Yesterday and Today: Rowntree Family

Humber Summit’s notable, historic Rowntree family

By Tim Lambrinos

One legendary name responsible for pioneering Emery and Humber Summit is the name Rowntree. Today, the name is publicized and honoured at Rowntree Mills Park. The Rowntree’s were mill operators when they originally came to Canada from Cumbria, England. Joseph Rowntree established the Greenholme Mills along the banks of the Humber, west of Islington Avenue. Rowntree married Ann McGhee and their youngest son, William Henry Rowntree, was born at the mill in 1866. In 1876, the family moved to the nearby Town of Weston. This would allow family members to be brought up in an influential social setting. As a result, young William Henry attended private school in York Mills for his primary education.

In 1886 at the age of 20, William Henry Rowntree inherited 75 acres of the former family farm located on the northeast corner of Finch and Islington. The next year, he married Emily Victoria Brown from the Town of Weston. On Dec. 14, 1887, a glorious wedding ceremony was held at her family’s residence in Weston. William Henry Rowntree believed that a larger farm could be more worthwhile and profitable. For this reason, he decided to purchase an additional 75 acres of adjacent and surrounding farmland from his relatives. He quickly built a very large two-level house situated at the top of the hill on the northeast corner of Islington and Finch. The home was built in anticipation of future children. He strategically positioned the home to be at the highest point in the land. This would allow good drainage and the ability to see the surrounding terrain at all times. The home stood just east of the present day 2825 Islington Avenue Swiss Court apartment building and the far north parking area of the Gord and Irene Risk Recreation Centre. The farm primarily grew grain but was used to grow apples and fruits as well. William and Emily had five children; Florence, Stella, Gertrude, Howard and William.

On Sept. 12, 1892, a new son, named William Joseph Rowntree, was the latest addition to the family. A township clerical error reversed his first and middle name occasionally confusing registrars but he was known in the community as Willie, W.J. or just Will. He attended the Emery Public School located at the northeast corner at Finch and Weston Road.

As a student, he was known to be a classroom tease but was also an outstanding athlete excelling at football, hockey, baseball and lacrosse. He married Bessie E. Holmes in 1920 but she surprisingly passed away in 1928 after bearing a single daughter (Mary Elizabeth). On March 31, 1934, William Rowntree married his second wife, Verna Pearl Noble, and in Sept. 1935, another daughter Marion Victoria Rowntree was added to the family.

In her adolescent years, Marion was brought up on the Rowntree farm. She did chores and picked apples with her brother William and her two sisters, Mary and Suzanne. On a daily basis, Marion walked the route along Finch Avenue to attend Emery Public School. She later attended schools in Weston. In 1949, as part of a school assignment, Marion decided to make some detailed sketches of all of the buildings that were at the centre of Emery Village. The community hall, the church, the school, the wagon shop, the post office were all identified in Marion’s etchings as part of the assignment. Remarkably some of these drawings that Marion did, at fourteen years of age, have significant historical relevance today. They are the only renditions of several of the original structures that existed in Emery since no photographs were ever taken of so many of the existing buildings.

In 1957, the farmhouse that William Henry Rowntree built and all the surrounding farmland was purchased by Camillo Domenico Milani. In 1959, the vacant Rowntree farmhouse surprisingly caught fire leaving no trace of the kitchen implements.

In 1960 on the precise former site of the house, Milani built the Italian Gardens Recreational Facility.

Italian Gardens would be used for leisure activities by the entire new community.

In the late 1950’s, Marion Rowntree was fortunate enough to bring students to visit the Rowntree farmhouse as part of an official school field-trip outing before the house was burned down.

Marion obtained her formal credentials at Teacher’s College in Toronto in 1956. She taught school for 10 years mainly in Toronto, Etobicoke and New Liskeard. She also taught students while on an exchange in Scotland.

Marion married her spouse Frank Russell in 1962. Frank passed away last year on Oct. 12, 2015 at the age of 80.

Marion and Frank have three children (Andrea, Jason and Todd) and two grandchildren. Marion is a grandmother to Chloe and Cheyenne with one living in Canada and the other in Korea.

Now nearly 81 years young, Marion Rowntree Russell continues with volunteer work providing assistance towards many important causes. She maintains her position as a prominent board member of the Pine Ridge Cemetery Board of Trustees. She has also been the chief source of conserving early photographs and archival records collected over the decades from Emery and Humber Summit’s past.

Recently, Marion turned over many important archival records to the Emery BIA ensuring the history of Emery and Humber Summit will continue to be known to many generations and future residents of Emery. Retired from teaching, Marion has resided in Brampton since 1962.

She enjoys gardening and occasionally looking after her grandchildren.

The Emery BIA extends boundless appreciation and gratitude to Marion Rowntree Russell for her continuing contribution in preserving the remarkable history of Emery and of Humber Summit.