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Burnhamthorpe (Sand Hill)
By Nicole Mair

Today Burnhamthorpe Road is a busy route of transportation, but how many people who use the road today know that it was named for a village that existed in Mississauga over 100 years ago? The hamlet of Burnhamthorpe was originally named “Sand Hill” or “Sandy Hill”, but the name was changed when confusion arose due to another nearby village with a similar name. It was renamed by John Abelson, who had come from Burnham Thorpe, England, in honour of the birthplace of Lord Nelson. Burnhamthorpe translates roughly as “Stone Hearth”. An early atlas of Peel, published in 1877, places the hamlet of Burnhamthorpe at twelve miles from Brampton and fourteen miles from Toronto.

The first store and post office in Burnhamthorpe were originally located in a series of buildings, which from 1840 to 1876 included a Sons of Temperance Hall, where church services were held, and an Orange Lodge. In 1876 James Curry purchased the buildings. He turned the hall into living quarters for his family, with a store in the front as well as a post office. Another of the larger buildings he turned into a mill. Then in 1893 Curry rented out the store and mill to Fred Gill for five dollars a month. 

Fred Gill moved from England to Burnhamthorpe at age 13, a time when the hamlet was made up of only eight houses, and a small store and school. He worked weekends for neighbouring farmers until he left school at age 14. At that time he took a job at the village store helping the owner, James Curry. In 1892 Fred Gill married Ann Copeland of Honeywood, and became a rural mail carrier for Burnhamthorpe, sometimes delivering mail from Dixie to Cooksville as well. In 1893 he took over ownership of the store where he had worked with James Curry. In 1898 James Curry moved back into the buildings, returning them to a residential state.

Robert Stanfield bought the post office, store and stone steam grist mill from Curry in 1913. He turned the grist mill into a dance hall, where Saturday night dances were held. They became quite well known and members from other nearby villages, such as Dixie and Summerville, would attend. When the mill was destroyed by the hamlet’s biggest fire in 1927 a school bought the stones from the mill for a building and a well.

Fred Gill also operated the second store and post office in Burnhamthorpe. In 1897 Gill moved into Joe Stanfield’s new, modern brick house, which he rented from Stanfield at a rate of ten dollars per month. The front of the house was used as the store and post office. After 1912, the house was used only as a residence. In 1912 Fred Gill bought two houses on a corner property, at the southeast corner of Burnhamthorpe Road and Dixie Road, and built a new store - Burnhamthorpe’s third store and post office. From 1925 to 1973 the store was known as Gill’s Groceteria and was run by Fred’s son, George Gill, and his wife Annie. The building was later modernized, and although much altered, it was used for a time as the Aurora Meat & Cheese market. Today none of the original building remains.

Another noteworthy resident was George Savage who arrived in Canada in 1830 from Yorkshire, and later came to be Burnhamthorpe’s local village blacksmith. He was on the town council and was noted as being very active in politics. He acted as postmaster for many years, and was also a member of the Orange Lodge. Savage kept bees, and it is said that many people used to come and see “George’s bees”. His son, James G. Savage, was also a blacksmith who made farming tools, as well as a postal carrier.

Dr. Moses Henry Aikins of Burnhamthorpe was son of James Aikins, who had settled in the area around 1820, originally hailing from Ireland. Dr. Aikins, born in 1832, was a rural family physician that opened consulting rooms in his native village of Burnhamthorpe, and practiced actively for almost sixty years. He lectured in anatomy at the Toronto School of Medicine for twenty-five years, and was an associate professor in the faculty until 1892. According to Perkins Bull, “calls for (Dr. Aikins’) services did not go unheeded” regardless of any inconvenience to himself, as well, “many of his patients who were in poor circumstances never received bills.” He made his own medicines and was very traditional, believing that a doctor should not use a telephone or automobile. He practiced up until 1915; six years before his passing at age ninety. 

Among the many other prominent members of Burnhamthorpe were Dick Stanfield and Joseph Copeland. Dick Stanfield was the butcher in Burnhamthorpe, though he had no permanent establishment dedicated to his trade, he just slaughtered and delivered as ordered. Later he also ran an ice cream shop in the hamlet of Summerville. Joseph Copeland was born in Burnhamthorpe in 1857, and his father, Robert Copeland, was also born there. His family was one of the first pioneers of Burnhamthorpe, his grandfather having settled in the village in 1818. Joseph Copeland married at age twenty-four and was a farmer until around age forty-four.

The Burnhamthorpe cemetery was established on a Crown Grant belonging to Abram Markle. Markle then sold the land to Levi Lewis in 1811. On February 4, 1825 nine tenths of an acre of the original grant was deeded over to a group of trustees to be used for a Methodist Episcopal Church, public cemetery and schoolhouse. The trustees were John Austin, John Hawkins, James Eakens (likely Aikins), W. Carroll, R. Rutledge, G. Shunk and Abram Markel. The cemetery was kept public until 1859, when it was deeded over to the trustees of the Primitive Methodist Church: William T. Shaver and wife Mariata Shaver, George Savage, Joseph Siddall, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Carr and Robert Curry – all of whom were early settlers to the area. In 1874 a new church was built on the northwest corner, replacing the Methodist chapel, and another deed was drawn signing the cemetery over to it. This third church, known originally as the Burnhamthorpe Methodist Church, and after 1925 as the Burnhamthorpe United Church, served the community until it closed in 1978. This historic building is home today to the St. Apostle Andrew Romanian Orthodox Church, and remains one of the more visible reminders of the hamlet of Burnhamthorpe.

Between 1845 and 1965 Burnhamthorpe had four schools; all dubbed Burnhamthorpe S.S. #8. The first was a log house, built in 1845 and existed until approximately 1854, when a second school was built. The second school was moved in 1883 and became a residence. The third, Burnhamthorpe S.S. #8, was built in 1883 and was a brick one-room schoolhouse. It was torn down in 1928, presumably to make room for a school with a larger capacity. The fourth school, in use from 1928 to 1965, was a two room schoolhouse, which had rooms added to it as needed. The present Burnhamthorpe library stands in their place.

The only lasting farm complex of old Burnhamthorpe, surviving from the nineteenth century is the Moore-Stanfield house. It was built in 1882, and is located at the corner of Burnhamthorpe Road and Hickory Drive. Samuel Moore Jr. built the house on his 200-acre property, which was priced at $2,700 in 1854, although it has been recorded that he probably never actually lived there, using it just for hunting. Sometime later he sold part of the 200 acres, along with the house, to his sister and her husband Joesph Stanfield.

Another house that survived is Applewood, or the Woodsworth-Shaver house. It was originally located at the northwest corner of Burnhamthorpe Road and Highway 427. It was relocated on September 25, 1980 to Broadacres Park, in Etobicoke.

By 1876 Burnhamthorpe’s population had reached its peak of around 100 residents, with a blacksmith shop, carriage shop, shoemaker and general store all located there. The hamlet began its decline with the addition of a railway and paved roads, making travel easier, and trips shorter. Despite this the name Burnhamthorpe is still a very commonly known name, even if its origins are not so well known.

One of the most visible reminders of Burnhamthorpe is the pioneer cemetery, known as the Burnhamthorpe Primitive Methodist Cemetery, located at the southwest corner of Burnhamthorpe and Dixie Roads. Many members of the early hamlet are buried there, including members of the Carr, Copeland, Curry, Jefferson, Markle, Moore, Savage, Siddall, Stanfield, and Tolman families, amongst many others.

© Mississauga Heritage 2009