Category Archives: Ghost Town

L’Amoreaux – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The farming community of L’Amoreaux developed along Finch Avenue after it was founded in 1816 by a French Huguenot family of that name. It never gained much in population but it served a large number of farms in the area. There are still a few original houses as well as an early church and the well known Zion Schoolhouse.

With the ongoing lockdown restricting travel I chose this location to investigate because it could be reached on my lunch from work. I’ve included two County Atlas images which each show the points of interest on their respective sides of Highway 404. The map below shows the Scarborough side of town with two houses marked as well as the cemeteries for the Wesleyan Methodists and the English Church (Anglican).

Christie’s Wesleyan Methodist church stood where the parking lot for Bridlewood Mall is today. This historic picture from around 1896 was found on the Scarborough Historical Society web site. The congregation formed in 1846 and lasted until it was absorbed into the United Church of Canada in 1925. The building was moved to Buttonville in 1938 leaving the cemetery beside it stranded in a field.

A cemetery was opened on Isaac Christie’s lot beside the church with the first burial coming after Permelia Roy passed away on January 10, 1849. The cemetery was closed in the 1930’s and in 1975 was incorporated into a little memorial garden in the mall parking lot. Unfortunately, I noticed that there has been some recent vandalism and at least one stone has been knocked over. There’s around 100 people interred in what is perhaps one of the least sedate of cemeteries in the city.

Isaac Christie along with Isabella Graeme bought lot 33 in Concession 4 in 1836 after emigrating from Ireland. Both are buried in the little cemetery on their farm and their grave markers have been incorporated into a wall for preservation. Several later marble stones still stand throughout the little garden.

Anglican church services were held in the L’Amoreaux log school from 1832 until 1840. A small frame church was dedicated in 1841 and served the community until 1935 when it was destroyed by a fire. The congregation temporarily moved into the Christie Methodist Church and in 1937 began work on a new building. When the city expanded to swallow the little community, they found their building was too small. A new church including senior apartments, seen in the background of the picture below, was dedicated in 1978. After that, the 1937 church was demolished.

Glendinning House was built in 1870 and originally faced onto Pharmacy Avenue when it was a working farm house. It mixes several different architectural styles into what is commonly referred to as Upper Canadian Vernacular. It blends Gothic, Georgian and Victorian traditions which likely marks the various additions that the family made to the home as more room was needed. The house was designated as having historical and architectural value and a notice was served to the developers that they had to incorporate it into the subdivision that was planned for the farm.

The Risebrough house was built around 1860 in the common one and a half story design with a gable and window over the front door. The original cladding has been covered over with aluminum siding but it is believed that the rear kitchen may be the original home. It is currently being used by an Islamic congregation who might lose the right to use the building for religions ceremonies due to problems with parking.

Half of L’Amoreaux was in Scarborough Township and the other part in North York. The three places of interest from the west end of town are circled in green on the County Atlas below. These are the Primitive Methodist Church, Zion School and the property of Sam Kennedy.

The Primitive Methodists built their church on the west end of town and replaced it in 1873 with this buttressed brick building with simple gothic revival accents around the windows. The church is still known as the Zion Methodist Church although it ceased that function many years ago. The building was empty in 1971 when the city acquired it to be used as a community event space.

School section #1 was on the east end of L’Amoreaux and was part of the Scarborough School system while School Section # 12 was on the North York end of town. The cover photo shows the front side of this 1869 building which replaced an earlier school from the 1830’s. The school closed in 1955 and was little altered during its years of teaching. One obvious addition is at the back of the school building where a new chimney was added against the wall when the wood stove was replaced with a furnace for heating. The school sat empty for three decades before it was restored in 1986 and opened as a museum showcasing school in 1910. This is the only one room school in North York that is still in its original location and hasn’t been converted to a residence.

Green Meadows was built as an estate house for John Angus McDougald who made his fortune in the world of high finance. The estate was built in 1950 when the surrounding area was all still in use for farming. Like many of the large estates of the wealthy that were built in the early to mid-20th century this one was set up for horses and various equestrian pursuits such as fox hunting. In spite of its recent construction, the house has been listed for heritage purposes as an example of a country estate.

This aerial picture from 1971 shows the outbuildings that survived the onslaught of development on the neighbouring farms and all but 19 acres of Green Meadows. The last 19 acres was sold for development after 1996. All the out buildings were removed and houses built surrounding the mansion.

The former community of L’Amoreaux is remembered in these few buildings and there’s also a park system that looks like it should be explored at some time in the near future.

Google Maps Link: Zion Schoolhouse

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Ghost Towns of Peel Region

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Peel County has changed over the years since it was created, even taking on the name Regional Municipality of Peel. Some communities were founded that flourished and others that have failed. As time goes on and developers do their work some of these former communities are being eliminated, all except for a ghost of the original community. This blog collects 9 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 Halton Region, York Region, and the City of Toronto.

Barbertown is the site of an old mill that is still operating. It has been clad over, hiding its original stone construction. The mill is no longer powered by water and the old sluice gate has been filled in. A tree is growing where the water once ran and it has taken a solid hold on the old crank assembly.

It is common to find an old church standing beside a graveyard. Boston Mills has its old school in its graveyard. That is quite unusual. The railway through town has been closed and turned into a hiking trail and the group of small cottages that once stood on the end of the golf course are falling in on themselves.

Britannia still has several original buildings although like the Gardner home below some no longer stand in their original locations. This 1840’s house has been moved about a kilometer south on Hurontario Street.

Burnhamthorpe reached a maximum of about 100 people in the 1870’s and then began to decline. Several houses and an old church remain and the one shown below was built in 1882. Between 1897 and 1912 it served as a store and the community post office.

Dixie was a small community where each church denomination was too small to afford their own building. The solution was to get together and build a chapel that they all could share. Later they would each grow large enough to erect their own church building and move out of the Union Chapel.

Humber Grove was built in the scenic hollow around Duffy’s Lane and the Humber River. When Hurricane Hazel flooded the rivers in the GTA the government developed a flood control plan that would have built a dam north of the community. Since the valley would have been flooded the existing houses were bought up and removed. The dam was never built and now Humber Grove is now a community of streets and bridge abutments with no residents.

Malton isn’t a true ghost town because there’s still a thriving town, just not the original town where 500 people lived. After the community declined it was overrun by the airport and its associated sprawl. It still has some vintage homes and interestingly enough the empty ones have the windows boarded up and then painted to look like windows.

Mt. Charles is another community that was over-run by the airport and it’s supporting industries. Until recently there were several other buildings, including the blacksmith shop but these have been demolished. John Dale’s house, below, and a few others still survive, as does the cemetery.

Palestine was founded in 1823 but never grew beyond a church, school and a few houses. At one time the Etobicoke Creek ravine held a wastewater treatment plant that has also been removed.

There are still several ghost towns in Peel that we haven’t photographed yet and we’re looking forward to exploring them one day.

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Fairbank – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The community of Fairbank was established in 1835 at the intersection of Dufferin Street (brown), Eglinton Avenue (purple) where Vaughan Road (black) intersected from the southwest. Today, the ghost of this little farming community has almost faded with only two buildings remaining from before 1900. There is some parking on Hopewell Avenue across from Walter Saunders Memorial Park. From here you can access the York Beltline Trail and the other places in this story are just a short walk north and then south on Dufferin Street. The map below was taken from the 1877 County Atlas and marks the location of the two remaining buildings with circles.

Jacob P. Ross owned the property outlined in blue on the map above. The house was built in 1855 and is the last surviving original house in the former community of Fairbank. The pediments on the west side mark it as neoclassical in style. It is a one and a half story farm house clad in brick, stone and wood. There have been several additions to the house over the years but the original home can be identified by the four quarter-round brackets set in the corners. Standing in a modern subdivision the house appears to be facing the wrong way compared with its neighbours, although it directly faces Dufferin Street

One of the interesting features of this house is the doorcase. Very often in early architecture in Ontario the face of the house was very plain with just the doorcase being more intricately detailed. In this home it is recessed from the front wall leaving no sidelight windows. There’s a plain set of windows in the transom and the date in the lintel above the door.

The Fairbank Village BIA uses the following picture in their promotions of the local business district as they recall the town history. The left side of the picture shows three streets from top to bottom. These are Dufferin Street, Vaughan Road and Eglinton Avenue. On the southeast corner of Eglinton and Dufferin is what appears to be a small Tollkeeper’s Cottage. Dufferin Street was formerly known as the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road and would have had toll gates at major intersections.

Matthew Parsons was just 19 when he arrived and bought York West Concession 3 Lot 3 which he developed into his family farm. He named his property Fairbank Farms (outlined in green above) and from this the community took its name. Then in 1837 he was arrested as a rebel and accused of supporting William Lyon MacKenzie in his rebellion. Parsons was never charged and his good name was restored when he donated land in 1844 to the Methodist Congregation who had been meeting in the local school. They built a frame structure which was replaced in 1889 with the brick building that has continued to serve the United Church since the name change in 1925.

Fairbank Presbyterian Church began in 1889 on Fairbank Avenue but moved to a new larger building at the corner of Eglinton and Dufferin in 1914. The building bears a two date date-stone marking both of these milestones. In 1925 it joined the United Church and in 1931 took the name St. Cuthbert’s United Church to distinguish itself from he Fairbank United Church a little north on Dufferin Street. It closed in 2001 and the building has been occupied ever since by the British Methodist Episcopal Christ Church. This denomination started in Toronto in 1845 as a church founded by freed slaves. There are only 9 churches of this denomination in Ontario and only one other in Toronto. When they lost their building to fire in 2001 they were able to move into the old Fairbank Presbyterian Church which was recently vacated.

Fairbank got a post office in 1874 and quickly developed into a crossroads community with Francis McFarlane running one of the hotels and serving as postmaster. In July of 1890 Fairbank Village Parish was set up to provide Anglican services for the community, meeting in the ballroom of McFarlane’s Hotel. In 1893 they opened their own church on Vaughan Road at the intersection with Dufferin Street. St Hilda’s church is pictured below in a 1934 photo from the Toronto Public Library.

In the early 1970’s the congregation decided to build affordable housing for seniors and three towers and a new church building were constructed.

By the late 1880’s the city was booming and land speculation along the edges of Toronto began. One creative scheme involved building a commuter line to join the suburbs with the downtown core. Known as the Belt Line Railway the developers proposed to build houses in the areas of Forest Hill and Fairbank. The line began operations in 1892 with a fare of 5 cents between each of it’s stops. However, the timing was bad as a recession meant that the houses weren’t built and the passengers never showed up. Service only lasted for 28 months before it was closed. Some sections continued to be used for industrial purposes but eventually all the tracks were removed. Today, the old Belt Line has been converted into a ribbon park with a multiuse trail. We’ve reviewed the Beltline in three sections previously telling its history and showing the areas where it ran. From the Fairbank end moving east then south the stories are: York Beltline Trail, Kay Gardiner Beltline Trail and Moore Park Beltline Trail.

The steel bridge over Dufferin Street is the third structure that survives in Fairbank from the 19th century. Only two original bridges survive from the Beltline with the other one being at Yonge Street where the old railway goes by the name of The Kay Gardner Beltline Trail. The trail passes through Fairbank on a raised berm and provides a trail that connects the west end of Fairbank with the Don Valley Brick Works and then on to the Lower Don Trail.

Fairbank was filled in with development between the two world wars erasing much of its original character. The fact that it was developed in the inter war period is perhaps apropos considering that it’s known for Prospect Cemetery where many military veterans are buried.

Google Maps Link: Fairbank

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Ghost Towns of Halton Region

Someday

Halton County was one of the earliest settled in the region as United Empire Loyalists began arriving in the 1780’s. They started Oakville and Burlington as well as Georgetown and Acton. Along with some of the familiar names are those of small communities that are only a shadow or ghost of what they once were. These small hamlets and towns dotted the crossroads around the county. This blog collects 5 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 Peel Region, York Region, and the City of Toronto.

Glenorchy was never large community and it has lost pretty much all of the original buildings that it once had. Of note is the local disaster that happened in 1964 when a truck loaded with potatoes took a detour that carried it over Sixteen Mile Creek near the community. The truck was too heavy and the bridge collapsed under the weight leaving just a bridge abutment as a reminder. This three room home was built in 1835 by George and Francis Ludlow.

Hornby was stretched out along Steeles Avenue to the point where it was considered Hornby and West Hornby. A brick one room school building from 1870 and a church remain as well as a few houses. One of the early farm houses belonged to Samuel Brooks and although it has been assessed for its cultural significance it has also been damaged by fire and neglect.

Omagh still has enough of its rural character that it is being considered for designation as a cultural heritage district. It still has two churches and cemeteries as well as the general store. The school is gone and the old Devlin house is starting to suffer. It’s too bad because it’s got a rare example of an eyebrow window.

Palermo still has one of the largest collections of historic homes of the former communities in the region. Although many of them are vacant or abandoned it looks as if only two of them have historic designations and it will be up to developers to remove or incorporate the remaining homes. Past history hasn’t been kind to the homes in these situations.

Sixteen Hollow was an industrial hub that developed where Dundas Street crossed Sixteen Mile Creek. It was vacated by the 1880’s very little remains except for the Presbyterian Church which was built in 1844. In 1899 it was expanded and given a veneer of bricks. An older set of bridge abutments crosses the hollow and marks a former course for the creek.

The County of Halton, now known as The Regional Municipality of Halton, had other historic communities that are yet to be explored. It’ll be interesting to see what secrets they still hold and to document before they change too much.

Another selection of Ghost Towns can be found in our companion blog Ghost Towns of Toronto

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Ghost Towns of Toronto

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Within the present boundaries of the City of Toronto lie the sites and remains of all the small communities that used to surround the city when it was much smaller. Some of these places have very nearly disappeared but if you know where to look there is still a ghost of the community that once was. This blog collects 12 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 Regions of Peel, Halton, and York, excluding Toronto.

Armadale sat at the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Markham Road. It bordered with Markham which is on the north side of Steeles Avenue. Today there are five historic houses as well as the oldest continually serving Free Methodist Church in Canada. It was built in 1880 and its cemetery and parsonage still survive as reminders of a simpler past.

Claireville was started in 1850 and became a toll stop on the Albion Plank Road. It grew to 175 people but today has fallen back to just a few houses in an industrial park. It is flanked by a section of Indian Line which has been cut off and abandoned.

The town of Downsview was named after a home that was called Downs View. It was built in 1844 by a Justice of the Peace who sometimes locked up the convicts in the cells in his basement. The town is mostly gone now but the 1860 Methodist Church still stands.

The town of Eglinton has been completely absorbed into Toronto but there’s still a few clues to the community that grew at Yonge and Eglinton. The second school was built in the 1890’s and that has been absorbed into John Fisher School.

Jacob Fisher got a land grant in 1797 at Dufferin and Steeles where mills attracted a small community who built a Presbyterian Church in 1856. That church building survives at Black Creek Pioneer Village but the rest of the community of Fisherville has vanished.

Flynntown is marked by the remains of its milling industries. There are rough hewn logs that are the remainders of an early saw mill and a much later set of concrete weirs that are the remains of the dam across the Don River.

Lambton Mills grew up on both sides of the Humber River and several early homes and the hotel still survive. Lambton House was built in 1848.

By 1837 the community of Norway had grown to about 80 people centred on the toll station on Kingston Road at Woodbine. A few older buildings still line Kingston Road but the most obvious reminder of the community is the Norway Anglican Church which was built in 1893.

The town of Oriole was a thriving industrial site with seven mills and a brickyard on The Don River at Sheppard and Leslie. Road expansions have eliminated most of the physical history but one of the old dams still survives.

The town of Richview has disappeared under the intersection of highway 401 and 427 and their various on ramps. All that remains is the cemetery which is surrounded by the highways and can only be accessed off of Eglinton Avenue.

A couple of churches survive to mark the old community of Wexford. St. Judes, pictured below, was built in 1848.

York Mills grew up around several mills on the Don River where it crossed Yonge Street. Several older homes have survived as has the York Mills Hotel which was built in 1857.

Toronto had small communities that sprouted up at nearly every cross roads on the edges of town. The march of progress has wiped most of these places off the map but small hints are there to remind us of these little bits of our past.

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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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Cooper’s Falls – Ghost Towns of Ontario

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Cooper’s Falls has a few newer homes that appear to be occupied, but nearly all of its historical buildings have been left to the elements. It isn’t that far off of highway 11 north and can make an interesting side trip on your way north of Orillia. At Hiking the GTA we typically explore the places in our area since this is where we spend most weekends but not all of them. These pictures were taken on a trip to visit my mother for her birthday back when that was still a good idea.

Thomas and Emma Cooper were each 27 in 1864 when they arrived at Washago. From there they made their way through the woods to the location of their land grant. After building a log school house in 1874 and donating land for a church and graveyard Thomas opened a general store in 1876. A post office was added on April 1, 1878 and he was postmaster until March 1905. Two generations later his grandson would close it on April 30, 1968. In the picture below a line in the bricks just below the second story windows shows the position of a former front veranda sheltering the door and the display windows. The general store also sold gasoline with the Esso pump being featured in the cover photo. The family home is attached on the side and back with the front porch being seen behind the gas pump in that shot. In 1968 gasoline went to $0.33 per gallon, or 8 cents per liter, for the first time.

Across the street from the general store is a building which was the town hall and was locally known as the courthouse. The original drive shed still extends from the town hall although it has likely been a few years since anyone left their horse and carriage here while on business in town. A string of coloured lights extends across the road to the old general store and can be seen below. There are fourteen of these lights which are maintained by Frank Cooper who was born on the second floor of the general store. He claims to have strung them up sometime after the Second World War when electricity was being extended across the street. He decided to decorate the wire and as of 2011 had still been lighting it nightly.

The first church in town was St. George’s Anglican Church which was built around 1884 a couple of kilometers outside of town. This building is still maintained and is used for the occasional service and as a funeral chapel.

By 1921 William, son of Thomas, had converted the saw mill to steam power. When he had a fatal accident at the mill in 1925 it closed because the lumber supply was depleted and the family didn’t have the will to continue. The Anglican cemetery is just east of the church and contains many early gave markers including those of the several of the Cooper family including William. Although the town began a rapid decline when the lumber mill closed it is clear that a large number of people have lived here and in the surrounding area over the years. This one of two cemeteries in the community.

A second church was added by the Free Methodists in 1894 when the town was booming. This denomination remained separate from the Methodist Church when it was united in 1884 and then didn’t participate in the formation of the United Church. Cooper’s Falls Free Methodist Church has been closed for years but there is still one in Armadale that is the oldest continually serving one in Canada. You can read about it in our story Armadale Free Methodist Church. The Cooper’s Falls Free Methodist Church stands right beside the Anglican Cemetery with its own cemetery on the other side.

In small communities the blacksmith was an important tradesman because you couldn’t run to Walmart when something broke and these people kept horses, buggies and much more going. As the town declined and Washago and Severn Bridge grew, the need for a blacksmith disappeared. After the mill closed his shop wasn’t far behind. Today it has a distinct lean to it.

The buildings along Cooper’s Falls Road are in various states of decay and most of them have either the walls or roof opened up. Even if these buildings were not marked as No Trespassing it would be an exceptionally risky thing to get too close, let alone go into them.

Around Ontario we seem to have kept a fair amount of our grist mill heritage compared to our saw mill history. Perhaps this is because the grist mills operated for a few decades after the last of the lumber supplies forced the closure of most of the saw mills in the province. Lumber camps and their supporting towns seemed to have fared poorly and this part of our heritage seems to be vanishing.

Thomas Cooper served the workers who lived in local lumber camps by providing them with supplies through his general store. He also provided for the people of his community including ensuring they had places to live. The men who worked in Cooper’s Lumber Mill, the blacksmith shop or the cheese factory likely lived in small workers cottages like the one rotting in the trees in the picture below.

There’s no shortage of old homes in the community but unfortunately most don’t have any ongoing maintenance to keep the weather from destroying them. Without the interest and interaction of a local historical society the lumber era portion of Cooper’s Falls is being felled by nature.

The Black River was pretty calm on this particular afternoon when this picture was taken upstream from the falls where Thomas Copper built his sawmill. The waterfall is on private property behind the former general store but can be seen from the road during the winter if you know exactly where to look.

Cooper’s Falls Trail is an 8 kilometer hike which is listed as challenging featuring 100 meters of elevation changes. It includes parts of The Great Trail but the entrance off of Cooper’s Falls Road doesn’t have parking. For that you need to enter off of Housey’s Rapids Road.

Google Maps Link: Cooper’s Falls

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Elder’s Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday,October 3, 2020

Elder Mills began life as a farming community that centred around a set of mills where the Humber River crosses Rutherford Road at Highway 27. To investigate we started at Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve which can be accessed off of Napa Valley Road. The 1877 County Atlas section featured below shows the town and the location of the saw mill (SM) and grist mill (GM) on the Elder property as well as the Presbyterian Church (and cemetery (*PC). The school house (SCH) is across the road from the church. It also shows three properties that still contain the Robert Agar House (1855), John Lawrie House (1855) and James Sommerville House (1856) that form part of the legacy of Elder’s Mills.

In 1850 James Gibb Thompson started milling in the area by building a saw mill, grist mill and carding mill along the Humber River. He sold the business to David Elder in 1869 and in 1874 when the post office was opened on the corner of his property the town took the name Elder’s Mills. His children continued to run the grist mill and comb wool in the carding mill until 1919. The Vaughan Archives photo below shows one of the mill buildings but is unfortunately undated.

Elder’s Mills

At the foot of the ravine are a couple of flood control ponds which were showing steam fog this crisp morning. Water cools down slower than the surrounding land and cooler air will flow over the water. The warmth of the pond causes a thin layer of air above it to warm up and moisture evaporates into it. When this air mixes with more colder air coming in off the land a fog condenses out of the moist warmer air that looks like steam rising off the water.

A White Breasted Nuthatch was bobbing its way around the branches of a tree, often standing upside down. Walking straight down the branch of a tree is a quick indication that the bird you are watching could be a type of nuthatch. The back of the neck and cap of the head on the white breasted nuthatch is dark and make it appear to be wearing a hood. Nuthatches probe into cracks in the bark with their long straight bills and unlike woodpeckers they don’t lean against their tails when probing a tree.

There are two small storm water control ponds near the bottom of the hill that were originally separated by a row of about twenty small trees. All but four of these have recently been chewed off and dragged into the water to serve as food supplies. The picture below shows how ambitious the local beaver is as it is working on a much larger tree than it can possibly move after it fells it. It will then work on removing smaller branches and bringing them closer to the underwater entrance to their home.

The former Elder property has seen a few changes over the years. It spent 70 years as an industrial hub when the mills arrived and then it was later turned into a golf course. More recently it has been restored with new plantings and water management systems that allow meadows and wetlands to flourish all year. The noise of Elder’s Mills has been replaced with the tranquility of Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve.

American Goldfinch shed their bright yellow plumage after the mating season and it becomes harder to tell the male from the female. They are better set to blend in with their surroundings for the winter months. Some goldfinches will migrate south into the northern states while a few in eastern Ontario will move north into boreal forests for the winter.

There is a lookout two-thirds of the way up the side of the ravine that provides a nice view out across the nature reserve. The forests on the far side of Highway 27 are a bright red and orange that would really look nice on a sunny day.

The congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church had been meeting from as early 1841 in local homes. After the school building was erected they moved into it until they built their first frame church building in 1845. The church quickly grew to 175 members and by 1883 they had completed the construction of a new brick building on the same site. When the United Church was formed in 1925 nearly half of the congregation left to join the new denomination and the church never recovered its former size. In 1961 it closed and, sadly, the building was destroyed by fire in 1974. Older or damaged stones were gathered into a cemetery cairn in 1983. You can read about other Pioneer Cemetery Cairns in our feature presentation.

Across the road from the church stood the town school. The original frame structure was built in 1843 and then replaced with the structure that still stands behind a new front section. The bell appears to be missing from the small cupola but the date stone is still clearly legible. It reads “School Section No 15 Erected 1872”.

Robert Agar had his house built in 1845 and it is made of bricks manufactured on his farm. The use of light coloured bricks to form the quoins and add a pattern below the eaves makes this a very attractive home. There’s a rear entrance with a porch decorated with gingerbread.

James Sommerville built his story and a half house of split field stone collected on his farm. It was completed in 1856 and cut stone was used for the quoins as well as the window and door frames. It is a simple 5 bay Georgian style house and has recently been renovated and incorporated into the Arlington Estate Event Centre.

John Lawrie built his Georgian style house in 1855 at Lot 12, Concession 9 in Vaughan Township. Four generations of Lawrie family farmed on this lot over the next 120 years. John would have gone into Elder’s Mills to visit the post office for his mail and to get things for his farm. You can read more in our feature post John Lawrie Heritage House.

There were four other homes on Huntington Road that were listed on the Vaughan Heritage Register but only the Agar and Sommerville ones were designated. Developers have apparently demolished the others as the farms around them are being stripped for development.

Google Maps Link: Elder Mills Nature Reserve

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Lambton Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Lambton Mills has changed considerably since the days when it was a mill town on the Humber River, half in Toronto and half in Etobicoke.  It isn’t a ghost town in the classic sense because so many people still live there but the ghost of the pioneer community is still evident.  To explore we parked in the small lot on the west side of the Humber River at the end of Old Dundas Street.

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Dundas Street used to cross the Humber River on an iron bridge set on stone abutments.  When the new high level bridge was built Dundas Street was realigned and Old Dundas Street lost its bridge.  The old stone abutments have have been collapsing and there isn’t much left on the west side of the river.

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Lambton Mills grew up around several mills and soon became home to blacksmiths, inn keepers and many mill workers.  North of Old Dundas Street you can still find the remains of the earthen berm that was part of the early mill dam in town.

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The archive photo below shows the large mill that William Pearce Howland built on the south side of Dundas Street.  Howland went on to be one of the Fathers of Confederation and then served as the second Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

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A short walk south along the river brings you to the remains of an earlier dam.  This helps to mark the site of another mill.

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Millwood Mills was built by Thomas Fisher on the west side of the river and south of Dundas Street.  It is shown on the historical atlas as G.M. for grist mill on the Fisher Estate.  The two story mill burned down in 1847 and was replaced with a five story building.  After Fisher’s death in 1874 the mill passed to his son who operated it for four more years before passing away himself.  In 1880 the mill was converted to steam and became eventually became a rope manufacturer named Canada Woolen Mills.  After a fire in 1901 it was permanently abandoned and now exists as a set of stone foundations in the trees.

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Lambton House was operated as a hotel on the Dundas Road beginning in 1848 as a rest stop and watering hole for travelers and horses alike.  It served as a hotel for 140 years until closing in 1988.  The property has changed a lot over the years and high rise apartments now stand all around the hotel and on the former site of the mill.  The building itself has also changed over the years.  Looking above the rear door on the east end of the building you can see where there is a set of lines that form an upside down V below the roof line.  Lines like this can often be seen on older homes where a former porch has been removed.  In the case of Lambton House, the pioneer equivalent of a garage was attached at the back of the hotel.

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The photo below from the Etobicoke Historical Society shows the hotel as it appeared a century ago.  The rear entrance on the side led directly to the drive shed where the horses sheltered.  It certainly is a more attractive hotel without the apartment buildings in the background.

Lambton House

Thomas Colton owned one of the two blacksmith shops on Dundas on the west side of the river.  It was here that he built his story and a half family home complete with a rounded window in the front gable.

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The Methodist congregation in Lambton Mills needed a new church building and local architect Meade Creech designed and built one for them in 1877.  The first services being held on March 3, 1878 in the new brick building with Gothic architecture and a large rose petal window above the main entrance.  The congregation joined the United Church in 1925 and soon needed a new building.  The old one was sold and a new retail addition was put on the front and it was turned into a store.  The city of Toronto has over 4,500 properties on their heritage register.  This means that they cannot be altered without city council approval.  There’s another 11,700 properties that are heritage listed which means that although they have been recognized as having heritage value they are basically unprotected.  Developers must give the city 60 days notice of their intention to demolish a listed building.   From the vacant lot that now exists where the church used to be it seems those 60 days have passed already.

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The house at 30 Government Road was built in 1870 for Harry Phillips who was the postmaster for the town.  This little house has a rounded arch window in the upper gable that is typical of Lambton Mills and a feature of Italinate architecture.  The four leaf clover motif in the bargeboard on the gable is also typical of the era.

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John Berry took over running Millwood Mills in 1890 and two years later he built his house at 125 Kingsway.  The mill failed and in 1894 he moved to Quebec to run a textile mill there.  He returned to Lambton Mills in 1914 and became treasurer of Etobicoke in 1918.  He served as treasurer for twenty years, walking to Islington every day because he never owned a car.

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A pair of historic homes stand at 7 and 9 Government Road where mill workers lived during the mid-1800’s.

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Another historic home stands at 23 Government Road.  This simple one and a half story house has the Lambton Mills vernacular gable window with a rounded arch.

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Lambton Mills has been totally surrounded with development but there’s still a large number of historic buildings on the west side of the Humber River.  A walk through the area reveals many old gems complete with beautiful gardens.

Also see our feature Old Mill to Lambton Mills as well as the story of Millwood Mills

Google Maps Link: Lambton Mills

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Teston – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The first person to emigrate from England and build a home in the future Teston was named Thane and for a short time the village was named Thanesville.  When the post office was opened in 1868 the name was changed to Teston.  Below is a clip from the 1877 County Atlas which shows the hamlet including the post office and wagon shop which belonged to Joseph Lund.  With the restrictions on parks and trails being lifted for the first time since the pandemic had begun two months earlier it seemed like the trails would likely be busy and the wildlife scarce.  Therefore we decided to leave the trails for a little longer and be safe.  Teston isn’t far from my work and so I was able to explore it over the course of two sunny lunch breaks this past week.

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Lot 27, Concession 4 was originally deeded to Kings College who sold it to John Hadwen in 1865.  On December 26th that year Joseph Lund bought 2 acres in the south west corner of the lot.  Lund’s General Store was built in 1870, as the story goes, after Joseph decided that Mr. Wilson was charging too much for coal oil at the only store in the hamlet.  For this reason the store had the nick name “Spite Store”.  The building also served as a residence with the plain door on the north end leading to the home while the more ornate door on the south led to the mercantile section.

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Joseph Lund was quite the entrepreneur who also owned a wagon making shop and a blacksmiths forge.  In 1868 he announced that he had gone into the undertaking business and was able to provide a handsome hearse and black horses.  The store was built from vertical wooden planks that were later covered over with red insulbrick.  More recently the structure has been covered over with siding.  Fortunately, the beautiful store windows and door remain and are key to the listing of the property on the heritage register.

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Around 1810 a group of Methodists broke away from the Wesleyan Methodist Church and founded the Primitive Methodists.  They practiced a simpler form of worship in simple churches where they kept themselves free of liturgy, thinking themselves to practice a purer form of Christianity.  Joseph Lund was a Primitive Methodist and was instrumental in the founding of Hope Primitive Methodist Church on Keele Street.  Lund would have driven his horse and carriage past the only other church in town, The Wesleyan Methodist, each week on his way to worship.

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The Primitive Methodists started worship in the Teston area in 1840 and built their chapel in 1870.  By 1965 the chapel was gone and the cemetery in disarray.  The community gathered all the tomb stones together into a central display in the shape of a large cross.  Joseph Lund died in 1875 and was buried in the Hope Primitive Methodist church cemetery.

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The Wesleyan Methodists had been meeting in the community since 1811 on property supplied by Isaac Murray.  The first chapel was built on the south side of Teston Side road about half way between Jane Street and Keele Street.  It was known as Hadwen Chapel after the first pastor to serve there.  A new chapel was built in 1872 on another property belonging to Murray.  The old chapel was eventually demolished with only a single stone marking the site.  The earliest settlers lie in unmarked graves beneath this field.

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When Abraham Iredell and his team surveyed Vaughan Township in the summer of 1795 there was a slight misalignment of the east-west roads which resulted in a correction at each of the north-south crossroads.  Isaac Murray owned the property on the west side of Jane where the survey correction for Teston Road was.  It was here that they built the second Wesleyan Church in the community.  The photo below shows the church with the entrance completely rebuilt without the tower, although a small part of the spire appears to have been preserved on the roof top.  This picture is undated but the photo credit goes to Barry Wallace.  The cover photo is dated 1932 and is available in the Baldwin Collection at the Toronto Reference Library.  In 2005 it was decided to expand Teston Road to five lanes and take the jog out at Jane Street.  This meant that the church would have to be moved to make way.  Attempts to save the already unstable church failed and it was demolished instead.  Today, the site lies directly below Teston Road.

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During the 2005 work to widen the road an old Native Peoples Ossuary was discovered.  It was later reburied by members of the First Nations where it sits beneath an unmarked stone.  There are hundreds of these old burial sites across the GTA and many of them have been disturbed by work crews.  One example is the Taber Hill Ossuary in Scarborough which was uncovered during construction for the 401.

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The short main street of Teston hasn’t changed much since it the atlas was drawn.  Most of the original homes still line the east side of the street, including the home of the first resident.  Two Georgian Style homes stand at the south end of the street and one of them is a likely candidate for this original home.

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There are also several homes that were built in the gothic revival including the one at 10891 Jane Street.  While all the old church buildings have been removed, this old house as taken on the role of Bethel Apostolic Church of Vaughan.

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The next building beside the church is an old barn, possibly the original wagon shop.

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One of the most unique fences we’ve seen has to be this one made of old steel wagon wheels.

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The county atlas shows two homes on the property of Arthur Noble.  One of them was this gothic style house that now appears to be deserted.

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The house on Teston Road that was shown on the 1877 County Atlas as Mrs. Stevenson is one of several simple Georgian style homes in the community.  It sits abandoned in an encroaching woodlot on the side of Teston Road.

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The Wesleyan Methodist church shown on the upper left corner of the county atlas above was on the corner of modern Weston Road and Kirby Road.  It has been converted into an interesting looking home.  I wonder why they chose to remove so many of the gothic windows with their pointed arches?

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The historic homes in Teston are a little drab because every one of them has been covered over with siding.  On one hand I applaud his salesmanship but I really wish he hadn’t been so successful and that we could still see the original craftsmanship and brickwork on these homes.

Also see our posts on the nearby ghost towns of Sherwood and Maple.

Google Maps Link: Teston

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