Monthly Archives: January 2020

Sherwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Wednesday, January 22, 2020, revised August 16, 2020

The township of York was settled in the early 1800’s and the intersection of modern Keele Street and Major Mackenzie Drive became known as Sherwood.  It prospered for a only a short time and then was overtaken by nearby Maple and faded from prominence.  Sherwood is still indicated as a neighbourhood on most maps but it is now predominantly industrial with a large area taken up by the Canadian National Railway Macmillan Yards.

Two churches were built in Sherwood, one on property donated by the Rupert family and one on Keffer property.  Both of these have been outlined in green on the county atlas map below.


In the early 1880’s Adam and Ann Rupert lived on Lot 16 Concession 3 of Vaughan.  On April 23, 1839 Peter Rupert deeded an acre of land for the construction of a Wesleyan Methodist church.  The Methodists worshiped here from 1840 until 1870 when they opened a new building in Maple.  The church building was purchased in 1885 by the Sherwood Church of Christ (Disciples) which had been meeting in homes prior to that.  They used the building until 1925 after which it sat empty until it was dismantled in 1944.  The picture below is from The History of Vaughan Churches by the Vaughan Township Historical Society.


In 1966 the City of Vaughan collected up the tombstones and restored them into the cairn below.  There are a couple of odd things recorded in the memorials preserved here.  Firstly, Jacob Bennett died on November 30, 1850 as recorded on two separate tombstones.  Also, two children perished on May 3, 1862.  Thomas Marshall was 6 and Lewis Patterson was only 3 years old.  Was it a common accident or a common illness?

Rupert's Chapel Cairn

The cemetery was likely opened in 1811 when Joseph Rupert died at the age of 1 year and a month.  Two years later Ann Rupert passed away at the age of 1 year and 3 months.  In all there were five Rupert burials here before the church was deeded the land and this is likely the reason for this particular site to be given.

Rupert, Joseph 1811

The early settlers were from Somerset County in Pennsylvania and were of German heritage.  They arrived bringing their Evangelical Lutheran faith with them.  Jacob Keffer answered the need for a parish in 1806 when he volunteered to serve as a lay pastor to the emerging congregation.  When the meetings outgrew his home he donated land in 1811 for use as a cemetery and the construction of a frame church.  The Keffer family would continue to dominate the community and retained title to several land grants in the area.  In 1837 when William Lyon Mackenzie was stirring up his rebellion the family was divided in their loyalties.  Those supporting the rebellion locked the government supporters out of the church in protest.  Later everyone would make up and things went back to normal,


Zion Evangelical Church grew and in 1859 plans were made to replace the original building with the brick structure that still serves the congregation today.  The building cost $1,485.90 which included 80,000 red bricks and 1,000 white ones.  The date stone above the entrance shows the dedication as Zion Evangelical Lutheran A.D. 1860.


The cemetery was laid out with the older interments taking place at the back of the plot.  With the snow on the ground all these pioneer stones made of limestone make the place look ancient.  Later marble headstones can be found closer to Keele Street.


Cemetery records show that the first burial occurred in 1817 but there is reason to believe that interments may have happened earlier.  With the fresh snow on the ground I wasn’t able to see all the stones but I did notice the memorial for Ann Keffer who was the wife of Peter Keffer.  She passed away October 12, 1830.


On July 19, 1936 the church celebrated the 130th anniversary of its founding.  They also celebrated the efforts of Adam Keffer who had walked to Pennsylvania in both 1849 and 1850 to plead for a pastor for the parish.  After the first visit promised a Lutheran Pastor that never arrived, he returned the following year where his tenacity was rewarded with a pastor being assigned to the church.


The church built a log house for the pastor to live in.  In January of 1887 Peter Keffer donated more land to the church for the construction of a new manse for the pastor.  The house was completed by October 29th that year and was occupied by the various clergy who served the church.  With the manse fund and donations the house was finished with only $800 still owing for materials and labour.


In 1950 the parsonage was sold because the church had become a two-point parish sharing a pastor with Unionville.  The pastor had relocated to the manse in Unionville and the house was no longer occupied.  Today it is home to a nursery garden.


The church and graveyard are located on Concession 3, Lot 13 West Half which was owned by George Keffer in 1877 when the county atlas was published.  The bulk of the former Keffer property has been turned over to industrial purposes with small green belts remaining along the watercourses.  The trail through this little greenbelt is known as the Bartley Smith Greenway but it is still under construction and some sections are closed.   The trail brings you out to Planchet Road where it detours down Keele Street to Rivermede.  When completed the Bartley Smith Greenway will run 15 kilometres along the West Don River.



The trail climbs over the small rise of one of the city of Vaughan’s storm water management ponds.  Basaltic Pond is known as a dry pond because there is normally no water present.  During a major storm event the berm and dam serve to retain water.  The pond can reach the level of the top of the dam before it spills over.  Should the water level exceed the storage capacity of the pond there is a series of concrete posts known as a dissipation weir that the water must flow through.  This allows the energy that the water gained by falling from the top of the dam to be released before it can cause significant erosion downstream.




As usual, I wonder what the original farmer would think if he could return today.  The farm he worked hard to clear and maintain has become a series of factories.  I think it would please him to see that the church he founded is still open and serving the faithful.

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Prospect Cemetery

Sunday, January 12, 2020

With the rapid expansion of the city during the 19th century there was a need for additional cemetery grounds.  In 1887 the city purchased 100 acres of land from William Shields for this purpose.  The plans were laid out to allow maximum views which originally included Lake Ontario and the Humber River Valley.  Two ravines passed through the plot of land leading to it being named Prospect Cemetery.


Over 170,000 people have been buried in Prospect Cemetery since it opened in 1890.


Many local veterans of the First World War returned home with injuries that would soon claim their lives.  The first few were buried in various cemeteries around the city.  The Great War Veterans Association and The Toronto General Burying Grounds selected a 5 acre oval section near the St. Clair Avenue entrance to the cemetery as the site of a dedicated veterans section.  Capt. James Henderson of the Royal Army Medical Corps served in Mesopotamia and returned home on leave suffering a cold that turned into pneumonia which killed him on July 16, 1917.  He became the first interment in the cemetery having lived 39 years.  He is buried near the Cross of Sacrifice which is the centre piece of the plot.  It can be seen in the background of the cover shot.  Today there are over 3,500 veterans buried in the cemetery, many of them in neat rows in the veterans plot.


Private Griffith Evans served in Europe and returned home in the summer of 1917 suffering from fatal battle wounds.  He passed away a month before the first burial in the veterans plot and was relocated here in honour of his service.


Lance Corporal Thomas Wilson came home from the war and died on October 2, 1918.  He perished a month too soon to learn that his service was part of the victory that came on November 11, 1918.


There are many soldiers buried in the cemetery in places outside of the veterans plot.  Some of them are in graves with markers that bear no mention of their service.  Others have been commemorated with a standard design maker like the one issued to Corporal William Fraser Stagg who died on the final day of 1918.  His service record indicates that the cause of death was unknown.  The Canadian Great War Project is a searchable database that contains information on the men and women who served their country during World War 1.


Some parts of the cemetery have particularly colourful displays that people have set up to commemorate their loved ones.


Prospect Cemetery is the full 105 acre lot that ran between Eglinton Avenue and St. Clair Avenue.  It is split in a couple of places by through streets, including Rogers Road where this set of gates is found.


Inside the St. Clair Avenue gates the cemetery has built a large mausoleum known as the Mausoleum of the Last Supper.  Along with white marble-fronted crypts the mausoleum features several beautiful statues including one of The Risen Christ.  There’s also a full wall dedicated to The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.  The original painting covers an entire wall in the dining hall of a monastery in Milan.


The cemetery was chosen for the veterans interment in part because the local community had made a large contribution to the war effort.  During the course of the war around 2,500 people from the neighbourhood of Earlscourt enlisted in the military.  This made them the highest per capita district in Canada and 320 of them lost their lives in the conflict.  To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war the cemetery installed a series of 9 plaques that describe Canada’s role in the war.  Another describes the service of Earlscourt and a final one shows the locations of key battles Canadians fought in the war.  Prospect Cemetery (part of the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries) has an electronic version of the memorial on their website.  The virtual war memorial can be found by following the link.  Here you can read all 11 of the plaques that were installed.


This is an interesting stone because it appears to mark the grave of a man who married twice.  Both wives were named Margaret.  William Alfred Francis appears to have survived his first wife, Margaret Armstrong by 22 years.  His second wife, Margaret Anderson survived him by another 20 years.  Both women who bore the name Mrs. Margaret Francis appear to be laid to rest with the husband they both loved.


Every cemetery is full of the stories of the lives it commemorates, if we only had the ability to read them.  Prospect cemetery tells the stories of thousands of people who defended our liberty, especially in World War 1.

Other cemeteries we’ve written about include Mount Pleasant Cemetery, The Necropolis and St. John’s Cemetery on the Humber.

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Thackeray Landfill Park

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Kipling Avenue comes to a dead end just north of Steeles Avenue where Thakeray Park Cricket Grounds are.  The large hill on the property is a mound of household waste that was placed here when Thakeray Landfill was in operation.  The site is 45 hectares and contains 2.2 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste.  After closing in 1978 it was turned over to the city in 1979 to be managed as a park.  However, ongoing methane gas leakage has caused the site to be under utilized until now.  A proposal has been put forward to convert the methane into electricity as is currently done at Beare Road Landfill site in Rouge National Urban Park.  The city earns $2 million each year selling electricity back into the grid.  To check out this park we used the free parking for the cricket grounds.

A fresh coating of snow was on all the trees as we set out for our walk, reminding us of how beautiful winter can be.


As we made our way along the north side of the former landfill we began seeing sets of coyote tracks.  Their footprints tend to run is a single line unlike a dog which shows left and right side as distinctly separate tracks.  We could hear two coyote howling nearby and wondered if they may have entered mating season a little early.  The season doesn’t usually start until late January but we found a site where a coyote had urinated and left considerable amount of blood as well.  This could indicate a female in heat.


The sides of the former landfill have been planted with trees to promote an eventual forest cover for the site.


The Canadian National York Subdivision was built to connect the new MacMillan Yard with various lines on the east end of Toronto.  The line was started in 1959 and completed in 1965 through what was open farm land at the time.  The bridge over the Humber River was built in 1962 and has been added to the list of Humber River Heritage Bridges.  It features rare A-Frame reinforced concrete piers that carry a single line over the river.  The line expands into double track just west of this bridge.


The railway approaches the river on a high berm that affords great photos of the frequent trains.  The early morning snow fall had already melted away by the time we had walked north to the Vaughan Sports Complex and back.


Taking the trail to the left we climbed the hill that represents the former land fill.  A grove of trees stands at the top of the hill.  Another trail beside these trees leads back down the hill toward Steeles Avenue.  The Trail continues under the road and eventually leads to the site of the former Country Hospital For Sick Children.  We followed the trail for a short distance before returning to look at the mini airfield on the top of the land fill.


Radio controlled aircraft became popular in the late 1960’s and for several years people met at the Keele Street Reservoir south of Steeles to fly their aircraft.  Fear of fuel leaking into the water supply led to the banning of flying there in 1972.  The club moved around looking for a home until 1982 when they located the Thackeray Park site that became their new home.


Initially the landing strip was made of dirt and as the landfill started to settle it became very uneven.  Water would pond in the field in the spring time.  In 2000 about ten truck loads of soil were brought in to level the ground again.  The sun shelter was added in 2002 and a solar power charging station installed in 2012.  By 2014 there were a lot of smaller airplanes using the field and they were having a hard time taking off and landing on the grass runway.  It was decided to install a Geo Textile runway along with six pilot stations to meet the needs of the club for the near future.  Sixty feet of grass landing strip is maintained for those who prefer this option.


The Humber Valley Radio Control Flyers have a membership of over 100 who work together to maintain the field, keep the litter picked up and cut the grass on the landing strip.


It will be interesting to see what Toronto Parks does with the old landfill site when it is declared safe for use as a park.

Another story of a park located on a former landfill site can be found at this link: Beare Road

Google Maps Link: Thackeray Park

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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Utopia is a few minutes west of Highway 400 near Barrie and on a recent trip to see the family in Gravenhurst to celebrate Christmas I made the side trip to see the old grist mill that stands in the local conservation area.  Eugene Smith was the first settler in the hamlet of Utopia and he arrived with his family in 1845.  By the 1870s there was a hotel, blacksmith shop, general store with post office a school and two churches along with a saw mill and grist mill.  The town served the local farmers in Essa Township.

Utopia (2)

Church was often the focal point for early communities.  The rural farmers would often see each other once a week when they got together for worship services.  Sunday shopping hadn’t been invented yet and so Sunday was a day of rest when people would hang around after church to discuss the crops or catch up on the news.  In Utopia the faithful started meeting in homes and the school with services being held under a large tree at the corner of the 5th concession and 25 side road.  In 1873 John Jennet donated a parcel of land to build a permanent church for the Anglican parish in Utopia.  Reverend W. Bates was the first to hold services in the new church building.  It was originally known as All Saints but changed its name to St. George’s in 1874.


I parked at the entrance to the Utopia Conservation Area and went for a walk.  The road to the old mill has been blocked by several truck loads of fine gravel which has been dumped there.  This will likely be spread out on the trails in the spring.  Beyond this a gate across the road bears a sign indicating that the area is closed to the general public.  I carried on in the interest of photographing and reporting the current condition of the old building.   The original mill lane runs between rows of cedar trees.


At the bottom of the lane the mill pokes out from behind the trees.  James Pink had built the original mill on this site in 1864 and soon added a saw mill down stream.  The water flow in Bear Creek was insufficient to run both mills at the same time so the saw mill was operated during the day and the grist mill at night.  Richard Bell had worked at the mill for three years when he bought it in 1879.  His brothers John and Manuel operated it until it burned to the ground on May 29, 1903.


The mill was rebuilt and opened again on January 1, 1904.  The mill sits on a foundation made of stones that is four and a half feet thick.  It is claimed that quicksand forced the foundation to be set 30 feet deep.


The mill had its own brand of flour including Gold Coin which was intended for baking bread.  Snowflake was milled with pastry in mind.  They also chopped grain for feed for the local farmers and by the 1940s this was the sole business of the mill.


On October 14, 1954 Hurricane Hazel caused Bear Creek to rise to the point where the front porch of the mill was washed away.  The water ran through the building and out again without causing any structural damage.  The mill dam was destroyed and rather than replacing it Harold Bell decided to install a diesel generator.  The mill operated like this until it closed in 1965.


The Nottawasaga Conservation Authority obtained the property soon after this and have been slowly restoring the mill as funds have become available.  New windows have been installed and the front porch replaced.  Although the siding is coming off in a few places it still looks like the building is being protected from excessive deterioration.  Inside, many of the old shafts, pulleys and belts that operated the mill remain in anticipation of possible future use as a working mill.


The dam was replaced with a new concrete one in 1969 to help control the flow of water in times of flooding conditions.


Grain was shipped to the mill from the prairies via a grain shed on the Canadian National Railway Line just north of the mill.  The rail line is abandoned today and clearly marked as no trespassing.


It will certainly be interesting to see if the mill will continue to be restored to a fully functional grist mill.

For our earlier story on The Barrie Light Company click on the link.

Google Maps Link: Utopia Conservation Area

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