York’s Founding Fathers – Laskay

Little towns and hamlets made up most of what York Region is today.  Many of these villages have been swallowed up by urban sprawl as the Region grew.  Most people today do not know who founded the hamlets.  The only reminder of the past is the name on the gate into the subdivision.   One little town escaped this fate only by location.  Located in a moraine valley on Weston Road is the hamlet of Laskay.   Although the founding father of Laskay was not the first settler, he was instrumental in making this quaint little village. I am proud to present to you, Joseph Baldwin.


Joseph Baldwin was born on January 4th, 1807 in Yorkshire, England.  His parents were Henry Baldwin and his wife Ann Hugill.  Joseph was the sixth child born to the couple.  Joseph was baptised on January 7, 1807 in the Parish of Kirkbymoorside, Yorkshire.  Some say that he was born in Loskie.  Loskie could also be the name of the property he was born on.


Not much is known of what young Joseph did while in England.  It is known that his older brother Henry was a miller in Gillamoor in North Yorkshire, England. At the age of 23, Joseph immigrated to Upper Canada, arriving in Loughborough in the County of Frontenac.  Upon hearing reports of the good agricultural land north of York, Baldwin took a chance. Full of energy and ready to get started in the new country, he travelled to the County of York in 1832.  Baldwin would settle on West half of Lot 3 on the 5th Concession in King Township.


Joseph was not an original crown land owner of Lot 3.  The land had previously been worked.  A dam had been started as well as the beginning of a saw mill.  Joseph, seeing the opportunity finished the creation of both features.


Joseph married Elizabeth Simpson in 1832.  Elizabeth came across from England with her family.  The Simpson family were Quakers and settled three miles from Hope, now called Sharon.  Since there was not an authorized minister that lived within 18 miles of where the couple would live after marriage, Joseph and Elizabeth were married by a Justice of the Peace.   A marriage contract was drawn up and then witnessed my many friends and family members.


It was not long until the couple had their first child, daughter Mary Ann in 1833. Two years later the couple had their first son.  Henry was born on July 16, 1835.  A second son named George Simpson Baldwin was born March 11, 1839.


Joseph completed the saw mill and the dam.  The mill would be the only lumber mill in the area.  Joseph found that his lumber mill was quite busy. Joseph did not stop with that.  His plan was to make this little hamlet into a town.  Tensions were growing in the region. This escalated into the Rebellion of 1837. Joseph was of age to be fighting in the Militia of the time.  There is no evidence that Joseph enlisted for either side.


 Joseph was still busy building his mill and farming his land.  On June 20, 1841, a daughter named Annah Priscilla was born to Joseph and Elizabeth.  Sadness would soon come to the pioneer family. Daughter Annah died at the age of 6 months and two days. 


Joseph was elected as a representative of King Township in the District Council in 1844.  He would be involved in the municipal decisions that would affect Laskay, and more so, King Township.  Seeing his little hamlet grow, Joseph knew that the town had to have some sort of amenities. In 1845, Joseph built a store on his land, at the crossroads of the 6th Concession and Mill Street.  The Laskay Emporium began servicing the locals with their needs.




In 1848, Joseph saw the need for a grist mill in the area.  The following year he built one.  On the day the mill opened, Mr. Joel Kinney climbed up 50 feet to the top rafter.  At the top peak, Joel broke a bottle of wine.   Elizabeth Baldwin then christened the building as ‘Laskay Mills’.  This flour mill supplied the community and the surrounding areas.  The flour was then sold into the town of York. It is said that the first flour exported to Liverpool England was shipped from Baldwin’s mill. Joseph began to expand his industries.  He subdivided the front of his land into town-lots.  Baldwin never registered his plans for this.  


With Baldwin doing all of these duties, he became overwhelmed.  William Munsil was hired to be the keeper of the general store in 1849. Before long, the town lots had been created.  Along the East side of the 6th Concession now had a row of businesses.  There was a woolen shop, a shoe shop, a cooper, a photography studio and a tavern.  In 1851, Joseph gave up his seat on the township council.


On August 19, 1851, Joseph’s wife Elizabeth died.   She is buried on the property. Joseph was quite saddened by the death of his wife.  Elizabeth was Joseph’s pillar of strength.


The town had enough of a population to warrant a post office. The mail was handled by William Munsil  in the general store.  On March 1st in 1854, Laskay received a post office.   James Bowman became the official Postmaster.  The post office would still be located in the general store.


Joseph Baldwin was a Wesleyan Methodist.  The Reverend Henry Wilkinson was the circuit preacher and his route included the little hamlet.  Beginning in 1852, services began to be held in the Mr. Warren’s cooper shop.  Joseph began to make plans for a Wesleyan Methodist church, including a parsonage and a cemetery.  He donated the land for this.  Many of the local town folk were proud of Baldwin for his generous donation for a church.


1856 turned out to be pivotal in the history of the little hamlet.  Up until that year, only the east side of the 6th Concession was settled.  This was also the year that David Reesor settled on the west side of the 6th Concession.  Reesor, a native of Markham Township had a survey done of the area.  50 town lots were registered by David Reesor. Before long the west side of the 6th had a saw mill, a plaster mill and a lathe mill. Other businesses sprung up as well.  There was a store, a tailor, a barber and a butcher.  In compliment, there was the slaughterhouse as well.


David Reesor donated land for a Presbyterian church.  At the same time, Joseph began construction of the Wesleyan Methodist church.  The building and cemetery was to be 20 rods east of the 6th Concession.  The parsonage would be located at the 4th lot south of the church.


In 1856, Joseph’s son Henry began to run the store.  This allowed Joseph to focus his work at the mills.  Business was increasing in the area and Joseph needed the help.  The little hamlet was growing and the area now served farmers from a large area.  By 1859, Garret Blough was operating an inn on Lot 5 Concession 6 West.   


Joseph and David Reesor had all intentions of incorporating the hamlet to a village.  Yet, the plan never came to fruition.  In 1861, the little hamlet the Joseph Baldwin conceived was now officially called Laskay.  Business was booming at the Emporium, on the farm and in the mill. His son Henry was feeling ill of health and in the spring of 1862, he took leave from the store.  Henry thought an ocean voyage would benefit him.  Henry would leave New York City and end up in British Columbia and the Yukon.


 In 1862, Joseph married the widow Mary Ann Bailey. She also came from England, emigrating after 1842. Mrs. Bailey was a wonderful step-mother and gave general comfort to Joseph.  Mary Ann had children before she married Joseph.  Most notably was Ellen Ann Bailey.  She had a millinery shop in the back of the Emporium. Ellen Ann would marry a local man named Joseph Smeltzer in 1859.


Laskay had the honour of holding the Agricultural Fair in 1862. The Fair travelled from year to year. A curious fable was that Laskay received its nickname of ‘Bull town’ during the fair.  The story states that a bull had escaped from its pen, running amok in the village. The bull was captured but the nickname remained.


Joseph’s son George was now helping his father.  In 1863, George Simpson Baldwin was the Post Master for the town.  He was running the store in his brother’s absence.  George was taking on more responsibility.  Changes were conducted on the Emporium.  He would upgrade the features and even replace the hitching post outside for the horses.  Joseph wanted to slow down. In 1865, Joseph transferred the management of the grist mill to George.


Love began blooming in the small community.   Mary Ann’s daughter Agnes Bailey married Dr. Oliver Rupert on December 2, 1863. George went on to marry a lady named Sarah Goodfellow Jaffray on June 23, 1864.


On December 9th, 1869, Henry Baldwin came back to Laskay.  His plan was to finish up any loose affairs that he had here.  He planned to move back to the West. Local town folk pleaded with Henry to stay in the town and resume the businesses that he had before his trip.  Henry made his decision.  He would remain in Laskay with his family and friends.


During the 1870’s, the town continued to function.  Henry would triple the size of the carding and fabric mill.  Henry’s future wife and half-sister worked in the rooms attached to the Emporium as dressmakers and millinery.  Henry Baldwin continued to run the carding mill and the Emporium.  Son George began farming on lot 2, Concession 6 West. The year 1878 was the year that many Baldwin siblings would marry. Joseph’s daughter Jane Elizabeth married George Armstrong Griffith on September 10.  Henry married Elizabeth Lewis on September 11.  Anah Baldwin married Edward Lewis on October 9.  Edward Lewis was the brother to Henry’s wife Elizabeth. 


Joseph would lease his farm out in 1879.  It was time for him to retire and reap his well-deserved rewards of life.  He built a village lot for him and his wife to reside in.   Yet, Joseph’s retirement was not to be long and it would be filled with sadness.


On March 8th, 1880, Henry and Elizabeth welcomed healthy twin boys to their family. The boys were named Thomas Lewis and George Henry.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth was having difficulty healing from the birth.  On March 20th, Elizabeth died from complications of childbirth.


On January 5th, 1881 Joseph’s son Frederick married Magdalen Wilson in Aurora, Ontario. There was celebration starting the New Year.  The end of the year would end in sorrow.  On December 23rd Mary Ann Baldwin died.  She is buried alongside Joseph’s first wife Elizabeth in the Primitive Methodist cemetery.

Three months after the death of Mary Ann Baldwin, Joseph Baldwin succumbed to cancer.  He died on April 3, 1882. He was laid to rest with both of his wives and infant children.  It may be chance that Joseph’s death brought about the eventual decline in the little hamlet.  That same year, Henry would retire from working at the Emporium.  Henry would focus on the carding mill.


The story of Joseph Baldwin does not stop at his death.  It is fascinating what happened to his little hamlet in the years after.   Joseph had 11 children with both of his wives. Mary Ann Bailey Baldwin brought 3 children with her when she married Joseph. These children married into other pioneer families.  There are many Baldwin descendants still living in York Region Today.  Some of these descendants have spread their wings.


The Laskay Emporium stood on the same spot for 114 years.  The store was saved from demolition and donated to the Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto.  It was moved there in 1960. The post office in Laskay was closed in 1926. Many of the dams on the Humber River were washed away from a storm. The dam for the carding and saw mill was rebuilt.  The carding mill was sold after Henry’s death.  In 1897, the carding mill burnt down and was never rebuilt. The arm of the Humber River that supported the tiny village now became a trickle due to clearing of the forest.


In Laskay the Primitive Methodist church went through changes as well.  On May 24, 1903, the old wooden church was taken down and replaced with a new brick church.  In 1925, The Methodist churches merged with the United Church.  The church was active until about 1980.  The cemetery that was beside the church was decommissioned and most of the Baldwin family were reinterred at Aurora’s cemetery.


As you drive down Weston Road today, you pass through Laskay.  You see remnants of the past as you slip by the old homes.  The Temperance Hall is still standing but the Primitive Methodist church is gone. The Presbyterian Church has been modified into a home, and the cemetery behind is overgrown.  As you reach the bottom of the valley, you can assume that it was always this quaint and quiet.  Who would ever guess that this little hamlet bustled with such a big history?






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