By Ron Williamson, originally published June 23, 2008
James Gardens and the Humber Valley Village – Four Thousand Years of Occupation
With its rustic woodland trail following the west bank of the Humber River, James Gardens is one of the most attractive parks in the city. Frederick Thomas James purchased the land in 1908 after which he spent four decades transforming his estate known as Red Gables into a family sanctuary. Upon his death, his family sold the property to the City of Toronto on the condition that these lands become a public park.
The estate was eventually encompassed within the Humber Valley Village neighbourhood, which was developed as part of Home Smith and Company’s “Humber Valley Surveys.” This large land assembly consisted of 3,000 acres along the Humber River from the Queensway north to Eglinton Avenue and included in addition to Humber Valley Village neighbourhood, the Kingsway, Baby Point, Old Mill and Princess Anne Gardens-Manor developments. The St. George’s Golf Club off of Islington Avenue was also developed by Home Smith and Company.
Early last year, after reading an article about Toronto’s Hidden History and the city’s archaeological master plan (The Toronto Star, Sunday January 21, 2007), John James, the grandson of Frederick James contacted Archaeological Services Inc. to have us examine artifacts recovered from his grandfather’s garden. He informed us that during the 1920s, while installing weeping tiles and several water features (still present in the gardens today), his grandfather uncovered twelve stone tools and noted many more small chips. We examined the collection, which was still in the possession of the family, and found that many of the stone artifacts were spear points that dated to around four thousand years ago. Clearly this site, which remains undisturbed, represents a rare intact campsite from which people likely hunted, fished and gathered wild plants. A few tools that date to subsequent periods suggest the site was a favoured spot for hundreds if not thousands of years. The site is a significant archaeological find worthy of further investigation and also represents eloquent testimony to the value of the archaeological master plan that the City is undertaking.
Dr. Ron Williamson is Managing Partner and Chief Archaeologist at Archaeological Services Inc. and is the Director of the Archaeological Master Plan of Toronto. He served on the Board of Heritage Toronto from 1999 to 2006.