Tag Archives: Gore and Vaughan Plank Road

Elm Bank

Saturday, January 3, 2021

While on a walk along the West Humber Trail near Albion Road I had the opportunity to photograph the oldest building in Etobicoke as well as one thought to be number 3 or 4. This section of the trail on either side of Albion runs through property that was once the farm of the Grubb(e) family.

In 1833 John and Janet Grubb arrived in Etobicoke from Scotland. They bought 150 acres of land which included a two story home that had been built of river stone between 1802 and 1820. The house is unusual for its era because of the lack of symmetry. Often a three bay house would have the upper windows lined up with the first floor ones. The ground floor windows are different sizes and on different levels. There also appears to have been a small entrance porch at one time based on the discolouration of the stones around the door. Eight separate land owners held the property prior to Grubb and the original builder of the home is no longer known.

The Grubb family eventually included ten children and so they needed more space immediately. Using more stone from the Humber River, John built a second home just 20 feet south of the first one. The second home was built in 1834 and is a story and a half Regency Cottage design with a low hipped roof. Dormers face north and south and a large veranda looks from the south side down onto the river and floodplain below. The two houses are connected below ground with a tunnel. The second house can be seen behind the first one, on the left in the picture below. It is much larger as befits a family home but only the corner can be seen without walking right up onto the property, which isn’t appropriate without seeking permission first. The homes can be found at 19 and 23 Jason Road.

John Grubb was also the president of the Weston and Albion Plank Road Company until he passed away in 1850. In 1889 John’s son William also passed and the farm was sold to cover the expenses still owed on the former plank road company. The family continued to live in their home east of Albion road until 1930. This home is marked in orange on the atlas above and has been rescued and moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village. Across the street, a house has been built on the original stone foundations of the Grubb barn. The barn and a piggery next door were both constructed in 1835 when John was getting his farm established.

The house that was built on the foundations of the piggery is in poor shape, although it does appear to be lived in.

In addition to farming, the Grubb family also got into town building by laying out the original community of Thistletown. John Grubb was distressed at the condition of the early roads and decided to do something about them. In 1841 he founded the Weston Plank Road Company to improve the local roads by covering them with a layer of thick wooden planks. A few years later he also formed the Albion Plank Road Company. The building that the Weston Plank Road Company operated out of was built in 1846 and still sits on its original location about a kilometre south of the 401 on Weston Road.

The rear of the building is also quite interesting because you can see the way the building has been modified over the years. Where the ground level door is there are signs that another door or a window was previously bricked in just above it. The green beam that runs between the first and second floors matches the one on the front side of the building. The variations in the brickwork patterns reveal where sections of this have been closed off. It appears that this may have been one larger shipping door that was split into a couple of windows. The building was given an historic designation in 1987 but has sat neglected for a least a couple of decades now. It suffered a small fire in March of 2019 but fortunately it wasn’t completely destroyed.

Dufferin Street was also covered in planks around the same time. It was known as the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road and a small section still exists in a ravine south of Finch Avenue. Massive sixteen foot long boards held together with huge spikes were unearthed during recent erosion control work. The picture below shows one of these spikes compared to the size of my foot. The link above leads to an article with many more pictures of the planks and spikes.

The next image was taken from “A History of Vaughan Township Churches” by the Vaughan Historical Society and shows the 1851 Primitive Methodist Church in Shiloh. It is interesting because of the plank road that runs in front of the church. You can get a good idea of the size of the planks that were used and the amount of maintenance that must have been required to keep it from rotting away. These costs were not always offset by the tolls charged for using the roads.

On the way back out from Jason Street be sure to stop and admire the home of the Franklin Carmichael Art Centre. The home was built in 1934 and was converted into the Art Centre in 1971 to showcase the works of Franklin Carmichael who was one of Canada’s famous Group of Seven artists.

A little south of Elm Bank on a road known as Elmhurst sits the last remaining Victorian Era farm house in the area. The rear portion of this home was built in 1864 by George and Hannah Garbutt. This section has a nice row of buff coloured bricks just below the roof. In 1903 their daughter Alice married William Gardhouse. George passed away a few months later and Alice inherited the farm. When her family outgrew the home, an addition was built on the front of the original house. The family continued to farm the property until 1952 when it was sold to developers for a subdivision. Today this house sits at a funny angle to the street but it faces Islington Avenue squarely.

The Grubb and Garbutt family homes are note worthy because of their age and also the way in which they have been retained in spite of the urban sprawl that hit the area in the 1950’s.

Also check out our blog The Gore And Vaughan Plank road

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Gore and Vaughan Plank Road

Jan. 14, 2016 featuring pictures from May 13, 2015.

The early roads in York County were laid out in a grid by the original survey with five 200 acre lots in each box. Augustus Jones surveyed York Township in 1796 and he made Yonge Street (grey) the north-south marker.  Going west (left on the map below) were 1st line west, second line west, etc.  Today we call them Bathurst (purple), Dufferin (red), Keele (white), Jane (black) and so on.  Eglinton was the east-west marker and known as Base Line.  The side roads going north were the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th named after the lot number they ran along.  The lot numbers are shown on the map below along side of Jane St.  Today we call these roads Lawrence, York Mills (yellow), Sheppard (green), Finch (blue) and Steeles (orange). This grid of roads connected all the little farming and milling communities in the township and is still imprinted on the city today.  The 1877 county atlas section below has been coloured to illustrate this.

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Settlers were granted 200 acres which came with several conditions. One of the mandatory tasks a pioneer faced was the clearing and maintaining of the road allowance along the edge of their property. They had to clear an area which amounted to 1 acre of land for public road allowance. They were also responsible to spend a certain amount of time working on road maintenance each year. This would include pulling stumps and filling in holes and swampy areas. The settlers had a full day’s work on the homestead and often the road repair was overlooked and people would be fined for not complying. The system led to some very messy roads where people got stuck 3 seasons of the year and bounced over ruts the other one.

The solution was to cover some of the roads in cut boards or planks. The Gore and Vaughan Plank Road Company was established in 1855 to build a plank road along Dufferin Street. The road was to be built of local wood and various saw mills were engaged along the route to cut and prepare the planks. The picture below shows one exposed end of the plank road along with one of the steel spikes that held it together.  The same spike is shown in relation to my shoe in the cover photo.

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Where Dufferin street, shown in red on the map above, crossed the ravine for Dufferin Creek the descent was very steep.  The solution for the pioneers was to run the road on a curve down the side of the ravine.  This shows on the map just below the blue line of Finch Ave.  The planks for the Gore and Vaughan Plank road were sixteen inches wide by 8 inches thick and sixteen feet long.  The picture below shows the length of one of the boards.

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For durability the planks were laid up and nailed through to create a roadbed that was sixteen inches thick.  Planks were held together with four foot long spikes that were driven in two feet apart in opposing directions.  The picture below shows the head of the spike on the left and the point of the spike on the right.  The tape measure is laying on the seam between two planks.

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In this spot there is almost 2 feet of spike sticking out of the plank where the exposed boards have rotted away.

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The spikes used in the plank road construction have a 3 inch diameter head on them and were over 4 feet in length.

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The body of the spike is 1 inch in diameter.

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The picture below shows the business end of the spike.

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The plank road was expensive to maintain as new wood was continually replacing worn and rotten boards.  The solution was to assess a toll for the use of the road.  Toll stations were set up at various places along the plank road.  On the map above there are two.  One is at Finch (yellow) and the other at Sheppard (green).  They are marked on the map and underlined in blue.  Yonge Street was also planked with a toll station at Hoggs Hollow.  The picture below was taken on Dundas Street near Lambton Mills and shows a representative toll charged for using a maintained road.

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Times changed and crushed gravel and asphalt replaced plank roads.  Dufferin was paved and where it crossed Dufferin Creek on a long curve it was straightened out.  The curved section in the ravine was left to rot or to be buried by flooding.  When the trunk sewer along Dufferin Creek required repair work in 2014 a portion of the plank road was exposed again. Hiking the GTA found these remains and gave a brief description in Dufferin Creek in May 2015. This post allows for  greater detail and more pictures to be presented of this 160 year old part of our transportation heritage.  The archive photo below from 1954 shows the old roadbed as seen from the modern Dufferin Street.

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https://www.google.ca/maps/@43.7658222,-79.4749897,14z

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Dufferin Creek

Thursday May 11th, 2015

After previously publishing this area as Garbage Park Toronto I wanted to come back and show some of the beauty of this green space.  After pressuring the city through several agencies they came and did a very poor job of cleaning up the years of garbage that had accumulated.  I will continue to work at getting a satisfactory resolution to this mess.  In the mean time, this park has much to offer because it is virtually unused.  The pictures presented below were taken during several brief explorations on lunch breaks or after work, however, most of them were taken on the 11th of May on my lunch.

Dufferin Street, like other roads in York Township, went through seasons when it was impassable mud.  In 1855 The Gore and Vaughn Plank Road Company was formed to surface the road with planks.  These were cut strips of wood several inches thick that were held together by long steel nails.  The construction and maintenance of these roads was financed through the use of tolls.  A toll booth was built at Dufferin and Sheppard where it operated until 1891.  It can be seen in the historical atlas picture on the cover photo.  There are still traces of the early Gore and Vaughan Plank Road in the Dufferin Creek valley on the west side of the road.  These have been uncovered by the recent channel work on Dufferin Creek.  The picture below was taken on April 28th during a brief exploration of Dufferin Creek on the west side of the road.

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When the road was built the pioneers chose to make the decent into the valley by going along the edge of the ravine, crossing in the bottom and then curving back up the far side of the ravine.  The cover photo shows the 1877 historical atlas map of the area.  I have coloured Finch Avenue yellow and Dufferin Street in pink.  The park is green to denote it’s upcoming status as a green space instead of a polluted brown one.  The curve in the road is shown on Dufferin just south of Finch.  In the 1947 aerial photo below, the curve in the old road can still be seen. Dufferin now runs straight up on left side of the picture across a tall berm that hides a large culvert in the valley.  The old road bed can still be seen in the “S” curve that begins just to the right of the road just up from the bottom of the picture.  Finch runs across the top of the picture below.  Two homes (white spots) are seen in the park area just south of Finch with driveways off of Dufferin.  Three driveways of increasing length run south off of Finch, east (to the right) of Dufferin.  The home with the longest driveway is lost under a subdivision but the locations of the other four can still be found.

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This archival picture shows the corner of Dufferin and Finch in 1958.  The view is looking north where Finch crosses near the middle of the picture.  A house stands on the north east corner where the bus stop currently is.  Across the street on the north west corner stands an old blacksmith shop where a used car dealer now stands. Two mail boxes stand in the near right corner, one for the home whose foundations remain on that corner and one for the building across the road.

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Walking north from Dufferin Creek the driveway to the first house is marked by a yellow pole. There is an area of old concrete and the remains of the garage are along the side of the dell to the north of the house.  A tree is now growing in the former garage.

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The only trail in the park leads from the back of this former house down to the creek valley. Most of the park area to the east of the creek is untamed bramble and hawthorn bushes.  At the valley floor the creek spreads out into a large mud flat before passing under Finch Avenue and entering the West Don River in the G. Ross Lord flood reservoir.

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The house on the corner of Dufferin and Finch is almost completely lost now.  A few bricks and the remnants of a chimney are all that survive.  I went down to the valley floor where starting this spring the creek has been channelized for about half of its length.  This quiet section has been replanted with shrubs and small trees.

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Along the east end of the park are the driveways of the three homes that used to stand here. Two patches of pavement in the trees are all that remain to mark the location of the home that used to stand closest to Finch Avenue.

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The hairy woodpecker is considered to be a species that is not at risk because there are an estimated 9 million individuals in North America.  The one in this picture is digging for his lunch as I was thinking about my own.

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The picture below was taken on April 13 and shows the work crew busy creating the new channel for Dufferin Creek  on the east side of Dufferin Street.  A new mouth for the culvert under Dufferin is being constructed with large blocks of cut stone.  A new channel for the creek has been cut and lined with stone.  Along the edges a mesh has been laid down for erosion control.

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Now complete, the mesh has been covered with a spray of soil and seeds.  Small trees have been planted along either side of the creek.  Over the coming years this creek will become more natural along either side as the green takes over again and hides the efforts of the work crew.

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Dufferin Creek park is unique among our green spaces in that it doesn’t have any maintained trails.  When the city finally gets the mess along the two streets cleaned up this will be one of the truly pastoral places in the heart of our city.

Google Maps Link: Dufferin and Finch

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