Monday, December 30, 2013


In Pigs, flowers and bricks : A History of Leslieville to 1920, Joanne Doucette recounts that "Working class families often built their own homes. Sometimes they lived in a tent or in the basement of their house while working on building the rest of the house over their heads."

So you can imagine the allure of a mail-order home that came flat-packed like an Ikea bookcase, and promised that you didn't even need a saw to assemble it. A "knocked-down" house kit included everything from the pre-cut foundation timbers to the shingles, along with instructions for the owner-builder to put it together themselves.

First introduced around the turn of the last century, this revolutionary new housing solution became so popular that Buster Keaton featured it in his first solo film, the 1920 silent short One Week.

Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes – named for the fable in which a genie builds his master a palace overnight – used the tag line "Built in a Day". They claimed that "Skilled labor is absolutely unnecessary in any part of the erection and completing of an Aladdin house – because we supply the skilled labor in our mill, preparing the entire house for you to fit together in a few days."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Once Upon a Time in Shacktown

As the 2013 ice storm reminds Torontonians how lucky we (usually) are to enjoy mod cons like electricity, here comes another way for the more fortunate to experience life without them. The five-star Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa points out that "Millions of people are living in informal settlements across South Africa... Now you can experience staying in a Shanty..."

Well, maybe not exactly.  Located "within the safe environment of a private game reserve," this is "the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access."

We may jeer, but maybe, in some twisted way, this is part of the mental gymnastics the average Westerner needs to do to understand our relative wealth in its global context.

Hans Rosling has created some fabulous "stats performance" videos to help us. This one from "Don't Panic: The Truth About Population" lays out the daily incomes of the seven billion people alive today along a "yardstick of wealth":

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Map Art

Speaking of cartography (we were – it was just a while ago), the rather awesome website lets you make your own beautiful aerial imagery using OpenStreetMap data. Here's an interactive view of the Craven Road area – click to zoom and drag to navigate!

And here are two map images, one in Stamen's "Watercolor" style, and the second in "Toner":

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Century-Composite Map

Following yesterday's post of maps from the early days of the Craven Road area, here's a fun bonus: 

(Click above for larger image)
Combined 2009 and 1913 maps

Below is a 2009 City of Toronto traffic control map. Below that is a swatch of the 1913 Goad's Atlas of the City of Toronto that corresponds to the exact same area. And at the top of this post is an image that superimposes the modern streets on their counterparts a hundred-odd years earlier...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Early Maps of the Area

The earliest maps of the Craven Road area offer a fascinating journey. They don't always necessarily agree with each other, but each one gives some quirky little spark of discovery that can fire your imagination.

Let's start in one of the earliest years the neighbourhood appears on a map, at least in any recognizable detail. This image, courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives via Nathan Ng's fabulous website Historical Maps of Toronto, is from an 1851 map of the Township of York.

The road across the top will become Danforth Avenue, and the one marked "Kingston Road" will become Queen Street East up to the point where it veers off diagonally at the point marked "Tavern" and "Steam SM" (the location of a steam-powered sawmill – see page 6 of The Beach in Pictures). The map shows a few buildings, the numbers dividing the concession into 100-acre lots, some marshy area around Ashbridges Bay, and... not much else:

(Click here to access the full map)
1851 Map of the Township of York in the County of York Upper Canada, by J.O. Browne
McGill University's Canadian County Atlas Digital Project includes a map from 1878 which shows Greenwood Avenue on the left-most side, with various "Heirs of Jesse Ashbridge" listed as owners of strips of land moving eastward till a "J. Platt" appears, then two blank lots (which are probably on either side of what will eventually become Coxwell Avenue), followed by a "Sam Hill". The road on the right-hand side is Woodbine Avenue:

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Craven Road in Archive Photos

The five earliest photos of Craven Road in the City of Toronto Archives  were taken on June 16, 1916, after the city decided to buy up a slice of Ashdale Avenue's backyards in order to widen the narrow, one-sided laneway then called Erie Terrace.

Erie Terrace, looking south, 1916 (Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2243)
Ironically, these images show Erie Terrace's dirt road and wood-plank sidewalk, but reveal very little of its houses. The photos look south and a little west, focusing on the Ashdale side of the street, since they were taken to record the backyard property being expropriated to widen the street.

Friday, August 23, 2013

On the Fence

1915 map of Toronto's annexed districts with dates (detail – click here for full map)

The district of Midway became part of the City of Toronto in 1909. Not long afterward, narrow, unpaved Erie Terrace (as Craven Road was then called) became a headache for city politicians:

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Media Discover "Tiny Town"

"In the east end of Toronto, between Coxwell and Greenwood Avenues, there’s a place called 'Tiny Town.' The neighbourhood name might not show up on a map, but if you travel up and down Craven Road you’ll realize that the area is truly the epitome of modest living. 

On Craven, you’ll find the largest collection of single houses under 500 square feet in the city. You’ll also find the longest wooden (and municipally maintained) fence in the city."
Spacing's February 13, 2013 article "Tiny House Society of Craven Rd.", quoted above, is just one of several features on the street in the past few years.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fun with Math

Craven Road (formerly Erie Terrace) has been in the news a few times over the years.

The earliest mention I could find, thanks to the Toronto Star's addictive "Pages from the Past" archive, was in a real estate ad from 1906, offering land for as little as $2 per foot of street frontage:

(Toronto Star, May 5, 1906, p27)

"ERIE TERRACE, Adjoining Reid Ave., $2.00 to $5.00 per foot. $5.00 cash, $5.00 per month." (Interesting to note that prices are half of those for plots on Reid Avenue (now Rhodes Avenue), only one block to the east.)

A century and a bit later, on 22 February 2013, the same paper profiled a "House of the Week" at the bottom of the street, a brand-new, three-bedroom magazine-bait beauty selling for $889,000. 

How do the prices compare?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Origin Stories

In February 2013, the magazine Spacing published an admiring article titled "Tiny House Society of Craven Rd.", which included a theory on the origins of this quirky street:
Craven Road was once known as Erie Terrace, but before that, these lots that now house tiny buildings were attached to the back of properties on Ashdale Avenue — properties that used to extend back from the road over 140 feet. [Jack Ridout, a real estate agent whose family grew up on the road] says those who lived in the houses gave people materials to build places at the back of their lots. When there was a dispute over whose land belonged to whom around 1910, the City stepped in, expropriated the land, and created a tiny road between the houses on Ashdale and the rear lots.
The mention of building materials probably springs from this 1907 ad in the Toronto Star:
"$10 A FOOT – Erie Terrace, 100 feet north of Gerrard street cars, no money down, lumber supplied to build. Davis, 75 Adelaide east."

And the idea that the narrow laneway was carved out of the backyards of Ashdale Avenue may be derived from the fact that when the City widened Erie Terrace in 1916, they did so by buying a chunk of the Ashdale residents' backyards.

But Erie Terrace was always its own road. The most detailed account of its history comes from the 2011 book Pigs, Flowers and Bricks: A History of Leslieville to 1920, an epic labour of love by Joanne Doucette: