Todmorden Mills Heritage Site features a group of historic buildings set in the scenic Don Valley that were once part of the small industrial community of Todmorden. The historic site exemplifies the changing human and natural history of the Lower Don Valley over the past 12,000 years. A 9.2 hectare wildflower preserve with a walking trail adjoins the museum site where a number of natural habitats can be explored, including upland and bottomland forests, dry and wet meadows, swamp lands and a pond.
Todmorden Mills consists of two historic millers’ homes, a Brewery building dating from the 19th century and the renovated Papermill Theatre and Gallery.
Visitors can learn about the lives of Toronto workers portrayed in two historic homes that were recently restored to the 1890s and wartime 1940s. The site offers ongoing programming including tours, exhibits, kids programs, special events and school trips. The facilities are also available for event rentals throughout the year.
Seniors (65+): $3.54
Youth (13-18 years): $3.54
Child (6-12 years): $2.65
Children (5 years and under): Free
Holiday season admission (mid-November to early January)
Seniors (65+): $4.42
Youth (13-18 years): $4.42
Children (6-12 years): $3.76
Children (5 years and under): Free
Note: Prices do not include applicable taxes
Hours of Operation
January to May
Wednesday to Friday: 12 – 4 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 12 to 4:30 p.m.
June, July and August
Tuesday to Friday: 10 – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 12 – 5 p.m.
September to December
Wednesday to Friday: 12 – 4 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 12 – 4:30 p.m.
Closed Statutory Holidays
Get on any bus (not a streetcar). Get off at Mortimer/Pottery Rd. (at Dairy Queen). Turn left and walk down Pottery Road. Please note that Pottery Road turns into a fairly steep hill at Broadview and can pose varying degrees of difficulty for individuals. Walking down and returning up to the bus stop takes about ten minutes each way. For specific TTC route and schedule information call 416-393-4636 (INFO) or visit the TTC website.
Todmorden Mills Heritage Site opened to the public in 1967 as part of East York’s contribution to the celebration of Canada’s centennial. In 1821, the Helliwell family settled in the area and established a brewery and distillery. They re-named the area Todmorden after their home town in Lancashire, England as the landscape of the Don Valley was reminiscent of it. The Todmorden paper mill, now the Papermill Theatre and Gallery, was the first of its kind in Upper Canada to produce machine-made paper. It provided newsprint for some of the colony’s first publications including William Lyon Mackenzie’s newspaper The Colonial Advocate.
The Todmorden Mills Heritage Site grounds are home to a 9.2 hectare Wildflower (Nature) Preserve. The trail winds through several different habitats including Upland Forest on the slopes, Bottomland Forest, Swamp, Pond, Dry Meadow and Wet Meadow. The Wildflower Preserve is a long-term, ongoing project undertaken by volunteers. Their aim is to reintroduce the native plant species that were here when the settlers arrived and to remove the invasive non-native species that have been introduced. The preserve provides a green oasis within a major urban centre and is a highly valued spiritual, cultural, and environmental space.
Description of Historic Place
Todmorden Mills Heritage Museum and Arts Centre is located in the Don River Valley in the former Borough of East York. The site consists of four in situ nineteenth-century buildings, including two residences, part of a brewery, and a paper mill that was renovated in the late twentieth century to accommodate a theatre and gallery. Additional site features include the historic Don River bridge, the brick road, the wildflower preserve, and a parking lot that was previously the site of a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. The Don train station was moved to Todmorden Mills in 1969 in order to prevent its demolition; it was relocated to Roundhouse Park at 255 Bremner Boulevard in the fall of 2008.
The City of Toronto’s Cultural Services manage and operate the historic structures, while the grounds are maintained by the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division.
Statement of Heritage Value
- Todmorden Mills is located at 67 Pottery Road in Municipal Ward 29. It is a designated heritage site under by-law 103-89 passed by the Borough of East York Council on November 6, 1989.
- Todmorden Mills was identified as part of the Don River flood plain in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The site is protected under the Ravine and Natural Feature Protection by-law that applies to the conservation of major valleys and ravines under the jurisdiction of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. (City of Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 658, Ravine and Natural Feature Protection)
- Todmorden Mills is one of the earliest industrial communities in the City of Toronto (it was established in the late 1790s) and provides an important example of the development of such settlements over time. The site is also noteworthy for the historical and architectural significance of its buildings and additional site features. Helliwell House, one of the two residences on site, is a rare example of 19th-century adobe brick construction. All of the buildings on the site contain traces of their original fabric, as well as subsequent renovations introduced by various later tenants.
- Todmorden Mills is a significant archaeological resource as a rare example of an early Upper Canadian industrial community that has been virtually undisturbed during the city’s expansion into the surrounding rural areas. Site elements have been covered by landfill that was laid down in the beginning of the twentieth century; this protective layer has preserved many of the property’s original features.
- Todmorden Mills is part of a significant heritage landscape within the Don Valley. This section of the Valley contains a number of historic features, including the Don Valley Brick Works and the Don River itself; the river channel has been modified by a series of users, in particular to accommodate transportation requirements and to control flooding. The region is an important natural resource and contains a number of conservation zones.
Character Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage value of this site include:
- Todmorden Mills consists of four in-situ heritage buildings that were once components of one of Toronto’s earliest industrial sites. Todmorden was established by Isaiah and Aaron Skinner, who received permission from Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe to purchase a lot on the Don River in 1793 to establish and operate a saw mill. The business was successful, and the Skinners expanded their operations with the addition of a grist mill a short time later.
- The Helliwell family had established a brewery and distillery in the area by 1821, and renamed the growing community Todmorden after their home town in Lancashire, England. The extended Skinner and Helliwell families dominated Todmorden’s industries in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, and produced a variety of products including flour, lumber, paper, and beer. In 1847 a fire destroyed the Helliwell brewery and resulted in the sale of the property to the Taylor family by 1855. The Taylors owned the land and properties until they declared bankruptcy in 1901; the site was then acquired by their brother-in-law, Robert Davies.
- Throughout the early 20th century the paper mill building was used as stables for the nearby Brick Works. When trucks replaced the horses as a principal mode of transportation, the stables became a series of privately-owned leisure riding stables. During World War II, a small Prisoner of War camp was situated in what is now the back parking lot of Todmorden Mills. The German POWs worked at nearby brick processing factories. The POW camp was destroyed by arson at the end of the war.
- Throughout much of the early 20th century, Helliwell House and the Regency Cottage served as residential properties for senior staff from the nearby Brick Works. These structures were inhabited until 1965.
- The approaching National Centennial celebrations in 1967 prompted the development of a heritage site in East York. Mayor True Davidson and the environmentalist Charles Sauriol advocated successfully for the establishment of a heritage site at Todmorden Mills. The restoration project was supervised by the architect Peter Stokes, and financed by funding and donations from community members, public organizations, and descendants of Todmorden’s founding families. The Todmorden Mills Heritage Museum opened in May 1967, and has benefitted from the continued interest of a diverse group of stakeholders and volunteers.
- On-site archival materials include documents and photographs that relate to various aspects of the history of the East York community. The Helliwell diaries cover the periods from November 1830 to 1842 and 1879 to 1886; they have been a particularly valuable resource for the interpretation of Helliwell House. Further relevant materials are located at the Toronto Reference Library, the City of Toronto Archives, and the Archives of Ontario.
- The Museum’s artefact collection consists of objects owned by the East York Foundation (EYF), as well as materials owned by the City of Toronto, and jointly owned by both the EYF and the City. The collection includes objects representative of the nineteenth-century periods to which the buildings are currently restored, as well as some artefacts directly related to various Todmorden inhabitants.
- The Helliwell house was constructed by William Helliwell in the late 1830s, and is one of the few extant adobe brick structures in Toronto still located on its original site. The wooden addition to the house was added at a later date. The entire building was inhabited by various tenants until 1965; its interior was restored to the year 1867 in1966 and opened to the public in 1967. The exterior fencing and a number of small buildings, including a summer kitchen, were removed over time while changes to the interior structures reflect changing styles and heating methods over time.
- Architectural characteristics, historical documents, and archaeological evidence suggest that the Regency cottage was built in the mid-1850s, although it was refurbished in 1966 to represent an 1837 interior. The cottage contains features that are characteristic of the Regency architectural style, although renovations by a series of tenants have introduced a number of changes that have altered the house’s original appearance. The exterior portico, fencing, and patio have been removed, and closets have been added to the interior. At present, period-room displays reflect the building as an 1830s domestic environment.
- The paper mill was the first of its kind in Upper Canada to produce machine-made paper; the mill provided newsprint for some of the colony’s first publications including William Lyon Mackenzie’s newspaper, The Colonial Advocate. The building has undergone adaptive re-use since its construction by John Eastwood and Colin Skinner in 1826, evolving from a grist mill to a paper mill, to stables for the neighbouring Don Valley Brick Works, and finally to a series of private riding schools before its establishment as East York’s theatre and gallery in the 1970s. Since 2000 the building has been upgraded through federal and municipal funding to create a fully accessible, state-of-the-art theatre and gallery facility. The mill’s renovation was accompanied by major architectural changes, and the building now incorporates a number of later elements around its historical core; these elements include the original exterior signage and masonry, as well as the tall smokestack that dates from the building’s conversion from a water-powered
facility in the 1870s.
- The Helliwell family built a large brewery and distillery at Todmorden in 1821; this extensive complex included a cooperage and residential facilities. The majority of the building was destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1847 that prompted the eventual sale of the property by the Helliwells to the Taylor family by 1855. The east bank of the Don River was significantly elevated in the 1920s to minimize the impact of flooding in the area, and landfill from the construction of Toronto’s downtown core was used to fill in the building’s ground storey. This land fill extends to the front door of the Regency cottage. Further modifications were made to the brewery’s masonry, roof, and windows at the time of the Museum’s public opening in 1967. The brewery serves as a public orientation space and administrative centre.
- Todmorden Mills is a rare example of an early industrial site that is virtually intact, since the majority of the complex has been covered by a preserving layer of landfill that was deposited in the early twentieth century to mitigate the impact of regular flooding of the Don River. Restoration projects and archaeological assessments have revealed archaeological remains connected to the paper mill and Regency cottage; findings near the cottage include residential fencing, a porch, and other features. The buried mill races are another significant archaeological feature at Todmorden Mills; fed by the Don River, these races were once essential resources for the settlement’s industries.
- A Stage 1 archaeological assessment of Todmorden Mills Park was submitted by Historic Horizon Inc, on June 20, 2007. This assessment summarizes all previous archaeological reports from 1994. Further archaeological excavations were conducted in the summer of 2008 to assist with the development of the current Site Improvements Project that includes the analysis of landscaping components. This work identified the locations of fencing around the Helliwell house and fencing, patio, and a portico around the Regency cottage, as well as the location of an additional structure north of the cottage previously known only from archival photos and images of the site. All site planning related to Todmorden Mills should be undertaken with reference to potential archaeological features, in conjunction with the City of Toronto’s Master Plan for Archaeological Resources.
- The brick road that led directly from Todmorden Mills to the Don Valley Brick Works was located in January 2010 during the current Site Improvements Project’s construction of a new access route to the site’s parking lot. This portion of road was documented and covered to protect it. Its location will be commemorated by brick patterned asphalt as well as an interpretive panel.
- Todmorden Mills is situated in the Don River Valley, and the surrounding property contains traces of ongoing habitation since the earliest European settlement. Nineteenth-century Todmorden consisted of a number of features that are no longer extant including houses, outbuildings, barns, summer kitchens, and stables. Todmorden’s character as an integrated community has been undermined by the loss of these features; however surviving historical, archaeological, and architectural evidence indicates that each of these elements were once part of a larger domestic and industrial network.
- The bridge was a significant feature in the Todmorden Mills settlement, and is now a historic reminder of the Don River’s importance as an essential natural resource for the first local industries. The original piers of the bridge visible under the modern stone piers are among the earliest examples of the use of concrete in the city. The bridge indicates the size and power of the river before it was rechannelled in the mid-twentieth century; it also provides a sightline that shows the span of the river prior to its relocation. The changes to the river are one indication of the extent of the physical alterations to the site, and the height of the existing landfill is further evidence of the impact of twentieth-century development in the area.
- Archaeological investigation indicates that the brick road may have been constructed at Todmorden Mills shortly after 1921, using rails salvaged from the early downtown streetcar tracks rather than from the railway as was previously believed. The road evokes the site’s industrial heritage and its association with the Don Valley Brick Works. It also provides tangible evidence of the physical changes that were produced by steady urban development; the road originally led directly to the Brick Works, but now ends at the Todmorden Mills parking lot, cut off from its historic destination by the Don Valley Parkway and the Bayview Extension.
- The parking lot was built to facilitate the construction of the Don Valley Parkway and the Bayview Extension in the mid-twentieth century. The site is historically significant as the location of a German prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War. The hill to the south of the site was created over a landfill dump during the construction of the Don Valley Parkway.
- The wildflower preserve was established in 1991 by Charles Sauriol and Dave Money, who planned to restore a nine-hectare area to its pre-settlement natural condition. The preserve contains native plant species whose populations have been reduced by residential and industrial development, and is used as an educational tool to demonstrate the importance of ecological stewardship and the impact of human settlement on the natural landscape. It provides a green oasis within a major urban centre, and is a highly valued spiritual, cultural, and environmental space.