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York Unknown: Stong Barn

Updated: Mar 23, 2019

Now for the full story...

Images courtesy of York Unknown

The Jacob Stong Barn sits on an old stone foundation built out of logs and heavy timber with vertical board cladding and a gambrel roof [1]. The barn sits on an open landscape with the Stong House directly north. Check out the Stong House for more information on the Stong family. The area around the barn contains the remnants of an orchard that still lay on the landscape [2]. The large entrance on the north façade opens with large double wood doors that may screech when they open from age and rust. Inside the Stong barn, one may find various farming tools such as a sharp fork made of a single ash pole, a 28’ sickle, and a mattock or grubbing hoe. Today the barn is sectioned off from the house by a large chain-link fence. The immediate area surrounding the barn is covered in dumpsters, spare wood, and junk. It is almost as if someone is clearing out the barn for some unknown purpose, but the dumpsters and metal surrounding the house is rusted as though it has not moved in decades. The large upper doors are open now, almost inviting us in to see the (now deceased) Jacob Stong hard at work. Does his ghost look at us now from those open doors?

Farming was an important part of early settler life and was essential for survival. Many activities would have taken place in a barn like this. It is likely that animals were kept in the barn as they were a vital source of food during this time. Breeding and butchering livestock was an important aspect of farm life. You may ask what butchering day looked like on the farm? Bloody and smelly! Pigs and cattle were just two of the main animals slaughtered right here. Ham, bacon, and other kinds of meats were cut in pieces and salted down in tubs or barrels [3]. You could only imagine the smells? After a couple of weeks, the meat was washed and hung on rafters in a small log or brick smokehouse where the fire burned for about a week. The pungent smoke cured the meats and thus provided food for the long winters. Other families might have also hung their meats on ropes near the stove pipe which also worked to supply heat to the second floor [4]. The underlying notion of the time was that every settler, no matter their line of work, became a farmer and needed a barn to store all of the various farming tools [5].

Image of the surrounding area of the Stong House and Barn, courtesy of York Unknown

Due to the difficult and time-consuming work on the farm, combined with the loneliness and desolate lifestyle of early settler life, alcoholism became an escape for many. The rigorous pace of land clearing and solitary lifestyle, left many settlers like the Stongs feeling unsuited to the lonely and demoralizing existence in the Borough [6]. Drunkenness and its results would come to be a serious social problem that eventually lead to the temperance movement during the second quarter of the nineteenth century [7]. To put this into perspective, “In Upper Canada alone in 1842 there were 147 distilleries and ninety-six breweries serving a population of less than 500,000.” [8].

The wide open landscape and old country dirt roads also lead to a few deaths not to far from the Stong Barn, in a nearby village called Fisherville. The roads were certainly not like they are today. They were uneven and the night was extremely dark with only the moon and stars to provide light for nighttime walkers. We know from historical records that two people died due to this darkness by wandering off the road and drowning in Steeles Avenue Mill Pond. One of the victims was a man returning from a nearby tavern, and one was a seamstress who was in the midst of delivering a wedding dress to a customer [9]. These deaths prove just how dark and creepy the Borough could really be. Where do these spirits roam today? Maybe still by the pond? Maybe they’ve wandered to the closeby campus where the light is bright and they can see clearly? We will leave your imagination to roam as you too walk around the creepy streets and uncover the many other terrors of the land we now call York University.

Images courtesy of York Unknown

#YorkUnknown #HistoricalWalkingTour #DigitalHistoryProject

* Disclaimer: This blog is not in association with York University or Black Creek Pioneer Village.

[1] Britten, Jennifer. “Public Notice: Heritage Land .” City of Toronto: Get Involved - Public Notice - Heritage Land, 18 Dec. 2009,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hart, Patricia W. Pioneering in North York: A History of the Borough. Toronto: General Pub. Co., 1971. 38.

[4] Ibid, 38-39.

[5] Ibid, 16.

[6] Ibid, 52.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 73.

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