Located in the West End, Baby Point is one of the most upscale residential areas in the Greater Toronto area. Like many of the richest neighbourhoods in the city, Baby Point can boast origins that go right back to the dawn
of human habitation in the country. Let's take a detailed look at the Baby Point area through the eyes of longstanding area resident historian Madeleine McDowell.
The Baby Point peninsula, at 117 M above sea level, is a thirty metre high east bank promontory overlooking an oxbow in the Humber River. Composed of layers of shale, limestone and sandstone with a layer of sand at the top; it initially comprised a sea bed, which is evidenced in the many brachiopod and other fossils.
At the time of the last ice age, it was a sunken island in Lake Iroquois, near to the River delta, which caused the massive surface sand deposit as well as that to the north along what would become the Ravine. These are referred to in Canadian Geological survey publications as the Lambton and Parkdale sands.
The climate is Carolinian. The deep sandy surface with underlying springs is what gave rise to the Black Oak Savannah which evolved five to eight thousand years ago. The plant life is characterized by deep tap roots, and a liking for the open and well drained.
The native Oak, Black, Red and White has survived well as have the Black Walnut and Beech although the stately Elms fell victim to Dutch Elm disease. Many of the trees are remnant forest, and a 250 year old Black Oak designated a Heritage Tree of Provincial Significance by the Ontario Urban Forestry Council stands in the yard at 35 Baby Point Road.
The Magwood Sanctuary to the north is Old Growth Forest and a very rare bit of Woodland Marsh habitat; - a legacy of Robert Home Smith, and the Township of York.
History & Archaeology:
The whole of Baby Point is deemed an Archaeological Site of Provincial significance. Percy Robinson states that traces of a palisade were discovered by archaeologist A. F. Hunter in 1889. He speculates that these might be from Teiaiagon or from the French Fort of 1720.
Most recently, during an extensive renovation being carried out on Baby Point Crescent, an intact 1660's burial site of a Seneca woman was found from early in this millennium, including her combs and a copper pot.
This comb was carved from Moose Antler and was placed in the care of the Toronto Museum Project and ceremoniously reburied.
The neck of the peninsula is traversed by an ancient Aboriginal trail, dating back at least 4,000 years, and forming a link in the migration and trade route between the Gulf and the North Shore. There are many Paleolithic camp sites along the trail, one just to the north of the Point at Langmuir stretching north to St. Marks, where the ground has been excavated for the Road way and the site vanishes.
The Point itself was a Seneca village, from approximately the late 1640s until 1687, at which time the Senecas returned to the South Shore of Lake Ontario. Whether this was a withdrawal due to a threat or attack by Governor Denonville, who, returning victorious from an attack upon the Iroquois at Niagara anchored to ride out a storm on July 5th, 1687 in the Humber marshes, or it was that the land was wearing out for agricultural purposes and needed a rest, the site of their Village "Teiaiagon" was deserted.
Teiaiagon is a Mohawk / Seneca word meaning "It crosses the river". The Lakeshore trail would have come north to the break in the ravine and ford of the river at what is now the Old Mill bridge crossing.
The Baby Point height of land which overlooked this important crossing and intersected with the Carrying Place commanded both routes and was a natural fortification site. The Seneca Village located so strategically here, took its name from the site that its view commanded.
Denonville deemed the Site perfect for a Trading Fort, and in 1720, his successor Governor Vaudreuil, caused one to be built there - Le Magasin Royal, one of three outposts from that year, the other two being at Kente and Niagara respectively.
The Mississaugas controlled this area by 1700, hunting and trading here. Known as the Mississaugas of the New Credit, they were the First nation of the Toronto Purchase of 1787 and 1805, the Land Claims for which, were settled at the end of May, 2010.
In September (9th) 1615 Etienne Brule left Champlain at Lake Couchiching and, with a group of Huron / Wyndats, followed the Carrying Place to Lake Ontario, There was no Village at Baby Point at that time. Brule had an appointment similar to that of Champlain, and in 1628 he had a stipend of 1,000 Livre, ( the same as Champlain) a wife and an estate in France at Champigny sur Marne.
Pere and Joliet camped here in 1669, on their way to the north, in search of the great copper mine.
Father Hennepin, of the Recollet Mission, wrote an account of a visit to Teiaiagon which he left on December 15th 1678, on his way to Niagara.
Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, spent much of August 1680 here, and the first sentence of his account of his voyage, one of the three or so most important voyages of exploration in North American history, reads as follows:
"Pour reprendre la suite de mon voyage, je parti l' an passe' de Teioiagon, le 22 Aoust, et arrivay le23 au bord du lac Toronto, ou j' arrestay deux de mes deserteurs, l' un nomme Gabriel Minime et l' autre Grendmaison."
From: Relation Du Voyage De Cavelier De La Salle - Du 22 Aout 1680 A Lautomne De 1681
Translation: "To take up the account of my voyage, I left, Teiaiagon last year on the 22nd of August and arrived the 23rd at the shore of Lake Toronto, where I arrested two of my deserters, one named Gabriel Minime and the other Grendmaison."
Lake Simcoe was known as Lake Toronto, and the route which he followed was the Toronto Carrying Place, which he traversed at least three, probably four times by 1683.
The Douville brothers started trading at the Humber in 1716 and Le Sieur Douville built the 1720 Forte at Baby Point known as Le Magasin Royal. Its probable location, according to Dr. Paul Germaine, was the tennis court/ Club House area at the west end of the narrow neck of the peninsula. The goods traded there in exchange for fur pelts included buttons, shirts, ribbons, combs, knives, looking glasses and axes; flour and lard, pepper, prunes, raisins, olive-oil, tobacco, vermilion, powder and shot.
The fort fell into decline because of aggressive trade competition from the British to the south and the coureurs-de-bois who cut off the French trade from the north west, by going to the natives and trading directly with them there.
Alexander Henry (1764):
Alexander Henry traveled the Carrying Place in 1765 and wrote an account of his journey, which would be the same as that of Brule or any of the others.
On the 18th of June, we crossed Lake aux Claies, which appeared (Lake aux Claies) to be upwards of twenty miles in length (which was later renamed Lake Simcoe). At its farther end we came to the carrying - place of Toronto. Here the Indians obliged
me to carry a burden of more than a hundred pounds weight. The day was very hot, and the woods and marshes abounded with mosquitoes; but, the Indians walked at a quick pace, and I could by no means see myself left behind.
The whole country was a thick forest, through which our only road was a foot-path, or such as, in America, is exclusively termed an Indian path.
Next morning, at ten o'clock, we reached the shore of Lake Ontario. Here we employed two days in making canoes, out of the bark of the elm tree, in which we were to transport ourselves to Niagara. For this purpose the Indians first cut down a tree; then stripped off the bark, in one entire sheet, of about eighteen feet in length, the incision being length-wise. The canoe was now complete, as to its top bottom and sides. Its ends were next closed, by sewing the bark together; and a few ribs and bars being
introduced the architecture was finished. In this manner, we made two canoes; of which one carried eight men, the other nine. On the 21st, we embarked at Toranto, and encamped, in the evening, four miles short of Niagara, which the Indians would not approach till morning.
The Baby's & The Point:
After the fall of Quebec, Jacques Duperon Baby, already a fur trader with his brothers at Detroit, gained a license in 1762 from the British to trade along the north shore, (including the Humber) and down into Sandwich (Windsor). His son, Jacques was a member of Simcoe's cabinet from1792 and as an officer in the Militia during the War of 1812, was taken prisoner by the Americans.
In 1815, the Hon. Jacques Baby relocated from Sandwich to York, when he was appointed Inspector General of Upper Canada and acquired a 200 acre estate in the west that included the Point which bears his name. In 1820, he added the mill and property of Joseph Haines to his holdings.
In 1826, after 6:00 on the evening of June 8th, Jacque's son Raymond (other sources nominate Charles for this deed), along with some other young scions of the Family Compact, broke into the house of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie and stole his type, which they threw into Toronto Bay. Mackenzie sought restitution and the courts awarded him 650 pounds. Raymond's father is reputed to have told him "Stop whining Raymond, and pay the fine!".
Jacques - the Hon. James Baby, remained Inspector General until his death in 1833.
Raymond Baby's house was located at the north side of Langmuir Crescent near Orchard Crest. The plateau below the Point was his orchard and Raymond Avenue was the lane that led to his house.
The Babys moved to a new house at 173 Jane Street between Hanley and Montye, about 1880. It was demolished for a Gas Station in the late 1950s, but the lane that led to its rear from Annette Street remains.
Mrs. Baby, in the 1950s, said that Annette Street was named after one of the Baby women, whose husband gave the land and the fifth Concession was named Jane after her best friend, so that the two would always meet. It was a lovely, rather quixotic story about a T intersection, from an elderly lady with flaming red hair, who did attend the Coronation of King George the VI.
In 1909 The Government of Canada decided to acquire a new Garrison Common, to replace the one adjacent to the old Fort. They purchased the Baby Estate along the Humber, but soon realized that it would still not give them sufficient distance from a residential area for rifle ranges.
So when, in 1910 the Long Branch site was purchased, they sold the property to Robert Home Smith, a developer, whose Aunt, Kathleen Lizars, was writing a book about the history of the "Valley of the Humber".(on my bookshelf-rdg)
By 1912 Home-Smith had prepared for marketing a Plan of Subdivision of his land holdings entitled "The Humber Valley Surveys". The roads were laid out for Riverside, The Kingsway and Baby Point, with the Gates at Baby Point built.
He was very specific about the footprint location of every house and outbuilding. Siting was important and unalterable. Trees, ravines and natural landscape must be protected. He was very aware of the local history, and its importance to the country as a whole.
The Ravine to the north of the Point was a remnant Old Growth Forest and rare Woodland Marsh. About the time of his death it was designated a Sanctuary by the Township. This was the area from which Agnes Moodie Fitzgibbon, Susanna Moodie's daughter, drew all her material for the illustrations she did in 1866/67 for the book "Canadian Wildflowers", Her Aunt, Katherine Parr Traill wrote the text, and it was the first book of its type published in Canada. There is a copy in the Baldwin Room at Toronto Public Reference Library.
Home Smith built himself a home at the corner of Jane and Baby Point Road, designated under part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act. He included amenities in his developments, from the Old Mill Ruins "dreaming by the Humber" to the Lambton Mills Inn an early conversion of an industrial building to reuse as a concert hall and restaurant at Dundas and the Humber. He next built the Old Mill Tea Garden, which opened on the first day of the First World War. There was a CPR main line station within walking distance at Dungas and Scarlett, and a street railway on Dundas.
His ideas of adaptive reuse and footprint development are coming back again as cutting edge principals of urban design.
Other Historical Features:
The Jane Street Methodist Mission was located at the north corner of Jane and Raymond in 1912. In 1914, it moved to Thornhill and Baby Point and as a basement housed Humbercrest Public School when it started in 1917. Humbercrest Methodist grew above ground in 1924 and as Humbercrest United Church added the west addition in 1949-1951. The Church has outstanding acoustics, and is used as a recording venue by Taffelmusic.