• Ed Brown

I Am a Pedestrian: Part 4

Walking around a city


I Am a Pedestrian is the result of a 159-kilometre walk around Toronto. The book consists of 159 observations gleaned from a 42-hour adventure at the perimeter. I Am a Pedestrian is a record of underexplored places, stories of people encountered and lost histories rediscovered at Toronto’s current city limits.


Before the onset of the novel coronavirus, I promoted I Am a Pedestrian in public libraries and other venues with a talk titled, The Time Travelling Pedestrian. With the aid of historical photographs, maps, and group discussion, the presentation revealed how Toronto has grown from a lonely French outpost in 1750 to today's bustling metropolis.

The majority of the walk was trekking Steeles Ave, Toronto's northern limit. Street name origins are explored in the book. Here's how Steeles Ave got named. Below is an excerpt from the book.

 

66 — Green Bush


Steeles Avenue derives its name from innkeeper Thomas Steele. Steele operated Green Bush Inn (GBI) west of Yonge fronting the big road. At different times two Green Bush Inns stood opposite one another.


• GBI #1 (northeast corner): Established 1830. Currently the site of a gas station. William Lyon Mackenzie lodged here. Prospered for decades until horse stable burned. Eleven horses perished. The community was pissed. Proprietor Joseph Abraham’s reputation was tarnished. He closed and moved away.


• GBI #2 (northwest corner): Established 1847. Currently the site of Bellair Tanning Salon. Originally a tavern. Purchased by Thomas Steele a decade after opening. Steeles Tavern became Steeles Hotel. The hotel prospered. For reasons never explained, the hotel was renamed Green Bush Inn. Steele died. His widow took over. Five years later son John C. Steele assumed ownership. He sold the business in 1909.


Green Bush Inn, 1920. Courtesy City of Toronto Archives.

In addition to being a hotelier, John C. was a carpenter and inventor. He patented the Steele’s Improved Road Machine, a horse-drawn grader designed to smooth road surfaces.


Courtesy Toronto Star.

John C. lived to be ninety-six. He died in 1934. GBI #2 stood until 1969. York U students rallied to save the clapboard structure and relocate it to Keele Campus. Once renovated, the transplanted inn would become a student pub. North York council vetoed the plan. GBI #2 was bulldozed. A year later a car dealership opened on the site.


The night before the wrecking crew arrived, a local history buff removed the inn’s solid oak door. I located it. The 171-year-old door is still in use on a property in Kleinberg, Ontario.


Green Bush Road honours the historic inn(s).

 

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