Exhibit: James Scott Howard, Postmaster
Part 2: After Howard
Changing Times on Duke Street
Hardware merchant Thomas Denne Harris purchased the building that had been Toronto’s first post office from former postmaster James Scott Howard in 1841. It had been built at an original cost of £1,600 but Howard sold it at a loss, needing the capital at that time. Mr. Harris and his family would live there, between the Bank of Upper Canada and Campbell House, for the next thirty years.
The bank failed as an institution in 1866, and the building, along with the Ridout family residence to the rear, was purchased by the Christian Brothers in 1870 for use as a boarding school. By 1872 the brothers had built a Victorian extension to the former bank, which took up the street frontage between it and Harris’s home, to house classrooms, a library
Upon Harris’s death in 1873 the De La Salle Institute, as the school was known, annexed the old post office and incorporated it into their complex by converting its three stories into two and replacing its Georgian windows with arched Victorian ones. From this time forward, the block of buildings would change hands as one.
In 1884, owing to financial difficulties, the Brothers sold the block to the Roman Catholic Separate School Board, although they continued to operate the De La Salle High School, rent free, out of part of it. It also housed St. Michael’s School and a high school for girls, and the school board held its meetings there for a time. The use of the buildings for educational purposes came to an end in 1916 and, despite efforts to rent them out, they remained vacant for two years.
In July of 1918 the Imperial War Munitions Board, acting on behalf of the Royal Air Force, leased the complex for a term of two years for use as a
A largely residential area in the 19th century, the
Christie’s primary interest was in the large yard to the rear, which they wanted for the recreational use of their many employees. The buildings were rented out to various commercial and industrial tenants including a jeweler, machine shops and the Imperial Oil Graphics department. The early oval Esso gas station signs were produced in a basement paint shop.
Then, in 1925, Christie Brown sold to the United Farmers Cooperative Company Ltd. The farmers were delighted to have the old Bank of Upper Canada,
The bank building became offices and board rooms, and an addition was built to the rear of the former Ridout residence on George Street. Extensive alterations were made to the old post office building. A mansard roof was added, the windows were bricked up and the whole thing was insulated for the installation of an up-to-date cold storage system. It was transformed into what was essentially a giant refrigerator for eggs and cream. The 1872 De La Salle building was used as a wholesale storage and processing facility. Agricultural products were transported to it from across the province. As the Toronto Creamery
By this time Duke Street itself had disappeared. The disjunction between it and Adelaide Street at Jarvis had been rounded off and it was now a one-way thoroughfare running east through a dingy industrial area. Historic buildings dating from the town of York, buildings that had witnessed the rebellion in Upper Canada, were rented out once again to various commercial tenants, including a company that manufactured neon signs. Rediscovered by the
Despite this, in 1979, the Bank of Upper Canada building was declared a National Historic Site. That slim sliver of hope was enough to encourage Sheldon Godfrey, a lawyer
Once this fact and the identity of its original owner had been established, the proclivity of James Scott Howard to maintain written records became invaluable. Among his family papers, housed at the Archives of Ontario, was discovered an invoice from the contractor for the interior construction and decoration in 1833. Based on this document and on additional research into post offices of the British colonial period, the facility has been restored as accurately as possible. Reopened as a post office in 1983, and renovated in 2002 thanks to a grant from Benjamin Moore, it is now a living museum and a National Historic Site.
- Thomas Denne Harris Residence, c. 1869, J. Ross Robertson Collection, courtesy of the Toronto Public Library
- Bank of Upper Canada & De La Salle Institute, 1872, courtesy of the Toronto Public Library
- United Farmers’; Co-operative Co. Limited, 1927, courtesy U.F.C. Archives
- Photograph of the buildings in December of 1979 courtesy of Sheldon and Judy Godfrey