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Triangle History: Woodbine Club House Hotel

By John Ellis

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The histories of “Duggan’s Hotel”, “Woodbine Park”, “Woodbine Park Club House”, and Woodbine Race Course (later “Old Woodbine”, “Greenwood Race Track”, and, today, “Woodbine Park”), are closely linked to Joseph Duggan, who was born in Toronto 15 August, 18331. At age 23, he married Susan Love, 19, on 3 July 1857. A daughter, Annie Noble, was born to them in 18662.

Woodbine Race Track: Club House (presumed) in middle distance. 1907. Toronto Public Library, CTA James 263.

In 18703, Joseph Duggan bought from John and Charles Small 95 acres south of Kingston Road from where it intersects with today’s Queen Street East to today’s Woodbine Avenue, including the broken front extending south to Lake Ontario. He then owned all of today’s Beach Triangle plus the area now occupied by Woodbine Park. He initially named his farm “Duggan’s Field”4.

In Small’s Corners at Kingston Road and today’s Queen Street (the location of a plaza today), Duggan erected “Duggan’s Hotel”5. The hotel would have had a good view of Small’s Pond just north-west of Kingston Road. (The pond, the Serpentine that fed into it, and the mill spillway that drained into what was then Ashbridges Bay were ultimately routed underground to permit surface development.

Map 1: Woodbine Hotel and Duggan’s homestead, 1884. Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto and Vicinity

Map 2: Club House hotel at 1669 Queen E. 1889. University of Toronto

In 1874 he rented the hotel to a proprietor and built a thoroughbred horse farm, “the beautiful homestead… known as Woodbine Park”, where he continued to live6, near Kingston Road on the north side of the road allowance that, in 1884, became today’s Queen Street East.

In 1875 Duggan sold the land in the broken front to a partnership, Howell and Pardee, who developed the Woodbine Riding and Driving Club, the first of several beach-front amusement parks in the area. It is thought that Howell named the track after the Woodbine Hotel in Toronto at 88 Yonge Street, which he owned (and which burned to the ground with tragic injury and loss of life in May, 19147) but consideration also should be given to the Woodbine Park name earlier adopted by Duggan for his farm.

At this time, horse-drawn trams ran from the Don River to the village of Norway on Kingston Road at Woodbine. Improved transit and the attraction of the race track persuaded Duggan to build the Woodbine Park Club House hotel at 1669 Queen Street (across from today’s Orchard Park Day’s End hotel).

The Howell and Pardee initiative proved a failure, public interest being small, and so the race course was re-acquired by Duggan, who developed the enterprise as a going concern. He was nothing if not an entrepreneur – he then owned a horse farm, race track, and two hotels!

It is reported that the first Duggan hotel at Kingston Road and Queen continued to operate until 1884, when it burned down, with loss of life8. The Woodbine Park Club House was reported as demolished in 18799, and then apparently re-built, appearing in the preceding 1907 photo and yet another very elegant version appearing in a 1959 photo10.

Woodbine Club House (presumed) 1959 York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, F0433, ASC03633

Underlining the park’s growing popularity, a news item in May, 1883, reports that “Special arrangements have been made by the tramway company to take visitors to Woodbine Park after they leave the King Street cars at the Don.” On the same day it was advertised that a special train would operate between Toronto and Hamilton “for the accommodation of passengers attending the races at Woodbine Park.”11

The Woodbine Park Club House was described in 1885 as follows: “The hotel is beautifully situated, and commands a fine view of Toronto and Lake Ontario, and comfortably accommodates upwards of thirty guests. A tram car passes every half-hour, by means of which passengers may reach the city in twenty minutes”12, while another source in 1903 described it as “a magnificent club house”13. It was obviously a place suitable for distinguished guests. One social notice advised that “The president and directors of the Ontario Jockey Club have issued invitations for luncheon at the club house on Saturday, May 20, the opening day of the race meeting. His Excellency, the Governor General and the Countess Grey, with their suite will drive to the course in state from Glen Stuart. On Monday, the Governor General, with the Countess Grey, will lunch at the club house at 1:15, as guests of the President and directors of the Ontario Jockey Club.”14

The proprietorship of the hotel is confusing. Joseph Duggan is listed as the proprietor from 1875 to at least 189515, but one 1885 publication names Joseph Braun as such, while another in the same year names Thomas J. Best16.

Duggan lived in the Woodbine Park Club House for four years17, until 1879, when he retired to the homestead until he chose to rent the hotel and move back downtown. In 1885, he lived at 539 Church Street18 and, at the time of his death, had returned to Kingston Road.

In 1881, the business acumen of Joseph Duggan is again evident. On May 19, 1900, The Toronto Daily Star reported: “The Ontario Jockey Club was first organized at a meeting held… in the month of June, 1881… Mr. Joseph Duggan, proprietor of the Woodbine race course and clubhouse, waited upon Mr. T.C. Patterson and urged him to take part in the establishment of an association which would rent the race course and clubhouse and endeavour to have racing there under or on better principles than had lately marked the conduct of sporting affairs in this Province… Racing, the national sport of old England, had here sunk into a slough of despond – and a pastime followed here with great success twenty-seven years ago… had fallen into decadence, hurtful to the country and disappointing to a large number of respectable people, who have at heart the improvement of our breed of horses, and the furtherance of honest sport to that end.19” In 1888 Duggan leased the race course to the Ontario Jockey Club, which thereafter held its annual race meetings there.

In 1900, Woodbine Park was described, in somewhat enthusiastic prose, as a beautiful park, “The park itself is delightfully situated and a more lovely spot is hard to find. From the grand stand directly south a magnificent stretch of Lake Ontario blue waters greets the eye, and refreshing breezes wafted from it serve to mitigate the intensity of the sun’s rays. To the westward of the park a clump of tall pine trees shut the view beyond, while to the eastward a beautiful sylvan landscape stretches away in undulating grandeur into the horizon. Visitors to the race track for the first time are always charmed by the scene, and, on a clear day, from the roof of the member’s stand, it is possible to see the spray from the Falls of Niagara.”20

Joseph Duggan’s horse-racing business was also well recognized. In 1894, “Joseph Duggan will have Foam, Noisy and Steppingstone at the Hunts Club races”21 , and in 1895, “Mr. Duggan’s filly Chickle, is a likely looking youngster, but has the same fault as many other three year olds, that of running her eyes out in the first part of the race.”22 In 1901, Duggan was listed as “horse breeder”23 and, in 1903, it was reported that “Mr. Joseph Duggan refused an offer of $2,000 for Crestfallen. Mr. Duggan wants $2,500.”24

While Duggan undoubtedly enjoyed great success, he had his difficulties. In February, 1896, it was reported that an action to recover about $6,000 was commenced by the Ontario Jockey Club, “occasioned by the collapse of the grand stand at the Woodbine on the Queen’s birthday, 1893, when about thirty people were seriously hurt.”25

His passion for horse racing also got Duggan into trouble. In 1895, a report from Detroit stated that “Mr. Joseph Duggan has too much pluck to stand by and submit to unfair treatment and has challenged the judges to investigate the running of his horse Foam who was ruled off in such a hasty and unfair manner on Monday last.” A Toronto article in October proved the earlier one correct: “Mr. Joseph Duggan, the horseman, who was suspended on account of suspicious actions of his horse Foam at Detroit, has been reinstated.”26

Joseph Duggan, resident of Kingston Road, died 9 May 1904, age 7027. He was predeceased by his wife. A private funeral was held at the Wellesley Crescent home of his son-in-law, John Dixon.

An unfortunate example of Duggan’s enterprise outliving him is derived from a 1905 news item: “E. Ashton & Sons, contractors, have begun suit at Osgoode Hall to compel John J. Dixon, the well-known broker, to carry out an agreement which they say his father-in-law, Joseph Duggan, made, to sell them a sand bank on the Kingston road. Mrs. Dixon inherited the property.”28

As a footnote to the historical significance of the Duggan family, Joseph’s daughter, Annie, married John Joseph Dixon, and it is her married name that led to naming of Dixon Avenue.

Footnotes
1 Ontario Deaths, 1869-1928
2 Magruder-Henry Family Tree (erroneous Birth Date for Joseph), Canada Census 1881
3 The Beach in Pictures 1793-1932, page 23, cites 1870 as the date of purchase by Duggan of the farm but History of Toronto and County of York 1885, page 43, cites 1872 as the date. To further muddle this aspect, a biography of Joseph Duggan shows him as a hotel keeper in 1871.
4 Toronto World 1800-1921
5 Map: Toronto Suburbs 1884
6 History of Toronto and County of York 1885, page 43
7 Toronto Evening Star, May 18, 1914
8 Gene Domagala
9 The Globe (predecessor to today’s The Globe and Mail), 1 Sept. 1879, page 4, top column.
10 There is also a 1905 drawing and a 1910 painting of another lovely three-storey building further west of the grandstand, this building having dormer windows in a mansard roof, and wide verandahs on the first and second floors. This building evidently was co-existent with the building shown in the 1907 photo and might actually be the Club House.
11 Globe and Mail, Wednesday, May 23, 1883
12 Ontario legislative Assembly, Ontario Gazette, 1902, page 1293.
13 Toronto World, 2 Dec. 1903, p. 4.
14 The Toronto Daily Star, Wednesday, May 17, 1905, Page 09
15 The Toronto City Directory, 1879, 1889, 1890
16 History of Toronto and County of York 1885
17 History of Toronto and County of York 1885, page 43
18 J. Duggan & Sons grocery store was at that time located at 249 Church (The Toronto City Directory 1890).
19 The Toronto Daily Star, Saturday, May 19, 1900, p. 3
20 The Toronto Daily Star, Saturday, May 19, 1900, p. 3
21 The Toronto Daily Star, Saturday, September 22, 1894
22 The Toronto Daily Star, Monday, May 13, 1895
23 Canada Census 1901
24 The Toronto Daily Star, Aug 1, 1903
25 The Toronto Daily Star, Tuesday, February 25, 1896
26 The Toronto Daily Star, Wednesday, July 3, 1895/Tuesday, October 22, 1895
27 The Globe (predecessor to The Globe and Mail), Toronto, Tuesday, May 10, 1904
28 The Toronto Daily Star, Sept. 21, 1905