Swansea is that green hilly area of Toronto (Ontario, Canada) bounded on the west by the Humber River, on the north by Bloor Street, on the east by High Park and on the south by Lake Ontario. On the first maps used by the French explorers, this area was known by its Mississauga Indian name “Toronto”, the meeting place. The Iroquois named for the major settlement in the area was Teiaiagon. Though rich in a Native history that is greatly lost in the mists of time, Swansea traces its modern history from the arrival of Etienne Brule, a contemporary of Samuel De Champlain, in 1615.
Brule explored the southern reaches of the Humber River where it empties into Lake Ontario and established a French influence in the area, which would persist for almost the next century and a half. In 1670, Jean Baptiste Rousseau became the first permanent settler in Swansea when he established a trading post on the Swansea side of the Humber River, possibly on the site of the original French Fort.
Following the success of the British at the Plains of Abraham, slowly but surely English traditions came to bear upon Swansea. According to a popular legend, during the War of 1812 a brave and determined but foolhardy band of British soldiers lost their lives trying to cross Swansea’s largest body of water during a February storm. Others say that no soldiers drowned there, but rather it was the red coated soldiers from the Fort that hunted and fished by the pond that gave it its name. Whatever the origin, that body of water has been popularly known since as Grenadier Pond.
During the latter part of the 19th Century, the area we now know as Swansea was called Windermere because, to the many immigrants from the British Isles, its hills, valleys, and seven ponds resembled the area of the Lake District which went by that name. No one seems certain as to how the community became known as Swansea. Some say it was because of all the immigrants from Swansea Wales that settled here; others attribute it to the Bolt Works that carried the Swansea name. It is thought that the owner of the local Bolt Works, James Worthington, came from Swansea Wales, so perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
In 1926, Swansea had grown to such a size that it was able to successfully petition to become independent from the Township of York and was incorporated as a village with a population of 3,255 persons and a superstructure of 908 buildings. By 1936, Swansea had grown to become the second largest village in the Province of Ontario. The Swansea Public School Board, Swansea Volunteer Fire Brigade, Swansea Police Force and Swansea Memorial Library Board were soon woven into the fabric of the Village.
The names of some of the area’s earliest setters are remembered in the streets and parks that bear their names – John Howard, John Ellis, Mark Coe, William Rennie, James Worthington. The solid civic foundation provided a wellspring of Swanseaites whose names many Canadians will recognize, including: naturalist J. A. Harvey; artist Harold Town; politian David Crombie; architect John Gemmell; developer Robert Home Smith; broadcaster Moses Znaimer; authors Lucy Maud Montgomery and Bernice Thurman Hunter; and Ontario’s first woman Reeve, Dorothy Hague.
In 1967, by order of the Province, Swansea was amalgamated into the City of Toronto. Yet still today, Swansea retains its proud and independent traditions which are symbolized by its former municipal building, now simply called the Swansea Town Hall.
1959-66 – Served as the Swansea Municipal Building for the independent Village of Swansea until amalgamation with Toronto.
1967-87 – Operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation
1987-91 – Continued to serve as the center of the political, cultural and social life of the Swansea and Bloor West communities.
1991-93 – Renovated with funds from lease of land to the adjacent James T. Bonham Residence.
1993 to now – Governed by a community Board of Management appointed by City Council to provide cost effective, user friendly community access to all, with priority to local community groups.