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Clarkson

Welcome to Clarkson:

Driving into Clarkson today, newcomers might wonder at the “Welcome” signs that greet them. Certainly, to the average passer-by, following Lakeshore Road or Southdown Road, there might be little to remind them visually of the village’s rich historical roots. There was a time, not so long ago, that Clarkson was a rural village within the Township of Toronto (now the City of Mississauga). Settlement first began in this area in 1807, shortly after the first survey was completed.

The Founding of Clarkson Village:

Among the first settlers were the Bradley, Clarkson, Gable, Greeniaus, Hammond, Hendershott, Jarvis, Marlatt, Merigold, Monger, Oliphant, Shook and Thompson families, amongst others. Many of them were United Empire Loyalists. The first land patent was given to Henry Gable on December 19th, 1807. The area became referred to as “Merigold’s Point”, after the prominent Merigold family who arrived in 1808. However, over time, the developing community unofficially became known as “Clarkson’s Corners” after early settler Warren Clarkson. In 1850, the road allotment which bordered Warren Clarkson’s property was officially recognized as Clarkson Road.

In 1855, the Great Western Railway arrived. A train station was on part of Warren Clarkson’s property and given the name of “Clarkson’s”. The Clarkson family also operated the Post Office and General Store, located North of the railway tracks on Clarkson Road. The name of the station, and through it the surrounding area, was later shortened to “Clarkson”. Although the community never incorporated as an independent village, in its heyday Clarkson was recognized as the “Strawberry Capital of Ontario”.

Warren Clarkson’s home still stands in present-day Clarkson and is one of the oldest structures in Toronto Township. Officially known as the Clarkson-Barnett House, today it is a private family home. Warren Clarkson was born in Albany, New York in 1793. In 1808, he travelled to York (modern-day Toronto). While there, he met Thomas Merigold who had received a land grant in Toronto Township, and convinced Warren to settle with him here. In 1816, Warren married Susannah Shook. On February 2, 1819, Warren purchased parts of Lots 29 and 30, amounting to just over 120 acres. It is presumed that Warren began building this house soon after the purchase. Around 1825 Warren built a larger house fifteen feet east of his original home to accommodate a growing family. According to local tradition, the original home and the newer section were connected by a “spinning room” in 1858, creating the layout of the home that we see today. In 1936, Major John and Blanche Barnett purchased the home from the Clarkson family. Under the Barnett’s care, the old home was repaired. In 1980, Barnett descendants sold the remaining seventeen acres of land. The house remains on its original site, facing Clarkson Road, although a modern subdivision has developed around it.

Did you know Clarkson was once home to famous Canadian author Mazo de la Roche?

From 1924 to 1928, author Mazo de la Roche was a summer neighbour of the Harrises of Benares, living nearby in “Trail Cottage”. It was there that she wrote her award-winning, best-selling novel Jalna, the first of 16 novels about the fictional Whiteoaks family. Her books have sold over 10 million copies in more than 100 languages. In 2008 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada honoured Mazo de la Roche by unveiling a plaque at Benares, where her good friends the Harris family lived.  Some believe that Benares may have been the inspiration for her fictional Jalna, although it was more likely a product of her own vivid imagination and the places and people she’d known throughout her life.

The Benares Historic House, a Georgian Revival-style house built in 1857, is one of the few remaining upper-middle class homes from nineteenth century Clarkson. Construction was begun by Edgar Neave, who then sold the extensive property and unfinished house to Captain James and Elizabeth Harris in 1836. The house was named “Benares” in tribute to the holy Hindu city; both Neave and Harris had served with the British Military in India. Benares suffered a fire in 1855, and only the original summer kitchen at the back of the house survived. The present house was constructed by Robert Leslie, Charles Dingwall and William Heron of Streetsville in 1857. Captain Harris’ youngest son, Arthur, married Mary Magrath, the grand-daughter of Reverend James Magrath of Erindale. Benares, the remaining original outbuildings, and most of its contents were donated by the three great-grandchildren of Captain Harris – Geoffrey Harris Sayers, Dora Sayers Caro and Barbara Sayers Larson – to the Ontario Heritage Foundation in 1968. Restored to reflect the World War One era, Benares is owned and operated by the City of Mississauga, www.museumsofmississauga.com.

Clarkson’s Natural Heritage:

Located in the Clarkson area is the Rattray Marsh, a significant and protected natural conservation area. Originally designated as a Masting Lot because of its majestic white pines, the land provided masts to the British Navy. Known at one point as the Oliphant Swamp, after the property owners, other early settling families on the property included the Hendershott, Slade and Peer families. Major Rattray bought the property in 1945 from H.H. Fudger. The gates to Fudger’s former estate, which was known as Barrymede, mark an access point along Meadow Wood Road and along nearby Bexhill Road. After Rattray’s death in 1959, local citizen groups convinced the City of Mississauga to purchase the property. Today, a nature trail allows passage through the marsh It is one of the last natural shingle-bar marshes along Lake Ontario.

Further Reading:

© Mississauga Heritage 2009