A History of Prohibition in the Junction

Looking back at one of the oldest parts of Toronto

Believe it or not, there was once a time when you couldn’t buy alcohol at a bar in the Junction. In the year 2000, just 17 years ago, the Junction’s alcohol ban was finally lifted after a referendum vote was carried out.

Not to be confused with the Junction Triangle, the Junction is one of Toronto’s oldest neighbourhoods and is steeped in a pungent history. Founded in 1884 as the Village of West Toronto Junction at the crossroads of Dundas and Keele, it was eventually combined with the villages of Carlton and Davenport in 1889, thus founding the Town of West Toronto Junction.


West Toronto Railway Station (C.N.R.), Old Weston Rd., 1957. Photo courtesy Virtual Reference Library.

Even before the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) moved in, the area was a hub for railway workers, with three railways already running through the area. With the introduction of the CPR, however, the area saw a quick expansion, with the addition of freight yards and maintenance shops.

The last spike was driven into the main railway line on November 7, 1885, a year after the Junction became known as the Village of West Toronto Junction.


C. P. R., Runnymede Yards, St. Clair Ave. West, between Runnymede Rd. and Jane St., 1956. Photo courtesy of Virtual Reference Library.

Rewind a few years back to the late 1870s, however, and the first key step into introducing a prohibition was initiated. In 1878, 26 years before the prohibition ban was voted in, the federal government passed the Temperance Act, which allowed single municipalities to pass their own laws in regards to booze. Nicknamed the Scott Act, the bill was successfully drafted by Liberal Senator Richard William Scott.

Now fast forward to the 1880s, and the Village of West Toronto Junction was booming. With the town being a railway hub, it became a quickly growing community of factory and railway workers, not to mention the number of people who temporarily passed through the town. At the forefront of this village were six hotels: Brown’s Hall, the Subway Hotel, the Toronto Junction Hotel, the Occidental Hotel, the Peacock Hotel, and the infamous Heydon House. The hotels doubled as bars and were often associated with drunkenness and illegal activity such as cock fights.


Subway Hotel, Keele St., southwest corner of Vine Ave, 1953. Photo courtesy Virtual Reference Library.

The most notorious of these establishments was the Heydon House Hotel, located at the northwest corner of Weston Road and St. Clair Avenue. It was here that a massive bar fight broke out in 1903, an event that is often referred to as the catalyst fight to prohibition.

The Heydon House regularly hosted illegal cock fights. Contestants would come from all over, including the U.S., carrying wagers that ranged from $25 to $35 (equivalent to over $600 in today’s economy). The fights continued even after police had raided the place, often resulting in what’s reported as public drunkenness, bar fights, and other similar disturbances. In 1897, the town’s drinking got worse when the Heydon family leased the hotel to the Toronto Brewing and Malting Company in 1897 as a result of poor economic times.


Heydon House, 1957. Photo Courtesy of Virtual Reference Library.

On the weekend of September 12, 1903, a massive bar fight broke out that caused great damage to the Heydon House property and resulted in three men charged, as reported by Alexander Heydon III in his essay account entitled “A Century of Change at the Heydon House Hotel.” According to Heydon’s account, the fight took place between local cattlemen and railway workers and “began as a minor skirmish which took place at the hotel on a previous night, sparking bad feelings between the two already antagonistic groups.”

There are reports of many fights that played a part in the decision, including a murder that took place at Dundas and Keele in 1897. However, according to this article, this Heydon House bar fight was the one that convinced residents to push for the ban. A few months after the fight, in November 1903, a number of local reverends started a campaign to ban alcohol. Thus, the ban was enforced in Spring 1904, drying out the Junction for nearly a full century before the prohibition was ended.


 

Sources used:
The Leader & Recorder’s History of the Junction, Edited by Diana Fancher
A History of the West Toronto Junction by Martin Bindhardt (essay)

Lead image via Wikipedia