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Taylor Brothers Paper Mill, Don River, east side, south of Pottery Road; watercolour by Owen Staples, 1909 (courtesy Toronto Public Library)
Taylor Brothers Paper Mill, Don River, east side, south of Pottery Road; watercolour by Owen Staples, 1909 (courtesy Toronto Public Library)

The Taylor Brothers

John Taylor, Senior, a Methodist (1773-1868), his wife, Margaret Hawthorne, and seven children emigrated from Uttoxeter, County of Staffordshire, England, in 1821, settling initially in Cherry Valley, near Albany, New York. In 1825 they moved to Vaughan Township in Upper Canada and pioneered there for about nine years before coming to the forks of the Don River.

In 1839, three sons, John, Thomas and George, purchased land from Samuel Sinclair (1797-1852), except for a portion Sinclair gave to the Primitive Methodist Connexion in 1851. In 1859, George provided funding for the construction of the first brick church, Don Mills Primitive Methodist Chapel, later replaced by the Don Mills United Church building.

They operated paper, grist and flour mills in the Don Valley, and also worked together farming, breeding cattle and horses. Their three paper mills were known as the Upper, Middle and Lower Mill, spaced a mile apart. The raw materials (rags, straw and jute, flax was probably used, an experiment with esparto grass failed), were cooked with soda and lime, washed, drained on an “agitated stuff chest,” pressed, dried, emerging in various forms of newsprint (for George Brown’s The Globe and other newspapers), book paper and manila wrapping paper. Paper bags were also made by hand. By 1877, the mills were described as operating around the clock (except for Sundays) and supplying goods to “all parts of the Dominion (of Canada) from Newfoundland to the Red River (Manitoba).”

John provided the organizing leadership and technical mill working skills, Thomas managed the office and George looked after the farming. John was a pioneer in the technical development of Canada’s paper industry, being the first to develop and later patent a method of making paper from wood pulp instead of rags in response to an 1854 English contest offering a reward of £1,000 to anyone who could find a substitute for rags as a raw source for paper.

William, one of George’s sons, discovered, while digging fence post holes, that the clay in the Don Valley was good for making red bricks. He founded the Don Valley Brick Works in 1880 (now Evergreen Brick Works) with his brothers, John F., and George A. It was one of the oldest and largest brick works in the province and the longest operating facility, remaining in operation until the 1980s. The bricks were of such good quality that they won prizes in the 1893 Chicago World Fair and the 1894 Toronto Industrial Fair.

According to the North York Historical Society archives, the Taylors “earned a name not always to be found among paper manufacturers, namely that of always putting the full count of sheets in every ream (viz. 480) and for the accommodation of printers will when ordered, put up 500 sheets to the ream.”

The Taylor family houses, such as Thorn Cliff (hence the street Thorncliffe of today) were estates with well kept gardens, orchards and stables, as well as bush land and tree-bordered country lanes.

By Susan Goldenberg, Director, North York Historical Society, and Mary Ann Cross, North York Community Preservation Panel

Originally published in the September-November 2015 North York Historical Society Newsletter