While walking back from the Saturday Farmers’ Market at the Wychwood Car Barns Park (http://www.torontoartscape.on.ca/places-spaces/artscape-wychwood-barns), a friend and I passed a little sidewalk book sale set out on the lawn at the corner of Bathurst and Davenport. While I was purchasing several Victorian books (“Helpful Nellie,” a collection of Christian uplift tales, was among them – I was drawn to it because of its name, and wanted to see what Helpful Nellie’s version of helpfulness might have been, having often got myself into the merde through possibly misplaced helpfulness), we began talking with the booksellers. They explained that the book sale was in aid of the Tollbooth Cottage Museum, situated right behind them. (See picture: one of the volunteer docents, Catherine Watts, in her period costume, by the porch of the Cottage, which is open every Saturday between 10 and 5.
I had passed this corner numerous times. The Toolbooth Cottage must have been there. But I had never noticed it. So we went in for a tour. The cottage was built in 1835, and miraculously survived until its rediscovery, its relocation (it had been moved) and its restoration. There’s a painting of mid-century that shows it on its present site, with fields all around, Davenport Road – the oldest, longest road in Canada, we were told – going past it, and Bathurst Street reaching down to the shore of Lake Ontario, with the spires of Toronto rising in the distance. The Cottage is lovingly furnished with items the working people living in it would have used, and there’s information available about how it was constructed. The walls contain huge wide boards from the enormous first-growth trees that were still around then. More at: http://www.tollkeeperscottage.ca
As luck would have it, the dedicated Big Boss, Jane Beecroft, was there. She made a point of emphasizing that the Cottage had “the best volunteers in the world – they’ve put in 15,000 hours in restoration alone!” Jane and several others were looking at pictures of a white birch planting ceremony at Mississauga New Credit First Nations, in which the Cottage had participated due to the link between them, and the annual visit of the Nation to the Cottage, every August:
The Mississauga were the First Nation living in the entire area in the 18th century. The Credit River takes its name from them, as they were renowned among the English for their honesty, and for paying what they owed. During the War of 1812 they were first-up in the defense of “Canada,” not yet “Canada,” against the invading Americans, but then they were pushed off the land and shunted about, via forged documents and a bad deal (“The Toronto Purchase,” which included most of the land that is now Toronto) playing a part in their difficulties. They filed successive land claims, and have now been successful – they will vote on whether to accept the proffered Federal settlement in a week’s time. To see the background and the basis of the claim:
There are many places in the world in which land has somehow gone from aboriginal inhabitants or previous owners to incomers or other people, sometimes through violence, sometimes through trickery and forgery. There are also many attempts to reach compensation agreements. Both the procedures, the way the case was built, and the form of the settlement might serve as a useful model for some of these cases. I offer this in the spirit of Helpful Nellie.
My friend and I bought some Maple Sugar Candies, and continued our walk, much pleased by our discovery of this tiny downtown gem and by the hospitable welcome of its guardians.
More: Sacred Feathers, by Donald B. Smith (Jane’s recommendation)
More on other land claims: see Ipperwash, Oka, British Columbia Land Claims: these topics will lead you to others.
YES PLEASE! – and please mail this form to:
Community History Project
c/o Spadina Road Library
10 Spadina Road
Toronto, ON M5R 2S7