Richmond Hill, Ontario, is a city 23 km north of Lake Ontario, population 202,022 (2021 census), 195,022 (2016 census). It is one of nine municipalities that make up the Regional Municipality of York. The city is bordered by Aurora to the north, Whitchurch-Stouffville to the east, Markham to the east and south, Vaughan to the west and south, and King Township to the west.
Richmond Hill became an incorporated village in 1872, changing status to town in 1957, and city in 2019. The modern borders were established in 1971 from the Town of Richmond Hill, as well as parts of King, Vaughan, Whitchurch and Markham Townships. Throughout history, the Richmond Hill area has been home to different Indigenous groups, namely the Huron Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg. The land is covered by Treaty 13 and the Williams Treaties.
Indigenous Peoples and Treaties
Indigenous peoples have lived in the Richmond Hill area since the end of the last Ice Age, around 11,700–12,000 years ago. The earliest documented Indigenous site in Richmond Hill is located in the Oak Ridges Moraine, on the east side of Lake Wilcox. Built at some point between 1280 and 1320 CE, it included five longhouses.
Did you know?
Richmond Hill’s downtown is centred around Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie Drive. In the 1860s, a young man named David Boyle was digging on a farm, located at what is now the southwest corner of Richmond Hill’s downtown. He discovered an Iroquoian village. Boyle later became Canada’s top archaeologist.
When French explorers arrived in the area in the early 1600s, they encountered the Huron-Wendat. This First Nation’s territory stretched roughly from the shores of Georgian Bay to the northern shore of Lake Ontario. Between 1634 and 1642, a series of epidemics reduced their numbers. In 1648 and 1649, the Haudenosaunee defeated and dispersed the remaining Huron-Wendat. Many joined the Haudenosaunee.
In the years that followed, the Haudenosaunee established settlements north of Lake Ontario. By the late 1600s, however, they began to abandon these settlements. At the same time, the Anishinaabeg, including the Mississauga, began migrating from the area around Lake Superior into the territory the Haudenosaunee had left behind.
In 1805, Mississauga chiefs met with colonial administrators and signed Treaty 13, also known as the Toronto Purchase. The treaty transferred approximately 250,800 acres (1,015 km2) from the Mississauga to the colonial government. In return, the Mississauga received 10 shillings and fishing rights along the Etobicoke Creek. Treaty 13 includes much of Richmond Hill. The remaining section, the city’s northeast corner, is covered by the Williams Treaties, signed in 1923.
Settlement and Development
In order to defend Upper Canada from the French and the Americans, Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe commissioned three roads. One of them, Yonge Street, was designed to connect Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. The road was finished in February 1796.
Simcoe was determined to develop Yonge Street quickly, making all lots available for immediate settlement. In most of Upper Canada, select lots were set aside for the government (Crown reserves) or Protestant church (Clergy reserves). In the area that would become Richmond Hill, land on the western side of the road was named Vaughan Township, while the eastern side was Markham Township.
While most of the area was farmland, some villages formed. Communities in the area included Richmond Hill, Dollar, Langstaff and Temperanceville.
Early settlers included Loyalists, Pennsylvania-Germans and British immigrants, all of whom came to the area to farm. A small number of African Americans escaping enslavement also settled in the area.
Did you know?
Upper-class farmer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, lived just north of the village of Richmond Hill. Just weeks after hiring two servants, in 1843, Kinnear and Montgomery were murdered. Their trials became a national media sensation. The case was adapted by author Margaret Atwood as Alias Grace (1996). (See Grace Marks.)
Split between two rural townships, Richmond Hill’s urban issues were often ignored. These included improving sidewalks, sewers and fire prevention. An 1872 petition to York County council asked for Richmond Hill to be incorporated as a village, which would allow them to control how their tax would be spent. The village council began operation in 1873.
When population in the village began to drop, council actively tried to attract businesses. Two greenhouse businesses opened in 1912, sparking a new industry for the community. By the 1930s, Richmond Hill was known as the “Rose Capital of Canada.” The town was reincorporated as a city in 2019, to help market the city for corporate and government investment.
David Dunlap Observatory
The David Dunlap Observatory opened in Richmond Hill in 1935. Created by Clarence Chant for the University of Toronto, the astronomical observatory was located in Richmond Hill, as it was remote enough to avoid light pollution. At the time, the facility included the second-largest telescope in the world — it remains the largest telescope in Canada. Dr. Helen Hogg-Priestley, an astronomer at Dunlap, became a world-leading expert in globular star clusters and their variable stars. While physicist Albert Einstein predicted the existence of black holes, Dr. Tom Bolton was the first scientist to observe one, at Dunlap in 1972. The telescope is now owned by the City of Richmond Hill.
Richmond Hill’s population is ethnically diverse. According to the 2016 census, the three most commonly cited ethnic origins are Chinese (30.2 per cent of the population), Iranian (11 per cent) and Italian (9.9 per cent). The city is also home to a large number of South Asian residents (7.7 per cent of the population).
Economy and Labour Force
Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital is the largest employer in the city. Other large employers in Richmond Hill include the head offices of IT firm Compugen and retailer Staples Canada, as well as a production facility for the pharmaceutical company Apotex.
Government and Politics
Richmond Hill elects a mayor and six local councillors, for six wards. Residents also choose two deputy mayors, who also represent Richmond Hill on York Region’s council.
Richmond Hill’s city government handles services like recreation, libraries, fire services, and waste and recycling. York Region handles health, transit and social services.
Cultural facilities include the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts and Richmond Hill Heritage Centre, a museum. Located on the Oak Ridges Moraine, Phyllis Rawlinson Park features an interpretative centre and historic house.