Monthly Archives: February 2022

Eaton Hall

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Eaton Hall has been referred to as Canada’s answer to Downton Abbey and is close as we come to Canadian royalty. The 700-acre property has a history that goes back to First Nations who camped around the lake and made use of the nearby Carrying Place Trail. The Toronto Purchase in 1787 allowed King township to be surveyed and opened to farmers in the 1820s. Some of the earliest in the area of Eversley was the Ferguson family who had a kettle lake on their section of the Oak Ridges Morraine. The 1878 County Atlas below shows the eventual site of Eaton Hall Farm.

When Timothy Eaton, founder of the retail empire, passed away in 1907 his youngest son, John Craig Eaton took over the $22.4 million business. John Craig Eaton grew the business to $125 million in the next 15 years and so he and his wife Florence (Flora) lived in a large mansion near Casa Loma in the rich area of Toronto. Henry Pellet owned Casa Loma as well as a country estate known as Marylake. He convinced the Eatons to buy land near him in King Township to build their own country estate. In 1920 the Eatons bought the Ferguson farms and started to build their country home and farm. When John Craig died on March 30, 1922, Flora spent a year overseas and then chose to reside at Eaton Hall Farm most of the time. In 1924 she had the second Ferguson farmhouse moved a short distance and then expanded greatly to create her country mansion Villa Fiori. The middle section of the home, with the small dormers, is the farmhouse. The original Ferguson farmhouse was moved to a row of workers’ homes near the new barn but was left largely unrepaired from 1972 until 2015 when it was demolished.

A large section was added to the front of the original home with a dining room on one side and a living room on the other, both looking out over the lake. Two large bedrooms on the second floor each had their own bathrooms. An extension on the back contained a three-car garage on the ground floor and servants’ quarters on the upper one. When it was completed in the fall of 1924, Villa Fiori served as the primary country residence until 1936. When Lady Eaton passed away in 1970 and the estate was eventually sold to Seneca College, they used this building for a while. Eventually, it was determined to be unsafe and has been closed off for years. It’s hard to say if funds will be found for restoration before it is also demolished.

Nearby, the Tea House had a small kitchen and screened windows. It looked out over the rose gardens toward the lake in one direction and over the tennis courts in the other.

The Eatons went on a building campaign as they sought to develop their estate into a working farm that could produce eggs and butter as well as other products to be sold in their stores. They built a dairy building, a chicken house, an ice house, and a greenhouse. They added a large cattle and horse barn which suffered two fires. The remaining barn lacks the two silos and clock tower that used to adorn it.

It took a lot of people to run the farm and so some housing was provided. The single farm dwelling is located just south of the cattle barn and was one of three homes in a small community of workers.

They also built what they called the semi-farm dwelling where two more families lived. Beside it stood the relocated original Ferguson farmhouse.

Plans for a family mansion that could host the children, grandchildren, and royalty we set in place in 1921. When John died they were put on hold until 1930 while Flora spent much of her time in Europe with her children. Construction began in January 1938 and finishing touches were completed by February of 1941. Looking like a castle, the 35,000 square foot home cost $380,531.13 which is about $6 million in today’s currency. It is made from local Humber River limestone which is appropriate since the lake in front of the castle is one of the primary headwaters for the river. It has two round turrets and one square one. The large round turret in the front of the home contains the grand staircase which only reaches the first three floors and does not continue to the servant’s levels above.

The east wing of the basement level is largely used for the staff dining areas and the laundry and storage. The large vault is located under the turret with the staircase in it while the rest of the lower level was largely used for entertainment with a card-playing room, billiards room, ballroom, and a theatre. The main floor contained the grand entrance hall, the grand hall, conservatory, and sitting rooms as well as the library. The second floor was used for living space and family bedrooms. Lady Eaton had her bedroom, dressing room, sitting room, and private conservatory at the west end of the building. The picture below shows the rear of the home.

There is wrought ironwork in several places on the building but only one place where it bears the letter “E” for Eaton. That is just above the door that was used as the servant’s entrance.

Eaton Hall has a most interesting and appropriate flag pole, which is shaped like a ship’s mast. It was created for them by Ditchburn Boats Ltd. in Gravenhurst. The Eatons had bought their cottage in Muskoka from the Ditchburns in 1906 and so it was natural for them to be contracted to build the unique flag pole. It was installed in 1940 but urban legend suggests that it was raised as a tribute to the Royal Canadian Navy which used Eaton Hall during World War Two. The Navy was given use of Eaton Hall beginning on August 24, 1944, at which time Flora Eaton took up residence in Villa Fiori once again. Between 75 and 100 injured or ill navy personnel were sent here to recover and get prepared to return to service.

When Lady Eaton moved out of Ardwold, their city home, she determined that there was no market for it and had it destroyed. A few items were brought to Eaton Hall including the fireplaces, some carved stone benches, and the pergola. Although they still allow light to get through, the idea of a pergola is to provide a level of shade. After Flora Eaton died on July 9, 1970, the family agreed to sell the 696-acre property. Seneca College bought it to create their King Campus. At the time, there were 19 buildings on the site and nine families plus five other workers lived in the complex. A total of 27 people were employed to keep the farm and buildings in order. Seneca cut this back to four people and building maintenance wasn’t kept up. As a result, many of the buildings are in poor shape and the boathouse has recently been demolished. The pergola, Villa Fiori, and the workers’ homes are all in a state of deterioration. All of the buildings on the western end of the property are now in ruins.

One of the trails through the property follows the Schomberg and Aurora Railway right of way. This 36-kilometer long railway was built in 1902 and connected Schomberg with the Toronto and York Radial Railway which ran up Yonge Street. This is how Henry Pellatt introduced the Eatons to the property as the Eversley train station was just opposite where the Eaton Hall gatehouse and driveway would be built. Pellatt also built a spur line on the boundary between lots 11 and 12 to service his estate at Mary Lake. The Schomberg and Aurora Railway closed in 1927 and the tracks were removed the following year.

The Oak ridges Morraine Trail runs through Seneca King Campus and there are many other trails to be explored which makes this an interesting area to visit more than once.

Related stories: Timothy Eaton, Marylake, Toronto and York Radial Railway, Casa Loma

Google Maps Link: Eaton Hall

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The Tiny Tweed Jail

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Village of Tweed is in the former Township of Hungerford and was founded in the 1830s under the name of Hungerford Mills. It became a bit of a boomtown during the mid-19th century because of local mining and lumber resources. In 1891 it was incorporated as a village and renamed Tweed after a river in Scotland. Originally, the Municipal Building housed the police constable and had a small jail in the basement. When it flooded the community began to look for an alternative place to keep the occasional miscreant. Being in town on business I decided to check out the new one.

R. F. Houston had founded the Tweed lumber company in 1893 and he stepped forward with a design for a small three-cell jail. The cells were located in the back with a small lobby inside the front door. The town paid him $10.00 for the design which they began to work on it in 1898. It didn’t open until 1900 which seems like a pretty long construction time for such a small building. The community paid $350.00 for it which is equivalent to $11, 700 in 2022 currency. The simple design has two small windows and a door in front and no other openings in the walls, which are made of cut stone. The one accent to the building is the gingerbread on the front gable, highlighted by the ball finial projecting above the roofline.

Tweed was never a community that had a lot of crime and the jail was rarely used, and then only for a few minor offenses. One exception was Gideon Butts who was held there for one night in 1903 before being sent to Nappanee. He seems to have had severe issues, killing his wife under the delusion that she was a serpent. Constables were paid 20 cents to watch over prisoners and given 30 cents if they had to feed them as well. By 1950 the jail was deemed unnecessary as it was never actually in use. After it was closed the Ontario Provincial Police renovated the inside so that they could use it as a community station. They removed the three jail cells and replaced them with a single cell that allowed them to open the front up enough to put a desk in there. When the O.P.P. moved into the municipal building the former jail was converted into a tourist information centre which is open in the summer months.

So, does Tweed really have North America’s smallest jail? At just 15.74 feet wide by 19.68 feet deep it is certainly one of the smallest, however, several other communities also claim to have the smallest jail. The one in Creemore from 1892 is almost a foot narrower at 14.76 by 19.68 while Port Dalhousie has a jail built in 1845 that is 20 feet by 15 feet 2 inches. Several other small towns, including Coboconk, boast small jails and they are all within a few inches of each other in size. However, the ability to claim the smallest jail goes to the town of Rodney. Their tiny jail was built in 1890 and measures just 14.76 feet by 17.71 feet.

As it turns out, Tweed might not actually have the smallest jail in North America but they do have beautiful Stoco Lake, a well-preserved 19th-century main street, and the Trans Canada Trail which follows the old Bay of Quinte Railway line through town. I believe I will have to check out the trail the next time I’m in town.

We have previously posted about the Don Jail and the Owen Sound Jail

Google Maps Link: Tweed Jail

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Pioneers of the GTA – Timothy Eaton

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Timothy Eaton founded Canada’s largest privately-owned department store and introduced many innovations into his retail business. His introduction of the retail catalogue and mail order service in 1884 gave rural Canadians access to a wide variety of merchandise making him one of the pioneers of retail in the country. Timothy Eaton was born in Ireland in 1834 near Ballymena where he apprenticed in a general store. At the age of 19 he came to Canada and worked for two years in a general store in this building in Glen Williams.

Along with his brother Kirk, Timothy opened a store in 1856 which they moved to St. Marys four years later. By 1869 Eaton was on the move again, venturing off to Toronto to open his own store. The archive drawing below shows his original store at 178 Yonge Street.

Edward Young Eaton was born to Timothy and Margaret Eaton in 1863 while they were living in St. Marys. Edward worked for his father’s store after finishing school and worked his way up from the bottom to the position of Vice-President. He died in 1900 of kidney disease just two years after he completed his house at 157 St. George Street. The home was sold by the Eaton Family to the University of Toronto Fraternity “Delta Kappa Epsilon” for a dollar, reportedly to avoid paying the taxes on it. They’ve occupied it ever since.

The Eaton empire continued to grow and Timothy took good care of his employees compared to standards of the day. He closed his stores at 6:00 pm every night so they could be with their families and in the Summer he gave them Saturday afternoon off. He started manufacturing his own products and set up a variety of departments and services in his stores. You could even order entire houses from Eatons. By the time of his passing, Eatons employed over 9,000 people and it would continue to grow as a retail force. Timothy died from pneumonia on January 31, 1907, and was buried in the newly built family mausoleum in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  Seventeen other members of the Eaton family have also been buried in this mausoleum.

John Craig Eaton inherited the Eaton retail empire when his father died although he was the youngest son. In January of 1909, he bought 11 acres of land in the newest hip area for Toronto’s wealthy. The top of the Davenport hill was home to Spadina House (seen in the background of the photo below) as well as Casa Loma which was then under construction. He comissioned a home with 50 rooms including 14 bathrooms and an indoor pool. He named it Ardwold which was Gaelic for High Green Hill. When he died in 1922 Lady Eaton started to spend less time there and by 1936 decided the building was a waste. So she had it blown up! The photo below is from Wikipedia and is dated 1910.

The site was then developed into an exclusive little enclave of homes for the wealthy. One remnant of the Eaton estate is the gatehouse which still stands at the corner of Spadina and Ardwold Gate.

The Methodist Social Union of Toronto was looking to open a branch in the growing area of St. Clair Avenue West and approached the Eaton Family to see if they could get a donation. Timothy Eaton’s widow, Margaret, and his son John Craig Eaton donated the land for the church and paid for the original church buildings. The Sunday School was finished in 1911 and hosted the worship services until 1915 when the sanctuary was dedicated. It has been a member of the United Church of Canada since 1925 and contains several large stained glass windows dedicated to Timothy and other members of the Eaton Family.

Carved in the stone along the front of the building are the words Timothy Eaton Memorial Church and the earliest section has a 1910 date stone.

After Timothy died, the board of directors was chaired by Sir John Eaton and they decided that the heart of Toronto’s shopping district was going to move north and they wanted to remain the flagship retailer. In a three day period in 1910 they bought 3/4 of the land between Yonge and Church for two blocks north of Carlton. This land would later be sold back for such projects as Maple Leaf Gardens. Instead, they elected to build on the land they acquired on the south west corner of Carton and Yonge. Their plans were put on hold by World War One but in 1925 they announced a seven-story, 600,000 square foot retail building on the site. Five months later they announced a 32 story tower to be added to the structure which would have made it one of the largest buildings in the world at the time. The Great Depression came along and cancelled all but the originally planned building. The planned tower can be seen in the promotional drawing below.

The building that we call College Park is the remains of this grand project. The large assembly of land also resulted in widened sidewalks and streets around the building and the straightening of the intersection of Bay and College. In 1977 the old Eaton properties at Queen and Yonge would be redeveloped into the Eaton Centre, Toronto’s most popular tourist attraction.

Around 1920, Henry Pellatt convinced Lady Eaton to buy 700 acres of land adjacent to his Marylake property. Pellatt was owner of Casa Loma and knew the Eatons from their days at Ardwold. Plans were drawn up for a massive estate home in 1921 but construction didn’t start until 1938, being completed the following year. Lady Eaton, who found Ardwold to be too large moved into this modest 72 room home. During 1944 and 1945 the Royal Canadian Navy used Eaton Hall as a convalescent hospital. When Lady Eaton died in 1970 the property was sold to Seneca College which operates the King Campus on the site. The property is now cut with many trails and I made my way in from Dufferin Street. For more details and many more pictures see our post, Eaton Hall.

Timothy Eaton left his mark on Canada as a pioneer in the area of catalogue retail, of which online shopping is a modern descendant.

Related stories: Glen Williams, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, St. Marys, Marylake, Eaton Hall

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One Room Schools

Sunday, February 6, 2022

For early farmers, getting formal education for their children took a decided back seat to getting the work done on the homestead. When education became an option the local community would usually come together to build a small log school, often with split logs for seating. Prior to 1840 students would attend based on the needs of the farm and so the teacher was often a volunteer and had another means of income. This article looks at the history of one room schools and some of the examples that remain in the GTA. A link is given to each one that leads to more information and Google map links if you wish to check them out for yourself.

The first High School in Peel County was built in 1851 in Streetsville and it still survives. It has been greatly modified over the years but it is the small building at the back in the picture below. Two rooms and the tower were added later as the town grew.

These early one room schools were attended by children who often had lengthy walks to get to class in the mornings. Since extended families often had adjacent farms it was common to attend school with your siblings, cousins, and neighbours. You could spend 8 years with the same students and teacher, in the same classroom. There was no electricity, no running water, and poor heating plus you had to go to the outhouse at the back of the schoolyard to use the toilet. Teachers and students would bring fuel to burn in the winter for heat.

The school in Britannia was built in 1859 and housed children in grades one to eight for 100 years before it was closed. After standing empty until 1982 it was finally restored and is now used as a field trip destination where a class of students role plays a school day from the past. Where the earliest students walked from local farms along a muddy country road, the modern students are bused in along a four-lane highway.

In 1871 the Ontario Government enacted the Schools Act which made education free and compulsory, the first act of its kind in Canada. Each of the provinces was quick to follow suit as they were given responsibility for education under Confederation. Brougham also has a school that served the community from 1859 to 1959 before being closed. It currently is being used as an art gallery while it awaits its fate as part of the Pickering airport lands.

An 1872 document details the rules for teachers and it illustrates a distinct difference in how male teachers were treated compared to females. A single male could have one night per week off for courting, two if he was a regular attendee of the local church. Women weren’t expected to court and could be fired for getting married or indulging in “unseemly conduct”, whatever that was. The log school in Limehouse was replaced in 1862 by a new stone building. As the lime industry grew, the school soon became too small and a second floor was added in 1875. By 1890 it was no longer needed and was closed until 1954 when it was again put into service, although for only 8 years until the school finally closed permanently.

The L’Amoreaux school was built in 1869 to replace an earlier one from the 1830s. Most of the original schools were log or frame construction and usually were small to reflect the size of the community. As the local population grew it was often necessary to build a larger school of a more permanent construction. On a few occasions, the earlier buildings were given a veneer of bricks to reduce the maintenance and help keep the winter winds out.

The original school in Cedar Grove was an 1820 log building on Steeles Avenue. It served until the 1850s when a frame building was erected on the north side of 14th Avenue. In 1869 it was decided to replace this one with a brick building which was constructed across the road. This building almost made it 100 years but closed in 1966. It now serves as the community centre.

Children in Hornby attended class in a log cabin built in 1826 until 1870 when it was replaced with a new building. This too was replaced in 1963 with the new Pineview School on the 5th line.

Meadowvale replaced their early school in 1871 with a board and batten structure that has been used as the town hall since 1968.

The original log school in German Mills was replaced in 1874 with a new building. This school operated until 1962 using the skills of over thirty different teachers over the years. A school bell was used to call students into class and this building still has the original bell in its tower.

The town of Ringwood built a log school in 1838 but as the town grew, so did the need for a larger building. They met the need in 1887 with a new brick building. By 1939 the town was shrinking and enrollment was down to just 13 students. The town voted that year against installing electricity or hiring a music teacher as they couldn’t really afford the $1200 salary of the existing teacher. After the school closed it was used as a church building for a few years.

Boston Mills built a one room school house out of stone in 1888 and operated it until 1969. When it was closed it was moved into the cemetery to be used as a mortuary to store bodies in for the winter until they could be buried in the spring.

Haggerman’s Corners built a wooden school in 1858 but it burned down in 1888. The town commissioned E. J. Lennox, designer of Casa Loma, to design the replacement. For this reason, they ended up with a school that looks somewhat different than the standard one room school. There were even separate entrances for the boys and girls on opposite sides of the building.

Wesleyville started with a log school which it used until 1866 when a frame church building was moved onto the site and became the school. When it burned down in 1899 it was replaced with the present brick building. The school was closed for good in 1967 but is currently being renovated inside.

The County Altases that were published in the late 1870s showed schools every couple of concessions but most of these haven’t survived. The few that remain provide us with a glimpse into the lives of school children 150 years ago.

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