By Richard Fiennes-Clinton
At the start of the twenty-first century, Rosedale is considered to be a very refined and elegant residential neighbourhood, located in the heart of downtown Toronto. It has several attractive elements; it is central but also quiet, a residential space surrounded by amenities but not overburdened with the noise and distraction of a downtown neighbourhood.
However, when Rosedale began, it was considered a rustic location for rural homes, and it did not even become part of the City of Toronto until the end of the nineteenth century. The first known resident of Rosedale was Captain George Playter. He had served in the British military, and had fled the United States after the American Revolution because he still wanted to live under the British Crown. For his loyalty, Captain Playter was given two hundred acres of land, north of what is now Bloor Street and east of Yonge Street. He received this land in 1796, and the Playter family was one of the earliest to settle in the town of “Muddy York” (now Toronto). The name for the community where he received his grant of land ~ “Rosedale” ~ would not be invented for approximately another thirty years, but the Playter family has some streets named after them, north of Danforth Avenue and east of the Don Valley Parkway.
In 1821, Playter sold a portion of his land to a man named James Small, who built a house on the property. Three years later, in 1824, Small sold the land to William Botsford Jarvis, a cousin to Samuel Jarvis, who Jarvis Street was to be named after. In 1828, William Jarvis married Mary Boyles Powell, and the recently wedded couple moved into a house that stood roughly where Rosedale subway station is today. According to the legend, Mary was in the back garden, looking down the valley (or “dale”, in the older English) into what is now Rosedale Valley Road. She saw that this “dale” was overgrown with wild roses, and it was this point that the name “Rose Dale” or “Rosedale” was born. In the early nineteenth century, when a family of means had a large home constructed, it was traditional to give your home and the surrounding estate a name. Thus, Rosedale, the name that Mary invented, was given to the Jarvis family estate, and would eventually go on to represent the entire community.
Among other interests, Jarvis got into land development. An associate of his had come to Canada and worked for a time as a tavern owner, and then a brewer. This associate was successful, and got into local politics in the town of Yorkville, which at that time was an independent community, located quite north of the City of Toronto. Together, Jarvis and his associate built up and developed the two communities. The name of Jarvis’ associate was Joseph Bloore, and eventually Toronto’s major east / west thoroughfare, Bloor Street, would commemorate his accomplishments. At some point in the past, we have dropped the “e” on the end.
With the construction of the Jarvis home at Rosedale, there was hope that the neighbourhood would prosper as a residential one. However, initally it was hard to attract people to come and settle in the area. As mentioned, the Rosedale of today is a central community, but over 180 years ago, it was considered quite far north. Toronto in the 1820s had a northern boundary of present day Queen Street, and the city’s “downtown core” only ran as far north as present day Adelaide Street. People were reluctant to move north to rural Rosedale, because they thought that they would be separated from the action of city life. Women, who in those days remained at home and had the rather daunting job of running the household, were worried that they couldn’t find or keep household staff. There was a lack of infrastructure, of bridges and proper roads, so remaining connected could be difficult. Of course, there were no telephones, computers, or personal communication devices to help people stay in touch with their friends.
Before 1880, only about twenty homes were built in the Rosedale area. But in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century, Rosedale finally began to flourish. Toronto was growing, sweeping north, and neighbourhoods like Rosedale and Yorkville were being seen less and less as rustic northern communities, and more and more as extensions of the City of Toronto. Generally speaking, Rosedale started to develop in the southwest, and grew towards the northeast. This spreading out of development was mirrored, in a way, in communities like the Annex, where development started in the southeast, and spread to the northwest. Most of Rosedale was laid out before 1930, when development slowed or stopped because of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Rosedale has managed to avoid a lot of high density residential construction, but there were some apartment buildings and townhouses that were constructed in southern Rosedale during the suburban boom of the 1950s.
A few of Rosedale’s historic homes did survive to see the twenty-first century. The home at 5 Drumsnab Road, just northwest of Bloor and Bayview, was constructed in 1834, with a second floor added around 1850. The second floor was added by jacking up the roof, adding a second floor and attic, and then lowering the roof again. The house at 124 Park Drive was built in 1855, as the home to solicitor James Boyd Davis. The house at 23 Rosedale Road was built in 1857, by Walter Brown, a land agent, broker and publisher of the Toronto General Directory. Alas, the first really prominent home, “Rose Dale”, the estate of William and Mary Jarvis, was destroyed by 1905. It’s location was more or less where an apartment building at 30 Rosedale Road stands today.
Richard Fiennes-Clinton is the founder of Muddy York Walking Tours, which is a company dedicated to bringing Toronto’s past back to life in fun and exciting ways. For more information on Muddy York Walking Tours visit www.muddyyorktours.com or call 416.487.9017.