Category Archives: Historic Site

Pioneers of the GTA – William Thomas Architect

Saturday, August 7, 2021

William Thomas was one of the pioneer architects in Toronto and his work in the 1840s and 1850s has had a lasting effect on the city with several of his buildings still standing. William was born in Suffolk, England, in 1799 and developed his skills designing several buildings in Gloucestershire, Birmingham and Leamington. When a depression came to the building industry in 1843 he packed up and moved to Toronto. William Thomas designed many buildings which have been demolished but the ones that remain represent a fabulous cross section of society. From the rich to the poor and from saints to sinners, everyone enjoyed the benefit of William’s work.

1844 – St. George’s Church 4600 Dundas Street in Etobicoke. This was one of Thomas’ first projects after arriving in Canada and this Anglican church is still serving the community, although currently restricted to on-line services. The brickwork above the vestibule states that the building was erected in 1844 and restored 1894.

1845 – The Commercial Bank of Midland, Toronto now in BCE Place. This building was started in 1843 shortly after Thomas arrived in Canada and was completed two years later. It was intended to be the bank’s prestigious entry into the Toronto market but it didn’t survive more than 25 years before the bank closed down. The building was used by various other businesses until 1969 when it was vacated. It was taken apart and reassembled in the concourse of BCE place. The picture below is from 1880 and taken from the Toronto Archives.

1848 – St. Michael’s Church 65 Bond Street. This was the second Catholic Church in the community after St. Paul’s, which had been built in 1822. Excavation of the cathedral had begun in 1845 and it was consecrated in September 1848. The congregation made its mark by being instrumental in the founding of St. Michael’s Hospital.

1848 – House of Industry 87 Elm Street. This building was Toronto’s answer to the poor house. In an era before social services people who were destitute often had nowhere to turn. After moving into this building designed by Thomas, the House of Industry began providing food, shelter and fuel to the needy. In 1947 it was converted into a senior’s residence because this population sector were now the ones most often in need.

1848 – Oakham House 63 Gould Street William Thomas designed this house as his own residence and used part of it as an office as well. The gothic revival house in yellow brick at the left was his home. Thomas had the red brick addition completed as an office for his architecture firm. The house is now part of Ryerson University and is used by students as a pub and cafe.

1850 – St. Lawrence Hall 157 King Street was built in 1850 as part of St. Lawrence Market. Inside, it is divided into three main rooms and was the first major event space in the city. The hall was used for concerts, balls, receptions and lectures featuring many prominent Canadians including George Brown and Thomas D’Arcy McGee. It had been in decline for a number of years until it was declared a national historic site in 1967 and then restored as a Centennial project.

1853 – Brock’s Monument Queeston Heights. Thomas was commissioned to build a second monument to War of 1812 hero Isaac Brock who died at the Battle of Queenston Heights. The original monument had been destroyed in 1840 in a bomb attack and it was replaced with the present 56 metre tall one which opened to the public in 1859.

1856 – Don Jail 550 Gerrard Street East. The Don Jail was the 4th jail to be built since the founding of York and the original portion of the jail served until 1977. An east wing was built in 1958 and closed in 2013 and then demolished the following year. This is Thomas’ most infamous building as it has been the site of 26 hangings and countless murders and suicides over the years. It has recently been rehabilitated and incorporated into Bridgepoint Hospital.

William Thomas passed away in 1860 after only a decade and a half in Toronto but he has left a lasting legacy in his architecture.

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Washago Coaling Tower

August 1, 2021

Early railways connected small communities with larger centres and allowed for the easy transfer of goods and people. Pioneer towns that had railway service often flourished while those without it ended up featured in our Ghost Towns series. For the first century of Canadian railway history, trains were powered by steam locomotives. These required two fuel sources, water and coal (or occasionally wood). Coal would be manually shoveled into the the firebox by the fireman, heating the water to boiling and creating the steam and pressure to move the huge pistons. It is said that about a pound of coal per second was required to keep a train moving at 60 miles per hour. The major stops along the railways became places to refuel with water and coal, both of which were stored in towers so they could be gravity fed into the waiting trains. All of the early coal towers were built of wood and required continual maintenance and replacement. The picture below shows the coal tower in Georgetown in 1955 and was taken from Trainweb.org.

With my mother living in Gravenhurst there’s plenty of opportunity to visit historic sites that exist along the route. The Washago coaling tower had been in my sites for a couple of decades and it finally came time to check it out. I parked in Centennial Park where you can see the coaling tower across the river.

The concrete coaling tower in Washago was built in 1936 to replace an earlier wooden one. This picture from Ian Wilson’s book Steam at Allandale shows the coaling tower as it looked in the 1950’s.

As railways converted to diesel locomotives the old coaling towers became obsolete and many of them were demolished. The Washago tower was left standing beside the rail line and it has been slowly deteriorating ever since. Today, there are small sections of concrete that are breaking away but it appears to be structurally sound all the same.

The steel top is showing some signs of rust but is otherwise still in good shape. I can’t find any heritage designation for the Washago coaling tower but there’s very few of them remaining. There’s a three-bay concrete coaling tower preserved in downtown Toronto at Roundhouse Park along with several other railway era artifacts including a water tower and train station.

If you are thinking about visiting the coal tower, be aware that it is on a very active rail line and that you would be trespassing on private property.

When the Washago water tower was no longer needed for railway purposes it was repainted and put into service as the town water tower.

The current railway station was built in 1906 for the Canadian Norther Railway and was located about 200 metres from its present location. It was originally behind the Washago Hotel but the Grand Trunk Station was destroyed around 1913 and it was relocated in 1922 to serve both rail lines in town.

To accommodate the rail lines that passed on either side of the station a bay window was constructed on the back side of the station. Today, the building serves as maintenance space for CN employees.

The Washago Hotel is a well kept secret. There’s very little information available on line to tell the story of this old structure.

The Methodist congregation built a church in town in 1874 which has operated under the banner of the United Church since 1925.

A small building stands on Grist Mill Lane which looks to have been a coopers shop at one time. Many grist mills had a barrel maker in the immediate area to provide the barrels to ship flour to market in.

The grist mill in Washago was built in 1872 and operated until about 1970. Since then it has been used as a private residence.

There’s a lot of history in Washago that needs to be investigated when I have more time. The old railway line going north out of town once had a swing bridge over the Severn River and now the abutments and piers are all that remain.

Also see our post on Roundhouse Park

Google Maps Link: Washago

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Canada Linseed Oil Mills

July 25, 2021

Linseed oil is also known as flaxseed oil because it is made from pressed flax seeds. It is a polymerizing agent which means that it has “drying” properties where it changes to a solid form when exposed to the oxygen in the air. For this reason, it became useful in the manufacture of paints and putties where its drying needed to be kept in check in sealed containers. Linseed oil was also developed into linoleum from which the product gets its name. The availability of a wide range of plastic polymers that don’t yellow with age has led to the decline of linseed oil production since the 1950’s.

Canada Linseed Oil Mills Limited had their first shareholder meeting in Montreal in 1901 and within the decade plans were made for an expansion of production into the Toronto market. A property was secured on Wabash Street adjacent to the one being developed by the Dominion Bridge Company who were expanding their Lachine, Quebec operation into the city. It was 1910 and industry was springing up in the junction along a rail corridor that originally served the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway as well as the Credit Valley Railway both of which were now under the Canadian Pacific banner. The aerial photo below is from the Toronto Archives and shows the site and its proximity to the railway. The Canada Linseed Oil Mills site is outlined in green while the Dominion Bridge is outlined in blue. The orange buildings are the former grain elevator from the Linseed Oil Mills, now demolished. The small yellow building on the left is the former office and has now been repurposed while the buildings in yellow on the right remain to be potentially restored and turned into a new community centre.

Construction of the buildings was completed in the spring of 1915 and the elevator and buildings were boasted as being fireproof. This was important because linseed oil is very flammable and old rags soaked in it have been known to spontaneously combust. The building is now over 100 years old and the ghost sign advertising the business is barely visible. The word “linseed” can be made out in the image below.

The business was served by a rail spur that ran up Wabash Avenue and delivered flax seed to the elevator and took finished products to the market.

Within a year of the start-up of Canada Linseed Oil Mills, Lowe Brothers Paint and Varnish opened up across the street. Supplying the paint industry across the road as well as the oil cloth industry at Scythes and Company just up the tracks gave them a considerable local market and the proximity to the railway gave them an international market as well. The chimney is showing its age and in several places the bricks are giving away but plans are in place to restore it..

The image below is from promotional materials that the company produced to help market some of its products.

Canada Linseed Oil Mills developed livestock feed called oil cake meal which was made from the leftover plant material after the oils were pressed out. This was sold to farmers for feeding horses and cattle. There were some perfectly good uses for the linseed oil and its by-products but there were also some questionable ones as well. Dr. Chase’s Syrup of Linseed and Turpentine for children’s cough being one of them. The National Drug and Chemical Company marketed a product for children’s cough which contained Licorice, Linseed and Chlorodyne (laudanum, cannabis and chloroform). I guess knocking them out reduced the children’s coughing fits.

With the closure of the factory in 1969 the building has sat vacant for over half a century but its story may be far from over. The city bought the structure for $2 million in the year 2000 and approvals have been made to covert the site into a community centre as a final phase of the Sorauren Park development. Plans call for the retaining and restoration of the chimney and walls and the creation of an indoor pool, gymnasium and a wide variety of community use spaces.

The archive picture below shows the Dominion Steel Company making the girders that continue to hold up the King Edward Viaduct (Bloor Street Viaduct).

This Google Earth capture shows the site of the Canada Linseed Oil Mills as it is today. During World War 2 the Dominion Bridge Company made parts for the military and after the war they closed the factory. It served as the TTC Parkdale bus barns for many years until vacated in 1980. The next plan was to use it for storage of garbage trucks and road equipment but this idea was resisted by the local residents. The community lobbied to turn the site into a park and this was eventually realized after the buildings were demolished around 1990. In 1995 the first phase of the park opened with soil being dumped over the remaining concrete pad from the buildings. This was the easiest way to remediate the site but it has created problems with drainage and plant growth. The two-story former office building for the oil mills was restored and turned into The Fieldhouse in 2008 and has a fully equipped kitchen and washrooms. The site of the former elevators was turned into the Town Common in 2014 which features seating and water permeable paving stones.

With construction of the Wabash Community Recreation Centre scheduled for spring 2023 with a 2026 opening, there’s hope that these buildings will have a future role in the community that’s worthy of their past.

While in the area be sure to visit The West Toronto Rail Path that runs on the former Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway right of way.

Related Blogs: Bloor Street Viaduct , West Toronto Rail Path

Google maps link: Canada Linseed Oil Mills

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Milton Mill Pond

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Milton was founded in 1821 by Jasper Martin who had emigrated from Northumberland, England earlier in the year with his wife Sarah and their two sons. They settled on a property along 16-Mile Creek where they built a grist mill. The community was first known as Martin’s Mills but when it got its first post office it took the name Milton from the English poet John Milton, who was a personal favourite of Jasper Martin. A new stone mill was built in 1856 which survived until 1963 when it burned down. At that time the mill was being operated by Robin Hood Flour who donated the property to the town for a park after the fire. The town developed the park as a Centennial Project to mark the 1967 anniversary of Confederation.

This County Atlas map of 1878 shows the town as it used to be, centred on the mill pond. I’ve marked the approximate route of this hike in green and the waterways in blue.

A restoration of the pond took place in 2000 with invasive plants being removed. The gazebo was built in 2001 and has become a popular place to get wedding photos taken.

There’s a nice trail that runs along a narrow berm between the south side of the mill pond and 16-Mile Creek. There’s plenty of great views out over the pond where people have created small paths so that they could go fishing. It’s interesting to contemplate the importance of this berm to the early millers who were responsible for maintaining the waterway for a mile upstream and downstream. They had to remove fallen trees and other blockages that could cause a sudden surge of water taking out their dam or one downstream somewhere. Jasper Martin scooped this berm up from the bottom of the pond and then would have walked it regularly to keep an eye on things.

The Mill Pond has been stocked with trout but it doesn’t provide a suitable habitat to sustain their populations. People as well as the local heron fish in the pond for carp and panfish and there were several places along the trail where people were fishing. I stopped to watch two young boys fishing and was rewarded with the sight of a heron sitting on a rail on the other side of the pond.

A Painted Turtle was taking in the afternoon sunshine on a log in the middle of the pond. This was a fairly large specimen indicating that it is likely getting fairly old. The Painted Turtle shell is made up of 13 plates or scutes. As the turtle grows it sheds the outer layer of its plates and grows new ones. These plates exhibit growth rings like those on a tree and can be counted to determine the age of the turtle. But, you have to catch him first.

The trail passes under an old rail bridge that provides a pedestrian path across the creek and mill pond. It can be accessed from the park on Mill Street or from the north side of the mill pond but not from the walking trail between the two. We’ll look at the history of this railway later in the article.

This 1911 photo from Milton Images shows a Grand Trunk Railway train crossing the bridge at the mill pond.

Once you pass below the old train bridge you can continue to follow the trail with the creek on one side and the inflow to the mill pond on the other. You will come to concrete blocks which mark the start of the pond and after that the curve of 16-Mile Creek. Crossing over the creek on a small foot bridge you come to a larger forested area which featured several different types of mushrooms. These Oyster mushrooms were growing in large numbers in one small area beside the creek and are considered to be a delicacy by some.

Milton was bypassed by early railways and didn’t get the first one in town until 1876 when the Hamilton & North-western Railway arrived running north-south through town and across the mill pond on the bridge we saw earlier. The Credit Valley Railway arrived the next year running east-west just north of the mill pond. The Hamilton & North-western became the Northern & North-western before being bought by the Grand Trunk Railway late in the century. In 1923 the Grand Trunk became part of the Canadian National Railway and they operated the passenger service on the line until 1973 when the tracks were realigned and service discontinued. I followed the tracks to where they end a little north of the mill pond and also in the other direction to where they used to cross Bronte Road.

Several areas of the forest floor were covered in clusters of White Worm Coral fungus which grows between July and September and is considered edible. The white fingers are quite brittle but become almost translucent when wet.

As you make your way around the far end of the mill pond you come to the John Sproat House which was built in the Georgian style in 1857. This stone home was originally built as a Ladies Seminary Educational Residence but was later used as a private residence. One prominent owner of the house was P. L. Robertson who was the inventor of the Robertson Head Screw.

Orange Mycena mushrooms grow in tight little clusters on deciduous wood and are quite common in Southern Ontario. While this species might have some antibacterial properties, it is also known to be a mutagen which can cause genetic mutations that result in cancer.

Founding father Jasper Martin built his house across the street from the mill in 1821 making it the oldest building in town. This home has paired brackets under the eves and an ornate doorway but little other decoration. The Milton historical society has done a great job of identifying historic homes and putting small white plaques on them describing the original owner and date of construction.

I included this house which stands across the street from the mill pond because I love the style of architecture. The round tower with domed cap is Romanesque and all the accents have been done with terra cotta panels giving the home a unique look. It was built in 1892 for Richard L. Hemstreet the Presbyterian Church bought it to house their various pastors between 1924 and 1970.

The little side excursion along the old railway line towards Bronte Road leads past the rear of the P. L. Robertson Manufacturing Company. Formed in Hamilton in 1907 the factory relocated to Milton the following year and began marketing an industrial screw with a unique square drive, the first socket head screw available. The Robertson Screw was quickly implemented by Canadian manufacturing while the Phillips drive became popular in the United States. The Robertson building and properties are now vacant.

Bronte Pioneer Cemetery is a short walk north of the Robertson factory and was opened in 1824 as the final resting place of many of Milton’s pioneers. Jasper Martin, the town’s founder was buried here when he passed away in 1833. The cemetery is partially forested and has several stones hiding in a rear corner of the grounds. Many of the earliest stones have been collected into a cairn to preserve what remains of them.

The historic mill pond is a great place to go for a quiet walk with plenty of things to see and is reported to be an excellent place to see the fall colours.

Google Maps Link: Milton Mill Pond

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Long Branch Rifle Range

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The story of the long abandoned Long Branch Rifle Range begins with Confederation in 1867. As soon as the British North America Act came into effect on July 1st, the new Dominion of Canada was charged with taking a lead role in its own defence. The following year the Militia District of Ontario established the Ontario Rifle Association. With the Garrison Common Rifle Ranges in operation in 1869 citizens were practicing at Fort York but this soon proved to be dangerous. The Industrial Exhibition (Later the C.N.E.) was bringing more people into the area and a new passenger wharf at the foot of Dufferin Street led the city to ask the militia to move. In 1891 the Federal Government bought land on the west side of Etobicoke Creek and established the Long Branch Rifle Ranges. The site was immediately important, training volunteer militiamen between 1899 and 1902 for service in the Boer War. The range was operated from 1893 to 1910 by the Ontario Rifle Association when it was bought by the Department of Militia and Defence (Renamed Department of National Defence in 1922). In 1910 they constructed thirty wooden baffles on the firing range, two of which can be seen in the picture below. The are the oldest surviving military baffles in the province.

The rifle range can be seen in this 1962 aerial photograph from the Toronto Archives. Sixty years ago the grass was still kept short and there were no trees anywhere on the rifle range. Much has changed in the intervening years.

Baffles were built to dampen the sound and also to stop stray bullets from doing any damage. They varied in size from 4 to 6 feet high and were between 4 and 10 feet long.

The baffles were built with a wooden frame covered with tongue and groove boards. The tops were left open until they could be filled with sand and small stones taken from the shore of the lake.

Only sixteen of the baffles remain and some of them are in poor shape.

In 1925 two concrete backstops were built, each 15 feet high and 35 feet long. An archery or shooting target range is known as a butt and these two were built at 300 yards and 600 yards from the shooting gallery. The end of the 300 yard butt can be seen below as well as the concrete overhang that kept bullets from ricocheting wildly.

The 300 yard butt is pock marked with hundreds of bullet holes across the entire face. The vast majority of the Lee & Enfields 303 munitions that were fired at the butt were aimed at targets below the protective overhang. The concrete here is chewed away to expose the rebar inside and the wooden roof has also been blasted away.

Applewood Creek flows behind the butt and separated the rifle range from Canada’s first aerodrome which was opened by the Curtis Company in 1915. The eastern section of the lot was used to train pilots until 1919 when the Royal Flying Corp discontinued using it and the buildings were demolished.

The rifle ranges were used to train soldiers for the Boer War, the Great War and the Second World War. The A-25 Small Arms School (later S-3 Canadian Small Arms School) held shooting matches here with up to 300 participants from across the country. Between 1939 and 1945 the Long Branches Rifle Ranges were used by the Department of National Defence to train infantry prior to deployment overseas. With its proud history of serving Canadas military its sad to see the baffles warped, broken and overgrown.

The proliferation of vegetation at the site has the benefit of providing habitat for birds, insects and various mammals. Seen below, Banded Hairstreak is one of the more common hairstreak butterflies in Ontario. They can have a fair range of variation in the pattern of the orange and silver spots on the underside of the wing but the brown bands with white borders are a defining feature. They lay their eggs on host branches where they overwinter, hatching in the spring. Banded Hairstreaks have one flight per year in late June or early July.

There are two baffles in the picture below but the river grapes and dog-strangling vines have run wild, engulfing everything.

Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies were darting everywhere and a male is pictured below. He has a green body and plain black wings. They eat mosquitoes, fleas and small insects and are a welcome sight. In turn, they provide meals for turtles, frogs and fish who like to snap them out of the air.

Female Ebony Jewelwings have a brownish body and smoky coloured wings. Their wings also have a small white patch at the tips. The female will mate in the early summer and lays her eggs in aquatic plants. When the naiads are hatched they eat small aquatic insects until they become fully grown. Then they crawl out of the water and molt into their adult form.

The water tower in the distance was built in 1941 to supply water for the Small Arms Manufacturing plant. At the time, it stood in the middle of the manufacturing compound and there were no trees between it and the firing range.

From closer up, the water tower can be seen to also be in a state of deterioration. When we visited here in 2016 the central water pipe was still surrounded by a wooden crib but all of this is now gone. The pipe has also become disconnected a short distance below the platform under the water tank.

This 1957 aerial photo from the Toronto Archives shows the site when all the buildings were still intact. All that remains of the manufacturing complex is the water tower which stands alone in a field of rubble and overgrown roadways. The G. E. Booth Water Treatment plant had not yet been built and the 600 yard backstop was still in place. It was demolished in 1972 to make way for the water treatment plant. All of the original baffles are also still standing at this time.

Two small flood control ponds have been created on the old arsenal lands and the larger of them has become home to painted turtles. On this morning we found 7 of them sunning themselves on various rocks and logs. All of them were small, perhaps a few years old at most. Painted turtles can live 20 to 30 years but some have been known to reach 50 years of age.

Every time I visit this site I always leave with the feeling that something should be done to bring awareness to this bit of local history and I’m even more certain now. Mississauga carried out a Cultural Heritage Assessment in September 2013 but the site has continued to deteriorate in the 8 years since then. It remains to be seen what the future holds for this overlooked bit of our military heritage.

Also see our related blogs; The Arsenal Lands, Small Arms Testing Site and Marie Curtis Park

Google Maps Link: Arsenal Lands

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The Whitney Block – Toronto’s Empty Tower

June 27, 2021

In Toronto, almost any building that has been vacant since last Thursday has a sign on it for redevelopment as a condo project. So how is it that we have one right downtown that was last used in 1968? Its roots lie in the Ontario Legislature building at Queens Park which was completed in 1892 when the province had a population of just over 2.1 million people. Over the next two decades the population grew by 40 percent and the government quickly outgrew a couple of expansions. Rather than adding a couple of more floors to Queens Park it was decided in 1923 to purchase the land on the east side of Queens Park Crescent. Francis R. Heakes was the Chief Architect for Public Works Ontario and was given the task of designing the new office space that would occupy the site. Envisioning the ongoing growth of the province he designed a facility that could be expanded easily. Plans called for 3 east-west wings, joined by a central north south hallway. Three identical wings could be added, one at a time as required to the south of them. During design and construction it was known as the East Block and the corner stone was laid on July 30, 1925. Each wing was 6 floors except the centre one which had a 7th floor at the front. The first three wings opened on March 26, 1928. The Google Earth capture below shows the site today with the original three wings to the north, the central tower and a fourth wing to the south of it. The land purchased for the fifth and sixth wings is now a park. The MacDonald Block is comprised of the taller buildings to the east.

With the Depression less than a year old, the government approved the next expansion partially as a make work program. The first three wings had cost $2.5 million, of which only $2,000 had not been spent on Canadian materials and labour. The second phase would be similar with all local materials and a hand dug foundation. Francis Heakes died in September 1930 and George White was brought in to complete the works. He added a 16 story tower that had not been in the original plans.

Art Deco architecture became popular around 1915 and had run its course by 1940. One way to recognize Art Deco is the artwork that the buildings are decorated with. These government buildings are no exceptions and display quatrefoils everywhere. A quatrefoil is made of four overlapping circles and in the original Latin context it applied a four-leaf clover. The Canadian Imperial Bank tower is another great example of Art Deco in the city.

The doorways have a nice Gothic arch which gives each of the buildings an interesting entranceway.

Twelve carvings by Toronto sculptor Charles Adamson adorn the buildings with one each on the four upper corners and two on each side a couple of floors lower.

The four carvings on the upper floor are all female and represent Justice, Tolerance, Wisdom and Power (seen below).

Each side of the building has two male figures set in the following pairs: Farming and Forestry, Law and Education, Labour and Mining and finally Finance and Health with the latter being shown below. The tower had a bowling alley in the basement and an entire floor for animals being kept by the Department of Health. It also still has a hand-cranked elevator, perhaps the last one remaining in the city. Unfortunately, one of the problems with the building was poor ventilation and the only way to get fresh air was to open the windows. Government employees were never happy with the slow elevator and the single stairwell. This lack of egress in case of emergency situations led the building to be deemed a fire hazard. All but the first few floors have now stood empty for over 50 years. The tower was featured in the movie “Chicago” and many claim that the spirit of Francis Heakes still haunts its hallways.

Even before the East Block was completed it was being called The Whitney Block although it would have to wait until 1966 to get the name officially. James P. Whitney was elected to his first term in 1905 as the first Conservative Premier in 33 years. Whitney was elected to four consecutive majority governments winning at least 70% of the seats each time. He died in 1914 shortly after the fourth victory making him the only premier to die while in office. His legacy includes bringing power to Ontario through the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario as well as passing the Workers Compensation Act. The image below shows the carving “Agriculture”.

This Toronto Archives aerial photo is from 1956 and shows the houses and buildings that used to stand on the south end of the site. These were cleared away in 1958 in preparation for the construction of the fifth and sixth wings.

However, even as they were planning the next phase of construction it was becoming obvious that two more 6-story wings would not be enough to meet the needs of the ever expanding provincial government. The idea was scrapped and instead the Macdonald Block was built to the east of the site. It consist of four towers of 24, 14, 14, and 10 stories and like the Whitney Block is currently undergoing a massive renovation project which includes new windows and energy efficiency upgrades. A park was developed on the site and now is home to the Ontario Police Memorial. Below the statues of a male and female police officer are the names of those who died in service.

This drawing shows what the Whitney Block would have looked like when it was fully built out. It was taken from the Archives of Ontario and is dated to around 1930.

It’s hard to say what the future holds for this building but the exterior has been kept well restored and perhaps one day a plan will be made to do something with the interior. A proposed exterior staircase on the east side of the building (hidden from Queens Park) and ventilation upgrades might put the tower back into service. However, the single stairway might be adequate if the building was opened for tours and to allow people to get a closer look at the carvings. Time will tell.

Further reading from a little different perspective can be found in these recent articles by Now Magazine and Blog TO

Also see our post on Queens Park

Google Maps Link: Whitney Block

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The Battle Of Beaver Dams – June 24, 1813

June 24, 2021

As the War of 1812 entered its second year the Americans had opened the campaign with two quick victories. On April 27th 1813 they had won The Battle of York, capturing the town as well, but had retreated on May 8th to focus their resources on capturing the Niagara Peninsula. On May 27th they landed near Fort George and succeeded in capturing it. Rather than chase the retreating British, the Americans took their time and only reached Stoney Creek on the 5th of June. A daring attack under cover of night led to the British winning The Battle of Stoney Creek and the Americans retreating back to Fort George. We pick up the story a couple weeks later with the key players located as indicated on the Google Earth capture below. The Americans under Brigadier General John Parker Boyd were in Fort George and the British advance guard were at Decew (DeCou) House. Laura Secord was at her family homestead in Queenston.

The Americans were anxious to break out of Fort George and engage the British forces in an attempt to regain momentum. They decided to send 600 soldiers under the command of Colonel Charles Boestler to capture the 50 British troops that were positioned at Beaver Dams.

Meanwhile, Laura Secord was living at this little one story Georgian Cottage since 1803 and would continue to do so until 1835. Her home had already been invaded and ransacked by the American army during the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. Following the victory at Fort George, several officers had been billeted at the Secord home. When Laura overheard plans to make an attack on the British advanced post at Decew House she decided she needed to alert them to the danger. She set out on a 32 kilometer journey on June 22, 1813. One story has her bringing a cow along in case she was questioned and needed an alibi about doing farm work. On a side note, her house was in poor shape by 1971 when the Laura Secord Chocolate Company renovated it in her honour and later donated it to the Niagara Parks Commission.

James FitzGibbon was stationed at John Decew’s stone house near Beaver Dams with one company of the 49th Foot soldiers. After passing through woods and swamps Secord was able to reach him with the aid of some Natives that she encountered. She was able to warn him of the impending attack. The Decew house would have looked much as it did in 1925 in this photo from Wikipedia.

The Decew house was damaged by a fire in 1938 and sat boarded up until 1950 when it was destroyed by another fire. It then was declared as a National Historic Site, somewhat belatedly. The walls were reduced to the height of the window sills and given a concrete topping to hold them together. The basement was filled in with rubble and flag stones laid down for a floor. There’s a plaque installed to describe the history of the house.

Early in the morning of June 24th the Americans set out from Fort George and after passing St. David’s they found a trail to the top of the escarpment. About 300 Khanawakhe (Christianized Mohawks) and another other 100 Mohawks began to close in on the American troops and began to set an ambush. When the Natives opened fire and wounded the American Colonel they sent the troops into a panic for fear of being scalped. This is when FitzGibbons rode onto the battlefield under a white flag of truce. He convinced the wounded Boestler that if he didn’t surrender the Natives would run wild and slaughter the entire American contingent. Based on this claim a surrender was negotiated even though the American troops could have probably carried the day if they had called the bluff. The cairn pictured below was erected in Battle of Beaverdams Park to commemorate the events.

After the battle the Mowhawks claimed 5 dead and 20 wounded while there were 25 Americans killed and 50 of the 489 prisoners taken were wounded. An obelisk was erected in 1874 to mark the graves of 16 unidentified American soldiers that were buried on the battlefield. It was moved to the new Battle of Beaverdams Park in 1976.

Following this battle the Americans would be demoralized and confined to Fort George. For the Americans, the Niagara Peninsula campaign was over for the year. They continued to send out small scouting parties to keep an eye on the British but when they encountered a large reconnaissance force on December 10th they feared an attack was being planned. Brigadier-General George McClure decided to abandon the fort and ordered a retreat across the Niagara River.

First Nations People don’t celebrate wars or victories the way that white people do. They don’t want to relive the battle and usually won’t participate in re-enactments. Their idea is to celebrate the peace that follows the struggle. The Peace Monument at Decew House Heritage Park is intended to help generate an deeper understanding of First Nations People and their culture as well as their contributions to the founding of Canada. The memorial has a couple of children’s stuffed toys in memorial to the recent finding of 215 children buried in a Residential School in B.C.

The Bruce Trail leads directly to Decew House and then to Decew Falls. Decew House is one end of the Laura Secord Legacy Trail with the other end being at her home in Queenston. The trail is 32 kilometers long (20 miles) and is a close approximation of the very route she took as she walked into history. It can be walked in its entirety but has been broken up into five convenient sections for trail users.

The Laura Secord Legacy Trail is described in detail on the Friends Of Laura Secord website.

The Battle of Beaverdams Park is not the actual location of the battle field which was on the other side of the Thorold Tunnel. This new park was created in 1976 on land reclaimed when the Second Welland Canal was drained and filled in. The name “Beaver Dams” was contracted into a single word for the park name. The sides of Lock 25 can be seen in the picture below and it was the highest elevation Escarpment lock on the canal, which had opened in 1845. The monuments were moved from the actual battlefield to this site but the American soldiers remain interred where they’ve lain for over two centuries.

The anchor on display in the park is also a reminder of the days when ships used to pass through here on their way between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Details of the War of 1812 many be unknown to many Canadians but few people haven’t heard of Laura Secord because she has become a celebrated heroine of the conflict. Or is it just because of the candy store? We hope not.

Other War of 1812 Stories: Battle Of Queenston Heights, Battle of York, Battle of Stoney Creek

Google Maps Link: Battle of Beaverdams Park, Fort George, Laura Secord House, Decew House

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The Grand River In Galt

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Grand River is one of our Heritage Rivers and has been a means of travel and a source of power for centuries. William Dickson came to the Grand River area in 1816 and bought 90,000 acres of land with the intention of establishing a town and developing his land holdings. He built a mill at the confluence of Mill Creek and The Grand River and established Shade’s Mills which would be renamed Galt by 1827. The river made it possible for the establishment of Galt as an industrial centre. The residents built their early community along Water Street, an aptly named roadway.

There’s lots to see in the old town of Galt but this post focusses on the buildings along Water Street. I parked in the parking lot near the Mill Restaurant and walked south along the river. The county atlas map below shows Galt in 1877. I’ve coloured the river blue and the section of Water Street that I explored is coloured green.

There has been a dam on the Grand River in Galt since 1837 when water was first harnessed for power in the Dickson Mill. This same dam would also provide power to the Turnbull Woolen Mill and several other downstream establishments.

The Dickson Mill was built in 1843 and named after Robert Dickson who was a son of Galt founder William Dickson. When its milling days were over it was converted into the Galt Gas and Light Company which generated electricity to light the streets and homes of town. They operated between 1889 and 1911 when power arrived in town from Niagara Falls. In 1980 it was converted into The Mill Restaurant.

In 1974 there was a severe flood which caused damage to the riverbank and several historical structures along Water Street. This led the city to form a riverbank development program which saw the creation of Mill Race Park along with other stabilization projects. Robert Turnbull and John Deans had operated a knitting mill in Galt since 1859 and had taken over the old Wardlaw Mill on this site and used it between 1890 and 1897 when it burned down. It was rebuilt and operated under various names until 1972. The ruins have been incorporated into an amphitheater and park area for use by everyone.

The mill race carried a flow of water from the dam and along the side of Water Street where it was used by a series of mills. The turbine still remains in the mill race beside the old Turnbull Woolen Mill. Water rushed through a penstock at the bottom of the mill race to turn the turbine. It turned the belts that ran on the smooth wheels and supplied power to the knitting mill.

Morris Lutz built this Georgian style limestone house in 1850. Lutz had arrived in Galt in 1844 and became part of the Dumfries Foundry where he was foreman in the machine shop. Morris was elected to the first town council and when Galt was incorporated as a city in 1857 he was the first mayor.

Galt got a new post office in 1936 which replaced the one that still stands a little farther down Water Street. This handsome stone building with clock tower has been home to the post office ever since.

The Bank of Toronto opened a branch on Water Street in 1912 and this Beaux-Arts style building is unique in town. It has white glazed tiles on the exterior that are similar to pottery, another example of bank buildings that were designed to stand out from their neighbours.

Andrew Carnegie donated $23,000 for the construction of a new library for the Town of Galt in 1905. Carnegie gave away 90% of his fortune which is roughly $5.2 Billion in 2021 value. He funded about 3,000 libraries in the belief that libraries should be free to the local community. This Beaux-Arts style building housed the library for over 60 years and has since been home to several businesses. It is currently available for lease.

The First Delta Baptist Church was built in 1887 and is a mixture of Romanesque and Italianate styles. In Ontario it is rare for a church to be built with river or waterfront property. Usually they are on side streets, often conveniently named Church Street. The Baptist congregation formed in Galt in 1851 and they met in houses until 1872 when they started using the Primitive Methodist building. Robert Scott donated the land for the church which was deconsecrated in 1980 and then sold to the city for use as a theatre.

This archive photo shows the Baptist Church in 1902. It is interesting to see how the building has changed over the years. The main alteration is the elimination of the two doors on either corner and the opening of a central doorway. The side doors have been bricked in to disguise the fact that they ever existed. The new central door has also been closed in during the intervening years. There appears to be a new small window in between the two buttresses beside the new doorway.

George Landreth arrived in Galt in 1831 and found work in one of the many mills in town. He had this Georgian Cottage built in 1858 and it still has its original doorway with the multipaned side lights and transom. Along with the Lutz home featured above, it is one of just two original homes that remain in the original core of Water Street.

The Imperial Block was built in 1887 and was almost like an early strip mall. This Romanesque Revival structure at one time was home to the Commercial Bank, a grocery store, a tailor shop, a dress maker, tobacco dealer, hairdresser, dentist and a music store.

Scott’s Block was built in 1890 in the Romanesque Revival style. It has a terra cotta tower on top and detailed brickwork on the front. A two story oriel window stands out from the crowd of historic buildings on Water Street.

The Galt Woolen Factory is the oldest surviving textile mill in the city. It was built in 1843 for Isaac Sours who operated it until 1852. During this time his employees worked an average of 64 hours per week. In 1881 it became the Tiger Brand Knitting Company and today has been converted into offices and apartments.

In 1885 the Federal Government commissioned a new post office for Galt which was also used for as a Customs and Inland Revenue Office. It has some of the most interesting masonry work of all the stone buildings in Cambridge which has been preserved in the restoration and expansion project that brought the glass section to the rear.

Partial ruins of old mills and factories line both sides of Water Street and there is a great deal of history being retained in creative ways. Plenty of communities could learn from this example. The Canada Machinery Corporation had a Pattern Works Shop and Stores building beside the river where it forged machinery parts. They operated until 1979 and in 1984 the remains of their building were incorporated into another public park with its history intact.

The Galt branch of the Great Western Railway opened in 1854. Some portions of the former right of way along Water Street can still be traced and the old stone abutments can be seen where it crosses a small creek.

This blog is focused on Water Street and really doesn’t get into Main Street and some of the other parts of town. If you explore these areas you will find the 1857 Town Hall, the 1838 Dumfries Township Hall and the old Galt Firehall among the many interesting buildings in town.

Other Grand River stories: The Shand Dam, The Elora Gorge, West Montrose Bridge (Kissing Bridge)

Google Maps Link: Mill Race Park Cambridge

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Dominion Wheel and Foundry Company

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Revised August 23, 2021

(The City, Province and community groups have reached an agreement that will retain the machine shops while the offices and warehouses will be demolished.)

The Dominion Wheel and Foundry Company supplied railway components to the Canadian Northern Railway and in 1914 started an operation in the industrial zone near Gooderham and Worts Distillery. They made car wheels, brake shoes, the nickel iron centres for passenger wheels and other cast iron car parts. Cone valves for stop and check, pressure regulating, liquid level and altitude controls were also made on site. Outside of the railway industry they were also involved in the manufacture of parts and equipment for paper mills and printing presses. They were originally owned by the Canadian Northern Railway and later by the Canadian National Railway.

The photo below was taken from the Toronto Archives and shows the extent of the operation in 1947 when it reached all the way to Cherry Street. The buildings outlined in green have already disappeared leaving only the four outlined in blue. These are the foundry, warehouse, offices and machine shop.

The foundry building was where metal ingots were heated and poured into molds to produce the parts for repairing the rolling stock of the railway. The foundry has a low pitched gabled roofline that is less common in industrial buildings.

This undated photo from Friends of the Foundry shows the interior of the foundry when it was in operation. I can only imagine the heat in this place in the middle of the summer.

The entrance to the office building was located on the north wall and had single story pilasters on either side. Unfortunately, It can’t be appreciated because of the hoarding that was recently installed.

The office building is the only one that has any type of extra ornamentation. The walls are buttressed with brick piers that have small cut stone detailing at the tops. There’s also brick corbelling along the roofline with small stone details worked in.

When the foundry closed down the buildings were temporarily occupied by MSR Inc. into the late 1980’s. Since then it has stood empty while debates over the future of the entire 80 acre industrial zone went on. The City and Province proposed to develop the entire area for affordable housing in 1988. It is located in the flood plain for the Don River and so flood control and years of contamination required extensive remediation before development could begin. This new community would have been called Ataratiri after the Huon village that was destroyed near Midland in 1649. In this plan, the entire area would have been razed and all the buildings lost. Property values declined in the early 1990’s and along with skyrocketing remediation costs led to the project being cancelled.

The picture below shows the side of the warehouse with its double rows of windows and lack of any ornamentation, except for a single row of corbel under the roofline.

The city added the four remaining buildings to their heritage inventory in 2004 and a plan was put forward that would have developed them into a community hub with a musical theme. There would have been studios and places to jam as well as community kitchens and meeting areas. This also didn’t happen.

The machine shop had a full wall of two story windows that let a lot of morning light in through its five bays.

The Pan Am Games were held in Toronto in 2015 and the 80 acre industrial zone became a new project. Now known as the West Don Lands, it was partially redeveloped as housing for the athlete’s village. When the games were being planned the foundry buildings were used for this purpose and during this time Prince Charles visited them. Since then, development has continued unabated with the whole area east of the old Canary Restaurant being turned into midrise condos .

In 2020 the foundry site was announced as the future home of Eastern Avenue Affordable Housing. In January 2021 the Provincial Government invoked a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to allow the development to proceed without delay or further community consultation. Demolition began almost immediately. So did the public outcry. Within days the demolition was put on hold and the damaged sections of the foundry building were boarded over.

The southern elevation of the Machine Shop shows a lot of new wood that has been installed to replace the original window boarding on the buildings. This was done at the specific request of the provincial government who found the anti-demolition graffiti on the older boards to be disturbing. The local community had left chalk and encouraged anti-demolition comments which support the preservation of this part of our railway heritage. It appears from the door in the picture below that the city workers have left a few pro-demolition comments behind.

The 1959 surveyors map below shows the industrial area and how it was completely intertwined with the railways. Much of this railway heritage has already been lost to redevelopment and it remains to be seen what happens to the remnants. The Smithsonian Institute has recognized the cultural heritage of the industry and has one of Dominion Wheel and Foundry’s catalogues in their collection.

A few decades ago this would have vanished without thought but the tide has turned and people are more aware of the diminished cultural heritage that we retain. Hopefully we can continue to influence how it is retained and maintained.

Relevant Blogs: The Distillery District, Canary Restaurant

Google Maps Link: 153 Eastern Avenue

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Toronto’s Early Banks

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Lots of history

Yonge Street has become the main street of Toronto but the city didn’t start there. The original town of York started in a small ten block section east of there. The town of York was bounded by George, Berkley, Adelaide and Front Streets and the oldest bank building in the city is to be found there.

The Bank of Upper Canada opened in 1821 in a local store and they began work on their new building in 1825. It opened in 1827 and because it was owned and operated by The Family Compact it came under constant attack from reformers. It was a target of the failed Rebellion of Dec. 1837. The building housed the bank until it failed in 1866 after which it had several uses before being abandoned by the late 1970’s. It was restored in 1982 and now serves as office spaces. The bank issued bank notes between 1822 and 1861 and ones in poor condition can sell for $750 in today’s market. More about the building can be found in our story Toronto’s First Post Office.

The Bank of Toronto was founded in 1855 by a group of grain dealers and flour mill operators including Gooderham and Worts. Throughout most of the 19th century the bank had farmers as their primary customers. By the 1880’s and 90’s they had started to extend loans to manufacturing, utilities and natural resource companies. Between 1856 and 1937 the bank issued several series of bank notes that continue to be collected today. In 1856 the bank opened their first branch at 78 Church Street. It was located in the building which is now numbered 80 Church Street and has the three small dormers on the top floor in the picture below.

The archive photo below was taken from the York University Library collection and is dated July 7, 1956. At this time the building was still numbered as 78 Church Street and the bank had recently merged with the Dominion Bank in 1955 to form the Toronto Dominion Bank (TD).

The Bank of British North America was founded by Royal Charter in London in 1836. It opened its first branch in Toronto in 1845 on the corner of Yonge Street and Wellington Street. Thirty years later it opened a new building at 49 Yonge Street and issued its own bank notes from 1852 until 1911. It merged with the Bank of Montreal in 1918.

The Bank of Montreal was founded in 1817 and was the first chartered bank in Canada. It served as the central bank for the country until the founding of the Bank of Canada in 1935. Legislation in 1824 prevented the bank from serving the town of York but it got its break in 1840 when it took over The Bank of The People. This was a reformer bank started in 1835 to provide loans to farmers that the Bank of Upper Canada wouldn’t serve. The Family Compact didn’t like the direct competition of reformers and plotted to have the bank taken over by the Bank of Montreal. In 1885 they opened a branch at Yonge and Front Streets and this building is one of the few in this area that survived the great fire of 1904. The building was designated in 1976 for its heritage value as one of the finest examples of 19th century bank buildings in Canada. It is now home to The Hockey Hall of Fame.

A little farther north on Yonge Street the Bank of Montreal opened another branch in 1887. Somewhat less ornate than the one built at Front Street two years earlier it survives today as an A & W restaurant.

Traders Bank of Canada was formed in Toronto in 1885 and survived until it was acquired by the Royal Bank of Canada in 1912. It was popular in rural Ontario but built a 15 story skyscraper on the corner of Yonge and King Streets in 1905. It was the tallest building in the British Empire upon completion, a title it would only hold until 1911. It was the first skyscraper in Toronto and one of the few remaining from the early 20th century. It is currently undergoing some restorations.

The Canadian Bank of Commerce was founded in 1867 by a group of Toronto businessmen. It grew rapidly and by 1907 had 172 locations across Canada. In 1961 they merged with The Imperial Bank of Canada to form the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce or CIBC. In 1905 they built this impressive 4 story building at 199 Yonge Street which has been preserved as part of the Massey Tower condos.

The Bank of Toronto erected a building at 205 Yonge Street in 1905 to a design by Toronto architect E. J. Lennox. He is famous for designing Old City hall and Casa Loma. This small building looks more imposing than its four stories because of the dome on top.

The Dominion Bank was founded in Toronto in 1869. In 1914 they constructed The Dominion Bank Building at the corner of King and Yonge Streets to replace the head office that had been located there since 1879. The building is 12 stories tall and was one of the earliest skyscrapers in the city. It was designed in the Beaux-Arts style with Renaissance Revival detailing.

On June 19, 1929 the Canadian Bank of Commerce started construction on their new 34 story building. When it was completed in 1931 it was the tallest building in the British Empire, a status that it held for the next 30 years while it served as head office for the bank. The site was originally home to a small wood chapel for York’s first Wesleyan Methodist Church starting in 1818. In 1887 the Canadian Bank of Commerce demolished a theatre on the site and built a 7 story head office which stood until 1927 when it too was razed for the current building.

The Dominion Bank built a new branch in 1930 at the corner of Yonge and Gerrard Streets. The building was designed in a simplified classical style is the work of prominent Toronto architect John M. Lyle and has fine detailing on the front and sides. Images of native plants and animals along with Canadian history adorn the building.

Following the Second World War designs had been simplified when the Bank of Nova Scotia built this branch in 1949. The Modern Classicism is enhanced with the rounded corner and smooth cladding.

In 1975 the Bank of Montreal completed their 298 metre tall building called First Bank Building in honour of the banks status as Canada’s first bank. It is the tallest building in Canada and only two metres short of being classified as our only Supertall Building. Two Supertalls are under construction and four more are in the planning phases. When they are completed it will be the first time in over 100 years that a bank building hasn’t been the tallest on Toronto’s skyline.

The banks have always held some of the most prominent buildings in the city, either in architectural design or for their height. It is only in the next couple of years that new condos will surpass the bank buildings in height but who knows how long that will last before a grander bank tower is constructed.

Associated blogs: The Rebellion of 1837, Toronto’s First Post Office, The Distillery District.

Google Maps Link : Yonge and Dundas

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