Early settler farming

Rouge National Urban Park

Early settler farming

Early settler farming in the Rouge Valley began in 1799 when non-Indigenous settlers arrived. Many were Pennsylvanian Mennonites seeking fertile land and exemptions from military service after the American Revolutionary War. Scouts, like Peter Reesor, looked for black walnut trees as signs of fertile soil. Mennonite migration peaked between 1803 and 1807, with other groups — including Germans, Quakers, Scots, English and Dutch settlers — arriving in the early 1800s.
After the War of 1812, immigration from the United States slowed, but new settlers from England and Ireland arrived in the 1820s and 1830s. Many lived in simple log cabins, clearing land using oxen. They initially grew crops like oats, rye, buckwheat and later wheat. Settlements expanded until around 1825 in Markham and 1850 in Scarborough and Pickering.

As farms became established, settlers adopted new fertilization techniques, expanded crops and raised different animals. Apple orchards flourished. Major crops included wheat, oats, peas, potatoes and hay, and farms yielded butter, pork, wool, eggs and poultry. Men handled fieldwork and business, while women tended gardens, cared for animals and sold extra produce. Communities thrived in the mid-1800s.

By the 1890s, urbanization, agricultural mechanization, soil exhaustion and a low supply of timber led to a decline in Rouge farming, causing a significant rural population decrease in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Barns of the Rouge

The Rouge Valley features old barns constructed by early settler farmers in the 1800s. By the 1850s, as farm families expanded and prospered, they built larger homes made of brick or stone. The landscape saw evolving barn styles, too, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. 

One common type is the Central Ontario or Bank Barn, which is large in size and has two floors for both animals and crops. These barns, built from the 1850s to the early 1900s, are about 12-15 m (40-50 feet) wide and about 18-30 m (60-100 feet) long.

Another type is the English or Three-Bay Barn, which is smaller and has one floor divided into three parts. These barns, dating back to the late 1800s, were used for storage, threshing and housing animals.

Today, many of these barns are abandoned but still standing, with some still in good condition. These historic barns are a testament to the rich agricultural history of the area, which continues on today through the modern farms within the park.

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