A self-guided, Historical walking Tour of Belfountain
This stream flows from the highlands of the Niagara Escarpment into the Credit River down the hill, and has provided water to Belfountain since the place was established over 180 years ago. Today it still furnishes our water (so please don’t stick your toes in – it’s protected and precious). Local history all begins and ends with the river. The importance of it historically, geographically and environmentally to all of Ontario cannot be overstated. Over 300 years ago maps in 1660 show a river in the vicinity of what was called Lake St. Louis, which is now Lake Ontario. In 1757 a map identified it with a name “Riviere-au-Credit,” suggesting it was a place for commerce and trade between French explorers and native Indians.
The word “Mes-sin-n-ke” was written on a survey in 1776 meaning “Trusting River” – a place where one could trade goods for credit. Mrs. John Graves Simcoe, wife of the first governor of Upper Canada, wrote in her diary in 1796 of the River Credit: “Twelve miles from York, where the Indians fished for salmon, there were rapids, pine trees and a pretty piece of rock country.” She was writing about the area of Mississauga Road and Highway 5, still known as Erindale, but what she was really seeing was a river of dramatic contrasts, flowing quietly through rural countryside, raging when the Niagara Escarpment passes through it and now moving through larger urban centres to its mouth at Port Credit (Mississauga).
The river begins at its headwaters in a cedar swamp in Mono, in Dufferin Township, and by the time it reaches Lake Ontario, its watershed covers 1,070 square kilometres. Another branch comes from Erin, to the west, known as the West Credit River. Where the two come together is just down the road, and is known as The Forks. The confluence of these two rivers into one is one of the most scenic spots in Ontario and has been photographed and painted for generations. The critical importance of the Credit River to the frontier towns like Belfountain and those all along its course can be summed up in two words – “rapid water.” Rapid water for fishing, for habitat – deer, wolf, mink and beaver which sustained the Iroquois and Mississauga Indians. Rapid water which the pioneers dammed again and again to turn the wheels of industry – gristmills, quarries, tanneries, all sustained by the force of the water.
In 1825 government records show that a United Empire Loyalist named William Frank was the first settler here. He successfully dammed the West Credit and built a gristmill. He later sold the mill to the man whose name is linked to the founding of the settlement, another UE Loyalist known by the name of Grize McCurdy. McCurdy was a determined guy and he built a sawmill near the gristmill between the Credit River and River Road, then known as Fork Street, near where we stand. He dominated enterprise of the settlement and it became known as McCurdy’s Village. Many men were lured here and to surrounding Caledon hills at this time on the rumour there was gold to be found. McCurdy thought he had found silver. He mined for it east of Belfountain and west of the Forks and later began the shaft for a silver mine in a depression known as Hogg’s Hollow, now a posh Toronto neighbourhood near the 401 and Yonge Street.
The rumours proved to be false – no gold or silver. What McCurdy thought was silver were probably small bits of lead, which has a silvery look when the rock is first cut. These early pioneer victims of gold and silver fever didn’t know the metals are not found in sedimentary rock like the Escarpment. While Grize dominated the village that was his namesake, other pioneers were making a name for themselves. One such man was named Glover, and he wanted to capitalize on progress by building a tavern. He approached Grize to buy some land for it, but McCurdy was a teetotaler, and refused him., saying he didn’t want an establishment like that in “his” village.
So Glover bought some other land at the corner of Main and Bush Streets – where the store now stands – and built his tavern over 150 years ago. When the tavern was finished one of the patrons climbed to the beams and broke a bottom of whiskey over them and christened the building saying:
“And so this building it did rise
Independent of old Grize,
The miser wouldn’t sell
So let him so plumb to Hell!”
McCurdy’s intransigence got him into worse trouble. He agreed to rent his mills to a man from England, named Mr. Bull. They argued over the rent. McCurdy hit him, and although Bull was a Quaker and a pacifist, he fought back. He picked up a tool from the mill and whacked McCurdy, who hit his head and died. The rent money was no longer an issue as Bull served a year in the Kingston Penitentiary. Other colouful characters included the splendidly-named Thomas Jefferson Bush, who arrived in 1849 and settled on the south side of the Village. He was responsible for plotting a number of roads in the area, and Bush Street is named after him. (The store’s postal address is 758 Bush Street.)
Another man was more ingenious, named McNaughton, and he was a cooper by trade that is, he made barrels. He bought land near Bush and established his cooperage. He was a self-promoter, and much to the horror of the villagers, he built a barrel, a tub, that stood 12 feet wide and 12 feet high, with a pyramid roof, to advertise his business. Bad taste, apparently, is not a new invention.
It wasn’t long after the tub went up that the village was saddled with the unfortunate name of Tubtown, and “McCurdy’s Village” was almost forgotten. Worse, when a rivalry sprung up among villages, “Tubtown” was the ultimate put-down. Local writers had a field-day:
“Where lofty hilltops towering high
In rugged grandeur meet the eye
Beside a vale where beauty hides
And where the Credit swiftly glides
There stands a village known to fame
Which bears the sweet euphonious name
How did Tubtown turn into the poetic “Belfountain”? Just cool marketing? The honest answer is, we just don’t know. In 1852 some records in Caledon say it was McCurdy’s Village. In 1887 the same municipal records call it Belfountain, with no explanation as to why. But an 1846 survey of the Village Store land, refer to the present name. What we do know for sure is that about this time McNaughton’s tub was taken apart and moved down the road to Erin.
This is officially called the Belfountain Conversation Area, but to the locals it was known as Mack’s Park – the private preserve, cottage and playground of one of Toronto’s most successful entrepreneurs, and for a conservation area has a very curious history.
Charles W. Mack was born in Nova Scotia in 1858, raised in Maine and moved to Toronto in 1876, where in 1890 he married Addie. He started his own business in 1892, and invented the cushion rubber stamp, which his company manufactured and sold to banks, businesses and post offices. He expanded the business with other inventions that included all kinds of marking devices for offices – inventions which were popular and widely accepted, leading to his wealth.
But aside from business, Mack was frivolous guy. He was on a motor trip camping with his wife in 1908 when they discovered this strip of land along the Credit here in Belfountain. They fell in love with it, buying it from the owner, Angus Blair. Not happy just to camp here, Mack built a summer home that in its day had international stature. He built a rustic log frame home, one that was relatively unpretentious, and called it “Luck-e-nuf.” Cute.
In the park you can see the stone pillars and remnants of steps leading to the home, along with lots of decorative and historic stonework around the former location. This important piece of Canadian history was eventually removed by the Credit River Conservation Authority. In addition, Mack indulged his fantasy in building a park for his own amusement and that of his guests. He dammed the river and built a swinging suspension bridge over the raging falls created, and dug caves with elaborate ornamental stonework, and called them ‘Yellowstone’ caves. He also threw up a statue with a bell and a fountain, just to make a play on the Village name. It still stands today inside the park. Still tacky.
Mack created pathways, lookouts, swimming and picnic areas in his preserve. By now you probably have the idea that he was a pure eccentric. Villagers saw him walking about his park, an apparition in white, a white shock of hair, while mustache, white suit and shirt, down to white shoes, making sure guests did not walk on the grass where he did not want them to; that their bathing costumes were appropriate (men had to wear tops and ladies “modestly and properly dressed”); and there was no swimming on Sundays. In his later years, Mack became ill and decided others should be able to escape Toronto and enjoy the park. So, he put up a second cottage, called “Bide-a-wee”, a 12-person guesthouse.
Each summer after 1914 he invited twelve “business girls” (as he called them) who worked in his rubber stamp factory, and who could not afford a holiday, to stay here rent-free. None of the local history books tell us what Mrs. Mack thought of this arrangement, but there was a tinge of scandal. One of these “unfortunate and underprivileged girls” on retreat became pregnant and had an illegal abortion, or so the story goes.
Mack always shared his park with Belfountain villagers and there are many photos of community events being held at the park – Women’s Institute, churches and the schools. This successful and unique man died in 1943 and Mrs. Mack sold the park in 1946. It was then commercialized and run as a business venture until 1959 when it was bought by the Credit Valley Conservation Authority. For a time there was a debate over controversial CVCA plans to dismantle the dam that Charles Mack built.
This brick building, now an ice cream parlor, was built as the manse for the Village’s main church, a Baptist one, which we’ll get to in a few minutes. A manse is where the pastor lived, and he obviously got a choice piece of real estate, here by the banks of the Credit.
This building stands on the site, of what is truly an example of the history of transportation in Ontario. The first building here, which forms part of the existing one, served as a stable for the patrons of Glover’s Tavern across the road. Then in the 1890s it became Patterson and Trimble Carriage Works, manufacturing buggies used in the good weather (they had wheels), and cutters (on blades), used in the winter months. They also established a blacksmith shop to look after the horses that pulled their carriages.
The brick structure here in the yard (to the left of the garage) constitutes the remains of an old smoke house, likely used to cure leather for the manufacture of horse harnesses. In the ground is still buried a round millstone, used in the making of iron horseshoes. The bubbling little creek which today flows behind the Village Store and under the road here was used to cool the hot horseshoes coming out of the forge.
You can also see, original to that time, the old water hand pump. The well beneath served as the water source for the entire Village, and residents used it year-round — almost. The law of the day said that any structure or facility used by the public 365 days a year was, in effect, deemed to be public property. But the pump and well were on Mr. Trimble’s property, so to assert his private property rights, Trimble chained off access to the pump one day a year, thereby maintaining his legal ownership.
Back to transportation: So this site has gone from stable, to forge (blacksmith shop), to carriage works. Then came the car. The last horse was shod here in 1930 and Mr. Trimble got with the times, assuming the franchise for the Durant Automobile Agency. He changed the name of the business to “Trimble’s Garage,” and set about learning to become a mechanic. His choice of franchise turned out to be fortuitous, and although few of us remember what a Durant looked like, we should make mention of the man, William Durant.
Durant was an American, who by 1895 was running a successful carriage company. In 1903 he met a young man, David Buick, who sold him on the idea of a horseless carriage. Together, in 1905, they founded the Buick Company. By 1908, Durant had formed General Motors, by merging several smaller companies. In 1910 he bought an obscure car company, and persuaded the race driver to remain on. His name was Louie Chevrolet. The Chevrolet Company also did very well, with its first model selling for $490. With the stock market crash of 1929, General Motors stock plunged and Durant lost his personal fortune, He never regained it, and died in 1947, the same year as Henry Ford,. He was truly a dot-commer of his day, making a fortune on the new technology, only to see the bubble burst.
The Trimble Garage prospered during the war years, and the transportation legacy ended when the last Trimble left the building in 1971. Parts of this building have not changed, and the old forge is still there. Mrs. Roxie Trimble, who had lived over the original blacksmith office for 50 years, moved to an apartment. The building’s existing owners occupy the same living quarters upstairs
The Village Store stands on the site of the old Glover’s Tavern, which operated from 1865 to 1881. Fire consumed the old roughcast and timber building and the “New” brick building we see today was built by a Toronto builder in the 1880s. So, what was life like when this building was going up? Here’s a snap shot.
The practicality of Confederation in 1867 seemed to be working, and it was a time of prosperity and rapid immigration. Sir John A. MacDonald’s government was knitting the country together with the railways and a sense of nationhood was beginning. In 1880 Britain annexed the Arctic to Canada and the Eskimos, as they were then known, were added to the population of Canada. Ontario was the backbone of Confederation. Oliver Mowat, a Liberal, was premier, the first of many to challenge Ottawa and champion provincial rights.
The Maritimes in 1881 were grudgingly accepting Confederation but were still flying their flags at half-mast on Dominion Day, now Canada Day. In British Columbia some wanted secession and some even annexation to the United States, so we had separatists problems back then, too.
William van Horne joined Canadian Pacific in 1882 and by 1886 the last spike of the CPR was driven, gluing the country together. In 1880, 75% of the Canadian population was rural, living in places like this and by 1900 it was just 37%. Today we are 90 per cent urban.
The biggest wheat crop in the 1880s came from Ontario, and other big crops were potatoes and turnips. In 1871, Ontario produced over 15 bushels of potatoes, or 900 pounds, for each person. Plentiful food equals a higher birth rate and pioneer farm families grew quickly. Shanties were being replaced by farm houses and institutions established. The first was Parliament but in each village the church, the school and the general store were most important.
When this building went up, shopkeepers were starting to replace labourers, and the Temperance movement was in full swing. Victoria was the Queen, having ascended the throne in 1837, the year of the Upper Canadian Rebellion, and she would reign until her death in 1901. At the same time the Belfountain store was opening, Timothy Eaton expanded his dry goods shop into a department store, with the staff going from 14 to 40. The Massey Harvester was introduced about this time, leading to world domination in agriculture implements and great wealth for the Massey family, which would come to build Massey Hall in Toronto.
In the 1880s, with the growth of manufacturing, came the advent of organized labour, strikes and picketing. Painters in Toronto went on strike in 1885, demanding 20 cents an hour, up from 17 and a half. In terms of culture, choral singning was big, as were circuses. P.T. Barnum came to Toronto in 1885, advertising a “moral and mighty” show, featuring a beautiful Hindu snake charmer.
In sports, lacrosse and lawn tennis were the big games. Women were discouraged from playing, but if they insisted, were asked to “play without corsets.” The Village Store prospered as a general store, and has operated almost continuously until today. Many of the workers in the quarries would buy their daily provisions here at the store, then travel to the Forks by foot or wagon, then back to Belfountain each day. The first mail was delivered to the store by horseback, then by stage coach from Erin, as often as possible. The advent of the railways brought the mail by train, and it was sorted en route – often traveling to Orangeville, Brampton and Owen Sound before arriving back in Belfountain – a strange way to get here from Erin, which is just 3 miles away!
The store has always been a centre of activity, provisions and local gossip. It was a necessity for pioneer families when roads were washed out in the Spring or impassable in winter. Today it’s a pleasant stop for an ice cream, gift or lunch and is visited each year by thousands of people. It’s considered an historic landmark, so well recognized that a replica of it is included as part of Cullen’s Miniature Village east of Toronto.
The Scottish and Irish pioneers in the Caledon region were God-fearing folk who, as early as 1826, were meeting in each other’s homes to worship and asking the Old Country to send them a preacher who could deliver the gospel with some regularity. In the meantime, they were visited by itinerant preachers who traveled from settlement to settlement, some with circuits so large they could only get to a place like Belfountain once every 3 months. Apparently one minister had to cover so much ground that he eventually dropped dead on Yonge Street, in York County, of sheer exhaustion. In 1828, it was arranged that Rev. Andrew Bell, a Presbyterian minister from Toronto Township, would come on a regular basis to Belfountain, once month. He walked the distance, winter and summer, for 18 months, covering the 25 miles to fulfill his commitment.
Eventually the growing village wanted a pastor of its own and in 1831 a congregation was formed and a building put up by 1837, which came to be known as the Melville White Church. It still stands today on Mississauga Road, just south of the village. Look for it on the west side, proudly restored by the Belfountain Historical Society. There were many so-called “white churches” built in the area around this time, but this is the last one of its type to remain, with a pioneer cemetery beside it.
In the Village there was a population of 200 by 1857, just a little less than the 255 today. Quarrying the stone at the Forks had turned into a big business and trains hauled the rock to Toronto, Hamilton and as far away as Ottawa. Things were good. By 1889 the land for this church has been secured and the Belfountain Baptist Church was built, constructed from the same local and beautiful Credit Valley stone as was used to build the Ontario Parliament Buildings at Queen’s Park in Toronto, as well as Casa Loma and other local landmarks. When this church opened in 1889 is carried a mortgage of $1,500, which was paid off in six years when a special service was held to celebrate the deliverance from debt.
During the 1850s the McTaggart family lived and operated a general store in this home. There were, in fact, up to four stores operating in the village during this time and prospering from the influx of workers coming with their families to work in the quarries, build rail lines or open up new farmland.
In 1921 the general store closed and the building was sold to 2 sisters from Toronto who transformed it into a retreat for the well-to-do, calling it The Wayside Inn. Many city folk and artists took their holidays here, enjoying fine food, afternoon tea and the ice cream parlour. The sisters made their home at the inn until 1964 when the rambling structure became an antique shop. Today it is a private residence.
The Methodist Church was built on that piece of property in 1893 and its substantial brick and stone foundation are still evident in this unique house. The two churches, Methodist and Baptist, vied for parishioners but the Baptists prevailed and the beautiful, soaring Methodist church with its spire was eventually sold for $600.
The new congregation was an evangelical sect called the “Goffites” but were known locally as the “Holy Rollers.” They mustered some curious attention for a while but it didn’t last and the church was closed, then torn down in the 1920s. In 1933 the head tailor for Tip Top Tailors in Toronto bought the old foundation and in it built a summer retreat which continues to a distinctive and attractive private residence today.
The Belfountain Community Hall does not boast the historical or architectural significance of the churches or the village store, but it, too, was a labour of love. The property originally belonged to the Methodists next door. The building was put up during the Depression in 1931, with volunteer labour and various fundraisers were held to finance the place. In 1946 the hall rental was 3 dollars, and that spiked to $5 by 1953.
The Baptists, however, had an arrangement to use it rent-free, if they washed the floor and cleaned the stove. Over the years various improvements were made, again with donated goods and free labour, and by 1965 a stage was built with all the trimmings, thanks to a donation from the T. Eaton Company. In 1973 the hall was deeded to the Town of Caledon and remains in use as a recreation centre. The structure is undergoing a major rebuild by the Town of Caledon, and will host a library and a mini detachment of the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police).
Here’s how electricity came to Belfountain. The few streetlights in Belfountain were not installed until 1967, as a Centennial project, but electricity came to this place around 1924, which was almost a quarter century after the first farm in the region got electric lighting. In fact, that farm in Caledon was the first one in Ontario to get electricity in the barn, way back in 1899.
If you drive down the Forks of the Credit road, then take the first left onto Mississauga Road, then right onto Cataract Road you will get to the site of the turn-of-the-Century power plant that lit up this entire region, powered by the water of the Credit River where it plunges over a 70-foot cliff. In 1890 John Deagle, supported by his wealthy farmer father, bought a burned-out grist mill in Cataract for $1,800 – one of 45 such mills along the banks of the Credit. He took two years and rebuilt the place, which was five stories in height. But then Deagle realized there was no money in the old technology, which was using water power to grind grain, and like many other 19th Century entrepreneurs, he went high-tech.
Deagle and his brother spent the next five years building, by hand, a powerplant, from the waterwheel to the dynamo, the poles and the wires. On November 2, 1899, Cataract was set ablaze by three weak light bulbs. Those bulbs were carbon lamps, and were not actually much better than coal oil lamps, so it was a tough sell for Deagle to sign up customers at the rate of one cent a bulb a night until better tungsten lamps arrived along with a raft of electrical appliances.
In 1902 he signed up Erin, then Orangeville as customers and the business grew until Deagle sold it for 50 thousand in 1923, just before the lights went on in Belfountain, the Forks and Caledon village. The company then went bankrupt, changed hands again and became the Caledon Electric Company in 1925. In the Depression, 1930, the company was hired to light all the sets for a full length film, “Undercover Man,” which featured a lot of locals in the cast.
During the Second World War the company was sold to Ontario Hydro for 100 thousand dollars. Hydro closed the Cataract generation station, moved the machinery out and blew it and the dam on the Credit up, leaving towering cement and stone walls you can visit today. And now with deregulation of electric power in Ontario, the street lights in Belfountain could once again be lit by the private sector.
This is one of the pioneer family homes of McCurdy’s Village, owned by Robert Western Brock. In fact, it was the first and only house at one time on Main Street. Brock was a man of many talents, as were most of the pioneering families, of necessity. He maintained a grocery store in the front of the house, selling bread and such to his neighbours, but his chief trade was that of a cabinet maker. So, at the back of the house he made caskets storing them across the street on the church property. But running the store and making caskets was not enough – he also conducted the funerals, adjudicated legal arguments as justice of the peace and magistrate, and, when it was necessary, acted as the village dentist.
Brock and his wife, Jane, had two daughters and five sons in this house. One of the sons was a skilled stone mason who built the dam and decorative stonework for Charles Mack at Luck-e-nuf, now the Conservation Area. There is a pen-and-ink sketch of this house,, drawn in 1933 by the famed Canadian artist, C.W. Jeffreys which is owned by the Public Archives of Canada. It shows the house with a porch and four decorative pillars, riotous gingerbread trim on the porch and roofline and some kind of fancy cupola or weathervane on the roof.
Brock’s second wife ran the grocery store for a time after his death in 1921. In 1945 the house was sold and an auction was held. Brock’s caskets and hearse were sold off to the highest bidder
Across the street is the Ascot Room, which caters to the elevated clothing tastes of local women, is a typical summer cottage built during the 1920s by wealthier families in Toronto looking for an escape from the city. Most of the private residences in Belfountain started life in exactly the same manner, which accounts for the eclectic architecture unique to Belfountain.
Until the industrial revolution of the late 19th century, pioneer entrepreneurs depended on one thing – water. Water power was harnessed, mills were built and communities like Belfountain prospered in a self-sufficient way. Water flowing over the escarpment was the single most important thing for the hydro electric industry, and mills like the one at Cataract converted to electric generation and became part of the provincial power grid. But there was another use for this filtered escarpment water.
In 1910, J.J. McLaughlin could see profit in the springs of the Credit River and he bought 40 hectares of land on the banks of the West Credit. He started McLaughlin Hygea Waters and bottled and sold the water, doing well with plentiful supply and low overhead. The company changed its name to Canada Dry, and introduced Canada Dry Ginger Ale. The Credit Valley division closed in 1920, but the Canada Dry and Crystal Springs water trucks still come to the spring to fill their tanks.
But while water was the first resource to build Belfountain, there was also the resource of the escarpment rock itself. The rock was limestone, used for building and the production of lime, which was used to make masonry mortar, plaster and whitewash after the stone was burned in special kilns. Nearby Limehouse was named after these kilns. Shale rock was also in abundance, used to make bricks, and brickworks sprung up in the region. You can see the ruins of one of the largest such operations on Mississauga Road near King Street and the village of Cheltenham.
Finally, there was sandstone found here, quarried and used in the construction of major buildings like those at Queen’s Park. So, if there had not been gold in the past, there certainly was money in stones, and the quarry business became big business for Belfountain. With the advent of the railroad in 1879, life here and at the Forks became positively hectic. At least 6 quarries were in operation, each with its own number of mines.
Men harvested the large stones, which had previously been laboriously hauled by horse and wagon, now onto cable cars traveling down the rock face, to waiting flat cars on the CPR line. At least 400 miners and their families came to live and work. The average miner worked 6 days a week, 10 hours a day and 9 hours on Saturday. The pay was 12 and a quarter cents per hour. Payday was once a month and average $7.38 for a 59-hour week. Some worked down the shaft while others worked the side of the mountain. To transport the heavy volume of rock, the railway constructed the famous wooden trestle bridge over the Forks of the Credit gorge. The trestle project employed 250 men, 60 teams of horses, and used 500,000 feet of lumber. It stands 1,100 feet long and 85 feet high.
These earlier quarrying activities were localized small businesses, highly profitable in their time – until the advent of concrete as the new building material. The quarries succumbed to the next new thing, and slowing business meant fewer trains, fewer jobs and, over time, Belfountain and the Forks changed from the heady days of frontier bonanza towns back to the villages they once were. As the auto came, quarrying came back to the Caledon hills in a new form. “Crushed rock” or the aggregate industry – again, highly profitable, but now more contentious with environmental concerns with its impact on the landscape.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the earlier settlers, the Scottish and Irish immigrants who came to the Caledon Hills looking for a better life, religious tolerance and land. We spoke of the UE Loyalists who came here and built a prosperous community. But we have yet to mention the people who came before them. In the 1700s almost all of Ontario was populated by the Ojibway Indians. In the spring and summer they sustained themselves by fishing, collecting maple syrup and harvesting wild rice. In the winter they hunted and trapped, as families, and traded furs with the French for other goods. Their rivals for land were the Iroquois, who had a different language and culture.
The Iroquois were considered to be the warriors, fighting among their own related families, which included the Huron Indians, whom their dominated. They targeted the Ojibways and waged war, but the Ojibways prevailed and continued to dominate southern Ontario. They began moving into the areas surrendered by their rivals, moving further and further south, traveling along the river until they reached Lake Ontario. These were the forefathers of the Mississauga Indians. They set up camp at the mouth of the Credit, a place known as Indian Village, and in the 1720s the French set up a trading post nearby. If an Indian did not have enough furs to trade for the good he wanted, he could take the merchandise on credit. The area became known as the Credit Trading Post, the river, the Credit, and the Indian band, the Mississaugas of the River Credit.
But during the American revolution, in the 1780s, thousands of United Empire Loyalists arrived in this area, bringing with them European traditions. They, like the pioneer settlers of Belfountain, cut down the forest for farm land, and traditional hunting patterns were disrupted with the growth of villages. By the 1840s the Mississaugas were outnumbered 100 to 1 by the white settlers.
To preserve their culture, they banded together with others and were called the Six Nations, under Chief Joseph Brant. They eventually move to Brant Country, which they called the New Credit Reserve. Today there are about 1,400 people who are Mississaugas of the New Credit. Most of them live off reserve.
A great deal of the local history has dealt with the Scottish and Irish immigrants who lived in shanties along the river, then in boarding houses, working the quarries, the railroads, the mills and tanneries. Their work was often dangerous; they were paid little; but they survived.
There were also the elite of Toronto who eventually came here, like Charles Mack who built his own private amusement park. There were also rich Toronto lawyers who owned the quarries. But at least one immigrant’s son achieved not only success but brought his fantasy to life: Alexander McLaren. His father arrived from Scotland in 1802 and married a woman from Chatham. They came to Caledon Mountain, south of Belfountain, about 1820 and cleared the land for farming. Alexander’s mother was known to walk the 40 miles to Toronto, carrying sugar, to trade for a logging chain with which to clear the land. She then walked home again with the chain.
Alexander had greater aspirations. He studied and traveled in the United States, England and Scotland and saw the fine old castles there. He wanted one. His vocation was as a legal advisor, writing wills and helping to negotiate for the railroad. But his passion was building a castle of his own. He hired a stonecutter from Belfountain who started quarrying the stone. He hired an architect, stone masons and painters and by 1864 the castle was finished – and it truly was a castle of Norman design, with a 51-foot-high tower, a winding staircase inside it, from the top of which you could see Lake Ontario. The castle had a horseshoe-shaped library, a servants’ dining room next to the family dining room, butler’s pantry, eighteen rooms, nine bedrooms, with all the formal rooms finished in birds eye maple.
Alexander McLaren enjoyed the castle and his success – he was successful in politics as Reeve Of Caledon Township. In 1866 he was made a justice of the peace, was instrumental in surveying the railroad, and founded the first United Farmers Group, a political movement. The castle was sold out of the family in 1937 and had many owners who enjoyed its uniqueness. In 1961 disaster struck and the castle burned to the ground due to an unattended lighted fireplace.
By the way, here’s the McLaren Castle today – recently sold as a luxury estate for a couple of million bucks.