By David Wencer, originally published March 30, 2010
How a reputed tollhouse may be one of its only remnants
The fast pace of development has seen much of northern Etobicoke’s rural history disappear over the last few decades, but in the city’s extreme northwest limits one can still find a few remnants of the village of Claireville. One such remnant can be found at 2095 Codlin Crescent, a house with an elusive history, but which is believed to have been a tollhouse on the old Albion Plank Road.
The area near where Highways 407 and 427 now cross first developed in the 1830s, with the opening of a post office known as “Humber.” According to noted Etobicoke historian Robert Given, the community’s territory included not only what is now Toronto’s most northwest limit, but also parts of Gore and Vaughan townships. Amongst Humber’s earliest residents was Jean du Petitpont De La Haye, who was born in France in 1799 and, at the age of 30, became French master at the newly-opened Upper Canada College, likely through the direct persuasion of Lieutenant Governor (and U.C.C. founder) Sir John Colborne and his wife Elizabeth. Although De La Haye lived on the U.C.C. campus when school was in session, he kept a country home near the Humber post office.
The roads in the area, as with most of Upper Canada at this time, were poor. In an effort to improve them, a group of citizens which included De La Haye got together in 1846 and incorporated as the Albion Plank Road Company. The following year the Albion Road first opened, consisting of 18 miles of pine plank extending from Weston up to Bolton, passing through several villages along the way. Shortly after the opening of the Albion Road, De La Haye began plans for Claireville, registering his plan for the subdivision in June of 1851, and naming the future village for his eldest daughter, Claire.
In her 1974 book Etobicoke: From Furrow to Borough, historian Esther Hayes describes the Albion Road as “constructed of three-inch pine planking laid on stringers of timber and fastened with oak pegs. At that time clear pine planks cost $4 per thousand feet.” As over two and a quarter million feet of planks were needed, this was not an inexpensive operation. As a means of financing the road, regular toll gates were established along the route in order to pay for the enterprise. One of these toll gates was in the growing village of Claireville.
Identifying the precise location of these tollgates has proven a difficult task for today’s historians, as source material has proven scarce. While early city directories for Toronto’s downtown core are comparatively abundant, few describe Etobicoke in any meaningful detail, often providing incomplete accounts and omitting pertinent information such as street addresses.
In From This Year Hence: A History of The Township of Toronto Gore: 1818-1983, historian George Tavender puts the first Claireville tollgate just northwest of Highways 407 and 427, near the intersection of today’s Highway 50 and The Gore Road, although Tavender’s source for this information is not included.
A 1866 directory lists Claireville’s tollkeeper as Robinson Wilkes, and Nason’s East & West Ridings of the County of York, a directory from 1871, indicates the tollkeeper to be one Christopher Armstrong. Neither directory indicates where the Clairville tollgate actually was, however, nor where these men lived. It is possible, certainly, that the tollgates were not always at the same location, as the process was not nearly as well-regulated as today’s tolls systems. The Albion Plank Road Company would solicit offers from individuals who offered to pay the company for the right to be tollkeeper. The person with the winning bid was then allowed to serve as tollkeeper and keep any extra money made off the tolls during the length of the contract. As such, Wilkes and Armstrong would have bid for the right to be Claireville’s tollkeeper, and may not have owned the property where their tollgates were.
The case for 2095 Codlin includes a document in the Toronto Public Library from the 1980s, prepared for the Etobicoke Historical Board by summer student Ian Wheeler. This report dates 2095 Codlin to 1853, and indicates it was the toll house; again, however, no primary sources are indicated.
The house is generally believed to date from the mid-1850s, but unfortunately there is little paper evidence to indicate its earliest use. It is known that the property was sold by De La Haye in 1853 to John Bailey, who, two years later, sold it to Henry Thomas who owned it until 1879. Thomas owned several properties in Claireville, and is known to have been a shareholder in the Albion Road; he could well have rented 2095 Codlin to Wilkes and/or Armstrong as a tollhouse.
Much of the evidence for 2095 Codlin being the former tollhouse comes from recent owners Fred and Audrey Henderson, who owned the property from 1961 until 2006. When they first moved in, the Hendersons were told by the other Claireville residents about the house’s history as a tollhouse, and, upon selling their property in 2006, were the subject of an article to this effect in The National Post. Further research by the Etobicoke Historical Society indicates that during the Hendersons’ time at 2095 Codlin the property was visited by a woman whose ancestor, Christopher Armstrong had served as the tollkeeper, and who identified 2095 as the tollhouse.
Over the last fifty years, the property has changed dramatically and, Codlin Crescent excepted, there is little remaining in the area to suggest the Claireville ever existed. The section of Codlin featuring 2095 is actually part of the original route of the Albion Road, but the roads were altered in the early 1970s to accommodate Highway 427. When the Hendersons first acquired the property the area was still predominantly rural; the National Post article describes the family riding ponies and drawing their drinking water from a well. Recent years have seen the arrival of industry to the area, and the historical homes along Codlin now seem somewhat anachronistic. Today, Codlin Crescent is frequented mainly by trucks, either those connected with the gourmet food importing and socket screw manufacturing companies across the street, or by the trucking company which appears to be using the 2095 Codlin building as an office. The images on Google Street View suggest that 2095 Codlin is still an oasis from the recent developments in northern Etobicoke, however photos taken last month show even more recent changes which may be threatening the future sustainability of this building. The trees and shrubbery have been removed, and trucks are now parked right alongside the 150 year-old farmhouse. 2095 Codlin has been listed on Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties since 1999, but it seems that some further protection may be needed if this rare part of Toronto’s heritage is to remain intact.