Tag Archives: Plank Roads

The Tollkeeper

Jan. 31, 2021

Davenport Road follows the bottom of the scarp that marks the old shoreline of Glacial Lake Iroquois. The Native Peoples who lived here for centuries had a portage trail that went between The Don River and The Humber River and connected to The Carrying Place Trail. Europeans found it convenient to use the same trail and it continues on its original route. John McGill built the first home accessed from the trail in 1797 and named it Davenport after Major Davenport who served at Fort York. It stood on the top of the scarp on the north east side of present Davenport and Bathurst.

In 1833 thirteen kilometres of Davenport Road was paved with planks. Five small cottages were built by the plank road company to house the men who were hired to collect the tolls. The tollkeeper lived with his family in the cottage which was situated directly beside the road. Known as Toll Gate #3, the little three room cottage that was built for the tollkeeper at Davenport Road and Bathurst Street was only 20 feet by 30 feet in size. It is listed as being the twelfth oldest residence remaining in Toronto and some sources claim it to be the oldest tollkeeper’s cottage in Canada, perhaps the only one. It is listed on Wikipedia as being built between 1827 and 1830 but this would seem to predate the planking of the road making this date too early. It is more likely to be 1832 or 1833. The space between the two posts in front of the house in the picture below represents the width of the road but the boards that represent the toll gate have unfortunately been knocked to the ground.

The inside was originally heated by a single fireplace which was later replaced with a pot-bellied stove. This meant that only the main room was heated. The two bedrooms would have been pretty cold on a winters night. During the 1860’s John Bullmin and his wife Elizabeth took up the position at the toll gate. They lived in this house with their seven children. One bedroom was used by John and Elizabeth while the other was used by the four daughters who slept two to a bed. The three boys slept in the main room and enjoyed the benefits of the fireplace, if not the comforts of a bed.

In 1851 the fees for using the plank road were based on the mode of transportation and the amount of livestock you had with you. A simple pedestrian paid no fees but if they had a horse it was two pence. A wagon pulled by a mule was 3 pence which went up to 6 pence if it was pulled by two horses. A pedestrian leading 20 cows or sheep would pay 1 pence. The toll keeper had to keep meticulous records to get their small percentage and the record books from this tollkeeper’s home still survive. These toll rates were likely unchanged a decade later when the Bullmin family arrived. John left his wife and children to perform household chores, fetch water from the Taddle Creek and collect the tolls while he worked 6.5 hectares of land to supplement their income. His wife used to churn and sell about 50 lbs. of butter per year from the family cows.

When roadside tolls were abandoned in 1896 the government placed road maintenance under the care of the municipalities. John Bullmin died in 1867 and is buried in The Necropolis while his wife survived him until 1912. The cottage became obsolete in 1896 and was sold to someone who moved it near Howland and Bathurst as a private home. A newer addition later obscured the original cottage and by the 1990’s it was in danger of demolition for a high rise development. A neighbour who recalled the story of the little cottage was instrumental in its being sold to a heritage group for a dollar. The TTC allowed them to move it to the Wynchwood Streetcar Barns where it was restored over a six year period. In 2002 it was moved to a small park kitty-corner to its original location. The house opened as a museum on July 1, 2003 with a small addition on the back for an interpretive centre.

The painting below is from 1875 and is by Arthur Cox. The vantage point is the top of the old escarpment looking toward the south east. The area below the hill is still farmland at the time and the church spires in Yorkville can be seen in the distance. The cottage sits with the front porch on the very edge of the road and the toll gate stretching across Bathurst. This picture was taken from taylorhistory.com.

There are a few other hints to our toll road systems of the past that can still be found throughout the city. In 1841 John Grubb founded the Weston Plank Road Company to improve his 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 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 planks were sixteen feet long and held together with spies over two feet long though this section of the road.

Davenport Road is unique because it existed long before the time of the Europeans and still retains the Tollkeeper’s Cottage as a reminder of its era as a plank road.

Further reading and more pictures: The Gore and Vaughan Plank Road and Elm Bank and The Necropolis

Google Maps Link: The Tollkeeper’s Park

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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

Google Maps Link: Elm Bank

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