New book about Toronto’s historic Corktown neighbourhood includes 200 surnames

Alexander Brown Young worked as a cork cutter in Montreal and Toronto. Photo: J.G. Parks, Montreal, 1871-75.

One of my most elusive ancestors is Alexander Brown Young, a cork cutter, who immigrated with his family to Montreal from Aberdeen, Scotland in 1855 when he was three years old.

His presence is hard to trace in records that survived his existence.

In a family that had dozens of family portraits taken in the second half of the 19th century, there are only a handful of Alexander.

When someone married or died, at least four Young brothers, including my great-great-grandfather, James Young, signed the church register. For some reason, Alexander’s signature rarely appears in church registers.

Was he the black sheep of the family? Did he suffer from personal problems that distanced him from his parents and siblings? Or was he just a loner?

From census to census, Alexander’s name changes, perhaps because of shoddy reporting or sloppy census taking, or to confuse and frustrate future genealogists. Sometimes he is identified as Alexander Young, and other times he is George Young or Alexander Brown.

By 1922, Alexander was living in an area of Toronto, called Corktown, and according to Toronto City directories he was still living there up to 1926. It’s quite possible he died before March 1926, but where he is buried remains a mystery.

In an attempt to learn more about Alexander, I have researched the Freyseng Cork Company, located at Queen and Sumach, where he worked in Toronto. I have hunted down photos of 464 King Street East where he lived, all to gain a better understanding of where he worked and lived.

Because of my mysterious ancestor, a new book, Corktown: The History of Toronto Neighbourhood and the People Who Made It, by Carolina R. Lemos caught my attention.

Corktown, scheduled to be launched next Monday, may interest other genealogists with cork workers in their family and anyone interested in old Toronto working-class neighbourhoods.

The self-published, 195-page book includes the history behind 38 street names and more than 90 images, some of which are made available for the first time.

There are also more than 200 surnames, intended as a reference source for anyone conducting genealogical research, and a quick reference source source on local places of worship and architects who were involved in the area’s built history.

In a video trailer about the book, Ms. Lemos says, “It’s written for anyone interested in increasing their knowledge about the area’s early history and for others researching the road map of their family ancestry.”

The book is divided into three parts.

Part one is about the history of local street names, part two is about people who established local businesses or worked in local institutions, and part three is about four politicians who lived in the neighbourhood.

Ms. Lemos is a Toronto genealogist/researcher, tour guide, and photographer whose interest in heritage preservation led her to write and publish the book so that Corktown “could have its own narrative” like other Toronto districts.

“The impetus to write this book came as a result of a somewhat challenge my husband,
Victor, gave me,” said Ms. Lemos. “Disappointed at the fact that there wasn’t a book on Corktown, he said to me that if I wanted a book then I would have to write it. This, in addition to hearing a local resident say that they did not think Corktown had a history, led me to write the book in order to clarify this misconception.”

Book launch
The book launch is being co-hosted by Ontario Heritage Trust and the author. The doors are scheduled to open at 6:45 p.m. on Monday, December 3, at the historic Enoch Turner Schoolhouse West Hall, 106 Trinity Street in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood.  The presentation will start at 7:30 p.m.

Books can be purchased after the launch at Toronto’s Preservation House at 461 King Street East or ordered now through the Contact page on the author’s website, Corktown History. A softcover copy is $30 plus shipping.

As for Alexander, if you see his ghost wandering the neighbourhood, tell him to let me know where he’s buried. His great-great-granddaughter and I have been looking for him for years.

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