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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5 thoughts on “The Reesors – Pioneers of the GTA

  1. Susan Visser

    Great story! I’ve been hiking the Bob Hunter Memorial trail and noticed the church, town and a few other remnants of the Reesor era. This helps put it faces to the names.

    Reply

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