A history
of growth


Leslie arrived in Upper Canada from Scotland in 1825. He had a lifelong passion for nature, and was a trained gardener and landscaper who worked for several of Scotland’s large estates. Upon his arrival, he continued working as a gardener, this time for Toronto’s elite, having arrived with glowing references from Scottish gentry. He worked on the estates of wealthy residents and the grounds of notable city properties, including the parliament buildings on Front Street, Upper Canada College (then at the corner of Simcoe and King) and Osgoode Hall.

In 1845, he decided to go into business for himself – he founded George Leslie and Sons, a Toronto nursery that was once the largest business of its kind in Canada. He leased (and then bought) 20 acres of prime wetland on the shores of Ashbridges Bay – land that wasn’t particularly useful for housing at the time, but ideal for growing plants.

The nursery sold plants, seeds, books and gardening tools. Instead of ordering their stock from England, like most of their competitors, Leslie was the first in the business to find and test seeds that would succeed in Ontario’s unique growing environment, earning a name for himself as the go-to supplier for hardy plants.

At its height, the business encompassed 150 acres stretching from Queen to the lake, and Pape to Leslie, with trees, shrubs, flowers and more being grown in fields and greenhouses. Lovely Leslie Grove Park at Queen and Jones is part of that original acreage.

The famed nursery’s trees have figured prominently in Toronto history; you’ll find them in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Allan Gardens, and along numerous city streets.

George Leslie also helped found the Ontario Fruit-Growers Association – it encouraged Ontario farmers to grow new types of fruit and develop varieties suited to our growing conditions, establishing the fruit (especially apples) we’ve come to associate with Southern Ontario.

George Leslie

About
Alexander Muir


Schoolteacher Alexander Muir’s claim to fame is writing Canada’s first national anthem – The Maple Leaf Forever. One autumn day, while walking through Leslieville with his friend George Leslie, a maple leaf fluttered down from a tree and landed on his shoulder. He was struck by the beautiful colours, which he mentioned to Leslie. Knowing Muir liked to write, Leslie remarked that he should write a poem about the leaf. Muir’s wife Mary Alice suggested that he put it to music, and a popular song – which became the anthem – was born.

Today, the spot where that inspiring leaf fell is a park dedicated to the memory of the song and its writer. The tree was destroyed in a 2013 storm, but its legacy lives on in Maple Leaf Forever Park.

George’s south-facing suites would overlook this lovely little park. A great destination for a book and a latte on a blanket on a sunny day, it’s also home to the historic Maple Cottage and its surrounding gardens – a gracious space that’s popular with locals out for a walk.

The Maple Leaf Forever
Poem by Alexander Muir, 1867

In days of yore, from Britain’s shore
Wolfe, the dauntless hero came
And planted firm Britannia’s flag
On Canada’s fair domain!
Here may it wave, our boast, our pride
And joined in love together
The Thistle, Shamrock, Rose entwine
The Maple Leaf forever!

The Maple Leaf, our emblem dear
The Maple Leaf forever!
God Save our Queen and Heaven Bless
The Maple Leaf forever!

At Queenston Heights and Lundy’s Lane
Our brave fathers, side by side
For freedom, homes, and loved ones dear
Firmly stood, and nobly died.
And those dear rights, which they maintained
We swear to yield them never!
Our watchword evermore shall be
“The Maple Leaf Forever”!

Our fair Dominion now extends
From Cape Race to Nootka Sound
May peace forever be our lot
And plenteous store abound.
And may those ties of love be ours
Which discord cannot sever
And flourish green o’er Freedom’s home
The Maple Leaf Forever

On merry England’s far-famed land
May kind Heaven sweetly smile
God bless Old Scotland evermore
And Ireland’s Emerald Isle!
Then swell the song, both loud and long
! Till rocks and forests quiver
God save our Queen and Heaven Bless
The Maple Leaf forever!

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