For nearly 140 years, just one family — the Stongs — occupied much of the land that is now the site of the main campus of York University and neighbouring Black Creek Pioneer Village. Stong College, affiliated with York University’s Faculty of Health, points to this past, saying it’s “enriched by the Stong family pioneer spirit, to which we owe our name.” Adjoining it is Stong Residence, which provides housing to students.
Four generations of Stongs lived on the land, beginning with Daniel and Elizabeth (Fisher) Stong. Descendants of Pennsylvania German Loyalists who had moved to North York, they married in 1816 when Daniel was 24 and Elizabeth 17. They created a homestead on 100 acres of uncleared forest at Jane and Steeles that Elizabeth inherited from her father. They personally cleared the land and built a small log cabin with a stone fireplace for heating and cooking. This cabin, plus additions over the years — piggery, slaughterhouse/smokehouse, grain barn and a new, larger home built near the first — are all at Black Creek Pioneer Village.
Daniel and Elizabeth had eight children. Large families were customary with settlers, useful for performing the many chores. Daniel built a log schoolhouse on his property and a log church. In effect, he had created a community. The family’s landholdings expanded.
Daniel and Elizabeth parceled out portions to their children. York University transformed oldest son Jacob’s house and barn into a visual arts centre.
In July 1898, Daniel II, then 66, and one of his daughters were killed when a train smashed into their horse-drawn buggy at a nearby railway crossing. An inquest said that trees at the crossing blocked the view and recommended that all rail crossings be cleared of obscuring trees.
The land remained in the family’s hands for three more generations, down to great-grandson Oliver. In the late 1950s, the western part, along with the family’s early buildings, was acquired by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to be the core for Black Creek Pioneer Village, and the eastern part for a main campus for York University. The Toronto Telegram playfully photographed president Murray Ross sitting at a desk in a vacant field with the caption: “I’m here … now where is my university?”