Black and white copy of a document with many handwritten signatures, some, namely those in the right-hand column, have small illustrations of birds beside each handwritten name. To the the left of the document is a portion of a map that reads, "Lake Ontario". The top of the document reads, "The descriptive plan of the Toronto purchase made 23rd September 1787 and completed on the 1st day of August 1805." There is a circular stamp in the middle of the paper that says, "Department of Indian Affairs / Survey Branch. / True /  Reduced Copy / [a signature?] / 271090 / Ottawa, Canada".

St. James Town: Cemetery Treaties

St. James Town

625 Bloor Street

Black and white copy of a document with many handwritten signatures, some, namely those in the right-hand column, have small illustrations of birds beside each handwritten name. To the the left of the document is a portion of a map that reads, "Lake Ontario". The top of the document reads, "The descriptive plan of the Toronto purchase made 23rd September 1787 and completed on the 1st day of August 1805." There is a circular stamp in the middle of the paper that says, "Department of Indian Affairs / Survey Branch. / True /  Reduced Copy / [a signature?] / 271090 / Ottawa, Canada".

Toronto Purchase signatures, original from August 1, 1805. Image: City of Toronto Archives

A grey-stone chapel, topped by a copper roof that has turn green with age. It stands on a slight ridge behind several trees and a driveway.
Chapel of St. James-the-Less, St. James Cemetery. December 12 2021.

Chapel of St. James-the-Less, St. James Cemetery. December 12 2021.

An urban scene of several attached three-storey homes with mansard roofs. Many have front porches. A parked car can be seen in the foreground.
Rose Avenue House, St. James Town, April 10, 1949. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 132926

Rose Avenue House, St. James Town, April 10, 1949. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 132926

An urban scene of several attached three-storey homes with mansard roofs. Many have front porches. A parked car can be seen in the foreground.
Rose Avenue House, St. James Town, April 10, 1949. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 132926

Saturday Club, dinner at Frederick Brigden Sr.’s house, 103 Rose Avenue. September 2, 1903. Image by Wellington Bogart. Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.

A world within a block

Housing over 18,000 residents, St. James Town is not only one of Canada’s most densely populated communities, but one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in North America. Once a centre for the young, single lifestyle in the 1960s, it is now home to diverse culture and communities, providing essential affordable housing for a significant population.

Often known as the “world in a block,” approximately 64% of the population of the St. James Town area are considered newcomers to Canada. Various events and societal shifts have transformed St. James Town into the high-rise village it is today. Even today, St. James Town is a neighbourhood in transition, with a number of new developments in process.

The Toronto purchase

The St. James Town neighbourhood is situated on Treaty 13 lands, which were part of the Toronto Purchase. The original Toronto Purchase of 1787 was negotiated between the British and the Mississaugas of the Credit: it included the western portion of what is today the City of Toronto, Vaughan, King, and the western portion of Richmond Hill. The validity of the original agreement was never confirmed and, as a result, the treaty was revised in 1805. At that time, the Crown purchased over 250,000 acres of land, including the area now known as St. James Town.

The story of a name

Popularly known as St. James Town since the 1960s and 1970s, the area likely takes its name from the nearby cemetery and mortuary chapel of St. James-the-Less. The cemetery opened in 1844 after the city’s first burial space, the St. James Cathedral cemetery at King and Church Streets, became overcrowded. Given the rapid growth of the city at the time, there were calls for a second city cemetery and a large plot at the edge of town was chosen.

Local architectural firm Cumberland and Storm designed the cemetery’s mortuary chapel, which was completed in a Victorian Gothic style in 1861. Today, the chapel of St. James-the-Less is recognized as a National Historic Site and the cemetery remains one of the oldest still in operation in Toronto.

A rural retreat

Today’s quiet, landscape setting of St. James Cemetery gives an impression of what it would have felt like to live in the area during the mid-late nineteenth century. Largely rural when the cemetery opened, the first phases of residential development occurred in the late nineteenth century, when nearby lands were subdivided and sold.

During this period, the area was considered a prime spot for the middle and upper classes of the city, and was a highly sought after address in Toronto, featuring picturesque three-storey Victorian homes. Today, the St. James Town neighbourhood is considered bounded by Jarvis Street to the west, Bloor Street to the north, Parliament Street to the east, and Wellesley Street to the south.