History of Thornhill

Springfarm Yorkhill is in the City of Vaughan. Thornhill is divided in half between the City of Markham and the City of Vaughan and runs along the east and west sides of Yonge Street. Thornhill can trace its roots back to 1794 when two settlers built homesteads on opposite sides of Yonge Street. Asa Johnson settled on the Vaughan side and Nicholas Miller settled on the Markham side.

Arnold House below was the residence of the Arnold family, directly descended from Captain John Arnold, a United Empire Loyalist from New Jersey who came to Thornhill in 1792.

Arnold House is one of many historic sites in Thornhill

Arnold House above is now a joint community project of the Town of Vaughan, The Thornhill District Lions’ Club and the Society for the Preservation of Historic Thornhill with financial assistance from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture.

The growth and development of Thornhill is directly related to:

  • The development of Yonge Street as a transportation route
  • Thornhill’s proximity to Toronto

The Development of Yonge Street

Yonge Street was built as a military road by Canada’s first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada – John Graves Simcoe and was meant to connect Lake Ontario to Toronto. Simcoe also wanted to attract settlers to the region and offered them 80 free hectares of land. This helped entice Thornhill’s first settlers and by the early 1800’s, almost all the region was settled.

Throughout the years, Yonge Street has continued to be a major influence on Thornhill’s growth and development and continues to serve as an important transportation artery connecting Thornhill to Toronto.

The Metropolitan railway line that was built along Yonge Street in 1898 meant that people could now live in Thornhill and commute to work in Toronto. Prior to the railway, the only public transit was a three hour stage coach ride. By the late 1920’s, the automobile had replaced the Metropolitan line as the most popular source of transportation along Yonge Street making Thornhill a very attractive place to live.

Benjamin Thorne’s Mill

In 1820, Benjamin Thorne arrived from Great Britain and by 1830 he was operating a gristmill, sawmill and tannery. Thorne became a major influence in the community’s economic life and the area became known as Thorne’s mill and later Thorne’s Hill, which the modern name of Thornhill is derived from.

Thornhill continued to enjoy growth and prosperity from 1830 until 1848. The business district along Yonge Street continued to grow and farming thrived with the advent of new machinery such as reapers and threshers. By 1848 Thornhill was the largest population on Yonge Street outside of Toronto with a population of 700.

The 20th and 21st Century

Up until 1931, Thornhill had no independent status and was split between the townships of Vaughan and Markham along Yonge Street. At that time Thornhill became known as a “Police Village”. A Police Village is a small town or village with a population that is too small to have a formal municipal government. A Police Village allows designated citizens to maintain law and order.

In 1971, the York Region was created, and the Police Village of Thornhill was dissolved. Thornhill’s growth since this time has been largely connected to its proximity to Toronto and is part of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). The area continues to enjoy its village identity, thanks to the many historic buildings that exist along Yonge Street.

Thornhill Today

Today Thornhill boasts a population of over 110,000 and enjoys the unique distinction of being situated in two separate cities (Markham and Vaughan) and shares its southern border with the City of Toronto. The old village of Thornhill is clustered along Yonge Street, while the new Thornhill is a wide collection of subdivisions surrounded by modern shopping centres, neighbourhood community centres and highly ranked schools.

The city’s distinctive and rich history is still evident in Thornhill and is a large part of why it is such a sought after and attractive place to live.

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