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Gibson House – Reminder of early settlements and rural history in North York

Gibson House a handful of nineteenth century Georgian Revival farmhouse that survived urban development in North York in the twentieth century. Excerpt from the Gibson House Museum website describes this historic place as: “The Gibson House Museum in North York is a red brick Georgian Revival farmhouse located on land that was acquired by the Gibson family in 1829. David and Elizabeth Gibson lived in a wood frame house on the site until they forced to flee to the United States during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.  The building that now stands was constructed in 1851 after the family’s return to Toronto, and was home to David and Eliza’s household as well as their son Peter Silas Gibson’s family until 1916. The house was occupied by a series of owners and tenants until the Township of North York acquired the property in 1965. Gibson House was restored and opened as a heritage museum on June 6, 1971.”


On the day of our visit, a costumed staff was using a 19th century Victorian recipe to bake gingerbread cookies out of an open hearth fireplace.  The aroma of the cookies filled the room while the staff explained how the Gibson family would cook when they lived there.

Gibson House was once part of an active and progressive working farm, and was a significant feature within the Willow Dale community nine miles from the town of York. One of the special features of the house is a worker attic where workers were housed in a separate second level of the house with a separate stairwell and entrance connected to the kitchen. Workers would use a separate entrance to access the house, they would only go to the parlor and living space when they were invited by the family.

Some of the Museum’s artifact collection includes:

A original tall case clock owned by the Gibson Family.  After the failure of the Upper Canada rebellion, David Gibson went into exile and the Lieutenant Governor ordered his house to be burned down. When the first Gibson House was set on fire by the militia, Eliza rushed her children to safety, then she ran into the burning house to pull the face and workings of the clock from the wooden case and carried them out in her skirt. The clock works put into a new case when Eliza, David, and their children re-united in New York.  When the Gibson family returned to North York in 1848, they brought the tall-case clock with them and it is still standing in the second Gibson House.

A square piano made by Joseph Rainer in Whitby, Ontario around 1860. The style of this piano was popular in North America through 1890s.  It has 85 keys, which is 3 keys shorter than the modern keyboard.

I knew very little about the history of Willowdale community, during this visit I learned how the community name Willow Dale came to exist:  Containing a population of 150 in the late 1850s, Willow Dale was originally known as Kummer’s (or Cummer’s) settlement. As an active member of this rural community, David Gibson suggested the name Willow Dale in honour of the numerous willow trees that grew in the area.

The farmlands of the Gibson family are nowhere to be found now but we have something to remind us of the farming history in the area. A Tolman Sweet apple tree, the last remaining tree from the orchard that David Gibson established in 1831 still stands on the parkland south of Gibson House.

Other than the Tolman Sweet apple tree, Gibson Park located by the southwest corner of Gibson House is another reminder of the Gibson Family. The Gibson Park features a gardens, a public art installation and a large granite wall etched with photos of Gibson descendants.

Gibson House is one of 10 Toronto Historical Museums, visit this link to find out more about Gibson House Museum and other city museums: toronto.ca




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