Greenwood Avenue’s history of bricks
We have in the East End a number of exceptional streets that are known for a variety of reasons. One of these is Greenwood Avenue.
Greenwood is located almost in the middle between Leslie Street and Coxwell Avenue. Greenwood is unique in that it probably had more brickyards than any other street in the city of Toronto and surrounding area.
We look now at the old Don Valley Brickworks that was at one time the largest brickyard in the area, and now is a historic site. The Greenwood Avenue brickyards gave the Don Valley Brickworks quite a run for its money in the production of bricks from the 1860s to the 1920s.
Both areas, because of the type of soil that was in the ground, were ideal for making bricks, and these two areas provided bricks for quite a number of houses. Thousands of homes were built from bricks in these two areas. That is not to say that there wasn't any other place that made bricks. There were other brickyards in different localities.
In the late 19th century brickyards were one of the main sources of employment, along with market gardens, in the East End of the city. Greenwood Avenue was originally called Greenwood’s Lane, and was named after a local resident – Mr. Greenwood – who lived on the northwest corner of the then Kingston Road and Greenwood’s Lane, which later became Queen Street East and Greenwood Avenue when Kingston Road was renamed Queen Street in the 1880s.
Mr. Greenwood was the proprietor of the Greenwood Hotel, which was the centre for the population of the area. Dances, wedding receptions, etc. were held at this popular hotel. Mr. Greenwood was also a painter and a wagon-maker who had his wagon making business in the barn in the back of the hotel.
In those days, whiskey and drinking were a way of life for the hard-working pioneers. Hotel hours were not too stringent but there were certain rules that had to be observed. Mr. Greenwood was popular but he did have enemies and some of these tried to ‘do him in’.
On one occasion, Mr. Greenwood sold some ‘spirits’ to an informer at a time when he wasn't supposed to. This informer went to the local judge, who decided that Mr. Greenwood was guilty of selling spirits at an illegal time. Mr. Greenwood was so incensed that he changed the name of his hotel to the ‘Puritan’, with a picture of the whiskey informant with a noose around his neck and a caricature of the judge.
This sign remained until the death of Mr. Greenwood. After his death his wife became the proprietor of the Puritan Hotel. The Greenwood family is buried in St. John Norway (Berkley Cemetery).
Greenwood in those days only went as far as the Danforth and didn't continue north until much later. On both sides of the street there were at least 10 brickyards that produced hundreds of thousands of bricks annually.
On the east side you had John Price Brick Maker at 99 Greenwood. Further north were Morley & Ashbridge Brick manufacturers, and Ashbridge Brick Co. at 193 Greenwood. Ashbridge was one of the oldest pioneers in the area; Morley also was one of the early settlers.
Up the street we had Taylor Brickyard, then Logan Brickyards. On the west side was John Price Brickyards. Joseph Russel Brick Yards was one of the largest. Mr. Russell ran for public office, and the Russell streetcar barns are named after him. We also had Wagstaff Brick Yards, Isaac Price Brickyards, and more. Greenwood Avenue was the brick capital and employed hundreds of workers.
There was a downside however - all of the new homes that were built put their laundry on clotheslines. The brickyards’ blasting created large clouds of earth that dirtied the laundry, although the ladies complained to no avail.
Where Greenwood Park is now, between Dundas and Gerrard, was also a brickyard. Just prior to the First World War an entrepreneur put in a motor-dome, a race track for car racers. At times there would be 3,000 people watching these car races.
Later it was sold and became a public park known as Greenwood. On the west side was a great sports palace built, called Ulster Stadium, where football, baseball and rugby were played. Thousands came to see the spectacle. This sports palace was active for many years, and is remembered by a street named Athletes Avenue.
One feature for history buffs is a butcher and meat shop called Stricklands Butcher Shop. This shop was located at different locations on the Danforth and other places for close to 80 years. The current shop on Greenwood Avenue is still run by two jovial Strickland brothers, who also happen to carry the Beach Metro News in their store.
Later on, Greenwood became the home of the large marshaling yards for the TTC to store subway cars when not in use. North of the Danforth, Danforth Technical School was opened. Several churches are now found on Greenwood. There was also a theatre on Greenwood at one time.
Greenwood Avenue is a most historic street due to the brickyards. It is still steeped in history. More to come...
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