Trafalgar – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Most people are familiar with Trafalgar Road but it could just as easily been named Postsville Road. That’s because the early name for the community of Trafalgar was Postsville. The Post Family settled at the intersection of Trafalgar Road and Dundas Street sometime shortly after 1807. Ephriam Post owned two lots #12 NDS (North Dundas Street) on the north east corner and lot 13 SDS on the south west corner. He built an inn on lot 13 and Posts Inn was a busy place serving as a change house for horse drawn stagecoaches that used to operate along Dundas Street. Hiram Post took over the Inn in 1841. The community was known as Posts Corners from 1815 until 1851 when it became Postsville. By the time of the 1877 County Atlas below it had been renamed Trafalgar. The points of interest in the story below have been circled on the map.

The community grew slowly and by 1869 had about 80 residents. There were two hotels, a butcher shop, a grist mill and carriagemaker as well as a blacksmith. It was in 1834 while James Thompson owned the north west corner of Governor’s Road (Dundas Street) and 7th line (Trafalgar Road) that small lots began to be sold for homes along both street frontages. These few homes formed the nucleus of the hamlet of Post’s Corners. The house just north of the corner was built around 1850.

The house next door is one of my personal favourites because although it is simple, and lacks extensive ornamentation, it has a quite unique look to it. The clipped gable on the front might be the only one of its type in the hundreds of historic homes featured in blogs so far. The style is Queen Anne and it was built around 1890 for Dr. Johnstone and his family while he worked as the veterinary inspector for Halton County. He was also the deputy reeve of Trafalgar Township. He died September 3, 1959 and was buried in Munn’s Cemetery where his wife is also interred. The family had been supporting members of Munns Methodist Church. This property is designated for condos but the current plan calls for the preservation of this house. I hope it is restored and put to good use.

James Appelbe came to Canada in 1815 from Ireland and by 1831 had married and settled in Postsville. For a few years he taught school at Munns Corners before becoming a merchant and postmaster. Locally, Appelbe was known as The Squire and was a justice of the peace. He also served as one of the first directors of The Bank of Toronto. Appelbe eventually acquired most of the land around Trafalgar and was one of its best known residents. His 1850 home used to stand closer to the intersection but it has been restored and moved by Great Gulf Homes after it was nearly destroyed by vandals. The house a four full length windows that reach from the floor to the ceiling on the main floor giving it a unique look and plenty of light.

Lot 12 on the North East corner was patented to Hugh Howard in 1807 and by 1820 he was able to build the wood frame house that stood on the property until just recently. John Clements bought the property in 1831 and when he passed away in 1873 it went to his son Matthew. The 1877 county atlas shows the property as M. Clements with two houses on it. This earlier house was lived in recently enough that the picture below shows a window air conditioner. By 2013 when the Cultural Heritage Assessment of Trafalgar Road was conducted the roof had caved in as had some of the walls. It has since been completely demolished.

The second farmhouse on the Clements property was built in the 1870s, likely by Matthew. This stucco farmhouse has been vacant long enough that the front yard is overgrown with hawthorn and other first generation regrowth trees that mask it from the road.

John Clements also owned the property across the road in the 1850’s but by 1877 had sold it to James Morrison who lived here until 1907. The house has belonged to the Bentley family since then but now sits empty waiting to find out what fate the developers have planned for it.

An old blacksmith shop still stands at the corner of Trafalgar Road and Burnhamthorpe Road but it is well on its way to becoming just another foundation in a field. Which means that when the developers arrive in a few years it’ll be gone completely.

John Jones owned the property with the blacksmith shop in the 1880’s and the family house still stands next door. It looks to have been recently abandoned and could be restored easily enough and I wonder what’s behind the siding? Does that gable window have the typical pointed arch of a gothic revival home?

Daniel Munn arrived in 1803 and took possession of the lot at the corner of sixth line and Dundas Street and began clearing his farm. That same year he set aside a small corner of the lot for a church but Methodist preachers would continue to hold meetings in the family home until 1844 when the first frame building was erected. A cemetery was opened across the road and in 1898 the present brick building was consecrated. In 1925 the congregation voted to join the United Church of Canada. When Dundas Street was widened in the 1970’s the church was moved 40 feet back from the road.

Munns Corners cemetery has a lot of older markers as it was also the primary cemetery for Trafalgar. Munn’s Church can be seen across the road.

Daniel Munns grave marker has faded to the point of being unidentifiable but you can still note the names of many of the pioneers on the county atlas above.

The south west corner of Trafalgar is being developed with high rise condos and the remaining farmlands are all owned by developers. It doesn’t seem likely that very much of the original community will remain in ten years time.

Also see our feature Ghost Towns of Halton Region

Google Maps Link: Trafalgar

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What’s In Your Ravine?

Sunday, May 9, 2021

When the last ice age retreated about 12,000 years ago each of the rivers and streams that drain into Lake Ontario were swelled with meltwater. The Rouge River, Don River, Humber River and Credit River along with all the little creeks in between carved deep ravines. These are much wider than the modern rivers that flow through their valleys. After Hurricane Hazel in 1954 these ravines were transformed into conservation areas and parks. They have become greenbelts and migration corridors for the local wildlife. With ongoing travel restrictions it is important to remember that there is some good hiking with plenty of wildlife available right in our own part of the city. This post features a selection of the plants and animals we saw in a few hours on Saturday, May 1, 2021 along a section of Etobicoke Creek.

Most ravines will have more than one type of habitat and you should explore each one, slowly. Rivers and their banks will have a distinct group of plants and animals which they may share with local wetlands. Grasslands provide habitats to pollinators and small birds while new and old growth forests will each have their own distinct species. We customarily head for the water first, but move quietly or you might not see the heron, if there is one, until it’s in flight.

Mallard ducks and Canada Geese can be found almost anywhere there’s water. However, there’s lots of other types of waterfowl that you can watch for. The picture below shows a female (left) and male (right) Merganser. Their young will feed themselves a day or two after hatching and will be able to fly after about ten weeks.

An American Mink came running along the opposite creek bank and down a fallen branch to quietly slip into the water. After a moment it emerged with a small fish in its mouth which it then carried away out of sight.

As we watched, the mink returned and went back into the same quiet pool behind some larger rocks. After coming up a couple of times to catch a breath it eventually came out with another fish, this one a little smaller. The mink kits will still have their eyes closed and won’t be weaned for a few weeks yet. As soon as their teeth start to come in their mother will feed them small bits of ripped up fish or mouse to get them started on solid food. The kits will eat every 90 minutes or so which means she will need extra food intake herself to be able to supply the milk they require.

Last April 24th we witnessed a mother mink carrying her kits across Etobicoke Creek and into a den on the other side amongst the rocks. In all, we saw her carry four kits across the creek. The picture below was taken last year while she carried the first one. There’s lots more pictures of the other mink babies in our story Mink Kits.

As we were watching the mink fishing a small heron flew upstream and briefly rested in a tree before moving along. It landed in another tree a little farther upstream. It seemed likely that people using the trail would scare it and there was a reasonable chance it would come back our way, which it did. The Green Heron is smaller than other herons and has a short stalky neck that is usually drawn down toward the body. The green on their back and head is set off by the chestnut colour of their chest.

The grasslands, especially tall grass prairie areas support a wide variety of flowering plants and grasses which attract birds and pollinators. On a sunny day you might see one of several, harmless species of snakes taking advantage of the sun to regulate their body temperature. Garter Snakes give birth to a litter of 20-30 live young in the late summer. This little one was likely born last year and will have a life expectancy of two years in the wild. Garter Snakes are sometimes kept as pets and average ten year life spans in captivity.

Butterflies and moths can be spotted on most days. The picture below shows a Compton Tortoiseshell butterfly which finally rested long enough for a photo op.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbits were not known in Southern Ontario until about 1860. Rabbits never stray far from a hedgerow, woodpile or burrow where they can escape their many predators. This is known as edge habitat and prior to the settlers cutting the forests there weren’t any of these places where fields gave way to shrubs. Their slow migration north didn’t bring them to the Ottawa area until as recently as 1931. They molt twice per year and this one is in the middle of its spring molting.

Not everything you see in your ravine belongs there. Unfortunately invasive species have taken over some areas of our parks and ravines. They grow quickly and overtake the natural species and eventually choke them out. Dog-strangling Vines are a key example of an invasive species as they routinely choke out the milkweed our Monarch Butterflies need. Garlic Mustard, pictured below, is another invader which is doing overly well. Once it gets going, Garlic Mustard will choke out the Trilliums and Trout Lilies (Dog’s-toothed Violet).

The Mayapples are just starting to form the bud that will open into the flower. Plants with a single leaf won’t flower but the colony along this stretch of the creek is almost all female. They have a pair of leaves and a flower bud forming in between. This particular patch appeared to be mostly flowering this year. These plants grow in patches from a single rhizome and will be found in the same location year after year.

Violets are a large family of plants that have over 525 species. This time of the year they form a purple or blue carpet on the forest floor. Many violets are perennials which means that the plant will live for more than one year.

Experience has shown that almost every ravine in the GTA has both coyote and deer. The Etobicoke Creek is no exception. Although the local coyote didn’t make an appearance on this Saturday, the deer showed up in force. While walking a side trail a flash of white in the trees betrayed the presence of a White-tailed Deer. Upon closer examination a small herd of five was detected. Three of them went off along the ridge while the other two continued to browse. The pair are shown in the cover photo and the smaller of the two was very curious. It walked to within a few metres of where we were sitting as it casually munched leaves and grasses.

July 27, 2020 while taking an observation break, a fawn walked right up to us and pretty much said “Hello.” Its mother was nearby and called it back when she thought it was getting a little too curious. From the way the deer approached today, it was almost as if it was the same one with its mother and that it recognized a friendly acquaintance.

This male Hairy Woodpecker is in the process of digging some little snack out of a dead tree. The term “snag” applies to a standing dead tree and they make up an important part of the local ecosystem. They provide unobscured views for raptors such as the pair of hawks we saw circling high above at one point. Snags also provide homes for wood and bark boring beetles and their larvae. This is what attracts the woodpeckers and serves as a source of food for them. Small animals will nest in hollow snags and they’ll continue to serve as housing even after they fall.

Once you know where to look for Jack-in-the-pulpit you should be able to go back every spring and see the same plants. This is because they can grow from the same underground corm for up to 100 years. It’s quite possible that this little plant in the picture below will outlive everyone reading this article today.

This is just a sample of the types of things you can expect to see in almost any ravine, watercourse, or major park in the GTA. So, the question is, “What’s in your local ravine and when are you going exploring?”

Related blogs: Mink Kits, Etobicoke Creek Trail

Google Maps Link: Etobicoke Creek

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The C.N.E.

Sunday May 2. 2021

The Canadian National Exhibition (C.N.E.) started as an agricultural fair in 1846. It rotated between cities in Upper Canada and was hosted by Toronto in 1846, 1852, 1858 and again in 1878. The city decided it needed its own showcase and so the Industrial Exhibition was opened for the first time in 1879. There’s still one building from that original exhibition and several other interesting structures and monuments and so I went for a walk around the 192 acre site. Many buildings have come and gone on the grounds of the C.N.E. but its development can be traced roughly from the west end toward the east.

The first European uses of this piece of property date back to 1750 when the French built Fort Toronto, which was called Fort Rouille after 1752. The fort only lasted until July 1759 when the British were defeating the French. As their hold in North America was lost they evacuated the fort and then burned it. An obelisk monument was erected in 1887 to mark the site of the old fort. Excavations in 1979, 1980 and 1982 revealed many details of the fort and now the outline is marked by a cement walkway that can be seen in the picture below.

Following the Battle of York and the Rebellion of 1837 it was decided to build a new fort at Toronto. New Fort York was built in 1840-1841 and was later renamed Stanley Barracks. It was used by the British until 1870 when it was turned over to the Canadian Military. Troops were trained here for several wars in which Canada participated concluding with the Second World War after which the fort was no longer used by the military.

The archive picture below shows the fort with the C.N.E. buildings in the background. This picture was taken in 1931 and by the 1950’s all the buildings except the Officers Barracks, in the foreground, were demolished to create parking lots for the Exhibition.

The first annual Industrial Exhibition opened in 1879 and was graced by the arrival of Scadding Cabin. The cabin had been built in 1794 on the east side of The Don River and was later disassembled and moved to the grounds of the fair. This early act of preservation allowed the cabin to survive and today it is the oldest building in the city.

Fifteen permanent buildings were erected on the western end of the site between 1903 and 1912 while the eastern end was still used primarily for military purposes. Over the years all but five of these have been lost to fires or the construction of the Gardiner Expressway. The oldest of these is the Press Building which was completed in the Beaux-Arts style in 1904. It was originally used as the Administration Offices for the Exhibition until it was moved into the new Queen Elizabeth Building in 1957. After that the building played host to the media and the name was changed to The Press Building.

The Music Building was originally constructed as the Railways Building in 1907 and employed the Beaux-Arts Style that G. W. Gouinlock used on all twelve buildings except the fire hall. The building is made up of three 40 foot tall domes each 54 feet in diameter. The Horticultural Building was also completed in 1907 but is surrounded by a fence and temporary structures making it difficult to get a worthwhile picture.

In 1911 The Government Building was added, also constructed in the Beaux-Arts Style. It was originally used for government displays at the exhibition and later became the Arts, Crafts and Hobbies Building. It later served as barracks for Canadian soldiers during World War One. Since 1993 it has hosted Medieval Times where you can enjoy dinner and a nice jousting match.

The Fire Hall and Police Station were built in 1912 and remain in service as active detachments to this day. This was the last of the 15 permanent buildings and marked the year that the name was changed to the Canadian National Exhibition. These five remaining buildings were added to the heritage list in 1988 collectively as an historic site.

The Government of Ontario building was added in 1926 to provide permanent exhibition space for the province. This was transferred to Ontario Place in the 1970s and the building was largely vacant for a number of years except during the C.N.E. when it hosted displays. Since 2001 it has been home to Liberty Entertainment which has several banquet and ballrooms in the building.

In the 1920’s the eastern end of the park was under redevelopment and a new set of gates was planned. Work began in April 1927 and was completed in August. The plan called for a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Confederation and the gates were to be called the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Gates. However, on August 30, 1927 they were officially opened by two princes. When Edward, Prince of Wales and Prince George, Duke of Kent presided over the opening it was suitably renamed Princes’ Gates. It is also featured in the cover photo where the inscription Canadian National Exhibition 1879 – 1927 can be read.

The Shriners Peace Fountain started in 1930 as a memorial to a century of peace between Canada and The United States of America. The surrounding gardens and fountain were developed in 1958 by the Toronto Parks Department.

By the time the Horse Palace was built in 1931 the architectural style had shifted to Art Deco with its crisp clean lines. Originally the Toronto Police kept a mounted unit here during the C.N.E. and again during the Agricultural Winter Fair. Since 1968 there has been a permanent unit stationed here and in 2000 all of the Toronto Police Mounted Units were housed in this building.

A wooden entrance was built in 1895 to greet visitors who entered the park off of Dufferin Street, the main entrance at the time. In 1910 it was demolished and a set of Beaux-Arts towers with a festive arch was constructed at the western entrance to the park to match the buildings. The archive picture below shows the gates during the First World War.

Unfortunately, it and several buildings were in the way of the Gardiner Expressway and so it was demolished in the 1950s. The parabolic arch that replaced it in 1956 will remind people of the more famous St. Louis Arch, however that one wasn’t built until 1963.

Between 1955 and 1985 the Shell Tower, later Bulova Tower, stood tall above the C.N.E. at 120 feet in height. It was closed in 1983 because of continued issues with the elevator and various other structural concerns. Two years later it was demolished to make way for the first Toronto Indy Course. Today we have a smaller clock tower which stands behind the cherry trees which are just starting to blossom.

I enjoyed a two hour exploration of the grounds of the C.N.E. but when the Ex is actually on, it takes much more than that to see everything it has to offer.

Related Blogs: Battle of York, Rebellion of 1837, Scadding Cabin, Ontario Place

Google Maps Link: C.N.E.

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The First Seven Years

April 25, 2021

Seven years ago this weekend we published our first story on WordPress using the website http://www.hikingthegta.com. On April 20th we had been exploring the area around Finch and Islington and the following week it was released to universal acclaim. Both readers loved it, lol. It hinted at the combination of nature and history that the blog would evolve into. During that first year we covered most of the Humber River from Lake Ontario north. Click here to see more of that initial story called Humber River at Finch and Islington. Hiking the GTA with the idea of presenting “Places to hike and things to see in and around the Greater Toronto Area” had been born.

We published 50 stories that first year and added a Facebook Page on November 13th, 2014. The most popular story of the year turned out to be our feature on the long bridge that crosses Bayview Avenue. The bridge is currently out of service and although not quite that long it goes by the name of the Half-Mile Bridge.

2015 was our first full year and saw the release of a record 85 new stories. We covered The Credit River and large areas of Mississauga and Oakville during the year. That summer we featured the remains of the canal that was being built from Lake Simcoe to Newmarket. The project had been cancelled over a hundred years earlier as it neared completion. The Newmarket Ghost Canal was the most popular story of the year and has gone on to retain the top spot in the all time read count.

In 2015 we got one of our best Heron photos in Rockwood.

Another 80 stories were published in 2016 and we visited the former estate of Joseph Cawthra in Mississauga. The house survives as an outstanding example of Georgian Revival architecture but the grounds also feature much of the old landscaping including a walled garden and an abandoned pool. The land grant was Lot 10 and so the property became known as Lotten – The Cawthra Estate.

Our love of local history has surfaced in the series of stories called Ghost Towns of the GTA. These feature the remains of historical places and former communities from all over the area. Of the 59 blogs published in 2017 Palermo – Ghost Towns of the GTA was the most popular of all. The final residents of the home below provided a video they took the day they moved out. Quite remarkable.

Of the 66 features in 2018 we again had a Ghost Town story finish as the most popular. This time it was from the other end of the GTA in Markham, the former community of Ringwood. Many people remembered passing through there or eating in the diner. Ringwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA features more intact buildings than most of the other former communities we’ve covered.

Cardinals have an elaborate mating ritual in which the male feeds the female.

Every year we feature a couple of stories from outside the GTA from as far away as Taiwan. In 2019, for the first time, one of these road trips finished as the most popular post of the year out of the 61 we published. The story of the London Asylum for the Insane features many buildings that won’t likely survive the redevelopment of the property.

In 2019 we had the experience of watching a hawk take a squirrel out of a tree for its dinner.

The Covid pandemic has a huge impact on Hiking the GTA during 2020 as we were restricted from travelling for most of the year. We still published 61 stories by looking for creative places to explore near home. A morning walk along Jarvis Street admiring the architecture in the old mansions of one of Toronto’s early wealthy districts produced the most popular story of the year. Gooderham House and The Keg Mansion are both examined in The Mansions of Jarvis Street.

In 2020 while we were visiting some secluded areas we were still able to photograph some interesting wildlife such as this mother mink carrying her kits across Etobicoke Creek.

That brings us to 2021 which is just a third of the way through and has seen 18 new stories published. Covid continues to restrict travel and we’ve been able to publish several stories that were photographed while restrictions were eased last year. The most popular story so far has been about a former community near Milton called Omagh – Ghost Towns of the GTA. Where it stands at the end of the year remains to be seen.

Thanks to everyone who has helped make Hiking the GTA a success over the past seven years and here’s to many future explorations.

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Log Cabins

April 18, 2021

When a pioneer arrived to start to farm on their new land grant they were faced with a few government requirements. In order to take possession (or hold patent on the land) they had to clear and fence five acres, build a dwelling of at least 16 feet by 20 feet and also open the road allowance that passed along the edge of their property. They had twelve months to complete all this in what was usually 200 acres of solid virgin forest. Fortunately, the means to build the home were gained through the clearing of the land. Therefore most of the first homes were log cabins. Families lived in these homes until they were able to build larger brick homes, sometimes many years and several children later.

The oldest building in Toronto is one of these original log cabins. It was built in 1794 by John Scadding who owned the land grant on the east side of the Don River between Danforth Road and Lake Ontario. He lived here until 1796 when he returned to England and eventually selling it in 1818. Until 1879 it served as a farm outbuilding and then it was offered the the York Pioneer and Historical Society. They moved the cabin to the site of the first Toronto Industrial Exhibition, now the C.N.E. Scadding Cabin is also featured in the cover photo of this story.

Over the years we’ve presented many other log homes in our stories. Below you’ll find pictures of 16 of them along with a brief description. More details about the homes and their locations can be found in the links presented with each house. The question is, which one is closest to you and when will you check it out?

Augustus Jones originally surveyed Yonge Street and then in 1795 he was commissioned to survey Scarborough township. Augustus Jones House is said to be the oldest house in Scarborough and the second oldest in Toronto dating from 1795.

George and Mary Lyon were married in England in 1868 and sailed for Canada that same summer.  They bought 50 acres of land on Trafalgar Road near the Oakville Townhall.  This cabin dates to about 1810 and was already standing on the property when they took possession. The George Lyon home was used to raise a family of 9 children.

Daniel and Elizabeth Stong took possession of their lot in 1816 and built a log cabin where they lived for 16 years and raised 7 children. The Stong Log Cabin stands in its original location where it forms the heart of Black Creek Pioneer Village.

John and Esther Leslie built this log home in 1824 and it was moved to its present location in 1994 to make way for development of the Leslie Farm in Mississauga. The Streetsville Historical Society are the current owners of the Leslie Log Home.

This log cabin was built in 1830 and occupied by a lifelong bachelor named William Porteus McCowan. His family were among the earliest settlers in Scarborough and the McCowan Log Cabin is now part of the collection at Thomson Memorial Park.

In 1835 George Ludlow and his wife Francis moved to Trafalgar and built this log cabin which stands at the end of Burnhamthorpe Road in Glenorchy. The Ludlow Log Home is certainly in the poorest condition of any in this collection.

The Bradley Museum Log House was built in 1850 near Mono Mills. It was moved to the mouth of The Credit River in 1967 where it again faced demolition. It has been a working building at Bradley House Museum since 2007.

The Erindale Log Home was built in 1855 and moved to its present location on Jarvis Street in the 1970’s where it continues to serve as a private residence.

There’s also a half-dozen log homes that we’ve visited that are not dated and many of them are no longer in their original locations.

The Halton Region Museum has an interesting log home because it has a front gable with a small window. This would have made this home much better lit inside than the average log cabin.

The Rotary Club of Don Mills moved this pioneer home to Sunnybrook Park and dedicated it on July 16, 1975 to the people of Toronto. The dedication plaque quotes John Milton from Paradise Lost “Accuse Not Nature, She Hath Done Her Part, Do Thou But Thine.”

The log cabin at Marylake has had some additions to each end as well as a small entry porch.

The Puterbaugh Log House has been moved from its original location in Maple and now is preserved in the Pickering Museum Village. It originally had a second floor as evidenced in the row of log ends that runs just above the door. These would have supported the floor for the upper level.

The Frank Robson Log House is noted for the large timbers used in construction. It was restored in 1929 when it was still a cabin in the woods outside of the town of Maple.

A house similar to the original Ball Log Cabin home is now being used to display the typical lifestyle of a settler and a spinning wheel can be seen through the window. This one is a little outside the GTA at Ball’s Falls.

Many log cabins were hidden behind a veneer of bricks, wood siding, shingles and later even insulbrick in an attempt to make them look more modern and help to insulate them against the winter. One feature of these homes which helps to identify them is the window structure. There will never be a window that passes between a main floor and an end gable. This is because the upper logs are required to be intact for building stability. The Philip Echkardt Log house in Unionville has been covered in siding. It is said to have been built around 1800 and is the oldest home in the Markham Heritage Inventory. In the 5 years since the picture below was taken, the siding and two roof dormers have been removed and the house restored.

There’s also a new group of log cabins that have nothing to do with pioneers or land clearing. They stem from a sense of nostalgia, perhaps mistakenly thinking they represent a simpler time . In 1936 Robert Clifford and Edith Gamble built a cottage on Bond Lake which is one of these.

Log cabins let us quickly imagine the lives of the pioneers and the harsh conditions they had to endure. In a society where developers are king and historical designations are almost meaningless we’re fortunate to still have several of these relics scattered throughout the GTA and surrounding areas.

Google Maps link: Scadding Cabin

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L’Amoreaux – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The farming community of L’Amoreaux developed along Finch Avenue after it was founded in 1816 by a French Huguenot family of that name. It never gained much in population but it served a large number of farms in the area. There are still a few original houses as well as an early church and the well known Zion Schoolhouse.

With the ongoing lockdown restricting travel I chose this location to investigate because it could be reached on my lunch from work. I’ve included two County Atlas images which each show the points of interest on their respective sides of Highway 404. The map below shows the Scarborough side of town with two houses marked as well as the cemeteries for the Wesleyan Methodists and the English Church (Anglican).

Christie’s Wesleyan Methodist church stood where the parking lot for Bridlewood Mall is today. This historic picture from around 1896 was found on the Scarborough Historical Society web site. The congregation formed in 1846 and lasted until it was absorbed into the United Church of Canada in 1925. The building was moved to Buttonville in 1938 leaving the cemetery beside it stranded in a field.

A cemetery was opened on Isaac Christie’s lot beside the church with the first burial coming after Permelia Roy passed away on January 10, 1849. The cemetery was closed in the 1930’s and in 1975 was incorporated into a little memorial garden in the mall parking lot. Unfortunately, I noticed that there has been some recent vandalism and at least one stone has been knocked over. There’s around 100 people interred in what is perhaps one of the least sedate of cemeteries in the city.

Isaac Christie along with Isabella Graeme bought lot 33 in Concession 4 in 1836 after emigrating from Ireland. Both are buried in the little cemetery on their farm and their grave markers have been incorporated into a wall for preservation. Several later marble stones still stand throughout the little garden.

Anglican church services were held in the L’Amoreaux log school from 1832 until 1840. A small frame church was dedicated in 1841 and served the community until 1935 when it was destroyed by a fire. The congregation temporarily moved into the Christie Methodist Church and in 1937 began work on a new building. When the city expanded to swallow the little community, they found their building was too small. A new church including senior apartments, seen in the background of the picture below, was dedicated in 1978. After that, the 1937 church was demolished.

Glendinning House was built in 1870 and originally faced onto Pharmacy Avenue when it was a working farm house. It mixes several different architectural styles into what is commonly referred to as Upper Canadian Vernacular. It blends Gothic, Georgian and Victorian traditions which likely marks the various additions that the family made to the home as more room was needed. The house was designated as having historical and architectural value and a notice was served to the developers that they had to incorporate it into the subdivision that was planned for the farm.

The Risebrough house was built around 1860 in the common one and a half story design with a gable and window over the front door. The original cladding has been covered over with aluminum siding but it is believed that the rear kitchen may be the original home. It is currently being used by an Islamic congregation who might lose the right to use the building for religions ceremonies due to problems with parking.

Half of L’Amoreaux was in Scarborough Township and the other part in North York. The three places of interest from the west end of town are circled in green on the County Atlas below. These are the Primitive Methodist Church, Zion School and the property of Sam Kennedy.

The Primitive Methodists built their church on the west end of town and replaced it in 1873 with this buttressed brick building with simple gothic revival accents around the windows. The church is still known as the Zion Methodist Church although it ceased that function many years ago. The building was empty in 1971 when the city acquired it to be used as a community event space.

School section #1 was on the east end of L’Amoreaux and was part of the Scarborough School system while School Section # 12 was on the North York end of town. The cover photo shows the front side of this 1869 building which replaced an earlier school from the 1830’s. The school closed in 1955 and was little altered during its years of teaching. One obvious addition is at the back of the school building where a new chimney was added against the wall when the wood stove was replaced with a furnace for heating. The school sat empty for three decades before it was restored in 1986 and opened as a museum showcasing school in 1910. This is the only one room school in North York that is still in its original location and hasn’t been converted to a residence.

Green Meadows was built as an estate house for John Angus McDougald who made his fortune in the world of high finance. The estate was built in 1950 when the surrounding area was all still in use for farming. Like many of the large estates of the wealthy that were built in the early to mid-20th century this one was set up for horses and various equestrian pursuits such as fox hunting. In spite of its recent construction, the house has been listed for heritage purposes as an example of a country estate.

This aerial picture from 1971 shows the outbuildings that survived the onslaught of development on the neighbouring farms and all but 19 acres of Green Meadows. The last 19 acres was sold for development after 1996. All the out buildings were removed and houses built surrounding the mansion.

The former community of L’Amoreaux is remembered in these few buildings and there’s also a park system that looks like it should be explored at some time in the near future.

Google Maps Link: Zion Schoolhouse

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The Reesors – Pioneers of the GTA

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Christian Reesor was born in Pennsylvania in 1747 to Anabaptist Mennonite parents who had landed in the New World in 1739. The family had moved to Pennsylvania for the promise of free land to escape religious persecution. Their pacifist faith didn’t allow them to bear arms and so they were neutral during the American Revolution. A new type of persecution followed and soon Christian planned to move to York County. He sent his son Peter to evaluate the area for suitable farms. Then, he waited until his father had passed away at 91 before finally leaving the USA. In 1804 he settled on Lot 14, Concession 10 in Markham Township and by 1877 the family owned considerable land on the west side of the tenth line. The school, the Reynolds house and the Wesleyan Methodist Church are all circled.

Sadly, Christian was killed on March 26, 1806 when they were still chopping trees to clear the land. A tree fell on him and he died almost instantly. He was laid to rest in small section of the family farm. When his wife Fanny passed away on the 10th of October 1818 she was buried in the same small family plot. Please note that this cemetery is on private land and I approached with the utmost respect for the family and their preserved history. Please respect it as well and enjoy it through the cover photo and this picture and avoid the temptation to visit in person. The small plaque on the stone was placed there during a three day family reunion in 2004 to mark the 200th anniversary of their shared heritage in Canada.

The original crown patent on Lot 10 was granted in 1801 to Isaac Westbrook who sold it to Christian Reesor in 1804. When he passed away in 1806 it went to his eldest son Peter. When he prepared to move to Cedar Grove, Peter transferred the property to his younger brother Christian. This was the Christian Reesor who in 1840 built the stone house that still stands on the property. There are also a number barns and out buildings on the property including a sawmill and a carding mill.

I really admire the Reesor family and their dedication to preserving and enjoying their family history. They have gone to great lengths to trace their family tree and contact as many of them as possible. The bicentennial plaque that we saw near the original family cemetery isn’t the only one that has been placed in the area. At the corner of Highway 7 and Reesor Road is a cairn that was placed there in 1930 to honour Christian and Fanny and their children. This came two years after the first publication of the family genealogy. They have kept the genealogy going and updated it in 1934, 1950, 1980 and 2000 before going digital for the 2004 bicentennial family gathering.

William Reynolds originally owned Lot 10 in concession10 where he started the Methodist Church which was originally known as Reynolds Chapel. In the 1851 census they are recorded as living in the one story stone house on Lot 9. The house was likely built in 1846 by Henry Reynolds. Today it is an heritage property that sits vacant in an area that is entirely surrounded by land that is part of Rouge Park. Like Cedarena just down the road it is hard to envision what the TRCA will do with these properties, if anything, before they become lost to decay or vandalism.

Locust Hill was founded in 1832 and named after the Locust trees that grew on the farm belonging to William and Esther (Reesor) Armstrong. By the time of the County Atlas pictured above The Reesor family also owned the property in Locust Hill where the Methodist Church had been built in 1856. The original church was replaced with the present brick structure in 1890. It joined the United Church in 1925 and now shares the building with the Baptist Church. A large cemetery sits across the road from the church and Reesor is a prominent name on the headstones there.

The original school building for this area stood on the west side of Reesor Road on lot 15. In the early 1860s it was decided that a new building was required and William Reesor, William Button and John Pike were appointed as trustees to purchase land for the new school. A 1/2 acre site was found on the northwest corner of lot 13 and the new school was built in 1864,

The school was closed in the 1960’s and converted to residential use. A second floor was built inside the structure and the windows were radically altered to accommodate it. Today it belongs to the Toronto Region Conservation Authority who plan to restore it to it’s original beauty. All the two-toned brick work around the windows and on the quoins was painted over making the school quite drab.

The oldest son Peter Reesor had travelled to the area to look for land in 1796 and returned with his parents as a young married man. Along with his wife Ester, their two daughters, and infant son he took up land on Lot 4 in Concession 9 in what became Cedar Grove. The county Atlas shows extensive Reesor holdings on the west side of Cedar Grove. Peter’s lot is circled in green as are the two Mennonite Churches on Reesor properties.

Locust Hill used to have a string of heritage properties along the south side of the street west of the railway tracks. The 1885 Nightswander Hotel stood into the 2000s before being lost and this 1872 dwelling that was associated with the Nightswander family is all but lost as well.

Today the Reesor family continues the 200 year old operation of a farm just south of Steeles avenue in Toronto which is said to be the only operating farm within the city limits. So, the Reesors were some of the first farmers in the area and continue to be some of the last ones too. Kudos to the family for preserving their pioneer heritage so well.

Links to Cedar Grove and Cedarena

Google Maps link: School Section 21

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Ghost Towns of Peel Region

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Peel County has changed over the years since it was created, even taking on the name Regional Municipality of Peel. Some communities were founded that flourished and others that have failed. As time goes on and developers do their work some of these former communities are being eliminated, all except for a ghost of the original community. This blog collects 9 of the ones that we have visited and arranges them in alphabetical order. Each has a picture that represents the community as well as a brief description. The link for each will take you to a feature article on the community which has the local history as well as pictures of any surviving architectural features. At the end of each feature article is a google maps link in case you should wish to explore for yourself someday. Future companion blogs in this series will cover the ghost towns of Halton Region, York Region, and the City of Toronto.

Barbertown is the site of an old mill that is still operating. It has been clad over, hiding its original stone construction. The mill is no longer powered by water and the old sluice gate has been filled in. A tree is growing where the water once ran and it has taken a solid hold on the old crank assembly.

It is common to find an old church standing beside a graveyard. Boston Mills has its old school in its graveyard. That is quite unusual. The railway through town has been closed and turned into a hiking trail and the group of small cottages that once stood on the end of the golf course are falling in on themselves.

Britannia still has several original buildings although like the Gardner home below some no longer stand in their original locations. This 1840’s house has been moved about a kilometer south on Hurontario Street.

Burnhamthorpe reached a maximum of about 100 people in the 1870’s and then began to decline. Several houses and an old church remain and the one shown below was built in 1882. Between 1897 and 1912 it served as a store and the community post office.

Dixie was a small community where each church denomination was too small to afford their own building. The solution was to get together and build a chapel that they all could share. Later they would each grow large enough to erect their own church building and move out of the Union Chapel.

Humber Grove was built in the scenic hollow around Duffy’s Lane and the Humber River. When Hurricane Hazel flooded the rivers in the GTA the government developed a flood control plan that would have built a dam north of the community. Since the valley would have been flooded the existing houses were bought up and removed. The dam was never built and now Humber Grove is now a community of streets and bridge abutments with no residents.

Malton isn’t a true ghost town because there’s still a thriving town, just not the original town where 500 people lived. After the community declined it was overrun by the airport and its associated sprawl. It still has some vintage homes and interestingly enough the empty ones have the windows boarded up and then painted to look like windows.

Mt. Charles is another community that was over-run by the airport and it’s supporting industries. Until recently there were several other buildings, including the blacksmith shop but these have been demolished. John Dale’s house, below, and a few others still survive, as does the cemetery.

Palestine was founded in 1823 but never grew beyond a church, school and a few houses. At one time the Etobicoke Creek ravine held a wastewater treatment plant that has also been removed.

There are still several ghost towns in Peel that we haven’t photographed yet and we’re looking forward to exploring them one day.

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The Drug Trading Company

Monday, March 15, 2021

Todays post is evidence that you need to keep your eyes open when you’re driving around. On my lunch I decided to drive through the area of the former community of Purpleville to see if there was a potential pioneer community story. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a vehicle in the woods a short distance from the road. Naturally, I found a place to turn around and went back to see what had caught my attention.

The cab and chassis is missing and all that remains is the enclosed cargo area of the vehicle. The sides and any windows have been broken out but fortunately the printing is still clearly legible. In Canada we have two main independent drug stores. Guardian and IDA are owned and operated by their pharmacists.

The Drug Trading Company was founded in 1896 to supply independent pharmacies with medications and other products. This was one of their delivery trucks but as the front view reveals, the engine and passenger compartment is no longer here.

Both sides of the vehicle carried a slogan trying to attract customers into their stores. “For friendly service and economy shop your independent drug store.” In 1962 Shoppers Drug Mart was founded as a national chain and it soon dwarfed the smaller independent pharmacies. While the bigger chains evolved into grocery and cosmetic shops and moved the pharmacy into the rear of the store, the smaller pharmacies kept a more personal touch with their clients.

One of the rear doors has been propped open but the other one isn’t opening any time soon without a lot of WD40.

When viewed together the two halves of the door read “DT Co” in the black circle which stands for Drug Trading Company. Then it says “Serving Pharmacy 100” which would suggest a date of 1996. Therefore this vehicle was still in service just 25 years ago. Most of the trees in the woodlot appear to be young and may have grown after the Drug Trading vehicle made its last delivery. Faint lettering can still be seen from the original Drug Trading Company logo on the rear doors.

The inside might have been protected against the elements when it was left here but there’s no longer any roof and both sides are wide open. While this may have once been a relatively unique piece of Canadian history it looks to be suffering an all too common fate. Neglected and soon forgotten. However, its memory will live on in these photos.

This old vehicle is visible from the road and although there isn’t any fence, the property is obviously owned by someone and needs to be respected as such.

Google Maps Link: Respectfully withheld.

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Fairbank – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The community of Fairbank was established in 1835 at the intersection of Dufferin Street (brown), Eglinton Avenue (purple) where Vaughan Road (black) intersected from the southwest. Today, the ghost of this little farming community has almost faded with only two buildings remaining from before 1900. There is some parking on Hopewell Avenue across from Walter Saunders Memorial Park. From here you can access the York Beltline Trail and the other places in this story are just a short walk north and then south on Dufferin Street. The map below was taken from the 1877 County Atlas and marks the location of the two remaining buildings with circles.

Jacob P. Ross owned the property outlined in blue on the map above. The house was built in 1855 and is the last surviving original house in the former community of Fairbank. The pediments on the west side mark it as neoclassical in style. It is a one and a half story farm house clad in brick, stone and wood. There have been several additions to the house over the years but the original home can be identified by the four quarter-round brackets set in the corners. Standing in a modern subdivision the house appears to be facing the wrong way compared with its neighbours, although it directly faces Dufferin Street

One of the interesting features of this house is the doorcase. Very often in early architecture in Ontario the face of the house was very plain with just the doorcase being more intricately detailed. In this home it is recessed from the front wall leaving no sidelight windows. There’s a plain set of windows in the transom and the date in the lintel above the door.

The Fairbank Village BIA uses the following picture in their promotions of the local business district as they recall the town history. The left side of the picture shows three streets from top to bottom. These are Dufferin Street, Vaughan Road and Eglinton Avenue. On the southeast corner of Eglinton and Dufferin is what appears to be a small Tollkeeper’s Cottage. Dufferin Street was formerly known as the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road and would have had toll gates at major intersections.

Matthew Parsons was just 19 when he arrived and bought York West Concession 3 Lot 3 which he developed into his family farm. He named his property Fairbank Farms (outlined in green above) and from this the community took its name. Then in 1837 he was arrested as a rebel and accused of supporting William Lyon MacKenzie in his rebellion. Parsons was never charged and his good name was restored when he donated land in 1844 to the Methodist Congregation who had been meeting in the local school. They built a frame structure which was replaced in 1889 with the brick building that has continued to serve the United Church since the name change in 1925.

Fairbank Presbyterian Church began in 1889 on Fairbank Avenue but moved to a new larger building at the corner of Eglinton and Dufferin in 1914. The building bears a two date date-stone marking both of these milestones. In 1925 it joined the United Church and in 1931 took the name St. Cuthbert’s United Church to distinguish itself from he Fairbank United Church a little north on Dufferin Street. It closed in 2001 and the building has been occupied ever since by the British Methodist Episcopal Christ Church. This denomination started in Toronto in 1845 as a church founded by freed slaves. There are only 9 churches of this denomination in Ontario and only one other in Toronto. When they lost their building to fire in 2001 they were able to move into the old Fairbank Presbyterian Church which was recently vacated.

Fairbank got a post office in 1874 and quickly developed into a crossroads community with Francis McFarlane running one of the hotels and serving as postmaster. In July of 1890 Fairbank Village Parish was set up to provide Anglican services for the community, meeting in the ballroom of McFarlane’s Hotel. In 1893 they opened their own church on Vaughan Road at the intersection with Dufferin Street. St Hilda’s church is pictured below in a 1934 photo from the Toronto Public Library.

In the early 1970’s the congregation decided to build affordable housing for seniors and three towers and a new church building were constructed.

By the late 1880’s the city was booming and land speculation along the edges of Toronto began. One creative scheme involved building a commuter line to join the suburbs with the downtown core. Known as the Belt Line Railway the developers proposed to build houses in the areas of Forest Hill and Fairbank. The line began operations in 1892 with a fare of 5 cents between each of it’s stops. However, the timing was bad as a recession meant that the houses weren’t built and the passengers never showed up. Service only lasted for 28 months before it was closed. Some sections continued to be used for industrial purposes but eventually all the tracks were removed. Today, the old Belt Line has been converted into a ribbon park with a multiuse trail. We’ve reviewed the Beltline in three sections previously telling its history and showing the areas where it ran. From the Fairbank end moving east then south the stories are: York Beltline Trail, Kay Gardiner Beltline Trail and Moore Park Beltline Trail.

The steel bridge over Dufferin Street is the third structure that survives in Fairbank from the 19th century. Only two original bridges survive from the Beltline with the other one being at Yonge Street where the old railway goes by the name of The Kay Gardner Beltline Trail. The trail passes through Fairbank on a raised berm and provides a trail that connects the west end of Fairbank with the Don Valley Brick Works and then on to the Lower Don Trail.

Fairbank was filled in with development between the two world wars erasing much of its original character. The fact that it was developed in the inter war period is perhaps apropos considering that it’s known for Prospect Cemetery where many military veterans are buried.

Google Maps Link: Fairbank

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