Tag Archives: York Mills

Ghost Towns of Toronto

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Within the present boundaries of the City of Toronto lie the sites and remains of all the small communities that used to surround the city when it was much smaller. Some of these places have very nearly disappeared but if you know where to look there is still a ghost of the community that once was. This blog collects 12 of the ones that we have visited and arranges them in alphabetical order. Each has a picture that represents the community as well as a brief description. The link for each will take you to a feature article on the community which has the local history as well as pictures of any surviving architectural features. At the end of each feature article is a google maps link in case you should wish to explore for yourself someday. Future companion blogs in this series will cover the ghost towns of the Regions of Peel, Halton, and York, excluding Toronto.

Armadale sat at the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Markham Road. It bordered with Markham which is on the north side of Steeles Avenue. Today there are five historic houses as well as the oldest continually serving Free Methodist Church in Canada. It was built in 1880 and its cemetery and parsonage still survive as reminders of a simpler past.

Claireville was started in 1850 and became a toll stop on the Albion Plank Road. It grew to 175 people but today has fallen back to just a few houses in an industrial park. It is flanked by a section of Indian Line which has been cut off and abandoned.

The town of Downsview was named after a home that was called Downs View. It was built in 1844 by a Justice of the Peace who sometimes locked up the convicts in the cells in his basement. The town is mostly gone now but the 1860 Methodist Church still stands.

The town of Eglinton has been completely absorbed into Toronto but there’s still a few clues to the community that grew at Yonge and Eglinton. The second school was built in the 1890’s and that has been absorbed into John Fisher School.

Jacob Fisher got a land grant in 1797 at Dufferin and Steeles where mills attracted a small community who built a Presbyterian Church in 1856. That church building survives at Black Creek Pioneer Village but the rest of the community of Fisherville has vanished.

Flynntown is marked by the remains of its milling industries. There are rough hewn logs that are the remainders of an early saw mill and a much later set of concrete weirs that are the remains of the dam across the Don River.

Lambton Mills grew up on both sides of the Humber River and several early homes and the hotel still survive. Lambton House was built in 1848.

By 1837 the community of Norway had grown to about 80 people centred on the toll station on Kingston Road at Woodbine. A few older buildings still line Kingston Road but the most obvious reminder of the community is the Norway Anglican Church which was built in 1893.

The town of Oriole was a thriving industrial site with seven mills and a brickyard on The Don River at Sheppard and Leslie. Road expansions have eliminated most of the physical history but one of the old dams still survives.

The town of Richview has disappeared under the intersection of highway 401 and 427 and their various on ramps. All that remains is the cemetery which is surrounded by the highways and can only be accessed off of Eglinton Avenue.

A couple of churches survive to mark the old community of Wexford. St. Judes, pictured below, was built in 1848.

York Mills grew up around several mills on the Don River where it crossed Yonge Street. Several older homes have survived as has the York Mills Hotel which was built in 1857.

Toronto had small communities that sprouted up at nearly every cross roads on the edges of town. The march of progress has wiped most of these places off the map but small hints are there to remind us of these little bits of our past.

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York Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, Oct 18, 2014

When Yonge Street was cut through the forest by The Queen’s Rangers in 1796 it opened up the area for settlement.  Small towns formed at almost every intersection.  An intersection such as Yonge Street and York Mills Road where a river passed through with good mill sites was assured of attracting industry.  This area is known as York Mills after it’s post office but is also well known as Hoggs Hollow.

I parked on Mill St. in the parking lot on the east side of the West Don River.   It was overcast and 7 degrees.  The first mill was opened as early as 1804 by Samuel Heron.  Millford Mills was opened in 1817 and supplied the first name to the town.  This mill was bought by James Hogg in 1824.  In 1856 a subdivision plan was developed for Hoggs property by his sons which was to be called Hoggs Hollow.  Only a few houses were built at this time and the lots were not all built upon for over 100 years.  James Hogg built the York Mills Hotel in 1857 and it is one of only half a dozen remaining original buildings in the community.  Having changed hands many times, today it serves as the Miller Tavern.  Hogg added a general store beside it on the south.  He also had a tannery and a distillery.  The general store served for awhile as a change room for skaters using the York Mills Skating Rink which was formed each winter on the site of today’s parking lot.  The cover photo shows the tavern and the general store, turned change room, as it appeared in the 1950’s.  Today the tavern has been restored to it’s original brickwork and the old store is gone, having been destroyed by fire.

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The York Mills Presbyterian church was built on the east side of Yonge Street on land provided by James Hogg.  When the family developed the subdivision plan the church was moved across the street on the hill side, directly opposite of the tavern.   The church was closed and demolished in 1889 and the cemetery was eventually forgotten.  It was rediscovered in 1955 when the area was being developed for residential use.  Twenty five graves were uncovered with two of them belonging to members of the Hogg family.  A historical plaque marks the spot today.  In the 1877 Historical Atlas the church is marked by “Pres” right below the name York Mills.  Their cemetery is marked with an asterisk just above it.  Too bad no one checked the old map before they dug.

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The Yonge Street bridge in Hoggs Hollow was destroyed in 1954 during Hurricane Hazel and was replaced with a wider one a year later.  The archive photo below shows the bridge following the hurricane.

Hoggs Hollw Bridge Hazel Damage

North of York Mills Road are two of only three mill worker cabins that were built in the Hoggs Hollow subdivision.  They have been preserved and moved to their current location on Yonge Street where they guard the entrance to a fancy restaurant.  Ironically, it is a place the original inhabitants of these homes likely couldn’t have afforded to eat at.

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On the east side of Yonge just north of York Mills Road is the old walkway up the side of the hill to St. John’s Anglican Church.  The church was started in 1816 and the present building was erected in 1843.  The church has the only active cemetery in York Mills and there are many prominent early settlers buried there.  I saw one grave marker dated 1820.  This church is marked as EC in the historical atlas for England Church and an asterisk marks the grave yard.

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Walking through the cemetery brings you to the Lychgate.  A lychgate is a roofed gate found on traditional English churchyards.  The word lych come from the Saxon word for corpse.  The corpse would rest under this roof while part of the service was read before advancing into the grave yard for burial.

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When Yonge street was built in 1796 it was thought that the valley was too steep and so the old road runs across the eastern rim of the valley.  When Yonge Street was straightened a few years later this became known as Old Yonge Street.  Turning to the right will bring you back to York Mills road.  Just to the east is the former site of the York Mills Baptist Church erected in 1833. The church was closed in 1945 and demolished in 1948.  The cemetery was just to the east of the church and it remains today, tucked in a small lot behind a hedge.  The church is marked as BC in the atlas and has the usual asterisk to mark the graveyard.  The gate has a unique old latch that drops over the gate post.

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The church built a manse for their pastor’s family in 1840 on the lot to the east of the cemetery.

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Returning to Old Yonge Street you can follow it back to Mill Street where the name changes to Donino street.  A couple of short blocks later is a memorial to the towns milling past.  The grinding wheel from the last mill to close in the valley (1926) is preserved here.

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A time capsule has also been buried in the parkette.  It is set to be opened in 2040.

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As you return to the car you reach the house of George Pratt.  George ran a mill in the area of York Mills park.  He built this house in 1886.

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The old mill dam is almost under the Mill Street bridge.

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Old photos show a large wooden dam in Hoggs Hollow.

Hoggs Hollw Dam

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