Duking it out in Rosedale
Rosedale and the surrounding area harbour several historic spots. The owner of the first house in the area was Mary Jarvis; she gave the neighbourhood its name because of its wild roses. Her husband, William Botsford Jarvis, was Sheriff of the Family Compact and a bitter enemy to William Lyon MacKenzie. The latter almost burned Rosedale House to the ground as the rebels marched down Yonge Street. However, two of the Jarvis children were ill at the time. The rebel Colonel Samuel Lount objected to killing women and sick children, and so the Jarvises were spared. His punctiliousness earned him nothing, however, since he was hanged in the end, with Jarvis presiding, while MacKenzie fled across the border. Rosedale House remained standing until 1905. On its location, only a small apartment building is now left, at 34 Rosedale Road.
Regency cottages, one story high with a verandah all around, were a predominant style in Rosedale's early days. Houses in the posh neighbourhood are also known for their turrets and gables, often called Rosedale's follies. Another feature of these residences is the occasional use of clinker bricks, which are burnt and broken bricks originally thrown out by masons, then used in walls so as not to be wasted. They became so popular that people started breaking and burnings their bricks on purpose, like modern-day adolescents tearing up their jeans to look more interesting. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The architect Eden Smith pioneered the use of clinker bricks as a decorative detail.
Behind the brick-and-mortar, there are several stories in Rosedale. Two of them stand out: the epic of William Bull, a.k.a Duke of Rosedale and owner of Lorne Hall; and the life and times of Doctor Helen MacMurchy, one of the world's most important women of medicine. There's also the cellist Leo Smith, but it's a much shorter story.
The Duke of Lorne Hall
The life of William Perkins Bull is a colourful riches-to-rags story, featuring billiards with the King of England and an alleged run-in with the Al Capone gang– and that's just for starters. Bull lived in Lorne Hall from 1906 until 1943. The house itself, at 3 Meredith Crescent, dates back to 1876 and was named in honor of the Marquis of Lorne, the Governor-General of the time. Today, it looks like a home for modest female students, steeped in quietude and muted pastels. Its mansard roof, with dormer windows and four-pillar portico atop which is a balcony, betray nothing of its former interior. Under Bull's reign, there was bull statuary everywhere and a painting of an enormous naked woman flying across the sky, protecting her breasts from the red devil chasing her.
William Perkins Bull was a lawyer and author, and made his money from various investments: a sugar plantation in Cuba, logging and land in Western Canada, and the family farm in Brampton. It seems his fortunes rose and fell most with the price of sugar. In 1908, he became the youngest King's Council in the British Empire. He moved to England in 1912 and was offered a knighthood, which he declined as a good Canadian should (according to his wife, anyway). Held in high regard, Bull received visitors such as the Duke of Westminster and played billiards with the King.
In the mid-1920s his fortunes plummeted, and he moved to Chicago to assist a wartime friend, millionaire William Horlick, with his malted-milk empire. He also helped Horlick's daughter Mabelle get a divorce, after having her husband followed for three years. The husband sued and got an out-of-court settlement. Bull found out that the Al Capone gang had been reportedly paid to kill him. The next day, Bull's limousine was run off the road by a truck. He almost died from his injuries.
During his lengthy convalescence back in Toronto, Bull's wife suggested he occupy himself by writing a family history, and also write about the pioneers of Peel County and Toronto. Never one to shirk his chosen objective, Bull wrote thirteen volumes. Meanwhile, Mabelle had moved in with them. His wife died at age 58. Mabelle remained in the house. When she died of natural causes, he was accused of her murder and of stealing her inheritance, rumoured to be as high as $20 million. All of this was proven false. Undeterred, Bull continued to write until 1941. His money gone, at 71 years of age, he sold everything he owned and moved to Niagara on the Lake two years later.
Helen MacMurchy, doctor and author
Unpretentious, perhaps like its early inhabitants, 122 South Drive was the home of the MacMurchy sisters. Marjory was a writer and Helen was a doctor. She obtained her medical degree in 1901, and practiced out of her home, doing her rounds on a bicycle at first, and later on in a little electric car. In her capacity as doctor, she crusaded to improve children's health, and authored landmark studies on infant and maternal mortality: the Canadian infant mortality rate in the 1907–8 period peaked at nearly 140 infant deaths under one year of age per 1,000 live births. In unlicensed orphanages, often called baby farms, it could climb to nine out of ten.
The Parks Canada website contains additional information on Helen MacMurchy. Appointed Ontario's first "Inspector of the Feebleminded" in 1906 (a title considered acceptable at the time), she called for medical inspection of schools, early detection of mental problems, special training for the mentally challenged, and increased institutionalization. This was an era, apparently, when doctors unofficially practiced eugenics by allowing children they deemed "defective" to die. The flip side of this sinister practice is that eugenics came to emphasize good psychological care in child-rearing in order to prevent mental illness. Harsh discipline was discouraged; empathy, understanding and lots of play time were on the menu. This said, in her published work, MacMurchy nevertheless told mothers not to pick up their children every time they cried.
Also, as "Inspector of the Feebleminded", MacMurchy applied this definition to unwed mothers. As Diane Dodd's article points out in a 1991 issue of the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History: "In her view, these 'feebleminded' women were sexually deviant victims of male sexuality, whose illegitimate children in turn victimized society with their 'inferior' genetic makeup. MacMurchy warned of the dire consequences of allowing the alarmingly high rate of reproduction among this degenerate group to continue."
While working for the Department of Health, Dr. MacMurchy wrote the Blue Books. This was a series of 16 pamphlets that stressed what we would call preventative health measures today, including the mental health measures above: good food, rest, getting outside and good hygiene. MacMurchy was among the first to wish to elevate the status of motherhood through the recognition of mothers' work as a profession. She also opposed social convention by encouraging the involvement of fathers in chores and child-rearing. Helen MacMurchy retired in 1932, did research in mental health, and was named a commander of the British Empire. In 1949, at the age of 87, she attended a conference in the United States to honour the first women doctors – she was honoured as one of the ten most important women physicians in the world.
Rosedale has harboured many noteworthy residents. One was cellist Leo Smith. Once a resident of 117 Park Road, he was the most famous cellist in Canada during his time. Smith emigrated to Toronto, married a violinist from the Toronto Symphony orchestra, created promenade symphony concerts, and had musical evenings in his home. His cello had its own bedroom and was laid in bed when not in use. Smith even hired a babysitter to look after it when he was out, in case of fire or other disasters. His neighbour at 115 Park Road was Ernest McMillan, conductor of the TSO.
(c) 2005 Dominique Millette