Uncovering Riverside Series Blog #2: the Advent of Riverside Sport and Game

We bring our pastimes with us wherever we go, across the seas, in a new world on an old planet, we play…

See Accompanying Video with Local Historian, Barry Slater

(Read all the Uncovering Series)

Something in our thinking and feeling keeps us hard at work to improve our lot. The progress of annexation to Toronto went on apace and while the city grew, its people played. With the Pan American event just ended let’s take a moment and look at one of the roles played by our little village beside the Don.


Our first look at the place graphically are maps and surveys, executed by engineers and soldiers, with an eye to understand present realities and possible futures. In this medium, sand, water and marsh thrown up against the great lake, dominate.  A written account by Elizabeth Simcoe in the summer of 1793 relates the soothing nature of this wild place away from the dreams of industrial expansion. Hunting and fishing must be considered the first sports evolved from survival’s belly and brain, engaged along the river, its vast marsh and bay primeval.



John George Howard (1803 – 1890) “Curling on the Don River 1836” National Archives, 1860

While these ancient pursuits dominate the founding years of York the first pictorial view of Don Mount and the Riverside is a beautiful little watercolour sketch begun by the surveyor John Howard while out measuring the valley of the Don. Dated from the year of incorporation of the Toronto Curling Club, 1836, it shows clearly the lay of the land, looking north along the east side of the river. The Kingston Road in the mid-ground descends the hill toward the bridge, hidden in the trees, past the house of William Smith, builder of Scadding’s cabin, which is shown just behind the hearty band of curlers out for an afternoon’s sport upon the frozen riverside. Very little contemporary newsprint survives from that time and the records of the club scant beyond the names of a few Reverend Doctors, merchants, stone masons and magistrates who it seems rewarded themselves with this “roaring game” away from the town’s rigid grid.


Drawn to accompany navel & military commission report 1846 Jan 29 Col. W.C.E Holloway, Royal Engineers Capt. Royal Navy Edward Boxer

This “other” place, away from town, across the river, drew like magnets those spirits of sport, hunting and fishing, to  a place to let the horses run. The topographic survey of 1845 shows the ground of the young city, the eastern lake shore covered in marsh & dunes, winding streams & open waters.

The race course shown, the Union Turf Club’s Toronto Race Course, between today’s Broadview and Carlaw Avenues, south of Queen Street East, was on land leased from the Smith Family. With the coming of the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1856 the nature of Riverside would change from pastoral to industrial, but its love of sport would grow to keep pace with the city  and great sporting events were still to come.

– Barry Slater, historian of the Royal Canadian Curling Club

(Read all the Uncovering Series)