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November 13th, 2018 
Carmela Rzhevsky
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York Region Map

Unionville is a suburban community in Markham, Ontario, Canada. It is located 33 km northeast of downtown Toronto and 4 km east of southern Richmond Hill. Main Street, which was Kennedy Road in the mid to late 20th century, runs through Unionville while the new Kennedy runs 300 m to the east. Buttonville is located in the west central part of Markham.

The population is presently about 110,000 including the area of Denison. Rouge River runs north of the central part of Unionville and to the southeast. Highway 404 is to the west, the nearest interchange with the 407 ETR is 2 km south on Kennedy Rd. The population lives in almost all parts of Unionville except for the south central industrialized area. The railway line which links the area to Toronto via GO Train Service once ran as far as Lindsay, a town near Peterborough.

Tourism is a major part of Unionville's economy. The historic village or downtown section of Unionville is typical of a small town that developed over a century or so starting in the early 1840s through the middle to late 20th century. The historic Main Street Unionville attracts thousands of visitors each year - as of 2006 it boasted 9 restaurants, including 3 pubs. Main Street also has a number of "century homes" dating back to the 1800s. Each year, thousands visit Unionville during the Unionville Festival.

The main street has been used as a stand-in for fictional Connecticut town Stars Hollow during the first season of The WB's (now The CW) Gilmore Girls television show, as well as other television and movie backdrops.

Geography

Once surrounded by farmlands, the village is now surrounded by suburban housing tracts. During the revival period in the 1970s a ban was placed on development for 25 years, but that time has now passed.

There is concern about how the village is now turning into a city, with all the new homes being build on farm lands, and heritage buildings being knocked down for new homes. Today Unionville has less then 10% of farmlands as there was in the mid 1990's.

History

Beginnings of the village

When the community that would come to be known as Unionville was in its infancy, it was located near the cross roads of the 16th Line (16th Ave) and the 6th Concession (Kennedy Rd.).

The earliest settlers in Unionville were Germans who had come with William Berczy from near Hamburg, Germany to the United States, and subsequently into Markham Township. Among the first to arrive in the Unionville area was Philip Eckardt, a Berczy settler, who settled on land at the corner of 16th Ave. and Kennedy Road in 1808. Eckardt, in 1794, was alloted land between Steeles Avenue and 14th Avenue. Later he acquired land where the current highway 407 crosses Kennedy Road. In the early years of the 19th century he and his family of 17 children had moved to the corner of 16th Avenue and Kennedy Road. This land had been granted to Frederick Westphalen, also a Berczy settler, in 1803. The log house, still standing behind the Berczy Cemetery on "Cemetery Hill" north of Unionville on Kennedy Road, was built either by Westphalen or Eckardt and is believed to be the oldest surviving house in the Town of Markham.

Early developments

In the 1840s Ira White built the Union Mills south of the core of the village along the southwest bank of the Rouge River. The location of the mill in this area had the effect of drawing the centre of activity south from its original location. The laneway to the mill along the 6th concession from the south curved westward to avoid the low ground along the Rouge River. When lots were subdivided along this road, as the community began to centre around the mill, this curve was maintained and remains to this day.

The Union Mills was the hub of village life until the coming of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway in 1871. Even after the railway, it remained in business for many years, latterly as a chopping mill and feed store, until it burnt to the ground in 1934. Likely no other business had such a significant impact on the course and location of the early development of Unionville.

One of the most distinctive buildings in Unionville, the Stiver Mill, built c. 1916 and used at various times both as a coal mill and as a flour mill, is now closed up, and the town would very much like to find some person or group to take it over and find a sustainable use for it. There is a local group of heritage enthusiasts who are researching this possibility, as they do not wish to see one of the last standing mills in Ontario go down, especially when the interior "mechanics" of the mill operation are still in working order.

The naming of Unionville

The name of Unionville is believed to have come from the Union Mills owned by Ira White, a miller, in the 1840s. Mr. White may have taken the name from the Act of Union, which united the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) in 1841.

The name, at least officially, appears to have been given to the village sometime between 1846 and 1851. Smith's Canadian Gazetteer of 1846 makes no mention of the name, however, The Canada [Ontario] Directory of 1851 refers to Unionville as; "A Village situated in the Township of Markham, County of York, C. W. [Canada West] - distant from Toronto, 19 miles."

In 1851, Unionville appears to have reached a fair level of prosperity, supporting a mill, a doctor, a general store, a watchmaker, three blacksmiths and three wagonners; as well as three churches: Methodist, Lutheran, and Church of England.

Unionville Post Office

Sources conflict over the exact date when the Unionville Post Office was established. There is evidence of a short-term establishment beginning c. 1832, with E. H. Whitmarsh as postmaster, which had disappeared by 1835. The establishment of a permanent post office in Unionville appears to have occurred in 1851, with Andrew Eckardt, the son of Philip Eckardt, becoming postmaster. The "Canada [Ontario] Directory" of 1851 makes reference to "Eckartd, A., postmaster and general storekeeper."

The establishment of a post office was a significant development in any community. It symbolized its coming of age and literally put a community on the map. For the residents of the new postal community of Unionville it meant a stronger connection with the outside world had been created, where communication between friends and family would become faster and easier.

Unionville Library

The Unionville library, completed in 1984, serves as a major cultural facility in the historic village center. The 14,000 sf library plan is based on a traditional village square surrounded by eight houses of books expressed on the exterior as postmodern Victorian dormers. The library, which contains approximately 100,000 books and audiovisual materials, was designed by architect Barton Myers.

Recent history

In the 1960s, major housing development came to Unionville and continues through today. Having old buildings available at low cost, a number of antique businesses sprang up and for a while in the 1970s Unionville ranked high on the list of places to go to get antiques. After the commitment to a bypass was realized, in the 1970s, entrepreneurs appeared. The Old Country Inn opened for business and Old Firehall Sports brought a new clientele to the village. Over the next decades, the antique places disappeared being replaced by high-end antique and replica outlets, restaurants, pubs, and clothing establishments. Tourism was born. Starbucks appeared in the late 1990s. Many of the buildings have been spruced up, extended and upgraded to meet this new reality. The old original road, to the immediate east of Main Street, once considered to be swamp land, has been converted to a large parking lot.

Walking paths through the local conservation lands connect directly to the village roads. One of the most used being the path around Toogood Pond, the mill pond from the 1840s that powered the grist mill. In the early 20th century the pond was called Willow Pond or Willow Lake and was the home to several small summer cottages on north Main Street. Some had been cottages, for grist mill workers, in their earliest incarnation. Those cottages evolved into homes by the middle of the century, but are almost all gone now being replaced by large spacious expensive homes.

The Varley Art Gallery now stands at the north end of the commercial Main Street and is rapidly becoming a gallery of wide renown. It was started with the contributions of Mrs. McKay, who had supported Group of Seven artist Fred Varley for the later part of his life. Living in her home on Main Street Unionville, he did several paintings that are now part of the Art Gallery collection and the home is now part of the Art Gallery's holdings, being used for small art shows on a regular basis.

In the mid-1990s until the summer of 1999, Highway 407 was under construction. It is Ontario's first toll road and was first opened the summer of 1998 at McCowan Road. It was later extended to Brock Road.

The Unionville Arms, a well known pub, burnt down on November 30th 2007. It had been in business for 19 years prior. The building itself was over a century old. The legendary building caught fire in the morning and the fire was put out 3 hours later. No one was hurt. Repairs seem possible as the façade is fairly intact, with most of the damage being to the back and roof.

Culture

The Unionville Festival was first organized in 1969 to raise awareness and money to fight the provincial plan to run a four lane highway up the middle of the town and thus destroying it. An interest in history, spurred by the Canadian Centennial Year in 1967, awoke the long time residents and the new subdivision residents. Slowly, local politicians got on board, and a plan was drawn up to divert the road to the east of the little town center. Today the festival continues to offer visitors access to handcrafts, small vendors and community groups. Virtually none of the businesses from the mid 20th century still exist, having been replaced by restaurants and tourist outlets.

The Unionville Business Improvement Area and its merchants, organize and operate numerous, year-round, admission free, festivals and events. The Merchants of Main Street Unionville BIA is the business association on Main Street Unionville, comprised of volunteers from the business community, who work to preserve and promote the historical village of Unionville.

  • February 18 - Unionville Family Day
  • March 21-23 - Unionville Easter Weekend
  • March 22 - Unionville Wedding Show
  • May 11 - Mother's Day In Unionville
  • May 19 - Victoria Day in Unionville
  • June 7 & 8 - Unionville Festival
  • June 15 - Father's Day in Unionville
  • July 1 - September 1 - Unionville Summer Concert Series
  • July 1 - Unionville Canada Day
  • July 12 & 13 - Unionville Celtic Festival
  • August 4 - Unionville Simcoe Day Festival
  • August 8-10 & 14-7 - Unionville JAZZ ON MAIN Festival
  • August 23 & 24 - Doors Open Markham & Heritage Train Rides
  • September 1 - Unionville Heritage & Big Band Festival
  • September & October - Unionville Heritage Harvest
  • October 13 - Unionville Little Oktoberfest
  • October 26 - Halloween on Main Street
  • November 11 - Unionville Remembrance Day Service
  • November 14 & 15 - Unionville Moonlight Madness
  • December 5-7 - Unionville Olde Tyme Christmas
  • December 6 & 7 - Unionville Santa Trains
  • December 11-23 - Late Night Shopping
  • December 26-31 - Boxing Day Events

The Unionville BIA's Heritage Committee has seen its volunteers research and produce a self-guided walking tour. They also offer the official walking tours of Main Street Unionville.

Education

  • Aldergrove Public School
  • Buttonville Public School
  • Central Park Public School
  • Coledale Public School
  • James Robinson Public School
  • John XXIII Catholic Elementary School
  • Markville Secondary School
  • Milliken Mills Public School
  • Parkview Public School
  • St. Matthew Catholic Elementary School
  • St. Justin Martyr Catholic Elementary School
  • Unionville High School
  • Unionville Meadows Public School
  • Unionville Public School
  • William Berczy Public School
  • Ramer Wood Public School

Transportation

  • Highway 407 ETR
  • York Region Transit
  • Viva
  • Highway 7
  • Toronto Transit Commision

Notable Residents

  • Hayden Christensen of Star Wars fame attended Unionville High School.
  • Emmanuelle Chriqui - Canadian actress who appeared in On the Line, Snow Day, and In the Mix.
  • Anna Russell - English-Canadian singer and comedienne.
  • Steve Stamkos a Canadian ice hockey player of the Sarnia Sting

Nearest communities

  • Buttonville, west
  • Stouffville, north
  • Markham, east
  • Scarborough, south

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