Happy 100th Birthday, North York!

May 31, 2022 | Nicky

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From the Aga Khan Museum to the Humber River Trail to the Black Creek Pioneer Village, North York has many attractions for residents and visitors to enjoy. Did you know that 2022 marks the centennial of North York becoming an independent township, and that it didn’t actually become a city until 1979? If you are anything like me, North York might seem surprisingly young as far as cities go. And if you are also anything like me, you may find that you were taught very little about local history in school when you were growing up.

With the date of the centennial fast approaching on June 13th, there is no time like the present to start learning a bit about North York’s past.

A black and white photo of Jacob Stong house from around the 1880s.
Jacob Stong House, built 1860-61, near Keele St. and Finch Ave, ca. 1880s. Photographer unknown. North York Historical Society. 
A photo of the Jacob Stong House, 2022.
Jacob Stong House, May 2022. Photographer: Sarah Walcz. Used with permission.

The land North York sits on today is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the Wendat and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. It is also a part of the Dish with One Spoon territory, which is a treaty between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Anishinabek and allied nations. In 1787, this Indigenous land was acquired by the British in a controversial agreement known as the Toronto Purchase. Poorly defined land boundaries and a lack of documentation were a few of the glaring issues that led to the renegotiation of terms over many years. A sobering Indigenous perspective on the Toronto Purchase Agreement can be found on the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation webpage. While a land claim was made by the Mississaugas, it wasn’t until 2010 that it was settled by the Canadian Government.

In 1791, the province of Quebec was divided and Upper Canada was established. A few years later, settler farmers began cultivating Crown land grants in York Township, directly north of the new town of York. See the Archives of Ontario and this North York timeline for a closer look at southern Ontario and the birth of North York.

Hard as it is to imagine now, North York was very much a farming community for over a century, made up of a scattering of villages. But the same could not be said of the southern regions of York Township as the growing city of Toronto expanded north into the Township. Farmers in North York watched the urbanization of the Township with growing dissatisfaction. They were shouldering a hefty portion of Township taxes – over 20% - with little to show for it. Without strong political representation, many of their concerns slipped through the cracks. The conditions of North York’s dirt roads were so terrible, for example, that people tried to fill holes with ashes from their fireplaces.

A black and white photo of Bayview Ave, looking north from Eglinton Ave.
Bayview Ave. looking north from Eglinton Ave., 1910. Photographer unknown. Baldwin Collection of Canadiana

Banding together, these farmers – including Robert Franklin Hicks, who would become the first reeve of North York - pushed for the separation of North York from York Township. On June 13th of 1922, North York gained its independence and was home to a humble population of 6000 people.

Surprisingly, while the population grew steadily and housing development expanded, North York kept true to its rural roots until after World War II. It achieved borough status in 1967, and twelve years later, finally became a city of its own. Then the amalgamation in 1998 saw North York merging with Etobicoke, Scarborough, York, and East York into the ‘megacity’ that is Toronto as we know it today.

A black and white photo of Yonge Street, looking north to the Jolly Miller Hotel.
Yonge Street, looking north to the Jolly Miller hotel, 1955. Photographer: James V. Salmon. Baldwin Collection of Canadiana.
A present day photo of Yonge Street, looking north to the Jolly Miller hotel.
A view of the Jolly Miller, 2022. Photographer: Sarah Walcz. Used with permission.

Of course, this is only the briefest of retrospectives on a city with so much to offer. For a deeper dive into all things North York, check out the events and resources from our partners at the North York Historical Society. From preserving historical sites to bolstering the Library’s historical collections, the NYHS is devoted to keeping North York history alive one program, newsletter, and plaque at a time. How many plaques have you seen?

A black and white photo of Willowdale Area Branch (Gladys Allison building), the former North York Central Library, 1960s. Toronto Public Library Archives.
Willowdale Area Branch (Gladys Allison building), the former North York Central Library, ca. 1960s. Photographer unknown. Toronto Public Library Archives. 

Here at North York Central Library, we have the North York History Room, a dedicated space for all things local history. It is also home to the Golden Lion Hotel’s titular lion. Although currently closed to the public, library staff are hard at work preparing the room for a grand opening later in 2022. Keep a lookout for it on the fifth floor, in the Society and Recreation department.

In the meantime, there are plenty of ways for you to whet your appetite for local history. Consider the following:


Digital resources

Museum passes


Here’s to 100 years of North York, “The City With Heart” – and to many more milestones to come!