In the bustling city of Mississauga in 2011, perhaps people can be excused if they do not notice a small collection of old buildings or the little cemeteries that seem to dot our city and appear somewhat out of place given the rapid urban development that the City of Mississauga has undergone. Outside of the larger former villages of Clarkson, Erindale, Malton, Meadowvale Village, Port Credit and Streetsville, there is little visible evidence that the Township of Toronto (now the City of Mississauga) was once made up of a series of smaller villages, hamlets and crossroads communities. Historical character and context is almost lost amidst the small plazas, modern apartment buildings and suburban development; only small bits of Mississauga’s historic roots still show through, giving a partial glimpse into our past. In essence, the story of the “Lost Villages” of Mississauga is a story about coming to terms with constant and relentless transformation, as much as it is a study of social and physical change. But given the nature of this change it is perhaps surprising that so much of our past does survive, although not always in the places or ways we might expect.
But what is a hamlet or village: they are traditionally identified by clusters of structures that are functionally related to the development of the surrounding area: such as a general store, mill, blacksmith shop, school or church, together with houses from non-farming families located in close proximity to a main crossroads. Early hamlets and villages directly serviced the needs of their immediate areas, often provided cradle-to-grave amenities, rooted to settlement lifestyles and activities, and their growth or decline was in direct response to the needs of their immediate area. The hamlets and villages traditionally grew around major crossroads and roadways and at specific intervals.
Historically the Township of Toronto (Toronto Township) was made up of numerous hamlets and villages, many of which no longer have name recognition. The small hamlets and villages often started to grow around a tavern, post office, church or place of business. They gradually developed into trade and industrial centres for the surrounding settlers and small communities began to develop. Mill-sites and harbours attracted the greatest concentration of people and most of these larger pioneer communities – Clarkson, Cooksville, Dixie, Erindale, Lakeview, Meadowvale Village, Malton, Port Credit and Streetsville – remain integral and recognized parts of our city today. However, many of the smaller hamlets and villages were dependent, in one form or another, on local road traffic and the services provided by larger villages.
The coming of the railways in the late 1800s isolated many of the smaller communities and exposed these small hamlets and villages to competition from larger centres of industry and population. The railways also began a general exodus from rural centres to the developing urban cities, and this was combined with the arrival of the automobile and the improvement of roads and communication. These influences meant that many of the smaller crossroads communities lost their importance and most began a decline from which they would never recover.
The story of our “Lost Villages” examines the changing role of the hamlet and village as the landscape emerged from the pioneer settling period into the early years of the 19th Century. As such, their emergence, prosperity, stagnation and decline reflect on the processes and changes in settlement patterns, transportation, communication, changing needs and non-farming growth in Toronto Township, Peel, Ontario and Canada.
The “Lost Villages” reached their peak between 1850 and 1900. By 1915, they had declined and gradually faded into obscurity. These hamlets and villages included Barberton, Britannia, Burnhamthorpe, Derry West, Elmbank, Frogmore, Hanlan, Harris’ Corners, Hawkins’ Corners, Lisgar, Lorne Park, Mount Charles, Palestine, Pucky Huddle, Sheridan and Summerville. Historically Churchville, Fraser’s Corners, Richview and Whaley’s Corners were part of Toronto Township, but their modern locations lie outside of the boundaries of Mississauga. However, Mississauga has also added “new” lost hamlets when the Trafalgar Township/Mississauga border was changed in 1974 and 2010. These crossroads hamlets include Snider’s Corners, McCurdy’s Corners and the “Catholic Swamp.” Some place names were found to exist only in newspapers and local recognition, but did not have any the trappings of a village or hamlet. These include Crozier’s Corners, Maple Hill, Payne’s Corners, Sandusky Corners, and Orangedale, amongst others, and these places were not included in our story and little or no information could be found on them distinguishing them as a village or hamlet.
Many of these villages have left behind sparse memories of their existence upon the modern landscape: a few cemeteries, buildings, an old road, modern street names, or sometimes nothing at all. Most of the “Lost Villages” have also faded from everyday name recognition. Recently, the vestiges of the villages of Cooksville and Dixie have begun to disappear from the modern landscape, retaining only remnants of their pasts and name recognition.
The stories of the “Lost Villages” offered here give a glimpse into each of the villages and hamlets and some of the people who called them home. These stories do not attempt to tell the whole story. That will be left to others, who have shed and will continue to shed light on the stories of Mississauga’s vibrant past. These stories offer a type of introduction to the villages, a synopsis perhaps, of some of the important dates, events and people intricately connected to each of the villages, and help to tell the tale of how each village was established, grew and faded. The research into and collected stories of these villages focus primarily on the time period of initial settlement, circa 1800, to circa 1920, when the villages began to fade and rural post offices had, for most part, ceased to operate.
Modern development, beginning largely post WWII, saw the reshaping of the social and geographical order, as much as it saw the shaping of the physical landscape. The old social order was based upon smaller, relatively isolated settlements and close-knit family groups, and was based largely upon an older system of transportation, economic activity, and communication. The emerging social order of the emerging consolidated city, saw the disappearance of the rural fabric under urban developments, and the complete reorientation of landscape form and social and geographical boundaries: hamlets and villages served the rural and agricultural community, while suburban development supplants and replaces it, and in the process removes the need for the hamlet or village while building upon former farm land.
However, the character and geographic make-up of the modern City of Mississauga is firmly rooted in the historic structure of the hamlets and villages the came before.
It is our hope that these stories of our past will provide a starting point for further in-depth research that will continue to bring to light these “lost” aspects of our shared heritage, and prompt future authors and generations to explore and commemorate our rich and vibrant heritage. We invite everyone to share their stories, memories, information, and especially pictures of the lost villages with us to help remember these important links to our past.
Lastly, it is our hope that these stories will allow you, the reader, to see and appreciate the landscape around you a bit differently the next time you see a collection of old buildings or a small, seemingly out-of-place cemetery. If nothing else, our city is a collection of “layers in time”, each one stacked and imprinted on top of another. Sometimes, if we look hard enough, or with new eyes, we can see the story and collective experience that helped to build the city we call home today.