Yesterday and Today Historical Articles
Emery Village Has a Rich History
Filled with hard working immigrants and a steadfast entrepreneurial spirit.
After the Huron First Nations abandoned their settlements in nearby Black Creek, the lands remained unoccupied for nearly 150 years until Isaac Devins and his wife Mary Chapman, Emery's first pioneers, arrived from Pennsylvania in 1796 following the American Revolution. They capitalized on the free 200 acre lots offered by Governor Simcoe to anyone who would clear the forest and build their own shingled home on the lot.
Devins' original farm, situated south of Finch extending between Weston Road and Islington Avenue, would later become the centre of Emery Village.
More settlers began to arrive, all of them equipped with the knowledge of the wilderness and the tenacity to clear the land and establish a community. Religious and racial differences meant little to these early pioneers, a sentiment that is still evident in the cultural and religious diversity today.
By the 1850s, the corner of Finch and Weston Road had become well established. The Blacksmith Shop and Carriage Shop located on the Devins' property on the southwest corner were joined by the brick schoolhouse and the Methodist Church (1869) on the northeast corner. The Bunt Shingle Mill, providing building supplies to the community, was located in the northwest corner.
The construction of the Toronto Grey Bruce Railway and Train Station in 1870 helped to establish the community as a destination. The bustling village was known as Emery by 1879, with the establishment of the Post Office at the General Store, located on the northwest corner, in the same location as the recently constructed Esso Convenience Store.
The hard-working settlers found the time to socialize, first constructing the Orange Lodge in 1878 on Weston Road South of Finch, and later the Canadian Home Circle north of Finch in 1890. These meeting halls were lively gathering places where all were welcome.
Emery Village retained its rural village character throughout the turn-of the-century, the Depression, and two World Wars until the 1950's. During this time, the population grew and a larger school was built (1914) but the essence of the original Emery Village remained intact. By the 1950's, many small homes were located on large lots with towering pine trees. One of the residents was Mary Devins, a descendent of Emery's first pioneers. Many of the homeowners were saved by Fire Chief Charlie Jordan, head of Emery's volunteer Fire Department, during the night of October 15, 1954, when Hurricane Hazel struck southern Ontario.
Rapid industrial development began to emerge in Emery Village in the 1950's in response to the industrial designation assigned to all the lands north of Finch Avenue in the Town of North York's Official Plan of 1948. The location of the railway and the newly constructed Highway 400 (1951) made the location ideally suited for industry. New housing construction also flourished during the boom period of the 1960's, with single family homes located on curvilinear streets, crescents and courts and multi-dwelling units located on the main arterial roads of Finch and Weston.
Small commercial strip plazas with parking lots at the front, typical of the 1960-1980's, were established on the major routes and also within the industrial fabric, taking advantage of the industrial zoning, low taxes, public transit and convenient roadway system.
Emery Village retained the same diversified character through the 1980's and 1990's with little new development. The large big-box retail chains bypassed Emery Village in favour of undeveloped land in more densely populated neighbourhoods. Small retail independent stores and a full range of employment uses were the backbone of Emery Village.
New development is starting to emerge, which will revitalize the community. Residential development along Finch at Jayzel Drive and the proposed high density residential development at Finch and Weston Road will increase the population density and provide up-to-date architectural form and detailing which enhances the character of the neighbourhood.
Today, the Emery Village BIA has identified the need to incite a new energy into the community and revitalize the entrepreneurial spirit of the early settlers.