Leaside is a neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The area takes its name from William Lea and the Lea family, who settled there in the early years of the nineteenth century. The area first developed as farmland along with Toronto through the nineteenth century. It was incorporated as a town in 1913. In 1967 it was amalgamated with the township of East York to form the borough of East York. In 1998 it became part of the city of Toronto.
A map showing Leaside and its location in relation to Toronto and the other suburbs.
Before the Leas
The general area of Toronto had been inhabited by various Natives at least as early as 3000 BCE, when the Laurentian peoples moved south into the area just east of Toronto. The first European known to travel to the area was Étienne Brûlé, who passed through the area in the early part of the seventeenth century. Surveying and settlement by Europeans began in earnest in the 1780s, with the influx of Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution.
Lea family settles Lot 13
John Lea immigrated to York, Upper Canada in 1819, coming from Philadelphia. He had come to the United States from England only a year previous. He purchased Lot 13 in the third concession from Alexander McDonnell on January 23, 1820 and settled there with his family. John Lea had three children - William, John Jr. and Mary. In 1851, William Lea bought land just south of his father's farm, and began constructing a large, octagonal brick house, which he named "Leaside". The house was completed in 1854. The building served not only as a home for Lea's family, but after he became a Magistrate in the County of York, soon served as a post office as well. The property became the possession of his son Joseph upon his death in 1893.
Railways come to Leaside
In the 1870s, the Ontario and Quebec Railway Company purchased a few acres of land on the south-east corner of William Lea's property to run its railway across. The Ontario and Quebec Railway Company encountered financial difficulties in 1884, and leased part of its railway, including the section of track running through Leaside, to the Canadian Pacific Railway for 999 years. The Canadian Pacific Railway decided to establish a maintenance stop and a sliding by-pass on the railway on the land purchased from William Lea, which was attractive because it was uniformly flat. The station was completed in September 1884 and named "Leaside" in honour of William Lea. In 1892 a junction was built in the Leaside area, and a railway line was constructed south along the Don towards Union Station.
Leaside: a model town
In 1912, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, the owners of the Canadian Northern Railway hired planner Frederick Todd to plan development for a community to be built around a maintenance yard for their railway. Mackenzie and Todd founded the York Land Company to purchase land for such a town. The company purchased over most of the third concession and some land north of Eglinton Avenue. The purchased lands extended from the railway tracks in the south to three farms north of Eglinton Avenue, from Leslie Street in the east to Bayview Avenue in the west. The town of Leaside was planned by Todd for the company, which put its name to many of the local streets; Laird Drive, Hanna Road and Wicksteed Avenue all bear the name of Canadian Northern Railway company executives. The new community was planned with commercial areas, residential areas and a town centre west of Laird Drive, and space was laid out east of Laird Drive for industrial development. The goal of the company was to create Leaside as a new upper class residential area of Toronto, the "New Rosedale". The developers first approached the town of North Toronto, hoping that North Toronto would annex the area and provide services such as streets, sewers and public transportation. The town council of North Toronto refused. A similar request to the city of Toronto was met with a similar reply. With their attempts to include Leaside within another city or town rebuffed, Colonel Davidson and Randolph McRae applied to the province of Ontario to incorporate Leaside as a town.
The Town of Leaside was officially incorporated on April 23, 1913. The population of Leaside was 43 individuals. The Canadian Northern Railway company approved Todd's town plan on May 8, 1913. A town council for Leaside was elected on May 8, 1913 and they approved the plan for the town on May 21, 1913, which was the final legal approval needed before the plan could be implemented. On June 21, 1913 the Toronto World carried the announcement that properties in Leaside's planned community would be marked in the fall of that year. In September 1913 lots went on sale within the planned community.
In 1914 the industrial area that had been set aside east of Laird Drive received its first tenant. Canada Wire and Cable began construction of a factory for production of 9.2 inch shells for World War I. In addition to the new factory, Canada Wire and Cable moved their other Toronto production plants to the same location to increase efficiency. Canada Wire and Cable also created the subsidiary company Leaside Munitions Company to oversee shell production. Soon after construction began on a federal government owned airstrip, named Leaside Aerodrome. The York Land Company leased about to the government for the airfield, between Wicksteed Avenue and Eglinton Avenue. On May 21, 1917 construction began on the airfield. At the close of the war, there were accommodations for around 1000 military personal.
While the industrial development in the area went ahead as planned during World War One, the anticipated residential development did not occur. As late as 1929 the population remained under 500. World War I spurred the demand for industrial output but diminished the call for new housing. The bankruptcy of Canadian Northern Railway left the project at a loss and Leaside's isolated location made it unappealing to workers from Toronto.
Leaside: a growing Toronto suburb
After the war, the strip became the site of Canada's first delivery of airmail on June 18, 1918 when pilot Brian Peck delivered 120 letters from Montreal. This delivery was initially organised at the behest of some of his friends in Montreal who wanted letters delivered to Toronto; however when Canada Post heard of the plans, they gathered together the letters as a test of an airmail system. After the war there was little need for shells and other war materials, and the factories of the Leaside Munition Company were closed. These buildings were quickly occupied by the Durant Motor Company, which produced cars named Durants and Stars as well as the Rugby truck.
Leaside's growth slowed after World War I, with its primary industry being war industry. The existing houses had all been built for employees of the Leaside Munitions Company by the company. However, at this time Leaside stood on the edge of Toronto and was increasingly an appealing place for investment. Investors from Baltimore bought property that had previously belonged to Robert T. Davies for the construction of a race track. They formed the Thorncliffe Park Racing and Breeding Association Ltd. to operate the track.
The Leaside Viaduct was completed on October 29, 1927 providing easy connection between east Toronto and Leaside. This led to the rapid growth of Leaside at the time, and in the future. The impassibility of the Don River valley had previously made it difficult for people employed in Toronto to reside in Leaside. The same month, an underpass on Millwood Road was opened through the valley.
In 1928, the Lincoln Electric Company of Canada Ltd. relocated from Toronto's west end to Leaside. The company originally sold Lincoln motors in Canada, but incorporated in 1930 and began the manufacture of motors in Leaside. At the onset of the Great Depression, the Durant Motor Company ran into financial troubles. The last cars were produced in 1933, and the buildings were occupied by the Canada Wire and Cable company.
At the start of World War II, Lincoln Electric moved their operations to Leaside industrial park, adjacent to the Canada Wire and Cable plant. The new location, constructed in 1940, covered 30 . On July 16, 1940, Research Enterprises Inc. was incorporated. The company operated only during the war, closing in 1946. It was, however, the largest single employer in Leaside's history, employing over 7500 men and women at its peak. The site manufactured military radio equipment and optical supplies, with a total value of $220 million (CDN) in goods produced during the war.
As part of an Royal Canadian Air Force public relations plan, the town of Leaside officially "adopted" No. 432 Squadron RCAF of No. 6 Group RCAF. Formed and adopted on 1 May 1943 the squadron took the town's name as its nickname, becoming 432 "Leaside" squadron RCAF. The sponsorship lasted the duration of the war.
In 1952 the Lincoln Electric company expanded to a 220 plant, and their site expanded to cover almost . They leased an additional 50 building in Leaside to house their distribution center.
The last horse race at Thorncliffe Park was run on June 23, 1952. Investors from Toronto bought the racetrack that year.
The rapid growth of Thorncliffe in the 1950s necessitated the construction of a second north-south bridge across the Don Valley. In 1955, Leaside's population had grown to 16 779  and the Leaside town council approved the second bridge. Construction of the bridge was completed on September 7, 1960 and it was opened by Leslie Frost. The bridge was named the Charles Hiscott Bridge in honour of Leaside's mayor at the time.
On January 1, 1967 Leaside was amalgamated with the township of East York to form the borough of East York. As such Leaside became a neighbourhood within East York.
Passenger train service to Leaside Station ended in 1970, and the station was closed. The station would reopen briefly in the 1980s as a restaurant, but would see no further passenger traffic. Leaside Airport fell into disuse, and in 1971 the last hangar was demolished.
Canada Wire and Cable was purchased by Alcatel in 1991, and the operations relocated to Markham in 1996, with the location being converted to a shopping centre. The plant had expanded through the years and been a major influence in Leaside, employing over 2700 workers at its peak. It had also been a strong influence over the community in other ways, investing in the community in various ways, including the construction of a water main in 1918.
East York merged with five other municipalities and a regional government in 1998 to form the new City of Toronto.
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1914 are now available [October 2012]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada. All of the original census (1851-1911) images are online with the exception of that for 1861. Not all of them are indexed. Later censuses are not yet available. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited.
E-books and Books
Websites with more local information on the City of Toronto