Wesleyville Village undergoing a rebirth.
from left: Kathryn McHolm & Sue Stickley
Interview & images by Bill Hornbostel
Wesleyville Village was once a vibrant farming community. The road built by Asa Danforth in the 1790s linking Toronto with Port Hope ran through it.
Wesleyville grew to include a church (built in 1860), a schoolhouse (built in 1899), a post office, a tavern, and a blacksmith.
However, in the 1960s, residents in the village and those living on farms towards the east were bought out by Ontario Hydro during the crown corporation’s drive to build a power plant nearby. Some buildings and a large chimney were erected but the plant was never commissioned.
Over the years, surrounding farmhouses were torn down and their barns removed but the village remained.
Now a local community group, Friends of Wesleyville Village (FOWV), is starting to restore what remains the historic village.
FOWV began the work of restoring Wesleyville in 2009, after signing a twenty-year lease agreement with the United Church of Canada for the heritage church in Wesleyville. Over the next several years and through the efforts of volunteers, the group lovingly restored the church.
It was a challenging task. “The roof had leaked and racoons had gone into the attic, and as well there were bats living up there,” says Kathryn McHolm, chair of FOWV.
FOWV has now embarked on a new, more ambitious phase of the project.
In January 2018, the group signed another twenty-year lease with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) for the remaining buildings of Wesleyville Village. These include the one-room schoolhouse, built in 1899, and the 1870s Oughtred house and barn. FOWV’s goal is to make the church, schoolhouse, Oughtred house, and barn available for educational and community uses.
OPG has already provided some support to the project.
According to Sue Stickley, secretary of FOWV, “A former board member, Paul Bridges, painted pictures of what the school looked like originally, what the church looked like, what the Oughtred house looked like, and we have worked with OPG and created the signs that are outside. So they really have helped promote the history and heritage of the village.”
McHolm adds, “People really stop and read them.”
The heritage schoolhouse promises to be easier to restore. It has survived well over the years. “This is relatively pristine,” says McHolm. Restoration is made easier by the existence of photographs, and even drawings made by former students.
“The last teacher here sent us a drawing, circa 1965, that one of her students made of the schoolhouse and the landscaping and everything!” says Sue Stickley. “It was closed in 1969, so there are still people around who attended this one-room school!”
The Oughtred house served for a time as the local post office. It presents a greater challenge to renovation due to some water damage suffered from a leaking roof. FOWV is looking into not only restoring the house but also using it as a caretaker residence.
The woodlot just east of the church will undergo some changes as well. FOWV will work with community partners to restore natural habitat areas and create nature trails on the newly-leased property. McHolm says, “This is going to be exciting, we’ll get different organizations and people who are interested in native landscapes, natural landscapes and so on to get involved.”
With the new restoration project ahead, FOWV is also gearing up to raise funds for the work. Says Stickley, “We’ve been able to finance our operations here until now with our members’ help on events, donations and a small provincial grant. But this year there’s going to be a great deal of need for financing, so we’re going to have to approach all sorts of people to help, because of the work we’re taking on this year.”