The Clearing of Yonge St.
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
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.
the “Longest Street in the World”
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
diary of Berczy Settler, John Henry Sommerfeldt:
"Late in fall, he
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
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.
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
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.
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.