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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part III: Township of Etobicoke


ETOBICOKE Township, situated at the south-west corner of the county, is irregular in shape, and laid out in a fragmentary and unsystematic fashion. It fronts on Lake Ontario, having the Humber river as its eastern boundary. Its western limit is Etobicoke Creek and the Gore of Toronto in Peel County, and to the north lies the Township of Vaughan. It comprises 29,540 acres, being, with the exception of North Gwillimbury, the smallest township in the county. The northern portion, comprising about two-thirds, is laid out in concessions running north and south, the three western concessions being numbered, and the eastern ones known as A, B, and C. The southern portion is broken up into smaller rows of concessions, some numbered from west to east, and others running north and south, in a very confusing manner.

The etymology of the name Etobicoke is uncertain. It is usually supposed to be Indian, but on the earliest documents it appears as Toby Cook." In the Crown Lands Department there is preserved a map dated Newark, 1793, by Abraham Iredell, Assistant Deputy Surveyor, upon which has been written the following memorandum:—"The river Toby Cook is a rapid stream of water. The land in the bottom good, but much cut to pieces with the high water. On the rear boundary line from the river Toby Cook to the large stream of water on lot 15, the land is very good. From, the stream to the north angle is a burr and pine plain; from thence to the said stream, from the stream to lot No. 9, burnt land, but tolerable good ; from thence to the lake, good. The land west of the 100 acre lots on the line No. N, W. is good to lot No. 7, but low land to No. 13, the other lots good." "Toby Cook" appears to have been the customary spelling during the early days of settlement, as it is seen on several other maps, but in 1811 the name was given as it is now spelled, on an official plan, and since that time "Etobicoke" has been the recognized etymology. As no such person as Toby Cook is known either to history or tradition in connection with the locality, it is altogether probable that the first surveyors or settlers caught the Indian pronunciation imperfectly, and rendered it by this homely appellation as a matter of convenience, the true derivation being obscured by the spelling. The first settlement of the township took place about the beginning of the century. In 1795 the "Militia lands" were laid out by Surveyor Iredell. Part of the boundary was marked out in 1797 by Mr. Augustus Jones. The following year a surveyor named Hambly undertook the work of survey, which was continued at various intervals by Messrs. Wilmot, Ridout, Hawkins and Castle, the latter completing the laying out of the township in the year 1838.

The earliest settlers of Etobicoke were the U. E. Loyalist refugees, who sought to build up homes in the wilderness, whose strong arms and stout hearts subdued the forest and dared the perils of an unknown and savage land. All honour to their memory!' 'Those were indeed the times that tried men's souls." Their descendants of to-day, in the midst off comfort and plenty, surrounded by the blessings of civilization, can hardly even picture1 to the imagination the rough and rude beginnings of our national greatness, the unbroken forest north of the great lakes, the arrival of the few travel-worn bands of emigrants whom the result of the revolutionary struggle had left of home and possessions, often of their nearest and dearest. Did men, whom cruel war had robbed of the sons whom they fondly hoped would be the stay of their declining years^ widows and orphans, youths barely grown to manhood, pushed out to battle with the perils and vicissitudes of an unknown region, together with those in the prime and vigour of maturer years, survivors of many a hard-fought field, who had laid down the sword or musket to assume the implements of peaceful industry and carve out homes and build up fortunes for themselves in the Canadian wilds. Such were the original elements of our flourishing and prosperous community.

I hear the tread of pioneers
Of nations yet to be;
The first low wash of waves where soon
Shall roll a human sea.

They halt where the land seems richest and the position most favorable and the forest echoes are awakened with three ringing cheers for King George. Then follows the bivouac around the camp fire, and the next day the woods ring to the unaccustomed sound of the axe, and many a tall tree toppies to the ground with a resounding crash, letting the sun stream down on the thick underbrush through the ever-widening rifts m the canopy o green. Rude log-huts are built with chimneys of unhewn stone without plaster, and a single aperture to serve for door and window7. The first crop is sown on the narrow clearing, thickly studded with stumps, and bounded on all sides by the straight grey columns of the tree trunks, charred by the burning of the brush heaps. Winter comes, and the pitiless storm drifts the snow n between the chinks of the logs, and the howl of the wolves is heard at nights. There is scant store of provisions, and the skill of the hunter must supplement the shortness of the crop. There is sickness, and accident, and death. Ofttimes the settler is crushed and mangled by falling timber or prostrated by fever, and the medical appliances are of the rudest. And so the stern contest with nature goes on until the clearings widen and the forest retreats, until glimpses of the smoke rising from adjoining cabins bring a sense of neighbourhood and closer association. The old Indian trail through the bush is widened into a wagon track. New waves of population follow. The original log cabins give place to larger and more commodious structures. The itinerant preacher comes along, and his visit is hailed with joy as a harbinger of gospel privileges of which the settlers have so long been deprived. He marries half a dozen waiting couples who have delayed their union for perhaps years until such an opportunity should present itself, and admits to the visible Church on earth as many young native Canadians, the first-born of the settlement. It is a great day when a small church of logs is erected, and a settled minister secured. And so here and there population crystallizes around centres, the embryo towns and villages, and the first struggles and perils and inconveniences of the pioneers are over. These struggles, these hardships of which we, their descendants or successors, reap the benefit in such ample measure, should never be forgotten by Canadians.

One of the earliest grantees in Etobicoke was Colonel Smith, of the Queen's Rangers, who received a large tract of land which now forms the 4th and 5th concessions of the southern portion of the township. Colonel Smith was for some time President of the Province of Upper Canada. Gourlay, in his "Statistical Account of Upper Canada," thus speaks of Colonel Smith's homestead on the Lake shore, \n the neighbourhood of the River Etobicoke:—"I shall describe the residence and neighbourhood of the President of Upper Canada from remembrance, journeying past it on my way to York from the westward by what is called the Pake Road, through Etobicoke. For many miles not a house had appeared, when I came to that of Col. Smith, lonely and desolate. It had once been genteel and comfortable, but was now going to decay. A vista had been opened through the woods towards Lake Ontario; but the riotous and dangling undergrowth seemed threatening to retake possession from the Colonel of all that had once been cleared, which was of narrow compass. How could a solitary half-pay officer help himself settled down upon a block of land whose very extent barred out the assistance and convenience of neighbours? Not a living thing was to be seen around. How different it might be, thought, were a hundred industrious families compactly settled here out of the redundant population of England. The writer continues to narrate how he lost his way in the woods, owing to the disappearance of the road a short distance beyond the resident's house, in a bank of gravel thrown up at the mouth of the Etobicoke. lie gave his horse the rein, and let him take his own way. "Abundant time," he says, "was afforded for reflection on the wretched state of property flung away on half-pay officers. Here was the head man of the Province ' born to blush unseen,' without even a tolerable bridle way b3tween him and the capital city, after more than twenty years' possession of his domain. The very gravel bed which caused me such turmoil might have made a turnpike, but what can be done by a single hand? 'The President could do little with the axe or wheelbarrow himself, and half-pay could employ but few labourers at 3s. 6d. per day, with victuals and drink.

Colonel Smith, however, showed a good deal of public spirit in some directions. He did something towards improving the breed of horses, spending considerable amounts in the importation of blood stock from the United States.

Among the original patentees of Etobicoke were the following, their patents bearing date in the respective years indicated :—

1798—Sergeant Patrick Mealy.

1799—Thomas Tivy, Joseph Hunt, James Hunt.

1800—James Crawford, Thomas Moseley.

1801— Francis Bark, Barnabas McGrevie, George Bender, Abraham Cameron, Christian Chisholrn. Adam Baker, Jr., William Hooten, Francis Stevenson, John Doggert, Leah T. Gamble, William Clarke, Ann Christie, Catherine Magdalen Gamble, Eliza Christie, William Calder.

1802—Hon. Robert Hamilton, John Gamble, Richard Wilson, S. Stevenson, A. Brigham, B. William.

1803—Isaac Pokington, Samuel Giles, Alexander Thomson, Michael Miller, Dan Paughlin.

1804—Robert Gray, George McDonald, John Perry, Daniel Stewart, J. Doggert.

1805—Isaac Mitchell.

1806—Robert Richardson, John Gould, John Claus, Samuel Smith, John Thorn.

1807—Andrew Morrow, Gerhard Himck. Thomas 13. Gough, Moses Dewar, Dorothy Arnold.

1S09—Eleonora Moore, Elizabeth Moore, L. Stevenson.

1810—Simcoe Stevenson, Elizabeth Stevenson, Eleonora Stevenson, Harriet Hainer.

1811 William Halton, Robert Gray.

1815—Sarah Powell, T. II. Stevenson.

1817—Christopher Widmer.

Among others who also received patents at an early date in the history of the township were John Campbell, Caleb Humphrey, Edward Heazzel, John Vanzantee, Esther Burden Davison, Joseph Shaw, George Gowland and Thomas Whitaker. The Canada Company, King's College and Christ Church, also obtained extensive grants.

No records of the township meetings prior to 1850 have been preserved. At the first meeting in that year, the township was divided into five wards. The following were elected members of the Council by the meeting :—Moses Appleby, Thomas Fisher, William Gamble, William B. Wadsworth and John Geddes. At a subsequent meeting held on the 21st January, the Council was organized by the election of William Gamble as Reeve, and William B. Wadsworth as Deputy-Reeve. Edward Musson was afterwards chosen Township Clerk. A report presented to the Council by Mr. Thomas J. Hodgkin, Superintendent of Common Schools, shows that at this date there were eight school sections in the township, in seven of which schools were established. The report complains of defective school requisites. The number of scholars on the roll between the ages of live and, sixteen years was 333, besides ten above school age, two-thirds of the whole number being boys. Only one of the schools was free. Of the scholars, 214 could write, 13 were studying French and 8 taking Latin lessons. The expenditure of the year was as follows:—For bridges, £98. 11s. 4½d.; printing and stationery, £21. 1s. 3½d.; school assessments, £179; contingencies, £20. 13s. 7d.; salaries, £75. 6s. 11d.; school funds, £89. 0s. 9d.; cash in hand, £179. 15s. 8½d.

In 1851, the Council consisted of Moses Appleby, Alex. McFarlane, Andrew7 Ward, Joseph Smith and John Geddes. Joseph Smith was elected Reeve, Andrew Ward, Deputy-Reeve, and John R. Bagnell, Clerk and Treasurer. Mr. Smith retained the Reeveship till 1855, m which year he was succeeded by Alexander McFarlane, who in 1858 gave place to Edward Musson. The latter occupied the position continuously for seven years until 1864. W. A. Wallis and Matthew Canning are among those who have since held the Reeveship. Andrew Ward first chosen Deputy-Reeve in 1851, retained that office for five years, William M. Ross succeeding him in 1856, and giving place to W. A. Wallis two years later. Since then the Deputy-Reeveship has been filled by W. B. Wadsworth, Matthew Canning, W, Taylor, P. Wardlaw, E. C. Fisher, Jonathan Orth, Robert Willcock, and others. In 1855, Joseph Dawson was chosen Township Clerk and Treasurer, being succeeded by William R. Scott in 1861, who held the office for three years. In 1864, Alexander McPherson was appointed and has filled the position ever since. Tiie following are the principal municipal officials for 1884: Matthew Canning, Islington, Reeve, J. D. Evans, Islington. Deputy-Reeve ; Daniel F. Homer, Mimico, James Kellam, High-field, and James A. Young, Weston. Councillors; Adam F. Mather, Islington and John F. Hill, Weston, Assessors.

The soil of Etobicoke consists of heavy clay, and clay loam, in the northern section, and sandy loam and sand in the southern division, black loam being distributed over the township. About 25 per cent, of the area is heavy clay, eight inches deep, with an argillaceous subsoil. About equal proportions consist respectively of clay loam, eleven inches in depth, and sandy loam of the depth of one foot, with a clayey subsoil in both cases. Perhaps 10 per cent, 's sand, and varying in depth, and 15 per cent, black loam, two feet or so above a stratum of sand and clay. None is too stony to interfere with remunerative cultivation, and only about 1 per cent, objectionably hilly in character. Ten per cent, is rolling land, and the low flat land is not more than 2 per cent, of the total area. An unusual proportion of the acreage of this township can be classified as first-class land, four-fifths being of this quality; 10 per cent, is of second-class quality, and only 1 per cent., third-class. Idle average price it will bring in the market for agricultural purposes is $80 per acre for first-class, and $60 for second-class land. Hie township is well watered, and where the springs and creeks do not furnish a supply, water can be reached by digging at a depth varying from 10 to 40 feet. Many of the farms are fenced in first-class style, rail and board fences being the kinds most generally adopted. Three-fourths of the dwellings and the outbuildings of the farms are constructed of brick or stone, or rank as first-class frame buildings. Drainage is not practised to any considerable extent, only 3 per cent, of the farms being drained. Artificial fertilizers are in use upon about one-tenth of the farms, plaster, salt and superphosphate being the kinds generally employed.

The proportion of land devoted to the staple crops is as follows: Fall wheat, 15 per cent.; spring wheat, 5 per cent.; barley, 20 per cent.; oats, 10 per cent.; peas, 5 per cent.; potatoes, 3 per cent.; turnips, 1 per cent.; other root crops, 1 per cent., and hay 15 per cent. Twenty-two per cent, is pasture land, which is a larger proportion than in any other township in the county, and 3 per cent, devoted to fruit raising. The following is the average yield per acre:—Fall wheat, 20 bushels; spring wheat, 15 bushels; barley, 30 bushels; oats, 40 bushels; peas, 20 bushels; potatoes, 100 bushels; turnips, 300 bushels; other -root crops, -500 bushels; hay, a ton and a-half. A large proportion of the land is still timbered; the woods consisting mainly of beech, maple, elm, basswood, and pine. There are three flouring mills in the township. In 1881, the number of cattle was, 1887; of horses, 1257; of sheep, 1277, and of hogs, 826. A good deal of imported stock has been introduced. The breeds of stock most extensively raised are draught horses, Durham grade, Devon cattle, sheep of the Cotswold and Leicester breeds, and Suffolk and Berkshire hogs.

In 1850, the population of the township was 2,904—it contained five grist and seven saw mills, and the crop returns for the previous year were: 82,000 bushels of wheat, 16,000 bushels of barley, 41,000 bushels of oats, 20,000 bushels of peas, 25,000 bushels of potatoes, 11,000 pounds of. wool, 4,000 pounds of cheese, and 24,000 pounds of butter. Since that time, the population has been almost stationary. In 1871, the inhabitants numbered 2,985, and the census of 1881 gives the number at 2,976. Of this number, 2,137 were native Canadians. The number of occupiers of land was 425, of whom 254 were the owners of the soil. The total area occupied amounted to 28,527 acres, of which 24,801 was unproved land. The area in cultivation for field crops included 19,435 acres—4,319 acres were devoted to pasturage, and 1,047 to gardens and orchards.

The staple agricultural products were returned as follows:—Wheat, 58,245 bushels; barley, 90,305 bushels; oats, 104,791 bushels; peas and beans, 15,766 bushels; potatoes, 92,905 bushels; turnips, 50,000 bushels; other root crops, 41,705 bushels; hay, 5,394 tons.

A saw-mill was constructed by the Government about the. year 1795 on the Etobicoke side of the Humber, about two miles and a-half from the lake. The work was done by a mill-wright named Nicholas Miller, who was brought from New York State for the purpose. The mill, which was built partly of logs and partly of boards, was run successfully by parties named Willson, Cushman, and Stile Stephenson, who either rented it or were employed by the Government, it is not certain which. About 1820 the mill and twelve hundred acres of land were leased to Mr. Thomas Fisher at a low rent, but he soon afterwards gave up the greater portion of the land. The mill was purchased by Mr. William Gamble in 1835, and the year following he erected on the site a stone flour-mill with six run of stones. The supplies for the mill were carried up from the mouth of the river in barges, and the flour shipped in the same way. Mr. Gamble afterwards built a wharf and storehouse near the entrance of the Humber.

In 1835, a four-story flour-mill was erected by Mr. Fisher on the Etobicoke side of the present village of Lambton. It was partly stone and partly frame, and was burned down in 1843. It was, however, rebuilt the following year, and leased to the Howland brothers. The dam was washed away by a flood in 1878. In 1880 the property was purchased by George Smith, who made extensive additions, and fitted up the mill for the woollen manufacture. Near this point a carding and fulling mill was constructed in 1820, which underwent several changes in proprietorship as well as in the uses to which it was put. Mr. James Williams was the owner about 1867, since which time it has not been in operation. About a mile above Lambton a saw-mill was erected by Samuel Scarlet, in 1854. It was destroyed by fire six years later, but soon rebuilt. The property was purchased by George Stonehouse in 1875. Haifa mile or so higher up stream John Scarlet, father of Samuel Scarlet, put up a saw-mill, in 1831, and also partly constructed two fiour-mills in the immediate neighbourhood. The saw-mill and a quantity of adjacent land passed to his son Edward, and in 1871 the mill became the property of Mr. Matthew Canning.

Market gardening is carried on to a considerable extent in the southeastern portion of the township, the markets of Toronto affording a ready sale for vegetables and fruit. There are excellent railway facilities, especially in the southern portion of the township. The Great Western branch of the Grand Trunk runs within a short distance of the lake, east and west. It has a station near the Village of Alimico, a pleasure resort about a mile and a half west from the Humber, where many of the Torontonians have summer residences. The spot is a favourite one for picnics and excursion parties. At this point the Alimico River enters the lake, anil the beauties of the scenery along its banks and in the neighbourhood of the lake shore are greatly appreciated by pleasure-seekers.

The Credit Valley Railway strikes the township at Lambton, about two miles north of the Great Western branch, and traverses it in a southwesterly direction, parallel for most of the distance with the Dundas Road. About a mile from Lambton, on the Dundas Road, is the Village of Islington, where the agricultural exhibitions of the township are held. Two miles further west, partly in Etobicoke and partly in the adjoining Township of Toronto, in Peel County, is the Village of Sumrnerville.

The main line of the Grand Trunk runs west from Weston. The Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway runs northward from the latter point to within about a mile from the northern boundary of the township, when it deflects to the north-west. The principal villages in the northern portion of the township are Clairville, in the extreme north-western angle; Smith-field, about two miles to the south-east; and Thistletown, a mile and a-half further in the same direction. These are all connected by a road running from Weston northward for a mile or so, and then crossing the Humber and running north-west to Clairville. Highfield is situated about a mile from the western boundary, and a short distance north of the Grand Trunk main line.

There are, in all, ten public schools within the limits of the Township of Etobicoke. Their respective situations are shown by the following table:—


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