July 28, 2011. ALEXANDRA BOSANAC/TOWN CRIER
Touring Baby Point’s past: Heritage walk explores history of old neighbourhood
History is hot in the city.The sweltering summer heat didn’t keep curious Torontonians from taking part in a tour of the historical Baby Point neighbourhood.
The two-hour walk, organized by Heritage Toronto, attracted close to 60 people to learn about the wealthy French family that founded what is considered among the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the city.
For North Etobicoke resident Mehr Alaee, it’s awesome to discover a part Toronto’s heritage.
“I’ve been to luxurious neighbourhoods in the York Mills and Bayview area,” he said. “But I never thought there would be something like this in the heart of the city.”
Baby Point is a residential area that stretches west from Jane Street to the Humber River and is bordered by St. Mark’s Road in the northwest to Raymond Avenue and Old Mill Drive to the southeast. The land was originally home to the Seneca and Mississauga first nations.
The enclave takes its name from the first European owner, Jacques Baby — pronounced Babby — the son of a wealthy French-Canadian fur trading family.
One of Baby’s descendants joined the tour. Mary Adams is a fifth-generation descendant and recently donated a portrait of Jacques Baby to the Baby Museum in Windsor. Though she no longer lives in the neighbourhood, she says she likes to visit and learn as much as she can.
“These are our roots and we need to promote and engage younger people to learn the value of our city,” she said.
Baby’s heirs lived at the Point until 1910, when the government acquired the land. Soon after, it was sold to a developer named Robert Home Smith, who laid out Baby Point Road and the plans to develop subdivisions around it.
Smith’s vision in 1912 was to create a garden suburb, a neighbourhood with touches that reminded him of England. The housing stock exemplifies the Arts and Crafts movement, one made up of English designers as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. The movement called for a return to well-made handcrafted goods instead of mass-produced machine-made items.
Smith wanted the neighbourhood to reflect those values, and more importantly, to create a relaxing atmosphere which would remind residents of a less hectic time.
The large homes have wide porches, stone facades, and well-maintained gardens and are offset by wide streets. It’s a neighbourhood of cul-de-sacs and old oak trees, which act as a buffer to noise and make the area quiet. At the heart of the neighbourhood is the members-only Baby Point club, which has a lodge, a bowling lawn and a tennis court.
Few homes go on the market in this neighbourhood because many are passed down to family members.
Among the highlights of the tour was what is believed to have been a sacred burial site, right on someone’s front lawn. During a renovation in 1999, workers uncovered the grave of a Seneca woman. Archeologists urge Baby Point residents to proceed cautiously during any excavation because many gravesites are thought to be in the area and many will include Native artefacts.
Also joining the tour were several life-long residents of the area, curious to learn about their neighbourhood’s past. Madeline McDowell lives on Humbercrest Boulevard in a home that’s been passed down through generations.
“I have roses in my garden my grandmother planted in 1926, the year the house was built,” she said.
Residents of the million-dollar homes are considering mounting a campaign to give the neighbourhood official heritage designation, in part to control additions to homes or to prevent people from demolishing the original homes.
Like many of the residents, McDowell can’t get enough of the area and her knowledge of it seems almost encyclopedic. She claims to have been hooked by age seven. When asked why she thinks people are curious about the neighbourhood, McDowell points to a black oak tree.
“It’s got roots. So do we.”
For those interested in taking a tour, they’re free and run until October. Schedules are posted on Heritage Toronto’s website heritagetoronto.org/discover-toronto/walk.