Category Archives: Ghost Town

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.

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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.

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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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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 homes 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 grip 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.

1923 School

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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