Home » Mammoth tusk found in North York nearly a century ago donated to ROM collection

Tusks from a mastadon on display at a past Royal Botanical Gardens exhibit are similar to those of a mammoth's tusks found in North York nearly a century ago and donated, at the time, to the Royal Ontario Museum. - Metroland file photo

Mammoth tusk found in North York nearly a century ago donated to ROM collection


In late summer 1926, North York farmer William O’Sullivan was routinely digging in a gravel pit on his property when his spade clanged against something big and hard. A boulder, he probably thought. Was he in for a surprise! It wasn’t a giant rock. It was actually a prehistoric animal’s enormous tusk, an astonishing find that thrust O’Sullivan into the limelight.

The Toronto Star reported on Sept. 10, 1926: “Farmer William O’Sullivan found the tusk twenty-five deep in a gravel pit on his property, lot 13, concession 4, extending to the bank of the Don River, while shovelling out gravel for a bridge on a nearby road. The gravel ridge, somewhat east of the present stream, probably marks the boundary of the river in ancient times. It was a great ivory tusk, brittle inside like pieces of tile or chalk, with the characteristic grain of ivory. Gradually he uncovered the more firm and larger portion, almost six feet in length.

“It was the early ice age, when man was probably just arising on the earth, that these huge ivory-tusked animals, far larger than the modern elephant, and covered with a coating of long, unkempt hair as a protection from the cold, roamed over this continent as well as Europe and Asia.

“While out in the country for fresh eggs and butter H.G. Milsom, director of personnel for the Toronto Transportation Commission heard about the discovery. He told Dr. W.W. Parks, curator of the paleontology section of the Royal Ontario Museum.

O’Sullivan gave the mammoth tusk to Parks for the museum’s tusk collection. Without other parts of the skeleton, especially the teeth, Parks said he could not be certain about the age. “Twenty-five feet down means that it is pretty old. I should say that it is not more than 25,000 years and not less than 10,000.” Despite its size, Parks said, “It’s not a large specimen, probably not fully grown.”

He added, “Not much value is attached because fragmentary pieces are so common to scientific men.” Still, Torontonians were excited.

No more parts were found at the site.

Susan Goldenberg is a director and membership chair of the North York Historical Society which preserves North York’s heritage. The author of nine books, her latest being ‘Deadly Triangle: The Famous Architect, His Wife, Their Chauffeur, and Murder Most Foul’, she has won both a Canadian Author’s Award and a Canadian Business Press Editors’ Award.