HUMBER GROVE - Paradise Lost
( A GHOST TOWN )
By Jerry Gorman 2016
Revised February 2018
The First One Hundred Years
Humber Grove as we know it, was the 100 acre tract of untamed wilderness awarded to John Shore in 1835 for service to the Crown. Described as Lot 12 Concession 5 E ½ in the Township of Albion, and bisected by both the Humber River and Duffy's Lane, it is highlighted in red on this 1859 Tremaine map. Twenty years later the new owner was George Elliott, and the farmstead remained in the Elliott family for the next 74 years. The Bertram Realty Company bought the entire property from the Elliott's for $3550 in 1929 and they called it Humber Grove, intending to develop it as a summer cottage community.
Local Pioneers: Albert Finch, who was the earliest settler in the area, purchased his homestead immediately west of what eventually became Humber Grove, in 1824. That was only two years after George Bolton established his grist mill in Bolton Mills. This 1859 map is the earliest survey to identify pioneer farm owners in Albion and it shows that Finch had already sold his land as two 50 acre parcels, to William Copeland and Thomas Nattress. Eliza Duffy purchased the 100 acre lot to the south in 1833 and subsequently deeded it to her two sons James and Robert. Major George Evans was another settler favoured by the crown, who claimed his 200 acre grant the same year as his neighbour John Shore.
Bertram Realty Company
The decision by Bertram Realty to purchase the Elliott property in 1929 was not idle speculation. It was by then fashionable for families wanting to get away from Toronto during the summer to buy cottage properties along the picturesque Humber River. In 1925 the Greenspoon brothers had purchased the Glasgow settlement area just 5.5 winding kilometres downriver, and developed it into a popular summer camp for members of the Toronto Jewish community. The attraction of the rustic river valley retreat at Humber Grove is evident from the significant increase in buildings between 1909 and 1960, as illustrated on these Department of National Defence topographic maps.
Town Lots And Woodland Trails
Bertram Realty had the Elliott property subdivided into 73 town lots in 5 distinct geographic blocks labelled A to E. With amazing skill the surveyor organized the property so that each cottage had river frontage and access by roads with quaint names like Maple Trail, Elm Trail, Humber Trail, Indian Trail and Cedar Trail. Over the next 33 years the Humber Grove community developed into a popular summer place. Tucked away in a peaceful valley surrounded by densely wooded hills, it had something for everyone, an untamed river flowing through each back yard, swimming holes popular with local youth and leafy glades offering shady seclusion for cottagers and their guests.
By 1954 tree lined laneways and mature strip like cottage properties along Duffy's Lane were visible.
Paradise On The Humber
This 1936 post card of Humber Grove, like a classical landscape portrait, draws the viewers eye into a serene meadow surrounded by densely wooded parkland. The tract that was cleared for grazing by the Elliott's almost a century earlier, now features a simple cottage framed in pastoral tranquility, an idyllic get away for city folks. This cottage was among the first to be built in Humber Grove. It is situated at the very edge of a steep wooded bluff on Lot 16E, which was purchased by Henry and Lillian Bertram in the same year the photo was taken. Easily overlooked, is the cluster of smaller buildings in the middle ground, screened behind several trees along the river. These structures occupy Lots 5 & 6 E purchased by William and Deborah Rice in 1935. They drove out from Toronto each summer with their six children to enjoy cottage life on the banks of the Humber River. Lois Ewart grew up on her family farm situated one concession lot east of Humber Grove, and lived in the frame two storey house still standing at 14328 Hwy 50. She met the Rice's son Maxwell at the Casino Dancehall in Bolton, and they later married. Although Lois never lived at Humber Grove, she recalls Max reminiscing about the good times at the swimming hole and exploring the wooded hills while growing up here with his cousins. This view of early Humber Grove was photographed looking east from Cedar Trail. The Bertram and Rice properties can be located using the legend on the map following map, under "Lots of Interest."
Lots Of Interest
The Bertram Realty Company sold its first cottage Lots 10 & 11 in Block E to David Turner in the fall of 1933, for a total of $885.00. In 1936, Henry and Lillian Bertram purchased Lot 16E for $495 and Robert Bertram bought adjoining Lots 14 & 15 E for $592. Between 1933 and 1948 the company sold 40 more lots priced from $296 and $590. After 1948 and until 1962, virtually all land transactions were resales by the owners. Many lots were further subdivided with prices rising from $400 to as much as $4000. The higher prices represented improved properties which included a residence. The Rice property at combined Lots 5 & 6 E enjoyed a 340 percent price increase between 1935 and 1954. The Humber Grove cottages were all bungalows; most were constructed in frame, some with aluminum siding but only a few in brick. There were even several log cabins. By the 1950's many cottages were winterized and converted into year around residences. Door to door services like fresh produce and dairy products from local farmers, and fuel oil delivery were regularly available.
Lots of interest and moved houses are identified in yellow
After The Hurricane
The Humber Grove community experienced no serious damage from the flood waters that coursed through the river valley during Hurricane Hazel in 1954. However with the creation of the Metro Toronto & Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA) by the province of Ontario in 1957, later known as the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), plans were set in motion that would impact every resident. Their strategy called for a flood control dam several kilometres downriver at Glasgow. Should any significant flood event occur, the sinewy Humber River flood plain would become the natural reservoir, extending 17 kilometres above the Glasgow dam. To accommodate such a flood, the bridge across the river at Humber Grove would have to be removed and Duffy's Lane rerouted. The cottage community was in the path of progress and in September 1962 the Conservation Authority began acquisition of all properties. By 1965 the remaining owners had been expropriated and all structures removed. In the years to follow however, other alternatives for flood control were developed. The Glasgow dam was never built nor was the bridge removed.
The area shaded in blue shows how the river valley would function as a flood control reservoir after a catastrophic rain event. The adjacent valley slopes are shown in green and the table land above in yellow.
Homes were expropriated at "fair market value" and owners given a reasonable period of time to move them. Most buildings were demolished but some were sold for a token fee and relocated by the enterprising new owners. A number of places were purchased in this manner and several were trucked to Bolton. Maurice and Helen Villeneuve's 8 year old aluminum clad cottage was moved from Lot 20D in 1963, to be incorporated into the red brick bungalow at 117 James Street in Bolton. The Villeneuve family took up residence in a new home on Stephen Drive in Bolton from which Maurice continued to operate his aluminum siding business for many years. Len Taylor bought his property in Humber Grove in 1957, purchasing Lot 19D which included a modern brick bungalow built only a few years earlier. His house was sold in 1965 for re location to 33 Jane Street. Helen Rose Bryant purchased Lot 7D from Bertram Realty in 1947. The Bryant's cedar shake clad cottage was moved to 250 Centennial Drive in 1965. Like the Villeneuve house, it was enlarged by positioning the modest bungalow above a substantial first floor foundation. The original location for each of these moved houses, shown below at their new Bolton addresses, are identified on a previous map under "Lots of Interest."
School Rebellion: Humber Grove was not always tranquil. In 1958 local parents objected to their children having to walk 3 miles to school in Bolton and demanded bus service. When the school trustees refused, the parents decided to start their own school. They made classrooms in home basements and appointed several mothers as teachers. In 1960 Humber Grove students finally got a one room school, a used portable class room transferred from Albert Street in Bolton. It was relocate to Duffy's Lane, two lots north of King Street. Three years later, a modern brick building named Macville Public School was built further west on King Street to service all students throughout the area. The Humber Grove school portable was purchased by Macville farmer Leonard Verner for $3600 and relocated.
Famous Canadian Artist: To quote an article in the Days of Yore column from the 1963 Bolton Enterprise, "A well known resident of Humber Grove, Irene Grant, the wife of Dan Ibbitson, and recently deceased Lew Grant has died. She had been a resident for the past 35 years. She was a renowned water-colour painter and her floral paintings on glass adorned hundreds of Canadian (as well as local) homes." Irene Ibbitson was listed as the owner of the frame house and a garage on Lot D13 in the list of structures still standing when the property was assessed by the TRCA in 1962.
Humber Grove Property Owners 1929 - 1965
Bridging The Humber
The River at Humber Grove has been bridged 3 times in the past 100 years. The concrete abutment from the early one lane "steel truss" bridge built between 1910 and 1920, can be seen on the far side of the river in this photograph. It was replaced in 1985 by the 2 lane bridge visible just below the massive new span in the background. The 1985 bridge was repurposed as the key link in the trail system that now radiates from the parking lot on the north side of the bridge. The new overpass is the longest bridge in the Region of Peel. Construction was greatly complicated by difficulties in finding stable footings to underpin the supporting piers. Over 13 km of steel piles had to be driven deep into the subsoil before the foundation could reliably hold up the bridge. The longest single pile was driven to a depth of 75m. The Bolton bypass was proposed as early as 1937 but serious provincial funding was not made available until MPP Ernie Eves successful campaign to represent the riding at Queens Park in 2002. It was not until 2013 that construction of the Bolton Arterial Bypass north of King Street was begun. The B.A.R. opened for traffic in August 2015 as the " Emil Kolb Parkway."
This photograph was taken in January 2015 during construction, looking north from what was once Cedar Trail.
From Paradise To Parkway
Nearly a century after Bertram's quiet Humber Grove cottage community was established, much of it has been paved over by a wide swath of progress slashed through it to accommodate the needs of our modern, fast moving society. That his isolated homestead in the rugged wilderness of Albion Township would one day be accessible by a multi lane Parkway would have been inconceivable for John Shore to imagine in 1835. Hints of the former Maple and Elm Trails, cottage laneways and clearings from the expropriated community that once thrived here are still visible as scars in the regenerating forest. Meanwhile, the meandering Humber River endures, embracing the remnants of an earlier, slower time.
2015 Google Earth image of the Emil Kolb Parkway during construction. Note the winding black top Multi Use cycling lane, crossing the repurposed earlier Humber River bridge. This cycling route is now a component of the Regional Parkway and takes cyclist into Bolton.
The Humber Valley Heritage Trail
Six and a half kilometres of the Humber Valley Heritage Trail between the Glasgow trail head in Bolton and the Castlederg Side Road to the north was closed to hikers between 2013 and 2015 due to construction of the Parkway. When the main trail ( in blue on the satellite photomap) reopened in 2016, it incorporated a portion of Humber Groves' long abandoned Maple Trail and more recent Duffy's Lane (in red) to remake the reconnection. The section between Humber Grove and Glasgow to the south ( in blue) was designated by the TRCA for upgrading to multi use standards. The remainder of the original trail north of the Humber Grove parking lot is dedicated to pedestrian use only. The parking lot now serves 3 distinct types of trail users; pedestrian hikers, multiuse / mountain bikers, and Regional Road commuter cyclists. The dedicated commuter cyclist route can be seen on the previous aerial photo. Trail information kiosks at this major trail head illustrate the local area fauna, flora and history of the area. Maps identifying the different types of trails and their routes are an important service to the many trail users.
Humber Grove Versus Humber Glen
The Canadian Government DND topographic survey map shown here was published in 1960, and erroneously located "Humber Grove" near the Castlederg Side Road where it bridges the Humber River. This location is approximately 2 kilometres north of Bertram's Humber Grove on Duffy's Lane. The error was clarified in a 1965 Bolton Enterprise article which explained that the community on Duffy's Lane was Humber Grove and the small settlement on Castlederg S.R. was Humber Glen. The Town of Caledon confirmed this location in 1985, with a bronze plaque commemorating the new "Humber Grove Bridge" located where Duffy's Lane crossed the Humber.
Humber Glen was the site of a United Church summer camp which even some children from Bolton attended. It consisted of small cluster of cabins and a larger dining/recreation hall on the south side of the river. A simple dam was constructed across the Humber to create a swimming area with a depth of about 4 feet. There were also several family cottages near the creek in this area. The 1960 DND topographic map above, is now the only evidence that Humber Glen once existed. All of the buildings were removed after expropriation by the MTRCA, in its campaign to secure the floodplain as part of its watershed management mandate. Later, when the bridge over the Humber was replaced and the road reconstructed, evidence of these buildings was obliterated. A corner foundation support for one building can still be found not far from the Humber Valley Heritage Trail, in the grassy meadow north east of the bridge. A cottage clearing is visible south west of the bridge, a short distance from the cars parked at the HVHTA pedestrian trail entrance. Curious hikers might want to explore the Humber Glen site for archaeological evidence, and consider it as a 4th "Ghost Town" along the Humber Valley Heritage Trail.
The Duff's Lane Story
Humber Grove and a significant portion of the Duffy Farm to the south are located within the red boxes in this satellite photo. The 6th Line road makes an "S" turn here. To continue along the original survey line would have required 5 bridges across the Humber River between Humber Grove and King Street. The pioneer's solution to this problem was to using the Duffy's farm laneway as the road. Referred to as a "forced road," this was quite legal. The heritage designated Duffy home and barn buildings are clearly visible in the aerial photo below, as a cluster of buildings on the right side of the road.
Several "forced roads" evident in the Bolton area, were built to divert from the deeply entrenched banks of the Humber River valley. One need only trace the diversions taken by King and Queen Streets through Bolton. With the creation of the Town of Caledon in 1974, Duffy's Lane became the official name for the 6th Line north of King Street. South of King it was named Coleraine Drive.
The Duffy Homestead
Eliza Duffy was an imposing matriarch who established the Duffy family name in Albion. She was an active member of the Wesleyan Society of Albion Methodists and had been a street missionary in Ireland before emigrating to Canada. She died in 1872 at the age of 81. While son James continued the family tradition, Robert sold his acreage. The farm remained in the Duffy family for 142 years, with James son George inheriting the farm then passed it on to his son Walker. Walker, who was born in 1902, had no children and was the last member of the Duffy family to work the farm. He and his wife retired to Bolton where he was reported to be residing in 1995. The Duffy barn and original pioneer log home are now designated heritage buildings, still standing as two distinctive structures on the east side of the Emil Kolb Parkway.