Home » History » North York Pioneer William Duncan’s Legacy Lives on in Restaurant

Shown in 1905, William Duncan III's son David Duncan built "Moatfield" c. 1865. The house was relocated in 1986 and is now the David Duncan House restaurant. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.
Shown in 1905, William Duncan III's son David Duncan built "Moatfield" c. 1865. The house was relocated in 1986 and is now the David Duncan House restaurant. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.

North York Pioneer William Duncan’s Legacy Lives on in Restaurant

“He bought a huge piece of land in 1827 along Sheppard for $3.50 an acre,” writes Susan Goldenberg

William Duncan III (1801-1886) was a key figure in the development of the North York neighbourhood of Downsview. From Ireland, he bought a huge piece of land in 1827 along Sheppard between Dufferin and Keele for $3.50 an acre, naming it Dublin Farm. The small community at Sheppard and Dufferin that grew up around it was called Dublin Village.

William Duncan III (1801-1886) built Dublin House at the corner of Sheppard and Dufferin in 1831. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.
William Duncan III (1801-1886) built Dublin House at the corner of Sheppard and Dufferin in 1831. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.

Duncan had a large family — nine sons and three daughters. He purchased land throughout North York, giving each son a farm as a wedding present. He also bought land for his four brothers.

He made Dublin Village a thriving community. At the intersection of Sheppard and Dufferin he built a log shanty and installed a shoemaker who made and repaired saddles, bridles and carpet-bags as well as footwear. William also built a large building for a general store. Manager James Watson accepted maple syrup, butter, eggs and cowhides as payment in lieu of cash but not lumber, hay or other bulky items.

Duncan erected a log schoolhouse and hired a schoolmaster to teach his children and those of surrounding settlers.

He was a justice of the peace and organized temperance meetings. In the early 1850s, when the northern division of the Grand Trunk Railroad was opened through his property, he piled lumber for the wood-burning engine along the tracks at convenient intervals for the train to be refuelled.

At a fundraising event for a new church the preacher started by saying, “Brother Duncan is prepared to head the subscription list with $50.” “$20,” said Duncan. “$50,” replied the preacher. Outmanoeuvred, Duncan gave in.

Duncan gave youngest son David (1837-1914) land north of York Mills and Don Mills roads, which David called Moatfield Farm. A noted dairy farmer, David was the first to introduce Jersey cows into Ontario. Moatfield was inherited by David’s son Gordon and sold in 1971 after his death. The home was relocated in 1986 to 125 Moatfield Dr., where it was restored and turned into the Duncan House restaurant. It is a designated heritage building and one of the last remaining examples of the “gingerbread” style of Gothic architecture in Ontario.

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on November 28, 2019, on toronto.com.