Northern Highlights

On one of our Friday excursions Peter and I went north to Thornhill. We have visited this area several times because my son lives there. From our perspective, it was a sweet little place with some good restaurants and our grand-dog Venus. We didn’t know it had such interesting heritage or such brilliant holiday charm.

Thornhill is a community divided between 2 municipal governments – 2 wards in the city of Vaughan, and 1 in Markham. There is no city hall and no area defined as downtown. Some residents might say that Yonge Street is the main street, while others would argue that the hub of the community is at Bayview and John Streets, where the community centre, housing an arena, a pool, banquet facilities, and the library, is located.

Despite being a divided community with no hub, Thornhill certainly has a storied past. Community leaders have a strong heritage commitment. They have worked hard to identify heritage buildings with plaques, and they have moved several buildings rather than tear them down. They also believe in re-purposing buildings. For example, a main street paint store, Thornhill Paint Supplies, was built in 1850 as a family home. Many of these historic gems are protected under the heritage preservation act.

Thornhill’s founding father, Benjamin Thorne, arrived from England in the 1820’s and began gathering up properties. He built a grist mill, a saw mill, a tannery, and, of course, a Post Office. The village, which had been founded in 1794, got the boost it needed from Thorne, and flourished. Although Thorne eventually declared bankruptcy and shot himself, he is considered a hero. A monument to him stands outside the library.

One of Thornhill’s local characters is referred to as Holy Ann. She was an Irish servant girl believed to have miraculous powers. It was understood that she could coax water from a well during a dry spell. You can see a replica of this well in “Answell (aka Ann’s well) Park.” A replica of her prayer shed is also onsite. Ann’s home has been moved from its original location to a side street where it still stands. Ann herself left town in a box, and is buried in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant cemetery.

Ann’s prayer shed

Probably the most famous resident was Group Of Seven artist, J.E.H Macdonald. He moved to Thornhill with his family in 1912 where he eventually bought a house at 121 Centre Street. It’s here that he created one of his most famous paintings, The Tangled Garden, in 1916. Critics panned the piece because they said it was a huge canvas for such a mundane subject – a garden. One critic said it looked like a tomato salad! This painting now holds a place of prominence at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa. The gardens at Macdonald’s house are open to the public.

What is Thornhill doing to celebrate Christmas? Since there is no city hall, there is no village Christmas tree. But a Christmas gem can be found on a neighbourhood street, Wild Cherry Lane. Here visitors can experience an incredible light show, put on by a group of neighbours. Martin Lindsay, the inspiration behind the show, began his lighting career at the age of 9 when he and his brother, Andrew, began hanging lights on their big front-yard evergreen tree. In 2000 they created a major tourist attraction when they built their first computerized display. The light show has since moved to its current location, Wild Cherry Lane, and 9 families now work together to create and oversee the display of more than 120,000 lights. Donations from visitors all go to local charities.

If you have any spare time over the holidays, head north to explore this diverse and interesting community.


The Tangled Garden

4 thoughts on “Northern Highlights

  1. Wow! Thank-you! I am the beneficiary of your rambles. You are the Rick Stevens of Toronto.
    (I sent you a painting done for me that will knock your socks off. Our synchronicity…)


  2. Reading your blog gave me goose bumps today Sue. A reminder of years past! It was kind of you to support/promote Martin’s efforts and hard work. We’re not sure what drives him but he seems to love the challenge and we are proud it all goes to help others in need. Lucky Jasmine is a patient wife!! Also that the neighbours do not complain. Yes Thornhill was and still is a lovely area at the moment, however, sad to say not for too much longer. When you see the future plans the rape of it is about to begin😂😂. Shouldice will be so changed with high rise towers etc., we will be swallowed up along with the changes to the community centre and Thornhill square and surrounds. Traffic will be horrendous. Laureleaf will be even busier than ever with folks cutting through it avoiding Bayv/Steeles intersection. Oooh I don’t want to think about it. On the bright side I am looking forward to our outing tomorrow!! Out for lunch today as well with a friend from work from past years. See you soon. Luv M.

    Sent from my iPhone



  3. Interesting blog as usual. You certainly do a lot of research! Thanks for the photo of “The Tangled Garden”. I’m having trouble finding the tomato but I do think that it is a super example of the Group of Seven’s work. Nice of the gallery to lend it to you for a photo.


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