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Bales House, south-east view, date unknown. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

BALES FAMILY

Susan Goldenberg

This year (2024) is the bicentennial of North York’s oldest residence, the John Bales House near Bathurst and Sheppard, located in 51 hectare (127 acre) Earl Bales Park created in 1975 partly from land owned by John Bales and named after his great grandson R. (Robert) Earl Bales, North York Reeve (mayor) 1934-40. It’s among Toronto’s largest parks.

John Bales (1799-1873) emigrated to Toronto (then called “York”)  in 1819 from Cumberland,  northwest England and had the good fortune of being hired as a gardener by wealthy John Beverly Robinson, attorney general of Upper Canada, a prominent, influential member of the ruling class called “The Family Compact” as there were many intermarriages. In 1823 Bales married Elizabeth Scott (1802-1889), a maid in the Robinson household, also from England. 

The following year they purchased 24 hectares at the southeast corner of what are now Bathurst and Sheppard, on the edge of a western branch of the Don River, a convenient water source, and a erected one-and-a-half story log house, later stuccoed. They had 11 children one of whom Elizabeth born in 1836 lived to 100.  It was a working farm with livestock and an orchard. 

Given their connection to John Beverly Robinson it’s not surprising that they supported the government in the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion. But being loyal to their North York friends was equally important to them and Elizabeth alerted  their rebel neighbours, the Joseph Shepard family, about approaching government soldiers. In an effort to protect them she grabbed their guns and threw them in the Don River near her home and hid their meat supplies in her well. The government forces still tried to burn down the Shepard farmhouse.

The property was the site of York Downs Golf and Country Club from 1922-1971. The greenskeeper lived in the house and the barn became the clubhouse. 

The Bales’s were active in politics. Earl’s father Oliver was an early deputy reeve of North York. Earl’s cousin Dalton Bales, a Progressive Conservative, represented York Mills Riding in the Ontario legislature from 1963-1975 during which he was attorney general, then minister of municipal affairs.