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Dunlap Model Farm

Mining magnate’s old home now clubhouse for North York golf club


Dunlap’s ‘model’ farm had cows serenaded by music, pigs bathed in olive oil, writes Susan Goldenberg

More than 200 guests, including overseas exhibitors to the 1928 Canadian Exhibition, were hosted by Jessie Donalda Dunlap, wife of mining magnate David Dunlap who died in 1924, at Donalda Farm. – Toronto Star file photo


The Dunlap model farm, circa 1924. – Toronto Star file photo


A scene on the Donalda model farm on the Don river which was published by the Toronto Star, circa 1927. – Toronto Star file photo


Animals at “Donalda Farm” — established in 1914 by mining magnate, philanthropist, and amateur astronomer David Alexander Dunlap on 600 acres in the Don Valley — got deluxe care.

Pigs at the farm — located south of York Mills Road between Don Mills Road and Victoria Park Avenue — “were bathed twice a week in olive oil to keep their skin sleek and supple,” according to “Realizing The Dream,” a book published in 1988 by North York’s department of property and economic development. “Stable hands mucked out the stables with solid brass pitchforks and cows were vacuum cleaned and milked by men with manicured hands who wore white suits while they worked. It was dubbed ‘a model for the universe.’ ”

“Pioneering In North York,” by Patricia W. Hart, published in 1968 by General Publishing, says: “Cow stalls were tiled, electric fans whirled to distract flies, and music was piped into the barn to provide contentment for the herd.”

Born in Pembroke, Ontario in 1863, Dunlap made a fortune from Northern Ontario silver and gold mines.

“Donalda” was the middle name of Dunlap’s wife, Jessie. The property originally was owned by Scottish immigrants, brothers James, Alexander and William Gray who arrived about 1820. James ran a farm, Alexander a saw mill, and William a grist mill. Dunlap built his residence overlooking the old mill pond which he stocked with white swans. There were 40 buildings and 30 employees.

Weather permitting, Jessie held outdoor teas, arranging for famed 48th Highlanders pipers to march through the rose and formal Italian gardens, lawns, and hedgerows playing for guests.

The Dunlaps also owned a Rosedale home, 93 Highland Avenue, now the official residence of the University of Toronto’s president.

Following Dunlap’s death in 1924, Jessie operated the farm for many years, assisted by her son and his wife. In 1959 a group of mostly local businessmen bought a portion to establish the Donalda Golf Club; the Dunlaps’ residence is the clubhouse.

In memory of her husband, Jessie financed the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill for the University of Toronto, a pioneer in Canada in teaching astronomy. Opened in 1935, its single-lens mirror telescope was Canada’s largest and the world’s second largest at the time.

Susan Goldenberg is a director and membership chair of the North York Historical Society, which preserves North York’s heritage. For further information, visit www.nyhs.ca.