Monthly Archives: November 2021

Time Travel in Toronto

November 28, 2021

Throughout the GTA there are several homes and historic sites that are open to the public, although usually with a small admission price to cover upkeep costs. They are typically decorated in the style of a different era. This means that if you chose to, you could visit each one in sequence and watch the changes over time. This post collects the various historic homes and sites and presents them in chronological order. A link will take you to the feature article on the site, if available, where a Google Maps link can help you locate them for yourself.

1814 Fort York

Fort York contains an amazing collection of buildings that date to the War of 1812, although many of them were replaced in 1814 after they were destroyed in the Battle of York on April 27, 1813. This is the first stop on our time journey as we start with our oldest museum.

As you go through the buildings notice how low the ceilings are. This is due to the fact that two hundred years ago people were generally shorter than today. (The track lighting and interpretive signs are obviously recent additions)

1820s Todmorden

If we move ahead a decade we come to Todmorden Mills, a reminder of the city’s early industrial era. Mills were operated by water power and the Don River provided power to a series of three paper mills belonging to the Taylors. Only the lower one, which was at Todmorden, still survives. There’s also an old brewery and a pair of early industrialists homes. During the 1820s Trade Unions were still illegal and people were apprenticed for 7 years to learn a trade. General labour required long hours worked six days per week for sustenance wages.

1830s Montgomery’s Inn

If we move ahead another decade we can get a glimpse of how people survived as they traveled in the 1830s. A journey had to be broken into smaller sections so that horses could be allowed to rest and passengers could rest their weary bones that had been shaken up on the poor roads. Inns and taverns were built at convenient distances along the main roadways. Montgomery’s Inn was built in 1830 by Thomas and Margaret Montgomery.  It served as a rest and watering place for travelers along Dundas Street as they passed through the town of Islington. It served food and beer to travelers while providing fodder and water for their horses. Rest could also be had for those who needed to break their journey into several days’ travel.

1835 TollKeeper’s Cottage

Those same travelers often made their way along snow-clogged roads in the winter with their sleds but in the spring and fall, these same roads could become almost impassable due to the mud and ruts. One solution was the creation of plank roads where cut boards were laid side by side to create a wooden road. These were expensive to build and required constant maintenance. A system of tolls was established and people were employed to collect them. This small cottage was built for the family whose job it was to collect tolls along Davenport Road at the intersection with modern Bathurst street. Inside it is furnished with the items that kept a family of 9 as comfortable as the times would allow.

Inside the cottage is the wood stove for heating and cooking that had to keep the family from freezing in the winter.

1845 McKenzie House

Our next two stops are related to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. William Lyon McKenzie was the prime instigator for the rebellion. He used his printing business to incite discontent with the ruling Family Compact which would lead to rebellion. This museum takes you into a typical printing shop of the era.

This museum even includes a set of MaKenie’s own printing types.

1850s Gibson House

David Gibson was a consistent supporter of Mackenzie and when the rebellion failed he was exiled and his house and barns were burned down in retaliation. When he returned in 1851 he built the next house on our museum tour. Here we get a glimpse into the life of a provincial land surveyor in the 1850s.

1855 Colborne Lodge

Colborne Lodge was built in 1837 but became a full-time home in 1855. This stop on our journey shows us how the wealthier people lived in the mid-1850s. The Howards built the first indoor flush toilet in the city and devised a method of delivering heated water to a showerhead.

When Jemima became ill, John Howard nursed her at their home. Her sick room shows the level of medical intervention that could be expected in this period.

1860s Black Creek Pioneer Village

The next stop on our time travel trip lands us in the 1860s on the farm of Daniel and Elizabeth Stong. Their early houses and farm buildings were so well preserved by the family that they became the basis for Black Creek Pioneer Village. Many other buildings have been moved here and a small town has been recreated. A blacksmith shop, printing shop, hotel, store, carriage works, church, and manse, among other buildings, can be explored. Christmas By Lamplight has been an annual favourite because it allows one to sample treats and decorations from the mid-1860s.

Women of the 1860’s would cook using the fireplace and the small oven on the side and could turn out quite impressive dinners with the means that they had at hand.

1870s Don Valley Brick Works

Although not specifically operated as a museum, the Don Valley Brick Works demonstrates this industry as it operated in the 1870s. It was owned by the Taylor brothers who also operated the mills at Todmorden.

1910 Zion School

Throughout the 19th-century and into the 20th-century it was common for children to go to school in a one-room schoolhouse. The teacher was responsible for teaching all grades and so you didn’t want to get on their bad side because you would have them again next year. This school was vacant for several decades before it was restored and opened as a museum showcasing school as it was around 1910.

1914 Thomson Park

Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough contains the Scarborough Historical Society and a few locally historical buildings that have been moved into a small cluster. This stop on our time trip lands us just prior to the start of the First World War.

WW 1 Benares House

Benares House is not in Toronto, it is in Mississauga, but we’ve included it here because it showcases life during The Great War (WW1) for the average farming family in the area. Keeping up with the chores around the farm was a constant challenge with so many of the men off fighting the war in Europe.

1920s Spadina House

Our final stop on our journey brings us to 100 years ago and the house of a wealthy Toronto politician and businessman. Spadina House and gardens have been furnished and decorated to reflect the 1920’s, a period of prosperity that followed The Great War and preceded the economic depression of the 1930s.

While time travel might not be possible, a structured tour through Toronto’s museums could be the next best thing. Where will you start?

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Benares House

Sunday, November 21, 2021

In 1835 Edgar Neave took possession of two lots just north of the hamlet of Clarkson. He built a house out of fieldstone that he named Benares and then in 1836, he sold the property to Captain James Beveridge Harris. His family had a long history of service in the British Military and James sold his commission and used the money to buy Benares and move his family there. His wife, Elizabeth Molony, gave birth to eight children although three of the boys died in their youth. Arthur Harris inherited the farm and eventually it was passed on to another two generations of the family. The map below is from the 1877 county atlas and shows the Harris farm occupying the northeast corner of the intersection where the Clarkson post office stands on the northwest corner. Benares House is circled in green.

There was a fire in 1857 and much of the original home was destroyed. The replacement was built in the Georgian Style and made of honey-coloured bricks. The two-story home has five bays with a central doorway adorned with sidelights. The open veranda presents a touch of Queen Anne styling and features no balustrade. Above it is a small balcony with turned balusters, lattice, and spool work. The fifth generatiom of the Harris family decided to donate the house and its contents to the city of Mississauga while the surrounding property was developed into subdivisions.

The inside of the house is filled with all the things that a family could collect over a four-generation period. Throughout the GTA there are several historic homes that have been turned into museums and each is furnished in the style of a specific era. Benares House recreates the typical family home during World War One. Included in the collection of personal belongings that the Harris family donated are many early family photographs. Some of these include pictures of the house over the decades. The one below includes a few of the cars that were at the home sometime in the 1930s.

The house has four unique chimneys, two on each end, that are internally bracketed, and double linked giving them eight outlets. The house still features its original shutters and the mysterious name that Edgar Neave gave the single-story stone home. In the early 1800s, it was common to name your house after some exotic place that you had traveled to. Varanji (also Benares or Banaras) is a city in northern Inda and is the holiest of seven cities that were important in the development of Hinduism and Jainism. They also feature in Buddhism.

At the rear of the house is the old family dairy. This is thought to be part of the original 1835 section of the house and is built of stone rather than bricks as was used on the main block of the house. In the mid-nineteenth century milk was not a drink of choice and farmers who had milk cattle would consume the milk almost immediately or turn it into butter or cheese as there was no effective way to store milk for extended periods. Prior to the invention of pasteurization and homogenization drinking milk was a risky business because of bacteria and “milk sickness”. Pasteurization heats the milk up and kills the bacteria that are present while homogenization takes milk from many sources and mixes it together. This reduces the risk of people getting sick from milk tainted by poisonous plants, such as white snakeroot, that the animal has eaten.

The family photo below shows a horse and sled in front of the old barn sometime in the early 1920s.

The barn is believed to date to the 1830s and has been kept well maintained over the better part of two centuries. The farm was mainly used for produce and so the Harris family didn’t keep a lot of livestock. The barn was used to house their carriage and the horses that pulled it. They adapted it for the family automobile as the years passed and their mode of travel changed dramatically.

Although the house has five bays on the front there are only three sets of openings per floor on the rear. The stone extension of the earlier house can be seen at the back of the newer block and stands out as being only a single story. It’s interesting that they chose a shade of bricks that matches the stonework so well.

The 1835 bake oven could still be used to turn out a loaf of bread or a fresh-baked apple pie. The county atlas above shows the house surrounded by two rectangles of little dots. This is the way orchards were represented and I can imagine a fair amount of that fruit was baked in this oven over the years.

At the rear of the outdoor oven is the old well pump. The modern convenience of hot and cold running water makes us tend to forget that at one-time water was pumped by hand from a well and carried into the house in buckets. Early pumps had a single-cylinder that brought a sudden gush of water when the lever was activated. When dual cylinder pumps were invented they doubled the amount of water delivered because as one cylinder was emptying into the bucket the other was refilling. Once as common as the kitchen faucet is today, there are still lots of examples on farms and around older buildings. Many of them are still in working order while others have been repurposed as lawn and garden decorations.

Benares House sits in a park-like setting and was opened as a museum in 1995. The original 190 acre site has been reduced to just 5.7 but the home still sits among lots of mature trees. It’s certainly worth checking out if you are in the area.

Google Maps link: Benares House

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Scarborough’s Most Eccentric Home

Sunday, November 14, 2021

One of the strangest homes in Toronto stands amidst an average-looking Scarborough subdivision. Prior to 1970, the home at 110 Maybourne was just a single-story bungalow, unremarkable among its neighbours. Since then the small home on a 50 X 100-foot lot has been repeatedly expanded to become a sprawling 3,400 square foot monstrosity. In spite of the fact that it is falling down, it recently sold for $760,000 which is basically just the purchase of the property. It will be demolished and replaced with a new home so we thought it would be good to capture its eccentricity before it is gone forever.

The home is the creation of Max Heiduczec who spent years slowly adding to the house. He picked up inspiration from many different architectural styles and ended up with a most unusual-looking result.

On the roof is a small dome that looks like it came off of a small Russian Orthodox church.

Inside the house sprawls over three and a half floors including an indoor swimming pool in the basement.

There’s a round tower that resembles a minaret on an Islamic Mosque. Lion statues line the entrance like those in an Egyptian temple.

Some of the statues could easily be re-used on the site when the owner gets around to redeveloping it. There’s a female carrying a water jug on her shoulder that appears to have weathered pretty well.

Max continued to maintain the building but with less and less ability as he got older. By 2014 he was only able to work for short sessions painting or replastering before he would retreat into the house for a rest. Today there are large sections of the stucco that have dropped away and the male statue looks like he might have spent a little too much time out in the cold.

The little windows and embattlements on the round tower reveal themselves to have only been painted on.

The square tower actually has pointed arches in the Gothic Revival tradition used on many churches in the mid to late 1800s.

This is one of the oddest homes that has been allowed to be created in the city. Perhaps no one ever thought too much about all the continuous building permits that Max must have had issued to him.

Google Maps Link: 110 Maybourne Avenue

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UTM Nature Trail

Sunday, November 7, 2021

In the 1960s the University of Toronto decided to expand with an additional campus on each of the east and west ends of the city. Eventually Scarborough and Mississauga each got a new university campus. The University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) was develped on two adjacent pieces of land. The northern section was a millionaire’s estate while the southern section belonged to the Erindale Sand and Gravel Company. The old gravel pits have been redeveloped for the various buildings of the university while much of the old estate remains intact, forested and is home to the UTM Nature Trail. We set out to explore the nature trail and the local history. The 1961 aerial map below is from the Toronto Archives and shows the relative location of the mansion, the pond and the cottage going from the top of the image to the bottom.

Erindale Park was a lake when the dam was intact but is now a large park with plenty of free parking. It’s best to park there and then cross the Credit River on the footbridge. There’s a trail that goes to the right and follows the river upstream to where it climbs the ravine from the flood plain up to the table lands above.

The UTM Nature Trail begins at the top of the hill. The trail is a little less than 3.5 kilometres long and follows the edge of the ravine, providing some interesting views of the river below. Although the trail is a loop it isn’t all nature trail. Part of the loop passes through the University campus following a sidewalk route. We turned back when we got to that part.

The land that forms the northern section of the UTM property was granted to Peter Adamson in 1836 and he held it until 1854 when it was sold to Edward Shortliss. In 1869 Louise deLisle foreclosed on the mortgage and took the property away from Shortliss. Louise deLisle placed it in trust for the use of the Schreiber family. Weymouth Schreiber moved to Springdale (now Erindale) in the late 1870’s and lived there for awhile until a home was built on the northern portion of the property. Three houses were eventually built with Lislehurst being raised in 1885. The name likely pays respect to deLisle. Two other houses and a cottage were built but one of the homes was lost to a fire in 1913. The remaining home would be dismantled around 1930 and the materials used to enlarge Lislehurst when Reginald Watkins bought the property. He designed a false Tudor style home facing the river which features exposed beams and stucco. The University of Toronto acquired the 12,000 square foot home in 1968 when they bought the property to develop a western campus. Since then the home has usually been occupied by the Principal who has the luxury of 8 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. They also enjoy the short commute down the old laneway which is now known as Principal’s Road. The house is well posted as private property but as it is clearly visible from the UTM trail it has been decorated for Halloween.

Reginald Watkins bought the property in 1930 and began to renovate it into a grand estate. One of his most endearing creations was an artificial pond with a concrete bottom. He built a stone arch bridge across the pond which is still in use by pedestrians as well as almost everyone who passes by with a camera. You can reach the pond by following the old laneway away from Lislehurst. Between the house and the pond a set of laneway curbs runs to the edge of the new growth forest. Therein lies the foundations from another of the outbuildings from the estate.

Near the pond stands a large carving called Curiosity Knowledge Wisdom. It depicts an owl, pileated woodpecker, raccoon and a fawn on the front with a male cardinal on the back. It was donated to the campus on September 29, 2013 by two members of the class of “81 and their two children.

If you follow Principal’s Road past the maintenance buildings you will find a small story and a half cottage that was built in the 1870s by the Schreiber family. At various times it has served as a groundskeepers home, a guest cottage and the gardeners house. When the Schreibers moved around 1900 they left Stanley Plumb as caretaker and he moved into the cottage. Watkins rennovated the cottage when he updated Lislehurst. When UTM bought the property they first used the cottage for the Artist in Residence. It is currently used to stage mock crime scenes for the forensic students to try and solve. While Lislehurst has a heritage designation the cottage does not.

The car that was left parked behind the cottage has been stripped of everything that could be reused. The inside of the car shows signs of having been set on fire. I think it could have been a Chrysler Sebring based on the shape.

The trails on campus were lightly used on this Sunday afternoon with the exception of a few students. The upper trails were in pretty good shape but the lower trail along the river was quite muddy.

Chiggers, or Berry Bugs, look like tiny bright red dots. The one pictured below was on a log but they commonly hang around on the tips of tall grass waiting to crawl onto people and animals that pass by. They feed on animal skin and can leave a serious bite that causes an itchy rash known as Trombiculosis.

Orange Jelly Slime grows on dead softwood trees. It isn’t poisonous but appareantly it doesn’t hold together if cooked so it needs to be eaten raw. It’s also said to be basically tasteless so perhaps if I was lost and starving…

We saw evidence that there are plenty of deer on the UTM campus where they can avoid the crowds of people who are enjoying Erindale Park. You can read about when the park was Erindale Lake in our story Erindale Hydro Electric Dam.

Google Maps Link: UTM Nature Trail

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