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York Mills Presbyterian Church Plaque
James Hogg organized York Mills Presbyterian Church

Some Interesting Early York Mills Residents

Thomas Mercer

The Thomas Mercer family drove from Pennsylvania in 1794 in a wagon with a cow tethered behind, and when requesting land Mercer was offered one hundred acres in exchange for his wagon.

Cornelius Anderson

Cornelius Anderson, with his family of nine children, settled in York Mills around the time the Mercers did. During the War of 1812 he lost a horse pressed into service by the government and many years later he received $13.00 in compensation.

Thomas Humberstone

In 1812 Thomas Humberstone moved into the district. He operated the first York county pottery on his farm. During the War of 1812 he served under General Isaac Brock at the Battle of Queenston Heights and helped to carry the wounded general off the battlefield. Humberstone was taken prisoner while commanding a large boat full of American prisoners from the Battle of Beaver Dam on their way to Kingston. He was sent to the United States where he was kept as a prisoner until exchanged.

James Hogg

James Hogg, after whom Hogg’s Hollow is named, emigrated from Scotland in 1824. In 1832 he challenged George Gurnett, editor of the Courier and a future mayor of Toronto, to a duel over an article in the paper regarding attempts by a York committee to swell attendance by inviting in people from rural areas. The Courier wrote:

Every wheel of their well-organized political machine was set in motion to transmute country farmers into citizens of York. Accordingly about 9.00 in the morning, groups of tall, broad-shouldered, hulking fellows were seen arriving from Whitby, Pickering and Scarborough, some crowded in wagons, and others on horseback; and Hogg, the miller, headed a herd of the swine of Yonge Street, who made just as good votes at the meeting as the best shop-keepers in York.

The duel did not take place although a burlesque account was published in which it was pretended that Hogg was saved from a mortal wound by an accumulation of flour under the lapel of his coat in which his antagonist’s bullet buried itself. Hogg later organized York Mills Presbyterian Church.

He died in 1839. The story in the British Colonist about his funeral indicated that the tension continued, even after the 1837 rebellion, over the clergy reserves. The final paragraph said:

The church was built by public subscription, and it was at first designed as a place of worship to which preachers of various denominations of Christians would have access. By some means or other, which have not as yet been satisfactorily explained, Dr. Strachan managed to secure the exclusive possession of the church for an Episcopal minister, contrary to the original design of the inhabitants of the place, who contributed towards its erection, and as we are informed without the sanction or knowledge of many of them.

Cornelius van Nostrand

Cornelius van Nostrand owned a combined house and store as of 1832. In this early period, the barter system was used by farmers who were his customers, and he settled his account once or twice a year. At the time of the 1837 rebellion, a young girl, 16-year old Anna Maria Marsh, was left in charge of the store when some rebels entered and commandeered all the ammunition they could find. A fur cap caught the eye of one of the men and he carried it off, promising to pay for it later. Much to the surprise of the van Nostrands, he kept his word. In 1840 Cornelius turned the store over to his 16-year old son, John, who opened the York Mills post office in the building four years later.

The van Nostrands and others who operated flour mills were hard hit by the repeal of protectionism, known as the Corn Laws, and the replacement with free trade in 1846. The world market for Canadian flour dried up and millers like van Nostrand suffered huge losses. The situation was so dire for van Nostrand that he auctioned much of his holdings including farm stock and implements, dry goods, hardware and 40 barrels of whiskey. In a private sale, he disposed of his large grist mill, distillery and about 180 acres of land. He moved to Springfield, now Erindale, and opened a small grist mill. Son John continued to operate the store under the creditors and was able to pay the family’s debts.

By Susan Goldenberg, Director, North York Historical Society

Originally published in the August-October 2017 North York Historical Society Newsletter


Photo: Sarah McCabe