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Dixie

Welcome to the Village of Dixie:

If the nearby village of Cooksville enjoyed commercial success, Dixie reveled in its importance as a place of worship and an agricultural centre. The early Union Chapel was used by Protestants in the southeastern section of Toronto Township and for many years St. Patrick’s Church was the only Roman Catholic Church in the County. The community was originally dubbed “Irishtown” for the many Irish Catholics who chose to settle here. Dixie’s close proximity to Cooksville prevented the little village from developing a strong character of its own and by the beginning of the 20th century Dixie, Cooksville and the small hamlet of Burnhamthorpe were intertwined. Dixie developed into a prosperous garden community, with produce markets dotting the Dundas Highway. Dixie was also home to Toronto Township’s first indoor ice rink, the Dixie Arena, and to the Dixie Cold Storage facility.

Naming the Growing Village:

The little village of Dixie has been known at various times as Fountain Hill, Fonthill, Onion Town, Irish Town, Cork Town and Sydenham. The first settler in the Dixie area was Phillip Cody, a United Empire Loyalist from Massachusetts, who arrived about 1806. He quickly secured a lot on the south side of Dundas Street, near the intersection of modern Cawthra Road. Cody’s Tavern became an early stopping place for settlers while they completed their settlement duties. One of Cody’s first patrons was the newlywed couple of Joseph and Jane Silverthorn. A hotel, store, carpentry shop and the Union Chapel soon sprung up along Dundas Street, between what is now Cawthra and Tomken roads, and these soon became the heart of a thriving little village. The community was eventually renamed “Dixie” in 1865 after a beloved local doctor, Dr. Beaumont Wilson Bowen Dixie, who lived in Erindale. Dr. Dixie served much of Toronto Township.

Religion and Education in the Village of Dixie:

The tiny group of settlers along the Dundas Road in the early 1800s could expect a visit from a missionary or circuit rider once every other year. This dearth of religious education prompted the settlers of Dixie and Cooksville to meet at Phillip Cody’s tavern in 1808 and plan to build a chapel. Cody donated land across the road from the tavern for a cemetery and Moses Teeter gave part of his property for the Church. The first attempt at construction was thwarted when a falling beam crushed Absalom Wilcox’s leg.  The accident placed a pall over the settlers and work did not begin again until 1812. The American siege of Fort York later that year saw many men enlist to fight and the log chapel was not completed until 1816. During the final building process, arguments erupted over who would use the Church until finally it was agreed that the three Protestant faiths would use the chapel at different times.

In 1837, the log chapel was replaced by the present stone building: The Dixie Union Chapel. Construction on this was also delayed because of William Lyon Mackenzie Rebellion. The Dixie Union Chapel was built of Etobicoke River stone and was named for Dr. Beaumont Dixie, the country doctor in nearby Erindale, after he donated money for the church under the stipulation that no pew rents were to be collected. The cemetery behind it has been in use since 1812, making it the oldest recorded cemetery in Mississauga. The first grave is that of Phillip Harris, age 3, son of Cooksville pioneer Daniel Harris, who carved the headstone for his young son. Many of Dixie’s pioneers are buried here.

In 1870 the Anglican parish built their own red brick church in Dixie. St. John the Baptist Anglican Church was served by the Erindale parish of St. Peter’s until 1950. Prior to this, the minister assigned to St. Peter’s also traveled to Dixie for Sunday service. In 1924, the original rectangular building burned down and, while the Parish waited for its new church to be built, the Dixie Union Chapel once again hosted Sunday service. The new church was completed in 1925 and is an example of the High Victorian Gothic Church Style, so popular in the latter quarter of the 19th century. An addition was added to the back of the church in 1954.

On the southwest side of Dixie and Dundas Roads, is the old Dixie Public School building. Opened in 1923 on land purchased from St. Patrick’s Church, this four-room school was built as a replacement for the smaller log schoolhouse originally built in 1844 at the opposite corner of Dixie and Dundas, which was replaced by a two-room wooden school in 1857.

The Catholic congregation in Dixie also had their own church to attend services, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church. The first St. Patrick’s church was opened in 1872. It was built on the south west corner of Dundas Street and Dixie Road in a part of Toronto Township often called Irishtown. Irishtown area first drew the attention of the Catholic Diocese when a large number Irish Catholics settled in the Dixie area during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. St. Patrick’s church served as a central location for the parish and removed the need for Irish Catholics living in the area to go to either Trafalgar or Elmbank to attend mass. The current St. Patrick’s church in Dixie was opened in 1971. The old church was torn down in 1973.

The Silverthorn Family and the Cherry Hill House:

The original Cherry Hill House, a simple log cabin, was built in 1807 by 20-year-old Joseph Silverthorn, across the street from Cody’s Tavern. Joseph and his 15-year-old bride, Jane Chisholm, had recently arrived from Niagara-on-the-Lake with his parents John and Esther, and Joseph’s brother Aaron. In 1816, Joseph built a larger home. The Silverthorn family had emigrated to the United States in the 1700s from England and they had brought some cherry trees with them. Whenever the family moved, they always brought saplings with them and so, shortly after clearing his land, Joseph began planting cherry trees.

Cherry Hill House, a two-storey Georgian structure with a large Regency-styled veranda was the most elegant home in Peel County, situated on a small hill overlooking the Silverthorn’s 200-acre farm. The Silverthorns had three sons and nine daughters. Joseph and Jane died within months of each other in 1879 and 1880, after 75 years of marriage, and the house was inherited by their three unmarried daughters, Janet, Helen and Augusta. Augusta died in 1907 and left the house and its contents to her favourite great-nephew, William Stanislaus Romain Walsh. Stanislaus, an actor, was rarely in Cooksville and slowly the house fell into disrepair, only to be lost during the Depression because of unpaid taxes. The house was moved to its present location in 1973 to make way for the widening of Cawthra Road. The original homestead became the Mississauga Valley subdivision and, in 1979, Cherry Hill House once more opened its doors to visitors, this time as a restaurant.

The Kennedy Family and Commerce in Dixie:

Tomken Road is named after the Honourable Colonel Thomas Laird Kennedy, or as the people around here knew him, TOM KENnedy. The Road used to be the western border of his family’s farm. This Kennedy clan had come to the Dixie area from Ireland in 1846 and immediately secured 200 acres on the north side of Dundas Street. That same year, family patriarch William Kennedy built the Atlantic Hotel and General Store on the southwest corner of his property, by then the centre of the village of Dixie. The hotel cost 750 pounds to build and was constructed of handmade bricks from George Tolman’s brickyard, a short distance north of Dixie in the hamlet of Burnhamthorpe.

The Atlantic Hotel was the unofficial Tory stronghold in the area and the Pacific Hotel on the south side of Dundas used to be the meeting place for Grits. One can only imagine what downtown Dixie looked like on election night! The Kennedy family lived in the hotel (Tom was born in one of the upstairs rooms) until 1882.  Then John Kennedy, Tom’s father, sold it to the Gill family. By the early 1960s, the farms had been purchased in order to make way for the Applewood Heights subdivision.

© Mississauga Heritage 2009