Friday, February 20, 2009

Matthew Harrison Farm

Matthew Harrison Farm
© Michael Harrison 2009

This was the home of my great great grandfather Matthew Harrison (1822-1887). It was built circa 1855 shortly after he purchased Lot 9, Concession 10, Toronto Gore Township - 100 acres - from William H. Bailey for $1,100 on March 1, 1854. 

The destruction of the property by neglect and indifference occurred with little intervention from the City of Brampton despite my many interactions with city staff to bring the protection of this heritage resource to their attention.  

In 1995, the Eastgate Heritage:  Heritage Resource Management Study – Eastgate Study Area was conducted for the City of Brampton.  It was a Secondary Plan Heritage Study that examined all the heritage structures in the Eastgate area.  The recommendations for the Matthew Harrison farm were encouraging.  

They read as follows:

Maintain and protect house and farmstead elements in site planning; protect and maintain burials, consider restoration of damaged stones and incorporation in publicly accessible space in the event of redevelopment; make alignments, roadways and property subdivisions that follow/respect historic field patterns.

I was optimistic that such forward thinking would ensure that the elements of the farm would be protected and preserved for the future as part of the history of Brampton.  

I was to be very disappointed.  Despite the advance planning for the conservation of heritage resources within the Eastgate Secondary Planning area not much – as far as I can see - has been realized.  I am not sure why but if the Harrison farm is any indication there seems to be a lack of will to get serious about heritage in the City of Brampton.

On the Matthew Harrison Farm the barn was demolished in the mid 1990s.  The farmhouse, which was located on the east side of The Gore Road just south of the Castlemore Side Road, was occupied until 2001 when the property was sold to a development company.  The new owners vacated and stop maintaining the farmhouse.  Despite my many attempts to get the city’s attention not very much was done.

In 2002 I wrote to the developer to encourage them to integrate the farmhouse into the development. I wrote:

In addition to ...being eligible for many different types of awards which would indicate the progressive and caring nature of your company, you would provide a landmark and tangible connection to the past for your development.  It would not be a nameless community, it would have a history.  It could form the basis for your marketing of this new community (how does the Harrison Heritage Estates sound?) and could serve as an architectural model for the future homes.

I then provided examples of how other developers in the GTA had treated heritage homes on their properties and used them to their advantage.  I provided them with many examples of marketing campaigns that capitalized on heritage.  It all fell on deaf ears.

In February 2005 contractors working for the Region of Peel ran over the cemetery with heavy equipment and dumped fill on it.  An eagle-eyed member of the public who knew about the cemetery informed the city who intervened to stop any further damage.  An article followed in the Toronto Star on February 25, 2005.  A cleanup and archaeological assessment of the cemetery followed during which it was confirmed that there was only one burial shaft present.  This meant that Anne Hewgill was buried with her child when they both died in 1869.

The farm house was demolished in 2006 after many years of neglect by the property owners with little or no intervention from the City of Brampton to do anything about it.

The city sanctioned dismantling of the Matthew Harrison farmhouse
© Michael Harrison 2006

The bricks and some of the interior woodwork was then utilized to create a facsimile of the home, with the same exterior architectural features on the west side of McVean Road a short distance north of Castlemore Side Road.   The city of Brampton heralded this as a triumph in the Fall 2008 issue of The Brampton Heritage Times but if anything it was an admission of defeat.  Success would have meant the house remaining onsite as recommended to the City of Brampton in the Eastgate Heritage report of 1995.   Instead the city allowed it to be dismantled and destroyed.  The new house on McVean Road is not Matthew Harrison’s house.   It is simply a copy of it.

Fortunately the cemetery has fared better.  It has been incorporated into the development of the property and the tombstones have been restored (pieces of the child's stone however were lost in 2005).  However the ancient apple tree that was the last remaining from the historic orchard went by the wayside because some consultant said it was too old despite the fact that the plan I was provided with by city staff included the tree.  It would have been nice if part of the tree could have been grafted onto a new tree but I was not asked my opinion.  The city simply changed the plan without asking me. 

The new cemetery is nice but built to urban standards when a split rail fence would have been more appropriate for this “rural” 19th century farm cemetery.  However, it is safe and I guess I should be grateful for that.  In the summer of 2010 the restored tombstones were placed back in the cemetery (most of the child's stone is missing and lost) and in late 2010 the cemetery was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. The cemetery is now owned by the City of Brampton.

A nearby street in the subdivision is called "Matthew Harrison Street" as a reminder of the family's history and long ownership of the site but think how much better it would have been if the farmhouse was still there adjacent to the cemetery as a tangible link with the past.

Heritage is a non-renewable resource.  Once it is gone it is gone.  Brampton is diminished by the loss of the Matthew Harrison farmhouse.

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