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Chapter 12
The Village Transformed
Table of Contents

Title Page
Author's Preface
1 The Road through Richmond Hill
2 First Peoples on the Land
3 The European Settlers Arrive
4 From Miles' Hill to Richmond Hill: The Birth of a Community
5 Tories and Reformers
6 Stagecoach Lines and Railway Tracks
7 The Neighbours at Mid-Century
8 Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
9 Picture Post Card Village of the 1880s and 1890s
10 Rails through Richmond Hill
11 The Flowering of Richmond Hill
12 The Village Transformed
Parading, Dancing, and Skating
Richmond Hill's Fiftieth Birthday: 1923
Richmond Hill's One Hundredth Birthday: 1973
Skating in Style
Pure Water and Healthy Children
The installation of the waterworks in 1921 inspired a Richmond Hill bard to send this bit of doggerel in to the local paper:
"Mrs. Pankhurst's Lecture"
Flying Kites on Richmond's Hill
Between Old and New
"Dr. Langstaff Describes the Advent of the Horseless Carriage"
Alex Hume's Cushions and the Power of the Press
Turn-of-Century Tracks Block Yonge Street Construction
From Radial Cars to Rubber Tires
Table of Illustrations

From Radial Cars to Rubber Tires

The automobile and the horse and buggy compete for attention on Yonge Street.
During the first week of August in 1914, the same week that Europe went to war, the provincial highways department took a census of Yonge Street traffic. Each day from seven o'clock in the morning until seven o'clock in the evening, from August 3 to August 9, departmental employees counted the number of vehicles passing Jefferson Post Office between Richmond Hill and Oak Ridges. They recorded an average ratio of 170 motor vehicles to 22 horse-drawn vehicles per day - a ratio of almost 8 to 1. 13

The first gasoline pump north of Toronto in Thornhill, established by John L. McDonald, circa 1921. Department of Highways, Ontario.
By 1914, the rush to the rubber-tired vehicle was well underway. Just fifteen years earlier, in April 1899, The Liberal had made note of the first horseless carriage to pass through Richmond Hill, and in 1902 Dr. Rolph Langstaff became the owner of the village's first automobile - a spanking new Oldsmobile touring car. In 1912, letters to The Liberal debated the merits of raising speed limits to thirty kilometres (about twenty miles) an hour in rural areas and twenty-five kilometres (about fifteen miles) an hour in villages. In the early 1920s, Herbert Hall opened Richmond Hill's first gasoline service station, while Trench Carriage Works witnessed a drastic slippage in business. 14

After the First World War, the automobile seriously started to take over Yonge Street. The summer of 1924 witnessed a daily average of 4132 cars whizzing by the Langstaff intersection; by 1929, the average reached 5792. Motor trucks soon joined the passing parade. Then came motor buses - from two a day in the summer of 1924 to twenty-one a day five years later. 15 With the new motorized perambulators came more traffic infractions and an overworked village constable. Finally, in August 1929, council came to his aid by petitioning the Ontario government to establish a traffic court in the village. Within a week, the province named Garnet H. Duncan as magistrate for Richmond Hill's first traffic court.

The invasion of the automobile also meant that roads had to be upgraded and consistent standards of quality had to be met across the province. So it was that Governor Simcoe's former Yonge Street stump trail passed from county to provincial ownership in 1920. Three years later, a new asphaltic concrete pavement was laid from Toronto north to Richmond Hill, replacing the old nineteenth-century macadamized gravel surface.

Vehicles powered by internal combustion soon took precedence over the radial railway, known as the Lake Simcoe line and operated by the Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC) in the late 1920s. Both passenger and freight traffic fell steadily during the 1920s as more and more people bought automobiles and small businesses purchased motor trucks.

Track work on the radial railway line, October 1927. Toronto Transit Commission
As traffic and revenues declined, radial service was cut back. The Schomberg and Aurora branch line ran for the last time on June 10, 1927, and rails were removed from the right-of-way over the next few months. Bond Lake Park closed forever following the 1928 summer season; the property was eventually sold for $60,000. Radial runs on Yonge Street were cut in half and co-ordinated with new Gray Coach bus service between Toronto and Newmarket.

Finally, in the spring of 1929, the TTC announced plans to end radial service on Yonge Street.Richmond Hill and other communities along the line mounted strong protests and York County council hired engineering consultants to fight the decision. Negotiations dragged on for a year, but to no avail. Shortly after midnight on March 16, 1930, the last radial car trundled down the tracks from Newmarket through Richmond Hill to its southern terminus at Hogg's Hollow.

Not quite the last. On July 17th, three months after initial abandonment, radial cars returned to the stretch of Yonge Street that ran from Richmond Hill south to the Toronto city limits. The reprieve followed a last-minute rescue operation by Richmond Hill village council and the townships of Markham,Vaughan, and North York. The four municipalities purchased the line, renamed it the North Yonge Railways, and contracted with the TTC to run it.

So radial cars still ran along Yonge Street south of the village for another eighteen years. Hourly service continued between Richmond Hill and Toronto, half-hourly in peak periods. The single fare to Toronto was thirty cents, round-trip tickets were fifty-five cents. The TTC invested in track and overhead improvements, installed a new signal system, and even purchased land at the north end of Richmond Hill for a future track loop. 16

Despite this second life for the radial railway, the rubber-tired vehicle now owned Yonge Street. Daily traffic at Langstaff Corner during 1930 averaged 8374 automobiles and 78 buses. 17Yonge Street itself was one of the new King's Highways of Ontario, proudly bearing its Number 11 designation.

Paving Yonge Street through Richmond Hill in 1927. Department of Public Highways of Ontario
Automobiles claim ascendancy on the stretch of Yonge Street between Carrville and Major Major Mackenzie drives, circa 1930. City of Toronto Archives James collection 1195
Yonge Street had triumphed over yet another transportation revolution. Route of the solitary horseback rider and pioneer settler's wagon in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the thoroughfare had thrived with the stagecoach era of the 1830s and 1840s, survived the challenge of the steam railway in the 1850s, incorporated the electric railway in the 1890s, and now it embraced the automobile.

The last crop on the Palmer Farm, south half of lot 45, Concession One, Markham Township, 1922, with Richard Stephenson cutting grain.
Mr. Paxton ploughing a field where the Richmond Plaza sits today.
Like earlier transportation revolutions, the coming of the automobile stimulated yet another wave of development along Yonge Street. Long strings of homes sitting on five-acre (two-hectare) lots began appearing along the highway south of town as early as 1910. That year, the McLean farm was transformed into the first registered residential subdivision on the west side of the road between Langstaff and Carrville roads - the emerging community of Richvale.

The Scott Farm on Scott Drive.
Many of Richvale's new residents were commuters who drove to work in Toronto each weekday morning and back in the evening. Growth was slow at first, because of the lack of public utilities, but gradually Richvale began to take shape. Richvale School on Spruce Avenue (originally SS No. 24 Vaughan Township) held its first classes in the basement of the local Methodist Church in 1923; nine years later, in 1932, Richvale Post Office was opened.

The approach from Yonge Street. Archives of Ontario
Parking and picnicking. Archives of Ontario
Yonge Street strip development was less intense north of town, yet there, too, the automobile helped to obliterate distances and drew once-scattered communities closer together. By the 1920s, Elgin Mills looked more like the northern end of Richmond Hill than a separate hamlet. Oak Ridges was described as a "thriving community," with "one of the best rural school buildings in these hereabouts." 18 Meanwhile, at Lake Wilcox, more and more small parcels of land were being bought for summer cottage lots by city dwellers. The lake's earliest cottagers had commuted by radial car; now their summer neighbours were using their cars to escape summer in the city.

The automobile, the radio, and the increased mobility of the 1920s brought Richmond Hill and its neighbouring hamlets closer to the metropolitan embrace of Toronto. Council took advantage of this phenomenon by erecting signs at either end of the village proclaiming
Richmond Hill as "Toronto's Highest and Healthiest Suburb." Nevertheless, the community retained its own identity as a distinctive residential and commercial village. Now, at the end of the 1920s, with its muncipal institutions and infrastructure firmly in place, with its church towers still dominating the surrounding countryside, and with an economy sparked by its blossoming greenhouse industry, Richmond Hill faced the future with confidence.


13. Ontario,Annual Report on Highway Improvement,1915,p. 110.

14. The Liberal,April 27, 1899; March 28, and July 25, 1912.

15. Ontario,Annual Report of the Department of Public Highways, 1923-1924-1925,p. 113; Ontario,Annual Report of the Department of Highways, 1929,p. 105.

16. Robert M. Stamp,Riding the Radials: Toronto's Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines(Erin:The Boston Mills Press,1989),pp. 149-58.

17. Ontario,Annual Report of the Department of Highways, 1930 and 1931,p. 129.

18. The Liberal,November 29, 1923.


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Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991