Last Updated on June 7, 2021 by Esther Au
Indigenous Peoples and Treaties
Indigenous peoples have lived in the Markham area since the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. When French explorers arrived in the area in the early 1600s, they encountered the Huron-Wendat. This First Nation’s territory stretched roughly from the shores of Georgian Bay to the northern shore of Lake Ontario.Between 1634 and 1642, a series of epidemics reduced their numbers. In 1648 and 1649, the Haudenosaunee defeated and dispersed the remaining Huron-Wendat. Many joined the Haudenosaunee.
In the years that followed, the Haudenosaunee established settlements north of Lake Ontario. By the late 1600s, however, they began to abandon these settlements. At the same time, the Anishinaabeg, including the Mississauga, began migrating from the area around Lake Superior into the territory the Haudenosaunee left behind.
In 1805, Mississauga chiefs met with colonial administrators and signed Treaty 13, also known as the Toronto Purchase. The treaty transferred approximately 250,800 acres (1,015 km2) from the Mississauga to the colonial government. In return, the Mississauga received 10 shillings and fishing rights along the Etobicoke Creek. While the majority of this treaty is centred on modern-day Toronto, Vaughan and King Township, the southwest corner of Markham is also included. The remainder of Markham is covered by the Williams Treaties, signed in 1923.
Settlement and Development
Despite the Mississauga not signing treaties until 1805 and 1923, in 1792 colonial administrators “opened” the Markham area for settlement. Many early settlers were from Britain. The township was named for William Markham, the Archbishop of York, England, and a friend of John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.
A British firm looking to colonize land in New York state hired a German-born merchant, William Berczy, in 1791. Berczy found over 200 people willing to immigrate, mostly north Germans. Arriving in 1792, the company denied Berczy’s group the land and supplies they were promised. At the time, Simcoe hoped to develop the area around Upper Canada’s capital, York (Toronto). He offered Berczy and his contingent Markham Township, an area nearly the size of the modern city. However, Simcoe’s schedule for development of the area proved too ambitious. He wanted them to clear trees up to Lake Simcoe within a year and to create Yonge Street. (Yonge Street is now part of Markham’s western border.) With little time to farm or build mills, the settlers faced starvation. Many left the area. Despite these challenges, Berczy’s settlers founded multiple communities now within the city of Markham, including Unionville.
In 1794, settlers arrived at present-day Thornhill. They established a village early in the next century. The community was partly in Vaughan Township and partly in Markham Township. While it was a “police village” from 1931 to 1971, modern Thornhill is again split between Vaughan and Markham.Markham FairCompetitors display their horses during the Markham Fair on 4 October 2008. Founded in 1844, the fair is one of the oldest agricultural events in Canada.(© Bobhilscher/Dreamstime)
At the end of the American Revolution, many Mennonite families in Pennsylvania worried about having to serve in the military. Mennonites belong to a part of Christianity called Anabaptism. Most Anabaptists are pacifists, meaning they disagree with the use of violence or military service. Upper Canada law exempted Anabaptists from military service. In 1804, Peter Reesor led a group of these “Pennsylvania Germans” to the township. In 1825, they founded the village of Reesorville, later renamed Markham.
Much of the land was used for agriculture, or complementary activities like milling. The Markham Fair was founded in 1844. It is now one of Canada’s oldest and largest agricultural events.
The Town of Markham was created in 1971. While most of Markham Township was included in the new municipality, sections were annexed by Richmond Hill to the west and Whitchurch-Stouffville to the north.
Article by Nick Moreau, published online from The Canadian Encyclopedia dated March 11, 2021