Workers' Suburbs

(1900) Union Park

Building a bench

South of Barton Street between Kenilworth Avenue and Ottawa Street lies one of the many workers’ neighbourhoods that took shape as industry moved east. Union Park was on the extreme eastern fringe of the city when it was purchased, named and subdivided in 1900. Some early East End neighbourhoods were developed by local factory owners, who were eager to recruit a dependable workforce. Others — like Union Park — were developed by real estate speculators.

Union Park mimicked the many middle-class suburbs that were built at this time. It boasted elements of the then-popular City Beautiful Movement, such as a central green boulevard. Yet this was a distinctly working-class neighbourhood. Its location on the edge of the city meant that land was affordable. Mortgages were often obtained privately. Many of the families that settled here derived an income from one of the city’s new East End factories. Their modest wages meant they lived in modest homes. These were usually frame structures of one to one-and-a-half storeys. Homes were often owner-built, finished piece by piece as money allowed.

My brother, dad and I built my house, then we built my brother’s house. I got the wiring from my boss at Hoover. He got me the heaviest gauge wire you could get — at their prices. He got me the cement too. I put in the best of everything, but I got most of it through the company. And when I die I’ve asked them to bury me there. Because for one little while that was my part of the world. I owned something, you know, that was me. – Fred Purser, Hoover retiree