If you'd rather SEE our progress than READ about it, click here!

Cottage Sketch
Restoration -

Records normally consulted for a restoration project such as The Tollkeeper's Cottage were lost when the York Township Hall on Yonge Street burned down in 1881, and it was realized that the building itself would have to reveal its secrets and determine the course of restoration. Work revealed that the house was of a rare vertical plank construction. The search began for craftsmen with the skills needed for the Cottage's restoration, for historic materials appropriate for restoration use, and for volunteers willing to be trained. From 1995 research has been continuous and probably will never end. The uniqueness of the building was well established by 2002, and the heritage community lent its support with generous donations.

While located in the Toronto Transit Commission's Wychwood Streetcar Barns site (see Background), it was determined that the age and fragility of the building required a lessening of its weight, so the volunteers, dubbed “Assistant Tollkeeper’s", went to work removing interior drywall and exterior asphalt sheathing, revealing the original position of the front door and the Tollkeeper’s Window. Several layers of asphalt shingles were removed from the roof. The architects worked along with the volunteers, making further notes as the Cottage began to give up its secrets. Samples of the original materials were saved for future exhibit.

It was understood that the Cottage was too small to permit its use as a museum. A classroom size addition was planned that could accommodate school groups and serve as a display and instructional facility. An unobtrusive radiant heating system was designed for installation within the concrete pad upon which the two buildings would rest, as the lease with the City forbade open flames. Trenches were dug, foundation walls built, and the concrete pad poured. On July 7, 2002 a house mover transported the cottage to the new site and the slow careful process of stripping away the more recent layers and analyzing the findings began.

The original sills upon which the great planks had rested had rotted away in the distant past and had to be replaced first. Enough of the original shiplap clapboard remained to provide measurements for ordering custom made replacements, but work was halted when it was learned that the existing siding was holding the building together and preventing lateral movements. One at a time, the walls were stripped of their last coverings and the new siding installed.

Experts pointed out that the building had once rested on a stone foundation wall. A search began for stones for this wall and a mason able to make mortar as it would have been made in 1835, and who could make a suspended chimney from old bricks. In the meantime, volunteers were hand-splitting and shaping cedar shakes for the roof and lathing for the interior. When sufficient shakes were ready, the Cottage roof was stripped to reveal that the original roof boards were in poor condition from age and a fire dated at 1917 or 1918. To save the twenty inch boards, the roof was sheathed with plywood and ice-and-water shield before the shakes were nailed down.

Inside, the original floor boards were numbered, removed and hand-washed. Woodwork from the door and windows was removed carefully and saved for re-installation later. At this point the floor has been reinstalled on new joists made to the original dimensions. The classroom/addition has been built and the wiring of the addition has been begun by professionals volunteering their time.

In September 2003 the City of Toronto designated the building a historic site, even before restoration is complete. National Historic Site designation is expected upon completion of the restoration.

Restoration supported by a grant from the
Ontario Trillium Foundation
and by more than 500 individuals,
organizations and companies

top of page
A Community History Project site
The Tollkeeper's Cottage