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By Matthew Wilkinson

Upon hearing the name “Summerville” today, how many would conjure up an image of a pleasant, quiet, idyllic or utopian rural village? It is something of a romantic name. Few of us, however, might connect this historic name to its modern location in Mississauga. Summerville truly is a lost village, with very little evidence left behind to remind us of its existence.

The small village of Summerville, originally called Silverthorn’s, Silverthorn’s Mill or Mill Place, was situated where Dundas Street crosses the Etobicoke Creek, on both sides of what is the modern border of Mississauga and Etobicoke. The first settlers in the vicinity began to arrive prior to 1810, and among them were the loyalist families of Markle, Robinett, Silverthorn and Wilcox. Abraham Markle is believed to have started a small sawmill on the creek, south of Dundas, in 1810. 

The little community soon developed into a bustling business centre, based largely on the enterprises of John Silverthorn. He had opened a blacksmith shop by 1816, and in the 1820s established a grist and saw mill on the Etobicoke Creek, just north of Dundas Street on the east side of the creek. John also cleared a given road that connected his mills with Dundas Street and with Burnhamthorpe Road, thus allowing local farmers easier access to his enterprise and to the burgeoning village. John Silverthorn’s son Aaron succeeded his father in operating the mills. Still later, after the mills had ceased operation, Aaron’s son Newman bought a large farm on the south side of Dundas, naming it Mill Farm in honour of his forbearer’s endeavours.

Newman’s son Gideon built a small steam sawmill in 1917, but this operated only briefly, falling silent in 1924. The Silverthorn family is widely known in the annals of Toronto Township and Etobicoke history, especially in regards to the Cherry Hill House in Dixie, established by John’s brother Joseph, and with milling interests in Meadowvale. The little community was officially named Summerville when the Post Office opened on July 6, 1851. It is an Irish name of unknown origin. The first postmaster was James Telfer, followed by William Ward, William O’Brien, Patrick McLaughlin and Angus Michie, amongst others.

In 1818, Thomas Silverthorn opened an inn on the northeast corner of what is today Southcreek Road and Dundas Street. This inn was later renamed the Wayside Inn and then the Summerville Hotel. The other hotel, directly east of the first inn, was a more substantial building built of brick, and was called the Stone Tavern, amongst other names. It was run at first by William O’Brien. Despite lacking a license to sell alcohol, O’Brien’s Inn was a thriving coach stop. Proprietorship of the inn later fell to Andrew Patterson followed by Mr. Browner. Across the street, on the south side of Dundas, was a carriage factory operated by Robert Dorsey, followed by James Sabison. Beside that was a cooper shop and chair factory operated by Harry Umbleby and later by Mr. Downey. By the mid-1850s, Summerville boasted two blacksmith shops, the Silverthorn grist and saw mill, two taverns, two nearby schools, a Methodist Church, a carriage works, a general store and a population of about 100.

In 1867, just west of the creek and north of Dundas, the community added a substantial blacksmith shop; Contracted by Isaac Wilcox, it was built by Mr. Vokes, a master stonemason. In 1907, Robert Parton bought the blacksmith shop and operated it until 1958, when its anvils were silenced. It was one of the last operational commercial smithies in the Township. The smithy was the last readily visible vestige of Summerville prior to being dismantled in 1979.

The first real blow to prosperity came in the mid-1860s when the rapidly decreasing water levels in the Etobicoke Creek forced the mills to close. For a time, William Ward and J.T. Smith tried to revive the mills, but this endeavour did not prove successful. The mill was torn down, and its stone used in other building projects. This started a period of slow and relentless decline. The arrival of the Credit Valley Railway in 1879 did little to revive growth, and the paving of Dundas Street in 1917 meant that travellers no longer had to stop at Summerville, and both business and people began to drift to the larger, nearby urban centres. Finally, suburbia appeared on the horizon, rapidly overtaking the village site until all traces had been erased … or were they? 

Vestiges of the famous Silverthorn Bush remain, south of Burnhamthorpe and east of the creek. Mill Road (in Etobicoke) and Southcreek Road follow the given road laid down by John Silverthorn in the 1820s to aid farmers in bringing business to his mills. A nearby road bears the name “Summerville Court.” A collegiate school in Etobicoke, built on the original Silverthorn farm, was named in honour of the influential family. We can look at the family names from the historic maps in an effort to jog a collective memory and lend a human face to this vanished village – names like Alderson, Brown, Clarkson, Falconer, Markle, Pallett, Shaver, Robinett, Shunk, Silverthorn, and Wilcox, amongst many others.

© Mississauga Heritage 2009