German Mills, Ontario

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German Mills
Unincorporated community
German Mills is located in Southern Ontario
German Mills
German Mills
Location of German Mills in southern Ontario
Coordinates: 43°48′58″N 79°22′07″W / 43.81611°N 79.36861°W / 43.81611; -79.36861
Country Canada
Province Ontario
Regional municipality York
City Markham
Established 1805 (1805)
Elevation 173 m (568 ft)
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
Area code(s) 905 and 289
NTS Map 030M14

German Mills is a community within the city of Markham in Ontario, Canada.[1] Located in the Thornhill area, German Mills was named for the early German settlers in the area.


The German Mills history is closely associated with the founding of Toronto, then called "Muddy York". It is also part of the early history of Markham, previously known as "Mannheim", "the home of man".

German Mills was part of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe's plan to establish a city with a bulwark against a possible American invasion. In doing so, there was a critical need to find people that can settle this province while being in hot pursuit to build the capital of York with its surrounding areas. Simcoe generally favoured settlements with township grants where the military could be located and act as consumers for local markets and town centres. German Mills was seen to be as an agricultural settlement for the food supply to the military and its citizens from the hinterland of the then "Infant Toronto" when in 1793, Toronto was little more than an outpost in the wilderness.

German Mills became the first significant industrial complex in Markham township, thanks to William Moll Berczy, a multi-talented entrepreneur with leadership, architectrual, engineering and painting skills. He led a group of 64 families with 182 people to York in the summer of 1794. This group consisted of bakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, weavers, a preacher, school teacher, brewer, cartwright, locksmith, miller, potter, tanner, stonemasons as well as farmers. It represented the first classic immigration model in Canada to fill the critical need of its time.

In the fall of 1794 William Berczy hired men to erect a large house and a sawmill building at what is now German Mills. To bring prosperity and new settlers, a warehouse for the Northwest Fur Trade Company was constructed as an intermediate stop for the northern route of the fur trade on the Nin (Rouge River) in Ontario at what later became Unionville, Ontario. Toronto and Markham was then a thick, mature forest ideal for the supply of lumber. The forest consisted of pine, oak, maple, butternut and other trees so thick that sunlight penetrated it only when the leaves had fallen.

An agreement, between Andrew Pierce and the German Land Company signed and dated January 1, 1793 provided for the supply of oxen and cattle from Connecticut. These cattle had been put on their way with the help of Joseph Brant's Indian destined for "Muddy York" and German Mills before the first settler groups had been due to arrive in 1794. Some oxen had been kept at the German Land Company Warehouse at the south-east corner of present King and Sherbourne Streets in the town of York in November 1794, where they had been used to in the construction of Yonge Street the world largest street. Other oxen had been moved with cattle in flat bottom boats up the Don river and then via the tributary German Mills Creek to German Mills. This was at a time when the rivers had been fuller and larger in water flow.

The German Mills industrial complex consisted of a grist mill, saw mill and a blacksmith shop. The grist mills produced super-fine flour and the saw mill produced shingles and various kinds of lumber for the buildings in the German Mills area.

It also supplied lumber for the first houses in Toronto, among them the Russell Abbey home of the Hon. Peter Russell, Administrator of Upper Canada on Palace Street in 1797. This new house put William Berczy in demand as an architect.

William Moll Berczy, a man known today as the "Founder of Markham" and "Co-Founder of Toronto".

Six years later the German Mills industrial complex went into decline after it became apparent that waterpower produced by the Don River was not sufficient to operate the mills.


German Mills is now primarily a residential neighbourhood, with the bulk of the homes being single-family residences. Much of the homes were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Area commuters rely heavily on cars, but there is bus services by York Region Transit.


The few parks in the neighbourhood bear names of the early settlement and their settlers:

  • German Mills Settlers Park - 26 hectare site was former sand aggregate extraction (1940s-1960s) Sabiston Landfill c.1960s and closed 1975[2]
  • Berczy Park
  • Bishop Cross Park

German Mills Community Centre is the former S.S # 2 school house c.1874, one of the new surviving school houses in Markham.


See: C.C. Patterson "Land Settlement in Upper Canada, 1783-1840" in Ontario Archives,Report 1921, and E.A. Cruikschank "An Experiment in Colonization in Upper Canada". In Ontario Historical Society, Papers and Records xxxv, 1929

Subject matter deals with Simcoe's brilliant idea to employ Berczy's Germans as road builders and creators of an agricultural hinterland for York, just as the old fox Robert Morris had done for Williamsburg, appealed to Berczy because he harbored similar plans.

"Mannheim, the home of man" comes from interviews held with descendants of Berczy settlers, by John Lunau had been a long time curator of the Markham Museum and often made reference to the name Mannheim at public meetings and town conventions.

The Scadding Bridge named after Simcoe's Estate Administrator was the first structure of any kind to span the Don and served to link York with the Kingston Road; it stood near what is now the junction of King and Queen street in Toronto.

The bridge was designed by William Berczy and was already in use in 1794 for the transport of lumber from Markham to "Muddy York". An original drawings of the bridge are preserved in the National Archive in Ottawa. Also see Canadian Archives Publication 8,1912, No. 2660

Don Bridge, sketch by Berczy is preserved in the Canadian National Archive, Ottawa.

The Russel Abbey was designed by William Berczy and was occupied by Peter Russel In Russell's account book are preserved details of the undertaking which started in March 1797 with 22 barrels of lime and 6,500 bricks. - Peter Russell account book for 1797, is in the Public Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

Further reading: Letter by Peter Russell to Simcoe dated December 9, 1797 in Simcoe Papers of the Ontario Archive

The Canadians William Berczy, Florence M. Burns, p. 37 Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited.

A picture of the Russell Abbey drawing by Henry Scadding is preserved in the Toronto Public Reference Library.

North West Fur Trade - see Henry Scadding "Toronto of Old", Toronto, 1878, p. 450, also Berczy's letter re. warehouse in Unionville.

German Mills Residents Website:

Also see Genesee Journal p. 186

Coordinates: 43°48′58″N 79°22′07″W / 43.81611°N 79.36861°W / 43.81611; -79.36861