Digging Up Roots
Searching around online for information on the history of Brockton proved challenging. There are bits and pieces of information here and there but nothing definitive. It did feel a little bit like digging for treasure without a map and I found that there wasn’t necessarily a treasure box but definitely a few gems here and there.
The first obvious place to look is Wikipedia where I found the following basic information about Brockton Village:
Brockton was named after Sir Issac Brock’s cousin James Brock. After the war of 1812 James was parcelled land west of Dufferin from Queen St. (Then Lot St.) to Bloor St. When Brock died, his wife Lucy commissioned a road in 1850 which is now known as Brock Ave and began selling off this land and this settlement began to be known as Brockton.
By the time Brockton was incorporated as a village in 1876 it stretched as far as High Park in the west and bordered on Bloor to the north, Dufferin to the east and the rail lines to the south. In 1881 is was incorporated as a town but only lasted 4 years until it went bankrupt and was annexed by the City of Toronto in 1885.
I also learned about the Brockton Town Hall still exists at the corner of Brock and Dundas, the first stop on our walking tour of the buildings of Brockton.
The Brockton Town Hall
The Brockton Town Hall was designed in 1881 by Joseph A. Fowler (1850-1921), still stands at the corner of Dundas and Brock and now houses Elite Plumbing Supplies. When it was a working town hall it had a fire department and jail cells in the basement. It was also known as Worm’s Hall for the builder and owner of the building. Later it was known as Fire Hall No.13 & St. Mark’s Hall. In the picture below taken in the 1950’s looks as if it was a mechanic shop before it became a plumbing store.
Brockton Town Hall – 1952 | Photo by James Salmon
St. Helen’s Roman Catholic Cathedral
|W.J. Thomson, 1914||Postcard before the steeple was complete.|
Brockton’s largest and most majestic building is St. Helen’s Cathedral. St. Helen’s was designed by Arthur Holmes who also designed Toronto buildings, St. Patrick’s Church, St. Michael’s College in U of T, and St. Francis of Assisi in Little Italy. The church was built by Irish immigrants with Indiana limestone and Don Valley red brick in the french gothic revival style. The building was finished in 1909 but the steeple wasn’t complete until after the 1st world war. It still remains the second largest roman Catholic church in Toronto. The rectory also designed by Arthur Holmes was finished in 1911. .
The current building is actually a second version of St. Helen’s Church. The first was built at the corner of Lansdowne and Dundas, where the No Frills stands today. After St. Helen’s moved, the original building was used as an army barracks in WW1. Then served as the first Ukrainian Catholic church in Canada before it was destroyed to make way for the National Register Company factory (see below). The confessionals from the original church stand inside the current building on either side of the entrance.
St. Claren’s Methodist Church
Nestled between the gas station, the Dundas/St. Clarens Parkette and an alley is an interesting shaped apartment building. This building was originally one of the first churches in the neighbourhood, the St. Claren’s Methodist Church. The steeple from the building is no longer there but the shape of the building remains the same. Here is a description of the church from “Landmarks of Toronto: ; a collection of historical sketches of the old town of York from 1792 until 1837, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1904″ By J. Ross. Robertson
The First Methodist Church in the Old Brockton Suburb.
In 1882 a mission was begun by the Dundas street Methodist church in Worms Hall, at the corner of Dundas street and Brock avenue. The beginning was a small one, but it developed into a working congregation in a short time, and soon became independent of the parent church. So rapid was the development that it was considered expedient to purchase a lot and build a church. One of the very best locations in Brockton was secured, and a church was built on it on March 17th, 1887. The lot is at the south-west corner of Dundas street and St. Clarens avenue, measuring 128 feet on the latter and 107 feet on the former. The church is a small rough-cast, wooden structure, standing at the southern end of the lot on the avenue. While it is very plain, it is a neat building, surrounded by a white picket fence.
The National Cash Register Company
The National Cash Register Company opened in June 1936 and it was according to it’s ad “one of the most modern industrial plants in the world”. It’s facade was designed by Thomas Muirhead in the Art Moderne style at a cost of $300 000 and with the company’s growth the building was expanded between 1947 and 1950. The building was taken over by Knob Hill Farms in the mid-70’s and stayed untl 2000 when they closed along with all the other Knob Hill Farms in Toronto. The building was designated a heritage property before the current No Frills moved in. A more in depth article about this building was published in the now defunct Grid magazine.
School 1: Brock Avenue Public School
Brock Ave Public school opened in January of 1887 as a result of overcrowding from Mabel St. School (Shirley Street). The school started with 202 students and 4 teachers and the school’s first principal was Alexander Muir (author of The Maple Leaf Forever). The land for the school was purchased for $2110.34 and the 4 room structure was built for $9222.35.
By 1919 the building was expanded to 12 rooms and had a 9 room annex and by 1938 the population of the school had grown so much that the original structure had to be torn down and rebuilt. This is the structure that still stands today. If you walk in the front doors of the school and up the stairs you will see a memorial for those that fought in the World Wars with an illuminated list designed by A.J.Casson of the Group of Seven.
School 2: Kent Public School
Kent opened in 1908 and it was named after Mr. H.A.E Kent, a Toronto trustee for 21 years. It was designed by Charles Bishop, as Superintendant of Buildings for the Toronto Board of Education designed many of the schools of the Toronto School Board between 1882 and 1915. The school was built on land purchased from Captain John H. Denison who received it as a gift from Govenor Lord Simcoe. For a time in the early part of the twentieth century Kent was the largest school in all of Canada.
This school as well as Bloor Collegiate next door have been deemed surplus by the Toronto District School Board and put up for sale. Kent currently houses Toronto School of Art and a private German school. Originally the corner was thought to be sold privately and turned into a massive condo development but a bid from the Toronto Catholic District School Board, who by law has the right to purchase it at below market value, may change that. The Catholic School Board needs the space immediately, and with a growing population of Toronto, they say they will need even more space for students in the future.
School 3: St. Helen’s Catholic School
St Helen’s Catholic school was established around the same time as the parish in 1852 and originally existed on the land at Dundas and Lansdowne. When the Cathedral was built at St. Clarens and Dundas, the school was moved further north and east to the corner of Brock and College Street where it still stands today. It was designed by Charles Read, who was appointed in 1909 as an Architect to the Roman Catholic Separate School Board and can be credited with the design of many Separate schools in the city between 1910 and 1920. A new building was erected in 1994 and at that time the original building was refurbished. On the west side of the building you can still see the signs for the separate Girls and Boys entrances.
The Brockton Hotel
The building where the Brockton Hotel still exists at the corner of Sheridan and Dundas West (Kevin’s Convenience lives there today) but any details about the hotel is mystery. Perhaps it’s a reincarnation of one of the early hotels of Brockton. There is a post about Brockton on the BlogTO site with some comments from “Paul” who grew up in the neighbourhood and mentions the hotel and the connecting tavern:
Then there was the Brockton beer parlour which I believe was the hotel building that still stands on the south-west corner of Dundas & Sheridan. This was the local watering hole & gathering place for area residents and was a classic “dive”…similar to dozens of others that could be found in neighbourhoods all over the city. A glass of draught in those days was still probably a thin dime and provided much-needed entertainment & escape for the working-class men & women that populated the area. On Saturday afternoons, while my kid brother & I were at the Gem, and my parents had finished the weekly grocery shopping & other chores, they would patronize this joint for a few leisurely hours. I recall them telling me that one of the regular denizens of the pub was the once-great star of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 30’s, “Busher” Jackson. By that time he had sadly been reduced to the status of street bum & hopeless alcoholic…but he was still a colourful character and people would befriend him and buy him drinks just to have him sit at their table.
The Dundas Playhouse / The Brock / The Gem Movie Theatre
Before Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas West had many different uses. The building was supposedly built as a Chronicle office in 1862 (the only Chronicle I could find in Toronto at that time was the Trade Review and Insurance Chronicle which eventually turned into the Monetary Times). For a stretch it became the Dundas Playhouse which had the first burlesque show in Toronto. In 1936, it was renovated and turned into the Brock Theatre (706 seats) then in 1949 it’s name was changed to the Gem Theatre. By the early 1960’s the Gem played Italian and Polish films and it eventually closed altogether in 1965 and turned into a banquet hall. There are photos in the Toronto Archives with the signage “Club Canadiana” and then “Continental Brothers Catering” over the doors. For a more in depth history of this building see this article.