Tag Archives: Dundas Street

Lambton Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Lambton Mills has changed considerably since the days when it was a mill town on the Humber River, half in Toronto and half in Etobicoke.  It isn’t a ghost town in the classic sense because so many people still live there but the ghost of the pioneer community is still evident.  To explore we parked in the small lot on the west side of the Humber River at the end of Old Dundas Street.

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Dundas Street used to cross the Humber River on an iron bridge set on stone abutments.  When the new high level bridge was built Dundas Street was realigned and Old Dundas Street lost its bridge.  The old stone abutments have have been collapsing and there isn’t much left on the west side of the river.

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Lambton Mills grew up around several mills and soon became home to blacksmiths, inn keepers and many mill workers.  North of Old Dundas Street you can still find the remains of the earthen berm that was part of the early mill dam in town.

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The archive photo below shows the large mill that William Pearce Howland built on the south side of Dundas Street.  Howland went on to be one of the Fathers of Confederation and then served as the second Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

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A short walk south along the river brings you to the remains of an earlier dam.  This helps to mark the site of another mill.

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Millwood Mills was built by Thomas Fisher on the west side of the river and south of Dundas Street.  It is shown on the historical atlas as G.M. for grist mill on the Fisher Estate.  The two story mill burned down in 1847 and was replaced with a five story building.  After Fisher’s death in 1874 the mill passed to his son who operated it for four more years before passing away himself.  In 1880 the mill was converted to steam and became eventually became a rope manufacturer named Canada Woolen Mills.  After a fire in 1901 it was permanently abandoned and now exists as a set of stone foundations in the trees.

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Lambton House was operated as a hotel on the Dundas Road beginning in 1848 as a rest stop and watering hole for travelers and horses alike.  It served as a hotel for 140 years until closing in 1988.  The property has changed a lot over the years and high rise apartments now stand all around the hotel and on the former site of the mill.  The building itself has also changed over the years.  Looking above the rear door on the east end of the building you can see where there is a set of lines that form an upside down V below the roof line.  Lines like this can often be seen on older homes where a former porch has been removed.  In the case of Lambton House, the pioneer equivalent of a garage was attached at the back of the hotel.

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The photo below from the Etobicoke Historical Society shows the hotel as it appeared a century ago.  The rear entrance on the side led directly to the drive shed where the horses sheltered.  It certainly is a more attractive hotel without the apartment buildings in the background.

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Thomas Colton owned one of the two blacksmith shops on Dundas on the west side of the river.  It was here that he built his story and a half family home complete with a rounded window in the front gable.

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The Methodist congregation in Lambton Mills needed a new church building and local architect Meade Creech designed and built one for them in 1877.  The first services being held on March 3, 1878 in the new brick building with Gothic architecture and a large rose petal window above the main entrance.  The congregation joined the United Church in 1925 and soon needed a new building.  The old one was sold and a new retail addition was put on the front and it was turned into a store.  The city of Toronto has over 4,500 properties on their heritage register.  This means that they cannot be altered without city council approval.  There’s another 11,700 properties that are heritage listed which means that although they have been recognized as having heritage value they are basically unprotected.  Developers must give the city 60 days notice of their intention to demolish a listed building.   From the vacant lot that now exists where the church used to be it seems those 60 days have passed already.

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The house at 30 Government Road was built in 1870 for Harry Phillips who was the postmaster for the town.  This little house has a rounded arch window in the upper gable that is typical of Lambton Mills and a feature of Italinate architecture.  The four leaf clover motif in the bargeboard on the gable is also typical of the era.

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John Berry took over running Millwood Mills in 1890 and two years later he built his house at 125 Kingsway.  The mill failed and in 1894 he moved to Quebec to run a textile mill there.  He returned to Lambton Mills in 1914 and became treasurer of Etobicoke in 1918.  He served as treasurer for twenty years, walking to Islington every day because he never owned a car.

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A pair of historic homes stand at 7 and 9 Government Road where mill workers lived during the mid-1800’s.

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Another historic home stands at 23 Government Road.  This simple one and a half story house has the Lambton Mills vernacular gable window with a rounded arch.

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Lambton Mills has been totally surrounded with development but there’s still a large number of historic buildings on the west side of the Humber River.  A walk through the area reveals many old gems complete with beautiful gardens.

Also see our feature Old Mill to Lambton Mills as well as the story of Millwood Mills

Google Maps Link: Lambton Mills

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Sixteen Hollow – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday Sept. 12, 2015

The area known as Sixteen Hollow was home to an industrial community that became a ghost town by the 1880’s.  We decided to ignore the light rain that was falling, don a light jacket for the first time in months, and go to check it out. There is free parking in the parking lot under the Sixteen Mile bridge on Dundas Street.

Dundas Street was surveyed in 1795, two years after the founding of York (Toronto), as a link to Hamilton.  The road was opened in 1806 after the Mississauga Purchase transferred the land to the British.  George Chalmers arrived in 1825 and opened a merchant shop where Dundas Street met Sixteen Mile Creek.  Next, he built a dam on the creek north of Dundas and opened both a saw and grist mill.  Sixteen Hollow was known for awhile as Chalmer’s Mills and was a thriving community with a tavern, stables, a distillery, a blacksmith shop several houses and an ashery.  In the early 1840’s Chalmers over-extended himself and became bankrupt.  He ended up selling everything to John Proudfoot and the community briefly became Proudfoot’s Hollow. The town continued to grow and a three story inn catered to stagecoach and weary traveler alike. Tailors and weavers as well as the makers of barrels, wagons and footwear all called The Hollow home. When the railroad bypassed the town, and Oakville grew, Sixteen Hollow suffered a fatal blow in the collapse of the grain market.  By the 1880’s the mill was closed and only two houses and the church remained.  The map below from the National Archives is dated 1847 with a question mark but show’s the community early in the days of John Proudfoot.

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North of the bridge, in the area that was once covered by mill pond, we observed a female cross orbweaver spider.  This large specimen was riding out the rain curled up in a plant stem.  This species of spider is known to be mildly venomous with bite reactions lasting from 2 days to three weeks.  It takes it’s name from the cross shaped markings on the body near the head.

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The first reliable bridge to replace the mill dam crossing was built in 1885 and was a steel truss bridge. It was replaced in 1921 with a concrete bridge that rose in elevation as it went westward eliminating the need for the switchback on the ravine side.  A four lane bridge was built in 1960 which replaced it.  The bridge decking was removed from the 1921 bridge but the piers were left standing.  Notice in the picture below, and the cover photo, the metal capped point of concrete on the front side of the pier.  This was on the upstream side and used to break up ice during the spring thaw to protect the bridge from damage.  It indicates that the creek flowed around this pier in the 1920’s.  Today the creek runs well to the east of here, just above the goldenrod field, and is visible in the cover photo.  in 2008 another four lane bridge was added running along the line of the 1921 bridge piers.

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The historical county atlas shows the grand detour that Dundas Street took as it passed through Sixteen Hollow and crossed the creek.  The road passes across the middle of the map from the right to the left as one travels westward.  Just before the mill pond the road takes a curve and descends the hill behind the Presbyterian church (still a wood frame structure in 1877).  It crosses on or near the dam and then does a long hairpin curve south and back as it climbs the west ravine.  By 1877 there are few buildings shown on the map and only one mill, near the church.

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Fall was in the air and there are trees that are starting to change colour.  The process of changing colour actually starts in the spring.  The tree has a relatively short growing season which usually ends in about June.  At this time they already have the bud for next year’s leaf ready but dormant until the spring thaw.  Chlorophyll in the leaves is constantly being broken down by sunlight and replaced.  As the day light hours grow shorter and the nights longer the tree prepares for winter.  It starts to form a kind of scab between the leaf and the branch which cuts off the transfer of nutrients to the leaf.  When the green chlorophyll is no longer replaced the yellow, red and orange pigments in the leaves are exposed.  They too break down in UV light and eventually only the brown tannins are left as pigments.

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Yellow and purple flowers paint a picture of late summer.  Black-eyed susan, also known as brown-eyed susan, are related to the sunflower and provide the yellow on the left below. New England asters like a lot of sunshine and their purple flowers colour the open areas throughout The Hollow. The yellow goldenrod plants on the right are also a member of the aster family and they are often mixed with their distant cousins.  The sumac trees in the background have not started their change to bright red yet.  This is one of the first and brightest transformations of the fall.  The word sumac comes from the ancient word used for red in several languages.

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Sixteen Hollow is a quiet place today but it’s past history was much different.  Humans put a dam across the river and built an industrial community which has now vanished.  The Sixteen Mile Creek is also much shallower today than when Upper Canada was settled.  Clearing of the land led to lower water levels in Ontario.  Water levels at the end of the last ice age were much greater as can be seen in the depth of the creek bed relative to the shale embankments along the sides.

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One of the central meeting places in an early community was the church.  Sixteen Hollow had a Presbyterian church on the east bank of the river by 1844 and it is the only remaining building from the historical village.  This frame structure was 40 feet long, 30 wide and 18 tall.  The building was expanded  in 1899 and given a brick veneer on the outside.  Electric lights were installed in 1943 in time for the centennial celebrations the following year.  The basement was added in 1994 for it’s 150th anniversary.

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Sixteen Hollow is no longer a thriving town but there is a lot of space to hike along the Sixteen Mile Creek.  We had previously looked at a small section going north from here on Canada Day.

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