Friends of Bygone – The Gibson House Museum

Bygone is thrilled to be partnering with the historic Gibson House Museum for our upcoming production of Rope. The 19th century home is a beautiful setting for this site-specific production. For those of you who are not familiar with the museum, here are some highlights and fun facts;

Built in 1851, Gibson House was the home of Scottish immigrant David Gibson and his family. He was a land surveyor who helped map early Toronto. Wanted by the government for participating in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, Gibson was forced to flee to the United States where he and his family remained for 11 years. On their return to York County, the Gibsons built this beautiful home and once again became active members of their rural community.

Visitors can step back in time and explore this elegant farmhouse. Its serene Georgian-style exterior belies the dramatic lives of the Gibson family.

Gibson House Museum is one of 10 historic museums operated by the City of Toronto. Toronto’s Historic Sites engage visitors, inspire passion, challenge ideas and connect the past to the present. (information taken from the City of Toronto website, 2014)

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Gibson House Museum in North York is a red brick Georgian Revival farmhouse located on land that was acquired by the Gibson family in 1829. David and Elizabeth Gibson lived in a wood frame house on the site until they were forced to flee to the United States during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. The building that now stands was constructed in 1851 after the family’s return to Toronto, and was home to David and Eliza’s household as well as their son Peter Silas Gibson’s family until 1916. The house was occupied by a series of owners and tenants until the Township of North York acquired the property in 1965. Gibson House was restored and opened as a heritage museum on June 6, 1971.

Gibson House is owned by the City of Toronto, and is managed and operated by the City’s Cultural Services.

Statement of Heritage Value

  • The David Gibson House is located at 5172 Yonge Street in Municipal Ward 23. It is a designated heritage site under by-law 27975 passed by the North York City Council on December 15, 1980.
  • Gibson House is associated with the domestic and public lives of David and Eliza Gibson, who were prominent members of the rural Willow Dale community in the North York township and significant figures in the history of Upper Canada. Gibson House is one of a number of nineteenth-century rural farmhouses that survived the major urban development that accompanied the city’s expansion into North York in the twentieth century. The building has been modified over time to suit the needs of several generations of the Gibson family, as well as those of various later owners and tenants.
  • Gibson House is an example of the late Georgian architectural style, and has undergone extensive renovations and restorations since its construction. The building’s exterior retains a number of original features, while the internal layout and period-room restorations are based on historical documents from the Gibson Gibson House Museum family and contemporary furnishings in similar houses from the mid-nineteenth century.
  • The Gibson property has produced a number of archaeological findings, including artefacts dating from the mid- to late nineteenth century that are associated with the domestic lives of the Gibson family and those of the house’s later inhabitants.
  • Gibson House was once part of an active and progressive working farm, and was a significant feature within the Willow Dale community nine miles from the town of York. The expanding city gradually absorbed the farmland and villages of North York. Gibson House is now surrounded by a thoroughly urban landscape, and serves as a reminder of the borough’s early settlements and rural history.

Character Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage value of this site include:

Historic Value

  1. Gibson House is historically significant for its connection to the Gibson family. The Scottish immigrant David Gibson (1804 – 1864) immigrated to Quebec in 1825 and worked as a surveyor in Upper Canada for many years. Gibson assisted in mapping much of early Toronto, including the city’s streets and sidewalks, and was also a successful farmer and an influential politician in his local district. David was a member of the Legislative Assembly in 1834 and 1836, as well as a leader of the Reform movement. After the Rebellion of 1837 he was forced to live as a fugitive in Upper Canada before escaping to the United States. His wife, Elizabeth Milne Gibson, and their four children joined him after the first Gibson House was burned by Government soliders. Eliza Gibson traveled regularly to Upper Canada to collect rents from the family’s properties until David’s father James and half-brother William arrived from Scotland and began to manage the Willow Dale farm. The Gibson family returned to Upper Canada in 1848, and moved into the second Gibson house in 1851.
  2. The Gibson property was willed to David and Eliza’s daughter, Margaret Jane, upon David’s death in 1864. The property then passed to Margaret’s brother Peter Silas and his wife Eliza Holmes, who raised their ten children in the house. Most of the historic Gibson farm was sold for sub-division in 1913, except for an acre at the south east corner where the Gibson House and Gibson Park are located, and a third of an acre on the south east corner that was deeded to Peter Silas’ eldest son, Harold Holmes, upon his marriage in 1897. Harold built a large red brick house on this site that was used as the new family home and then as a public library until its demolition in 1957.
  3. The Gibson farmhouse was rented to relatives of the Gibson family in the 1920s. In 1942 the house was sold to local contractor Noel Knowles who modernized the building and introduced a number of extensive renovations. After Mr. Knowles’ death in 1952 the house was sold and then rented to a series of tenants. In 1960 the North York Historical Society was founded by a group of citizens who had come together to advocate for Gibson House. The Township of North York purchased the remaining Gibson House property in 1965 for $1.00 and other considerations “for the purpose of a museum, historic site, or public park,” and in 1966 the building underwent exterior and structural restorations under the direction of the restoration architect B. Napier Simpson.
  4. The site was used as a storage facility until 1970, when the North York Council chose to restore and operate Gibson House as a heritage museum in response to the National Centennial in 1967. Council entered into a private restoration agreement with Brigadier-General J.A. McGinnis of the Toronto Historical Board, and the house interior was recreated under the direction of the Museums Advisor Dorothy Duncan to reflect the Gibsons’ home circa 1851, based on contemporary documents from the period. The Gibson House Museum opened to the public on June 6, 1971.
  5. Gibson House is associated with the Gibson family, and the development of the rural North York communities. This relationship is represented by an extensive archival collection that includes the personal papers, correspondence, and journals of David Gibson, as well as documents relating to the history of the house as a museum, other members of the Gibson family, later tenants, and inhabitants of local communities. Collections are stored on-site, and are also available at the Archives of Ontario, the North York Library, the North York Historical Society Archives, the City of Toronto Archives, and the National Archives of Canada. Some materials are also in the private possession of descendants of the Gibson family.
  6. The Museum’s artefact collection includes a small but significant collection of Gibson artifacts, including David Gibson’s surveying instruments and a tall case clock the works of which were removed from the first frame house by Eliza Gibson before fire consumed her house. The remainder of the collection was purchased or acquired from local donors and consists of materials representative of the various local homes, farms, and businesses of the mid-nineteenth century.

Architectural Value

  1. Gibson House was built with quality materials, and its design reflects the lifestyle of an established family with a leading place in their community. It is an example of Upper Canadian Georgian architecture, and also includes a number of variations based on diverse stylistic choices and later additions to the original building. The house is two-and-a-half storeys high, with a five-bay façade and rectangular plan, and includes evenly placed, symmetrical windows, a later kitchen extension, and a full basement. The building was constructed on a fieldstone base with red bricks made on the property, and the exterior includes a number of decorative components, including the yellow brick bands, the white brick voussoirs over the windows and doors, and the corner quoins, as well as the gables with black brick motifs. The Neo-Classical doorway with elliptical fanlight transom, rectangular sidelights, and two-panel Greek revival door is also original, while the porch has been restored according to nineteenth-century photographs.
  2. The house interior was renovated and subdivided to accommodate various tenants in the mid-twentieth century, and subsequent restorations represent the building as it might have appeared in 1851. The interior plan follows the conventional Georgian pattern of a centre hall with straight stairway and symmetrically disposed rooms, although much of the internal layout has been restored and interpreted based on building receipts, bills, and lists as well as references to the house and construction in letters and diaries. The restoration was also informed by Gibson artifacts in the museum’s collection as well as objects still in family hands, oral history interviews with the Gibsons’ surviving grandchildren, and comparisons to similar contemporary houses.

Archaeological Value

  1. Much of the Gibson House site has been disturbed by ongoing habitation and nearby urban development, however buried archaeological remains have been unearthed since the property’s restoration as a heritage museum. Site staff and volunteers have uncovered a variety of objects associated with nineteenth and early-twentieth century domestic life, including building materials such as nails and bricks, toys, ceramics, and a leather harness with metal attachments. These artefacts are stored on site, and may be associated with the Gibson family.
  2. In November to December 2008 a Stage 1-2 archaeological assessment was undertaken at the Menkes Gibson Square development property (5170 Yonge Street) to the south of Gibson House. The Stage 2 archaeological survey discovered additional nineteenth century Euro-Canadian artefacts such as miscellaneous building materials and ceramic sherds in test pits along a strip of undisturbed soil south of the house. These preliminary findings suggest that further archaeological deposits associated with occupants on the Gibson property may be found during the course of future excavations. All site planning related to Gibson House should be undertaken with reference to potential archaeological
    features, in conjunction with the City of Toronto’s Master Plan for Archaeological Resources.

Contextual Value

  1. Gibson House is one of the few surviving features of historic Willow Dale, a small crossroads community that was situated on Yonge Street nine miles from the town of York. Willow Dale was originally known as Kummer’s (or Cummer’s) settlement, and contained a population of 150 in the late 1850s. Willow Dale and its neighbouring North York communities benefited from their placement on Yonge Street, one of the earliest and most heavily traveled transport routes in Upper Canada. Local mills prospered due to the rivers of the Don Watershed that supplied an essential resource for settlers and created a distinctive natural landscape; David Gibson petitioned the government to open a community post office in the mid-nineteenth century, and suggested the name Willow Dale in honour of the numerous willow trees that grew in the district.
  2. Gibson House was a significant structure in rural North York and is connected to the life and history of the Gibson family, as well as the development of the Willowdale community. The building’s survival and restoration in the twentieth century demonstrates its enduring local importance, and its wider significance as a historic landmark and cultural resource in the City of Toronto.
  3. A Tolman Sweet apple tree, the last remaining tree from the orchard that David Gibson established in 1832, stands on the parkland south of Gibson House. Cuttings Gibson from the two Tolman Sweets and a Snow Apple that were standing in the late 1980s were used to establish a number of trees that now stand in Dempsey Park.

 

All information gathered from the City of Toronto website, http://www1.toronto.ca.

Want to see the home in a totally new way? Join us for Rope November 21-29, 2014 and see the show mounted in the Gibson House parlor. Tickets available now through TO Tix.

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