The York Pioneer and Historical Society: A Grand Tradition
The York Pioneer and Historical Society (YPHS) began on April 17, 1869, as an informal gathering of men at the Mechanics’ Institute, at the corner of Church and Adelaide Streets in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Within a few months the York Pioneers Association (the Pioneers) was founded under the leadership of Richard Oates , with Colonel Richard Lippincott Denison as the first president. Its purpose was “to keep alive reminiscences of a primitive day and of making collections of them before they became lost”.
The YPHS is the oldest historical society in Ontario and thought to be the second oldest in Canada. Annual fees were $l.00 in the early years compared to $20 today, almost 150 years later. While today’s membership is open to everyone, in the past the Society was only open to gentlemen who lived in Toronto then known as the Town of York and perspective members had to be nominated and seconded by adherents in good standing.
In 1891 the Pioneers united as a registered charity with the name York Pioneer and Historical Society, and for the first time, accepted women as members. Among the first was Sarah Anne Curzon, who along with Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon went on to form the Woman’s Canadian Historical Society of Toronto in 1895 with the motto “Deeds Speak”.
PRESERVING THE PAST
In its first decade, the Pioneers acquired Scadding Cabin , the farmhouse built in 1794 by John Scadding (Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe’s estate manager) that was located on the Don River near present day Queen Street. Slated for demolition, in August 1879, the Pioneers received permission to move the cabin. The log building was dismantled, moved and reconstructed on the grounds of the first Industrial Exhibition , now Exhibition Place.
Scadding Cabin was opened as a museum and furnished with artifacts donated by the Pioneers and descendants of other local families. The second Thursday of the Industrial Exhibition each year was designated “Pioneers and Old Settlers’ Day” with special programs and demonstrations of skills and crafts that their ancestors, those early settlers in York and York Township, would have utilized to survive and prosper.
Today, Scadding Cabin is furnished as a pioneer home from the 1830s to early 1840s. Furnishings include two spinning wheels and a wool winder, equipment for making bread and butter, a candle mold and utensils for cooking on an open hearth.
The Sharon Temple is located in the village of Sharon, Ontario. The “Temple” was built by the “Children of Peace” under the leadership of David Willson between 1825 and 1832, and served the congregation until the 1880s. By the early years of the 20th century the building was virtually derelict, and on June 4, 1918 the YPHS purchased Sharon Temple and the three and a half acres of land immediately around it for $1,500, thus saving this architectural gem for posterity. Over the years several other buildings associated with the Children of Peace were moved to the site and restored as well, resulting in this unique complex of buildings hosting thousands of visitors over the years. The YPHS operated the Temple as a museum; and between 1981 and 1991, held a widely acclaimed music festival.
The Temple was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1990. The site comprises of eight distinctive heritage buildings and dwellings, and houses 6,000 artifacts on a 1.8 ha. site.
In 1991 the museum was transferred to the Sharon Temple Museum Society, with a member of the York Pioneer and Historical Society serving on the Board of the Museum Society.
Eversley Presbyterian Church, located on Dufferin Street north of the King Side Road, is a stone structure built in 1848. Eversley Church served the community until it was closed in 1958 when the congregations at Eversley and Strange joined to form St. Andrew’s Presbyterian congregation in King City. When it was no longer needed to serve the local congregation, Lady Eaton purchased the church to prevent its possible demolition and presented it to the YPHS in 1968.
Over the years, Eversley Church was used to host meetings, special events, receptions, weddings, Christmas candlelight services and family reunions, as well as being part of the Doors Open King program each year. In 1984 it was designated as a heritage site by the township of King. In 2008 the stone building was in need of structural repair and the extensive work was undertaken and successfully completed.
In June 2012, the YHPS sold the church to a resident of King township, a master builder who totally renovated the interior.
The York Pioneer
In January of 1953 the first issue of the York Pioneer Bulletin, edited by John Moir, was published. At the time, President William Edward Hanna urged the members to research and write short articles, brief notes about events, places and people for the publication. The York Pioneer continues to be published annually by an active volunteer editorial committee. A free copy is given to all paid-up members; additional copies go to more than 30 subscribing libraries and archives throughout North America.
The YPHS also publishes a newsletter, The Update, bringing items of interest to its members about the Society and the larger heritage community.
Scadding Cabin 1794, Toronto’s Oldest House
First published in 1994 by the YPHS and reprinted in 2006 and updated in 2012, this booklet outlines the history of the log cabin that now sits on the grounds of Exhibition Place, moved there by the York Pioneers in 1879.
From Hands Now Striving to Be Free
Published in 2009 as a contribution to the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Incorporation of The City of Toronto, From Hands Now Striving to be Free is an inventory and analysis of 94 boxes crafted by men jailed in the aftermath of the failed 1837 Rebellion of Upper Canada. Chris Raible wrote the book with John C. Carter and Darryl Withrow.
The YHPS has a considerable archival collection of letters, historic photographs, and reports as well as over 150 books and pamphlets relating to the history of Toronto and York County. The YHPS routinely lends items from its collection to support local historic exhibits.
The Toronto Carrying Place
In 1949 the YPHS jointly arranged for a Toronto Historical Plaque to be erected at the southwest corner of Baby Point Road and Baby Point Crescent in Toronto. The plaque commemorates the site of the Taiaiagon Iroquois Village at the foot of the Toronto Carrying Place (Le Portage de Toronto) and recognizes early settlers and explorer that passed through. Today the area is known as Baby Point.
Home District School
The YPHS arranged for a Toronto Historical Plaque to be attached to the building on the southeast corner of King and George streets in Toronto. The plaque commemorates the “Old Blue School” that once stood on that location in 1807, the first public school in the city of York founded by Rev. George Okill Stuart.
In 2012 an interpretive plaque was installed at Scadding Cabin.
In 2012, the YPHS received the Ontario Historical Society’s Scadding Award of Excellence , which is bestowed on a historical society or heritage group that has made an outstanding contribution to the field of history.
In 2011, the Heritage Toronto gave its Community Heritage Award to the YPHS. This award is open to a volunteer community-based organization that is currently active and has initiated or completed a significant activity that promotes, protects or preserves cultural or natural heritage in its community.
In 2014, author Chris Raible won an Honorable Mention from Heritage Toronto in the Short Publication Category for his York Pioneer article about an old wooden desk purportedly used by William Lyon Mackenzie.
Operated by a group of enthusiastic volunteers, the YPHS is a focal point for historians, researchers, museum curators and interested individuals wanting to learn more about Toronto and York County’s history.
Since its beginnings almost 150 years ago, the YPHS has made outstanding contributions to the heritage world with its concern for collecting, researching, preserving and conserving collections of artifacts; publishing the rich history of Ontario; supporting fellow historical societies; sharing information from its archival holdings as well as owning and operating important museums.
The YPHS continues to hold regular meetings with a variety of programs at various locations in and around the City of Toronto and the historic County of York. An annual dinner and excursions to communities of historic interest are organized each year.
Hours of Operation of Scadding Cabin
Scadding cabin is open during the Canadian National Exhibition held each year from mid-August to the end of Canada’s Labour Day weekend. The cabin is also open through special arrangements and for community events during the summer months such as Toronto’s Doors Open . In the past the cabin has been open during the Luminato Festival and annual CHIN picnic when these events are held at Exhibition Place.