Today, Bond Lake, just south of Oak Ridges on Yonge Street, is a popular part of the Oak Ridges Trail, whether as an entry for the full length (260 kilometers) of the trail or the short loop around the lake himself. It makes you wonder if the hundreds of people who enjoy the lake’s trails today realize that 120 years ago, thousands of people were enjoying what the lake and its park had to offer.
From the earliest days of Richmond Hill, settlers and townspeople used Bond Lake for fishing, swimming and boating in the summer and curling in the winter. This occasional use changed after 1899, however, when the Metropolitan Railway, which had just reached Richmond Hill the previous year, began to extend its line north towards Newmarket. The railway needed more electricity to power the line as it was extended, and Bond Lake provided a good supply of water for the powerhouse they built near its shore.
Knowing that the lake was already a popular spot, the railroad purchased the farm surrounding the lake. Soon landscaping was underway and the Bond Lake railway siding and station was built to accommodate the tourists they hoped to attract to the lake.
The railroad has done its best to try to create a real tourist attraction a short train ride from the growing Toronto area. Using excess power from the plant, Bond Lake Park became Ontario’s first “electric” park, and it quickly began to see incredible attendance. In the 1901 season alone, 60,000 visitors passed through the park’s gates. This was great news for the railway – in addition to their visit to the park, the vast majority of these tourists also paid fares on the railway to get there. It is certain that local businesses have also benefited from this influx of visitors. A nearby tavern and a local hotel would have benefited from a real increase in their activities.
The railroad didn’t skimp on park amenities. In addition to traditional picnic facilities, pleasant landscaping, and access to swimming, fishing, and boating, the park soon boasted a large concert pavilion, baseball fields, a wading pool and a merry-go-round. Sunday school and company picnics were popular, and the park also attracted family groups and young couples. Rowboats were available for hire, or you could go around the lake in a larger launch.
The Metropolitan Railway Guidebook was eloquent in its praise for the park and its offerings. Clean air and cool breezes, clean water and few mosquitoes were all part of the plot to lure visitors north, hopefully by rail. He touted the park, with its lake, trees, and amenities, as a great place to relax, enjoy the outdoors, or even find romance through its pleasant walks and dancing in the pavilion with a small orchestra.
Bond Lake Park was a working business for the first 20 years of the 20th century, although its future was called into question when the Toronto Transit Commission acquired the Metropolitan Railway Company in 1922. By 1929 the TTC was ready to close the northern radial line. of Toronto due to low traffic, and its primary interest in transit left little room for Bond Lake Park. The park saw its last visitors in 1929.
Today there is little evidence of Bond Lake Park to be found. Two crumbling brick pillars mark the old Yonge Street entrance, and scattered along the lakeside trail, hikers might find the remains of a few foundations or a twisted, partially buried ride. It’s hard to imagine 60,000 visitors enjoying this beautiful place in 1901.
—Jim Vollmershausen is the president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society