a butcher, a baker, and an optometrist?

last winter, pierre and i took a trip to the city of toronto archives to research the history of our house. we spent a few hours getting dizzy scrolling through microfilm, but we learned a ton — like how to use a microfilm reader, for one (me).

but besides this relevant, marketable skill, we also learned a lot about our house. like that the first tenant was in 1941 and that his name was gordon j rixon. and that the youells moved in in 1943 and then lived here a good long time: 57 years, in fact, before paul miller (of psi factor-fame) bought the bungalow in 2000.

a good part of our time that day was spent sifting through city directories from the 1940s, looking for that elusive y0uell name. once you have the name(s), the research gets a lot easier and can get way more in-depth, but until then, it’s tricky. handily, some junk mail for “robert c youell” arrived on our doorstop several months after our research project.

the names and dates were gleaned from city directories on microfilm, but i was interested in more, which could be found in east york assessment roles. there is a roll for every year and the rolls contain the data i was really curious about: who were these people that lived here before us? what did they do for a living? how many kids did they have? what school system did their taxes support? and how much was our house worth in any given year?

unfortunately, we were there on a saturday and the assessment roles are only available from monday–friday. so i wrote down the numbers of the boxes that i wanted to look inside on a scrap of paper, thinking i’d surely have time one day over my upcoming christmas holiday to return and continue my research.

well, today was the second day of my christmas holiday (albeit the 2012 edition) and i finally returned to the archives to continue my research, this time with my friend liz (researching her century-old victorian mansion) in tow. of course, none of the box numbers i wrote down over a year ago meant anything to me anymore, but the archivists (still so helpful!) jogged my memory.

i ordered up assessment roles for the following years:

  • 1941 (the year we know the house was first lived in)
  • 1942
  • 1943 (when the youells moved in)
  • 1949
  • 1957
  • 1976
  • 1985 (the year i was born)
  • 1997

i don’t really know what i was expecting — a shoebox, maybe? but this is what i got:


a massively heavy book encased in a custom cardboard box containing data on everyone living in certain divisions of east york in each year mentioned above. my east york subdivision is known as “m437” and a table of contents tells you which page the information for each subdivision starts, but once there, you have to look through each individual, handwritten entry and hope either your address or a name you recognize pops out at you.

i got lucky with 1941 and found an entry for “rixon, mr and mrs g” almost immediately. they were listed as tenants and, as such, they didn’t pay property taxes, so there was no information on them besides their name (and now i knew gordon rixon had a wife).


even though i spent a fair bit of time carefully looking over the 1942 book, i couldn’t find my address, the rixons, or the youells anywhere within it.

i moved on to 1943, where i found “youell, mr and mrs r” listed as tenants. again, no other information because they were tenants.

but by 1948, the next book i’d ordered, the youells were owners. or, trying to be owners. the assessment role indicated they had a mortgage and so weren’t outright owners of the property. sometime between 1943 and 1948 they’d decided to buy the house off whomever was renting it to them (not the rixons; i still don’t know who owned the house, but never lived in it, between 1941 and 1948-ish, that’s another trip to the archives). and because the youells were now owners, all their information was listed. robert youell was a maintenance man in 1949 and mrs youell was named phyllis. they had two children between the ages of 5 and 16 living at home. they supported the public school system and were anglican. the value of the land? just $1075.

i’ll reiterate a bit of what one of the archivists explained to me. pre-1990s, land was assessed at face value, not market value. so that $1075 is a reflection of the value of the materials that made up the property, not what the youells would have had to pay for the house. over the rest of the years that i looked up, the value doesn’t increase much. starting in 1957, the value holds steady at $3190, but by 1999 it’s up to $141,000 (market value).

also from the 1949 roll, where i learned that robert youell was a maintenance man, i learned a number of the other occupations of residents of my street. in 1949, there was a butcher and a baker, but no candlestick maker. there lived a milk salesman; a train director; a waiter; a rubber worker; a painter, carpenter, and a plasterer; a window cleaner; an optometrist; and a half a dozen other professions. it amazes me how people living on the same street can do so many different things and live side by side. even today! for example, late wednesday night, pierre brought home this week’s the grid and he noticed that our next door neighbour is nominated for a menschie award — turns out he’s a holland bloorview kids rehabilitation hospital scientist pioneering new technology for developing countries. unfortunately, you won’t find that information in any of today’s assessment rolls, because the city doesn’t collect information on occupations anymore.

with all my scanning, a few familiar names popped out at me. like, did you know s walter stewart (who my local library is named after) and his wife jane lived on woodmount avenue, had 4 children under the age of 21, and was an insurance agent? why and how he got a library named after him is still a mystery to me, but i bet the east york historical society knows.

moving on. in 1957, the youells are official owners of the house (a 9 year mortgage?) and he’s now a tinsmith. interestingly, the 1957 roll notes that there are 5 residents in the house. either the couple had a third child (although i can’t for the life of me figure out where the first two slept) or they had a family member move in.

in 1985, mrs phyllis youell got a middle name; it was amelia. (i say was because i think it’s pretty likely mama and papa youell were post-ww1 babies, which would make them 90 or older today, if they’re still living.)

after all that digging, it was back to the city directories on microfilm. i decided to look at 1941 and 1942, to see if i could find out anything more about the rixons. from the 1941 directory, i learned that gordon rixon was a sales clerk and mrs rixon’s name; it was ethel boyd. in 1942, looking up the rixons again, i found they’d moved to a house at 319 o’connor drive. so i checked for the youells, but they’re not in the directory until the following year. so i think it’s very likely that our house was vacant in 1942.

since paul miller, the owner of the house before us, told his real estate agent that the previous owners (the youells) had told him that they were the original occupants…i wonder if the youells even knew about the rixons? the house would have been practically brand new in 1943 and, with it being vacant in 1942, they might have been under the impression that no one had ever lived here before.

last thing i did was check in on the market value of our house, starting in 1999 when the assessment records start to reflect more realistic values. we know paul paid $167,000 for it in 2000, but in between it was assessed at $177,000 (2001), $205,000 (2003), $235,000 (2004), $275,000 (2006), $297,750 (2009), $320,500 (2010), $343, 250 (2011), $366,000 (2012), and we just got our current assessment in the mail a few weeks ago, which puts us at $440,000. which i’ve been meaning to contest. another “to-do” for the christmas break.


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