The Story of Markham

The Berczy Settlers 
                                                        Home Unionville 150th Pioneer KidsEvents Calendar      

The Berczy
Settlement of Markham

Trail Blazers

The Clearing of Yonge St.

When the Berczy Settlers arrived in York, Yonge Street, the route that Simcoe planned as the military highway between York (later named Toronto) and Lake Simcoe, was little more than a plan on a map. The future road had already been surveyed by surveyor Augustus Jones, but no clearing of trees, or “cutting out”, had been done. Governor Simcoe offered Berczy four choice lots along the future Yonge Street, bordering the Don River, if he could complete the clearing of the roadway within one year. Unfortunately Berczy was unable to finish the clearing on time because many of his men became ill with malaria, a common illness at that time due to swampy areas where mosquitoes carried malaria parasites. Berczy had also put some of the other settlers to work clearing the Rouge River northward from Lake Ontario as the start of a navigable fur trade route, to be connected to the Holland River and Lake Simcoe. This route was later squashed by Simcoe who prevented Berczy from acquiring the necessary land around the mouth of the Rouge at Lake Ontario. Simcoe did not want any other route to compete with his Yonge Street route to Lake Simcoe.

Origins of the “Longest Street in the World”

The success of York as the naval arsenal of Upper Canada depended, in the eyes of Simcoe, on the presence on an overland route to Lake Simcoe (which Governor Simcoe named in honour of his father). The new town of York was already located along the important fur trade route which went up the Humber River by portage to the Holland River, then to Lake Simcoe, and from there by river and portage to Lake Huron. However, Simcoe wanted a more direct route to Lake Simcoe. Yonge Street was named in honour of Sir George Yonge, the imperial secretary of War, a man who never set foot in Upper Canada.

Hardships and Troubles

Some of the Berczy Settlers who had been working to clear Yonge Street experienced illness. This prevented Berczy from finishing the road building contract that he had agreed to. The Settlers were also more concerned with clearing and cultivating their own land than with working on Yonge Street.

Voice of the Berczy Settlers

From the diary of Berczy Settler, John Henry Sommerfeldt:

"Late in fall, he [Berczy] let me have yoke of oxen. Then I got under way and also my wife, who carried one child on back and drove the pigs. After Christmas I came to my land [lot 25, conc. 6]. There I had to stay in tent till spring. In that time three of us brought logs together and built us houses. In spring I got two bushels of potatoes, one quart of Indian corn and four quarts of peas, which I planted.”  

Markham Before the Berczy Settlers

While the Berczy Settlers are recognized as the first Europeans to settle Markham township, the history of human occupation dates back much further.

The Iroquois migrated to this area about 1000 A.D. by way of the rivers Humber, Don, and Highland Creek. They brought with them the techniques of growing corn, squash, beans, and sunflowers.

In the early 1600’s, Samuel de Champlain witnessed the Hurons growing about 24,000 acres of corn in the areas around Lake Simcoe. These agriculturalists lived in semi-permanent villages which could be moved whenever the soil became exhausted.   

The Iroquois used the river Katabokakonk “river of easy entrance”  as a portage trail to the north. This river was later renamed the Riviere Rouge by the French, then the Nen by Simcoe, and subsequently back to the Rouge.

German Mills

After their arrival at York, some of the Berczy settlers moved their equipment and belongings up the Don River on rafts to the future site of German Mills. As with so many early communities, one of the first things to be built in German Mills was a grist mill. The fact that the community was named for the mills that were located there illustrates the important role of grist mills, for grinding grain into flour, and saw mills, for sawing large trees into lumber, in the building of communities. A brewery (for making beer), a blacksmith (for making iron tools etc.), a cooperage (for making barrels), and a tannery (for turning animal hide into leather) were also established by the Berczy Settlers.  

Voice of the Berczy Settlers

The following account by John Stiver shows the struggles encountered by the Berczy Settlers in the early years in Markham:

“My parents were natives of Hanover and…were settled in Markham Township in the County of York in 1794. In 1795 I was born, the first white child in the townhip. The suffering and poverty of that time were so great that my mother had no substance for me, and I was taken in by an elder sister when I was six months old, who resided in Niagara. There I was fed in cow’s milk and corn meal. When I grew up to be able to work, an elder brother and I chopped wood in the woods all day, day after day, and all the clothing we had was a linen shirt and pants, and bare foot until I was 12.” 

Berczy leaves Markham

By 1804, Berczy had still been unable to secure the full 64,000 acres of land for his settlers. Berczy had hoped to sell some of this land to other settlers in order to replace the money he had spent to bring the settlers to Markham. Berczy left Markham and went to Montreal to try to cover his losses by painting. It was for his painting that Berczy became most well known in Canadian history. He is now regarded as one of Canada's most important pre-Confederation artists.          

Markham: From Bush to Bounty

Legacy of the Berczy Settlers.

William Berczy left Markham Township in 1804, having never been able to secure all the land he was promised by Simcoe. He never returned. Berczy’s experiences in Markham had come to an end, yet the experiences of the Berczy settlers were only just beginning. While William Moll Berczy has been almost completely forgotten by some of the other parts of the world he touched, his memory survives in the collective name of the settlers whom he brought to Markham.   

210 years later……

While it has now been over 200 years since the Berczy Settlers first set foot in Markham, their names and memory live on through their descendants and in those who are inspired by the achievements of those who created the community in which we now live.


Back to Top


The Berczy Settlers
 William Moll Berczy

The Journey Begins

 A Time of Struggle

        Trek to Upper

        Settlement of














































Calendar ResourcesSite Map | Contact Us |

Copyright © 2009 Markham Public Library 
Last Updated: 19-Jun-2009