Taking a Walk on Historic Danforth Avenue
By: Lindsay Reid Luminoso
Have you ever wondered just how the Danforth got its look and feel? Join us as we journey back in time examining some of Danforth’s more iconic features. Our exploration continues in former Chester Village.
Jackman Avenue and Danforth Avenue – Chester Village and Eastminster United Church
Our second location in the “Journey Back in Time” series takes us eastward towards Jackman Avenue, an area formerly known as Chester Village. Prior to the construction of the Bloor Viaduct, this was a small rural community developed by the Playter Family. George Playter was born in the 1730s in Surrey, England. He immigrated to Pennsylvania, where he married Elizabeth Welding. Playter became a loyalist captain during the American Revolution by seizing military documents for the British. Playter moved his family around to Nova Scotia, Kingston, and finally Toronto in the late 18th century. Once in Toronto, Captain George Playter was granted vast amounts of land with lots totalling 500 acres throughout the York Township, including lots in the Danforth. The Playter family cultivated this land into a farming community. When Playter sold tracts of his land to settlers pouring into the region, Chester village was born. Today, Chester subway station marks where this rural farming community once settled.
Figure 1 – Map
Jackman Avenue was named for Mary Jackman, who was married to John Lea Playter. On the corner of Jackman and Danforth sits Eastminster United Church (310 Danforth Ave.); this historical landmark has a rich tradition. This church has undergone many name changes but it has faithfully served the community for over a century.
In 1910, construction on the first brick building for the church began. Four short years after its construction, the impressive building needed further expansion to accommodate the needs of the growing community. You can still see where the second floor and gallery were added, marked with a stone located by the rear doors at the corner of Jackman Ave. and Hurndale Ave. The building was officially completed in 1922 and continues to be an impressive historical structure on Danforth Avenue.
Figure 2 – City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 2666
This photo of the front entrance of the church was taken on May 20, 1924 when it was considered Danforth Methodist Church. At the time, the church boasted a gymnasium, bowling alley, auditorium, offices, meeting rooms, and classrooms. During the 1920s, it was the nation’s largest Methodist Sunday school, the hub of social interaction within the community, and remained at maximum capacity.
In the post-WWII era, times were changing. Chester Village’s demographics shifted dramatically, with an increase in the Greek population. Eastminster United Church adapted to the needs of the community. The church itself has undergone amalgamation twice, with North Broadview United (formerly Presbyterian) in 1966 and Donlands United (formerly Methodist) in 1984. Elements of these former congregations are now found in the Eastminster to demonstrate this union: North Broadview’s stained glass windows were installed in the sanctuary and the furnishings were placed in a memorial chapel above the Narthex; from the Donlands United Church, a stained glass window adorns the east side of the Eastminster sanctuary.
The Chester Village area has an important history on the Danforth. Looking around Danforth Avenue and Jackman Avenue, the buildings and structures tell the story of a gloomy rural community transformed into a united urban community. Eastminster is just one landmark that demonstrates communal continuity.