The Tollkeeper’s Cottage Museum is located at 750 Davenport Rd (at Bathurst St on the northwest corner) in the Wychwood neighbourhood of Toronto.
The Trail & Davenport Rd
Davenport Rd’s history can be traced back to the Ice Ages when the First Nations people travelled it as a foot trail between what we know today as Niagara to Montreal. In the 1600s, the path was also used by French fur traders than in the late 1700s by European settlers. In the 1800s, the trail was gradually converted into a road.
Taking Bids to Build Roads
In 1833, the government of Upper Canada gave winning bidders the authority to build, maintain and control specific sections of road. Those companies were also responsible for improving the road, and to recoup their investment, they collected tolls.
The Tollkeeper’s Cottage
The section of Davenport Rd between the Humber and Don Rivers had five tollgates. Tollgate #3 had this historic cottage to house the tollkeeper and his family. The cottage is a rare example of vertical plank construction. It dates back to 1835 and is believed to be the only surviving tollgate cottage in Canada. One painting dating back to 1875 has the cottage on the east side of Davenport Rd, while a later sketch shows it on the west side without the front porch but a rear portion added.
In 1895, the cottage became a residence when it was moved to Howland Ave. In 1996, that land was going to be redeveloped. To save the treasure, the Community History Project or CHP, a local history group, purchased the cottage from the developer for $1. They had 30 days to remove it from the lot. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) allowed CHP to keep the cottage at the Wychwood Street Barns site, and in the meantime, the history group started raising funds to restore the cottage.
Start of the Renovation
Historical records are usually consulted for restorations; however, The Tollkeeper’s Cottage documents were lost in a fire at the York Township Hall (on Yonge St) in 1881. So, the group would have to let the building reveal its construction history during the renovation. The CHP needed artisans with the proper skills, architects, historical materials and volunteers.
Since the cottage was so fragile, volunteers removed several layers of shingles, drywall and siding to reduce the weight on the structure. In doing so, they discovered both the original location of the front door and the tollkeeper’s window.
The Move & Restoration
The City of Toronto gave consent for The Tollkeeper’s Cottage to be permanently located where it is today, which is as close as possible to its original location. In July 2002, the cottage was carefully moved in a parade to its new home at Davenport Square Park. Much of the restoration work was done there.
Due to the age of the structure, many pieces had to be replaced. The group began slowly and carefully reconstructing the historic gem to its original condition. The process included volunteers making cedar shakes for the roof by hand, searching for stones to recreate the foundation wall, replacing the clapboard siding, making handmade nails, making mortar as it was in the 1830s, replacing floor joists and more. The original floorboards were numbered, removed and cleaned to be later reinstalled. In 2004, the cottage received heritage status from the city.
A classroom was added to the rear of the structure to accommodate school groups. The beautifully and meticulously restored cottage officially opened in July 2008, and the green space was renamed The Tollkeeper’s Park.
Visiting the Historical Museum
The cottage is open to the public on Saturdays, from 11 am to 5 pm (to 4 pm in winter)—admission by donation. There are classes available to school groups (for a fee) that illustrate life in the 1800s and include: Children’s Victorian Outdoor Games, Victorian Domestic Arts and a Victorian Tea Party. Adult tours are also available. Be sure to check The Tollkeeper’s Cottage website for complete details.