Tag Archives: Black Creek Pioneer Village

Roblin’s Mill

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Black Creek Pioneer Village is built around the homestead of Daniel and Elizabeth Stong.  Their story and a brief history of the village can be found in this earlier post.  Once the decision had been made to collect historic buildings to allow people to glimpse the life the settlers lived it was time to identify potential buildings to put in the village.  Since most pioneer villages were founded around a saw mill, grist mill or woollen mill it was necessary to move a mill to the site at Steeles Avenue and Jane Street.

Owen Roblin took possession of a land grant not too far from Trenton that included a lake that came to be known as Roblin’s Lake.  Owen blasted a head race from the lake to a point where he could create a 75 foot head of water to turn his 30-foot overshot water wheel.  He divided part of his property to create town lots which were the beginning of the town of Roblin’s Mills.  He added a sawmill and carding mill and the town attracted blacksmiths, a harness maker hotels and a general store.  Today the town is known as Ameliasburgh.  The picture below shows the mill around the time it closed.  The building in the foreground is the carding mill and the water wheel is between the two buildings.  The head race runs under the road.  The building in the background with the sloping roof is the File Brothers General Store which closed in 1951.

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During the peak period around the time of the American Civil War, the mill was producing up to 100 barrels of flour per day.  Most of this was shipped to the northern states where it supported the army.  The mill was closed in 1920 and sat abandoned until 1965 when it was decided to demolish it.  The Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) was looking for a mill for Black Creek Pioneer Village and decided to purchase Roblin’s Mill and relocate it to the village.

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A mill pond was created at the village using Black Creek as a source of water.  There is a second mill pond behind the mill where the water goes after it flows over the water wheel.  This picture shows the upper pond and the entrance to the headrace which also flows under the road.

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The five-story stone mill was built in 1842 and soon became the focus of the community and included a post office.  As a commercial mill, it operated 24 hours per day with three run of stones.  The picture below and the cover shot show the open wooden flue that carries the water to the wheel.

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Inside, large wooden gears turned by the water wheel drove the three mill stones.

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Millstones relied on fine grooves that had to be dressed at least once a month when the mill was running 24 hours per day.

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Samples of grain and flour were moved from one floor to the other using these belts and cups.

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The ground flour was stored in dry barrels that were produced next door in the cooperage.  A dry barrel was less precise than ones known as wet barrels which were used for liquids such as whiskey.

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Black Creek has added the cooperage of John Taylor to their collection of buildings.  The building dates to the 1850’s and was moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1976.  It wasn’t restored or opened until 1988.  Coopers often located next to mill complexes so that there was a ready market for their wares.

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Inside John Taylor’s Cooperage, you can see several types of barrels that were produced in the shop when it was located in Paris, Ontario.

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We close with an archive picture of the mill before it was moved to the village.

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I have yet to see the mill in operation although I have purchased a bag of flour that was milled there.

Google Maps Link: Black Creek Pioneer Village

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Black Creek Pioneer Village – Elizabeth (Fisher) Stong

Sunday Dec. 14, 2014

My wife and I were married at the Fisherville church which is now located at Black Creek Pioneer Village.  We have made a tradition of enjoying their Christmas By Lamplight and Christmas Dinner ever since.  Black Creek Pioneer Village is in fact, one of our favourite places. It was 4 degrees with a light mist adding to the atmosphere of the historical buildings.

Elizabeth Fisher was born on October 30, 1798 and was just 17 when she married Daniel Stong in January of 1816.  Daniel was 24 and, like her brother, had served in the war of 1812. Elizabeth never knew her father who in 1796 had received the land grant for lot 25 concession 4 in York township, now the southeast corner of Jane and Steeles , but had died before clearing the land.  Elizabeth had inherited the 100 acre lot when her brother died during the war of 1812.

Daniel and Elizabeth arrived at her lot in 1816 to find a forest of giant oak and pine trees. Clearing land provided the wood for building their first home.  Before winter fell they had completed the tiny three room log house that would serve them for the next 16 years.  The fire place is seen in the stone set in the wall below the chimney.  Inside, this provided the cooking hearth and a source of heat for the winter.

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In the early years Elizabeth had only the simplest cooking utensils, designed to work over an open fire.  Some typical examples hang beside the fireplace.

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In 1817 Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, Mary Ann, followed by a second daughter the following year named Catharine.  As the family was growing, Daniel was working on building a farm out of the virgin forest.  Keeping livestock over the winter was difficult so it was common to butcher the animals in the fall and preserve the meat.  A smokehouse was added right outside the front door in 1820.  It was divided into two rooms, one for butchering and the other for smoking the meat.

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In 1821 the Stongs celebrated the birth of Jacob, their first son.  A second son, John, was born the next year. Salted pork was one of the primary meats used to carry the family over the winter.  Daniel raised pigs which he housed in his piggery.  Being steps from the house made it easy for taking care of the animals but it must have smelt pretty nasty when the wind blew from the south.

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A grain barn was added in 1825 to the prospering farm.

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Between 1826 and 1831 Joseph, Michael and Samuel were added to the family bringing the total number of people in the three room house to 9.  Daniel and Elizabeth had one bedroom, the two girls the other and the boys slept in the living room.  The boys had the luxury of being closest to the fireplace in the winter.  In 1832 Daniel built a second home for the family.  The two story red house in the picture below is where their 8th and final child, Daniel jr. was born.  Shown in the picture from left to right are the piggery, first home, smokehouse and second home.  This little homestead was where Elizabeth raised her brood of children.

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The second house featured a greatly improved cooking area complete with a seven second bake oven on the left side.  If Elizabeth could hold her hand in the oven for more than seven seconds it meant that it wasn’t hot enough yet.

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An old expression which will be familiar to most of us is “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”  This bed in the second home is turned back to display the ropes that supported the mattress.  The ropes would need to be tightened frequently to allow for a comfortable sleep.

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In the rebellion of 1837 Daniel and his oldest son Jacob joined the rebel farmers and William Lyon MacKenzie to fight for responsible government.  After the rebellion was crushed Daniel was arrested and held in jail.  With the hangings of two rebels in Toronto, and 8 children at home to take care of, this must have been a horrible time for Elizabeth.

Tragedy struck in 1845 when Michael died at the age of 17.  He was buried on the north west corner of the property in what would become known as Townline Cemetery.  Eventually this cemetery would become the resting place for most of the Stong family and their neighbours. The land for the cemetery and Townline Church were donated by Daniel.

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In 1854 her oldest daughter Mary Ann died at the age of 37.  That same year her oldest son Jacob bought the east 80 acres of the farm to raise his own ten children on.  He built this two story brick house that still stands near the corner of Steels and Keele.  This old farmhouse once had a large front porch as can be seen in the changed brick colours below the upper windows and angling out to the corners of the house.

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In 1868 Elizabeth lost her husband and lifelong partner Daniel.  The large family that she had borne became her security in her older years.  Many of the adjacent farms were occupied by her children.  Samuel lived on the farm on the north side of townline (Steeles).  The house from that property was built by the Stongs around 1855 and has been moved to it’s present location within the village.

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Elizabeth was to suffer the passing of her other daughter in 1882 before she herself passed on March 30, 1885.

The farm was operated by Daniel, his son Jacob, grandson Alfred and great grandson Oliver. Oliver Stong farmed the family homestead until 1952.  Unlike most pioneer families, the Stongs never tore down the early buildings to re-use the materials.  The property was purchased by the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority in 1958 because of it’s unique collection of historic buildings and opened as Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1960. The east end of the property is now home to York University.

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Fisherville – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Wed. Nov. 12, 2014

Fisherville was named after the Fisher family. Jacob Fisher emigrated from Pennsylvania with 22 members of his family in 1797. They were granted a tract of land which was on both sides of Steeles, east of Dufferin Street. They ran a sawmill on the West Don River and later a grist mill which operated with different owners until about 1912.  This property was instrumental in the distribution of Insulin throughout Canada under the name of Connaught Labs.

Two mills are marked on the 1887 map of the park area, along with their mill ponds.  A grist mill located on the second property south of Steeles Ave. is the site of Jacob Fisher’s original mill.  I have been unable to find any trace of the saw mill on the second property north of Finch and believe that it was removed during construction of the flood control pond in G. Ross Lord Park.

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The cemetery from the Presbyterian Church stands on a little rise of land between the East Don River and the retirement home that stands on the former church property. Several stones have been rescued and placed in a common monument.  Isabella Watson, whose marker is seen below was born in 1793.  That’s the same year that Toronto was founded as York.

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Perhaps the only surviving building from Fisherville is the Presbyterian church which was built in 1856.  The cover picture features a painting of the church as it appeared when it was still located near the north east corner of Dufferin and Steeles.  The church cemetery remains but the former church site is now a retirement home.  Below is a picture I took of the church in 2006 in Black Creek Pioneer Village where it was moved in 1960.

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I parked in the back of the second parking lot in G. Ross Lord Park.  I had only a half hour to explore before I needed to be on my way back to work.  The main trail leads past the park facilities and down the hill toward the East Don River.  At the bottom of the hill, I made a left and crossed two foot bridges over the river.  Around the bend, a single row of pine trees marks the earthen wall of the old dam.  The row of trees is broken in the middle of the picture and this is where the river flows through.  At this point the earth wall has been removed and the dam in the river destroyed.  In the middle of the picture is an old chimney typical of a coal fired steam plant that would have been common around the turn the last century.  I believe this is part of the Sanofi Pasteur facility that occupies a large farm in former village of Fisherville.

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Jacob Fisher, after whom the village was named, set up a mill on the East Don River as early as 1797.  Considering that Lieutenant Governor Simcoe had only arrived in Upper Canada in 1793 to begin settlement, this is a very early date.  Jacob Fisher constructed the earthen berm across the valley to retain the river water and create a mill pond.  A wooden dam would have been built across the river itself.  The concrete dam in the picture below would have been introduced in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s to prevent the ongoing repair that a wooden dam required.  It was dynamited after the flood of Hurricane Hazel. (All traces of the old dam were removed from the river in the spring of 2017.  The earthen berm still runs across the floodplain with a row of pine trees growing on top to mark the site.)

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Backtracking to the nearest bridge I entered the woods and climbed the little hill on my right.  A deer trail runs along the park side of the Sanofi Pasteur fence.  Following this trail, I made my way to the line of pine trees.  Where the mill pond berm meets the park embankment there is a section of the earthen wall that is cut away.  This is where Fisher drew the water from the mill pond to turn the water wheel on his grist mill.  The picture below is taken from the outside of the pond looking up the old raceway.  The two larger trees just to the right of centre are growing in the raceway.

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Just behind where this picture was taken is a square area outlined by pine trees that are growing on the valley floor.  The mill was located inside this area.  It was common to plant trees around buildings to provide shelter from winter winds and summer sun.  From aerial photos I have determined that the mill was removed between 1962 and 1971.  There is nothing left of the original foundation but this strip of concrete that would have supported a later addition or repair.

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Returning to the trail I took another picture which more clearly shows the location of the old mill.  Just to the right of centre the pine trees dip down and there is a darker area of trees where they are deeper than a single line.  This is the location of the mill as seen from the west side of the river.

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I first explored this park and found the remains of the old dam in 1997 when I started working in the neighbourhood.  It took 17 years to finally stand where the mill once stood.

Google Maps Link: Fisherville

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