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The 1850 Stong Farmhouse at Keele St. and Steeles Ave. in 1975
The 1850 Stong Farmhouse at Keele St. and Steeles Ave. in 1975

Historic Stong Family

Stong College, at York University, is named in honour of the loyalist family, whose land provided a significant portion of the university, and of nearby Black Creek Pioneer Village. The college provides courses in liberal arts, health services and creative writing, in what the university describes, as the “enriched pioneer spirit” of the Stongs.

The Stong family came to Upper Canada from Pennsylvania as part of the loyalist migration from the U.S., following the American Revolution. According to a January 1976 story in the Toronto Star, by historian Donald Jones, the Stongs were representative of the loyalists who came to Upper Canada in that they were of “humble origin”.

In his article, Jones drew a distinction between capital “L” Loyalists and small “l” ones. Capital “L” Loyalists, he said, were United Empire Loyalists who “joined the Royal Standard” before 1783 when the war officially ended. Small “l” loyalists did not fight in the war and risked losing their land because they hadn’t fought for it. These loyalists came to Canada because of its offer of free land and to escape persecution.

“Many people still believe the loyalists who came to Upper Canada were the province’s first teachers, doctors and lawyers but in fact, there wasn’t a single lawyer among them and only two doctors,” Jones said. “Few could write. Many of those who could were too busy with their farms. Those who could write and had the time couldn’t afford the paper which was scarce and expensive”.

“These families of loyalists were British. Few of them were Scottish or Irish. Of the 5,000 loyalists who came to Upper Canada, the largest single group was the Pennsylvania-Germans.” Instead of being called Pennsylvania-Germans, they were known as Pennsylvania Dutch because Americans found it difficult to pronounce “Deutsch,” German for the word “German”.

The Stongs, originally named the Stangs, were among the Pennsylvania-Germans who headed for Upper Canada. The Stongs first settled north of Toronto, near what is now Black Creek, in an area that would become the north west corner of Toronto.

In 1812, Daniel Stong fought on the government side when the Americans attacked Canada. In the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion, however, he fought against the government. He was one of the hundreds of farmers who sided with William Lyon Mackenzie in the uprising.

In 1850, Daniel’s son, Jacob built a large farmhouse at Steeles Avenue and Keele Street. He became a justice of the peace, a judge at the local country fair and when the Canadian National Exhibition opened in 1879, he was one of its first judges and directors.

For almost a century and a half, generations of Stongs continued to farm their land. It was in 1952, after century of residence they sold their property.

In 1954, the log cabin was almost destroyed by Hurricane Hazel. Four years later, the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority bought it along with the family’s later farmhouse, smoke house, piggery and grain barn. They were left on their original site and became the nucleus of Black Creek Pioneer Village, which recreated the early days of settlers in the Toronto area. Today, the log cabin is used by York University to store gardening equipment.

By Susan Goldenberg, Director, North York Historical Society

Originally published in the November 2013 – January 2014 North York Historical Society Newsletter

Photo: Ron Bull for the Toronto Star, by Toronto Public Library Toronto Star License