Tag Archives: Fort York

Buildings of York Prior to Toronto

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Town of York officially became a city in 1834 and changed its name to Toronto. There are still quite a few buildings that have survived from this era in spite of the ongoing redevelopment and construction that is occurring all over the city. We’ve visited many of these places over the years and the following post brings some of them together along with links to the original larger posts and the Google Maps links to find them for yourself.

The oldest surviving building from York is known as Scadding Cabin. York was founded in 1793 and this small home was built in 1794 on the east side of the Don River. In 1879 it was moved to the grounds of The Canadian National Exhibition in time for the grand opening of the Ex.

The house that we know as Elm Bank was also known as Lavinia Cottage. It was built of stone around 1802 and is one of two old stone cottages on the property. The stone was taken from the Humber River and the home was built in the former community of Thistletown.

Gibraltar Lighthouse on Toronto Islands was built in 1809 and originally stood just a few metres from the water’s edge but now is isolated in a wooded area on the island. It is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes.

Several of the oldest buildings in the city are contained in Fort York. Following the War of 1812 in which Fort York was partially destroyed many of the buildings were rebuilt. In 1815 the blockhouses, barracks and the powder magazine were all replaced. At that time the fort stood near the edge of Lake Ontario and the city hadn’t been built up around it as it has today.

Black Creek Pioneer Village is also home to several of the earliest buildings from the time of York. The first one built there was the log cabin of Daniel and Elizabeth Stong which was erected in 1816. A couple of further buildings from the Stong farm have been preserved as well as a few other structures that date back to the town of York which have been moved there.

The original Gray Grist Mill dates back to 1819 and has been preserved on Donalda Farm, now part of the Donalda Golf Club.

John Bales built a log cabin in 1822 that was later expanded and covered with cement and pebbles. The balance of his farm has been converted into Earl Bales Park.

In 1822 there was a race to open the first paper mill in Upper Canada and one was built at Todmorden Mills but it came in second. Located at the same site are a couple of older houses and a brewery that date to the town of York.

In 1827 The Bank of Upper Canada opened their second building in the original ten-block part of York. The building has seen a couple of expansions and the addition of a portico over the years.

In the early years of York all the streets were muddy and the town was often called Muddy York. Eventually the roads were covered with planks and a toll was charged for using them. This cottage is where one of the Tollkeepers lived and it was built around 1827.

Montgomery’s Inn was built in 1830 by Thomas and Margaret Montgomery near the village of Islington. It sat abandoned for more than a decade but has now been restored and is operating as a museum.

On Thursday March 6, 1834 the town of York ceased to exist and was incorporated as the City of Toronto. One of the last buildings to be completed before this change took place was the fourth post office in the community. This would become Toronto’s First Post Office.

The Town of York has been gone for nearly 200 years but there’s still quite a number of the old buildings still in existence. There’s many others that are not featured in this post that might come up in future explorations.

For a listing of our top 50 posts check out Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails.

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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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Military Burying Grounds

Sunday, March 22, 2015

It was minus 7 but sunny and not much like spring at all.  Having been at John and Richmond I had a short walk to Portland and Wellington to visit Victoria Memorial Park.

On July 29, 1793, a detachment of The Queen’s Rangers under the guidance of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe arrived from Newark (Niagara-On-The-Lake) and began work on Fort York. This was the founding act of what would become the city of Toronto.  Simcoe brought with him his wife Elizabeth and their seven children.  They lived in a tent near Fort York until their home at Castle Frank was built.  Katherine Simcoe was their youngest daughter, born on January 16, 1793, in Newark.  By Good Friday in 1794 Katharine had been feverish for two days while she was cutting teeth.  Before the day was over she would pass away.  On Easter Monday, April 19 she was laid to rest in a small clearing hacked out of the bushes a little north of their tent.  This was the first burial in the town of York (later Toronto).  This small burial grounds would become the garrison burial grounds until it was deemed full in 1863 and closed. Casualties of the Battle of York on April 23, 1813, are likely buried here.  Following the Battle of Stoney Creek in June of that year, the town of York became the hospital for anyone injured in the Niagara peninsula.  John Strachan had become the civilian leader of York after the retreat of the British and the occupation of the town by the Americans.  He presided over half a dozen burials a day in the summer of 1813.  After the cemetery was closed it remained British Military property but was left abandoned and forgotten.  In 1883 it was decided to transfer ownership to the city on condition that it be maintained as a public park. The cover picture shows the run down condition of the cemetery in 1884.

The Military Burying Ground is shown on Goads 1880 Fire Map but although Victoria Memorial Square Park is shown on subsequent maps the cemetery is omitted.  The cemetery was laid out facing magnetic east so that the occupants could rise facing the sun on judgement Day.


The old cemetery is marked with a row of paving stones that run at an angle to the sidewalk within the modern park.


As early as 1883 there was a plan to put a cenotaph in the middle of the park to honour those who had given their lives in service to the military.  A petition was made to local residents to identify any known burials in the cemetery as well as the regiments and companies represented.  (The most unusual claim is that LTE. Col. Francis Battersby brought the horses he used in the Battle of Burlington Heights on July 13, 1813, to the garrison burial grounds and shot them.  He preferred to bury them with honour than have them end up at a glue factory.)  It took until 1902 before a statue was started and it wasn’t finished until 1907. The sculpture on top is called The Old Soldier and was created by Walter Seymour Allward.  Allward would later commemorate Canadian war dead in France with his Vimy Memorial.


Known as the Garrison Church, the Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist was constructed in 1858 overlooking the burial ground.  It was replaced in 1892 with a red brick building which stood until 1963 when it was demolished.  The church was originally on the military lands but when Wellington Street was extended it cut the church off from the park.  All of the literature I can find as well as the interpretive sign in the park date the church to 1893.  The date stone is all that remains of the church and is a couple of feet from the sign that says 1893 but the stone clearly says AD 1892.  I think we should take the one carved in stone as being correct.


Broad Arrow symbols once marked the four corners of Victoria Memorial Square Park claiming it as British Military property.  As a youth, Sir Sandford Fleming had surveyed Victoria Memorial Square Park and the military reserve around Fort York.  Fleming went on to become the Chief Engineer of the Canadian Transcontinental Railway and invented our modern system of 24 time zones.


I walked from the park down Bathurst street to visit the military cemetery that was used after this one was closed.  The steel girder bridge on Bathurst near Front street was built in 1903 to span the Humber River but has been located here since 1916.  The chasm it spans contains more than what meets the eye.  Under the bridge, and running along the east edge of Fort York, is Garrison Creek.  The creek was the largest water course between the Humber and the Don rivers.  Pollution and sewage led the city to bury part of Garrison Creek in the 1880’s. By 1920 the entire creek had been forced into the sewer system and much of the ravine above it was filled in.  The bridge is named Sir Isaac Brock Bridge after the General who fell in the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13th,1812.


From Sir Issac Brock Bridge you can see one of the Community Canoe Gardens.  This project aims to re-purpose 12 old canoes and turn them into bee friendly garden planters.  The canoes are to be located along the former water course of Garrison Creek.  This one is where the creek used to flow along the edge of Fort York.


From the bridge, you can also see the east gates of Fort York.


When the Military Cemetery at Victoria Memorial Square Park was considered full a new burial ground was selected near the New Fort on the CNE grounds.  After less than a dozen burials this site was closed and the bodies removed to a location near Strachan Avenue at the west end of the Garrison Commons.  This had been the site of the American advance against Fort York on April 23, 1813, when the fort was captured and held for 6 days.  This cemetery was used to bury the military and some of their families.  It was closed in 1911 and the view below is from 1926 with the buildings of Fort York in the background.

Fort York Burying Ground 1926

The view from a similar position today has an entirely different backdrop although Fort York is still there.


Today, the two sites in Toronto where our fallen soldiers lie are largely forgotten by the people who enjoy the freedom that they gave their everything to preserve.

Google Maps links: Victoria Memorial Square Park, Garrison Common

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