Friday, July 10, 2009

Heritage: Fairbank Walking Tour

Walk leader Madeleine McDowell held up a photo of the Toronto Beltline Railroad crossing of Dufferin Street as it appeared nearly a century before the Heritage Toronto walk through the Village of Fairbank on 5-July-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The present day "mega-city" of Toronto is not just the agglomeration of six municipalities that occurred in 1998. Those six municipalities were themselves made up of many smaller entities, many of which even long-term residents of Toronto may be ignorant about. The village of Fairbank was one such entity that I personally knew almost nothing about, but that was rectified by the Heritage Toronto walking tour on the village held last Sunday, 5-July-2009, led by longtime Heritage York historian Madeleine McDowell.

The 1855 Parsons Farmhouse was still a residence along Stayner Avenue in Toronto, Ontario on 5-July-2009, though now it was surrounded by other homes

In the 19th century, Fairbank was just a set of farms near the crossing of the Base Line (now Eglinton Avenue) and the Third Concession Line (now Dufferin Street). It gained its name because of a view that extended from some of the high ground all the way to Lake Ontario and the breeze that tended to keep it cooler in the summer--hence, a fair bank. One of the 1855 farm houses still remains in its original location, though now it no longer is surrounded by a farm but by a dense residential area.

Fairbank United Church, observed on 5-July-2009, had opened as Fairbank Methodist Church in 1889

While the local area gradually grew with new schools and churches constructed throughout the century, the arrival of the short-lived Toronto Beltline Railroad in the 1892 symbolically marked the beginning of Fairbank as a suburb. While the railroad was closed by 1894, as the years went on more and more people decided to live in areas like Fairbank with clearer air, more affordable housing, and generally more relaxing living conditions than downtown Toronto. A move to the suburbs had started.

Mary Watson listened to the Heritage Toronto talk at Watson Park in Fairbank on 5-July-2009. Her great-grandparents had helped found Fairbank and their home had once been on the park site.

One of the real treats of the walk was the presence of Mary Watson. Watson's family has lived in Fairbank for more than a century. Watson Park, in fact, was land donated by her family. She presented the history of the Fairbank United Church, which had been built in 1889 as the Fairbank Methodist Church.

Fairbank may not be one Toronto's better-known neighbourhoods, but it offers a lot to learn about the history of the city.

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