by Susy Alexandre February 14, 2022

Quick Historical Facts About Richmond Hill You Should Know

Known as one of the fastest-growing and friendliest towns in Ontario, it’s no surprise that home-seekers, developers and investors have all set their sights on Richmond Hill, Ontario. 

And while the future possibilities for this town on the fast-track are endless, Richmond Hill is also rich in local history. So let’s take a step back and explore some of the most interesting historical facts about the thriving municipality known as “the city above Toronto.”

Image credit: Richmond Hill Historical Society

Richmond Hill is located on the traditional territory of the Huron Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg

With rich historical roots and a storied history, you might wonder, “what Indigenous land is Richmond Hill situated on?”

Since the end of the last Ice Age, the area of Richmond Hill has been home to Indigenous peoples – dating back to about 12,000 years ago. Per historical records, the first recorded Indigenous site was situated in the Oak Ridges Moraine, and is estimated to have been built between 1280 and 1320 CE.

Indigenous peoples, treaties in Richmond Hill  

The settlement of Indigenous peoples in Richmond Hill and the ensuing treaties signed in its early days are part of the fabric of this community, where it has become a pledge to increase awareness and education on land history. 

A brief timeline of early settlement and treaties: 

  • Early 1600’s: French explorers arrive in the area and come upon the Huron-Wendat, whose land spanned roughly from Georgian Bay to the northern shore of Lake Ontario
  • Between 1634 and 1642: widespread epidemics depleted much of their population, with the Haudenosaunee dispersing many of the Huron-Wendat, with many others choosing to join them as they settled in areas north of Lake Ontario
  • Late 1600’s: the Haudenosaunee settlements would be left behind, just as the Anishinaabeg started to migrate from the Lake Superior area and into the abandoned Haudenosaunee land
  • 1805: Mississauga chiefs and colonial leaders sign Treaty 13, known as the Toronto Purchase – transferring roughly 250,800 acres from the Mississauga to the ruling colonial government, with the exchange including 10 shillings and fishing rights for the Mississauga chiefs and their peoples
  • 1923: the remaining land on the city’s northeast corner is allocated according to the Williams Treaties, signed in this year

In 2021, Richmond Hill adopted land acknowledgment and joined the UNESCO coalition of Inclusive Municipalities as part of an ongoing commitment towards broadening the community’s scope of inclusion, equity and diversity. 

This land acknowledgement, developed in consultation with First Nations and Indigenous Communities, acted as a major move toward recognizing the historical roots and footprint of the Indigenous peoples, while simultaneously demonstrating active efforts to promote respect and future education on land history.

The official land acknowledgement reads: 

“I/we would like to acknowledge that Richmond Hill is situated on lands covered by Treaty 13 and the Williams Treaties. Over several centuries, Richmond Hill has been traversed by many First Nations and is currently home to Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island.”

Image credit: Richmond Hill Public Library

Settlement and development in Richmond Hill 

In a bid to secure Upper Canada from the encroaching French and American forces – roads were commissioned by John Graves Simcoe, the acting Lieutenant-Governor. 

Of the three roads commissioned, Yonge Street was completed in 1796 and worked to connect Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. Development on Yonge Street moved quickly, with all lots becoming open for settlement immediately upon completion. The future Richmond Hill was divided up with the land to the west of Yonge being named as Vaughan Township and the land to the east becoming Markham Township. 

Loyalists, Pennsylvania-Germans and British immigrants looking to farm the land would be some of the first settlers to the area, as well as a small few African-Americans fleeing enslavement. Beyond the ample land used for farming, some early villages established in the area included Richmond Hill, Dollar, Langstaff and Temperanceville.

Being situated between major townships, Richmond Hill struggled to retain its dwindling population and find opportunities for new business and growth. In 1912, two greenhouse businesses would open in the area, and by the 1930’s, the community of Richmond Hill took on the title of “Rose Capital of Canada”. This sparked ongoing growth and expansion for the area, which was reincorporated in 2019 as a city, priming the region for ongoing and future investment.

Image credit: Elections Canada Online

Economy in Richmond Hill 

One of the largest employers in Richmond Hill is the Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital, with other major employers including top IT firm head offices, retailer Staples Canada head office and Apotex pharmaceutical company’s production facility. 

The city of Richmond Hill is comprised of a multitude of thriving businesses, with a significant number of its residents employed in the sectors of business, finance, administration and management. 

The city is a leader in the following business sectors: professional, scientific and technical services, the health industry, the finance and insurance sector, as well as information and cultural industries and for those looking to do business here, the city offers a service called RH Concierge to assist “business owners, developers, and investors with a formal service to help facilitate the development application process through the convenience of a single point of contact”.

These are a few quick facts to illustrate the vast opportunity and support this community offers those looking to do and invest in local business: 

  • 126 languages are spoken across a growing population of 206,883 
  • The city is comprised of one of Canada’s most educated workforces: over 50% of residents are University graduates and over 77% have had post-secondary studies
  • Situated for convenience and accessibility, Richmond Hill is located at the center of the Greater Toronto Area, with several points of access via transit systems, major highways, ports and airports to facilitate residents getting around
  • Richmond Hill also recently won the Gold Excellence Award from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) for Guide for New Businesses brochure in 2016, amongst several other awards and noted achievements over the years

You can check out some first-person testimonials from local business people in the community here.

Cultural life in Richmond Hill

When considering a move, you might be asking yourself, “Is Richmond Hill, Ontario, a good place to live?”

When it comes to community life, the city of Richmond Hill is known for its rich cultural diversity. 

According to the 2016 census, the three most prominent local ethnicities include Chinese, Iranian and Italian, with a large percentage of residents being of South Asian descent. 

The city of Richmond Hill celebrates its diversity and prides itself on fostering a community rooted in inclusivity. Cultural celebrations, programs and opportunities for engagement are offered within the community and posted on the city’s official website. Culture and the arts are connected via local events, festivals, exhibits and programs designed to bring residents from all walks of life together.

Image credit: City of Richmond Hill

The Richmond Hill David Dunlap Observatory 

The Richmond Hill David Dunlap Observatory (RHDDO) is the largest telescope in all of Canada and is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. Located at 123A Hillsview Drive, the observatory was first opened in 1935 and serves multiple purposes in both the recreational and academic fields. 

The observatory serves as an active research centre for the University of Toronto’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Department, where important ongoing studies and experimental programs are helping to further our reach and understanding of the universe.   

From the time of its opening to present-day, the David Dunlap Observatory has been a leader in Canadian astronomical research. Of its many achievements, the RHDDO is credited with having the first evidence that Cygnus X-1 was a black hole. 

A popular destination for visitors and residents alike, the RHDDO is also frequently used in film, advertising and television. 

The RHDDO Master Plan is a proposal for further development and rejuvenation of the site, approved in 2016, and includes plans for the Richmond Hill David Dunlap Observatory Park. 

The RHDDO Master Plan will be implemented in phases, with the “early priority projects” to commence and run from 2021 to 2028 and include initial projects such as: 

  • Restoration of heritage properties
  • Woodlot restoration
  • Trail system – interim trails
  • Park entrances and wayfinding signage 
  • Star path illuminating pathway
  • Playground and water feature element
  • Picnic area and covered pavilions 

Per the city’s official website:

“David Dunlap Observatory Park will be one of the preeminent public parks in the Greater Toronto Area, where visitors come to see Canada’s historic observatory, celebrate the stars and enjoy acres of natural parkland. It will be a treasured place that embodies discovery, education, sustainability and inclusion and, in so doing, forms part of the identity of Richmond Hill.”

The History of the Richmond Hill Name 

Incorporated in 1872, where it transitioned from the status of village to township, Richmond Hill only officially became a city in March of 2019, when it changed its name from “Town of Richmond Hill” to the “City of Richmond Hill. 

But you may be wondering, “why is Richmond Hill called Richmond Hill?”

Official accounts of the origin of the name vary, with the city’s website referencing the Duke of Richmond as a possible namesake. 

As the city of Richmond Hill’s official website notes:

“Early in the twentieth century, several large greenhouse operations were built in Richmond Hill, while rose growing turned the City into the “rose capital” of Canada. In the 1920’s, village council adopted the motto of the Duke of Richmond, for whom the City may have been named. A local artist and carriage painter, William Ashford Wright, created a City crest that included elements of the Duke of Richmond’s coat of arms and roses.”

However, Wikipedia cites one of the city’s prominent early settler families, and by 1801 the area was known as Miles’ Hill, after Abner Miles and his son James Miles. 

According to Wikipedia:

“Sometime in the 1820s, Miles’ Hill was renamed Richmond Hill. The oft repeated story is that it was so named after a visit to the area by Governor General of British North America Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond on July 13, 1819.[13] However, another well repeated story is that the area’s first schoolteacher, Benjamin Barnard, was from a Richmond Hill in England, and taught all his classes the folk song The Lass of Richmond Hill because he was nostalgic for his old home. The popularity of the song with locals may account for the new name. Most authorities, including the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names report the honouring of Charles Lennox as the origin of the name.”

With so much to see and do in Richmond Hill, you might also be curious to know about local schools, business opportunities and more from this thriving and diverse community. Check out our Richmond Hill Community Profile for more information. 

Curious to know more about Richmond Hill – and the many other communities that Your Community Realty serves? Check out our Community Profile page for more information and be sure to sign up for our New Listing Notifications today!


Curious to know more about Richmond Hill – and the many other communities that Your Community Realty serves? Check out our Community Information page for more information and active local listings today!

Local Office

8854 Yonge Street

Richmond Hill, ON, L4C 0T4

Office: (905) 731-2000

Fax: (905) 886-7556


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