TRINITY COLLEGE ARCHIVES
From Edward to Markham Streets
Making it Out of the Ward
Letter from Louis Gurofsky, real estate agent and broker, to S.H. Jones, Trinity College Bursar, about the rear property at 54 Edward Street owned by the college (Courtesy of Trinity College Archives, Toronto).
You can’t see the houses on Edward Street any more. They were demolished in the 1950s to make way for Toronto’s new bus terminal. In 1917, however, these houses bore mute witness to the immigrants who lived––and managed to leave––the Ward, a notorious neighborhood of “cheap, filthy rooms in crumbling stucco and wood cottages.”
Louis Gurofsky made it out of the Ward, but chose to work there, collecting rents on behalf of Trinity College, who owned many properties on Edward Street. Louis came with his parents to Toronto in 1879 at the age of 9, and lived for a time at 156 Chestnut Street, near the corner of Chestnut and Edward Streets. As a young man, he worked in the garment industry, taking turns as a machine operator, tailor, and peddler, before going into business with his brother Joseph as an agent and broker. His experiences living and working in the Ward helped him to understand the lives of newly arrived immigrants, such as Ezra Metter, who came to live in the properties he managed.
Living at 54 Edward
Ezra Metter brought his family from Russia to Toronto in 1907. Immediately, he got a job as a “presser” in the garment industry, earning $360 a year. Considering a mid-size dwelling in Toronto cost $25 to $30 per month, Ezra could only afford to live in a neighborhood like the Ward. In 1917, Ezra settled on 54 Edward Street. He was likely offered the choice of renting the house at 54 Edward for $18 a month or living in the converted stables in the back of the property for $12 per month. Although Ezra could have saved six dollars in rent (a fifth of his monthly salary), the poor sanitary conditions of the “stables,” as suggested by City Hall’s inspection of the property, indicate he probably made the right choice. By this time, two of Ezra’s family members may also have contributed to the household finances. His daughter Toby, 16, worked as a “silk winder” at J Henry Peters Co, a lingerie manufacturer, and another family member (perhaps his son Harry) worked as a “toy finisher” at the Dominion Toy Manufacturing Company, which, among other things, made dolls for Eaton’s during World War I.
87 Edward Street, a condemned house not far from 54 Edward (Photo credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Item 562).
Moving to Markham Street
By 1921, both Ezra and Harry were working in Ezra’s shoe shop, and Toby and her sister Mollie worked as tailors in a coat factory, earning $520 each, an amount nearly the equivalent to a working man’s salary at the time. With four working adults pooling their resources, the Metter family was soon able to leave 54 Edward. Eventually, Ezra made his way to 232 Markham Street, a more upscale street west of Bathurst. There, he may have encountered Louis, who had been living at 397 Markham ever since he left the Ward himself. In my mind’s eye, I imagine them walking down the street, reminiscing about Edward Street, content that they had worked hard to make better lives for themselves.
Tanya McCullough is currently a first year Master of Museum Studies student at the University of Toronto with a background in archaeology. She has traveled to Greece, Cyprus, and the Near East to participate in digs so far, and credits her intrepid ancestors, who made the trek from France to Canada in 1650, for her love of travel.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine them walking down the street, reminiscing about Edward Street, content that they had worked hard to make better lives for themselves.