Tag Archives: Pickering Airport

Brougham – Ghost Towns of the GTA

January 9, 2022

Brougham existed for 150 years as a quiet rural community that supported agriculture on the surrounding farms. Brougham had one claim to historical fame that came from a local man named Peter Matthews. The veteran of the War of 1812 was well respected in town and also a vocal supporter of democratic reforms. On December 2, 1837, Peter led a group of local men to join William Lyon Mackenzie in an armed rebellion against the government in Toronto. The rebellion failed but Matthews and another rebel named Samuel Lount were convicted of treason and publicly hanged. Matthews and Lount are buried in The Necropolis in Toronto.

When the excitement died down, Brougham went back to being a quiet hamlet where not much ever happened. That suddenly changed in 1972 when the Federal Government of Pierre Trudeau expropriated the entire community for an airport that it claimed would be operational by 1979. That airport was never built but the lands have been held in trust for a potential future airport.

William Bentley became one of the founders of Brougham after he emigrated from New York State in 1839 and settled in Pickering Township. Along with his brothers, he established a general store as well as a patent medicine factory. William built this house in 1853 at the main intersection of town and it quickly came to represent the prosperity of the community. The home boasts Italianate styling in the architecture including the belvedere on the roof. It’s interesting to see it sitting empty while carrying a Federal Historic Register designation and sitting on a potential airport flight path leading to a runway.

Constructed in 1854 as Pickering Town Hall, this wood-framed building was designed as an open concept meeting area for making community decisions. As such, it is fitting that it became the site of community meetings in 1972 to fight the federal government’s decision to expropriate the community in the name of a new airport. People Or Planes was a larger citizens group from throughout the original expropriated lands and beyond. They banded together and fought to stop the government from going ahead. Their success has kept these lands from being destroyed for the past half a century. For years it read “Pickering Community Hall” but the name has been changed above the entrance to reflect the community that it represented. This building also has a Federal Historic Designation, this one given in 2009. Just beside the community hall is a one-storey Georgian home with dichromate brick veneer that was built in 1860. As I was photographing the community hall the two residents next door asked me what I was doing. When I explained that I was photographing historic buildings we got into an interesting conversation about the community and the airport plans. I haven’t included their home out of respect for them, but it is listed on the Pickering Municipal Heritage Register (PMHR).

Brougham decided to replace their original wooden schoolhouse with a new brick one in 1859. It served the children of the community for 100 years before being closed. Recently it has been used as an art gallery and the building appears on the Federal Heritage Register.

The Wesleyan Methodists came to town early but the small size of the congregation didn’t allow them to have their own full-time pastor. Records indicate that in 1870 they were part of the Pickering circuit in which they shared a pastor on a rotation that included Claremont, Glen Major, Greenwood, and Kinsdale. By 1890 they were able to erect this handsome brick building at the main intersection in town. After 1925 it was known as St. John’s United Church. Today it carries on ministry as Pickering Standard Church and is listed on the PMHR.

The Temperance hall was built in 1880 and is listed on the PMHR. The Temperance Movement sought to restict or ban the consumption of alcohol and got started around 1820. Through various successes and failures they eventually managed to see legislation passed in both Canada and the United States that prohibited the sale of alcohol. The Temperance Hall in Bougham appears to have been raised at some point and a second floor added beneath. This could account for the fact that the brick butresses are not continued on the lower floor making them essentially useless. Early pictures of the main street show the building as it looks today but the windows are not bricked shut.

The former Commercial Hotel was built as a private home in 1860 and later converted into a hotel. It faces Highway 7 on the east end of town and is the last of three hotels that used to serve travelers through the hamlet. The former hotel has some interesting Gothic Revival architectural features. The pointed arch windows in the two second-storey gables are augmented by the decorative bargeboard or gingerbread trim. Each is topped by a finial (the pointed decoration) that makes it distinctive. In 2009 this building was added to the Federal Heritage Register which seems at odds with the plan to level the town for an airport.

The Miller Residence was built in 1880 and is the fifth building in town to appear on the Federal Heritage Register. This house was occupied by several leading families in the community over the years including the Bentleys, Hubbards, and Millers. The house is representative of late Victorian architecture in that it includes several styles such as Gothic Revival bargeboards and Italianate windows with rounded arches.

On the north side of the community hall is this 1 1/2- storey house which was built in 1860. It is typical of many homes that were built in this era with its centre gable and pointed arch window. This house is listed on the PMHR.

Just on the north edge of town, there stands a house that is also listed on the Pickering Municipal Heritage Register. It was built in 1860 and is shown on the County Atlas as being on the property of R. Lambert. The register lists it as the ex-Vanderligt home but on March 16, 2021, a fire broke out in the house. The two occupants were able to escape, but the fire department reported “extensive damage”. It’s unlikely that the federal government will want to restore the building because it solves the problem of yet another building on the PMHR.

Brougham is a community of driveways that go nowhere and vacant lots. With the government owning every property in town with an undisclosed demolition date no one wanted to invest in maintenance. Slowly people moved on and buildings were demolished as they became increasingly dilapidated.

In March of 1972, the federal government announced plans to build a major airport in Pickering to take the expected overflow from Malton Airport (Pearson International). they went ahead and expropriated 18,600 acres (7,530 hectares) and began making plans for construction. By 1975 construction was halted and the farmlands and houses were leased out for interim use. Recent studies suggest that the airport might be needed between 2027 and 2037, but might never be, and the federal government has given two large portions of the land to create Rouge National Urban Park. A study by KPMG concludes that it will not be necessary and Covid may have a lasting negative effect on the airline industry as well. The government remains committed to developing an airport on the reduced lands which include Brougham. The Transport Canada map below shows the original airport site in yellow and the reduced one in purple. Brougham is located in the extreme lower right-hand corner of the site but would be under an approach flight path. Land Over Landings carries on the work of People or Planes in fighting to save not only the communities involved but the farmland as well. There’s a great deal more information that’s available on their website Land Over Landings.

While the government is still actively talking about building the airport, the locals have slowly gone about the job of obtaining historical designations. With almost every property in Brougham listed on one heritage register or another, it will be interesting to see how the Federal Government goes about building an airport in the face of the existing local history.

To read more about the Rebellion of 1837 check out our story Rebel Rebel. You can also check out our story The Necropolis.

Google Maps Link: Brougham

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