On November 27, 1962, an important part of North York history was destroyed, when a three-alarm fire swept through the 150-year-old Milne Homestead, a showpiece of the Metro Parks’ Edward Gardens (now the Toronto Botanical Gardens).
After being alerted at 1.55 a.m., firefighters from five stations rushed to the scene. They fought to control the fire in a struggle that lasted until 7.00 a.m., but were unsuccessful. Fortunately, nobody was injured. According to The Enterprise newspaper, the blaze may have started from an oil burner or electrical wiring. Estimates of the damage ranged from $40,000 to more than $100,000. A precise figure was difficult to determine, as much of the value of the building was in its age, plus antique furniture and an invaluable naturalist library. The house was frame, making the fire even more challenging to control. Newspaper accounts said the house was 150 years old, but a letter to the editor said it more likely was about 95 years old, and not the first house built on the property. The original house was a log cabin. At one time, according to The Toronto Telegram, the house was owned by grocery magnate, Justin Cork, who established Loblaws.
At the time of the fire, the building was occupied by the Civic Garden Centre on the first floor and the Ontario Federation of Naturalists on the second. According to The Enterprise, the garden club’s library had been “one of the most complete horticultural libraries in the country”.
The Milnes were a prominent North York family. Alexander Milne had developed and operated several wool mills. The third mill stood on what was called Milne’s Hollow in the east Don Valley until 1946, when it was demolished for the material which it contained. According to an autumn 1963 article by Don Valley conservationist, Charles Sauriol, the mill was a “massively built structure, 80 feet long, 50 feet wide and 40 feet high. It contained three stories and a basement. A belfry had been built in the centre of the peaked roof. The walls were made of red and yellow brick, supported by stone facings.”
“Shafts and pulleys were suspended from ceilings. All three floors of the building were braced with massive beams of oak. The turbine was set in motion by the waters of the Don River.”
A tea house was built on the foundation of the Milne homestead. The Milne name lives on today in the form of the Milne House Garden Club, founded in 1967. According to its Google website it was named “to perpetuate the historical association of the Edwards Gardens area with Alexander Milne the original owner of the property which was part of a 500-acre Crown land grant given in the early 1800s”.
The Milne name is also perpetuated by the “Alexander Milne Rose”. It was commissioned to mark the 20th century anniversary in 1987 of the Milne House Garden Club. A miniature pink rose, developed by a rose hybrid specialist, it is the symbol of the club.
Written and researched by Susan Goldenberg, Director, North York Historical Society
Originally published in the November 2016 – January 2017 North York Historical Society Newsletter