This post is material gathered for an article on the history of Simcoe Street in the Oct / Nov 2009 edition of West Central Streets (see previous post for details). Guest editor Melanie Murray and I took a walk together to look at some of the sites and people from Simcoe's past.
Simcoe Street is likely named for the first L.G. of Upper Canada and Toronto’s founding father, John Simcoe.
The portion of the street north of Portage was carved out of the parish of St. James in 1900 when a sidewalk was added to the west side of a gravel trail. The following year saw the paving of Simcoe from Ellice to Portage.
The surrounding area was on it’s way transforming from a fairly rural area, consisting mainly of farms with some industrial sites like lumber mills and metal yards, into a residential neighbourhood.
Map of area c.1910 sourceIn 1905 Simcoe had just 25 homes between Portage and Wellington Avenues. Likely most of those were existing buildings as many residents already worked at sites in the area. They included labourers, a dairyman, a carpenter and a shoemaker.
Bakery Tender, Simcoe and Ellice Nov 1905
1906 Home Ad source
1908 was another important year. There were now 210 homes between Portage and Wellington. As well, Livinia Street (St. Matthews Avenue) first appears. Livinia would become a retail and commercial centre for residents soon boasting Fensom's Butcher(703 Livinia & Toronto), John Willis, grocer (660 Livinia ) and and Samuel Johnson and Harry Saunders grocers (820 Livinia at Simcoe).
Some of the residents at the time:
- 319 Simcoe - George Patterson, carpenter
- 318 Simcoe - William Mitchell, grinder
- 257 Simcoe - CPR conductor
- 250 Simcoe - Bookkeeper
At 261 we find Mrs. Henry who gives Piano lessons !
The most interesting site on Simcoe in 1908 was number 226: the “Salvation Army Neglected Kids House”. On February 5, 1909 this house would be the site of Canada’s first Juvenile Court. Justice Thomas M Daly, also Brandon’s first Mayor, would travel to the house to hold court. For more on the first juvenile court. (Today, that site is the east side of the Burger King restaurant).
Throughout it's development Simcoe appears to have remained a working class area and included a number of social agencies and missions. The Norwegian Anglican Church and St. Margaret's Mission (c1912) was at the corner of Livinia and Simcoe, now a tot lot.
Another interesting home was that of the Lockart family at 368. There is a wonderful story on the Pier 21 website of a group of Irish children who arrive in Winnipeg and are taken in by the Lockarts while they learn to adapt to a new country. You can read their account here. Sadly, that home is now a modern apartment block.
One building that intrigued us was the only commercial looking structure facing Simcoe: number 597. If you look on the side you can barely see the word laundry !
After some digging, I found that it is circa 1912 and home to the St. Paul Chinese Laundry owned by the Lee family. It continued on until the the early 30's when it was known as Wong Hop Laundry
A neighbouring Chinese laundry purchased the business accounts in 1932 but moved them to their existing premises on Sargent and 597 Simcoe went on the market.
It was listed for sale at $1200 for a couple of years but with no takers the contents were liquidated in 1934 and it became general office space for sale or rent.
In 1937 an enterprising barber was busted for using the upstairs to run an illegal still but the main floor remained vacant until later that year.
It is around this time when small, single sentence ads begin to appear in the classifieds selling used items listing old items such as baby carriages; washing machines, car parts and, eventually, entire vehicles. These ads continued with no name associated with them up until 1953. At that time, the Carver family of 597 Simcoe announced the birth of their son.
The advertising continued for another decade then stop in 1963. After that, there is the odd ad every few years for similar items then, in 1983, a huge garage sale seemed to clear the place out of decades of leftover car parts and other mechanical items.
Could it be that the Carvers lived there from 1937 to 1963 - perhaps as late as 1983 ? At some point I will return to the Henderson directories to find out !
Images of Simcoe Street (my full gallery is here)