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Cooksville

Welcome to Cooksville:

To many people today, the name Cooksville simply refers to the busy intersection of Dundas and Hurontario Street. Perhaps people can be excused if they do not notice the small collection of old buildings that dot the Cooksville landscape as the speed along the busy roadways. Certainly there is little to reflect Cooksville’s historical character and the busy rural life that once centered on this crossroads. Almost hidden amidst the small plazas and modern apartment buildings, bits of Cooksville’s pioneer character still show, giving a glimpse into Cooksville’s past: a past that saw Cooksville first established around 1809, become the centre of an early entrepreneurial empire, home to Canada’s first commercial winery, suffer a devastating fire, and rise from the ashes to become the centre of politics in Toronto Township. In essence, the story of Cooksville is of constant change. It is almost a surprise that, given its location and history of change, so much of Cooksville does survive.

The Early Settlers in Cooksville:

The first settler in the immediate Cooksville area was Daniel Harris who arrived in Upper Canada from the United States in 1800. The community that began to grow around the intersection of Dundas and Hurontario streets came to be called Harrisville, in honour of Daniel Harris. Harris’ immediate neighbours were Philip Cody, Joseph and Jane Silverthorn (of the Cherry Hill House) and Absalom Wilcox and the Walterhouse family.

Harrisville Becomes Cooksville:

Cooksville was renamed for its most prominent pioneer citizen, Jacob Cook. By 1819, Jacob had established his home at the southwest corner. But Jacob was not a farmer; he had loftier ambitions. In 1820 he received the government contract to carry mail once a week between York and Ancaster. At first, he did this single-handedly on horseback. In 1829, he built the first hotel in the village and began a stagecoach service, together with his expanding mail contracts. At its height, the stagecoach and mail routes went to Kingston, Hamilton, Toronto, Queenstown, Niagara, Brantford, Galt, Preston, London, Goderich and throughout Peel and Halton Counties. Cooksville was the centre of his marvelous network. Harrisville was officially renamed Cooksville in 1836, in recognition of Jacob Cook’s success and how his enterprising businesses had helped to establish Cooksville as a prominent crossroads community. Jacob Cook’s legacy is of a captain of industry: Jacob Cook developed and ran a system of mail routes for 28 years.

A Burgeoning Village Community:

Cooksville gained popularity as a “jumping-off-place” for weary travellers going between Niagara and York because of its central location and the confluence of two early and important roads. The village soon became a thriving place that consisted of several stores, multiple hotels, blacksmith shops and a saw mill. Largely because of its location, Cooksville developed into an important hub of activity in the early township. Cooksville continued to grow until 1852 when a fire razed many of the homes and businesses. The community began to rebound in the late 1800s and early 1900s with expanded ventures into winemaking, oil refining and brick making. In 1873 Cooksville was chosen over Streetsville and Derry West as the new site for the Toronto Township Hall.

The Cooksville Fire of 1852:

Like many small villages, a fire changed the fortunes of Cooksville. The fire broke out around 2pm, on Saturday, May 26, 1852 in John Belcher’s Blacksmith Shop and Forge, located on the north side of Dundas Street, a little to the west of Hurontario (on Lot 16). Within little more than two hours, it had consumed almost every structure in the immediate vicinity, including houses, fences, and the wooden sidewalks and pavements.

In all, 35 houses and businesses were lost, most of them with no insurance. The sawmill was saved although the dam was lost. Oddly, according to some reports, one of the buildings to survive was the Walter House, located nearby the blacksmith shop. The Walter House would later become the Revere House. Among the properties destroyed were four stores, two hotels, the post office and postmaster’s house, six private homes and barns. The fire swept through much of old Cooksville, also claiming Jacob Cook’s hotel, stables and store. These buildings were soon replaced. William “Ginger” Harris, who ran a stagecoach line based out of Harris’ Corners, north of Streetsville, where he operated “The Grand” hotel, built a new inn on the Northeast corner in Cooksville and renamed it the Royal Exchange Hotel. Although Jacob did not sell his property to William “Ginger” Harris, Ginger oversaw the management of the hotel. Jacob also had his store rebuilt in short order.

The Future of Cooksville:

By 1877 the village had recovered from the fire and could boast a large-scale carriage and blacksmith trade. About a mile west of the village, near the old brickyard site, Misters Parker and Gordon built a large oil refinery and manufactured gas oil used for making gas. By the turn of the century, James Payne operated a large steam powered sawmill while T.G. Golding and John Galbraith ran the two principal stores. Charles Caldwell (Colwell) built a carriage factory and William Cox ran a bakery, while Lewis Walterhouse, Ed Whaley and Robert Wilson operated blacksmith shops.

Since then, Cooksville has long been regarded as a centre for civic, industrial and commercial interests within Mississauga. Mississauga’s first municipal offices were here, as was the central branch of the Mississauga Library System, and the original offices for both school boards. As a result of Cooksville’s continuing evolution as the centre of the city of Mississauga’s political life, very little of pre-1940 Cooksville remains.

© Mississauga Heritage 2009