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Chapter 9
Picture Post Card Village of the 1880s and 1890s
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
Spires on the Hill
Coming of Age in Richmond Hill
Pranks, Vandalism, and Village Crime
Business on the Hill
Tiles in the Mosaic: Men and Women Who Shaped Late-Ninetenth-Century Richmond Hill
Richmond Hill's Lacrosse Champs
The Old Lamplighter
For Whom the Bell Tolls?
Local Politics at the End of Victoria's Reign
10 Rails through Richmond Hill
11 The Flowering of Richmond Hill
12 The Village Transformed
Table of Illustrations

Local Politics at the End of Victoria's Reign

In 1880, village council moved its meeting room from the Robin Hood Hotel to the second floor of the new Palmer Block, pictured on the right, at the northwest corner of Yonge and Arnold streets. The fire engine house was located on the north end of this building.
Richmond Hill's municipal council reflected the settled pace of village life through the last two decades of the nineteenth century. After its 1880 move from the Robin Hood Hotel to the new Palmer Block (later called the Lorne Block, and today the Central Guaranty Trust Office at 10132 Yonge Street), council resumed its regular routine of monthly meetings, patronage appointments, tax levies, and annual elections. Council minutes reflect continuing attention to such perennial concerns as sidewalk maintenance and fire protection, poundkeepers, and "nuisance" inspectors.

Most of Richmond Hill's leading business and professional men sat on council for a year or two, then stepped down to make way for others. Such public service was seen as one's civic responsibility, and at the same time reinforced an upper-middle-class male domination of village life. Usually, these village fathers moved on and off council with relative ease and anonymity - although minor issues occasionally erupted, like Reeve James Langstaff's 1880 comic-opera run-in with poundkeeper Richard Jordan over a stray Langstaff cow!

Council acts on a ratepayers' petition and proclaims May 13, 1897, as Arbor Day.
Yet beneath the apparent lassitude, successive councils responded to Richmond Hill's needs through the last two decades of the old century. In a gesture of support for the east side of town, Council authorized the opening of Lorne Avenue and the southerly extension of Church Street in 1882. In a vote of support for new techology, it erected kerosene-burning street lamps and laid the village's first asphalt sidewalk in 1889.

Council could also swing into action when members sensed a threat to community morality - the debate over a billiard room licence in 1885, or the passing of bylaws regulating bicycle riding in 1897. Some problems, however, seemed incapable of easy solution - like the perennial question of a dependable water supply for fire-fighting purposes.

Richmond Hill High School in its 1897 building at Yonge and Wright streets, later part of the municipal building of the Town of Richmond Hill.
Certificate showing that Gertrude Lynett passed her entrance examination in 1889 and would be allowed to proceed from public school to high school.
At times of crisis, Council attempted rescue operations - too little, too late to save the Patterson farm implement business from leaving the district in 1886, but with great success when a new high school was needed ten years later. The old high school building on the McConaghy site burned in December 1896, and the following year a new Richmond Hill High School was erected farther north (and further removed from the temptations of village taverns) at the corner of Yonge and Wright streets.

Council also took on new, permanent responsibilities during this period of rising civic activism throughout North America. In 1884, for instance, it established the village's first board of health and appointed Dr. William J. Wilson as medical health officer. That same year it purchased land east of Yonge Street for a new public park, later building an agricultural hall, curling facilities, oval racetrack, and bandstand. And in 1892, after years of debate, council established a "Lock-Up House" for petty criminals, vagrants, and other "undesirables" apprehended by the village constable.

As council dealt with these everyday matters, major events beyond the control of the local government continued to shape life in Richmond Hill. Shortly after four o'clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, January 22, 1901, news of Queen Victoria's death reached the community by telegraph. Both the town bell - now located at the public school - and the Presbyterian Church bell began tolling, flags were silently run up at half-mast on the high school and public school buildings, and a "feeling of reverent sadness pervaded the village." 13

Queen Victoria had been a pervasive spirit in Richmond Hill for as long as most residents could remember. For more than sixty years, her 24th of May birthday served as the community's grandest and most glorious secular celebration - a school holiday for the children and a Spring Fair for young and old. But Queen Victoria was more than a once-a-year presence. Her portrait hung on most living-room walls. Her name was reverently invoked at religious and patriotic gatherings as the guiding spirit of both Christian morality and the British Empire.

Now she was gone, after more than six decades as Queen and Empress, residents of Richmond Hill grieved her death and mourned the passing of an era. On Friday, January 25, a memorial service was held at the public school, and Saturday, the day of her funeral, was declared a public holiday. On Sunday, the community's churches held memorial services. At its next meeting, Richmond Hill Village Council moved "an expression of universal grief at the bereavement that has befallen the British Empire by the demise of a Sovereign universally admired and beloved by all her subjects." 14

The old order passes - a credit sale of farm stock and implements at Elgin Mills in October 1894.
Gradually, over the next few years, the stuffiness and moral propriety of the Victorian Age gave way to the more high-spirited and fun-loving Edwardian Age, personified by the new monarch, King Edward VII. Even before Victoria's death, however, Richmond Hill had glimpsed aspects of the faster-paced twentieth-century world. In the spring of 1899, almost two years before, residents gawked at the first "horseless carriage, run by gasolene" to pass through the village. 15 And for almost four years, Richmond Hill had been served by an equally exciting new transportation phenomenon - the electric railway. The electric railway and the automobile would shape the new century as the stagecoach and steam engine had influenced the old.


13. Ibid., January 24, 1901.

14. Richmond Hill Village Council,"Mbnutes,"February 15, 1901.

15. The Liberal,April 27, 1899.


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Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991