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, 1939 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?
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.
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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