Jarvis Street, wealth and power in early Toronto

Bruce Bell, History Columnist –

Jarvis Street, named for one of Toronto’s earliest residents, in the late 19th century was this city’s most desirable address, with opulent mansions lining its well-manicured sidewalks.

The street came to life in the early 1800s as a dusty trail lead­ing to the Hazelburn estate of Samuel Peters Jarvis. His estate was built in 1822 where Jarvis and Shuter Streets now inter­sect.

Between 1846 and 1851 Hazel­burn’s once sprawling grounds were subdivided into smaller lots, with new streets running through its once wooded area. During this time Jarvis Street was named for William Jarvis, father of Samuel Peters.

One of the few early buildings to survive is the former Gray­mar House, still with its original 16 chimney pots rising from its roof at 29 Jarvis, at the north­east corner of Front and Jarvis Streets. Built as a hotel circa 1840, it had a tavern on its main floor.

The hotel catered mostly to farmers coming into the city on Friday nights to be close to St. Lawrence Market when it opened at 5 a.m. on Saturdays. At the Haymarket Building next door, horses were weighed and sold to wholesalers on the street.

Henry Bower Lane, who de­signed the original city hall (now encased within the mar­ket), is believed to have also de­signed Graymar House and the Haymarket (still standing at 106 Front Street East, now Popeye’s Chicken).

The former Graymar Hotel, one of the oldest buildings on Jarvis Street. Photo: Bruce Bell

Toward the end of the 19th century, Jarvis Street became a tree-lined boulevard 80 feet (24 metres) wide that quickly be­came the most enviable address in Toronto.

One of the first great homes to rise there was Northfield, built in 1856 for longtime Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat, a Father of Confederation. Today this great home still stands at 372 Jarvis Street, just north of Carl­ton Street, as part of the Nation­al Ballet of Canada School.

After living in Northfield only six years, Mowat sold the mansion to Edward Ruther­ford, president of Consumers’ Gas. The Rutherfords occupied Northfield for 52 years during Jarvis Street’s heyday, when it was nicknamed Canada’s Fifth Avenue after New York City’s fashionable street. Its peak in Toronto came with the arrival of the wealthy and influential Mas­sey clan.

Having made a fortune in farm equipment, Hart Massey in 1882 bought the former Mc­Master mansion, then called Eu­clid Hall, at 515 Jarvis Street. It was first built in 1868 for whole­sale magnate A.R. McMaster.

After extensive remodeling, the Masseys’ magnificent Ba­ronial Gothic manor, complete with a Moorish-styled men’s smoking room, became Toron­to’s social and political centre in the late 19th century. Today this grand house on the northeast corner of Jarvis and Wellesley, with most of the original archi­tectural features, is home to the popular Keg Restaurant.

Next door at 519 Jarvis is an­other Massey mansion, the boy­hood home of Governor Gener­al Vincent Massey and future Hollywood actor Raymond Massey. Today this completely refurnished mansion is home to York College of Industry and Technology.

Another wealthy family re­siding on Jarvis Street home was the Gooderhams. The 1889 George Horace Gooderham house, 504 Jarvis Street at Caw­thra Square, was designed by architect David Roberts, also responsible for most of the land­mark Gooderham and Worts Distillery east of Parliament Street.

This lavish red-stoned Ro­manesque mansion, built for the 21-year-old grandson of Dis­tillery founder William Gooder­ham, still stands and has been completely refurbished.

.The great homes of Jarvis Street didn’t have to be spec­tacular huge mansions, as prov­en by the former residence of Charles R. Rundle, 514 Jarvis Street at Gloucester Street.

This extraordinary example of Romanesque/Queen Anne/Music Hall architecture was designed by one of Toronto’s greatest architects, Edward James Lennox in 1889. Lennox designed leading Toronto land­mark structures including the still standing King Edward Ho­tel on King Street, Casa Loma, Old City Hall and additions to the Massey mansion.

Despite its pedigree, Jarvis Street declined during the 20th century, overtaken as fashion­able by Rosedale and Forest Hill. The great homes of Jarvis started to be divided into apart­ments, rooming houses or just plain abandoned.

When I arrived in Toronto in the summer of 1972, Jarvis Street was synonymous with drugs, street prostitution and flophouses. However, many of these former estates have been given new life. With new con­dos, restaurants and hotels, Jar­vis Street is returning to its glo­ry years