TORONTO FOR SALE in the 19th Century

“For sale” signs began appearing not long after the first surveys of Toronto were rendered – if not on the properties themselves, at least in the minds of government officials, Toronto‚Äôs first families and early entrepreneurs.

In 1798, Toronto was a settlement known as York. Land along a freshly-carved Yonge Street became available to those who were willing to abide by certain rules pertaining to settlement. These rules were issued by the Executive Council, the local ruling body, on December 29, 1798.

Notice: Yonge Street...

Yonge Street Notice is hereby given to all persons settled, or about to settle on Yonge Street...
1798 U.C.
Small, John; Russell, Peter; Upper Canada, Executive Council

Settlers were given twelve months to clear and fence their property, to build and occupy a house, or have a tenant in place. They also had to clear the portion of Yonge Street directly in front of their property.

In the decades that followed large parcels of land were granted, mainly to government and military officials and their families. This led to the creation of estate properties with a main dwelling and secondary buildings such as stables and guest houses. By the 1850s, many of these estates were subdivided into housing lots and put up for sale. The availability of this new land fed a demand for property driven largely by immigration and an influx of people from rural areas, making the mid-1800s one of the busiest periods of land-sales activity of the nineteenth century.

Public auctions were a popular and efficient method of selling property. This 1847 notice was printed and distributed to shop owners and other businesses to display on their premises.

Notice: Toronto Auction Mart - Grand Sale...

Grand Sale of Real Estate, on Monday, the fifteenth day of November next.
1847 Sale Item
Toronto Auction Mart

Maps were also used to advertise property sales. Some maps were quite attractive and artistic, while others were more business-like in their advertising approach.

This map of Homewood Estate was produced for the purpose of selling property. It shows the property south of Bloor Street, east of Jarvis Street and west of Sherbourne Street, belonging to Toronto’s eleventh mayor, George Allan (1822-1901).

Plan of building lots for sale upon the Homewood estate, Toronto.
Browne, John O.

The map or plan displayed below was also produced for the purpose of selling property and relies less on appearance than on function. The property is located north of King Street East, on the east side of Pine Street.

Plan of park lot no. 2, in the city of Toronto, the property of A.H. St. Germain, formerly belonging to Captn. Irvin and Mr. James Francis.

As the nineteenth century progressed, the population continued to soar. The 1880s saw the century’s second boom in land subdivision and sales. The city of Toronto strived to keep pace by expanding its boundaries, transportation systems and other essential services. Subdivisions miles away from those established twenty and thirty years previously were being built, and a new lifestyle was born as commuting to and from work became a viable option.

One of these outlying subdivisions was Runnymede Estate, several miles west of Yonge Street. Runnymede Estate is a portion of land that was settled and owned by John Scarlett in the early 1800s. Scarlett, a sawmill and distillery owner, held land along the Humber River and the Scarlett name is still found throughout the area.

Runnymede Estate; a subdivision of the westerly parts of lots 39 and 40, con. 2 from the bay, township of York.
Wadsworth & Unwin

The image below is a grand example of real estate marketing. It targets prospective homeowners and those looking for vacation property. The text in the advertisement is especially persuasive and describes the area: “delightfully situated on the shore of Lake Ontario”, “choicely wooded villa lots”, “convenient, healthful and accessible”.

Long Branch Summer Resort lot no. 9, broken front concession, Etobicoke villa lots for villa residence, summer cottages, camping etc.
Bds1887.Long Branch
Unwin, Browne, & Sankey; Alexander & Cable; Ough, Richard

From marshes and woodlands to estates, neighbourhoods, communities and vacation properties, Toronto witnessed a century of land division, annexation and boundary expansion (by 1900, Toronto’s population topped 200,000 and numerous properties had been sold and re-sold.) Early landowners, entrepreneurs, sales agents, land companies and auctioneers were all part of Toronto’s land transformation during the 1800s. They were also the ones who set the foundation for continued growth, at a rate that could not be imagined or planned by even the most ambitious and visionary business minds of the time.

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Source: Special Collections, Toronto Public Library.