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York Unknown: Stong House

Updated: Mar 17, 2019

Now for the full story...

Images courtesy of York Unknown

Welcome to the Stong House. You will see before you, a red bricked house with stone detailing near the base. Most of the windows are boarded up with wood, and this building does not seem to be in use. It looks as though nobody ever lived here. But someone did, and someone may still linger within its walls…


This two-and-a-half-storey house located on the south side of Steeles Avenue West [1] may not seem like much but its history is laden with generations of family history, some of it agreeably creepy. This property’s familial history begins with Daniel Stong and Elizabeth Fisher Stong. The land of Lot 25, Concession 4 West, York Township has belonged to the Stong family since 1816 when Daniel got access to the land grant [2]. In fact, the Stongs owned most of the land that York University is now built on, and all of where Black Creek Pioneer Village is situated.

Images courtesy of York Unknown

Daniel Stong was born in Pennsylvania in 1791 [3]. In the war of 1812 and the conflict of the British and the American soldiers, Daniel served as a member of the British regiment [4]. He was only 20 years old at the time, witnessing something as terrible as war [5]. What must he have seen while he served? How could this have changed him?


He married Elizabeth Fisher whose family resided in Vaughan Township in 1816 [6]. Elizabeth’s parents had made some questionable moves over the years when she was just a child, uprooting her over and over again. After immigrating to Upper Canada from Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1796, her family appeared to have the opportunity to lead a happy, prosperous life [7]. However, less than three years later, records show that her father, John, entered into a deal with Elisha Dexter to swap land, and the family moved to Scarborough Ontario [8]. There has been no evidence to suggest why this was [9]. The family then moved another time, in 1799 to Pickering, and again, there is no reasoning as to why [10]. Unfortunately, John passed away less than one year after this [11]. There is no record to tell of how John died [12]. John left Catherine, Elizabeth and the other three children behind with virtually nothing [13]. After this the family left Pickering almost as quickly as they had moved there [14].

Images courtesy of York Unknown

In adulthood, Elizabeth Stong saw quite the family grow around her in her 69 years of living on Lot 25, Concession 4. She, herself, had eight children and that number multiplied to 60 when the grandchildren were born [15].


Sadness, however, followed Elizabeth Fisher Stong. Her brother had died in the war of 1812 [16]. Later, her son Michael was killed in a shocking hunting accident where he was accidentally shot [17]. There are reports of Michael’s spirit lingering in two of the buildings on Black Creek Pioneer Village (former Stong land to the West of York University) [18]. He died in the upstairs bedroom of Daniel and Elizabeth’s house, and was the first person to be buried in the cemetery to the north of the (now) tourist site's property [19].


This cemetery is the final resting place of many families that were original to the land that York University and Black Creek Pioneer Village now reside on, such as Elizabeth, Daniel and Michael Stong, the Hoover family, the Kaiser family, and the Boynton family [20]. Historical interpreters that have worked at Black Creek have had eerie experiences in the original Stong residences, often hearing footsteps, slamming doors and seeing self-moving objects [21]. In addition to seeing Michael’s spirit, another spirit lingers the Stong houses – a woman [22]. Could it be Elizabeth herself? Or perhaps one of her two daughters [23]. Elizabeth’s child, Mary Ann and two of her children perished from illness as well, causing yet, more sadness for the family [24]. Perhaps the ghost could be one of them visiting their childhood home now and again?

Images courtesy of York Unknown

Jacob, who was born in 1821 bought the the east portion of Lot 25 in 1854 from his father for £750 [25]. By now, Jacob had married his wife, Sarah [26] and already had seven of his total ten children [27]. It is Jacob and Sarah’s house that we see here before us. Can you imagine 12 people living within these walls – day in and day out?


Jacob was an important member of society [28]. His house had been built by 1860 [29]. Records show that Jacob Stong died in 1898 at 78 years old, in an accident at Downsview Railway Station [30]. The Ontario Death Registrations state that his death was accidental [31], but it does make you wonder whether his death could have been the result of something more sinister, such as a suicide... or even a murder. His wife, Sarah died two years later [32].


Once York University acquired this land, the Stong House was used for university housing, programming and services [33]. So why is it no longer in use? Or is it still being used for some unknown purpose? Or was the house just simply too haunted to conduct activities in? What secrets aren’t they telling us?

Black and white image of Daniel Stong
Image of Daniel Stong ca. 1860s, Courtesy of Black Creek Pioneer Village

Black and white image of Elizabeth Fisher Stong
Image of Elizabeth Fisher Stong ca. 1860s, Courtesy of Black Creek Pioneer Village

Although the land belonged to Jacob Stong in the end, it had belonged to Elizabeth and Daniel for quite some time. The two pictures posted here of the couple are creepy to say the least. These photographs make us ask some important questions, such as, why would these two people wait until they were nearing the end of their lives to get these photos taken? Why do their eyes look so white and glazed – almost as if they are no longer living. Are they, in fact, not alive?


Post-mortem photography became a major draw to people in the 1850s. Sometimes getting a photo taken of your loved one after they were gone was your only opportunity to have a visual reminder of what that person looked like before their body decayed [34]. In fact, during the first decade that photography existed, people were more likely to memorialize a person’s death than a person’s birth or wedding day [35].


In fact, people were fascinated by the unknown world of being “captured” in a photograph, and people became intrigued by the aspect of what was called, “Spirit photography”: a type of photo-taking that was thought to have the potential to resurrect the deceased subject [36]. Others believed that each time a photograph was taken of someone, it removed a layer of their essence or soul [37].


One style of post-mortem photography was defined by propping the deceased up with poles and devices to make them appear as though they were still alive [38]. Often, wooden sticks were used to keep the eyes open and the pupils were later drawn onto the photograph itself [39].


When looking at these photographs, it is not hard to imagine that they are instances of post-mortem photography. However, since we can never be sure, it is up to the viewer to decide... So what do you think? Comment below.

Images courtesy of York Unknown

#torontohistory #northyorkhistory #digitalhistoryproject #stonghouse


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

[1] "Staff Report for Action: 4700 Keele Street - Inclusion on Heritage Inventory and Intention to Designate under Part IV, Section 29 of the Ontario Heritage Act" City of Toronto. (n.d.): 25.

[2] ibid.

[3] Boyle, T. Haunted Ontario 3: Ghostly Historic Sites, Inns, and Miracles. Dundurn Toronto, Toronto, Ontario: 2014. 19.

[4] ibid.

[5] Mika, N. et al. Black Creek Pioneer Village. Mika Publishing Company, Belleville, Ontario: 1988, 9.

[6] ibid.

[7] "Elizabeth Fisher - The Early Years." Provided by Black Creek Pioneer Village. n.d., 1.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] ibid.

[11] ibid, 2.

[12] ibid.

[13] ibid.

[14] ibid.

[15] ibid, 6.

[16] ibid, 4.

[17] ibid, 8.

[18] Boyle, Haunted Ontario 3, 20.

[19] ibid, 20.

[20] ibid, 26.

[21] ibid, 20.

[22] ibid.

[23] ibid.

[24] "Elizabeth Fisher," Black Creek Pioneer Village, 8.

[25] ibid.

[26] White, C. "Heritage Toronto Mondays: The Jacob Stong House." Urban Toronto. (2010). http://urbantoronto.ca/news/2010/08/heritage-toronto-mondays-jacob-strong-house.

[27] "Elizabeth Fisher," Black Creek Pioneer Village, 8.

[28] Borough of North York Historic Sites July, 1971. 1971. 33. **

[29] Tremain’s Map of Toronto and York County, 1860.

[30] Becker, J. "Stong Family Fond, 1980-027." Clara Thomas Archives. 1980,

[31] "Ontario Death Registrations: 'St-Sz' Surnames" in sites.rootsweb.com, (2006). http://sites.rootsweb.com/~onvsr/death/deathindex_st-sz_new.htm.

[32] Becker, J., Clara Thomas Archives.

[33] City of Toronto, 25.

[34] Borgo, M. et al. "Post-mortem Photography: the Edge Where Life Meets Death?" in De Gruyter 2. (2016): 104.

[35] West, N. M. "CAMERA FIENDS: EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY, DEATH, AND THE SUPERNATURAL." in The Centennial Review, 40 no. 1 (1996): 172.

[36] ibid, 174.

[37] ibid, 177.

[38] Borgo, 106.

[39] ibid.

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