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Yonge and Sheppard, looking north, in 1897. - North York Historical Society photo
Yonge and Sheppard, looking north, in 1897. - North York Historical Society photo

The Pioneer Life a Hard One and North York No Exception

Longest lasting log cabin in area survived 141 years, was demolished in 1956, writes Susan Goldenberg

Next time you grumble about electrical, heating or plumbing problems, reflect on the hard life of North York’s pioneers in much of the 1800s.

Land was cleared and log-cabin homes built by “bees” — co-operative gatherings of neighbours. Logs were notched to fit together at the corners, with cracks filled with wedge-shaped pieces of wood plastered with clay. The roof was bark or small, hollowed basswood logs, laid in shingle tile fashion, with a hole for smoke from the fireplace to escape until a chimney was built. There was usually just one small window covered by a shutter or oiled paper.

Early settlers had no roads, only blazed trails. Wagons got trapped in mud holes, and waterways often had to be forded because floods had washed out makeshift bridges.

Oxen were used to clear the land, hauling away tree stumps and heavy stones and, when fields were ready for planting, pulling the plow. The settlers planted potatoes, turnips, pumpkins and corn between stumps. Wheat was sown in the fall. There was a cow for milk, chickens for eggs and meat, and sometimes partridge, pigeons, salmon and deer.

Prowling bears, wolves and foxes were a constant menace.

And for the good health of early settlers:

  • A “spring cleaning” with sulphur and molasses to purify the blood after winter
  • A dirty wool stocking around the neck for a sore throat
  • Goose grease taken internally, for laryngitis
  • Two parts rum, one part glycerine, for a cold.

The longest-lasting log cabin in North York, on Victoria Park Avenue near York Mills Road, survived an amazing 141 years, from 1815 until 1956, when it was demolished for new modern houses.

The Don Valley Conservation Authority wanted to move the cabin to Edwards Gardens, but the timbers were in too poor condition and the cost of restoration prohibitive.

Pioneer Recipes

Pickling Pork
5 pails cold water
1 pail salt
1 quart blackstrap molasses
¼ pound saltpetre
Frumenty (A close cousin of porridge, England’s “oldest national dish”)
Soak a cup of wheat grains overnight.
Cook slowly a few hours and drain.
Add milk and a pinch of salt.
Sugar to taste.
Thicken with flour as you would a thin sauce.
Serve with sugar, cinnamon and milk.

Source: North York Historical Society archives

 

Written by Susan Goldenberg. 

Originally published on January 29, 2019, on toronto.com.