Tag Archives: Colborne Lodge

Time Travel in Toronto

November 28, 2021

Throughout the GTA there are several homes and historic sites that are open to the public, although usually with a small admission price to cover upkeep costs. They are typically decorated in the style of a different era. This means that if you chose to, you could visit each one in sequence and watch the changes over time. This post collects the various historic homes and sites and presents them in chronological order. A link will take you to the feature article on the site, if available, where a Google Maps link can help you locate them for yourself.

1814 Fort York

Fort York contains an amazing collection of buildings that date to the War of 1812, although many of them were replaced in 1814 after they were destroyed in the Battle of York on April 27, 1813. This is the first stop on our time journey as we start with our oldest museum.

As you go through the buildings notice how low the ceilings are. This is due to the fact that two hundred years ago people were generally shorter than today. (The track lighting and interpretive signs are obviously recent additions)

1820s Todmorden

If we move ahead a decade we come to Todmorden Mills, a reminder of the city’s early industrial era. Mills were operated by water power and the Don River provided power to a series of three paper mills belonging to the Taylors. Only the lower one, which was at Todmorden, still survives. There’s also an old brewery and a pair of early industrialists homes. During the 1820s Trade Unions were still illegal and people were apprenticed for 7 years to learn a trade. General labour required long hours worked six days per week for sustenance wages.

1830s Montgomery’s Inn

If we move ahead another decade we can get a glimpse of how people survived as they traveled in the 1830s. A journey had to be broken into smaller sections so that horses could be allowed to rest and passengers could rest their weary bones that had been shaken up on the poor roads. Inns and taverns were built at convenient distances along the main roadways. Montgomery’s Inn was built in 1830 by Thomas and Margaret Montgomery.  It served as a rest and watering place for travelers along Dundas Street as they passed through the town of Islington. It served food and beer to travelers while providing fodder and water for their horses. Rest could also be had for those who needed to break their journey into several days’ travel.

1835 TollKeeper’s Cottage

Those same travelers often made their way along snow-clogged roads in the winter with their sleds but in the spring and fall, these same roads could become almost impassable due to the mud and ruts. One solution was the creation of plank roads where cut boards were laid side by side to create a wooden road. These were expensive to build and required constant maintenance. A system of tolls was established and people were employed to collect them. This small cottage was built for the family whose job it was to collect tolls along Davenport Road at the intersection with modern Bathurst street. Inside it is furnished with the items that kept a family of 9 as comfortable as the times would allow.

Inside the cottage is the wood stove for heating and cooking that had to keep the family from freezing in the winter.

1845 McKenzie House

Our next two stops are related to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. William Lyon McKenzie was the prime instigator for the rebellion. He used his printing business to incite discontent with the ruling Family Compact which would lead to rebellion. This museum takes you into a typical printing shop of the era.

This museum even includes a set of MaKenie’s own printing types.

1850s Gibson House

David Gibson was a consistent supporter of Mackenzie and when the rebellion failed he was exiled and his house and barns were burned down in retaliation. When he returned in 1851 he built the next house on our museum tour. Here we get a glimpse into the life of a provincial land surveyor in the 1850s.

1855 Colborne Lodge

Colborne Lodge was built in 1837 but became a full-time home in 1855. This stop on our journey shows us how the wealthier people lived in the mid-1850s. The Howards built the first indoor flush toilet in the city and devised a method of delivering heated water to a showerhead.

When Jemima became ill, John Howard nursed her at their home. Her sick room shows the level of medical intervention that could be expected in this period.

1860s Black Creek Pioneer Village

The next stop on our time travel trip lands us in the 1860s on the farm of Daniel and Elizabeth Stong. Their early houses and farm buildings were so well preserved by the family that they became the basis for Black Creek Pioneer Village. Many other buildings have been moved here and a small town has been recreated. A blacksmith shop, printing shop, hotel, store, carriage works, church, and manse, among other buildings, can be explored. Christmas By Lamplight has been an annual favourite because it allows one to sample treats and decorations from the mid-1860s.

Women of the 1860’s would cook using the fireplace and the small oven on the side and could turn out quite impressive dinners with the means that they had at hand.

1870s Don Valley Brick Works

Although not specifically operated as a museum, the Don Valley Brick Works demonstrates this industry as it operated in the 1870s. It was owned by the Taylor brothers who also operated the mills at Todmorden.

1910 Zion School

Throughout the 19th-century and into the 20th-century it was common for children to go to school in a one-room schoolhouse. The teacher was responsible for teaching all grades and so you didn’t want to get on their bad side because you would have them again next year. This school was vacant for several decades before it was restored and opened as a museum showcasing school as it was around 1910.

1914 Thomson Park

Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough contains the Scarborough Historical Society and a few locally historical buildings that have been moved into a small cluster. This stop on our time trip lands us just prior to the start of the First World War.

WW 1 Benares House

Benares House is not in Toronto, it is in Mississauga, but we’ve included it here because it showcases life during The Great War (WW1) for the average farming family in the area. Keeping up with the chores around the farm was a constant challenge with so many of the men off fighting the war in Europe.

1920s Spadina House

Our final stop on our journey brings us to 100 years ago and the house of a wealthy Toronto politician and businessman. Spadina House and gardens have been furnished and decorated to reflect the 1920’s, a period of prosperity that followed The Great War and preceded the economic depression of the 1930s.

While time travel might not be possible, a structured tour through Toronto’s museums could be the next best thing. Where will you start?

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High Park – Eastern Ravine

Saturday Jan. 17, 2015

There are plenty of nice days for hiking in the winter and this was one of them.  It was minus 8 with a wind chill of minus 16 and absolutely free of bugs.  In recovery mode from a head cold I was likely over-dressed which isn’t a good thing as you don’t want to sweat.  Sweating in the cold air can actually leave you feeling even colder.  Today I accessed the park from the Keele subway station.  Two visits to the park in November had explored the west side and then the middle sections.  The first ending at Colborne Lodge and then the second taking in The Zoo. This time the target was the area known as the east ravine. This 176 acre section of High Park had belonged to Percival Rideout until it was sold to the city and added to the park in 1876.

Prior to any ice ages, the Laurentian River drained much of Ontario through what has become the St. Lawrence River.  Ice age debris has buried the ancient river channel and much of it now lies under the Great Lakes.  As the cover picture of the 1890 map of the river system shows, it was believed to have passed through the Toronto area.  In 2003 a 15 meter geyser led to the discovery that the preglacial river system still flows 50 meters below the surface under bedrock. High Park sits above the southern terminus where the Laurentian River system is blocked from entry into Lake Ontario.

Following the last ice age the lake was larger than today, reaching to the area of Davenport road.  This lake was known as Lake Iroquois and it left large sand and gravel deposits along it’s shore.  The area of High Park sits on extensive sand banks.  In one place there is a sink hole ten feet deep where the sand is being washed away.


There is a large oak forest on the eastern ravine of the park.  This hollow red oak tree is capable of concealing various kinds of wildlife including the specimen hiding inside it in this picture.


Toronto Urban Forestry maintains 4.1 million trees in the city including about 3.5 million in our parks.  Every year they plant about 100,000 trees to replace diseased or unsafe trees that are removed.  Red oak number 26827 is tagged in the picture below.  It stands, along with others in the same number sequence, along one of the sand rills behind Colborne Lodge.


A rear view of Colborne Lodge and the carriage house.


Crown galls are caused by a bacterial infection and can attack thousands of different species of plants. They cause galls to form, often near the soil line of the plant.  The red oak featured in the picture below has a gall larger than a beach ball.


Spring Creek flows down the eastern ravine and has been dammed near Colborne Lodge, perhaps to create a swimming pool.


Spring Creek empties into Lower Duck Pond where it is fed into the lake by means of pipes and a detour through Grenadier Pond.  The picture below looks from the south end of Lower Duck Pond back into the park.  The willow tree in the middle of the picture will become a harbinger of spring in a few weeks when the branches start to take on a green colour.


In December 1913 a set of gates was constructed on the entrance off of Parkside drive in honour of John George Howard for donating the property.  Ironically, they are constructed on the Percival Rideout property that the city acquired in 1876 and not on the former Howard property .  The metal work in this 102 year old structure is highly ornate.  The city had just received electricity from Niagara falls a couple of years earlier and this must have looked quite special with it’s central light and two corner post lamps lit.


This large oak branch is lying on the ground with it’s leaves still intact.  As discussed in the post Winding Lane Bird Sanctuary the tree will extract chlorophyll from the leaves and store it in the wooden parts of the tree for the winter.  It then forms a scab and a new bud for the next spring. This process causes the tree to eject the old leaf.  As this branch fell prior to that happening, the leaves will remain on the branch until they rot enough to be blown off by wind, rain or snow.


The tree branch broke off early in the season when the acorns were just beginning to form.  For scale a baby acorn is placed beside a 1974 5 cent piece.


High Park has plenty left to discover in future visits.  For a gallery of additional photos please visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/hikingthegta

High Park – Colborne Lodge

Saturday November 22, 2014

Colborne Lodge was built by the founder of High Park and is tied to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.  It was the first hike of the season with snow on the ground.  At minus 2 it wasn’t very cold but proper winter hiking clothes, and boots with good treads were required.  You can park on West Drive in the north east corner of the park just south of Bloor street.  At 398 acres, High Park is the largest park in the City of Toronto.  John Howard created the park in 1873 with a grant of 120 acres.  Another 40 acres, including his home, passed to the city in 1890 upon his death.  The city purchased two other adjacent parcels of land to create the modern park.

Wendigo creek rises in this corner of the park and flows into Grenadier Pond.  Along the edge of the creek we walked through a patch of tall grasses known as Invasive Phragmites, or European Common Reed.  These grasses were about 12 feet tall and can grow to 15.  They choke out native plants and release toxins into the soil.  The heads of the reeds look fluffy at this time of year but are actually quite coarse.  In these reeds we disturbed an American Bittern.


Near where Wendigo creek empties into Grenadier Pond we saw these circles in the newly forming ice.  One possible explanation for the circles is rising water from springs below the pond.


John George Howard came from England with his wife Jemima in 1832.  He was Toronto’s official surveyor and was the first professional architect in Toronto.  He designed many of Toronto’s early buildings including banks, jails and the provincial lunatic asylum.  In 1836 he purchased a 160 acre property which included Grenadier Pond.  In 1837 John built a house named Colborne Lodge on the highest point of land on his property along the lake Ontario shoreline.  This was the same year as the Rebellion of Upper Canada.  By naming his home after Lieutenant Governor John Colborne, who was commander-In-Chief of all British armed forces in North America, Howard was making a bold statement about which side of the rebellion he stood on.  In 1855 they moved here full time and he began a series of expansions and modifications that would continue until the time of her passing in 1877.  The picture below shows the house as it appears today, virtually unchanged from the 1890 photo in the cover picture.


Built in the 1850’s the indoor washroom is the oldest in Toronto.  The idea of indoor washrooms was not immediately accepted because people saw them as unsanitary and likely to lead to cholera.  The outside of the washroom door was wall papered like the hallway and guests would not be told that it was there.  This is a picture of the oldest flush toilet in the city.


The shower was gravity fed from a heated tank on the second floor.


Jemima was one of the first recorded cases of breast cancer in Toronto.  She retired to the second story  bedroom where she was kept sedated with medication, mostly consisting of heroin.  Several times she wandered off and was lost in the park for up to a day at a time.  Early on, she was almost transferred to the provincial lunatic asylum, but she stayed in this room from 1874 until her death at the age of 75.   A night table is set up in the room with some typical medicine bottles from the 1870’s.


The house contains almost all original furniture, much of it made by John himself.  When his wife got sick he made a commode for her and disguised it as an elegant chest of drawers.


In 1874 John began to build a double tomb to memorialize his wife’s grave and eventually his own.  He built a 10 tonne monument and topped it with a Maltese Cross.  He purchased a piece of the 1701 wrought iron fence that had surrounded St. Paul’s Cathedral in London until a road widening made it obsolete.  Paying $25 to use the trans-Atlantic cable, he secured the purchase only to have the ship sink in the  St. Lawrence River.  John then paid for divers to salvage the gates from the shipwreck.  The tomb is visible from Jemima’s bedroom window and it was John’s way of showing her that although she would be leaving first, they would be together for eternity.  She died Sept. 1, 1877 and he followed on Feb. 3, 1890 at the age of 86.  John left provision that the servants be allowed to remain in the house for as long as they lived.  Their respect for the Howard family is shown in the fact that they maintained the property until the First World War.  The Howard family tomb and it’s 300 year old gates is pictured below.


James Rogers Armstrong opened a dry goods store in York in 1828.  By the 1840’s he had established a foundry named J. R. Armstrong and Company specializing in stoves.  In 1856 he retired at the age of 69 and left his foundry under the management of his son, James Rogers Armstrong.  The stove in the Howard house is a model known as The Royal and was manufactured by Armstrong in 1874.  This can be seen in front of the oven door when the picture below is enlarged.


Bees stop flying when the temperature goes below 10 degrees C.  The queen bee huddles in the centre of the nest and the worker bees crowd in around her to keep her warm.  The bees rotate through the nest during the winter so that no bee gets too cold.  They consume their honey for energy to allow themselves to shiver and produce heat.  The nest in the picture below had fallen out of the tree and you can see bees still inside.  These ones likely won’t be making it through the winter because the nest is badly broken open.


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