Having grown up in Toronto I recognized immediately where it was located but I left the city in my teens and at that time it was abandoned.
It was 1821 when the Helliwell family settled here. They had arrived from Todmorden, a town in Lancashire, England and named the brewery and distillery they established in honor of their roots finding that the area resembled their home in England.
They also established a paper mill, which was the first of its kind in Upper Canada, supplying newspaper that was machine made.
While doing my research, it was brought to my attention that part of the family (through marriage), had lived on this property.
Clark is listed as head of the family along with his wife, Elizabeth, daughter Emily, and sons John and George. Emily is a twenty-two and a bagmaker at the mills and John is 21 and working as a teamster like his father. George worked as a farm labourer. George was seventeen at the time.
George Bellamy worked at the Todmorden Mill in the Don Valley. He and his wife Elizabeth Skinner and their eleven children lived in the actual Helliwell house from 1906 up to the late 1930s. Their youngest son would marry my mother’s stepsister.
George’s family immigrated from England in 1875. His father, Clark was a teamster with the paper mills in 1901 along with George’s brother John and his sister is listed as a bag maker for the mills. George appears on the census as a farm labourer.
By 1911 he was married to Elizabeth and worked as a teamster with the paper Mill, and was living on the property with his wife and four children. Then, by 1919 he had become the stable foreman for the Don Valley Brickworks.
The census of 1921 shows the family to have grown to eight children. Art and Gordon Bellamy have yet to be born and Florence, who has either died of left home is absent.
The more I researched the property the more it intrigued me. I found the Helliwell diaries from 1830 to 1890 which gives a first hand account of what went on at Todmorden before my relatives time there.
Before I go on to the haunting I wanted to give a brief outline of the evolution of Todmorden.
William Helliwell’s diaries are missing the years between 1842 to 1833. During these years he lost his mother, wife and then his young son. When he resumed the diaries he had remarried his late wife’s sister and with her they would have eleven more children.
Another part that is missing is the devastating fire that destroyed the brewery in January of 1847. It was at this point that the Helliwell family began selling their valley property. Over the next eight years the Todmorden property would be purchased by the Taylor family who started the brickworks. Helliwell moved on and purchased sixty acres of land from his father Thomas’ 200 acres at Highland Creek (Lot 7 concession 1) and settled there. He continued to build enterprises. At Highland Creek he built a grist mill. He built two hotels (1847 and 1865), founded a wharf company and built a wharf at Port Union. Then he built a boat for shipping on the Great Lakes, and a large house to house his seventeen children from his two marriages. This man served in the militia, wrote the first history of Scarborough, served as a justice of the peace and sat on the township Council for twelve years (1850 to 1862). One wonders how he had time to be so prolific. We also wonder why he sold.
After Hurricane Hazel in 1954 the entire area was declared part of the flood plain. This would prevent the development of a new industrial and residential area and preserved the four original buildings.
As a teenager I heard many reasons as to why this area sat undeveloped, none of them the actual reason stated above.
By the late 1960’s it was declared a heritage site.
I would love to go and visit the site, which is a 9.2 acre wildflower reserve. A trail takes you through upland forest, bottomland forest, swamp, pond, and both a dry and wet meadow.
don valley Brickworks
The interior of the paper mill having been destroyed by fire in 1901 would become the stables where George Bellamy had his employ. Later it would become a riding school.
Now on to the haunting part. As far as I can see there are two stories of ghosts. The first an old woman (Helliwell’s mother perhaps). She is described as harmless and friendly. Apparently she has been seen by several people walking around the theatre at night.
The other also nonthreatening is loud noises like the moving of furniture coming from the loft when no one is present. People have apparently witnessed a grey form flash past window that are 20 feet above the ground. For more stories about hauntings at Todmorden see http://www.torontoghosts.org/index.php?/2008081482/The-Former-City-of-East-York/Todmorden-Mills/All-Pages.html for an interesting read.
Some have even said they heard a younger woman’s voice speaking to a child.
Did William Helliwell believe the property to be cursed? There were several fires. Perhaps he felt the presence of his mother, wife and young son and decided to move away with his new wife.
I wonder if the Bellamy’s ever had any paranormal experiences when they lived in the house. I would expect it unlikely as they stayed for many years. However, since the ghosts are said to be friendly perhaps they just accepted it and went about their lives.
Some believe the Todmorden Mills as the second most haunted site in the city. Fort York takes first place, and Spadina House, in Forest Hill is third.
Many of us love a good ghost story, and there are many of us who have had situations that we cannot explain, thus the fascination.
Haunted or not, the property sounds like a treasure in the centre of Toronto just waiting to be discovered by many of us who took it for granted.