Toronto Reference Library at 40: The Evolution of its Site. Part 3. Asquith Avenue Frontage
Toronto Reference Library is bordered by Asquith Avenue on its south facade; its property there starts at Yonge Street and extends east to Sherlock Holmes Walk, about a half block west of Park Road. All of the buildings shown below once stood on the north side of Asquith Avenue on the site of the present library. They date back to the time when Asquith Avenue was called James Street (1836?-1884) or Bismarck Avenue (1884-1915).
1. 10 Asquith Avenue. Stood 1841-1974
Wesleyan Methodists opened a chapel in this building in 1841, on land given by Joseph Bloor in 1839. In 1854, the congregation relocated to a new, larger church, later known as Central Methodist Church, at the northwest corner of Bloor Street and Gwynne (Park Road). Its original church was taken over and enlarged in 1856 for the medical school that Dr. John Rolph had re-established in 1843, which became affiliated with Victoria College in 1854. The mansard roof, front bay windows and back section may have been added at that time. In 1870, the medical school moved from “the poky old place in Yorkville” and the building became a dwelling. In the late 1940s, silversmith Andrew Fussell and wife Margaret Mingay acquired the property for their home and studio, and remained there for the next 20 years. In 1973, Tranby Holdings Limited owned 10 Asquith Avenue as well as no. 8; both buildings were then rooming houses.
When 10 Asquith was slated for demolition in 1973, the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario suggested that the Asquith side of the new Reference Library could be altered to create a courtyard to enclose the house which would serve as a specialized medical library and be connected by tunnel to the main building. The library board rejected the idea as “not practical” but offered to assist in moving the building if someone else would pay for it. In the end, the building was demolished but in 1980 the Toronto Historical Board placed a plaque commemorating "The Rolph School" approximately where the historic building had stood for more than 130 years.
2. Parker's Dye Works Entrance at 16-20 Asquith Avenue. Stood c.1908-c.1960
For 75 years, Parker's Dye Works occupied most of the property where the Toronto Reference Library was built in the 1970s. Its Bismarck Avenue entrance was added in about 1908 on property that David Crown (1821-1896), a boot and shoemaker, had acquired by the early 1850s, and where he or his descendants lived in a double house at 18-20 Bismarck until it was demolished for the Parker expansion.
In December 1908, "The Canadian Magazine" commented that Parker's new entrance had “even a more imposing frontage than that on Yonge Street and it is from that part of the works that the great volume of the business comes and goes.” The 15,000-square-foot building included an engine and a boiler to accommodate three stokers that supplied power and steam for the dye house and finishing rooms.
The dwelling shown here on the left was the east half of a double house at 14 Bismarck Avenue, which then was occupied by a Mrs. Catherine Allan.
3. 22-24 Asquith Avenue. Stood 1850?-1960?
William Savery Crown (1818-1890), a native of Norfolk, England, lived on the north side of today's Asquith Avenue from about 1850 until his death. In 1852, the Canada census recorded that William Crown lived in a two-storey frame dwelling with his wife of four years, Mary Dunton, their two young children (the couple eventually had one son and five daughters) and William's parents, Elias and Esther Crown. Both men were masons: William worked in the building trades or as an expressman throughout his life. David Crown, a boot and shoemaker, also owned property on Jarvis Street on the adjacent lot to the west of William's.
When Jarvis Street was numbered in the mid-1870s, William’s address became no. 9 (David Crown was at no. 5). After annexation to Toronto, Jarvis Street was renamed Bismarck Avenue and the street was renumbered. William's address became 24 Bismarck, the place where he died on May 18, 1890. (David was variously at 18 and 20 Bismarck.) William's widow, Mary, continued to reside in the old house until her own death in 1903; daughter Caroline, their second youngest child, remained at 24 Bismarck until eight years before her death in 1934.
Parker’s Dye Works was adjacent to the dwellings at 22-24 Asquith Avenue, and is visible in the background of this picture. With its high chimney, large sign and massive size, it must have overwhelmed the small houses on Asquith Avenue. Many workers lived on the street in 1950: a roofer was at no. 22 and a employee at Canada Malting Co. was at no. 24.
A fire insurance plan published in May 1965 showed that all of the buildings on the north side of Asquith Avenue east of no. 10 to no. 28, including Parker’s Dye Works and the double house at nos. 22-24, were no longer standing. Toronto Reference Library was built on their sites in the 1970s.
Find Out More
To see originals of many of the items featured in the blog, join me for a Discover Special Collections talk on Wednesday November 1.
Much of the information on the blog is derived from Stephanie Hutcheson's book, Yorkville in Pictures, or my unpublished revision and expansion of it.