“Where and what is Cedarvale?” I was asked by a person living on the Danforth.
Cedarvale is the name of two areas in the city of Toronto. For our purpose I will write about the one in the Woodbine and Danforth area. (The other is in the West End near Bathurst and St. Clair).
A couple hundred years ago, the Danforth was a muddy trail, starting at the Don River, going east to Scarborough. There weren’t many settlers then – only in the mid- to late 1800s did they come to the area. There were market gardens and some farmers, but very little commercial activity until the 1900s.
However, in the area at Danforth and Woodbine, known then as Cedarvale, there was some traffic from farmers heading to the St. Lawrence Market with their wagons. To the west of Woodbine was a popular inn known as the Dutch Farm, founded in the 1870s.
The Dutch Farm was run by Charles Heber, famous for his German food, hospitality, and music. The inn was originally on the north side, but was rebuilt later on the south side, where East Lynn Park is now.
At that spot, a stream ran south and pooled just north of the railroad tracks. This pond was used by the Grand Trunk Railroad (later CNR) to supply water for their steam engines. Later, when the Dutch Farm was gone, a Mr. Harris had a large rendering factory and tannery. He employed a large work force, but because of the strong odour he was forced to move the plant.
On the east side of Woodbine and Danforth (it wasn’t called Cedarvale until 1910 or 1911) was a popular race track that had different names and owners at different times. At the height of its popularity it was known as the Newmarket Race Track, owned by a Mr. Gates. The track had the distinction of being one of the most high-class establishments for several reasons.
The Newmarket opened before Woodbine Race Track on Queen Street. In 1868 the Queen’s Plate – the social event of the season – was held there. The Grand Trunk Railroad at Main and Gerrard (not as large as it would later be) brought in thousands of people for the Queen’s birthday.
Prior to the First World War, buildings and homes of varying sizes dotted the Danforth. In those early days there were just a few dozen people.
The glory years were about to begin for Cedarvale. What was the reason? Transportation. The boom years began as streetcars came to the Danforth. A bridge was built across the Don River, and the population and commercial explosion began.
Even though Cedarvale was in the city directory and stretched from close to Coxwell in the west to near Main Street in the east, Lumsden to the north and the rail line to the south, the people lost again. The City of Toronto triumphed and gobbled up Cedarvale.
What made it such an important area? Entertainment: the Prince of Wales Theatre on the northeast corner, which survived until the advent of television and the demise of the neighbourhood theatres. Historical churches: the Danforth Mennonite Church on the north side of Danforth, with well over 100 years of serving the area, and the architectural gem of the Danforth Gospel Hall, with its front pillars standing guard for decades, or Hope United Church, more than 120 years old.
Three major banks catered to the people of Cedarvale, along with several smaller financial institutions.
On the north side, west of Woodbine were the Jenny Lindy Candy Shop, Laura Secord, F.W. Woolworth & Co., S.S. Kresge, Loblaws, Acme Dairies, Scarbo Dairy, and Stricklands Meat Market (still in business a century later, now on Greenwood just south of Gerrard). Tracey’s Hardware at 2460 is the oldest hardware store in the Cedarvale area. There used to be more car lots – more than any other area. There was a telegraph service at 2129 Danforth. (What’s a telegraph?)
For those who liked to imbibe now and then we had our own beer store and a wine-making business. We had hotels, like the Linsmore to the west. The Commodore Hotel was at 2112 Danforth just east of Woodbine. Not to be outdone, at 2301 Danforth we have one of our favourites. In the 1930s, it was listed as the Norton Apartments. Later, when it received a liquor licence, it became the Ridley Arms Apartments. After that it was the Wembley Tavern, with the same people patronizing this favourite watering hole.
Everything that makes a town or village was in Cedarvale, the community the people wanted. Some of the streets in the area: Gledhill, Woodmount, Oak Crest, Harris, New Market, Doncaster, Keystone, Epsom, Roseheath, East and West Lynn, Westlake, Gates, Glebeholme, Wolverleigh.
What happened to this section of the Danforth, to Cedarvale? The answer is simple. Thousands shopped and ate in the area during the 1930s through the early 1960s, but a modern phenomenon happened: the subway.
Transportation went underground, and with it, the people. Businesses collapsed, though a few survived.
Progress has its faults, such as the demise of the Danforth and Cedarvale, but who knows – we have Taste of the Danforth and our local BIAs – maybe Cedarvale will rise again!