Modest Hopes: The story of Anne O’Rourke from Corktown

This is an excerpt from Modest Hopes: Homes and Stories of Toronto’s Workers from the 1820s to the 1920s – by Don Loucks and Leslie Valpy – who celebrate Toronto’s heritage of townhouses, semi-detached houses and cottages and the people who lived in them.


ANNE O’ROURKE (ca. 1820–1891)
34 Bright Street, 38 St. Paul Street

The story of Anne O’Rourke (born Delaney) from 34 Bright Street and 38 St. Paul Street in Corktown is taken from correspondence with her great-granddaughter Vickie Wybo-Yuhase as well as from further research.

Anne Delaney was born in Ireland around 1820. In her late teens, she married Martin O’Rourke (born 1806) from Ballyfin, Mountrath, Laois, Ireland, who was almost 15 years older than she was. Correspondence with the O’Rourke family suggests that Anne and Martin came to Canada, around 1847, in connection with the Irish potato famine. They wanted seven children in Toronto.

In 1848, O’Rourkes was in Toronto, although their first address has proved difficult to trace. It was not until 1856 that they appeared in the Toronto catalogs, living at the eastern end of Toronto. On July 29, 1848, Martin and Anne Mary gave birth in Toronto, the first of Anne’s children born in Canada. Two years later, on August 1, 1850, the couple married Bridget. Unfortunately, this baby died on March 26, 1851, less than a year old.

The O’Rourke family continued to grow. In 1852, Anne gave birth to their third child in Toronto, also called Anne, soon followed by James on March 30, 1854. In less than a decade after their arrival in Toronto, O’Rourkes was now a family of five.

In 1856, O’Rourkes finally appeared in Toronto’s folders. Martin “Rourke” is listed on North Park (Shuter) Street between Pine (Sackville) and Sumach Streets. Like many of his neighbors, Martin worked as a laborer. That same year, their daughter Catherine was born. Sponsors listed on their children’s baptismal records are other Irish immigrants as well as neighbors on North Park Street (such as Joseph Costigan and Patrick Coulehan), suggesting the strength of their new community and its deep roots in their homeland. Costigan and Coulehan were recorded on North Park Street in 1850, suggesting that O’Rourkes might as well have lived there as early as 1850. In addition to being the godfather of their second youngest son, Joseph Costigan became an important neighbor to Anne this year. .

While living on North Park Street, the O’Rourke family expanded again. In 1858, Martin Jr. born (neighbor Joseph Costigan is named as godfather), and their youngest and last child, John, followed in 1861. Unfortunately, Martin Sr. died. on February 20, 1861, and Anne was left as a widow with six children.

Small, crooked Bright Street first appeared on a Toronto map in 1862. That year, two small one-story side-by-side cottages were the first on the street. Joseph Costigan, Anne’s former neighbor on North Park Street, occupied the first cottage, while the newlywed widow Anne lived in the two-bedroom cottage right next to him with her six children. This cottage on Bright Street represented a new chapter for Anne at the age of 42: her first house alone, her own Modest Hope.

Anne found work as a dairyman or milkmaid. It is likely that she did so at the Gooderham & Worts dairy, located just a few blocks from her Bright Street cottage. William Gooderham’s business had begun as a flour mill; he then added a distillery to his business in 1837 after a year of surplus grain harvesting, which began the basis for the production of his first whiskey. As production grew, the company’s waste, which Gooderham originally sold to farmers for feed, grew. He then recognized the income one could get by keeping his own cows and pigs, so just as the distillery had grown out of the mill, a livestock farm sprouted out of the liquor business.

By 1841, Gooderham had established a large dairy on a 9-acre plot between Trinity and Cherry Streets opposite his mill. Both the dairy and the distillery employed many residents of Corktown. “A business tycoon with a social conscience, ‘Gooderham’ also financed the construction of small, affordable cottages” on Corktown streets like Trinity and Sackville “for many of his workers and the city’s growing working class.” Gooderham also saw the benefit of having its employees live close to work.

In late 1867, Anne and Joseph, Bright Street’s only residents, were joined by another neighbor, Edwin Apted, who moved into a cottage across the street. In 1871, Anne still shared the compact one-story two-bedroom cottage with her six children, which probably included her newly widowed, eldest daughter, Mary, and Mary’s two children. There was a shortage of space and money. Anne continued to work as a dairyman, her daughters, Anne and Mary, found jobs as servants, and her son James
became a plumber.

Around 1872, philanthropist and music dealer Richard Brooking Butland bought several plots of land in Corktown as well as several plots of land north and south of Joseph’s and Anne’s cottages with the vision of creating a newer and better Bright Street. He demolished many of the existing cottages that had been built on the street, and began building Victorian two-story townhouses with bricks. But Anne and Joseph refused to sell their cabins. Butland’s dream of a newly terraced Bright Street was derailed by their outstanding, who was stuck in the middle of the street scene on the west side. Instead, he developed townhouses north and south of Anne and Joseph’s cottages. In 1872, he first built five raw cast huts south of Joseph and Anne and sold them for $ 500 each.

By 1875, Butland had also built townhouses north of Joseph and Anne’s cottages. Homes on Bright Street grew like mushrooms in the 1870s, and in the early 20th century, similar townhouses also lay along the east side of the street. Joseph’s cottage was 32 Bright, while Annes’s 34 Bright.

Compact and densely populated, Bright Street was at the center of impoverished Corktown, a predominantly Irish working class enclave. Many residents lived in houses originally built for single families, but poverty often forced several families into a home. Bright Street also does not seem to have had the best reputation. Mention of it in the newspaper archives Globe and Toronto Star contains reports of petty crime, unfortunate accidents and personal tragedies. Mary Metcalf was arrested for stripping a Bright Street clothesline in 1879; John Evoy, as number 28, was arrested in 1883 “accused of drunkenness and theft of various objects for obtaining liquor”; Peter Currant, at number 23, was arrested in 1896 for assaulting two “Chinese”. The most disturbing mention of the street came in 1908, when Matthew and Alma Mathieson were found crammed into heat in an empty house on Bright Street. The Mathiesons had been homeless since Matthew had lost his job at the Conboy Carriage Company. They had not eaten for three days.

Dog-related crimes were also mentioned. In 1875, a fight over a stolen dog led to murder next to Joseph Costigan’s house. And in 1881, eight-year-old John Burns was bitten hard by a bulldog, its owner was charged with not having a driver’s license. That owner was Anne O’Rourke, who now lives a block away on St. Paul Street.

Anne had moved from Bright Street in 1874 to 38, formerly 10, St. Paul Street, one block away. The two Bright Street cottages remained side by side, surrounded by the arched townhouses that followed the arch of the street. Joseph Costigan remained at 32 Bright until his death in 1879, and his wife, Julia, and their son continued to live there for many years after his death. Just up the street from Julia at number 42 Bright lived the famous Henry Box Brown, a Virginia slave who fled to freedom at the age of 33 by having himself sent in a wooden box to freedom in Philadelphia in 1849. After his delivery to freedom, he first moved from the United States to England, where he toured as a magician, entertainer and abolitionist speaker, before immigrating to Toronto. He lived at 42 Bright from 1890 to 1893 and died in Toronto in 1897.

The cottage on 34 Bright Street, once Anne O’Rourke’s home, remained side by side with Julia Costigans for a few more years. But in 1910, it was finally sold to a developer and demolished. Instead, 34-36 Bright went up, and fell in line with its terraced neighbors to the north. The cottage at 32 Bright became the only one of its kind left on the west side and eventually the only one on the entire street.

Anne’s time at St. Paul Street began in 1874 when she moved to a new Modest Hope, number 38, formerly 10. While St. The Paul cottage still had two bedrooms, it was slightly larger than her Bright Street home. She continued to work as a dairyman while the children who still lived with her helped pay the bills. Catherine, now 23, was a seamstress, while sons Martin, 21, and John, 19, followed in their father’s footsteps and worked as workers, John at the dairy with his mother, Martin eventually becoming a teamster for P. Burns & Company .

In 1885, Anne’s youngest son, John, married Catherine Prior, and they moved across the street to 31st St. Paul, formerly number 13, where they started a family in their own Modest Hope. Anne continued to live at 38 St. Paul with his son Martin until 1890. The following year, Martin was listed on 93 Parliament Street, while Anne disappeared from the city’s libraries. It has been difficult to determine if this was the year she died.

Anne’s son Martin moved back to St. Paul Street in 1892 and into number 26, now demolished, but he lived there for only a year and died of Bright’s disease on October 11, 1893, aged 34 years. Her son John continued to own properties on St. Paul Street, and eventually bought 31 and 31½, which he turned into rental units. He also appeared to still own his mother’s former home on 38 St. Paul, since he was listed at that address for a few years before moving to 73 Frizzell Street near Pape and Danforth Avenues. After his death in 1917, John had amassed a modest estate, far from his family’s humble roots as Irish famine immigrants to Toronto.

top photo of Vik Pahwa


Excerpts from Modest Hopes: Homes and Stories of Toronto’s Workers from the 1820s to the 1920s by Don Loucks and Leslie Valpy © 2021. Published by Dundurn Press Limited.

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