Omagh – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The community of Omagh is the last one in Trafalgar township that still retains some of its rural characteristics. This is the reason that the town of Milton is considering designating it as a cultural heritage district. This would allow it to survive the encroaching development that threatens to over-run it. The photos presented below were taken early in November 2020 and have been held in reserve in case a future provincial lockdown might prevent extensive travel and exploration. As such, it’s time to explore the historic hamlet of Omagh. It was founded in 1818 and never grew much beyond the intersection of todays Britannia Road and Fourth Line near Milton. The 1877 county atlas image below shows the small cluster around the intersection as well as the Presbyterian Church to the west of town.

Trafalgar Township was settled in two parts. The southern section, now known as Oakville, was settled primarily by United Empire Loyalists (UEL) who came from the United States. The northern section, now Milton, was settled largely by people from the British Empire. The original name for Omagh was Howellville after John Triller Howell who arrived in 1805 as a boy. His family were UEL and the local MP John White didn’t want the town named after someone he considered to be a Yankee. He persuaded the local land owners, who were mostly Irish, that if they chose Omagh he would get them a post office with that name. Ironically, the post office ended up being in Howells store and hotel. The building has been altered greatly over the years but it still stands on the north east corner of the intersection. The side facing Britannia used to have a large porch and was the main entrance to the store.

This archive picture was taken before 1920 and shows the building when it served as a store but before it started to sell gasoline for those who were enjoying the newly developing automotive craze. By 1980 the store had closed and the building has served as a private residence for the past 40 years.

The south east corner of the intersection has one of the few actually abandoned homes in the little community. This property was originally deeded to Kings College (University of Toronto) in 1828. Between 1862 and 1883 the property belonged to William McLean and featured a home that faced the fourth line. By 1930 it belonged to Edward Delvin who built the current home which faces Britannia.

The small hamlet of Omagh once had four churches, which illustrates the significance the community had within the local rural area. The Wesleyan Methodist Church was built in 1854 with seating for 300. It was destroyed in a fire sometime around 1914. The Omagh Disciples of Christ built their church in 1850 and continue to operate to this day. They changed their name to the Church of Christ in 1930. This building features rounded windows as opposed the common pointed arches that were popular in Gothic Revival designs for churches of the era.

The church cemetery contains some of the earliest burials in the community, a few of which have been collected and restored into a small cement slab. Other more recent stones can be found on either side of the church.

An Anglican Church was built in 1868 and operated until 1946. It was demolished in 1947. The Omagh Presbyterian Church is west of town on a one acre lot of land which was purchased on April 31, 1838. The local Presbyterians originally built an small wooden building which they painted white. Seventy years later, in 1908, a building committee was formed to look into the construction of a new church building. A year later in 1909 they laid the cornerstone of the present brick building. In 1925 they resisted the movement to join the United Church and today continue to serve as a small community church with several members who have worshiped there for their entire lives.

Omagh Presbyterian cemetery continues to receive burials. The open area to the east of the church contained the original drive sheds for horses. These were removed when automobiles replaced carriages as the primary method of transportation. In 1877 there were 100 residents but by 1935 Omagh was down to 6 houses and 3 churches, 4 farms and the ball park which was created in 1930.

The house featured below was built in 1882 as the parsonage for the Methodist Church. In 1919 the Methodists sold the parsonage as their church had been destroyed and they no longer had a pastor. Standing on the south west corner, the house has the distinction of being the only parsonage in the small town.

Children in early Omagh had to walk a concession west to Boyne to go to school. The first school in the community may have been built as early as 1828 on a lot on the south east side of the intersection. In 1874 when a new School Section #6 building was erected, it was located across the street. It closed in 1956 and was demolished in 1968 with the bricks being recycled into the home that replaced it at 10095 Britannia Road. The bell was saved and installed in a memorial at the ball park.

This little house was built in 1928 according to tax records as a rental property, likely for a farmhand on the Devlin farm across the road. It has been left empty for several years now.

The barn on the former Devlin property was built in 1900 but is in fairly poor condition. The heritage farm house that stood on the property was demolished in 2001 which removes some of the heritage value of the barn. it’s unclear if there will be any effort to save the barn before wind and weather conspire to bring it down.

A large shed on the property is in even worse condition. With most of the rear roof missing, as seen from the ball park, it is unlikely to be standing for very much longer.

Milton town council made the decision in December 2019 to recognize Omagh as a Cultural Heritage Area and now a management plan has to be drawn up and implemented. This will help ensure that at least the structurally sound buildings in town will be retained as the surrounding farmland is developed for housing.

Google Maps Link: Omagh

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8 thoughts on “Omagh – Ghost Towns of the GTA

  1. Steve

    Great work Steve,

    If you look on the map, the farm of Geo. Buck is where astronaut Chris Hadfield grew up and him parents still live. I live south of Boyne in a house built by the sister of John White.

    Reply
  2. Sandra

    Both my parents are buried at Omagh Church of Christ. Went there all my life. Have numerous great memories there. There used to be a old shed directly across the street from it that would keep the horses while people went to church. We of course parked our car there until it was brought down. Many old Miltonians buried there. McDuffies, May’s, Johnston’s. We thought as kids we went way out to the country to go to church. Haha!!

    Reply
  3. James Galbraith

    My great grandparents settled in Omagh when they arrived from County Armagh in Northern Ireland sometime in the 1880s I believe. My grandparents, James and Laura Galbraith, lived on the 5th line south of Britannia Road, and the house is where my Dad and his siblings grew up. My parents, Earl and Evelyn Galbraith, also lived their for several years before buying their own farm on the Town Line (Tremaine Road) where they lived for almost 30 years. My Dad was an elder at Omagh Presbyterian Church for many years and the cemetery is the resting place of my whole family. My last relative to be interred there was my aunt, Estelle Penman, who died in 2009. Much of my social life growing up was centered around the church and Boyne Community Center. My first years of school were spent at Ash Public School on the Town Line and then when it closed, at Percy Merry School on Britannia Road. I have very happy memories of Omagh, the Boyne and all the families who lived in this friendly rural Ontario community.

    Reply
  4. Betty Devlin Newhouse

    When you look at the map, on the 3rd line, it says Irwin Develin but he was actually Irvine Devlin

    Reply
  5. Doug Ward

    Very nice to learn some of the history of Omagh. Glad to see that it is not a ghost town but still a going concern.

    Reply
    1. kimberly tune

      I am very pleased to have read this, I deliver the mail to this area.
      Interesting, and yes Chris Hadfield’s parents are still living in their house on Thompson Rd.
      I would like to know the history of their farmstead

      Reply

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