The volunteers that own and run a little-known historical landmark in Forest Hill are stepping up their efforts to make it a weekend destination for residents across the city.
Recent events by the Community History Project, which owns and operates the Tollkeeper’s Cottage at 750 Davenport Rd., have included a retrospective of Irish contributions to Toronto for St. Patrick’s Day, and an Easter egg hunt on March 30. The volunteer-based organization also plans to run its annual Victoria Day Tea event on May 19, and its docents are happy to lead visitors through its original owners’ daily lives every Saturday.
The cottage marks one of five tollgates that stood along Davenport Road between the Humber and Don rivers during the 1800s, when many of Toronto’s roads were first built, improved and maintained by private companies in exchange for tolls.
“The city’s idea of heritage is to tear things down and put a plaque up,” says senior docent Doreen Moor-Mapes. “We did the opposite here.”
On March 23 Moor-Mapes showed visitor Brett Kennedy and his daughters — Laurel, 7 and Mariam, 4 — some of the duties the tollkeeper’s children would have had to perform in 1860. Among the tasks would be tying the ropes which held their straw mattresses in place, and removing the bedding so they could beat it for bedbugs.
“If the rope wasn’t tight and you had two to four sleeping in the bed, whoever was in the middle was going to wake up on the floor with everyone piled on her,” Moor-Mapes explained. “And depending on the time of year that you were doing your stuffing and the quality of straw… (bedbugs) would come up.”
CHP leadership first discovered the cottage, which has been dated to at least the 1850s, on nearby Howland Avenue in 1993. Its journey to its current site was not a quick one, however.
The cottage was first moved to Wychwood Barns in 2002 after the CHP purchased it from a developer for $1. Negotiating the low sum came with the provision “it be removed as quickly as possible,” board member Pauline Morris says with a laugh.
While the cottage was declared a City of Toronto heritage site in 2003, the CHP receives no government funding, and it was only after four years of property negotiations with the city and fundraising for its restoration that the cottage was moved to its current site, about 800 metres from where it stood in the 1800s.
It opened as a museum in 2008, following renovations that included creating a visitor’s centre connected to what would have been the front porch.
Because everyone involved is a volunteer, the cottage is currently open only on Saturdays, though Morris said the project has recently had luck opening one Sunday each month, such as during the March 30 Easter egg hunt.
It’s hard to miss if visitors are looking for it: the city named the park at Bathurst Street and Davenport Road the Tollkeeper’s Park in its honour.
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