room of the present-day Moon Bean, located in the addition added to the front of the house, is where the coffee roaster is located. The serving counter is also in this room.



The black cylindrical-shape roaster sits above the shiny metal drum. The drum contains the beans that have finished being roasted, and are being rotated in the large metal drum to allow them to cool.



The counter and its brick base were purchased from a restaurant that went bankrupt. The bricks are real.



Interior of the Moon Bean – the front space containing the serving counter is in the addition added to the front of the old house. The middle room (above the two steps) was the parlour of the original home. The archway separating the two rooms was where the facade of the 1873 house was located. It was broken through in order to join the two spaces. The doorway at the rear of the middle room was cut through the kitchen wall to allow access to the old kitchen, a portion of which is now the hallway leading to the back room.


Doorway on east wall of the middle room. It gave access to the hallway that leads to the old kitchen (see diagram of 1873 house).


The moulding around the doorway appears to be from the 1873 house.


The tables at the Moon Bean Cafe were at one time in a restaurant at the corner of Richmond and Peter streets. The old wood bases for the table were replaced with the metal bases you see today. The table-tops have endured many years of constant use. They appear to be hardwood, but are neither oak or maple. My guess is that they are elm. Perhaps someone with a better knowledge of wood might provide an answer. The owner of the cafe is uncertain about the type of wood.



Middle room, which was the parlour of the old home, and the kitchen window that at one time over-looked the back garden. The doorway to the right of the window leads to the hallway that gives access to the back room.



Hallway that connects the middle room with the back room. It was the kitchen of the 1873 house. The view is from the back room, looking south toward the middle and front rooms. Bags of coffee beans are stored in this hallway. As previously stated, the modern-day washrooms occupy most of the space that was at one time the old kitchen.


The Moon Bean Coffee Company on a spring morning, May, 2011. 




The photo above is the back patio of the Moon Bean on the May 24th weekend in 2011. I overheard a customer who was sipping his coffee say, “Man, this is really summer. The good weather is finally here.” A truly Torontonian sentiment. The May 24th weekend has always been considered the start of summer in the city.

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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Toronto


New Post on Gurney Stove Foundry on King Street West near Spadina where the Brant House is located.

I have added another post on these historic buildings because this week I was able to photograph the foundations of one of the building. The foundations had been exposed due to repairs. They are rebuilding the patio on the west side of the building, where the famous club, “The Brant House” is located. The previous post on these buildings was:


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The restored buildings of the old Gurney Iron Foundry on King Street West as they appear today. Construction on the four-storey red-brick building with yellow-brick trim (on the right-hand side of the photo), began in 1872. The building on the left-hand side (foreground) of the picture commenced in 1887.



King Street looking west from near Spadina on April 13, 1927. The Gurney Stove Foundry is in the background on the right-hand side of the photo. Photo is courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission, City of Toronto Archives, TTC Fonds, Series 71, Item4212, .


Below are the photos of the exposed foundations of the 1887 building.



At the top of the above photo, the red and yellow bricks of the 1887 foundry walls are visible. Below them are the large stone foundation-blocks at the base of the structure. The space below the stone blocks is composed of fieldstones that were gathered from the local area. Some of them appear to be sedimentary rocks that may have been transported by horse and wagon from the Humber or Don Valley.



Above photo shows the layers of fieldstones


This is the layer of fieldstones directly below the large stone blocks.


The publication “The Villages Within” provides more information about the history of the Gurney Iron Foundry. 

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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Toronto