Monthly Archives: June 2021

Ghost Towns of York Region

Sunday, June 20, 2021

York Region has many small communities that have shrunk from their late 1800s sizes and faded almost into oblivion. They have lost their industry, blacksmiths and hotels and usually their stores as well. We refer to these as ghost towns although in the strictest sense they aren’t really. This blog collects 7 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 the Peel Region, Halton Region, and the City of Toronto.

Cedar Grove still has it’s historic school and Lapp’s Cider Mill but the real treasure is Cedarena. The skating rink operated from 1927 until 2015 and now it sits waiting for skaters who never show up.

Elders Mills formed around a crossroad and thrived for a couple of decades before it went into decline. Several of the original houses and the 1872 school house still remain. A couple of the houses as the school have been incorporated into new structures which has saved them from demolition. The homes on the farms around the town have been removed as the land has been cleared for housing.

The former community of Laskay has declined considerably and now the old Methodist Church is a home. A few historic buildings still line the street but the best preserved of all is the old Laskay Emporium which serves as an fine example of a country store and post office at Black Creek Pioneer village. Filled with period merchandise it is a real blast from the past.

Maple has grown into a larger community but there’s still lots of older homes and the historic train station to remind us of the small town that started in the early 1800s. There’s also this amazing log home built with massive timbers that hides in a woodlot on the edge of town.

Ringwood has a lot of abandoned buildings including this 1887 school house which has some interesting wood paneling on the front. At that time, the population was 300 but began declining almost right away until within a few decades there were only 13 students in the school.

Sherwood was larger than Maple at one point but quickly faded into a couple of churches and a few homes. Most of these have since been demolished in order to build a large train switching facility. The Zion Evangelical Church still holds services and has an extensive pioneer cemetery.

Every Ghost Town has its pioneer cemetery where you can check out the old grave markers and remember the people who lived there a couple of hundred years ago. Some even have markers or cairns for Indigenous Peoples who lived here centuries ago and are buried within the community. Teston has both types of burial grounds but neither is well marked and even the pioneer head stones are missing.

Compared to Toronto and some of the other surrounding areas, York Region has still got quite a bit of its pioneer heritage in place.

Other ghost town collections: Ghost Towns of Toronto, Ghost Towns of Peel Region, Ghost Towns of Halton Region.

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The Grand River In Galt

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Grand River is one of our Heritage Rivers and has been a means of travel and a source of power for centuries. William Dickson came to the Grand River area in 1816 and bought 90,000 acres of land with the intention of establishing a town and developing his land holdings. He built a mill at the confluence of Mill Creek and The Grand River and established Shade’s Mills which would be renamed Galt by 1827. The river made it possible for the establishment of Galt as an industrial centre. The residents built their early community along Water Street, an aptly named roadway.

There’s lots to see in the old town of Galt but this post focusses on the buildings along Water Street. I parked in the parking lot near the Mill Restaurant and walked south along the river. The county atlas map below shows Galt in 1877. I’ve coloured the river blue and the section of Water Street that I explored is coloured green.

There has been a dam on the Grand River in Galt since 1837 when water was first harnessed for power in the Dickson Mill. This same dam would also provide power to the Turnbull Woolen Mill and several other downstream establishments.

The Dickson Mill was built in 1843 and named after Robert Dickson who was a son of Galt founder William Dickson. When its milling days were over it was converted into the Galt Gas and Light Company which generated electricity to light the streets and homes of town. They operated between 1889 and 1911 when power arrived in town from Niagara Falls. In 1980 it was converted into The Mill Restaurant.

In 1974 there was a severe flood which caused damage to the riverbank and several historical structures along Water Street. This led the city to form a riverbank development program which saw the creation of Mill Race Park along with other stabilization projects. Robert Turnbull and John Deans had operated a knitting mill in Galt since 1859 and had taken over the old Wardlaw Mill on this site and used it between 1890 and 1897 when it burned down. It was rebuilt and operated under various names until 1972. The ruins have been incorporated into an amphitheater and park area for use by everyone.

The mill race carried a flow of water from the dam and along the side of Water Street where it was used by a series of mills. The turbine still remains in the mill race beside the old Turnbull Woolen Mill. Water rushed through a penstock at the bottom of the mill race to turn the turbine. It turned the belts that ran on the smooth wheels and supplied power to the knitting mill.

Morris Lutz built this Georgian style limestone house in 1850. Lutz had arrived in Galt in 1844 and became part of the Dumfries Foundry where he was foreman in the machine shop. Morris was elected to the first town council and when Galt was incorporated as a city in 1857 he was the first mayor.

Galt got a new post office in 1936 which replaced the one that still stands a little farther down Water Street. This handsome stone building with clock tower has been home to the post office ever since.

The Bank of Toronto opened a branch on Water Street in 1912 and this Beaux-Arts style building is unique in town. It has white glazed tiles on the exterior that are similar to pottery, another example of bank buildings that were designed to stand out from their neighbours.

Andrew Carnegie donated $23,000 for the construction of a new library for the Town of Galt in 1905. Carnegie gave away 90% of his fortune which is roughly $5.2 Billion in 2021 value. He funded about 3,000 libraries in the belief that libraries should be free to the local community. This Beaux-Arts style building housed the library for over 60 years and has since been home to several businesses. It is currently available for lease.

The First Delta Baptist Church was built in 1887 and is a mixture of Romanesque and Italianate styles. In Ontario it is rare for a church to be built with river or waterfront property. Usually they are on side streets, often conveniently named Church Street. The Baptist congregation formed in Galt in 1851 and they met in houses until 1872 when they started using the Primitive Methodist building. Robert Scott donated the land for the church which was deconsecrated in 1980 and then sold to the city for use as a theatre.

This archive photo shows the Baptist Church in 1902. It is interesting to see how the building has changed over the years. The main alteration is the elimination of the two doors on either corner and the opening of a central doorway. The side doors have been bricked in to disguise the fact that they ever existed. The new central door has also been closed in during the intervening years. There appears to be a new small window in between the two buttresses beside the new doorway.

George Landreth arrived in Galt in 1831 and found work in one of the many mills in town. He had this Georgian Cottage built in 1858 and it still has its original doorway with the multipaned side lights and transom. Along with the Lutz home featured above, it is one of just two original homes that remain in the original core of Water Street.

The Imperial Block was built in 1887 and was almost like an early strip mall. This Romanesque Revival structure at one time was home to the Commercial Bank, a grocery store, a tailor shop, a dress maker, tobacco dealer, hairdresser, dentist and a music store.

Scott’s Block was built in 1890 in the Romanesque Revival style. It has a terra cotta tower on top and detailed brickwork on the front. A two story oriel window stands out from the crowd of historic buildings on Water Street.

The Galt Woolen Factory is the oldest surviving textile mill in the city. It was built in 1843 for Isaac Sours who operated it until 1852. During this time his employees worked an average of 64 hours per week. In 1881 it became the Tiger Brand Knitting Company and today has been converted into offices and apartments.

In 1885 the Federal Government commissioned a new post office for Galt which was also used for as a Customs and Inland Revenue Office. It has some of the most interesting masonry work of all the stone buildings in Cambridge which has been preserved in the restoration and expansion project that brought the glass section to the rear.

Partial ruins of old mills and factories line both sides of Water Street and there is a great deal of history being retained in creative ways. Plenty of communities could learn from this example. The Canada Machinery Corporation had a Pattern Works Shop and Stores building beside the river where it forged machinery parts. They operated until 1979 and in 1984 the remains of their building were incorporated into another public park with its history intact.

The Galt branch of the Great Western Railway opened in 1854. Some portions of the former right of way along Water Street can still be traced and the old stone abutments can be seen where it crosses a small creek.

This blog is focused on Water Street and really doesn’t get into Main Street and some of the other parts of town. If you explore these areas you will find the 1857 Town Hall, the 1838 Dumfries Township Hall and the old Galt Firehall among the many interesting buildings in town.

Other Grand River stories: The Shand Dam, The Elora Gorge, West Montrose Bridge (Kissing Bridge)

Google Maps Link: Mill Race Park Cambridge

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The Battle of Stoney Creek

June 6, 1813

The Battle of Stoney Creek may not have been significant in terms of the number of combatants or in casualties but the outcome had a profound impact on the course of the War of 1812. The war had entered its second year with the Battle of York on April 27th, 1813. Capturing York might have been good for morale after the series of losses the Americans had sustained the previous year, but holding it didn’t have great military purposes. So the Americans had withdrawn and focused their attention on capturing the Niagara Peninsula. On May 27th a force of 7,000 men had attacked Fort George with the support of 16 warships. The fort was captured and the British forces of 1,800 men had retired to Burlington Heights where they had dug in to make a defensive stand. The map below was taken from Pierre Burton’s War of 1812 and shows the formation of the battle.

The American forces slowly made their way up the peninsula from Fort George and by the night of June 5-6 had arrived at Stoney Creek. They camped on the property of James Gage who lived with his mother and his wife in their family homestead. Mary Jones Gage had moved to Canada in 1790 and had been building their home in stages since 1796. They had originally lived in the basement while the upper levels were being built. The Americans commandeered their house as a headquarters for Brigadier General John Chandler and had locked the Gage family in the basement.

Billy Green and his brother Levi spent the afternoon of June 5th tracking the advancing army from the top of the escarpment and scaring them by howling in the woods and pretending to be natives. Billy’s brother in-law Isaac had been taken prisoner by the Americans but had been released after claiming to be related to William Henry Harrison, the US President. They gave him the password of the day which he then shared with Billy. Armed with this information, Green made his way to the British camp at Burlington Heights.

Convinced that a surprise attack under cover of night was the only hope for the British due to their much smaller forces, they set off to march to Stoney Creek. The British removed the flints from their guns to prevent accidental firing so as not to alert the Americans of their approach. When they arrived in Stoney Creek they found that a sentry had been posted at the Methodist Church. While giving him the password, Billy Green dispatched him with his bayonet. The plan was to sneak into the camp and kill as many sleeping soldiers as possible by bayonetting them. Instead, the British started yelling in their excitement and the whole camp was awoken. A confusing battle ensued in the darkness with the British capturing four of the six the American field guns. One after the other, both of the American leaders approached the guns to see why they weren’t firing and were captured by the British. Eventually both sides retreat convinced the other side had won the battle.

The American forces retreated to Fort George where they were trapped until the end of the year at which time they slipped back across the Niagara River and returned home. With the exception of another loss at The Battle of Beaver Dams on June 24th, the American campaign on the Niagara Peninsula was over for the year.

Battlefield House has been restored as a museum and is furnished to illustrate life at the time of the war. There’s also plenty of artifacts to help illustrate the battle and these can be viewed as part of a guided tour. The picture below shows the back of the house as seen from the base of the monument.

Sara Calder was the great grand-daughter of Mary Jones Gage and had been born in 1846. When the Wentworth Historical Society had been formed in 1888 she was the president of the ladies committee. In 1899 the women broke away and formed the Women’s Wentworth Historical Society. Later that year they purchased the Gage Homestead for $1900.00 and on October 23, 1899 Battlefield Park was opened. The ladies began planning for a monument to mark the site of the battle and a corner stone was laid on May 26, 1910. With their $5000.00 grant expended, work on the tower was stopped after a year with just the first 25 feet built. It would take another $10,000.00 and three more years to complete the project.

It was 1:25 p.m. on June 6, 1913, exactly 100 years after the battle, that the monument was officially opened. Queen Mary, consort to King George V, pressed a button in Buckingham Palace and a signal was sent along a telegraph line to drop a shroud and reveal the monument.

The tower has been closed since the pandemic began but as I was the only visitor when I was there physical distancing wasn’t a problem and I was allowed inside to see the ground level displays. Regular safety inspections of the stairs had not been completed for months and so I wasn’t allowed to climb to the top. Perhaps another time I’ll have the opportunity to check out the view. Meanwhile, I love the castle doors at the base of the monument.

Allan Smith was plowing his field in 1899 when he started to find human bones in a small knoll. Scraps of cloth and buttons also came to the surface indicating that both British and American soldiers had been buried there. The plot of land became locally known as Smith’s Knoll and was consecrated as “Soldier’s Plot” on May 3, 1908. A cairn with a lion on it was dedicated on August 1, 1910. The pictures for this story were taken on November 6, 2020 which is why the trees are in their fall colours.

The Nash-Jackson house was built in 1818 and formerly stood at the corner of King Street East and Nash Road. Five generations of the Nash family lived in the home and an earlier home on the property was used as a field hospital following the Battle of Stoney Creek. The city was deeded the house in 1996 and moved it to Battlefield Park in 1999.

The Battle of Stoney Creek was a turning point in the war and the Americans would never again penetrate as far up the Niagara Peninsula.

Related blogs in our War of 1812 series: Battle of York, Battle of Queenston Heights

Google Maps link: Battle of Stoney Creek

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