York’s Founding Fathers – Mount Albert

Sometimes a village was never thought of, but sprung up nonetheless.  This is the story of such a village.  Nothing was in the area except for a few farmers and a couple of Indian trails.  A husband and wife would carve their way through the bush to settle land.  They were followed by a brother, and then another brother.  Before long a village evolved, and maintains its charm even to this day.  I am very pleased to introduce you to three brothers, Samuel, Rufus and Israel Birchard, founding fathers of Mount Albert.

The father of the brothers was Elisha Birchard.  He was enlisted in the American Army during the Revolutionary War.  Elisha fought at Bunker Hill.  As an adult, he lived in Gosten, Connecticut, and later moved to Vermont.  Born a Presbyterian, Elisha converted to Quakerism.  It was during this time that he met his wife Jerusha Butler.  The couple married in 1784.

A son by the name of Samuel was born on November 22, 1787 in Vermont.  He was the second child born to Elisha and Jerusha.  Son Israel was born on October 20th, 1790 in Ferrisburgh, Vermont.  Son Rufus was born on March 21, 1791 in Jerico, Vermont.  Isreal and Rufus were the 4th and 5th children of Elisha and Jerusha’s 11 children.

 Jerusha Birchard died in Vermont on September 9th, 1807,

Lord Simcoe in Upper Canada was having the land surveyed.  In 1800, Simcoe hire Mr. Stegman to survey the area East and North of the town of Hope, Ontario.  The area was named East Gwillimbury after his wife.  She was born Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim.

 Land was gifted to many of the Family Compact supporters, in which would be sold to others.  In 1807, a gentleman by the name of Mr Kinsey purchased a block of land, paying $200.00 for 200 acres.  In 1810, the land was sold to John A. Haight who paid the same amount as Kinsey paid.

 As a young man, Samuel wished to find land that was not as rocky as the land in Vermont.  Samuel took his horse and began to travel west in search for fertile land.

In 1810, Isreal was living in Rush, Pennsylvania.  In 1811, Israel Birchard applied for membership in the Quaker Church at the Ferrisburgh, Vermont Monthly Meeting.  He was accepted.

Rufus received his membership at the Yonge Street Monthly Meeting on October 15, 1812.  Both Samuel and Rufus were already in Upper Canada at that time.  Samuel requested that his Ferrisburgh Monthly Meeting be transferred to Farmington, New York in November 1814.  Samuel was already in Canada at that time.  He had passed through the Niagara region just after the battle of Lundy’s Lane, on July 26th, 1814.  It was said that he could still see the campfire smolder left by the soldiers.

 In 1815, Rufus was to marry a lady by the name of Electa Aldrich. Both Rufus and Samuel went back to Vermont from Canada.  Rufus and Electa were married on December 17, 1815.  All three would travel back to York.

The third brother, Israel, came up the following year in 1816. Israel would end up going back to Ferrisburgh, Vermont.

Rufus, Electa and Samuel spent 7 years in Upper Canada.  They did not own land.  In time the brothers wanted their own land.  They began to look for land.  Each brother bought adjoining 100 acres in East Gwillimbury adjoining each other, from John A. Haight.  The date of the deed was March 19th, 1821. They now were the owners of Lots 10 and 11 on the 8th Concession.

This began a journey for the trio.  They would carry all their possessions on their backs.  They had to clear a road the 7 miles from today’s Sharon to the land.  Wolves were troublesome for the group.  They had to protect their small livestock against them.  They would travel through dense forest and boggy swamps. It was a hard trek and eventually they arrived at their new land on the crest of a hill.  The only sign of man was a native path that ran north and south.  Now came the clearing of the land and the building of a home. They would build a small log home.

On December 13, 1821, Israel transferred his membership in Vermont to the Yonge Street Monthly Meeting. Israel now was also married to Elizabeth Tift.  He married her in Vermont on February 14th, 1822.  Israel would purchase 50 acres from his brother Rufus.  This was the west half of the south half of lot 11, Concession 8 in East Gwillimbury. It seems that Israel was living in Mariposa, Ontario at the time.

Electa would say that she had not seen another women until Samuel got married.  Samuel married Ruth Pearson, a lady from the Uxbridge Monthly Meeting.  The couple married at the bride’s home in James Corners on the 6th Concession in Durham on April 2nd in 1822.  

The brothers would rear sheep.  The men would shear the animals and the women would spin the wool to make clothing.  They say that they had to limit the amount of sheep they had at one time because of the wolves and bears.  Electa would make loud noises just to keep them away.

Shortly after, other pioneers came to the area.  Many began to farm. The area grew to a little village. To honour the brothers the villagers called it Birchardtown.  Rufus and Samuel became naturalized citizens on February 26th, 1831.  They listed their occupation as yeomen.

The Birchards came from an educated family.  They thought that education was very important to the upbringing of their children.   Both Samuel and Rufus were able to read and write.  Early in the 1830’s, Israel donated a quarter of an acre for the soul purpose of a schoolhouse and a burying ground. The property was at the North West corner of the Main road and Centre Street, at the top of the hill. A small log building was made on the spot.  The brothers asked their sister Ruth to come up to Canada and become the school’s teacher. 

The brothers were saddened to hear that their father Elisha had died on April 22nd, 1834 in Huntington, Vermont.

The pioneers all worked together to build their community.  None of them had much money, so they worked on a trade system. If the fire would go out in one of the homes, the lady of the house would go to a neighbour to collect a live ember.  None of the houses had shingles or wooden floors.  Rufus would be badly hurt while raising a new barn.

Another strange fact of the area was that each neighbour could not decide where their portion of the main road should go. One of the conditions of land claim was that each pioneer had to build a road in front of their homes. This explains why the present day main road has jogs on it.

Rufus and Electa would go on to have 15 children together. Samuel and Ruth would have 12 children together.   Israel and Elizabeth would have 7 children.  All of the children helped with the farm and household chores.

On September 29, 1837, Israel’s wife Elizabeth passes away.  Israel married a second time to Tamar Kiteley.

In the 1840’s, Birchardtown was now being called Newlands.  The little hamlet was now a village. By 1847, Samuel and his family had moved to Quaker Hill in Uxbridge.

Rufus would leave the area to move to Mariposa.  In 1846, he traded his farm for one in Mariposa.  This was a bad decision and Rufus never recouped his losses. 

On April 8th, 1850 Israel sold a quarter of an acre of his land to George Stokes, William P Mainprize and Alexander Fletcher.  One condition was that the land never be used for anything but a school and burying grounds. Folk lore states that Israel said “as long as the grass is green and the water runs down the hill, will the land be used for nothing but a school and a burying ground.”

Israel Birchard passes away shortly after October 4th, 1851 and is buried in the Friend’s cemetery in Mariposa, Ontario.

The first store opened in 1850 and was being run by Robert Hunter.  Another store opened that was run by John Leek.  Rufus’ son in law George Rear would travel to Newmarket once a week to pick up mail for the town.  In 1854, the town opened their own post office.  It was located in the home of Amos Toole, who lived a mile from the town.  Amos would be postmaster for 36 years.  In 1856, the post office was located in Robert Hunter’s store.

Rufus’s wife Electa died on February 23rd, 1858. She is buried in Mariposa. 

In 1860, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s son, was travelling to Canada.  He was to take a train from Toronto to Barrie.  One stop on the way was in Newmarket.  Many of the villagers travelled to Newmarket to get a glimpse of the Royal.  Community discussions led to the town being unofficially called Mount Albert to honour the Prince.

Rufus passed away on October 18th, 1861.  He is buried near his wife.

Samuel’s wife Ruth would pass away in April 1863.  Samuel died of a broken heart three months later.

Although the founding Birchard brothers had moved and had passed away, the little village grew. Churches were being built. Stores would be opened.  Another school would be built north of the Village. A new post office opened with the official name of Mount Albert in 1965.  A railroad stop was erected in 1877 for the Grand Trunk and Lake Special.  A second line for the Canadian National railroad was built.

The original school house was taken down and the burying grounds were moved north of the village. What is beautiful is that the land where the school originally was is now called Birchard Parkette.  It holds the school bell and a few benches.  

Nothing has changed much for the little village. The community still sticks together in time of need. Yet, they have never forgotten about the Birchard Boys and how their community started because of them. And the grass is still green, and water does still flow down the hill.  Promise kept.

 

 

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5 comments

  1. sigrid christianson · · Reply

    My mother was a Birchard from Aurora. Her father opened and operated the electric light plant. I find the history of Quakers very interesting. Thank you

    1. You are very welcome. I am glad that you enjoyed the blog. Sincerely,
      Debbie Watt

  2. David L Rasmussen · · Reply

    My wife is a descendant of Rufus Birchard. We would like to know where to find sources for some of the details in this detailed and interesting history of Mt Albert.

    1. Hello David. Thank you so much for reading the blog. I have included some of my sources for you to look at. Please feel free to ask my anything. Sincerely,
      Debbie Watt.
      Citations for Birchards
      -The Tweedsmuir Papers. East Gwillimbury Library – Holland Landing branch
      -Laughter, Edna Manning . Addition to the Birchard Family. Retrieved from http://www.ednasattic.com/pdf%20and%20documents/Additions%20to%20family%20history.3.1.11.pdf
      -Laughter, Edna Manning . (2005) The Pioneering Quakers Volume two, the Birchards of Ontario. Edna Manning Laughter. Print
      -Kraak, Vera (1972) and Ross Williams (1973). Birchard Family Fonds. Ontario Archives of Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.archeion.ca/Birchardfamilyfonds.
      -Rollings, Gladys M (1993). East Gwillimbury in the 19th Century. Toronto. Ryerson Press. 1967. Print.
      -Ancestry.com. Various family trees.
      -Rootsweb: Birchard-L. Retrieved from Archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com>Birchard>2001-07.
      -Canadian Quaker History Journal. Winter 1990. Volume 48. Retrieved from http://www.cfha.info/journal48.pdf.

  3. Jeffrey Kelso · · Reply

    Hi Digginroots!
    Thank for taking the time to write this little history. Greatly appreciated.

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