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Edgehill “Peace” Park – Visual History

Edgehill “Peace” Park – Visual History

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Join us as we explore the rich history of Edgehill Park, known as Huronia Park up until 2012, which has been granted the status of Peace Park, part of Peace Parks Across Canada but now the subject of a legal battle as two local health providers have convinced the Midland Town Council to sever and re-zone some of this pristine and heritage parkland for their commercial use. Huronia Park, designated as Midland’s Peace Park as part of Canada’s 125th birthday celebration, is a seven-acre gem with great views over Georgian Bay.

These photos and the narratives are the collective work of local Midland historian John Todd.  You can follow more of John’s work on Facebook by joining his group called “Huronia’s Past and Present“.  Additional photos appear courtesy of the Huronia Museum’s Huronia Park Collection.


Walking through Edgehill Park Midland’s past was all around me. On the crest of the hill was Edgehill, the large mansion belonging to James and Charlotte Playfair. Looking across Bayshore Drive, I could see the cleared area where once the Unimin silica plant stood. I remembered the history of the Midland Shipbuilding Company where freighters and warships were built on that same location. Not far away, the huge piles of coal kept the steamers sailing. I wondered, “What historic features still exist in the park? How much information about the park could I find?”

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How IRONIC is it that this “PEACE PARKS ACROSS CANADA” PARK, is now the centre of a fight to protect and save.

Flying Kites

“The Grove” provides an open grassy expanse to play ball games and fly kites. The slope provides an excellent toboggan hill during the winter.

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The three large, majestic maple trees near Bayshore Drive provide excellent shade for picnics or other activities out of the hot sunshine.

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In Midland, the park overlooking Midland Bay Landing is now called Edgehill Park.  The landscape or topography seems to naturally separate Edgehill Park into three distinct sectors.

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The mansion in the background was called Edgehill. It was the home of James and Charlotte Playfair of Midland. Their property was just east of the Midland downtown and overlooked Midland Bay. Originally built in the 1880’s as two buildings for the managers of the local lumber mill, a few years later, James Playfair had the buildings attached into a large mansion. He and his wife, Charlotte, lived there for many years. Remnants of the stairs and long walkway are still evident as well as the dry rock wall. The trees on either side of the walkway are quite mature today.

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The carriage driver, Joseph B. Lavigne may be taking the ladies for their afternoon tea. The horse and buggy are on Playfair’s private drive. Today, the drive is gone after the construction and lowering of the land for Bayshore Drive.

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This photo is from the top of the stairs looking towards Bayshore Drive. Just imagine James standing beside me waving down to Charlotte and her friend as Albert slowly drives away.

Barbara Lavigne-Jones wrote, “Mrs. Playfair enjoyed afternoon tea at my great grandparents home on Manly St. many times according to my cousin Captain Joe Lavigne (Albert’s son).”

I wonder if that is where they are going in the photo? A very small chance but you never know for sure. Let’s imagine that is where they are going as James yells a special message for Albert.

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The Playfairs’ mansion was located on the present day site of the apartment building and playground (shown) north of Gloucester Street.

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Photo Courtesy of Huronia Museum

James Playfair, son of John Speirs Playfair (1926 – 1913) and Georgiana Hall Playfair (1829 – 1867), was born on July 8,1860. Two locations have been found for his birth – the commonly held belief is that he was born in the Scottish village, St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea. However, I have found several references to Toronto as his place of birth. I have found a Toronto residence for his father in 1856 “WELLINGTON STREET WEST, at Peter Street, residence for John S. Playfair, 1856 (Globe [Toronto], 7 Feb. 1856, 3, t.c.; 4 Aug. 1856, 2)” so this is another mystery that needs more effort.

http://dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/1298

At 19, he first worked for the Toronto Lumber Company as a log cutter. I believe he lived and worked in Sturgeon Bay at this time. While the local story is that James came to Midland in 1883, his sister’s wedding announcement shows that, in 1885, he was living in Sturgeon Bay:

” 14091-85 George Tod ALEXANDER, 26, stock broker, Toronto, same, s/o William & Jessie Ballingal ALEXANDER, married Sarah Adelaide PLAYFAIR, 26, Toronto, same, d/o Georgina & John Speirs PLAYFAIR, witn: William MORRICE? of Montreal & James PLAYFAIR of Sturgeon Bay, And Norman PLAYFAIR of Toronto, 15 Sept 1885”

http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~maryc/tor85p2.htm

When he arrived in Midland, he worked as an assistant sawmill operator for $12.00 per month.

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In 1888, he formed a partnership with D.L. White, Jr. in the lumbering business. James could stand outside his home, Edgehill (shown in the bottom right quadrant of the map) and look down towards the water at his sprawling lumber mill.

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By 1896, his interest had also grown in the lake grain trade. His entrepreneurial skills enabled him to become very rich and influential both in business and town interests. At one time, he had 38 ships in his fleet.

Mr. Playfair was a pillar in the community, not only in business but also in social circles and sports.

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In 1906, Mr. Playfair stopped the cutting down of trees on the north shore of Little Lake by purchasing the property. He sold it to the town for what he paid on the condition that it would remain a public park.

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In 1917, Mr. Playfair purchased 124 acres near the present-day intersection of Highway 93 and Golf Link Road from three owners at a cost of $5,326.00. A nine-hole course was constructed and ready for play in 1919. In 1922, he sold the course to the Midland Golf and Country Club Limited. He was Chairman of the company for 14 years until his death in 1937. The other nine holes were added in 1967.

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Across Bayshore Drive from Edgehill Park is the Midland Bay Landing development. From the Playfair lumbering era, this property has always been a ‘beehive’ of contaminating industrial uses, including shipbuilding, coal docks, and silica refining (shown).

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Recently, the town paid a little over $3 million to buy the 40 acres of waterfront property with nearly 3,600 feet of shoreline, preventing future industrial uses. A developer was found who will refund the cost of the property to the town, pay $600,000 for the remediation (clean-up) of the contaminated ground, give the town ownership of 25% of the property (10 acres) and build $11.6 million of public elements including the Waterfront Promenade (including the boardwalk for full public access and shoreline improvements), the docking facilities, the public park areas, the Amphitheatre, a splash pad and a central water feature which will double as an outdoor skating surface during the winter months. Pedestrian connections and pathways will allow public access and connectivity throughout the complex between the promenade and adjacent neighbourhoods.

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The first hospital in Midland was called the Midland-Penetanguishene Marine and General Hospital and dated back to 1905. A three storey brick building, with 12 beds, located at the top of Sunnyside hill, was constructed in 1907. When Penetanguishene opened its own hospital, the name changed to Midland Marine and General Hospital.

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In 1918, Midland had grown in prosperity and population, and James Playfair realized that a larger hospital was needed. He purchased Manley Chew’s residence (shown) on Bay Street and donated it to the town on the provision that the hospital would be called St. Andrew’s. Manley Chew later reportedly said that if he had known Playfair was going to donate his house to the town, he would have done it himself.

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Sarah Charlotte Oligvie was born on December 12, 1858 in Montreal to Senator Alexander Walker Ogilvie (1829 – 1902) and Sarah Leney Ogilvie (1833 – 1923).Charlotte married James 1889 in Montreal. They had a son, James, Jr. who died before the age of 1 in 1891. James Jr. is buried in the Oligvie family plot in Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal.

In 1855, Alexander and his brothers, John and William, established and developed A.W. Ogilvie and Company, a milling operation valued at 5,000 pounds. Later, the company would be known as Oligvie Flour Mills. Read much more about the company at:

http://www.umanitoba.ca/libraries/archives/collections/complete_holdings/ead/html/OgilvieBluePrints.shtml#tag_bioghist

Alexander was one of the first shareholders of the Sun Insurance Company of Montreal (today’s Sun Life) in 1865. By 1889, he was the vice-president. Alexander was so busy with his business interests and politics, I wonder if he gave Charlotte and her sister much time?

One of Charlotte’s favourite pasttimes was riding her horse in the countryside around Edgehill.

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Charlotte was also very active in providing financial aid for the care of the sick. She was instrumental in securing a nurses’ residence next to the new hospital. A few years later, she donated another five thousand dollars for improvements. In her will, she even tried to help the hospital by offering them Edgehill.

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When Charlotte died in 1945, Charlotte was so wealthy and had so many possessions, her will was 19 pages long. This page will offer some insight into her possessions and how she so carefully planned for their dispersal.

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Charlotte’s will offered her mansion and property (Edgehill) to St. Andrew’s Hospital.

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“How did the Town gain ownership of Edgehill when Mrs. Playfair (Sarah Charlotte), in her will, gifted Edgehill to St. Andrew’s?”

The answer came, not from a primary source like a deed or a will, but from a story in the book, ‘Midland on Georgian Bay’ by William Northcott and William Smith.

William “Bill” Northcott” was the head of the Geography department at MSS. The book represents his 20 years of research on the Midland area. William “Bill” Smith is a freelance writer/photographer. He has also been a researcher and museum curator.

James Playfair named his property Edgehill after the street in Montreal where his wife, Charlotte, was raised. When Charlotte died in 1945, she gifted Edgehill to St. Andrew’s. However, the board of St. Andrew’s declined the offer and Edgehill soon became Midland’s museum.

The photo was taken on July 11, 1947, the opening day of the Huronia House museum.

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The hospital board declined Charlotte’s offer. William Herbert “Bill” Cranston, son of J. Herbert Cranston, approached the executors of the Playfair estate to seek their agreement that Edgehill could be used as a museum. It was, in this way, that the former home of one of Midland’s most influential businessmen, perched on the hill overlooking Midland Bay, became a new museum called Huronia House.

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Huronia House was financed by donations and the sale of founding memberships at five dollars cash. The political influence of the Cranston family is evident, as one of the founding members was the Premier of Ontario, the Honourable Leslie M. Frost. Over the years, the constant traffic through every room of Edgehill took its toll. By the mid 1960’s, a new building was needed to safely house the ever-growing collection. It was Canada’s Centennial in 1967 that provided the necessary community spirit and government funding to build a new museum facility in Little Lake Park near the Huron Wendat Village. Negotiations with the Town of Midland deeded Edgehill to the Town in exchange for the new museum location in Little Lake Park. After the transfer of artifacts, the Town had Edgehill demolished, and the new open space was called Huronia Park”

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..from the top of Edgehill/Playfair park looking towards Sunnyside/Fuller circa 1955

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The western sector, today called ‘The Grove’, is a gently sloping field surrounded by trees of various sizes. Access is from Gloucester Street with parking on Edgehill Drive. An archaeological survey of The Grove did not reveal any important artifacts or historic features. However, just to the east of The Grove, in the middle section of Edgehill Park, there are several historic features dating back to the Playfair era.

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The upper plateau has a wonderful playground with many pieces of equipment. The lower plateau is wide, flat and shaded by mature trees and directly across from the lookout on Bayshore Drive.

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The view from this middle sector of Edgehill Park looking north is amazing!

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Access is from Edgehill Drive near the playground down the unsafe “Playfair Stairs”, a dirt path from the east…

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…or up the grassy slope near the look-out on Bayshore Drive.

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Many would like to see the middle sector (the area below the playground) cleaned up and maintained – lawn cut, weeds cut down, stairs repaired, and a chain link fence parallel to Bayshore Drive to contain small children within the park area so they can not go down the slope onto busy Bayshore Drive. This area can become another ‘jewel’ in Midland’s tourism crown.

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The eastern sector is the largest with a steep slope rising to a fairly level, well manicured field next to the Edythe Clark Memorial Gardens. Access to this sector is from George Street with parking in a small lot.

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From the top of Edgehill Park, at the end of George Street, amazing views of Midland bay can be enjoyed from under the shaded canopy of the majestic maple trees.

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Back in yesteryear, James and Charlotte, were very proud of Midland and made major donations to the town, including St. Andrew’s Hospital. Midland Golf and Country Club, Martrys’ Shrine, and Little Lake Park.

At their stunningly opulent mansion, Edgehill, they entertained the rich and powerful leaders of their era.

How would they feel today if they could see the awful deteriorating condition of their stairs and walkway leading down to their private driveway?

The weeds are taking over! The edges of the stairs are crumbling and becoming quite dangerous. There is no rail to steady oneself. One unfortunate wrong step could result in a very nasty fall.

It’s time to spend some time and energy and revitalize the middle section of Edgehill Park. Just to the east of the walkway, there is a wonderful flat, wide field for children to play and supervising adults to enjoy the amazing panoramic view of Midland harbour. With a few picnic tables brought back, the grass trimmed, weeds cut back, and a chain link fence parallel to Bayshore Drive to protect the small children, Edgehill Park could rival the beauty of Little Lake Park!

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Please help us save this park.  The health hub, financed by Provincial money, can afford to move anywhere, but has set their sights on this heritage parkland at the exclusion of all other locations.

You can read local media coverage by following this link.

Many photos used in this story are courtesy of the Huronia Museum – Huronia Park Collection

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  1. Too valuable to do anything but keep it as a park and take better care of it and preserve the history that is so much of Midlands history!!Priceless!!!

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Edgehill “Peace” Park – Visual History

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