Three archeological sites were excavated here during the late 1940s and 1950s: the Black Creek site, near Jane and Wilson; the Downsview site, just south of Northwood Park at Keele and Sheppard; and the Parsons site, north of Finch and Keele. Archeological excavations have concluded that the Black Creek site may have been occupied by the Huron people as early as the 15th century. It appears that the Parsons site may have been an amalgamation of two or more Iroquois communities as, at almost 3 hectares in size, it was almost twice the size of the Downsview and Black Creek sites. Excavations in the 1950s uncovered the remains of ten Iroquois longhouses, sweat lodges and thousands of artifacts.
Attempts were made in 1970s to reconstruct the Parsons site as a Huron village for educational purposes. However, construction projects in 1977 and the early 1980s proceeded without proper archaeological evaluations, resulting in the destruction of large parts of the village. Though this site was pivotal in formulating the cultural history of the Humber Valley, this irreplaceable village has unfortunately been lost forever. Four historical plaques were erected on what has been named the “Huron Wendat Trail” along the Finch Hydro corridor between Jane Street and Sentinel Road.
In 1842 Bartholomew Bull and his wife Elizabeth Boake, who had immigrated to York from Ireland, gifted their 21-year-old son, John Perkins Bull, with 200 acres of land on Keele south of Wilson. John began clearing the land and built a small cabin on Bull Road. Construction finished in 1844 and he married Caroline Amelia Carpenter the same year. “Downs View” was the name given by Caroline to their domain; the “view” of the “downs” (rounded and grass-covered hills) reminded Caroline of Ireland. Being on one of the highest elevations in the Township of York, she could see right down to Lake Ontario. The name stuck.
Bull Road eventually became Rustic Road. The Downs View house still stands at 450 Rustic Road. John’s grandson, William Perkins Bull (1870-1948), who was born in Downs View, wrote a book on the early local history of our area called From Oxford to Ontario; A History of the Downsview Community. Downs View House is listed in the City of Toronto’s heritage properties.
Originally known as the York Wesleyan Methodist Church, its first home – after Downs View house – was a log meeting house built on a farm on the east side of Keele Street in 1850. This building also housed the local school. When the current church was built on the west side of Keele Street in 1870, school trustees bought the old meeting house for $515. It was bricked-over and enlarged in 1887, and served as a school until it was demolished and replaced with the current Downsview Public School in 1948.
The cornerstone of the new church on the west side of Keele Street was laid on June 28, 1870 and was dedicated in January 1871. It expanded with the extension of the chancel in 1882 and was renamed the Downsview United Church in 1925. Downsview United Church is, by far, Downsview’s most iconic landmark and has served for well over a century as a spiritual, social and educational centre in our community. It ranks as a well-crafted example of Gothic Revival architecture, the most popular style for churches in the mid to late 19th century. With its tall steeple, Downsview United Church survives as one of only four churches in North York dating to the 1800s. In 2003 Downsview United Church was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
In 1836, Edward Boake (brother to Elizabeth Boake from Downs View House) and his wife, Sarah came to own a large parcel of land, and in 1856 they built their homestead. They named it “Locust Lodge” because it was surrounded by hundreds of Locust trees. Edward and Sarah had seventeen children!
The Boake farmhouse was enormous for its time. The house was heated by wood burning stoves until 1916 when an electric line was run from Keele Street. Well water was supplied by two artesian wells located near Downsview United Church.
The Boake children did their fair share of chores and attended the school on Keele Street. In the summer they would swim in the Black Creek at Downsview Dells. That swim also served as their bath.
Four generations of the Boake family made Locust Lodge their home until the land was expropriated by the government for a military base in 1951. Sadly, nothing remains of this beautiful homestead which was located on the east side of Keele Street, north of Downsview Park Boulevard.
Near the end of the 19th century George Jackson inherited land from his father, William, who had purchased 200 acres northwest of Keele Street for a £1 an acre. The red brick home with the sweeping gables was constructed as a farmhouse in approximately 1896. Like his father, George took up public service as a school trustee and a township councillor. George and his wife Sarah James diligently farmed the land and raised their family here. Members of the Jackson family lived on this property from 1896 to 1967. Artifacts left by the Jackson family give us an intimate glance of the era. In one collection, their daughters, Alice and Bessie, wrote an essay, written during World War 1, argueing in favour of women’s right to vote.
As a representative example of a late 19th century farmhouse, the design blends elements of the Queen Anne Revival and Richardsonian Romanesque styles popular in the late 1800s. The property is one of the few surviving buildings that reflects the development of Downsview as an agricultural community in the 1800s. In 2012 the George Jackson House was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. A particular attribute of the Jackson house is the basket weave brickwork pattern under the steep gables.
In April 1929, Geoffrey de Havilland chose Downsview to build his only Canadian aircraft factory. Seventy acres of farmland north of Sheppard Ave. and west of Dufferin St. were expropriated and the De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Company went on to become Canada’s largest supplier of government-owned aircraft in the 1930s. The aircrafts that were designed and built in Downsview helped the Allied Forces win World War 2. De Havilland Aircraft of Canada continued to make several significant achievements until the end of the war.
Downsview is also connected to the beginning of the Space technology industry. De Havilland’s Guided Missile Division was formed in the De Havilland buildings in 1954. When the Avro Arrow was cancelled, the Division was renamed the Special Products Division and developed the STEM antenna for satellite and spacecraft use. The division later built the structure and antennas of the Alouette satellite that in 1963 established Canada as the 3rd nation in space and the first to launch a scientific satellite. When De Havilland bought Avro Canada, the Special Products division was merged with Avro’s Canadian Applied Research to create SPAR (Special Products Applied Research) which became Canada’s foremost space company. They were the company that built the “Canadarm” and engineered STOL (Short Take Off and Landing). All pioneered right here in Downsview! We were Canada’s base for the world’s 5th largest aerospace industry.
The former De Havilland factory at 65 Carl Hall Road is one of only three surviving aviation heritage buildings in Canada. It was threatened with demolition in 2011 but was saved and a new vision emerged for an aerospace education campus. It was opened in May 2019.
In May 2018 Bombardier sold the 572 acres to the Public Sector Pension Investment Board.
Looking at Downsview Park today, you would never know that from 1952 to 1996 it was a military base that functioned as a self-contained city, with a population of about 8,000 people. Canadian Forces Base Downsview had a first class recreation centre with gym and pool, a movie theatre, canteens, a gun club, mess tents, barber shop and beauty salon. There was also a large defence research medical laboratory building associated with the University of Toronto which had a large decompression chamber and did medical research regarding manned flight.
Military base housing was located at the southwest corner of Keele & Sheppard and at what is today the southeast corner of Keele and Downsview Park Boulevard (known as Stanley Greene Park). The area on the northeast corner of Keele and Sheppard, known as William Baker Park, contained the Officer’s housing. It has been described by former residents as an idyllic place to grow up. There was a sense of family and quiet pride due to the nature of their jobs. One of the residents was Keith Ogilvie who was held as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III in World War II and on whose story the Academy Award nominated movie “The Great Escape” was based. William Baker Park was also used in the filming of th Bruce Willis movie Red.
In 1954 the Royal Canadian Air Force built the #1 Supply Depot at 40 Carl Hall Road. Because it supplied the entire Canadian Armed Forces in Canada and overseas, it was designed to withstand a ballistic missile attack. Beneath the Supply Depot was a one-million-gallon stormwater reservoir to provide water in case of an attack.
In 1995 the Federal Government closed the military base as urban encroachment made it dangerous to land the ever-larger aircraft that were being developed and the supply depot was becoming obsolete. The federal government announced that the lands were to be set aside for recreational and public uses.
On the right side of this picture taken in 1976 you can see the Boake family home and the single row of maple trees along the southern property line which is all that remains of the home and farm. At the top you can see the de Havilland factory, hangars, and runways. On the left you can see the bridge that goes over Sheppard Avenue to the Officers’ housing in William Baker Park which have been demolished. In the centre is 70 Canuck Avenue which remains there today. From this picture you can see how flat Downsview Park used to be.