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Chapter 8
Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
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
Living with Divided Loyalties
A Time and a Place for Swimming
Community Spirit
The First Village Council
"Wants of the Village"
"A Local View of 1874"
Who Was Who in the 1873 Municipal Elections
The Richmond Hill Fire Brigade
Fighting Fires with Hand Pumpers
The Trench Carriage Works
Miss Aiken Then Sang "The Woodland Tree"
Life in the Newly Incorporated Village
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
Table of Illustrations

Life in the Newly Incorporated Village

A sampling of business cards from Richmond Hill, 1878.
Bookplate and rules from the library of the Richmond Hill Mechanics' Institute.
At the time of its incorporation, Richmond Hill was certainly an overwhelmingly British/Irish community. Of 134 Richmond Hill householder surnames listed in Nason's County of York Directory for 1871, some 131 reflect either an English, Scottish, or Irish background. The other three names sound German, although even these residents were likely anglicized descendants of early arrivals from Pennsylvania or New York, rather than recent migrants from Europe.

This ethnic homogeneity in a community of six to seven hundred people was balanced by a broad economic diversity. Like most Ontario villages of the period, Richmond Hill supported a variety of professions and occupations and offered a wide range of consumer goods and services. This broad base of activity promoted a healthy commercial (and social) interchange among residents and made the community largely self-sufficient.

Among the village's 134 heads-of-households listed in the 1871 county directory, we find:

  • nineteen labourers
  • eighteen farmers
  • nine carpenters and five blacksmiths
  • five merchants, two druggists, two shoestore owners, and one grocer
  • three coopers (barrel makers), three saddlers, three shoemakers, and two tailors
  • three "mechanics" and two gardeners
  • three hotel-keepers and one publisher/bookseller
  • two clerks and two "agents"
  • two clergymen (Reverend Charles Fish of the Methodists and Reverend James Dick of the Presbyterians)
  • two doctors (John Duncumb and James Langstaff) and one veterinary surgeon (Henry Sanderson)
  • two justices of the peace (Parker Crosby and Matthew Teefy) and one barrister (George Nichol)
  • one butcher and two bakers (but no candlestick maker)
  • a fanning-mill manufacturer, a tannery owner, a pump maker, a wagon maker, and a carriage maker
  • a painter, a pedlar, a brickmaker, a watchmaker, a mason, a finisher, a sawyer, and a tinsmith
  • plus six men listed as retired and five simply as gentlemen or "gents"

Such were the occupations of the Richmond Hill men listed in Nason's 1871 County of York Directory And men's names dominated the directory, for most of the women listed were widows or others running households without husbands present. Among these few women were:

  • two dressmakers (Mrs. M.A. Curts and Mrs. M. Pollock)
  • two milliners (Mrs. Mary Clarke and Mrs. Myers)
  • one proprietor of a "Ladies' School" (Mrs. Campbell)
  • plus eight other women listed without occupation

Another, less structured view of Richmond Hill in the early 1870s is provided by Fred Crawford, the village's first "Fire and Nuisance Inspector," who submitted informal monthly reports through 1874 as letters to the editor of the York Herald. Crawford wrote with considerable insight and wit, commenting on all aspects of village life. Consider these descriptions from his "Odds and Ends" or "Ramble No. 3:"

  • Mill Street is in a deplorable condition; mud and water is all the go. A bridge is wanted in Ransom's Lane; a woman and her baby got immersed the other evening in the same place - no lives lost.
  • Foundry in full blast; orders coming in; seven or eight hands at work; Mr. Arnold gives the foundry at a moderate rent to Messrs. Mager & Quantz, to encourage them and help the town by giving employment to mechanics.
  • Look out for the opening of Mr. Atkinson'snew Concrete store next week; his spring goods are at the station.
  • Some boiled oil and white lead wanted badly in the northern part of the village; a little siding would do no harm either.
  • Vacant lots badly fenced; looks bad. The health inspector will be round in a few days; look out for he is determined to do his duty - plead no ignorance for you have all seen the by-law on that subject.
  • I believe it is the intention of Mr. Mapes to start another factory in our village, if he can get a place to suit him - he is trying hard - and is a good mechanic, and I have seen some of his work; he made a splendid settee for Mr. John Velie and another for Mrs. Hewison. I think the latter is the best.
  • Total number of scholars attending our schools, of all ages, up to this date, 24th March, 140, with five teachers.
  • Mrs. William Atkinson is getting better; no dislocation took place when she was upset coming from Toronto last week.
  • Cleanliness will keep the measles away.
  • Very few lately seen drunk in our village and, I suppose, the reason is that our whiskey is getting mild.
  • Young Sheppard is going ahead; he has a large stock and sells cheap - give him a call.
  • Mrs. Cooper dislocated her ankle and is confined to her bed.
  • A portion of Mr. Crosby's spring goods have arrived, and the balance is at the station; a large lot of garden seeds arrived. 14

By late afternoon or early evening, after Fred Crawford ended his daily "rambles," after other members of the community put down their tools and put away their aprons, Richmond Hill offered a variety of organized leisure activities. The public school, the high school, and the several churches presented musical recitals and spiritual addresses. Both the Mechanics' Institute (a nineteenth-century adult education organization) and the Agricultural Society sponsored lectures. There were band concerts and various "amusements" at the Temperance Hall or the Masonic Hall.

Each year brought its own craze, and in 1875 it was the public spelling bee - a June 1 contest, to be held at the Masonic Hall. Words would be chosen from the Fourth Book in the Canadian School Readers series, "no proper names to be given." Mr. Robertson, a high school teacher, would act as "pronounciator" for the evening, and harnessmaker William Harrison offered as first prize a Webster's Dictionary, "unabridged." The contest was open to all local residents, "school teachers excepted." 15


14. York Herald,March 27, 1874.

15. Ibid., May 14, 1875.


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Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991