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The Memory’s Gate and the ghost town of Laskay

December 2022

Ontario is littered with thousands of former towns, some of which are completely devoid of people, some that are still occupied, but a shadow of their former selves. Commonly called “ghost towns,” Laskay is one such village in King Township, in southern Ontario, that falls into the latter category.

Founded in 1832, along the East Humber River, when a dam was erected to create a mill pond for a sawmill. Originally named Bulltown, the name was shortly afterwards changed to Laskay by Joseph Baldwin, after his hometown in England, when he bought the mill and its 100-acre property.

By the 1850s, a grist mill and a woolen mill had been added. Village lots were laid out on either side of the river on land owned by Joseph Baldwin and David Archibald.  Worker from the mills began buying up the lots and building houses on them.

The village also had such amenities as a blacksmith shop. dressmaker shop, the Emporium general store, a post office, a tailor, a butcher, the Laskay Tavern, a Town Hall and a Methodist church, which later became a United Church.

The Humber River was prone to flooding, which destroyed the mill dam and the Grist Mill by the late 1870s.  The buildings themselves were destroyed in the floods of the late 1870’s.  By the 1890s, the grist mill and the woolen mill had been destroyed by fires. Plans originally called for Laskay to become an incorporated village, but the destruction of the last mills led to the decline of the village.

Today, Laskay is a small, rural, residential community. The main road through Laskay, Weston Road (Concession Road 3), has a mix of older and newer homes, along with new, executive homes in small housing surveys just east of Weston Road.

The Laskay Emporium was re-located to Black Creek Pioneer Village in North York in February 1960. The Arbuckle family, who owned and ran the store at the time, had saved the aging building from likely demolition. A few years earlier, they sold or gifted the store to Black Creek, but it couldn’t be moved until 1960, after the old wooden bridge across the Humber River was replaced with a new, stronger bridge.

The Arbuckles built a new building, which continued operating as a store for quite some time afterwards.

The Laskay Town Hall, originally built in 1858 by the Sons of Temperance and managed by the Laskay Women’s Institute, from 1914-1989, was moved from to the King Township Museum in 2017, where it was completely restored.

In November 2019, King Township officially dedicated the Memory’s Gate, a weathered steel archway etched with lines from the poem that served as its inspiration – “Musings at Memory’s Gate” by King City’s Reverend Martin Jenkinson. Mounted in a small parkette on Weston Road, this public art project commemorates the former village. It was created by artists Stuart Chan, Jasmine Frolick, Max Yuristy, Carl Shura and Heather Campbell.

Written in 1953, “Musings at Memory’s Gate” speaks to community connectivity across generations:

“The past brings back some names to mind and well-loved faces too; They lived their little share of life, e’ven as you and I must do.”

Sources: https://hikingthegta.com/2017/11/11/laskay-ghost-towns-of-the-gta, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laskay,_Ontario, https://www.eraarch.ca/2020/celebrating-laskay-through-memorys-gate, Laskay Hall moved to new location | King Weekly Sentinel (kingsentinel.com).

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-memorys-gate-and-the-ghost-town-of-laskay/

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