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A History of the Arboretum

In 2013 Jacqueline Stuart, who was then Curator of the Aurora Museum, assembled historical data of the lands that include the Arboretum. We are grateful to the Aurora Historical Society for permitting us to use these materials on the website to enhance your understanding about the history of Aurora and of the Arboretum.
County of York 1878
County of York 1996

The Families

Tremaine’s map of 1860, includes the lot numbers of the five lots that front on what is now Bayview Avenue, between Wellington Street and St John’s Sideroad. Superimposed on the map to the left is the Aurora Arboretum to show the portion of the historical lands it occupies.

Data assembled in 1997 by the Aurora and District Historical Society for the Aurora Community Arboretum Project includes information about five families that lived on and worked these farms during the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

The original copy reads:

Some Families:
Unfortunately, none of the original recipients of the lands in the block bound by Yonge, Wellington, Bayview and St John’s Sideroad actually settled in the area. After fulfilling the requirements regarding clearing, the erection of a dwelling, and so on, they received their patents, or “crown deeds” and sold the land.

However some later owners stayed in place for substantial periods, and contributed in one way or another to the development of the wider community.

As is frequently found in more-or-less rural areas, especially in the days before the motor car, there were many close relationships between neighbouring families. The information that follows comes from the family history files of the Aurora Museum, where specific sources are cited.

Read more about the five families below:

The first Willson on Lot 82 was James Wellington Willson (1824-1917) who moved here with his wife Johanna in 1883. Their eleven children included Marshall H Willson (1856-1946) who worked the farm with his father and later became the owner. The children of Wellington Willson included Joanna Willson who married HR MacMillan, a more-or-less local man who went on to become the founder of the MacMillan Bloedel timber empire. Marshall Willson married Rebecca Jane McKee (1870-1949) who was a daughter of Robert McKee, owner of Lot 83 to the north of the Willson farm. Marshall and Rebecca called their farm “Oakburn”, presumably to mark the presence of oak trees and the stream (“burn” being a Scottish term for brook). Another child of Marshall and Rebecca Willson was Lambert Dwight Willson (1902-1983) who in turn took over the farm. He married Laura Cosford (1906-1990) whose grandparents – Thomas Cosford and George Walker – had owned different parts of Lot 83. This generation of Willsons called the property “Willhaven” and they ran a dairy farm. Lambert Willson joined the board of what was then known as the Upper Holland Conservation Authority in 1951, representing Whitchurch township. After retiring from farming and moving into Aurora in 1964, Mr Willson continued his service with what was by then the South Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority as the representative from Aurora; he was chairman from 1961 until his retirement from the authority in 1975. It was in recognition of this long service in the cause of conservation, as well as his own farm’s proximity to the site, that Lambert Willson Park, behind the Aurora Family Leisure Complex, was so named. This park is part of the Arboretum today.
William Buckle (1828-1927) and his wife, Hannah Wood (1832-1897), were from Yorkshire and emigrated to Canada soon after their marriage in 1857. At first William Buckle was employed by an East Gwillimbury farmer, and he later rented a farm in that township. In 1873 he purchased much of Lot 85 and in 1884 added to that more than half of Lot 84. In what was described as “an elegant brick-clad residence” on Lot 85, William and Hannah completed the raising of their five children. Their second son, John T. Buckle, married Hester or Esther Robinson, a daughter of George Robinson, who was the Buckles’ neighbour on Lot 84 until William Buckle purchased his holding in 1884. John Buckle, in turn, bought that farm from his father in 1899.
Robert McKee (c1833-1902) was born in Ireland. He and his wife, Elizabeth, (c1841-1888) had at least four children. He purchased a substantial part of Lot 83 in 1875, and it remained in the family until 1903. The fine house in which the family lived, was however, on a small part of Lot 84 (see note on Brewery site), and was known to the McKees as “Hawthorn Home”. One of the McKees’ daughters, Rebecca, married their neighbour on Lot 82, Marshall Willson and, indeed, in the early years of their marriage the Willsons farmed the McKee property.
The Pearsons were a large Quaker family of great importance in the settlement of the Newmarket-Aurora area. Nathaniel Pearson (1752-1813) and his wife, born Ann Bunting (1755-1840) came from Pennsylvania and New Jersey respectively, and were married in 1774. In 1803 they moved to Yonge Street in Upper Canada, probably joining some of their older children. They purchased Lot 85 in 1805. although family tradition has it that Nathaniel and Ann moved first to Lot 84: this is not substantiated by land ownership records, but the Pearsons may well have leased the land. Among Nathaniel and Ann’s children was James Pearson (1784-1873). His first wife was Jane Lount, the daughter of a neighbour on Lot 84, and sister of Samuel Lount, the man hanged after the 1837 Rebellion. His second wife, whom he married by at least 1841, was Hannah Hoag (née Simpson) daughter and niece respectively of his Lots 83 and 84 neighbours Joseph and George Simpson. James Pearson purchased part of Lot 84 in 1818, and both inherited and purchased parts of Lot 85 in 1813,1815, and 1827. He disposed of most of his holdings in 1851, selling over 268 acres to Ashton Fletcher. George Lount Pearson, (1823-1907) was a son of James and Jane Pearson. In 1868 he purchased over 143 acres of Lots 82 and 83. George L. Pearson’s second wife was Mary Ann Hartman, née Cosford. Her father was a prosperous farmer and carriage builder with extensive land holdings around the intersection of Yonge Street and today’s St John’s Sideroad, including parts of Lots 84 and 85 on the east side of Yonge Street. Joseph Hartman, Mary Ann’s first husband was a prominent politician, first locally, and later as a member of parliament for this riding. He died young in 1859, but it was not until 1871 that Mary Ann married George Pearson. Late in 1883 George Lount Pearson sold his property in Lot 82 to Wellington Willson. Early in 1884 George’s wife Mary Ann, sold the property in Lots 84 and 85 which she had inherited from her father, Thomas Cosford, and the Pearson’s retired to Clarksburg.
George Walker (1824-1910) was born in Yorkshire and migrated to Canada in 1845, first settling in Markham. In 1861 he purchased over half of Lot 85. However, it appears that he was farming what was then Ashton Fletcher’s large holding for some time before that: the 1861 census shows him on Fletcher’s 268-acre holding in February or March, but Walker did not purchase the Lot 65 section of the property until December of that year. On the same day that George Walker purchased his Lot 85 farm from Ashton Fletcher, John Milner purchased most of the rest of the Fletcher property, in Lot 84, and the two transactions were registered at the same time, on the following day. This was not the first encounter between George Walker and John Milner, however: George had married John’s daughter, Ann Jane Milner, in 1859. George and Ann Walkers’ seven children spent significant parts of their childhoods on the Lot 85 farm. One of them, Mary Caroline, grew up to marry a neighbour, Joseph Cosford, and one of her children married Lambert Willson of Lot 82. Small world. George Walker sold his Lot 85 farm to William Buckle in 1873. The Walkers then purchased one of the Pearson farms, this one at the north west corner of Yonge and the St John’s Sideroad.

The Brewery

Location: On Lot 84, between the river and John West Way, more or less opposite the end of Ostick Street (in May 1997, yet to be constructed?). From about 1838 a small area of land – about two acres – in Lot 84 was owned by whoever owned the adjacent land in Lot 83. For some time this land was the site of a brewery, and for a much longer period the location of a relatively elegant red brick house. The house was constructed in the 1840’s or 1850’s and stood until 1989. The brewery was probably operated by George Simpson, and the site was owned, at various times, by his uncle or his father, who were farmers. In 1857 the property was purchased by a prosperous farmer, Thomas Telfer. He immediately leased the brewery to William Mortson. The land registry records show that in 1859 Mortson sublet the property to George Simpson, again, although Tremaine’s 1860 map and the 1861 census show William Mortson still living close by, but on Yonge Street. Mortson seems to have had quite a substantial establishment at the time of the 1861 census: a two-story frame dwelling to accommodate himself and his wife and their six children, along with a young woman servant and three hired men. The business produced 840 unspecified measures of beer a year: barrels? The Tremaine map of 1860 shows the brewery, but attaches to it only the name of the landowner, Thomas Telfer. Telfer sold this property in 1871, by which time the brewery business had disappeared. The same small property is said to have been the site for a woollen mill, although no dates are known. It seems to be a rather inaccessible location for a mill to which the customers would have to bring the raw wool for carding.

The Mill

Location: On Lot 83, in the centre of the north half of the lot. In today’s terms: between the river and John West Way, opposite Evelyn Buck Drive.

At least two deeds – one dated 1854, the other 1857 – to land on township Lot 84 refer to what was already, by 1854, “land formerly overflowed by a mill-pond owned by one Benjamin Hawke …” Mr Hawke may have indeed “owned” the mill-pond and run the mill, but there is no evidence that he owned the land.

Benjamin Hawke came to Canada from Pennsylvania in 1811. He may well have come with his father-in-law, Gabriel Lount, and Samuel Lount, Benjamin’s brother-in-law – the man who in 1838 was hanged for treason – as they came to this part of the world in 1811. He would have known Dr. Christopher Beswick, who probably owned the land where the mill-pond was located (deeds would have to be examined to determine the exact location of Dr. Beswick’s several holdings), as Dr. Beswick was a close friend of the Lounts.

Benjamin Hawke engaged in various enterprises during his life, and we do not know what sort of mill he operated on Lot 83. The chances are that it was a sawmill; there was good timber cover in those early days, and sawmills were more likely to be set up in the bush than were grist or flour mills, which were closer to main roads and centres of settlement.

Mr. Hawke was in Tecumseh township, Simcoe County, by 1834. The fact that the mill-pond that he apparently created was still being referred to by his name in a deed drawn up at least 20 years after he left the area suggests that no one else took over the milling business when he left.

An aerial photograph taken in 1978 shows an elliptical depression, in the appropriate area, which might be the still lingering remnant of that mill-pond. Even now, despite the massive earth-moving, vegetation-scalping exercises of the 1980’s there may be some evidence of the effects of the mill-pond: there is a pond, or run off collection area, in more-or-less the right spot.


100+ acres east of Industrial Pkwy N, between St. John's Sideroad and Wellington St. E

Aurora Community Arboretum

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