A River Runs Through It

The Flemings ,on arriving in Canada West from Perthshire in June 1843, settled first in Vaughan Township, about twenty miles north of Toronto.  Alexander arranged to lease land from William Richard Grahame who had bought 1200 Acres  in 1833 from the Canada Company along the east branch of the Humber between Pinegrove and Kleinburg.  Under the agreement, Alexander was  to clear fifty acres in Concession 7 in an area straddling lots 17 and 18, pay Grahame $ 5 an acre, and retain rest of proceeds from their produce. Over the next six years they built a shelter, erected a barn, raised livestock, cleared the acres, and grew crops. Through hard work and determination, they were able to buy their own 200 acres in the newly surveyed Derby Township and move there in 1850.

Section of Vaughan Township – adapted from 1878 York County  Atlas

The story of their years in Vaughan  is part of family legend.  Roy, Alexander’s grandson, made more than one trip to the area in the 1930s to try to locate the exact area of the farm.  His aunt Jennie recalled some landmarks but finding the farm eluded them.  In October 2016 three descendants and I tried: Ruth Larmour, Roy’s granddaughter, Janet McNally, descendant of James Fleming, and Carol Danard, descendent of Isabella Fleming Finch.

We knew that Lots 17 and 18 would be roughly half way north from Rutherford Road to Major Mackenzie Drive, and that the farm should be east of the East Humber River and just west of Islington Avenue.   The William Granger Greenway passes through this area of the flood plain of the East Humber.

Our clues were:

  • Alexander was listed as the “landholder” in Brown’s Toronto City and Home District Directory (1846-47) for Lot 18, Concession 7 in 1846.
  • Jennie, who was only seven years old when she left Vaughan, remembered that they lived close to the Little Humber (now Humber River East Branch). As she recollected, the river ran through the farm and the house and fields were level with the river. William, her brother, remembered there was some flooding in the spring and that the cabin was on a “wee elevation”.
  • Alexander and William caught speckled trout in the river.
  • It was in the Little Humber that Jean was baptized into the Church of the Disciples of Christ.

We were guided by Jim Garrett of the Kortright Centre who led us to our starting point in the small parking lot on Rutherford Road.  The path roughly follows the Carrying Place Trail from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe.  We passed a wooded area with some standing white pine and red oak, a remnant of the how the forest would have been in the early 1800s. The trail arced through the flood plain of the  meandering   East Humber, across the Sarenhes pedestrian bridge, and upwards to the higher ground of the valley wall.

Sarenhes,  meaning “tall pines” in Huron-Wendat, commemorates the indigenous peoples who had lived in the Humber River Valley.

The East Humber looked tame and narrow, but in the spring, Jim observed, its banks  do fill to the level of the bridge, and in an exceptional year, overflow into the plain.  The soils seemed sandy and stony by the river – not ideal for agriculture.

Sarenhes Bridge (Photo by Janet McNally)
East Humber River from bridge

We could not know with any precision where lot 18 was but we noted the flatter parts and had a sense of the closeness of the stream and the potential for flooding. At one point we saw apple trees and soon after a fence line and the remains of a notched post that might have marked old pasture.

Notched fence post

The day, splendid with fall colour, was cool but in mid-afternoon  began to rain. We thanked Jim for his knowledgeable guidance and repaired to Kleinberg for a warm drink.

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