1867, Confederation & Bedford Park

Portrait of the Mechanic’s Institute, Church St. Photo is courtesy of the Toronto Public Library Digital Archives. Baldwin Collection.

Families in the Bedford Park area grabbing a TTC family pass on Canada Day to head for Queen’s Park’s free entertainment, rides and crafts are repeating the very same excursion taken by area families 140 years ago.

July 1, 1867 may have marked Canada’s transition from colony to nation, but for the farm families north of the Lawrence properties it was a day off from chores. Many of them hopped into their wagons and buggies to make the trip down Yonge Street to join in the planned celebrations. They passed through the villages of Eglinton, Davisville, Deer Park and Yorkville on their way to the city.

The party would have been underway for hours by the time they arrived. Celebrations began the previous midnight with the tolling of the steeple bells at St. James Cathedral. A 21-gun salute took place before dawn, followed the long slow roasting of a whole ox over a bonfire; it would later be carved up and distributed to the poor. The 9:30 morning service at the Mechanics’ Institute behind the cathedral to bless the new Dominion was also likely over.

But there was probably still time to catch part of the military parade down city streets and join the picnics taking place down by the lake. A highlight was taking advantage of special boat trips around Toronto’s islands.

In the evening, many moved on to Queen’s Park to hear the concert band. As the sun set, Chinese lanterns added a fairytale atmosphere to the park. For those farm families prepared to make a late night of it, there was fireworks before they had to make the long trip back up Yonge in the dark.

It’s probable that two of the neighborhood’s most prominent landowners stayed overnight in Toronto in order to take part in a special banquet at the Music Hall above the Mechanics’ Institute. William McDougall and James Metcalfe, both Members of Parliament for the new Canada, likely watched as the featured speakers — John A. Macdonald and George Brown — buried their longtime political rivalry and concentrated on optimistic rhetoric to capture the excitement achieved in creating a new country.
McDougall didn’t spend much time on his farm at today’s Yonge and Ranleigh streets. He was actually representing Lanark County in Ottawa and had just been appointed to be Macdonald’s Minister of Public Works. Across the street from the McDougall farm was Metcalfe’s Knockloe estate (on the site of today’s Blessed Sacrament school). As president of the Royal Canadian Bank, Metcalfe had been encouraged to run for federal office for York East. He now represented all of York County east of the Yonge (on McDougall’s side) as well as Yorkville, Scarborough and Markham.

The MP for the west side of Yonge was William Pearce Howland, a prominent miller on the Humber River and finance minister in the former colony of Canada. He was named a minister in Macdonald’s cabinet, but would soon step down to become Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor.
Canada was now a country, but the cluster of farms north of the Lawrences wouldn’t become a village for another 25 years.

Gary Schlee has been a resident of Bedford Park since 1991. As an author and historian, he has written many articles about the history of our area, notably from 2003-2012, for Community Life published by Fairlawn Avenue United Church (FAUC). This article originally appeared in the Spring 2008 issue. BPRO is grateful to Gary and FAUC for kindly and generously authorizing us to reprint these articles on our website. Please come back regularly to see additional articles as we post them.