History and Evolution: Baby Point HCD Study
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The Baby Point and Old Millside neighbourhoods together constitute a unique geographic area within the City of Toronto, located on the eastern banks of the Humber River at a point where the river makes a natural oxbow formation, resulting in a peninsula-like shape. Baby Point is primarily located on a plateau overlooking the river, while Old Millside is on the southern slopes of the plateau and at a much lower elevation.
The Study Area has an extensive history dating from as early as 6,000 BCE to the present-day. It has been the site of seasonal and year-round occupation by indigenous communities, was the estate of a leading member of Upper Canada’s Family Compact, and is one of Toronto’s early and most comprehensive examples of a Garden Suburb. These histories in part support the value of Baby Point and Old Millside to local residents and the broader community, and have contributed to the neighbourhoods’ unique sense of place.
The village of Teiaiagon, which translates to “it crosses the steam”, was a village that was occupied in the 17th century by members the Seneca Nation, whose homelands were to the west of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. The village is believed to have been established as a permanent settlement by 1673, however the area is known to have been used by indigenous communities dating back to at least 6,000 BCE.
Teiaiagon most likely consisted of 20-30 longhouses, supporting a population of between 500-800. The village’s location was highly strategic – it could be easily defended from its location atop the peninsula overlooking the Humber River, and would have had access to the abundant salmon of the river and surrounding agricultural fields.
Following the retreat of the Seneca in the 1680s due to increased military pressure in their homelands, the village site was occupied by the Anishnaabeg who were extending their homelands south from the upper Great Lakes. Baby Point was a strategic site on the Carrying Place Trail for the Anishnaabeg, however increased European military pressure and settlement activity in and around Lake Ontario through the 18th century saw the decline in use of the village site for seasonal hunting and trading purposes.
Baby Point takes its name from James Baby (1763-1833), a prominent French-Canadian merchant and early resident of the Town of York. Baby was a member of the “Family Compact”, a term used to refer to the ruling elite of Upper Canada from 1810-1830 and included recognlizable names such as John Robinson, Bishop Strachan, William Osgoode and Aeneas Shaw. Baby was notable not only for his conributions to the early Town of York, but for being the sole French-Canadian and Catholic in the otherwise Anglican group.
In the early 1820s Baby purchased 1500 acres along the eastern banks of the Humber River, and constructed a house to the west of Cashman Park, surrounded by orchards of fruit-bearing trees. The estate was passed on to his sons Raymond and James, and remained in the Baby family through the 19th century.
Baby Point and to a lesser degree Old Millside owe much of their present-day appearance to Robert Home Smith, a lawyer and entrepreneurial developer from Stratford, Ontario who purchased extensive tracts of land along the Humber River with a vision of creating attractive and healthy residential suburbs on the outskirts of the growing city. Home Smith was a proponent of the Garden Suburb approach to neighbourhood development, defined by picturesque streets that followed natural landscape features, homes designed in English revival styles, landscaped yards and access to parks, a valuation of private space and design restrictions to preserve the natural and built character of the neighbourhood.
Construction in Baby Point began in 1913 and continued through the ’20s and early ’30s. Newspapers from this time reported the discovery of human remains during construction, indicate the presence of multiple grave sites and previous settlement. The Baby Point Club and Humbercrest United Church – two significant community assets in the area – were also developed at this time with the support of the local community, reflective of the neighbourhood’s close social connections.
When the design restrictions put in place by Home Smith expired in 1941, residents petitioned the local government to adopt a by-law that enforced many of the same design restrictions following the principles developed by Home Smith and supporting the neighbourhood’s designed character as a picturesque garden suburb of houses nestled in a park-like setting. The by-law guided development in Baby Point through the latter half of the 20th century.