Who Was John Ellis?

Sketch by John Ellis of Indian Road

Sketch by John Ellis of Indian Road

ELLIS, JOHN, printer and musician; baptized 21 Jan. 1795, at Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, Eng., son of Anne Ellis; d. 19 Nov. 1877, near Toronto, Ont.

(Posted here with the kind permission of Greg Chown. See the original and related articles on LOST TORONTO here.)

John Ellis was apparently comfortably established in London, England, by 1836. He had a business in the City in Old Broad Street and was a freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company; he owned two country properties in Essex; his wife of eight years, Rhoda Anne Benton, had just had their first child. But in that year he sold the London property and in August the family sailed for British North America, reaching Toronto in October. For a year or two Ellis “bushed it” west of the city on land adjoining that of John George Howard*.

In the early 1840s Ellis opened an office in Toronto as an engraver, eventually extending into lithographic printing of substantial projects, including the Plan of Toronto in about 1858. Probably the main line of business was stationery. In 1867 the firm was bought by Joseph T. Rolph and, with mergers, has since grown into the modern lithographic house of Rolph-Clark-Stone, Limited.

Ellis was an enthusiastic, and reportedly an accomplished, amateur cellist, prominent in the city’s young musical life. With the Reverend John McCaul* he organized the Toronto Philharmonic Society in 1845 and served on its committee for many years. He was also a founder, and the orchestra leader, of the Toronto Vocal Music Society.

Ellis was Anglican, Conservative, and an early member of the St George’s Society in Toronto. After retiring from business he lived at his old home overlooking Humber Bay, where he died in 1877.

pictures-r-2754North of Lake Ontario, just west of what is now High Park, stood John Ellis’s house, Herne Hill, overlooking Grenadier pond and the lake. John Ellis Sr. bought the forested 66 hectares (160 acres) west of Grenadier Pond for $25 an acre, and built a house, “Herne Hill” on Grenadier Heights. It was his friend, John George Howard (who donated his land to create High Park) that had convinced John Ellis Sr. to buy the land. The area was known as Windermere in the 1880s, as it has rolling hills similar to its namesake in England, and then Swansea by the 1890’s. Ellis Avenue was constructed over an existing First Nations trail as the entrance to the Herne Hill estate.

pictures-r-3057-1John Ellis Jr.

pictures-r-1809This print is attributed to John Ellis as the printer.

pictures-r-6631As is this one.

maps-r-111This map of Swansea (Windemere) shows the extent of the Ellis property.

Also interesting is the fact that Ellis Ave is a former Indian trail to the lake as is Indian Road.

Most Toronto streets follow a strict British grid, When you find a road that meanders it’s either an old trail or it follows an old creek or river. Niagra Street is a good example of the former as it followed the path of Garrison Creek from the old fort up to Queen Street and onto the fort at Niagara on the Lake.

pictures-r-6865-1John Ellis Jr. at Herne Hill, “Ye Old Homestead”.

The sketch below is his.

pictures-r-68511851Browne.york-1851xA high res map of Toronto from 1851, drawn by J.D Browne, printed and engraved by John Ellis, showing the Herne property as well as some other interesting details.

Taverns are prominently marked and note that the intersection of Yonge and Bloor is a Potters Field.

“A potter’s field or common grave is a term for a place for the burial of unknown or indigent people. The expression derives from the Bible, referring to a field used for the extraction of potter’s clay; such land, useless for agriculture, could be used as a burial site”.

  • Toronto, Ontario had a Potter’s Field at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets. The burial grounds were closed with some of the bodies moved to other cemeteries. Unknown number of bodies remained on the site when it was built over. Today the grounds are part of the posh Yorkville district, and the site of an office tower.
 Dundas Street starts at the foot of Queen Street (now Ossington).
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