IT WAS LATE afternoon on October 2, 1907, when Delia Hazelton, a forty-two-year-old seamstress and charwoman, finished her day’s work at a home on Roxborough Avenue in Rosedale. A widow for thirteen years who had originally immigrated to Canada from Ireland in her late teens, Delia lived with her children, Mary, twenty-one, and Robert, thirteen, in a boarding house on King Street near Yonge.
She headed home, walking south. When she got to Bloor and Yonge streets, Delia crossed Bloor first, then turned west across Yonge. The intersection was noisy with the clatter of horses, wagons, streetcars, pedestrians, traffic cops and the occasional automobile. Before she reached the far corner, a car coming north, driven by businessman Frank Mutton, hit her. Delia died instantly when, according to an account in the next day’s Toronto Telegram, the front wheel of Mutton’s ‘very heavy’ car ‘passed over her neck.’ This tragic ending not only left her two children alone, but it also immortalized her as one of Toronto’s first auto-pedestrian fatalities.
Delia Hazelton was one of the many thousands of men and women of her era who lived in and around The Ward, each day leaving their crowded, rundown quarters for mean, low-paying jobs in all corners of the growing city. As it happens, Delia was also my great-grandmother, and her daughter, Mary, my mother’s mom.
My brother Kerry unearthed the details of Delia’s untimely death a few years ago. But it was only after some recent genealogical research that I came to realize how closely her life story, and that of two generations of my family on my mother’s side, is bound to the history of The Ward. In fact, after knowing The Ward only through archival photographs, I was surprised to learn that my brother and I – products of a middle-class, post-war, Scarborough upbringing – are only one generation removed from this dense, working-class slum.
Our mother, Elizabeth, was the eleventh of twelve children born to John and Mary Colestock (née Hazelton). Two of her four grandparents arrived in The Ward in the 1880s, and both sets of families, moving often, continued to live in the area as the second generation came of age post-1900. By the late 1910s and early 1920s, they were somewhat settled on Edward Street east and west of Terauley, parts of which were later cleared to make space for a bus station.
In that period, The Ward was a gateway for many immigrant groups. With my mother’s family, both Delia and her husband, Benjamin, had emigrated separately from Ireland. Her other grandparents, Annie (Reel) Colestock and husband Robert, were from rural Ontario and England, respectively. Annie was born near Palgrave, in 1855, to Irish immigrant parents. Robert Colestock arrived in Canada in 1869 with the early flights of English ‘home children’; he landed in Quebec City, age sixteen or seventeen, on the passenger steamship Cleopatra, along with nineteen other teen ‘labourers.’ Within a few years, he became a soldier, then a baker, the job he’d have all his life. He and Annie married in Toronto in 1876. Their eldest son, John, my mother’s father, was born in 1877, when the couple was living in Corktown.
Toward the turn of the century, Delia and her two children drifted into The Ward after Benjamin died, living on Chestnut Street and Centre Avenue. The Colestocks, meanwhile, moved all over town with their five children, and even to Oshawa for a while, before returning to The Ward in 1903, stopping first on Hayter Street.
It was sometime after this when my mother’s parents met. Even though both their families relocated once or twice, they remained within The Ward, a few blocks from each other, making it easy to cross paths.
John was a teamster; Mary, a laundress. And that’s the work they were doing in 1907, when Frank Mutton killed Delia with his car. A coroner’s jury convened a week later, on October 10, and exonerated Mutton. It concluded Delia was confused by a police officer and a street railway road master both directing traffic, and that she had stepped in front of the car trying to avoid a streetcar. The jury recommended putting control of all traffic ‘in the hands of the police.’ (Mutton, for his part, later went on to become president of the Ontario Auto League.)
Curiously, records show that just two days after the inquest, Mary wed John Colestock. Had the marriage been planned earlier – a joyful event marred by Delia’s death – or was it a hasty decision, born of Mary’s suddenly difficult circumstances and intended to salve her grief? A few names and dates in the archives don’t tell the whole story. What we do know is that Mary moved in with John’s family. But we’ve yet to learn definitively what became of her younger brother, Robert.
By this point, John and Mary, and the rest of the Colestock family, were walking the same lanes and living the same sorts of lives as the figures in Arthur Goss’s Ward photographs. Again, the archival record only hints at their struggle. In 1908, they lived on Chestnut Place, where expropriation for the new Toronto General Hospital began in 1909. In 1910, John’s only sister died ‘in confinement’ (during/after childbirth). The following year, the census shows, three generations of Colestocks – the elder parents, four adults and Mary and John’s first two infant children – were crammed into a shabby hovel at 9 Barnaby Place (previously known as Price’s Lane). The records also reveal how The Ward’s social and cultural life had evolved. Of the fifty names on the census page for Barnaby Place, thirty-eight were Jews of Russian or Austrian origin.
As John and Mary had more children, they moved out on their own. After the mid-1910s, they lived either on Edward or Terauley. John’s three brothers were just doors away; two remained with their mother, each serving a stint in the Canadian Forces in 1917 and 1918.
John and Mary now moved less frequently and life appeared more stable economically, yet other records reveal a different sort of struggle. Of the seven children Mary delivered between 1913 and 1921, six died, at ages ranging from a few weeks to six years. Their three youngest daughters, born in the more prosperous 1920s, all did fine.
The Colestocks gradually left The Ward as the area itself transformed, but upward mobility remained elusive throughout the Depression. During and after the Second World War, however, a recovering economy brought secure jobs in downtown warehouses and factories. By the mid-1940s, in fact, John and Mary, with my mother and her younger sisters, had moved to a brick semi-detached house on Niagara Street.
My grandparents lived their final years with my mother’s next oldest sister, first there, and later in Scarborough, where several descendant Colestock families – our family – put down roots in the 1950s. The catalyst for that final move was the relocation of the Canada Foils factory, where my mother and father first met, from cramped quarters downtown to the modern spaciousness of the Golden Mile. After a century of migrant-family travails, shaped by the tides of global history, urban life and fate, it was my generation’s turn to write the next chapter.
Credit for the initial inspiration and much of the archival research goes to my brother, Kerry Banks. At time of writing, our mother, Elizabeth Banks, lived in Scarborough. Her younger sister, Bernice, was also living in the GTA.