Tag Archives: Halton

Palermo – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, November 25, 201

While investigating The Devil’s Cave we had the opportunity to drive through the former town of Palermo.  Today there are several historic buildings left but they are being threatened by the expansion of Oakville.  Widening of Bronte Road and then a bypass when highway 5 and 25 were moved has left the town with mostly empty buildings.

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Lawrence Hagar arrived in 1805 and founded the town which was named Hagartown after him.  In 1836 it was renamed Palermo after Horatio Nelson,  Lord of Palermo.  The Lawrence Foundry and Agricultural Works was founded in 1842 and became the main employer in the new community.   The town grew quickly and by 1869 there were three hundred people living in the community at the intersection of Bronte Road and Dundas Street.   In addition to the usual blacksmith shops and hotels, they also had a harness shop, a wagon shop, and a brick schoolhouse.  Later the town included a telegraph company office as well.  The picture below shows the town around 1900.  The house in the foreground on the right remains but little else still does.  The foundry is on the left but it burned down in the 1950’s.

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Lawrence Hagar built his original log home in 1805 and replaced it with a two-story Georgian home in 1848.  That home was listed as vacant in 2008 but has since been removed.  The third Hagar house was built in 1870 by Jonathan Hagar.  Jonathan had moved out of Palermo when he was 25 in search of fortune in gold mines in Australia and California.  When his father Lawrence died in 1857 he returned to Palermo to take over the family business.  The house also features a small barn that was constructed around 1900 to house the family horses.  The Hagar General Store stood just to the west of the house until it was removed for the widening of Dundas Street.  This property is currently being rezoned for a 10 story apartment building that appears to incorporate the house in the main entrance to the tower.  The house is registered with the historical society but does not have protection as a designated property.

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Lawrence Hagar was a devout Methodist and the first worship services in town were held in his home.  In 1824 land was deeded for a chapel on a property that had been used for a few burials beginning in 1813.  A chapel was built but when the Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada and the Wesleyan Methodist church of England merged there was a split in Palermo and for a while two chapels existed.  One was located on either side of the cemetery.  In 1867 work began on a new church to house both congregations.  The brick church was opened in 1869 with a steeple that has been removed since then.  The church is still active under the name of the United Church of Canada.

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The cemetery has a surprising number of pioneer stones in it.  The first burial was in 1813 and we found this stone which reads in part: Alexander Rose who departed this life September 27th, 1813 aged 44 years.

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The present school is the fourth one to serve the community.  As early as 1819 there was a one-room log school in town.  It was one of only 3 schools in Trafalgar Township.  A brick school was built in 1842 and then replaced in 1875.  In 1940 this third school was damaged in a storm and many of the original materials were incorporated into the new building that opened in 1942.  The school building has the 1875 date stone incorporated into the back of the building.  It was closed in the early 1960’s and converted into the Palermo Police department.  Today it houses the historical society and has been registered but not given a historical designation.

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Dr Ansun Buck served the community for over 40 years.  He built a surgery in his house in the 1860’s and from there took care of the medical needs of Palermo and surrounding area.  Buck also designed one of the early bridges over Bronte Creek.  When he died in 1919 he was buried in the Presbyterian Church cemetery.  His house is an excellent example of Italianate architecture with a few Gothic touches to make it stand out.  This is one of only two houses in town that is designated as a heritage structure

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H. M. Switzer purchased 24 acres of land in 1861 and built this Italianate house in 1868. Switzer was the postmaster and a merchant in town.  This is the other house in town to have a heritage designation.

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Caleb Smith built this house in 1875.  His father was Benjamin Smith who was the town carriage maker in 1806.  Smith built a large Georgian style house in 1822 that was the oldest home in Palermo.  It was allowed to deteriorate and it finally collapsed in 2007.  Caleb’s house is currently empty as are all the other original homes on the south end of Old Bronte Road.  I hope they restore it because it has some very interesting bracketing on the front porch.

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This gothic revival style house was built in 1880 beside the Methodist Church (now United Church).  It served as a parsonage for the next 32 years with one of the ladies groups being charged with preparing it for each new minister.  It was moved from the original location on Dundas Street to the present one on (old) Bronte Road around 1912 when the church sold it.  There appears to be a plan to restore and move some of the homes to save them but it is unclear which ones.

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This house on Dundas Street is one of the few that really look like they should be decommissioned.  Rather, it looks to be in the process of collapsing as several other original structures in town have done.  The cover photo shows the front door to be off centre, perhaps it was some kind of store at one time.

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A park has always been central to Palermo life.  The park used to be on the west side of town but was in the way of the revised intersection for highway 5 and 25.  A new park with ball diamonds was created on the north side of Dundas Street.  There is a pond that stands between the schoolyard and the new park.  I imagine that there is no shortage of waterfowl in the summer months.

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It remains to be seen what will come of the original community of Hagartown which flourished under the name of Palermo.  I hope they don’t allow it to become a name on a signpost on a cemetery, commemorated by two or three original structures scattered among the new urban sprawl.

Google Maps Link: Palermo

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The Longhouse People of Crawford Lake

Saturday Nov. 21, 2015

Crawford Lake is one of a handful of meromictic lakes in Ontario and this fact led to the discovery of a pre-contact native village.  It was snowing off and on as we parked in the Crawford Lake conservation area where having correct change would have saved me including a small donation in the envelope.

In the late 1960’s a University of Toronto professor became convinced that Lake Crawford had the characteristics to be a meromictic lake.  Most lakes have the water turn over at least once per year.  As the water cools it becomes denser causing it to sink.  The water at the top mixes with the water at the bottom providing a more even temperature and oxygenation.  In meromictic lakes the surface area is less than the depth and the water doesn’t mix.  In Lake Crawford there are three sections of lake and only the top 15 metres mixes annually.  The middle depth of the lake acts as a buffer while the bottom 9 metres or more never gets disturbed.  This part of the lake is always cold and has no oxygen.  Life doesn’t exist down here and the layers of sediments tell the history of things falling in the lake. Samples taken from the lake bottom revealed 1,000 years of history.  Sediment layers representing the period between 1300 and 1600  have high levels of corn pollen trapped in them in varying concentrations.  This led to the conclusion that an agricultural society had existed near the lake, closer to the shore when the concentrations were higher.  When settlers arrived, cut down the trees and created fields ragweed spread and the upper layers of sediment reflect this.  Lake Crawford is calm in the picture below.

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Local land owners confirmed that they had found artifacts on their properties and when Thomas Howard sold to the conservation authority in 1971 he donated an ungrooved ax or celt he had found here.  It is part of a 10,000 artifact collection that has been uncovered between 1973 and 1989.  The post holes for the frames of 11 longhouses have been discovered and three of these have been reconstructed. Two others have been partially formed including the frame outline seen below.  The positions of the fire pits have been exposed.

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Completed longhouses would have looked like the ones at Crawford Lake except that experts agree there were no ‘panic bars’ on the doors and no little electrical outlets on the outsides.

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It is unknown exactly which peoples lived here.  It may have been the Wendat (Huron) or Attawandaron (Neutral) but either way they were part of the Iroquoian speaking nations and are referred here as Iroquoian for simplicity.  Inside each of the longhouses an individual clan lived. Smaller longhouses may have had 30 people while larger ones up to 100 .  Individual families lived across from each other and shared a common fire.  The lower levels were used to sleep on because they were close to the fire and below the constant smoke.  Upper levels were used for storage with food being hung in the rafters where smoke kept both insect and rodent away.  It is common to find the carbonized remains of food around the fire pits or in the dump sites and these frequently include corn, beans and squash.  For some reason there was no squash found at the Crawford Lake village.

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The art of making stone tools is known as knapping.  It took a great deal of skill to master it but then a piece of chert could be turned into a razor sharp projectile in just 15 minutes.  Along with arrowheads, spear tips, knives and drills were knapped.  Among the findings at the site was a tip known as a turkey-tail arrowhead.  It is out of place by up to 3,000 years suggesting that the idea of collecting antiques may have extended to this culture as well.  The turkey-tail point is displayed along with other arrowheads and is on the tallest shaft in the middle of the picture below.

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Pottery was made by the women and the vessels could be as large as 15 litres.  Each family decorated their pottery in a unique manner that was passed on from mother to daughter. Specific markings on pottery have been used to trace the movements of families and clans over time.  The pottery fragments recovered in the village have been carefully put back together including the 47 pieces of this jug.

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This tract of land was eventually sold to the British Crown to be granted to European settlers and the natives who had lived here for centuries would never return.

Along the Crawford Lake Trail is a series of wood carvings known as the Hide and Seek Trail. Ontario has almost 200 species that are considered to be at risk, seven of which are represented with larger than life wood carvings.  The Eastern Wolf in the carving below is pictured howling, as they commonly do, to communicate within their packs and alert other packs to stay away. They are found in Ontario and Quebec but are now predominantly in Algonquin Park.  They are unable to survive in the small patches of forest left in the more urban parts of the province.

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In 1883 George Crawford bought the lake and 100 acres of land which he transferred it to his son Murray a couple years later.  They operated a saw mill on the south end of the lake to take advantage of the ample timber on the surrounding lands.  In 1898 the name of the lake was changed from Little Lake to Crawford Lake when they opened the Crawford Lake Company. When times were tough during the depression the Crawford family ran a resort on the lake. They also built themselves a cottage and boathouse.  In 1969 the lake and property was sold to the conservation authority and the cottage has since been destroyed.  All that remains is the concrete from the front porch and a set of steps leading down to where the boathouse once stood.

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This cedar tree stands along the side of the trail and is unique in that all three stems are twisted from top to bottom.

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Crawford Lake was formed at the end of the last ice age and has been collecting it’s local history lesson ever since.  Steam was rising off of Crawford Lake even as the snow was falling onto it.

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Crawford Lake Trail and the interpretive reconstruction of the Iroquoian village has been made wheelchair accessible so no one has to miss out.

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We only investigated the village and Crawford Lake Trail but the conservation area contains 7 hiking trails including part of the Bruce Trail.  It looks like you can spend a whole day here and still miss things.

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