Toronto’s Lost Villages

I continue my Toronto history reading project with Toronto’s Lost Villages by Ron Brown. The author talked about villages in the greater Toronto area that may or may not have thrived in the past, but all of which are now lost to history (with maybe one exception–Meadowvale Village in Mississauga). In his analyses of where remnants of the villages may still be found today, Brown gave addresses which can be easily checked on Google Maps. That option was not available when this book was published in 1997. I certainly took plenty of notes to check Google Maps and was happy to find many of the houses in my notes still standing. I was well familiar with the buildings in his chapter on Cooksville, where I live. Brown profiled both villages such as Cooksville, which still exists in name although absorbed into the city of Mississauga, as well as places such as Palestine where no remnants exist.

Brown often lamented the fate of some extant buildings, knowing that they wouldn’t be around for much longer. He described them as boarded up or covered in graffiti and I could picture him shrugging and raising his arms, wondering perhaps if they’d still be there when his book went to press. My own Google Maps searches, conducted twenty-three years after the book was published, show that the wrecking ball got to many of these old houses and railway stations. 

An eternal bugaboo of his is urban sprawl. Settlers moved into regions, taking over farmland and tearing down buildings in order to widen roads and build railway tracks. A typical lament:

“All other evidence of this historic community has utterly vanished, replaced by one of Scarborough’s more unsightly examples of unplanned urban sprawl.”

The author often used the derogatory term “Scarberia” to refer to Scarborough, as in:

“Modern-day Scarberians will be hard pressed to recognize this hundred-year-old view to be that of the now noisy intersection of Kennedy Road and Ellesmere Avenue.”

Brown painted his descriptions of the Toronto area of today with malodorous doses of snark and sarcasm. You can feel his bitterness towards local authorities for bulldozing history when he wrote:

“Having been declared to be of provincial heritage significance, a designation almost unheard of in Ontario…”  

and in his lament for the unfortunate buildings that now replace heritage sites, Brown used the derogatory term “burger joint”:

“Although the Britannia church has changed little since this photo was made 100 years ago, the foreground now contains a burger joint and six lanes of traffic.”

Instead of referring to a “fast food restaurant” or a “hamburger place” Brown used the insulting “burger joint”. That was not a single occurrence of such sarcasm. 

Perhaps a book like this is not meant to be read cover-to-cover, as repetition made the read tedious. This is no fault to Brown; rather it is my tendency to treat all books the same, to be read from beginning to end. One might have picked it up to read about the lost villages in a certain Toronto region, versus to read about all the regions one after another. The stories seemed the same: a railway is built; a station is built in a certain village; villages that don’t get stations die as businesses and settlers flock to where the stations are. 

I loved this book for its photos of Toronto now and how it used to be. Often photos were of the same places decades or even a century apart. Brown also drew his own maps.  

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