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The New Influx

The Lot Days | The New Influx | The Ward | The End of an Era
North east corner of Elizabeth and Albert street, 1916. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2173.

By the late 1800s the area around Osgoode Hall had become an important receiving area for new immigrants. Various ethnic groups came to Canada at that time to flee persecution or to try to better their economic circumstances.

The first Jews in Toronto had arrived a few decades earlier. Most had been well-to-do and blended relatively easily into their new community. The late 19th century wave from Eastern Europe was poor and was not welcomed. The Ward, as the neighbourhood came to be known, was popular with the new arrivals as it was close to their main source of employment: the ready-made clothing industry. By 1911 the Ward was a self-contained Jewish community with its synagogues, shops, schools, even theatres.

38-42 Elizabeth Street, 1912. City of Toronto Archives
A survey of 1911 lists the population of the Ward as follows: 1,207 Hebrew [sic] families, 180 Italian, 32 Polish, 25 German, 9 Chinese, 8 Coloured [sic], 7 French, 3 Armenian, 2 Macedonian, 1 Swedish, 1 Greek, 1 Assyrian. The various population categories can be confusing and sometimes misleading: the category “Hebrew” for example, would have consisted of immigrants from various countries of Eastern Europe. “Russian” would have included all groups of Slavic background.

The Russian Baptist Mission on Elizabeth Street was opened in 1908 to serve Ukranian, Polish and Russian immigrants. The mission sponsored Bible readings, a reading room with foreign newspapers and evening courses in English and “native” languages.

World War One Parade, University Avenue, c. 1915. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 720B
University Avenue has long been a favourite venue for parades of all kinds. The children of the superintendent of the government’s portion of Osgoode Hall were said to have the best view of the Santa Claus Parade in all the city. Their house can be glimpsed at the back of Osgoode Hall, behind the wall, just right of the South African War Memorial.

The parade depicted here was one of many supporting war efforts over the years. University Avenue was the scene of military reviews, Victory Bond parades, Armistice Day parades and celebrations for departing or returning contingents.

East side of University Street near Osgoode Street, c. 1890. Toronto Public Library (TRL), T 12816.
By the 1880’s the neighbourhood around Osgoode Hall had started to deteriorate. One author described it in 1884: “Elizabeth Street is of unsavoury appearance and repute. Teraulay [Bay, north of Queen] ... is little better in either respect. Centre Street is another slum...” University Street (the easternmost of the two streets composing what is now University Avenue) suffered too, and may have seemed worse in contrast with the picturesque surroundings: “The avenue, extending from Queen Street to the Park, is, even to one who has seen the best drives in Europe and America, from St. James Park in London to the famous Cocoanut-Palm Avenue at Rio de Janeiro, one of the very finest in the world.”

York Street, looking north from Richmond Street, c. 1911. Toronto Public Library (TRL), T 12919
C. Pelham Mulvany wrote a bleak description of the neighbourhood in his 1884 book Toronto: Past and Present. He was particularly appalled by York Street. According to him, this fine broad road with Osgoode Hall at one end and a choice view of the Bay at the other, had the potential to be one of the finest of the city. Instead, it was home to disreputable characters and their businesses, where “...at forbidden hours Dick Swiveller and Thomas Idle resort for a surreptitious dram.”

This view encompasses the area where the William Mackenzie House stood until 1890

York Street, looking south-west from Queen Street, 1909? Toronto Public Library (TRL), T 12925.
C. Pelham Mulvany wrote a bleak description of the neighbourhood in his 1884 book Toronto: Past and Present. He was particularly appalled by York Street. According to him, this fine broad road with Osgoode Hall at one end and a choice view of the Bay at the other, had the potential to be one of the finest of the city. Instead, it was home to disreputable characters and their businesses, where “...at forbidden hours Dick Swiveller and Thomas Idle resort for a surreptitious dram.”

This view encompasses the area where the William Mackenzie House stood until 1890.