The Lost Village of Mimico
By Paul J. Mc Grath

From the May 2007 issue of Toronto Tree the publication of the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society

The Village of Mimico was originally centred where Judson Street meets Royal York Road, where the CN Railway tracks cross. Originally these tracks were part of the Southern Division of the Great Western Railway, with a station just east of Royal York Road. (Although the current community of Mimico within Toronto is much larger, this article will deal with the village as it was originally constituted.)

Mimico was named by the surveyors of our first Lieutenant Governor, John Graves SIMCOE. In 1795 he ordered that the area west of Bathurst Street be surveyed to provide land grants for members of the Queen’s Rangers (Simcoe was a Colonel in the Queen’s Rangers at the time of his appointment as Governor). Much of this survey became part of Etobicoke Township and included the future villages of Islington and Mimico.

The first survey of Etobicoke Township was probably done by Augustus JONES (1757-1836). Jones was an interesting character; he was born in the Hudson Valley in New York, his grandfather having immigrated to the colonies from Wales. After the American Revolution, Augustus moved with his parents to the Niagara region as Loyalists (although the family’s loyalty to the Crown was to be questioned several times in the following years!) Trained as a surveyor in New York, he easily found work in the Provincial Surveyor General’s Office in Upper Canada. When he wasn’t surveying for the government, he was busy making land petitions and grants applications which resulted in him acquiring extensive land holdings in Saltfleet and Barton Townships in Wentworth County. There are reports that he was granted or leased an area as large as 15 square kilometres (10 miles). (CONTINUED BELOW)

He married a daughter of a Mohawk Chief with whom he had eight children. He also reportedly had a long term affair with the daughter of a Mississauga Chief with whom he had at least two children. [1]

Jones’ survey of Etobicoke Township was likely carried out in the 1790s when Jones was surveying most of the area west of the Humber to Niagara. On these early maps he identifies what we now know as Mimico Creek as “the Lamabineconce River”. This is probably his literal translation of the Native word for the area which was probably “Omimeca” meaning “The Home of the Wild Pigeon”. Referring to the Passenger Pigeon (ectopistes migratorius), these birds were so plentiful at the Mimico Creek that there were reports that a dozen birds could be felled with one buckshot. Although the passenger pigeon had once been the most numerous bird in the world, it is now extinct; the last pigeon named “Martha”, died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. [2]

Evidently the name Lamabineconce was too difficult to spell or remember, as it soon disappeared, replaced with variations of the name Mimico as we now know it. [3]

The first land grant in what was to become Mimico was to Sgt. Patrick Mealy (of the Queen’s Rangers) on March 18, 1797. His land extended from Lake Ontario, just west of what is now Royal York Road. One of the reasons Simcoe wanted the Queen’s Rangers to have these lots on the waterfront west of Toronto was as an additional “buffer” against an American attack. [4]

After the War of 1812, the original land patentees began to parcel of their huge land holdings, including the area just east of the Mimico Creek. One of the first of these new settlers was John William GAMBLE (1799-1873) who built a mill on the east bank Mimico Creek near the lake. [5] Gamble was assistant surgeon of the Queen’s Rangers. His younger brother, William GAMBLE (1805-1881) built a mill nearby on the Humber River at what later became Lambton Mills. [6]

John William GAMBLE built a dam and a sawmill on the Mimico Creek about 1823, just west of the creek, near where the CNR bridge now crosses the creek. As some of this land had been set aside as the Humber King’s Mill Reserve, GAMBLE was not able to obtain title to the land for several years. His mill, although outside the boundaries of the future village of Mimico, is one of the main reasons the village was able to prosper. John William GAMBLE was on the Home District Council (the forerunner of York County) from 1842 to 1849. He had an abiding interest in education, serving on the Standing Committee on Education. As well he helped found the first school in Mimico. He also helped found the Christ Church, whose records date back to 1827. (Christ Church was rebuilt several times. Sadly, the most recent edifice, from the 1950s, was seriously damaged by fire in late 2006 and had to be demolished. The cemetery, where about 1,500 people were buried from 1892 to 1973, remains.) [7]

Gamble’s younger brother William went on to server as the first reeve of the Township and as postmaster of the Etobicoke Twp (and what later became Lambton Mills Post Office) from 1841 to 1864. [8] The area around Dundas Street (later Islington Av) was originally called Mimico, but the village near by the lake was granted a post office with the name Mimico in 1858. [9] Two years later, the residents of the more northerly Mimico changed the name of their village to Islington. [10] [11]

West of the sawmill several families began to settle, especially in the 1840s. One of those families, led by George HENDRY (born 1796), moved to Mimico in 1849, settling in an area which became the centre of Mimico. Other prominent early families of the area included: BARRY, BELLAMORE, GAULD, GRIGGS, HEWITT, KAY, KENNEY, MURRAY, STOCK and VAN EVERY.

As with most of Ontario, life really began in the village with the arrival of the trains, when on December 3, 1855, the Hamilton & Toronto Railway (HTR) opened a station just east of what is now Royal York Road.

The larger village grew up aground where the new station. By the time the HTR merged with the Great Western Railway (in the late 1880s, the village had become quite substantial. [12] The northern boundary was around where Jutland Road is now. The southern boundary was the lake, while the western boundary of the village was Mimico Avenue (now known Kipling Avenue). The eastern boundary was the Mimico Creek.

As happened with many of the towns and villages which eventually became part of the City of Toronto, Mimico grew up with a series of street names similar to those in Toronto. Amalgamation meant that many of the street names in the village were lost. For example, the main north/south road through the Village was Church Street (which became the southern extension of Royal York Road). The main east/west road was, interestingly enough, called Main Street (now Judson Street). Evans Avenue and Horner Avenue, both prominent streets today, were original to the Village, although the route of the latter has changed somewhat.

The main residential section for Mimico was north of the station. Many of these streets continue to exist: Newcastle, Portland, Melrose, Algoma, Manitoba, and Oxford. Some other streets were lost, however, when the Gardiner Expressway was built in the 1950s, most notably Cambridge and Brant Streets.

Many of the streets south of the station still exist, such as Stanley, Mimico and Queen’s Avenues and Elizabeth Street. While others have lost their names: Pigeon Avenue became part of Slaney Avenue. Southampton Street ran south and parallel to the tracks, just east of Church Street (Royal York Road); it became Cavell Avenue.

There had been a whole series of streets and lots were laid out around where Main Street (now Judson Street) met Elm Avenue (now part of Horner Avenue). They included Hawthorne, Central, Rose, Rowland, Michigan and Dearborn Avenues. Unfortunately these were mostly lost when the Grand Trunk Railway opened their Mimico Yards in 1906 just west of Church (Royal York Rd) and south of Main Street (Judson St). Still in use today, this was an important train yard for the GTR. More than a dozen sidings spurred around the Yard helping to drive growth in the area. With so much manufacturing taking place in the area, Mimico’s train station was the hub of activity.

The building of the train yard fueled unprecedented growth in the small community so that between 1906 and the start of the Great War, the village was transformed from a rural community to an urban and manufacturing centre.

Mimico became the first police village [13] in Etobicoke Township, on January 27, 1905, when they elected their own three trustees to levy local taxes. In 1911, the first reeve was elected. Meanwhile, the nearby Village of New Toronto was incorporated on January 1, 1913. There had been lots of talk of amalgamation of the two small villages. In 1916 the first proposal was made and put to the voters, with those in Mimico approving the plan, while the voters in New Toronto rejected the idea. [14] By the next year however, the citizens of Mimico voted to incorporate as a Town. It retained its status as a town until 1967 when it was amalgamated into Etobicoke.


Footnotes:

1.Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=37590 [Return]

2. Noted Etobicoke historian and author, Bob Given (who is also a Toronto Branch Member) was gracious enough to provide some detailed notes and thoughts for this article. [Return]

3. Currell, Harvey, The Mimico Story, Town of Mimico and Library Board, Mimico: April 1967, p.18. [Return]

4. (see #2) [Return]

5. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=39116 [Return]

6. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=39651 [Return]

7. The transcriptions of the headstones in Christ Church have been published by Toronto Branch. [Return]

8. Library & Archives Canada, Post Offices and Postmasters, http://www.CollectionsCanada.ca ('Etobicoke Twp Post Office') [Return]

9. The Mimico Story, p.45 [Return]

10. Villages of Etobicoke, Etobicoke Historical Board, p.26 [Return]

11. (see #8 -- 'Islington Post Office') [Return]

12. The Great Western Railway merged with the Grand Trunk Railway, becoming known as the Grand Trunk. This was eventually absorbed into what became Canadian National Railway. [Return]

13. A police village is a form of municipal organization which gives a community a small degree of independence. [Return]

14. New Toronto Historical Society, http://www.newtorontohistorical.com/Early%20History.htm [Return]