by Robert A. Given
Our village of Long Branch began as a summer resort.
The first residents were Colonel Samuel Smith of the Queens Rangers,
his family and servants who lived in a house on the south side
of the Lake Shore Highway just east of Etobicoke Creek.
On 2 occasions he was Administrator of Upper Canada
when the lieut-governor was out of the province.
The Col. Smith Tract extended from the lake north to Bloor
and from Etobicoke Creek east to Kipling Avenue.
Col. Smith died in 1826 but his turn-of-the-century home
was a landmark until 1952 when it was demolished
to make way for a Dominion Store parking lot!
In 1871 James and Martha Eastwood bought the farm
on the south side of the highway from Samuel Smith Jr.
On October 1st 1883 James Eastwood sold 54 acres to
William Reford and James Watson Hughes who were tea brokers,
and Simeon Heman Janes a land broker.
On the same day Eastwood sold 10 acres to
William and Martha Lennox, hotel proprietors.
On December 4, 1884, Reford, Hughes and Janes had Plan 602
for Villa lots and Sea Breeze Park registered at the County Registry Office.
Sea Breeze Avenue was to go from Lake Shore Road
to the lake with the 10-acre park, hotel and wharf.
There were to be 2 other north-south avenues,
3 short east-west roads and the suggestion Sea breeze Avenue
could be extended north to a station on the Great Western Railway.
Nothing much happened in the next 2 years until the arrival
of Thomas J Wilkie, a man of vision, and his brother, John N. Wilkie,
manager of John D. Naismith's Steam Bakery and Lunch Counters.
Thomas J. Wilkie and his brother were sons of John Wilkie
the veterinary surgeon and blacksmith of Richmond Hill.
Their mother Elizabeth was the daughter of William Bingham,
founder of that family in Canada.
In 1869 T.J. was appointed the first secretary for the
Toronto YMCA and 2 years later established the first
"Y" facility for the military at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Then he established a Railway "Y" facility for the blacksmith
and other shop workers in the rail yards.
In 1880 T.J. joined the Brooklyn, New York YMCA.
Just 54 miles south of New York City is Long Branch, New Jersey,
on the eastern or "long" branch of the Shrewsbury River.
As time went by some residents found summers
on the oceanfront were enjoyable.
The Mansion House was built and Mrs Abraham Lincoln
was a guest for 10 days. Then the Continental Hotel,
the world's largest opened. In 1869 U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant
made Long Branch the Summer Capitol.
Now Long Branch, America's first seashore resort,
has the Church of 7 Presidents, boardwalk, ocean pier, etc.
Closer to home on Burlington Beach the 3-story Ocean House
opened in May 1875 as the Long Branch of Canada.
It boasted a dance hall, music salon, bowling alley,
billiard parlour and boat livery.
In 1886 Thomas J. Wilkie returned to Toronto leaving Brooklyn
YMCA with the largest and best equipped building in the world
up to that time.
He returned with an endowment to establish boys summer camps, some with the help of J.G. Cornell of Scarborough.
Incidentally his first wife was Charlotte Cornell of Scarborough.
When he came back his physician advised him to seek out of door work
and a relaxing of mental strain.
He purchased a "farm" west of Toronto and converted it
into a summer resort called "Long Branch".
On October 11, 1886 a new Plan M9 for Villa Lots
and Long Branch Park was registered at the County's new
Land Titles Office. Thomas J. Wilkie's plan added 2 new east-west roads,
a "fountain square" and suggested the wharf be located to the east.
The Wilkies sold the first lot to Amy Writh Ough for her architect
husband Richard in October and a lot to Christopher James Hohl, the latter, in November. At least 20 lots were sold in 1887 and the
Long Branch Park Hotel with its Japanese balconies
and Pagoda towers was completed, probably by Johnny Owe,
a contractor from Toronto Gore to the north-west.
Long Branch was surrounded by a huge fence about 12 feet high
and a 5-foot reserve on its west, north and east sides.
Two brick pillars topped by beautiful lamps were at the
park entrance near today's St. Agnes Church.
The iron gates were locked but the attendant was nearby.
Long Branch was a gated community like some popular resorts
in New Jersey and like Grimsby near Niagara.
There was to be no intoxicating beverages in the park
and no carriages or other vehicles on Sundays.
Long Branch had a merry-go-round, a grand pavilion with hardwood floor
for dancing, another pavilion with 300 seats for dining,
water slides, bathing and boating facilities, lawn bowling and tennis courts.
An engine house had a 40 HP motor for an electric dynamo to provide
lighting in the park. The resort's steamer, the Rupert,
provided commuter service 6 days a week.
Excursion steamers like the Greyhound, White Star and
J.W. Steinhoff called at Long Branch as well
as the Humber and Port Credit.
When we think of Long Branch today we usually think of the lake
from 23rd Street west to 43rd Street and Etobicoke Creek.
Wilkies' Long Branch was from a little east of 33rd Street
to a little west of 35th Street. Among the conditions of sale
was the stipulation that "the purchaser must build a
MESSUAGE or cottage of a size and design subject
to the approval of the vendor, that the purchaser shall not..."
In 1889 Bingham & Webber published a booklet on
"Long Branch-Toronto's Favourite Summer Resort."
It became a popular spot for church picnics and YMCA "camp" meetings.
The 5-foot boundary reserve was transferred to William Edward Cornell
real estate agent, who had spent much on the hotel and park.
In 1908 Dorothy Wright acquired the water lot by the park.
On July 1, 1895 the Toronto and Mimico Electric Railway
and Light Company reached Etobicoke Creek from
Queen and Roncesvalles. One of its directors was Joseph Barrett,
broker, of the Mimico Real Estate Security Co. Ltd.
By this time Col. Frederick Burton Robins had been 10 years
in the real estate business. In 1908 he formed Robins Limited
and soon began developing The Pines, Pine Beach,
Lake Shore Gardens and Annex in Long Branch.
In 1914 Mrs Sarah Jane Skeen moved to Long Branch
where her husband had a blacksmith shop.
Forty years later at age 83 she recalled the little old round pavilion
among the trees. She was taken there a number of times
as a little girl for picnics and remembered them paying
at the toll gate. Harry Sweller said he built the first permanent
non-cottage house in the Park in 1919.
The first Long Branch Post Office opened Aug 1, 1891,
and closed Oct 25, 1910. The second PO has been dated 1911 to 1935.
The first classes for Etobicoke School Section No. 12
were held in Long Branch Baptist Church while
a 4 room school with big auditorium for community activities
was being built on 31st Street. In 1921 Captain Oattes
built a home on "the flats", a sand bar which extended
across the mouth of Etobicoke Creek from the east bank.
On Oct 16, 1954, Hurricane Hazel destroyed 43 homes
and 7 people lost their lives. To the west of the Creek
the Ontario Rifle Association and the Government
established the Long Branch Rifle Ranges in 1891.
In May 1915 Curtis Aeroplanes and Motors Company of Toronto
opened Canada's first airfield and flying school there.
Its objective was to train airmen for service in World War I.
The original manager of the airfield was John A.D. McCurdy
who had already won fame as the first aviator in the British Empire
with his flight in the "Silver Dart"
at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, in 1909.
In June 1940, Small Arms Limited was formed.
On Sept 6, 1924, Abram Michael Orpen opened his
Long Branch Race Track also beyond the village.
The Telegram of Sept 28, 1945, reported 20 families
were living in trailers in the centre of the village.
Sanitary conveniences and water were provided in a large brick house...
a real housing shortage.