Many of the streets in Leaside were named after the area’s early settlers, politicians or those involved in the development of the railway and industries. Astor Avenue, a short street in South Leaside, seems not to fall into the familiar pattern of other Leaside streets. It’s quite possible, though, that the street was named for John Jacob Astor of the famous fur trader family, who lost his life during the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912.
The first John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) had emigrated from Germany when he was only 20 years old. He worked as a baker’s boy and pedlar, and in a music store in New York until 1787 when he realized he could make more money shipping furs to China and Europe, often on his own vessels. John Sr. lost one of his trading posts at Fort Mackinac to the British during the War of 1812. When he died in 1848, he was the richest man in North America, having invested heavily in real estate.
John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912) also worked as a businessman, real estate investor, inventor (of a bicycle brake), and writer, and served as a lieutenant-colonel during the Spanish-American War (1898).
In 1912, John and his second wife, Madeleine Talmage Force Astor, pregnant with their son, sailed with 2,200 other passengers on the Titanic’s maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, passing icebergs south of Newfoundland. Seven hundred and six survived, many of them women and children, including Madeleine and her infant son. But John Jacob Astor IV drowned during the sinking of the Titanic. He was the richest man on the ship, worth an estimated $8 million.
Jeanne Hopkins spent most of her life in the historic Henry Farm community of North York. She realized her passion for local history in the Canadiana department of the North York Public Library, where she worked for 27 years. She is the author of many articles and five books of local history.