Points of Interest > Gooderham & Worts Windmill

In 1831, James Worts arrived from Yorkshire to establish himself as a miller in the Town of York. He built a wind-powered grist mill on the lakeshore near the mouth of the Don River (the windmill stood to the north of the stone distillery building, west of Trinity Street and half a block south of Mill Street). Completed in the spring of 1832, the windmill was soon put to work grinding grain into flour. As payment for use of the mill, local farmers typically left the millers with extra grain. Twenty-one metres in height, the windmill was probably the last large working windmill to be built in the province; it served as a prominent local landmark until its demolition in 1859. The mill’s strategic location at the east end of the harbour provided access to shipping traffic and attracted farmers from the east end of township and neighbouring York County; it also allowed the mill “to catch the full force of the winds from Lake Ontario.”

William Armstrong (1822-1914), Winter scene on Toronto Bay, looking from Taylor's Wharf looking east towards Gooderham & Worts' windmill, 1835. Toronto Public Library, TRL, Acc. JRR 842. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Winter_scene_on_Toronto_Bay.jpg, accessed 4 May 2009.

In 1834, Worts’ wife died in childbirth. Overwhelmed with grief, he took his own life by drowning himself in the company well. Worts’ brother-in-law, William Gooderham, who had arrived from England two years earlier to assist with the milling business, took on a controlling share in the mill, and later partnered with Worts’ eldest son James Gooderham Worts.  In 1837, a year of surplus grain harvests, Gooderham added a distillery and produced his first whiskey. Steam power replaced wind power in 1845, and in 1853 the windmill's wings were removed. The windmill was demolished in 1859.

Beyond its significance to the early development of the area around the mouth of the Don, the windmill also played an important role in the history of harbour navigation in Toronto. In 1833, city officials drew an imaginary line between the Gooderham & Worts windmill at the eastern end of the harbour and the ruins of the French trading post, Fort Rouillé, at the west end. The boundary resulted from concerns that waterfront industries would continue to extend their wharves into Toronto Bay to take advantage of additional space for loading and off-loading cargo, a development that would have hampered the flow of shipping traffic through the Bay. The Windmill Line delineated the maximum southerly limit of wharves in Toronto harbour. In 1888 and again in 1893 the boundary was adjusted further south as in-filling created new land along the water’s edge. In 1925 the Toronto Harbour Commission established the Harbourhead Line, which pushed the southerly limits for harbour development a further 1000 feet into the Bay. Still in use by surveyors, the Windmill Line and its successors now run mainly over infilled land along the lakeshore, rather than over open water.

Text: Jennifer Bonnell and Lost Rivers

Filey, Mike. Toronto Sketches: 9. Toronto: Dundurn Press Ltd., 2006. Retrieved from Google Books, http://books.google.ca/books?id=dNpYx6rhpOIC, accessed 5 May 2009.

Ganton, Isobel K. "Development between Parliament Street and the Don River, 1793-1884." Graduate Course Paper, University of Toronto, 1974, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 92, Item 347.

Stinson, Jeffery, and Michael Moir. Built Heritage of the East Bayfront: Environmental Audit of the East Bayfront / Port Industrial Area, Phase II. Technical Paper No. 7. The Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront, 1991.

Toronto Historical Association. A Glimpse of Toronto's history: Opportunities for the Commemoration of Lost Historic Sites (Toronto: Toronto Historical Association and the Maps Project, City of Toronto Urban Development Services, 2002), MPLS #156 and #61.



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