The Most Haunted House in Mississauga!
This is an illustration from the Historical Atlas of Peel County of the Cherry Hill homestead occupied by Joseph & Jane Silverthorn and their 12 children, 9 girls and 3 boys. The home was built at the north-west corner of what is now Dundas and Cawthra Rd. Note the old horse and carriage on what was then known as the Dundas Highway. Joseph Silverthorn was a militiaman during the war of 1812.He built the family home in 1822. The Peel County Atlas states that Silverthorn was a farmer and owned a saw mill for several years. The first winter they lived in what was then known as Toronto Township, there were thirteen camps of Indians all near the home. When the snow came, Mr. Silverthorn had to go to Queenston for supplies and was gone for six weeks, but his wife felt very safe with such a guard around, as the Indians were very friendly and exchanged venison for turnips and other things they needed. For those interested in the fascinating history of this family, local historian, Kathleen Hicks, authored a book entitled "The Life and Times of The Silverthorns of Cherry Hill" which is available in local libraries. It is a good read for history buffs.
When I first became associated with the Cherry Hill House in the early 70's it was owned by developer Bruce McLaughlin who I worked for at the time. The large quadrant of land was slated for residential development and a small convenience strip plaza on the north end. Surrounded by heavy bush and trees, it was very difficult to see the old home from any direction. It was occupied by an elderly woman, Daisy Anne Lindsay, known by the local children as the witch of Cherry Hill, the haunted house in the woods. I'm certain that this monicker was largely due to her eccentric, reclusive lifestyle by the inquisitive youthful ghostbusters lurking through the bushes seeking thrills. Miss Lindsay rarely left the home but when she did, a log was extended across the driveway leading to the house. If someone approached she was known to come running out the house in a threatening fashion, broom in hand, to scare them off. By the time I had first visited the home, it was vacant. Miss Lindsay had relocated to a relative's home in London, Ontario and as I later heard, died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 93. The home had been significantly vandalized and I suspect, several historical pieces of furniture had been stolen. However, there remained a spinning wheel, several rope beds and several other pieces of period furniture along with old magazines strewn throughout the two floors of the building. It lacked any source of heat or hydro although I believe there was still running water. The home was certainly in disrepair and unsafe for human habitation.
The city were planning a road re-alignment at the corner of Dundas and Cawthra Rd. and the land had been expropriated for this purpose. The plans had the new road running right through the living room of Cherry Hill. After discovering through my research on the property that it was the oldest remaining homestead in Peel County. Several individuals and the Historical Societies of the day did not have the funds to save Cherry Hill. It took very little convincing to have Mr. McLaughlin agree that the home needed to be saved. The questions were…could it be safely moved? Was it structurally sound for such a journey?
Old newspaper announcement that Cherry Hill was to be saved from the wreckers ball.
This aerial photo taken prior to the move shows the location of Cherry Hill and the 400 yards north journey through bush needed to re-locate the home to its new site. Note the sign at the bottom of the photo announcing the planned road re-alignment. The two apartment towers, a McLaughlin development, were under construction at the time. His Mississauga Valleys residential community to the north, was also nearing completion.
Ghosts and Goblins - Folklore or Fact?
One of the most fascinating stories to come out of Cherry Hill had to do with the marriage of the youngest Silverthorn son, George. He had gone to California to seek his fortune in the gold rush and returned home to marry. After the ceremony, guests were gathered in the home celebrating the nuptials when a knock came to the door. George answered and went outside to discuss something with the visitor. He was never to be seen again and no trace of him was ever found. It was said that whenever his disappearance was ever discussed in Cherry Hill, the front door would open and close on its own.
While preparing the house for its move, I was encouraged by the local newspaper, The Mississauga News, to dispel the rumours of ghosts in the home. Not being a believer of paranormal activity, I was reluctant, but finally relented. We decided to hold a seance in the upper bedroom portion of the home late one early Fall evening. A professional medium was appointed to conduct the seance and it was attended by seven other people, myself included. We sat around an old table in the centre of the room with the only light coming from a candle burning in the centre of the table. All holding hands with eyes closed, the medium went through her routine and we waited in total silence. Floors creaked, footsteps were heard in the stairwell, but otherwise everything seemed pretty normal. After about 45 minutes into the ritual, suddenly a young female reporter from the newspaper began to shake vigorously and perspire in torrents. The writhing was intense and when she began to speak, the voice of male with a deep Scottish accent had us all in shock. His name was Hamish McKenzie and he was in severe pain having been wounded in the Boer War. He was searching for relatives, (We later discovered he was a distant relative of the Silverthorns) and was fearing death. The conversation went on for about 5 minutes until the medium decided that it was best to cut the seance off lest the young reporter have repercussions from the experience. She was driven home and bed-ridden for several days with severe headaches. She fully recovered with no memory of the incident. If it was an act, it certainly was one of the best performances I have ever witnessed.
After the move, and while refurbishing of the home at its new location was undertaken, the property had achieved some notoriety. Often visitors would come by at all hours and attempt to get into the house to survey its interior. We decided to station a security guard outside throughout the evening hours to deter any potential vandalism. One evening, the guard was chased away by an apparition dressed in white, sitting on a white stallion. He refused to return to the site ever again.
I was commissioned to take photos of the interior of the restaurant during a full sitting for lunch one day. When I had my film processed, (yes, we used film in those days) a server waiting a table was transparent. You could see the guests at the table right through his image even though he was standing in front of them. I later talked to several photography experts and was unable to establish how this might be possible.
I have talked on several occasions with staff and owners of Cherry Hill since its opening in the mid 70's about their experiences with ghosts and they all agree that its part of the mystique and ambience of Cherry Hill. Doors and cupboards opening and closing, cutlery and dishes moving without being touched, candles being blown out, even transparent images of people quickly disappearing. No one seems to be losing sleep over them. I'll leave opinions on their reality to you!
McLaughlin engineers and architects had assessed the old property and it was determined that the main structure was sound enough for the challenging move. Cherry Hill had been well built. However, a wrap-a-round veranda and adjoining sheds would have to be demolished. A dirt road was completed to help insure the trip would be as smooth as possible.
In June, 1973, Cherry Hill was jacked up to allow a flat bed truck to be eased under the home. The bricks from the original foundation were transported separately to be used as walls for the new refurbished building.
Local historians, and of course several youthful ghost seekers, gathered as the home found it's way along the dirt path to the new location. The move was a huge success. Several bricks fell from the chimney and were retrieved but otherwise there was very little damage as a result of the operation.
Architects inspect the ongoing restoration project. Cherry Hill, originally built in 1822 was being turned into an historic new edifice which would eventually contain a high-end restaurant and Irish pub in the basement. Note the original bricks and stones being used as part of the foundation. As well, the wrap-a-round veranda has been replaced to its original look.
Cherry Hill as it looks today. Located at the south-west corner of Silver Creek Blvd. and Lolita Gardens.
Not only was Peel County's oldest remaining homestead preserved for posterity, I was contacted immediately after the move by the Ontario Archeological Society to inquire about the possibility of completing a dig around the original property to see what artifacts could be found and recovered. Happy to oblige, we set the organization up in a 3-bedroom apartment next to the site, which served as their operations office and storage facility of artifacts. One must remember that at the time the Silverthorns were living in Cherry Hill, weekly garbage pick-up and land fill sites did not exist. People discarded what wasn't needed in large pits dug into the ground and later covered over.
What was uncovered by the architectural team that worked on that dig was startling… enough to fill the 3-bedroom apartment in its entirety. Indian arrowheads, weapons and tools, kitchen utensils, toys, furniture, old coins, glassware,,, it was all there. A total of 2,271 artifacts were uncovered. A fascinating look at the past. An open storybook of how life was lived back in the 1800's and later.
As a history buff, the Cherry Hill move was one of the most satisfying projects I had the pleasure of working on during those busy, bustling 70's when Mississauga was starting to mature into what would become Canada's sixth largest city. Cherry Hill holds special memories and an important place in my heart.