By Felix Shuster
About halfway from Pearson Airport and downtown Toronto along Valley of Humber River just north of subway station ‘Old Mill’ on Bloor Line lies one of the most unique Toronto neighbourhoods –Kingsway Park.
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It was created by the dream and vision of unsung celebrity Robert Home Smith (July 12, 1877 – Feb 5, 1935), who was a successful lawyer, industrial investor and residential development visionary in the period from early 1900s to 1935.
This visionary neighborhood is expressing the idea of R.H. Smith to build ‘Vallis Humbria Angliae Pars Anglisa Procul’, which means “in the valley of the Humber, a bit of England far from England” was a Canadian answer to architectural movement of ‘Garden district’, invented in England in the late 19th century.
He saw great residential potential in the wooded area sparsely populated by farms and so, by 1912 accumulated over 3000 acres. Eventually, more than 600 private homes were built, conforming to Smith’s vision – “The Covenant” signed by every future home owner for 30 years guaranteed:
- Impressive stone exteriors
- Intricate brick works
- Half-timbered Tudor-style design
- Quality windows all around.
But most of all, it ensured that:
- Houses will be set deep from the street
- No fences higher then 2 ft were allowed
- No garages up-front and No basements inside
Under control of his talented Architectural Board, the area had developed into a most pleasant park setting. If you just drive through its main street, properly named Kingsway Park from Royal York Rd to Bloor Street, you will be pleasantly amazed.
This outstanding enclave would not be complete (or even possible) without another great creation of R.H. Smith – Old Mill Restaurant & Tea Garden. He built this restaurant as a great magnet for well-off Torontonians for entertainment in a beautiful place. It opened its doors on August 12, 1914, the day WWI started in Europe, and IT was the talk of the city. To make it even more attractive, R.H. Smith commissioned to build picturesque stone bridge over Humber River, as at that time wooden bridges were often destroyed by spring ice flows. This stone bridge today is overlooking Humber River valley and the city park, named Etienne Brule; commemorating first European man visiting in 1615 this place and shore of Lake Ontario with group of Indians.
Much later, this place was chosen by John Graves Simcoe for building King’s Sawmill, first industry in the town of York in 1793. Many other mills were eventually built around and the impressive ruins of the last one that burnt in 1881 were waiting for enterprising hand of Robert Home Smith to start ‘little part of England far from England’.
Many years later, under other owners (William Hodgson in 1970s, and Michael Kalmar and Son in 1990s to present time) Old Mill Restaurant and Tea Garden was authentically restored and expanded with tastefully designed 16 banquet rooms, its own Chapel and a very romantic 57-rooms luxurious boutique hotel. ‘The Old Mill Inn and Spa’ is the venue for many weddings and very attractive evenings of dance in the historic place.