History of the OEV Part II: The Village of London East

From “The People Came. The People Stayed. From Lilley’s Corner to Old East Village.”  By Benjamin A. Vazquez, U. E.

I have been able to discern very little information about the proceedings leading up to the incorporation of London East. The traditional account takes a rather bleak view of the process as a power-grab by London East’s wealthiest industrialists. I see no evidence to support that thesis. For one thing, the individuals who appear to have most actively supported incorporation were a diverse lot. They included Murray Anderson and Charles Lilley, to be sure, but they also included a grocer, a butcher, and a baggage man, among others. For another thing, the traditional tale of London East’s incorporation is inevitably accompanied by a dim view of the very idea of an independent London East, and a sense of the absolute inevitability of annexation to London.

Regardless, in the spring of 1874 a public meeting was held in the Adelaide Street school. It appears to have been decisive, for at that meeting two men were assigned to take a census of the proposed village. The task was finished in a week, the returned population being 2,416. On the 6th of June the Middlesex County Council met. Newspaper coverage was extensive – on certain issues. The county council was engaged in determining the future of the Exhibition Grounds and the Western Fair, both of which were then located north of downtown. Amid the discussion, two extra motions were passed, almost as an afterthought.

“Moved by W. D. Hammond, seconded by J. W. Campbell, that a by-law be drafted incorporating London East as a village, comprising the south halves of lots 11 and 12 in the 1st concession, the west half of lot 10, and the whole of lots 11 and 12, Concession C, and London township, containing all 700 acres, and that Abram Efner, junior, be returning officer, and that the first election be held at the Adelaide School house. Carried.”

I quote verbatim from the London Free Press. The London Advertiser contained no more. Interestingly, the other item of the night was the incorporation of the village of Petersburg, which lay between the Thames River and Wharncliffe Road west of downtown. At a stroke the two neighbourhoods flanking the centre city were given legal form with barely a whisper of notice, while the affairs of the Western  Fair occupied the press. Some things, it would seem, never change.

The first election took place on January 5th, and returned Andrew Ross as Reeve. As incorporated, the village of London East extended north of Grosvenor’s Road (Dundas) to roughly where the C. P. tracks are today , and south to Trafalgar Street. The new village of London East was divided into two wards. A northern ward in the vicinity of Grosvenor’s Road, and a southern ward in the vicinity of Hamilton Road. In these first few critical council sessions, the legal framework of the village was erected.

By-law number one was a long document, detailing the workings of the village council on an administrative and legislative level. It shall, however, warm the hearts of most East Londoners that by-law number two concerned the licensing of taverns and bars. There was an inspector, and there were rules. No “immoderate drinking”. No opening on the Sabbath. No “riotous or disorderly conduct”. No gambling. And every barkeep was required to provide free stables for his customer’s horses.

At this the village council called it a day. Having legalized their taverns, presumably they adjourned for the purpose of patronizing them. Two days later they returned to clean up a few apparently secondary matters – appointing the bureaucrats and providing for taxation. Important, no doubt, but the bars came first. As an aside, by-law number seven later limited the number of tavern licenses to be issued at any one time to no more than twenty-one. At the time that meant a tavern for every hundred residents of the village. I suppose that a tavern for every fifty residents would really have been a little excessive.

Additional bits of legislation were enacted in dribbles over the next few months. A basic code of public morality was enacted. It included the usual prohibitions against public swearing, drunkenness, and lewdness. It also prohibited horse racing in the streets and the firing of guns. Interestingly, it ends on a surprisingly modern note – prohibiting the beating or mistreating of animals and the killing of birds. Later, farmers were prohibited from allowing their animals from wandering freely on the streets – a prohibition which by its very presence suggests such incidents must have been a problem. The planting of trees along roadways was encouraged. A municipal seal was adopted and a board of health was created to combat infectious diseases. And finally, in July, $3,000 was raised for the construction of a new school – today’s Lorne Avenue.

1875 seems to have been a banner year for London East generally. Aside from beginning with the village’s first municipal elections, it saw the origins of Presbyterian and Methodist congregations which would long serve as anchors to the neighbourhood, the opening of the Timothy Street School, and the initiation of that miracle of modern technology: the streetcar. Well, sort of.

The streetcars had been in the works for a while. By 1875 the built-up area of London stretched north to Cheapside, south to Bruce St. and the Thames west to Wharncliffe, and east to Egerton. The area wasn’t, admittedly, particularly vast. But it was larger than people were feeling inclined to walk, and a horse was an expensive and inconvenient sort of a thing to keep. Anyway, all the important cities had streetcars, and the influence of municipal pride is never to be underestimated, particularly not in nineteenth-century Ontario.

The London Street Railway Company had been incorporated in 1873, but it wasn’t until almost two years later that they felt themselves in a position to start building. After some negotiation, the city and street railway signed an agreement on the 12th of March, allowing for the construction of tracks on city streets. Almost immediately the company managed to raise $40,000 and issued a contract for the construction of three miles of trackage. The streetcars made their inaugural run on the 24th of May, 1875. The route was along Dundas Street from Richmond to Adelaide, but by August the tracks were extended to Salter’s Grove (Queen’s Park), which remained the Dundas terminal for years.

I earlier qualified my description of the new system as “streetcars”. That was unfair, but the fact is that the new cars bore little resemblance to what modern imaginations – fed as they are by images of the streetcars of the 1920’s – will conjure. For one thing, these streetcars were noticeably smaller. Strictly speaking they were built to seat fourteen passengers, although more like thirty could be crowded into the aisle and onto the rear platform, a phenomenon which modern bus users will still no doubt be familiar with. For another thing, they weren’t electrified. On opening day the power source of the London Street Railway consisted in its entirety of six horses.

The fleet would grow, but London’s streetcars remained horse-drawn until well into the 1890’s. The stables were located from the beginning on Lyle Street. A large and ever-growing complex spread south of Dundas including stables, maintenance facilities, and – until 1885 – London East’s council chambers, which were rented from the railway.

At the same time streetcar tracks were being laid, the construction of the Timothy Street school had proceeded apace. The school was ready for the fall, opening officially on the 8th of October with speeches for dignitaries and music by the students of the Adelaide St.  School. It was a “gothic” white-brick building divided into two classrooms. Shortly after its construction the school was renamed the Anderson school in honour of Murray Anderson. By the time it reverted to the name of its street, the street itself had changed – Timothy Street would become Lorne Avenue before the century was out.

One final event of note occurred in the 1870’s. The grounds now known as Queen’s Park had been set aside on original surveys for the Church of England to support its clergy in the area. At the time it was believed that graveyards were inherent health hazards, and as London’s population grew burials in the center of town came to be viewed as a problem. St. Paul’s decided to move its graveyard east. The firest burial was in 1848, but the course of about a year the graveyard which surrounded the present cathedral was systematically dug up and reinterred in Queen’s Park, which quickly became the largest burial grounds in the region. In 1879, however, the city had caught up with the new graveyard, and the Village of London East passed laws preventing the burial of dead within the village limits. In response Woodland Cemetery was established, and plans were made to transfer the graves. Over the course of six years, from 1880 to 1886, St. Paul’s Cemetery was dug up and the bodies moved west to Woodlawn, many of them moving for the second time since their internment.

This is part two of a multi-part series. To obtain your own copy of “The People Came. The People Stayed.”, please email: jo@palacetheatre.ca.

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