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Legends of Leslie Street, Continued: The Wright House (1855)

There are many heritage houses to be found along Leslie Street, especially going up north towards Georgina. One very interesting house is located directly across from the Harrison-Holborn House, which has been designated as a heritage building (you can find more information about that house here). The Wright house, located on 21338 Leslie Street, is equally old but has not been officially designated as a heritage building. Two notable settler families lived in this area of East Gwillimbury: first, the Belfry family, and later, the Wrights.


The first person who lived in this house was named Oran (sometimes spelled Orrin) Belfry. He was the fifth of fourteen children of Jacob and Joanna Belfry.[1] His father’s family emigrated to Newfoundland from France. After attending seminary school for ten years and realizing it was not the profession he wanted to pursue, he moved to Brockville in Ontario to become a businessman and subsequently married a local girl named Joanna Sherman; she was originally from Hampshire County, Massachusetts. They moved around quite a bit over the years, going to Elizabethtown, Port Hope, Saint Catharines, Markham, and finally settled in East Gwillmbury around 1821.


Oran Belfry was born in 1799 in Brockville, Ontario. His childhood was likely chaotic from all the moves to various places around Ontario. Oran Belfry married Catherine Moore (b. 1803) in 1821, the same year the family relocated to East Gwillimbury. They had four children together: Chloe (1837 – 1860), Thirza (1833 – 1860), Peter B. Belfry (1836 – 1903), and Clarissa (1840 – 1917).

Eventually, he became a successful and well-to-do farmer. At some point before 1850, he purchased 100 acres of land on Concession 2, Lot 25 in East Gwillimbury. An agricultural survey in 1851 showed that of the 100 acres of land, 38 acres are under cultivation, 27 ½ acres are for crops, and half an acre is given over for gardens and orchards. 67 acres are under wood or wild, so they have not yet been turned over to farmland. He has 14 acres of wheat, producing 150 bushels. At this point, they are presumably living in a temporary shelter (such as a log cabin) on their property.



Figure 1: A detail from the 1860 Tremaine's Map of the County of York, showing Oran Belfry's plot of land on Concession 2, Lot 25.


In 1855, a more permanent structure was built. This is a rectangular-story house with a cross-gable roof and three bays on the upper part of the house. There is a veranda across the front portion of the house, which allows for good views of Leslie Street from the house. In the 1861 Census, the Belfry family shows up again. Oran Belfry, (age 61) and Catherine Belfry (age 54) are recorded as living in a 2-story frame house, with two families living there in total. He is likely living with his son Peter B. Belfry, who is married to Elisabeth Belfry, and they have a child, Robert Belfry (who is 3 years of age).


The family shows up again once again in the 1871 census. Interestingly, the census now records ethnicity, where Oran Belfry is now listed as “French” and Catherine Belfry being labeled “Dutch”. Peter Belfry (now 34) is listed as also being of French origin, and his wife Elizabeth is of English heritage. Robert is now 13 years of age. Two additional children are listed: Mary (age 8) and Amy (age 6).


Peter Belfry seems to have been active in the community, as he was a trustee of the East Gwillimbury agricultural society in 1855. He is also mentioned in Gladys Rolling’s “East Gwillimbury in the 19th Century”, as a devout financial supporter of a Christian church located on the east half of lot 26, concession 3.[2] Peter Belfry was also a trustee of S.S. no. 2 (The Hillside School), from about 1875 – 1877.


Oran Belfry died on April 28th, 1876, and the house was bequeathed to his son Peter Belfry. Eventually, though, it was noted in the Newmarket Era newspaper on December 1st, 1899, that “Mr. & Mrs. Peter Belfry have left the farm and are living with Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Wright on Second Street.”[3] Some years later, Peter Belfry dies in 1903 due to stomach cancer, with an estate “valued at $7000 to be used by his widow during the balance of her lifetime and then to be divided between his family.”[4]


William James Wright is the son-in-law of Peter Belfry, who presumably married one of Peter’s daughters. Soon after Peter’s death, the Newmarket Era reported that “Mr. W. J. Wright has purchased the Peter Belfry homestead and is making very noticeable improvements.”[5] After that, the trail goes cold, in terms of who the owner of the house becomes, whether it stays in the family or is sold to a different one.



Figure 2: Frontal view of the house, located at 21338 Leslie Street. Photo from Google Street View.


Do you know who might have lived in the house during the 20th century? Please let us know in the comments below if you do!

[1] If you wish to learn more about the Belfry family, go here: http://belfryfamilyhistory.ca/JBBook.html. [2] Rolling, Gladys (1967). East Gwillimbury in the 19th century: A Centennial History of the Township of East Gwillimbury. Toronto: Ryerson Press. Page 126. [3] https://news.ourontario.ca/newmarket/2412327/page/1227616?q=Peter+Belfry [4] https://news.ourontario.ca/newmarket/2425138/page/1241393?q=Peter+Belfry [5] https://news.ourontario.ca/newmarket/2425117/page/1241221?q=Peter+Belfry

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