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Farming in East Gwillimbury: An Historical Perspective

In recognition of Earth Day, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on everything that farmers do for our communities. Without farmers, we would not have good food to eat or beautiful, rural vistas to gaze at as we drive through the countryside. With that in mind, today’s local history snippet will highlight three of the many farms that formed the backbone of East Gwillimbury in its early years of settlement and into the present day. These farms no longer exist, but it is important to recall that at one time, most of East Gwillimbury was made up of farmers and the land that they worked to support their families and their community at large.

First, we will look at the Selby Farm. This farm was given to Colonel Thomas Selby as a Crown grant. Selby came from Queens County in Ireland, where he had served in the British Army before coming to Canada. Thomas Selby was a captain with the Third Regiment during the War of 1812 and saw action with the York Rangers. It was his conduct as a military officer that awarded him his rank of colonel, and he was given a crown grant in 1812 on Lots 12 and 13, Concession 2 in East Gwillimbury. The grant was given to him in recognition of his actions of withholding an attack of First Nations troops on Fort York. He was the one who gave Queen Street (now called Leslie Street) its name. As you can see from the 1860 York County map, his property was quite extensive; it bordered on another farm that we will turn our attention to next.

Figure 1: Close up view of the 1860 Tremayne map, showing the location of Thomas Selby's property.

Now, we will show off the Weddel Farm. The Weddel family settled on the east half of Lot 14, concession 2. Members of this family were United Empire Loyalists, so John Weddel moved his family away from Pennsylvania and took them to Upper Canada. They were granted land in 1808 as a gift from the Crown, and John built a one-room wooden log house with 4-inch planks, standing upright and forming the walls. At the time Gladys Rolling wrote her book “East Gwillimbury in the 19th Century”, there were six generations of Weddel family members who had grown up on that farm.

Figure 2: Aerial view of the Weddel Farm, c. 1968. Photo from Gladys Rolling's "East Gwillimbury in the 19th Century".

Last, we will showcase the Kelly farm. This farm was purchased by Daniel Kelly from T.B. Wakefield in 1866. He had moved his family from Elmira Township in Ontario to live in East Gwillimbury, presumably to be closer to the grain markets in Toronto. The cost to purchase the farm was $6,860, which was apparently a high price at the time “as it was during the Crimean War” (Rolling, 1968, 170). The original mortgage agreement for the farm was between $800 and $900 annually (which was a lot of money in the 1860's and onward). However, the Weddel family seemed to have no trouble paying off their mortgage agreement after many years.

Figure 3: Aerial view of the Kelly Farm, c. 1968. Photo from "East Gwillimbury in the 19th century", by Gladys Rolling.

We hope you enjoyed reading about this brief historical survey of farms that used to exist in the area. Please take a moment and thank a farmer for all the essential work they are doing to keep us fed during this unprecedented time!

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