Robert Woods Prittie
(Club Founder, Builder & First President)
Robert Woods Prittie was born in Toronto in 1849, the son of a city alderman and dry goods merchant. By the time he was fifteen both his parents and most of his siblings had passed away. In 1864 he accompanied his older brothers to Buffalo where they enlisted in the Union Army in order to collect the $500 cash bounty. The Prittie boys fought in a few of the major battles and two of them were killed. Robert was luckier and at the end of the war was able to return to Toronto.
He invested his hard earned cash into a dry goods business travelling through out southern Ontario delivering goods. It was during this period that he developed a deep affection for the immigrant farmers he meet. By the mid 1870’s Prittie’s interest in immigration and settlements had turned westward - to the territory soon to become the province of Manitoba.
Robert started an agency that facilitated the movement of settlers from Toronto to the new “city” of Winnipeg. This was before the construction of the CPR and the only path to the new Canadian West was through the heart of the U.S. mid west. Prittie would rent trains - ten, fifteen, twenty cars long. These trains would carry hundreds of settlers by way of Chicago, Milwaukee, north and west to the banks of the Red River. A boat trip brought them to Winnipeg where they rented wagons that took them to their new settlements. Between 1877 and 1880 without any government help Robert moved more than 10,000 people to Manitoba. Because of Robert and a couple of men like him the western territories
became part of Canada. For this he is a Canadian hero and yet there are no statues to honour this man. His contribution to the settlement of Canada’s west has now been largely forgotten.
Robert’s love of the west and of the hard working immigrant farmers who had settled in these territories lasted a lifetime. He built two small hospitals in Alberta to bring much needed medical care to isolated rural communities. He wrote long letters to Government ministers including the Prime Minister on the state of western settlement, the plight of immigrants and how he felt things could be improved.
By the mid 1880’s Robert was married and raising a family in Toronto. He became an expert in real estate transactions and speculation. In the late 1890’s he became famous for his purchases during a Treasurer’s land sale in Toronto’s Junction. During these unreserved sales Robert bought up most of the property in what is now the Bloor west district - the property bounded by Keele, Jane, Bloor and Annette streets. Over 200,000 running feet of frontage at a penny a running foot - a $20,000 investment. Over the next decade as real estate prices steadily improved Robert slowly sold off these properties netting himself a million dollar profit. No income taxes in those days - he got to keep the whole thing.
In the early 1900’s most of the land in the Roncesvalles area of Toronto was owned by the York County Loan & Savings Company. After a national scandal the company was forced into receivership and it’s land holdings were gradually sold to pay off the company’s creditors. Recognising another golden opportunity Robert moved into the district purchasing the former home of York Loan’s president - Westlawn - #1High Park Blvd. and for the rest of his life worked diligently with the receiver - National Trust - to develop the community.
Robert’s efforts led to the opening of the High Park Presbyterian church in the spring of 1910 and then to the building of the High Park Curling & Lawn Bowling Club in the fall of 1911. These two institutions were to be the backbone of the new community and although development was delayed somewhat by the outbreak of WWI, the high aspirations of Robert and his partners at National Trust - Joseph Flavelle included- were quickly realized once the war ended. Robert Prittie passed away in January of 1928 at the age of seventy-nine.