Category Archives: Historic Site

Goodyear Plant Bowmanville

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Bowmanville Creek has a long history of industrial use but has lately been converted into an area full of walking trails. I parked in a small parking lot on the north side of Baseline Road West near Hunt Street to check out the newly opened Bowmanville Valley Trail Extension. While the main trail heads north along Bowmanville Creek, I took the one that follows the creek south toward the 401. I wanted to check out the new section as well as the old railway bridge from the former Goodyear Plant that carried a spur line to the Canadian National line below the highway.

Charles Goodyear discovered the process for vulcanization of rubber in 1839. This process uses sulfur to harden natural rubber into various products. As the automotive age was dawning, a company was founded in Akron, Ohio in 1898 which was called The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. By 1907 they had a contract with Henry Ford to provide tires for the Model T. In 1910 they bought a rubber company in Bowmanville and expanded their manufacturing outside of the United States for the first time. The old postcard image below shows the plant in its early days.

Goodyear built a spur line down Hunt Street to connect to the CN railway into Toronto. The line was still in use in 1982 when the abutments were replaced but by 2000 it was abandoned. The tracks were soon removed and the portion of Hunt Street where the rail lines ran has been repaved, hiding all evidence of its route. The steel bridge remained in place until the Bowmanville Valley Trail Extension was developed at which time it was removed.

Returning to Baseline Road I crossed the creek and followed the former right of way for the spur line until I came to the foundations for the bridge.

There’s not much to see from this end and looking across the creek there’s no indication of the location of the other abutment as it was removed to put the trail through. Graffiti artists have been at work on the remaining concrete and it has been painted on almost every surface.

The Bowmanville Rubber Company had started on King Street in 1898 and after changing names to the Durham Rubber Company they moved beside Bowmanville Creek in 1905. The location was chosen because it provided access to the creek to dispose of their process wastes! In those days it was believed that the solution to waste was to dilute it with running water. No wonder every water source in the area was polluted in the 19th and early 20th century.

Goodyear built additional buildings on the site and greatly expanded the business by connecting it to markets with the rail line.

The plant operated under several names over its year history of over 100 years. After Goodyear, it became Veyance Technologies and later ContiTech Continental. Under the latest name it produced conveyor belts for the mining, tar sands and coal sectors. With the downturn of operations for many of its customers, the plant closed in 2016. Today the building sits empty awaiting its destiny, most likely demolition for the construction of a subdivision.

There’s lots more to explore along Bowmanville Creek and another trip will likely happen in the near future to see what lies along the trail to the north.

For a listing of our 50 most popular stories check out Back Tracks

Google Maps link: Bowmanville Goodyear Plant

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Andrew Robertson House – 1851

Sunday, April 10, 2022

On the western corner of Mississauga stands a 171 year-old historical home that is working on becoming history. The house is located on the south half of lot 35 concession 3 in South Toronto Township which is now part of Mississauga. The lot was deeded to Henry Grant in 1808 when he met the land grant responsibilities and gained ownership of the 200 acre lot. It has a broken front, which means that it borders on the lake and there is not a straight line along the southern side of the lot. In 1851 the lot was split and sold in two halves. David Hammond had the northern section while Andrew Robertson bought the south portion including the lake frontage. The lot can be seen on the 1877 County Atlas below where it is outlined on green. The house we’re about to look at is circled in green.

In 1851 Robertson built his family home in a grand style. While many of Ontario’s farmers in this era were building small homes, this one was a sprawling mansion by comparison. The house faces the lake and featured a trio of gables on the south elevation which each has extensive gingerbread bargeboards. Each second floor window features a triangular section on the top which is outlined by the brick pattern. This is neither the rounded arch favoured by the Italianate (1840-1890) or the pointed arch of Gothic Revival (1830-1890) architecture, but something less common.

The view facing Winston Churchill Blvd also features three gables with gingerbread trim and triangular points above the second floor windows. The Robertson family had hired hands to assist with the farm and they lived in the section above the rear stairs. The stories suggest that the house was haunted with a spirit that lived in the storage space below the front stairs. When the ghost would act up, the hired hands would hide in their section at the back of the house.

In 1942 57 acres of the property was sold to William Lightfoot who passed it on to his daughter and her husband, Edward and Marguerite Abbs. They farmed it until April 24, 1970 when they sold it to Hydro who planned to build the Clarkson Generating Station. The station was never built and the house and barn were rented until at least 2001 when the house was given an heritage designation. Since then it has been left to rot and the roof is ready to fall into the structure.

The barn that was also built in 1851 is the only building left on site that appears to still be in good shape. The farm won an award in the early 1900’s as a Gold Medal Farm but the award winning structures are almost all in poor shape. Like the house, it has a historical designation with the city of Mississauga.

The red drive shed in front of the barn also has problems with the roof. Once the interior of the building is opened up to snow and rain it doesn’t last very long. The tin roof on the barn looks to be its saving grace.

A third building to the rear of the house also has the roof caving in. It’s interesting that this little cottage has a chimney as well as a TV antenna. The property is marked “No Trespassing” at the front gate and so all of these shots are taken from the road. This building must have served as a residence for a farm hand.

Two green sheds a little north of the house are also suffering from roof rot. All of the neighboring farms have either been developed or are in the process of becoming housing. When this property succumbs to the developers these sheds will disappear without a second thought.

There’s a couple more sheds along the property line but they have already collapsed into themselves.

While the buildings on the property are in various states of decay the willow trees are showing the yellow that indicates they are starting to respond to the springtime conditions. At least there’s still some signs of life on the old award winning farm.

When the Robertson house was built it faced the lake and likely had a very lovely view of the lake across Lakeshore Road. In 1938 Charles Powell Bell and his wife Kathleen Harding moved into their estate home near the mouth of Joshua Creek. We’ve featured the story of this mansion in our Joshua Creek post and featured a picture of the home as seen from the lake. This is the view from Lakeshore Road.

The Andrew Robertson house is just up the street from Lakeside Park which has a unique red beach. You can check it out while you’re in the area or look at pictures and read the story at the link.

Related stories: Lakeside Park, Joshua Creek

Google maps link: Robertson House

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Pontypool Grain Elevator

Sunday, March 20, 2022

When we think of grain elevators an image of tall wooden sentinels that can be seen for many kilometers across the prairies likely comes to mind. Grain elevators came to symbolize a community and the agricultural wealth it could boast of, with some towns have four or five lined up along the tracks. While they commonly dotted the prairies every 10 – 12 kilometers, they were also found in Ontario. They were developed to solve a logistical problem of getting grain to market. In the early days of railway, farmers would load their grain into two bushel sacks and transport it to the closest train station. There, they would take it to the platform and dump the sacks into waiting boxcars. This was a lengthy and back breaking process and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) started to demand vertical warehouses for loading boxcars. These buildings had a long vertical “leg” with a drive belt wrapped around it. To this belt was attached cups that were used to elevate the grain and store it in large vertical bins.

The first grain elevator on the Canadian prairies was developed in Niverville, Manitoba in 1879 and was basically a grain silo. The more traditional shape started to appear in 1881 in the form of 25,000 bushel elevators. The CPR began to offer free land along their rail lines to allow the construction of standard size elevators. The picture below shows the grain elevator in Pontypool, Ontario, one of only two free-standing elevators remaining in the province. Other elevators exist as part of mills or other larger feed operations such as the one at Chalmers Milling Co. in Toronto. The Pontypool one illustrates the basic shape of the elevator.

A couple of companies sprang up to fill the contracts building the elevators with the National Elevator Company getting the contract along CPR lines while Seare Grain Company built along the Canadian Northern Railway and Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Farmer and grain merchants came to suspect collusion between the railways and the elevator construction companies and so they began to form unions and pools to build their own elevators. In 1906 the Grain Growers Grain Company began to operate in Alberta with others following in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Elevators were made with a sturdy wooden crib built of 2 by 8 boards that then had 2 by 6 inch ones stacked up to form the walls and internal bins. The outside would be covered with a wooden veneer which was originally painted red if along a CPR line. Wheat can weigh up to 60 pounds per bushel which means that a 25,000 bushel elevator could have 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kgs) of weight in it. This puts a lot of lateral pressure on the walls. Eventually, elevators that would hold 60,000 bushels were constructed. All elevators, regardless of size, had three basic elements. The elevator, the driveway and the office/engine room. A truck or wagon of grain would be driven onto a scale and weighed and the grain sampled to see what quality it was. It would then be dumped through the floor into the pit where it would be taken up the leg and poured into the correct storage bin. The empty truck would then be weighed again and the amount of grain deposited would be calculated from the weight difference. When it was time to load a train the appropriate grain would be pumped into the back hopper and then down a spout into the waiting boxcar. The illustration below was taken from The Canadian Encyclopedia and shows the inner workings of a grain elevator.

The CPR built a line through Pontypool in the 1880s which opened up the Toronto market to local farmers. In 1894 a grain elevator was built and before long there were two elevators serving the community of about 600 residents. Both of these were gone by 1918 and a new one was constructed for the local farmers to store their barley, oats and wheat before shipping it to market. As transportation systems improved the elevator became less important and by the 1970s it was closed. It sat abandoned for decades and was in a such a state of deterioration that the CPR considered demolishing it. Instead, they donated it to a group of volunteers known as the Friends of Pontypool Grain Elevator with the intention that it be preserved. One of the conditions was that the City of Kawartha Lakes take out the insurance on the property. With this arranged, the elevator has been given a new shingle veneer and had the power upgraded to meet current standards. Future plans include an information centre and place to remember Jewish heritage in the area. When Sunnyside Beach and other places in Toronto posted signs such as “No dogs or Jews”, Pontypool opened their doors to Jewish people who were looking to get out of the city. They came between the 1920s and 1950s and turned the local economy into a Jewish tourist industry camping and building cottages around one of the lakes in town.

We have featured several failed heritage preservation stories and its nice to have one that is such a success to report on. There is a small information board at the grain elevator that shows the former train station whose foundation can still be located in the trees with its tracks in place. If exploring looking for this, please bear in mind that this is a functioning line of the CPR and crossing it could be considered to be trespassing. Accessing it from a street on the other side of the tracks might be another story though.

There’s also an historic picture that shows the two earlier grain elevators in Pontypool as well as many other photos depicting life in town in an earlier era.

This visit to Pontypool was just a quick stop on the way past so that I could check out a grain elevator that I spotted from Highway 35. There’s a lot of interesting history and architecture in town if you have the time to explore.

Related stories: Chalmers Milling Co., Sunnyside Beach

Google Maps Link: Pontypool

Eaton Hall

Sunday, February 27, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Maps Link: Eaton Hall

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The Tiny Tweed Jail

Sunday, February 20, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Maps Link: Tweed Jail

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Pioneers of the GTA – Timothy Eaton

Sunday, February 13, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One Room Schools

Sunday, February 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pioneers of the GTA – The Ashbridge Family

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Sarah Ashbridge was a widowed Quaker from Pennsylvania who emigrated to York (now Toronto) in 1793, the year that Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe founded the community. The next year she settled on 200 acres on the east side of The Don River. Her family at the time consisted of her sons Jonathan and John as well as her two daughters Elizabeth and Mary along with their husbands and children. The land was fully forested and they set out to clear a farm and built a log cabin to live in. In 1809 both John and Jonathan were married and they each built a two-storey frame home for their new families to grow in. Jonathan had a son named Jesse who commissioned a new home for himself in 1853 and had it designed by local architect Joseph Sheard. He built a five-bay, Regency-style cottage with Neo-classical elements added to the design. Joseph Sheard would go on to be the Mayor of Toronto from 1871-1872.

This capture from the County Atlas of 1877 shows the properties that were still under the Ashbridge family at that time. I’ve also circled the Jesse Ashbridge home in green. Ashbridge Creek is shown flowing through the property and in the early days, it was used to take a boat down to the lake and back. It has since been filled in and is represented by a depression on the grounds of the Ashbridge Estate property.

Sarah’s husband, Jonathan had been disowned by his local Quaker Meeting after the Revolutionary War in the USA and had died in 1782 in Pennsylvania. As United Empire Loyalists the extended family had been granted 600 acres (240 ha) which fronted on the bay that bears their name. Sarah Ashbridge died in 1801 but her sons John and Jonathan served as pathmasters on the Kingston Road from 1797 until 1817. This meant that they were responsible for maintenance and improvements on the dirt path in front of the homestead which became Kingston Road and is now Queen Street East. They also served in the War of 1812 and again during the Rebellion of 1837.

The Jesse Ashbridge house still stands on what remains of the property. Over the years, almost all of the property was sold off until there is only 2 acres left now. The house has also been altered on several occasions, the most obvious one being the addition of a second floor in 1899. The original home was built on tall foundations made of stone and included the full length veranda.

The side view shows the six over one double-hung sash windows that have been on the original house since it was built. The bricks were from a local brickyard and when the second floor was added the problem of matching brick colour was avoided by adopting a Second Empire mansard roof.

The woodwork on the veranda is known as “arcaded treillis” which refers to the arches supported by piers and the intricate carvings designed to encourage vines to grow up them. Fortunately, no vines have been allowed to obscure the details of this woodwork. The front door is designed to bring lots of light into the centre hallway. The two windows on either side of the door are known as “side lights” while the transom window above may also have opened to let in some fresh air.

The archive photo below was taken by Elizabeth Ashbridge before the 1899 second floor was added. Notice that the front porch was part of the original structure.

Inside the veranda you can really see the bell shape that the roof has. You also notice how badly the floor boards have warped and are starting to deteriorate. The house remained in the Ashbridge family until 1972 when it was donated to the Ontario Heritage Foundation. Dorothy Ashbridge continued to live here until 1997.

Another addition to the house was completed in 1920 on the north side of the building. This section lacks the patterned brickwork and has no quoins on the corners and no shutters on the windows. It’s also made of darker bricks but is hidden from the street.

A small potting shed and a greenhouse stand behind the house as a reminder of the fabulous gardens that previousy surrounded the estate.

Of the original families that arrived to settle the town of York, only The Ashbridge family stayed for a full 200 years on their original property. When they were finished with it, they left it as a legacy for the city to enjoy for generations to come.

Related Blogs: Toronto Port Lands

Google Maps Link: Ashbridges Estate

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Second Empire Worker’s Cottages

January 23, 2022

Many Irish immigrants arrived in Toronto starting in 1847 because they were trying to escape desperation and famine in their homeland. They took the work that they could find and lived in shared accommodations while they saved money to buy a place of their own. Many of these would end up in the small community of Don Vale which stood just outside the early city, on the west side of the Don River. It is said that poverty led to growing cabbages on the front lawns for food and this is where the area took the name Cabbagetown from. This part of town has an amazing collection of Victorian architecture including different styles of worker’s cottages. We previously featured some of the One-Storey Worker’s Cottages that can be found in the Leslieville area of the city. I parked near Wellesley and Sumach and went for a walk around the area. You could do this almost anywhere in Cabbagetown and see similar beauties.

Second Empire architecture was also called Napoleon III and became popular in the second half of the nineteenth century. The most obvious feature is the mansard roof which is often convex or concave and usually cut with ornate dormers. These are often curved and frequently have ornate pilasters and lintles. It’s also common for the eves to be supported by brackets, especially on the larger homes. Second Empire construction only lasted a few decades and all the examples in this post were built within a couple of years of each other in the late 1880s. More recently, the style has gained negative exposure as both The Munsters and Addams Family lived in Second Empire homes which looked a little forboding during lightning storms.

The homes at 454-456 Sumach Street were built in 1886 by Josiah Bulley with the first resident of 456 being a painter named John Bolton. These two houses have a side hall plan with a living room at the front of the ground floor and a kitchen at the back. Upstairs are the bedrooms with the larger front one having a window with a dormer. These dormers are quite plain without the arched windows that were common to this architectural style.

Looking south along Sumach Street there’s a row of cottages similar to the one above. The first two buildings are semi-detached that were built in 1886. The last building in the picture is a row of three cottages that were built two years later.

126-128 Amelia Street was built as semi-detached in 1878 while number 130 to the right was built the next year. The addition of the front porch makes this cottage stand out.

142-144 Amelia is another semi-detached but it still has its slate shingles on the mansard roof. This one is also interesting for the keystones in the arches above the doors and windows which have a purple thistle carved in them.

My personal favourite in these few blocks is the one at 146 Amelia Street. This one is a little bigger and has a centre hall plan which allows for four rooms on each floor. The dichromate brickwork around the windows is partially hidden by the heavy gingerbread on the porch. The two dormers on the upstairs bedrooms are curved with interesting woodwork along the sides and stained glass in the tops.

Alpha Avenue is filled with second empire styles worker’s cottages arranged in a “U” shape down each side of the street and at the end. These cottages were built in 1888 and most have had their original slate roofing replaced with shingles. A few have had the dichromate brick patterns painted over which is unfortunate given the context of the street. The north side of the street contains even-numbered houses.

The south side of Alpha Avenue continues the same style of cottages, again with a few of them having been painted over. The two cottages at the end of the street can also be seen in this picture. There are still a couple of hitching posts for visitors to tie up their horses but most of these residents would not have owned one. People walked to their workplace as they tended to live close to their employment. Long commutes were still almost a century away.

438- 440 Wellesley Street presents another row of Second Empire cottages where the first one might have original windows while the other three all have had their windows replaced.

323 Wellesley was built between 1888-1889 and is an interesting little cottage with two dormers on the second floor. The front still has slate shingles with a red circle and dot pattern between the dormers. There’s a beautiful stained glass window in the transom above the door that contains the house number. Transom windows were often designed to open and allow air to come into the long, narrow structure. I wonder if this one was designed to open and if it is still functional.

These little cottages have become popular again and many of them have been upgraded and restored. I can just imagine what the original occupants would think of their value in today’s real estate market.

Related blogs: One-Storey Worker’s Cottages, Unionville – Dating By Design Styles

Google Maps Link: Cabbagetown

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Enniskillen Conservation Area

January 2, 2022

Enniskillen Conservation Area is a 65-hectare park in Durham Region that has 5.5 kilometres of trails. The conservation area is mostly forested but has diverse forest cover and some wetlands. Be aware that there is a $6.00 parking fee that can only be paid by Visa or Mastercard. Cash is not accepted, so follow the map link at the end of the post but come prepared.

The Google Earth capture below shows the conservation area with an old mill pond outlined in blue while the current pond is just a small blue dot. The yellow line roughly follows the figure eight of the trails I took around the outer edge.

The conservation area has a network of five trails that are each loops, which share some common sections where they intersect. From the lower parking area, you can either choose the Turtle Trail, which takes you through a wetland around a small pond, or the Moorey Mill Trail which connects you to the other trails in the northern part of the conservation area. Not expecting to see very many turtles on this visit, I chose the Moorey Mill Trail. This trail is a 1.2 kilometre loop that takes you up one side of Bowmanville Creek and then down the other side.

Near picnic area 3 the trail crosses Bowmanville Creek on a small footbridge. This is also where the Moorey Mill Trail Meets up with the Cedar Trail. The Moorey Trail from this point heads back toward the car and so I saved it for the return trip.

The remnant of the millpond has a thin layer of ice on it but during the summer is likely alive with activity. A much larger mill pond existed here between 1874 and 1954 but we’ll get to that later.

For now, I turned and followed the Cedar Trail up the hill and into the cedar forest. This 1-kilometre trail winds through a dense forest which, in places, shows the obvious straight lines of having been planted. In other places, it appears quite random and grows very close together. You could be just a few feet away from something in the forest and never see it.

We have reviewed the trails in several parks over the years and some of them are quite well marked while others seem to invite you to get lost. The trails at Enniskillen Conservation Area are very well marked. The trail marker below indicates that the Cedar Trail turns here or that you could choose to follow the Ruffed Grouse Trail. This is what I decided to do.

The cedar forest gives way to a mixed coniferous one which is suitable habitat for roughed grouse. In the winter they will eat seeds and the buds of deciduous trees. I didn’t see any roughed grouse or very many birds at all. The forest was silent except for the approach of a lone hiker clacking along with his walking poles and disturbing the wildlife.

The Roughed Grouse Trail carries you out of the woods and returns south on a trail along the edge of a field. This part of the conservation area provides habitat for a whole different range of plants and grasses, insects, and the small birds that feed on them. None of which were to be seen today but it won’t be long before they start to return. The fields have been planted with trees by Forests Ontario as part of their 50 million trees project. Through sponsorship from the Federal Government, landowners have been able to plant over 34 million trees at greatly reduced costs. This is part of Canada’s response to the global Trillion Tree Campaign which has planted over 14 billion trees since the fall of 2018 in an attempt to restore the global forest cover. This grassland habitat will slowly be returned to forest just as the rest of the conservation area has. The butterflies and a host of other pollinators will have to find somewhere else to hang out, but not for several years.

Within the present confines of the park, a 4-storey grist mill was built by Alexander Secord in 1874 which was known as the Boyne Water Mill. The wooden building had the unusual configuration of a horizontal water wheel that turned two sets of millstones. In 1914 James Moorey bought the mill and upgraded the sluice gates at the mill pond to concrete. These concrete gates stand along the creek however, at least one set and probably two have been washed out and have collapsed into the creek. This could have happened during any flooding event but Hurricane Hazel in 1954 fits the right time frame. The mill was closed in 1953 and dismantled in 1956, the wood is reused in several local homes.

The earthen berm of the dam is cut by the trail near a verticle slab of concrete where something was once mounted with large bolts. Perhaps the flume used to carry water from the pond to the water wheel at this location. The berm is still quite distinguishable as it crosses the ravine floor marking the forward edge of the former millpond.

The trail continues south toward the parking lot following an old access road that led from the dam to the mill. The concrete bridge is still in use for pedestrians and maintenance vehicles.

Although I didn’t see much wildlife in the conservation area during this visit it seems likely that there’s plenty to see at other times. This will be an interesting place to visit again in the future.

Google Maps Link: Enniskillen Conservation Area

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