Like many early Ontario communities, Yorkville began with a hotel, the Red Lion Inn, built in 1808. It was the first stage coach stop on Yonge Street, north of Bloor, which was the primary route for travel from around the province to the market located on Scollard Street and Davenport Road. The hotel played a significant role in Yorkville's history, for within these walls the Yorkville community and Potter's Field Cemetery was planned, plots were hatched for the 1837 Rebellion led by William Lyon MacKenzie, and the hotel, also known as an "inn", supported Yorkville's brewing industry. In 1812 the owner tried unsuccessfully to sell his Inn and 200 surrounding acres for $400. Today, all that remains of the Red Lion Inn is its north wall, Starbuck's south wall.
Founded in 1808, Yorkville owes its growth to James Dobson, a builder, businessman, and Yorkville’s first reeve and postmaster. Dobson purchased land along the west side of Yonge Street and laid out lots. His post office and general store was located on the site of today’s Town Hall Square. The lots along Yonge Street were reserved for a town hall (built 1859-1860). In 1830, Joseph Bloore an innkeeper, brewer and land speculator, and William Botsford Jarvis, sheriff, politician, land speculator and entrepreneur purchased and sub-divided land into small lots on new side streets "to those interested in living in the cleaner air outside of York" (Toronto's former name). In 1853, with a population of 1,000, Yorkville was eligible to incorporate as a Village. In 1883, with an increasing population stretching the costs of municipal services, the Village of Yorkville requested annexation to the City of Toronto.
During the 19th century Yorkville boasted 17 hotels or inns, all concentrated in the oldest part of the Village from Yonge Street to Avenue Road, south of Davenport Road. There were hotels that were taverns, and taverns that were hotels, to accommodate European immigrants en route to their grant of land, spaced a mile and a quarter apart up Yonge Street, housing horses in drive-sheds, and serving as stagecoach stops and mail depots.
Established in 1830, the Joseph Bloore Brewery was situated in the Rosedale Valley Ravine close to the Severn Creek. The creek was dammed for water power and the mill pond, several acres in diameter, would be enjoyed in the summer for swimming and rafting, and in the winter for skating. Around 1832, George Severn established the Yorkville Brewery on the south-east corner of Yonge & Davenport with a 4-storey building housing stock cellars and vaults, and a three-storey malt house. In 1867, a fifteen horsepower steam engine was in use and the brewery produced between 6,000 to 7,000 gallons of ale and porter weekly.
From the 1840s to the 1890s, brick and tile manufacturing flourished in the Village. The Yorkville Brick Yard was located in today's Ramsden Park. Rich in clay and sand deposits left by the ancient Lake Iroquois, the brick yard produced Yorkville's famous yellowish-white brick, and can be seen in many prominent buildings including the Yorkville Fire Hall, St. Michael's Cathedral, and St James Cathedral. Among the brick makers were three inter-married families who carried out brick making for several generations and in the mid-1880s, employed about sixty men, producing from four to six million bricks a year.
Toronto's first public transportation company, was the Williams Omnibus Bus Line, owned by furniture maker and undertaker, Burt Williams, established in 1849 with four six-passenger buses, manufactured by William's own cabinet-making store at 140 Yonge Street. For six pence passengers were carried in horse-drawn stage coaches between the St. Lawrence Market and the Red Lion Inn. The first horse-drawn street railway, owned by Toronto Street Railway, commenced service in 1861 carrying passengers between the Yorkville Town Hall and the St. Lawrence Market. In the first year the company owned eleven horsecars, and grew to 262 cars, 100 omnibuses, 100 sleighs, and 1,356 horses. In 1892, the horse-drawn cars were replaced with electric cars. In 1833, private companies were contracted to build, improve and maintain roads, in return for which they were permitted to collect tolls from the road users. The Davenport route had five tollgates between the Humber and the Don Rivers, the first at Yonge & Bloor and the fifth at Lambton. Tollgate Number 3 situated at Davenport & Bathurst included a cottage, home to the toll-keeper and his family.
Rescued by Community History Project, the Cottage was painstakingly restored and today operates as a museum.
Posted on the Tollkeepers Cottage website are the 1851 tolls:
For a vehicle drawn by two-horses: six pence
Each additional horse or beast: two pence
Vehicle drawn by one horse: three pence
Horse Ass or Mule: two pence
Score of Cattle: one pence
Score of Sheep: one pence