20th Century Development 1910-2000 (Robert Home Smiith)

How it Became Baby Point and Robert Home Smith

0.4 robert-home-smith-sm(Photo of Robert Home Smith, public domain)

How it Became Baby Point: Heirs of the Baby family stayed in the area through the remainder of the nineteenth century. Raymond Baby’s home was located on the north side of what is now Langmuir Crescent near Orchard Crest (the plateau became his orchard). Raymond Avenue was the lane that led to his home.

About 1880, the family moved into a new home at 173 Jane Street (between Hanely and Montye). That home was demolished in the 1950s (about that time, Mrs. Baby, an elderly lady with flaming red hair, recollected that Annette Street had been named for one of the women of the family, and Jane Street for her best friend. That way, the two friends would always ‘meet’).

By 1901, the surviving grandsons of the Hon. James Baby had effectively lost control of the property. A complicated title situation was resolved when the Federal Government purchased the property in 1909, intending to use it as a new Garrison common to replace the one adjacent to old Fort York, but quickly realized there was insufficient distance from a residential area for rifle ranges. After purchasing an alternate site, the land was sold to developer Robert Home Smith. Home Smith submitted a Plan of Subdivision to the City of Toronto in April 1911, retaining the name of the man who first purchased the land – Baby Point.

Robert Home Smith:  In 1911/12, Robert Home Smith submitted plans to the City of Toronto detailing development on both banks of the Humber River, after amassing large tracts of land for the purpose. Collectively known as the Humber Valley Surveys, the plans called for large, luxurious homes on tree-lined streets. For Toronto, a city accustomed in 1911 to expansion of unplanned, ramshackle suburbs, Home Smith “undertook one of the most ambitious, exclusive residential housing schemes ever devised in North America.” Baby Point’s boreal oak forest was to be protected  and preserved and hardscaping and landscaping executed to create a neighbourhood which represented the best principles of the Garden City Movement.

5.98 HV Survey Booklet Cover_ed(Front Cover of the Humber Valley Surveys booklet)

Home Smith imposed building restrictions – laid out in a Covenant found in the Humber Valley Surveys — that were visionary in the field of urban planning, allowing only defined building coverage and set-backs. His lot sales included restrictive covenants on the land which remained in place for 30 years, ensuring the stability of the neighbourhood, a factor which was important to his purchasers. He insisted on following existing topography and protecting natural landscaping features; critical for the plateau, ravines and the old oak savannah found on Baby Point. The north Ravine of the Point was remnant Old Growth Forest and rare Woodland Marsh, and was later designated as the Magwood Sanctuary by York Township, in order to protect the natural landscape. As a consequence, Home Smith was very specific about the footprint location — the siting — of every house and outbuilding. He was exquisitely aware of the Point’s history and its importance in Canada’s history, and was determine to preserve that legacy.

Did Home Smith Succeed? What the Critics Say

If I had to name the most unaffectedly gracious and artistically planned subdivision in Toronto, the winner would surely be – not the Annex, not Moore Park, certainly not Forest Hill – but Baby Point. As far as I can tell, developer Robert Home Smith got everything right when he laid out the new neighbourhood’s streets, parklands and ample building lots in 1912. Edwardian and later architects and builders then filled in the blanks that Home Smith had inscribed on the plateau above the Humber River. The result of these efforts is a set of beautifully well-ordered streetscapes with broad lawns and spacious family dwellings. By and large, the public faces of these detached houses speak of solidity, rootedness, propriety and other cultural values cherished by our Edwardian ancestors. And they weren’t the only people who have done so. Numerous house-hunters nowadays want to see these old-fashioned ideals embodied in the buildings they live in, and about a thousand current home-owners and their families have discovered such architectural traditionalism on the pleasant, shady streets of Baby Point ”.

John Bentley Mays. The Globe and Mail 8 June 2012