Heritage Mississauga: Fifty Years of Community Service
By Sharifa Khan
The history of our organization – now called the Mississauga Heritage Foundation and affectionately referred to as Heritage Mississauga – shows that although it has undergone numerous changes over these five decades, one thing has remained constant: this organization’s dedication to preserving and educating others about history in our community.
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Early Beginnings: Saving the Bradley House
It all started in 1941 when the British American Oil Company bought the land on which the Bradley House was located, renting out the house for the next 15 years. Later, it was decided that the house would either be sold or demolished. Kenneth Armstrong came to the rescue and in 1959, after having bought the house, sold it to the Township of Toronto for a whopping $1. The BA Oil Company also followed suit and sold 1/3 of an acre of land for $2 to the Township so that the Bradley House would have a place to sit. Mary Fix and Robert Harrison were then appointed to investigate the house and the possibility of moving it. Their positive assessment led to the formation of The Township of Toronto Historical Foundation Inc. on December 6th, 1960 (the precursor of the Mississauga Heritage Foundation), with Mary Fix serving as its first President. Saving the Bradley House was truly a community endeavour as – in addition to the above- mentioned donations- Councillor Robert Harrison advocated the importance of such preservation and Mary Fix pushed for an amendment to the Municipal Act to allow townships to have historical societies. At the time, nothing in provincial statutes allowed township councils to own a house. Thus, a separate body was created to do this: the Township of Toronto Historical Foundation, Inc.
Over the next few years, more than one hundred volunteers worked to get what is now known as the Bradley Museum back to its original state. The museum opened on June 11th, 1966. The Foundation would spend the next ten years upgrading the interior of the house. With a separate Bradley Board of Directorship to direct the activities of the museum, The Township of Toronto Historical Foundation was faced with a new challenge: where to direct its energies. In 1977 the Foundation changed its name to the Mississauga Historical Foundation in order to reflect the changes that were happening in the community and the new name of the area, and broadened its mandate to include a wider variety of heritage and historical matters.
The changing goals of the Foundation at this point were more extensive in comparison to its initial objectives. These included: a) to acquire, restore, maintain and display historical buildings, monuments, sites, documents and other historical objects or articles in the said Township of Toronto b) to assist the Council of the Township in all matter connected to the above objects c) to raise funds and to accept donations for the above objects and d) to encourage love of country through preserving the historical relics of early Canada. The goals of the organization would change once more, however and would begin to advocate for the preservation and importance of non- tangible history as well. Architecture would no longer be the sole point of assessing and preserving history, but the living history of people as told through their own voices would also be taken into account.
For instance, the Foundation has sponsored a number of books over the years including The Families of Marigold Point, My villages of Mississauga (Verna Mae Weeks) and Mississauga: The First 10 000 Years. An extremely historically- valuable project was started in the form of oral reports, which was initiated in the Fall of 1995 and is still ongoing. The importance of recording and preserving the oral histories as told by seniors who grew up in this area was recognized. Moreover, in the late 1990s the Foundation began work on an “Intergenerational Oral History” initiative. Attempting to connect youth with senior citizens and to inspire an interest in history, this project envisioned a learning process which would have youth interview- and thus get to know and learn from- older Mississauga residents. Similar to the original oral history project, the interviews would be recorded and then transcribed for future reference. The oral history project demonstrates Heritage Mississauga’s recognition of the importance of all kinds of history and its belief that the oral histories collected from seniors about the area’s past and their memories of growing up in the region will contribute to enriching our understanding (and the understanding of future resident) about the history of the area we now call home. Copies of the tapes and transcripts were made available to the Canadiana Room of the Mississauga Library and are available to borrow. We are thus able to see the beginnings of Heritage Mississauga and its transformation from an organization formed to preserve one historical building, to one that works to promote history in its numerous forms. Today, Heritage Mississauga’s mission statement is, “To foster and promote Mississauga’s heritage.”
When the Foundation celebrated its 25th year in 1985, it hosted a Heritage House Tour which was well received and included about 500 participants. In 1987 the Foundation underwent one final name change, choosing the name Mississauga Heritage Foundation that we are familiar with today and the word mark “Heritage Mississauga” by which so many of our members identify this organization. It was in this year that the Foundation, with assistance from individuals such as Councillor Maja Prentice, was able to secure city grants in order to lease space at the new civic centre. In 1987, former HM President Jim Millar noted proudly, “Our head office, in the new Civic Centre, right at the city’s core, is a major step forward.”
A special committee was formed in the creation of the Community Heritage Fund to facilitate loans and grants to owners of designated properties for repairs to their historical homes. Over these past few decades Heritage Mississauga has been able to assist dozens of designated properties in this way. Some of these properties include: Meadowvale General Store (roof, Cornice and windows), Alison’s Restaurant (roof), Alfred Adamson House (masonry and porch), Meadowvale United Church (masonry), Hunter- Holmes House (masonry), Rivercreast Gallery (roof), Brown- McCaughtery House (windows and bargeboard) and Hammond House (porch). In 1992 Heritage Mississauga noted, “While the level of assistance is modest at best, the programme has successfully given ‘home improvement’ a public significance.”
For those of you who have been following our organization over the years, you may remember the launch of the Foundation’s first newsletter, Update, in 1987. Initially a modest endeavour – in 1992 Heritage News went from two issues to three, and the new goal was that it would soon be published quarterly as circulation had reached 2000 – the newsletter, now called Heritage News, is a much bigger publication dedicated to educating the community.
Reminiscent of the Bradley project, the Mississauga Heritage Foundation began a new initiative when it started working to preserve the Anchorage. Although the house was moved in 1978 and external repairs were made, the interior of the house remained dilapidated. In 1988, Heritage Mississauga pledged to raise $130 000 to go towards restoring the Anchorage. Numerous fundraising projects were undertaken to meet this goal. Some of you may remember the bingos, maple syrup sales and wine tasting events that were hosted by Heritage Mississauga in order to reach this goal. This fund- raising project was completed in 1993 when Heritage Mississauga met this goal. The Anchorage now acts as the main administrative centre for the Bradley Museum.
Heritage Mississauga also decided to fill the void created when some of the Parks and Recreation Department’s Walking Tour guides fell out of print (the guides fell under the Department’s Historical Section). In 1992 HM’s summer students began working on publishing new tours, and we continue to do this! One of the changes made by Heritage Mississauga to the tours was using graphics and design in a way that suggested and demonstrated an earlier way of life in the region, emphasizing Mississauga’s history.
In 1994 management of the Bradley Museum formally transferred to the City as the new Provincial Heritage Act essentially forced municipalities to take a more active role in heritage promotion within their jurisdiction. Creating a new direction during this difficult time was a challenge for the Foundation. Past President Marion Gibson noted, “Finding the new role for a foundation that no longer administered the Bradley Museum was a mind stretching experience at first. Dreams of building a full- scale resource and heritage centre for Mississauga began to take shape in the minds of board members.” This was clearly a testing time for the Foundation, as it sought to create a role for itself within the community and to establish a new focus.
The Foundation accomplished this by continuing with its endeavours and reaching out to the community. One example of this was the launching of a popular lecture series in the fall of 1994. This annual event focused on making history appealing to the public and included topics such as natural history, archaeology, ancestral and architectural history, all which were open to the public by enthusiastic speakers. These topics were varied and offered something that would catch the interest of almost everyone. For instance, one of the talks covered in the November 22nd, 1995 lecture series delved into the Avro Arrow and was well received. The lecturer, Bill Turner (of the Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Canada), presented on the topic of, “After the Arrow: The Beginnings of the Canadian Space Programme”. Conversely, our lecture series in 1997 covered the topic of “Elegance in the Forest” and one lecture spoke to the life of the people of this area. In this case, the Silverthorns of Cherry Hill was the focus of the lecture, with Heather Broadbent presenting, “The Sivlerthorns: Then ‘Til Now”. The lecture was covered by Cable 10 for its “Plugged In” show. Many of the lectures in these series were thus reflective not just of local architecture and tangible history, but told the stories of the people who once lived here. All three lectures in the Spring of 2001 were enthusiastically received, with presenters delivering their talks to full houses. Our 2005 series covered photography and genealogy, again examining at multiple facets of history.
Continuing on this theme of educating the public about Mississauga’s heritage was Heritage Mississauga’s hugely successful Kite Fly event, initiated in 2003. Knowing that many cultures have unique traditions when it came to kites, the Foundation decided to use this event to draw attention to the organization from among the various communities in Mississauga. You might remember our slogan from 2004: “All the world flies a kite- on June 20th, Mississauga will too” Heritage Mississauga used this kite theme to reach out to children in other venues as well (and still does!). One example was the International Children’s Festival in 2004, where the Foundation made over 900 kites in five days! HM also took the kite- flying project into schools, promoting both the annual kite- fly event and the work of the organization into the classroom. The second annual kite fly (in 2004) attracted over 2500 people from a variety of backgrounds.
Initiated in 1992, another example of HM’s dedication to community outreach and raising awareness is the organization’s popular Heritage Showcase during Heritage Week (which usually begins in mid- February). On February 19th, 2005 (Heritage Week) the showcase commemorated the bicentennial of Mississauga Treaty 13-A. Over the years, the Showcase has become increasingly popular. With the Mississauga Heritage Foundation as its host, this initiative eventually managed to attract an amazing 32 booths, all set up in Square One Shopping Mall. These booths consisted of other organizations with similar goals as Heritage Mississauga. Today, this heritage event continues as part of Doors Open and attracts curious residents from all over the city.
A number of dedicated and talented individuals have worked tirelessly to bring our organization to the point where it is now. Our initial founders seemed to set this trend, as the life of Mary Fix amply demonstrates. Born in 1896 into an Irish/ French family in Ottawa, her strong will was evident from an early age. Mary, along with one of her friends created the Equal Franchise Association to fight for women’s right to vote when she was only 16 years old. In 1918 she graduated from Osgoode Law School. Shortly after graduating, she became the first female lawyer in Ottawa as she began practicing law. The times were not ready for Mary, however and, as the law firm she worked for refused to allow her to work on any important cases, she left the practice. Mrs. Fix then began her career as a buyer in Europe for a Canadian clothing company. It seems Mary was destined for life in the public spotlight, however. She became involved with local politics in 1953 when she became Deputy Reeve, making history in the process as she became the first woman to hold public office in Toronto Township with this position. Mrs. Fix was elected Reeve in 1955. The issue of the day was a direct result of the context of this period; World War Two had ushered in a large industrial and residential growth in the area which, compounded by a lack of laws and by- laws made it difficult for the Provincial and Municipal levels of government to operate adequately. As a result, a looming 300% tax increase was a major concern for local ratepayers and was the context in which Mrs. Fix entered the political arena. Another matter of alarm for this pioneering public servant was the unregulated commercial development in the area; she became increasingly concerned with preserving residents’ quality of life. During the course of my research, it was my pleasure to read some of Mrs. Fix’s correspondences with her constituents. These demonstrated her to be a quick- witted woman, dedicated to public service. It did not surprise me, then, to learn that Mary Fix, who was instrumental in the formation of the Heritage Mississauga’s predecessor, The Toronto Township Foundation, became its first President. Her correspondences as President of this organization with relevant groups revealed a similar dedication and drive “to get things done”. It seems to follow that Mrs. Fix’s willing her property to the Town of Mississauga with her death in 1972- her final gesture of community good will- should surprise no one.
In the Fall of 2004 the Mississauga Heritage Foundation moved into the Robinson- Adamson Grange. This old house has a lot of history. It was built circa 1828 for Sir John Beverly Robinson, a man known for his contributions, particularly in the legal realm, to Upper Canada. At just age 21, Robinson was made Acting Attorney General during the War of 1812! He was known for his unswerving dedication to preserving the rule of law. Perhaps fittingly, then, the house is now home to Heritage Mississauga, a Foundation that has worked tirelessly within the community for the last fifty years to raise awareness of and preserve the history of this area. The Grange, as a testament and example to living history, provides a fitting environment for the work that the Foundation strives to accomplish and is a constant reminder to its staff, directors and volunteers about the importance and relevance of the goals we work to accomplish.
Recognition from the City
In 1985 Heritage Mississauga received the “Friends of Heritage Award” from the Parks Canada Centennial Citizens Committee. In the spring of 1994 Mayor McCallion recognized the contributions of the organization, noting that HM had taken up the “mantle” of heritage preservation while warning that this work “can’t depend on the Mississauga Heritage Foundation alone.” She also praised that HM “would go down in history for producing an asset” in the form of the Anchorage. Moreover, in 1995 Ward Eight Councillor Katie Mahoney on behalf of the City honoured Heritage Mississauga at the Bradley Museum for its “role in founding the Bradley Museum” This was the same year that the Foundation was given the Civic Award from the City, along with a bronze plaque at the Bradley Museum honouring the contribution of this organization to the museum.
Heritage Mississauga isn’t finished and continues to work actively to both preserve and promote the history of the region we now call Mississauga and to record the legacy of its previous inhabitants and those who before us called this place home.