Category Archives: Ghost Town

Emmanuel Harrison – Pioneers of the GTA

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The County of Chinguacousy was surveyed in 1818 and the land grants were quickly given out to Loyalists from the War of 1812-1814 as well as emigrants from the British Isles.  Emmanuel Harrison arrived in December of 1820 and bought part of Lot 9 in the 5th Concession.  Here he built a log cabin and encouraged the local Wesleyan Methodists to meet on his property.

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On May 20th, 1840 he ceded an acre of land for the use of the church.  They established a burial ground and built a frame church which was 40 X 60 feet.  During the early years the men sat on one side of the church with the women and children on the other.  Newly married couples were allowed the pleasure of sitting together for the first three weeks.  It was used until 1876 and then converted into a dance hall for the next few years.  It was demolished in 1880.

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A project was begun in 1875 to build a new church and a site was chosen on the opposite side of the road.  By 1876 the new brick structure was opened with the original vestibule having a flat roof.  The two front corners were adorned with small steeple shaped towers.  In 1925 the Methodist Church joined with some of the Presbyterian Churches to form the United Church of Canada.

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Renovations in 1947 raised the structure by 35 inches and dug the basement down an additional 3 feet.  The walls were originally buttressed with pale coloured bricks.  The dichromatic pattern was continued at ground level with four rows of bricks for trim.  The new foundation can be seen below this row in the form of new flagstones.  The church continued to serve the community until 1983 when it was sold.

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The building was bought by the Jewish Reform congregation Har Tikvah.  They modified it by installing new windows on the east wall and a custom built Ark of the Covenant to house the scrolls of the Torah.  A close up of the east wall wall window reveals a plain plate glass.  The earlier stained glass depicting a Christian motif is long gone.

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The original date stone is hidden behind a new flag but when the wind moves it the right way you can still read Wesleyan Church and the date 1876.  I fully support the re-purposing of historic buildings.  It is much more desirable than the demolition of them to build expressionless replacements.  This one has the unique privilege of having served three different faiths.  It’s just unfortunate that the full history of the structure isn’t being celebrated as one faith superimposes its symbols over the earlier one.  Perhaps they could have been expressed side-by-side rather than in competition.

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Emmanuel Harrison Sr. was buried along with his wife Rachel in the cemetery that he founded.  Rachel passed away on June 14, 1871 at the age of 81 years and 10 months.  Emmanuel followed her just five months later on December 11, 1871.  He was also 81 years old at the time.

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Emmanuel and Rachel had one of their children in 1828 and decided to name him after his father.  Emmanuel Harrison Jr. lived until 1920 and was married twice.  Both of his wives and two of his children are commemorated on his family stone.  His first wife was Everilda Hagyard and she died on May 28, 1885.  The couple had lost a daughter on July 25, 1875 named Mary Beatrice who was only 4 months old.  In 1883 their first son, Frederick C. Harrison died at the age of 12.

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Emmanuel Harrison is remembered along with his wife, at least one son, two daughter-in-laws and two grandchildren in the cemetery he founded and the church that he started is remembered by a building that was completed five years after his passing.

Google Maps Link: Harrison’s United Wesleyan Methodist Cemetery

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Claireville – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Claireville was a community that started in 1850 on the estate of Jean du Petit Pont de la Haye at the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Indian Line.  He named the town after his daughter Claire and it grew until by 1870 there were 175 people living there.  The town grew up to service the local farmers and soon had two general stores and two hotels.  It attracted a butcher, a cabinet maker, blacksmith, tailor and flour mill.  Today it has been isolated by the construction of Highway 50 and Highway 427.  Most of the historic buildings in town were removed for the reconfiguration of roads in the area.

The first building in the area belonged to John Stark in 1832 and it was a halfway house on the south west corner of the intersection.  It was demolished long ago.  One of the former homes in Claireville now serves as the Bhagwan Valmiki Temple serving the nearby Hindu population.

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De La Haye was a very generous man and he gave land to three different congregations to build churches in town.  In 1842 the Congregationalists were the first to build a permanent church building in Claireville.  The Primitive Methodists were next in 1846 and the Roman Catholics didn’t build until 1860.  All three of those churches have since been demolished.  The house pictured below was likely built in the 1860s or 1870s and is one of the few that is still lived in.

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This house sits on early 1900s precast blocks but is missing the front steps.  Like many others along Albion Road (now Codlin Crescent) it is likely waiting for a demolition permit because it has no heritage protection.

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Edwardian Classicism is a style of house that emerged around 1910 and lasted for about 20 years.  It was very simple in style, a reaction to the more fanciful Victorian Styles that had prevailed for the previous few decades.  The presence of this style of house in Claireville suggests that the town was still serving the rural community at that time.

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A similar house was built directly across the street quite possibly by the same contractor.  Today both of these houses stand beside large buildings with  industrial or transportation and shipping uses.  The farmlands around Claireville were designated for Industrial/Employment uses by the 1980s and the end of the town followed quickly.

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The “Albion Plank Road Company” was formed in 1846.  Their mission was to build a plank road from Thistletown to Bolton, passing right through Claireville.  To maintain the road a series of toll houses were established to collect money from users of the road.  Typical tolls at this time were 1/2 pence for the passage of a horse and rider or 1/2 pence for each 20 hogs or sheep.  The toll house in Claireville was built in 1851 and was located at 2095 Albion Road.  The house is now sitting in the parking lot of a tractor trailer storage company and is also featured as the cover photo.  It is the oldest remaining building in Claireville and the only one with a heritage designation.  For more on plank roads see our post The Gore And Vaughan Plank Road.

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Of the 14 original homes that remain in Claireville, only a couple a still being used for residential purposes.  The former plank road had eventually been replaced with a more modern road as transportation was changed to the automobile.  The main street became a busting centre for the local rural community.  On a Saturday morning in February it is almost as abandoned as nearby Indian Line.

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Indian Line started off as an Indian trail along the shore of the Humber river.  When the land survey was made it was part of the border between Peel County and York County. When Highway 427 was extended north it became part of an off and on ramp to the highway. In 1992 when the highway was further extended it was closed off and abandoned.

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It is believed that there are at least 150 pair of coyotes living in the parks and ravines of the GTA.  Each of these breeding pair will have a litter of about 5 pups each spring.  This will raise the population from around 300 to closer to 1000.  Many of the young coyotes will not survive but the remainder do very well living in the city.  We saw a coyote come out onto Indian Line and walk in front of us for a short distance before returning to the woods.

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The Humber River has frozen over multiple times this winter but we’ve never had a long enough deep freeze to allow the ice to be safe for crossing.  Ice needs to be at least four inches thick in order to safely support a person on foot.  Since the ice thickness is rarely the same across an entire body of water, especially one which is flowing beneath, it needs to be more than that to tempt us to cross.  Sometimes in the spring we see the ice flows pushed up on the shore and realize the ice was much thicker than we thought.  Still, it’s better to be safe than on the evening news.  There are still open places on the river as can be seen in the picture below.

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We made our way back into Claireville Conservation Area where we had found free parking earlier.  The conservation area includes 848 acres and the historic Wiley Bridge.

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Silver Maples are one of the first trees to bud in the spring.  Their tiny red flowers are often hidden by the scales on the buds.  They react to the increased hours of daylight towards the end of February and early into March rather than to the increase of temperature which will follow a few weeks later.

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Claireville and the surrounding area has plenty to explore, you can read more in our Claireville post.

Google Maps Link: Claireville

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Pioneer Heartbreak

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Having recently been exploring in the area of Keele Street near Maple, I had noticed a pioneer cemetery at Langstaff and Keele Street,   I decided to stop after work and have a look at the restored markers in the old St. Stephen’s Anglican Church graveyard.  The graveyard is not marked on the 1877 county atlas and so I’ve added it in, circled in orange.  The two White families that we will focus on had their land just to the south of the grave site.  In 1965 the grave markers were collected up and placed in a central display to prevent further deterioration of the stones.  Many of them were over 100 years old at the time of the restoration.

While looking at the names and dates on the markers I noticed that there were a lot of tombstones marking the graves of people who lived less than a year.  From the days of the first settlers in North America until the mid-1800s about 30% of infants did not survive their first year.

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Pioneer women would have a child an average of every 26 months and 60% of them would have six or more.  The average family would lose at least one child under the age of 1 year old.

Henry and Elizabeth White may have occupied the land shown as Hiram White in the county atlas.  Eleanor was born to the White family in 1845 but she lived for only 3 years and 3 months before she passed away.  She was buried in the St. Stephen’s Anglican Church cemetery after her passing on May 3, 1848.

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Henry and Elizabeth White went on to have other children, including Anthony who was born in January of 1856.  In pioneer days the common practice was to record the length of time a person lived rather than the birth and death date for them.  Anthony passed away on Mar. 28, 1856 when he was only 2 months and 28 days old.

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In July of 1857 the White family welcomed little William into the world.  Unfortunately, William only lived for 2 months and 4 days and passed away on September 17, 1857.

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Albert was born in January of 1859 and he lived for 10 months and 25 days before passing away.

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Elizabeth became pregnant again, almost right away and she gave birth to Joseph about 10 months later in September of 1860.  Sadly, Joseph would live for only 9 months before passing away in June of 1861.

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Isaac and Elizabeth White were likely related to Henry and Elizabeth.  They also buried young children in the graveyard at St. Stephen’s church.  Mary C. was born in February of 1854 and passed away on July 3rd, just 5 months later.

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A couple of months after this Elizabeth became pregnant again and Elizabeth Ann was born in May of 1855. Two months later she passed away on the first anniversary of the death of her sister.

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An Anglican Church was built in 1838 on a plot of land donated by one of the Keffer brothers of Sherwood.  The property was owned by a member of the Zion Lutheran Church, honouring a longstanding history of cooperation between the two denominations.  In 1895 they built a new church on Keele Street on the north end of Maple.  The prominent feature, apart from the bell tower, is the large gable on the front with a beautiful glass rosette.  The church continues to serve the needs of the congregation in 2020.

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Many pioneer cemeteries are filled with the small remains of infants who never had the opportunity to grow up and experience life to the fullest.

Explore the two local ghost towns: Sherwood and Maple

Google Maps Link: Langstaff Pioneer Cemetery

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Wexford – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The community of Wexford got its start around 1840 at the intersection of present day Lawrence Avenue and Pharmacy Avenue.  Richard Sylvester had arrived from Wexford County in Ireland and built The Rising Sun Inn on the south west corner of the intersection.  This became the nucleus for a small farming hamlet known as Hough’s Corners.  In 1865 Sylvester added a post office which he named Wexford after his home.  The community served the local farmers for the next 100 years with growth and little change.  After the Second World War, Toronto expanded rapidly and by the 1950’s the farms around Wexford fell to developers.  The little community has been lost with the exception of a couple of churches and a few homes.  These I have marked on the 1877 county atlas shown below.

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After meeting in homes for several years the Anglicans of Wexford decided to build a permanent church building.  They built St. Jude’s Church in 1848 on a small parcel of land that had been donated for the church.  It already included a family cemetery plot that would become the church plot.  The 20 foot by 20 foot church has seating for 60 and is the smallest purpose built church in the GTA.  The pews are small and it was described as seating for a “tight four” people.  The church originally had no basement and was heated by a pot-bellied stove but a basement was dug for a furnace in 1929.  Like the town, the church remained small and unchanged for a hundred years,  With the sudden growth of the surrounding community the membership jumped from 79 in 1950 to 1,000 families in 1958.  With this growth came a new church building in 1953 on the south east corner of the lot.  The little church has since been used by several small congregations who have contributed to the upkeep and restoration of the building over the years.  Many of the early pioneering families are interred in the cemetery around the church.

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In 1842 a small wood chapel was built by the Primitive Methodist congregation.  They used the church until 1877 when it was replaced with the large brick building that stands beside the pioneer cemetery,

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In 1925 they joined with the United Church of Canada but growth still remained slow.  It didn’t take off until the 1950’s when the area was built up.  Then the church decided to add two pieces between 1950 and 1960.  This summer the church closed after years of declining attendance.  Around the area there are several other churches who all seem to be doing okay.

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Wexford had all the amenities of a rural farming town including a blacksmith, a hotel and a post office in the general store.  The photo below was taken from the Toronto Public Library collection and is dated 1960.  This was taken just before the 1883 building was demolished to make room to widen Lawrence Avenue.

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Just to the west along Lawrence Avenue stood a small industrial complex where some of the locals found employment.  Milneford Mills contained a woolen mill, dry goods store and wagon shop.  Milne House was built in 1871 and is one of the oldest examples of gothic frame architecture in the city.  The front porch which used to look out over the mills has been removed.  Now abandoned, it is intended to be restored eventually.

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The house at 37 Kecalard originally fronted onto Kennedy Road but has been swallowed up by the surrounding subdivision.  This house was built by John Patterson in 1858 and stood on his farm for the next century in isolation.  Today, it is a house in a subdivision that faces sideways to the rest of the home because it doesn’t align with the new street pattern.

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12 Iondale Place hides another historic house on a quiet street of cookie-cutter homes.  This house and the converted drive shed are also on the county atlas featured above as belonging to John Ionson in 1877.

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1369 Warden Ave is known as the Richardson House and it is another one of the homes seen on the county atlas. It has been given an historic designation as have all of the buildings featured in this post.  It stands among a street full of single story war time housing units.

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There is an abandoned rail spur that runs along the side of the cemetery at the Wexford Zion Church.  I chose to follow it a ways north to see where it went to.  I had previously explored the southern section as it followed the Underwriter’s Reach of Taylor Massey Creek.  This northern section ran for a kilometre north until it was buried beneath the parking lot for Costco.  A high fence kept me from investigation further.

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The spur line has only been abandoned for a short while but nature doesn’t care.  This section of pavement was likely a parking area but the trees have taken over pretty quickly.

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A black squirrel was trying to get away from me and ran up the side of this building.  When he got to the top he discovered that he couldn’t get a gy.rip on the flashing along the top.  After a couple of attempts I chose to wander along so he could come down safely.

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60 Rowena Drive was home to the estate of the O’Connor Family who had invented Laura Secord Chocolates.  There’s a complete story on the candy as well as the home and it can be found here: O’Connor Estate.

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Wexford is only represented by a few scattered historic buildings but they are worth the effort to go investigate.

Google Maps Link: Wexford

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Hornby – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Beginning in the 1830s the area north of Oakville was opened for settlement and the community of Hornby found itself becoming an important stop on the trip into town.  Hotels were opened and in 1850 Trafalgar Road (7th Line) was planked as far north as Stewarttown with a toll station in Hornby.  However, by 1877 the railway had bypassed the town and Milton had been named as county seat.  Hornby began to decline back to a county village.  Today there isn’t much of the community that was named after Hornby Castle in Yorkshire but we went to see what could be found and photographed before it  disappears forever.

Hornby became stretched out along what is now Steeles Avenue to the point where it was referred to as Hornby and West Hornby.  Two cemeteries mark the eastern site of Hornby.  The Methodist church was originally located on Lot 1 Concession 8 on the corner of the William McKindsey lot.  On April 30, 1832 the land was sold to the Methodist Trustees.  The land actually belonged to Kings College until 1840 and so the indenture wasn’t registered until 1842.  The congregation built a small frame church and began a cemetery beside the church.  They soon outgrew the frame church and moved to a new location leaving the cemetery behind.  It has since been restored with the markers being gathered into a central location for preservation.

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in 1856 the Wesleyan Methodist congregation built a new brick building a little farther west.  This brick building was part of a preaching circuit that included Bowers, Munns, McCurdy’s, Omagh and Bethel.  In 1925 the Methodists and Presbyterians joined to become The United Church of Canada.  This building served the congregation until November 17, 1968 when it was closed and the parishioners joined with the Ashgrove United Church.  Since then the building has been used as the Hornby Townhall.  The spire with finial was built by Gordon Brigden at his machine shop in Hornby.

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The first church built by the Presbyterian Church in Hornby was a frame structure constructed in 1835 across the street from the Wesleyan Methodist Church on Lot 1 Concession 9.  Many of the founding settlers of Hornby are interred here and the cemetery remains active today.  The original frame church was replaced in 1878 with a brick structure.  The congregation did not choose to join the United Church and remained active until 1971 when it was amalgamated with Knox Presbyterian in Milton.  The church building was destroyed by fire in 1978 and arson was suspected but never proven.

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The first school building in Hornby was in a log cabin built in 1826.  It was replaced with a new brick building in 1870.  It operated as a school until 1963 when Pineview school was built on 5th sideroad.

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Samuel Brooks owned this one and a half story farm house in 1878.  The property changed hands several times until Frank Chisholm farmed the property through the middle of the twentieth century.  There have been multiple additions to the house over the years.  By the time it was assessed for cultural heritage in 2018 the structure was deteriorating and there was damage to the roof that had been covered over with plastic.

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There has been a fire at the home since then and there is little doubt that the structure will be demolished for safety reasons.  As of our visit the back door was open providing access to a very unsafe structure.  It will likely be removed for safety reasons.

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The drive shed on the property is in similar condition and the former farm will likely soon fall prey to the urban expansion that is spreading along Steeles Avenue.

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We had parked on Trafalgar Road where there is an entrance to the Halton County Forest.  After making our way through town and back up Hornby Road it was time to cut back through the forest to the car.  There is a cairn commemorating John Coulson who owned the property and bequeathed it to the county for reforestation.  The 89 acre tract was planted with white pine in 1959 and left to regenerate.

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A summers worth of growth goes into producing seed pods to carry on the family line.  The wild cucumbers have produced their edible seed pods, each one containing four seeds.  In the next few weeks the bottom of each seed pod will open up and drop the seeds to the ground below.

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River grapes have also come along nicely this year.  These wild grapes have been bred into our table grapes to help produce a strain that is resistant to our climate.  These grapes can be turned into a tasty grape jelly.

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We followed Trafalgar Creek part way through the Coulson Tract and came across a cluster of asparagus that has no leaves but there are still many seeds on it.

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There are still several early twentieth century homes and farms in the Hornby area. but the former community is in danger of being over run by urban sprawl.

Google Maps link: Hornby

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Wesleyville – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Friday, October 4, 2019

A Friday off work is a good excuse to go exploring.  With a plan in mind to visit Port Hope to look for the remains of the Midland Railway, I decided to stop off the highway one stop earlier and visit Wesleyville to photograph the old church I knew was there.  To my surprise I found an abandoned village as well.

In 1797 Jonathan Brown became the first settler in the town.  He was quickly joined by others and early church services were held in the home of the Barrowclough family.  Soon the family donated land for a church and cemetery and a frame building was constructed.   The present brick church was built in 1860 to replace the frame church.  The Wesleyan Methodist congregation became part of the United Church in 1925 and this church held services until the late 1960’s.

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Wesleyville was a growing community in the 1860’s when it had attracted various tradesmen including a blacksmith, a tavern owner and machine shop operator.   Like many early communities there were a few name changes before the coming of the post office.  When one was opened in the hotel the name was established as Wesleyville in honour of the Wesley Methodist Church.

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The cemetery records show 107 burials between 1860 and 1935.  Burials continued until the 1970’s when the town was abandoned.

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Thomas and Selinda Oughtred arrived in town around 1850 and lived as tenants until 1855 when Selinda was granted 65.5 acres of land.  It is unclear why she received the grant and not her husband.  The house was likely built in 1858 and has a unique design where the front door is set between two angled sections.  The main portion of the house extends to the rear giving it a unique Y shape.  The house was used as the local post office from 1911 until 1944.  The house was sold to Ontario Hydro in 1978 and has been empty for the past forty years.

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Ontario Hydro constructed a large oil-fired generator on the edge of town after purchasing nearly 2,000 acres of land in the 1970’s.  The generator was never finished and has never been put into service.  The OPEC energy crisis hit just in time to ensure the project never got off running.  It stands behind a tall fence topped with barbed-wire.  The Oughtred barn stands on a foundation of field stone behind the house.

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The first school was further west along Lakeshore Road and was a one room log school house.  In 1866 the old frame church building was relocated to the school site which had been purchased for $20.  This old church building served as the school until 1899 when it burned down.   It was replaced with the existing building that served as a focal point in the community until it was closed in 1967.

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John Barrowclough purchased 100 acres of land in town in 1847 and his family continued to farm here until 1992.  The property was then sold to Ontario Hydro and the house has sat empty since then.

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Several outbuildings remain behind the main house, one of which was used as a blacksmith shop.  The Barrowclough family lived here for several generations and was active in the church as well as occasionally serving as teachers in the school.  There was a period of time when the post office was located in the house but in 1911 it was moved to the Oughtred house.

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The Barrowclough barn is quietly rotting away and large sections of it have already collapsed.  It may be too late to save this structure.  The town of Wesleyville has been abandoned for so long that most of the buildings have disappeared.

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The Friends of Wesleyville have done a great job of preserving the few remaining buildings in the town.  The church has been restored and the school is under renovation as well.  It remains to be seen what will happen to the two houses.

Google Maps Link: Wesleyville

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Malton – Ghost Towns of The GTA

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The town of Malton had grown from humble beginnings to a community of over 900 before growth stalled and it began to decline.  The town developed around the classic four corners of a crossroads, in this case Airport Road and Derry Road.  It didn’t grow in all four directions however, only the 100 acres on the north west corner was laid out for a subdivision.  This happened a year after the Grand Trunk Railway came to town in 1854 and as a result the streets are laid out parallel to the railway and not to the four corners.  This leaves all the streets running at 45 degrees to Derry and Airport Roads.  Much of the original four corners was destroyed in a gas line explosion in 1969 and the rest was lost to road realignment and widening.  While not a true ghost town, the original community is now hidden in the original block of streets and surrounded by the airport and urban sprawl.

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In 1857 the Trinity Methodist Church was built as a wood frame structure.  Later it was given a veneer of bricks with some interesting details around the windows.  This church was used until 1953 when the congregation moved to a new church building and this one was converted into a residence.

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Compared to the beautiful brickwork in the picture above, the renovated building seen below is really awful.

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The house at 16 Burlington Street is a typical 3 bay farmhouse built in 1866 by John and Mary Bateman.  This house has a gothic arched window in the upstairs dormer.  The style is known as a story and a half because of the low headroom in the upstairs rooms.

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The house at 17 Scarboro Street is one of the oldest surviving ones in the community, having been built in 1870.  Richard and Harriet Ibson only owned the house for a few years before selling it to John Guardhouse in 1877.  It has had several additions to it over the years and is currently for sale.  The windows have been boarded over to keep vandals from destroying it and someone has taken the time to paint the boards black and put white trim on them.

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The house at 18 Scarboro Street belonged to David Tomlinson who served Toronto Gore as a councillor and a reeve in the 1860’s.  David built this house in 1884 at the same time that his brother built the house at 16 Scarboro Street.

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Joseph Tomlinson was a carpenter and the original owner of 16 Scarboro Street.  The two houses were built at the same time and likely both by Joseph.  The one at 16 Scarboro has much more interesting brickwork as illustrated in the quoins on the corners of the house.  The house also sports considerable gingerbread, unlike the house beside it.  The one thing the two houses have in common that suggests a common builder is the brickwork above the windows.

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In 1901 Queen Victoria passed away and King Edward VII took the throne.  Victorian architecture tended to involve odd shapes and many different sized windows.  Edwardian architecture moved away from the extravagant and more into the utilitarian.  Buildings tended to become more like blocks as is illustrated by this 1901 home.  I find it interesting that the upper story window has only one shutter because the wall is next to the window.

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The first school in Malton was built in 1828 and was a one room log structure.  This was replaced in 1858 with a larger brick building.  As the town grew the new school also needed to be replaced and the earlier log structure was finally torn down in 1923 and replaced with a two story school building.

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This school was in use until 1952 when a new school was built and this one was converted into apartments.

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In 1939 the neighbourhood was selected for the construction of an international airport for Toronto.  Malton Airport attracted more than just the airplanes that flew from there and before long aviation related industries were starting up.  During the Second World War a company called Victory Aircraft operated here but after the war they merged with A.V. Roe Canada.  They developed the CF-100 Canuck and the the CF-105 Avro Arrow.  A CF-100 is on display at Paul Coffey Park.

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The town of Malton has been absorbed into the urban sprawl that surrounds the airport but if you look you can still find traces of the original community.  Just west of Malton you can also visit another ghost town and read about it here: Mount Charles – Ghost Towns of the GTA. Just beyond that on the map at the start of this story is Palestine – Ghost Towns of the GTA for further exploration.

Google Maps Link: Malton

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