European settlement begins
In 1824, an Irishman, Bartholomew Bull, bought land east of Dufferin Street and south of St. Clair Avenue West. He first built a log cabin and cleared land for a farm. In 1830, he constructed the first brick house in York Township, and called it Springmount.
The house was located north of Davenport and west of Springmount Avenue, with a view of the lake. During the winter, the Bull children would dam a nearby tributary of Garrison Creek to create a skating rink. Prior to the 1860s, the Bull family built a new house near the corner of Dufferin Street and St. Clair Avenue West. When Springmount was demolished in 1883, Bartholomew's oldest son saved a hand-carved bookcase as a family treasure.
Once he built his brick home in 1830, Bartholomew Bull volunteered the use of his log cabin not only as the first school in the neighbourhood, but also as a site where traveling Methodist clergy could preach. This was the first church in Regal Heights.
Life was hard on early Ontario farms. The John Carroll wrote about his youth on his brother's farm in York County in the 1820s recalling "frugal fare and work, work, work." (John Carroll, My Boy's Life, Toronto: 1882 quoted in Peter Baskerville, Ontario - Image, Identity and Power, Toronto: 2002.)
In the 1850s, the old Indian path at the base of the hill was widened and called Davenport Road, after the village of Davenport, which was established near Davenport Road and Symington Avenue -- west of today's Regal Heights neighbourhood. Although originally improved by the colonial government, for many years during the 19th century the road was privately owned and people using it had to pay tolls. The 1830s cottage of the toll keeper at Bathurst Street and Davenport Road survives and is located in a park at the northwest corner of the intersection.
Travel on Davenport Road was not easy in the 19th century. A grandson of Bull described the road as "an epic of mud." Davenport Hill was a challenge as well. Locals used to observe that horses tired from pulling wagons along muddy Davenport Road would drop to the ground at the thought of having to pull a load up the hill.
By the 1890s, the Bull family sold off the farm at Dufferin and St. Clair so that the land could be developed as city lots. Roads were surveyed and schools built following 1910, however the widespread construction of homes did not occur until the 1920s.
Between 1900 and 1914, the land northwest of Regal Heights was developed by British immigrants who would buy property and build temporary shelters for their families before constructing their homes. This area was known as the shacklands. Judi Coburn has written The Shacklands (Toronto: Sumach Press, 1998), about the life of girl growing up in the neighbourhood.
(This photo is courtesy of the Toronto Public Library)
(Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto archives, SC 244, Item 7378.)
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