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Maple Arbor Farm
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Maple Arbor Farm


Located in Onondaga, Ontario, Maple Arbor Farm is a brick farmhouse built circa 1861 on land first claimed by William Howell. While the Howell family originally built and operated a sawmill circa 1839, the property was eventually turned into farmland. Maple Arbor Farm has had the longest period of continuous operation by one family in Onondaga Township. Several upgrades and additions have been added to the home over the years1


1831 - William Howell staked claim to 279 acres of land

This included a six-mile area on each side of the Grand River set apart for the Six Nations reserve1

1839 - First sawmill in the district was erected

It had a capacity of 50,000 feet of lumber per month and was equipped with a muley saw now in the Brant Historical Museum. This was made possible by the financial backing of Reverend Hamilton Biggar, a Methodist Minister who had emigrated from Scotland1

1850 - A legal Indian Land Sale Grant was made to Reverend Hamilton Biggar

The grant was for the sum of 383, 12 s, 6 d, which is perhaps $1,500.00. Reverend Biggar never lived on this land but he enabled William Howell to establish his claim1

1854 - The Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich Railroad was constructed, cutting through the property

Whitfield Howell, son of William Howell, was responsible for sawing the ties laid between Caledonia and Brantford1

1861 – Present brick farm house was built

The lawns were also planted with spruce hedges, shrubbery and the sturdy roadside trees. Later an apple orchard was planted between the home and the mill. Barrels of apples from the bountiful orchard were often shipped by railroad to the now developing Canadian West1

1868 - Reverend Hamilton Biggar sold his share in the mill and farm to Isaac Howell1

???? – Acreage is cleared and trees are burned

Considerable acreage was cleared and cultivated with the crude implements such as the wooden harrow, the cradle and later the sawyer reaper. Oxen were used to work the land as well as to pull out stumps. In places the earth is still black from the burning of trees to obtain postash for soap-making. During a severe cholera epidemic wooden caskets were assembled at the mill. People would come up the creek within shouting distance of the mill and the mill workers would float down the required number of coffins1

Pre-1898 – Approximately 140 acres of the eastern portion of the farm is sold to John Allan and Alexander Douglas1

1906 – Old barns are dismantled and new barn erected

Following the marriage of Harold Howell and Edith Shaver, the couple has the old barns on the property torn down and a new one large frame barn with a steel roof erected1

1910 – Gas and crude oil is discovered

By chance a neighbour, Mr. A. W. Vansickle, while drilling a water well was amazed at the gas pressure. This inspired Harold and Edith Howell to hire a driller to drill to the six hundred foot level in the hope of gas to provide energy on the farm. Not only did the first well find gas but also a sizeable flow of crude oil. Independently seven wells were drilled yielding a good flow of gas and oil. The gas provided light, heat and engine power on the farm for half a century1

1916 – Sawmill is dismantled

The sawmill’s wooden dam breaks and mill is later dismantled1

1929 – Rear portion of the home is completely rebuilt

Materials included maple and basswood from the woodlot for flooring and woodwork1

1949 – Farm name “Maplehurst” was changed to “Maple Arbor”1

1958 – Seventy-three acres of the original holding are repurchased1

1968 – A concrete bridge was built by the Province of Ontario

The bridge replaces the iron bridge built in 18941

1980 – David and Robert Thomson become partners with Helen Howell1

1980 – Greenhouse added over the stairway to the basement1

1983 – David and Robert Thomson purchase the farm from Helen Howell’s estate1

1988 – Robert and Kim Thomson move into the farmhouse1

1988 – Wall is knocked down between the kitchen and the dining room1

Summer 1988 – Back porch is transformed into a sunroom and greenhouse raised1

1989 – Front porch removed and replaced with larger cedar porch1

Summer 1990 – Side porch removed and roof replaced1

Fall 1990 – Wall torn down between the master bedroom and spare room1

1991 – New room added where greenhouse was previously located1

Summary of Inhabitants

William Howell

William Howell was born in Jersey Settlement in 1811, the second youngest child of Caret Howell, a United Empire Loyalist, who emigrated from New Jersey. As a pioneer local minister of the Wesleyan Methodist denomination, Caret Howell instilled a deep religious faith in his large family as well as in the people of the new settlement. In New Jersey, William Howell’s ancestors had operated a sawmill. The family, which has been traced in Wales to the tenth century had come to America from Buckinghamshire, England, in the seventeenth century. Before William Howell claimed his location on the Fairchild Creek he had married Elizabeth Day, daughter of Solomon and Sarah Whiting Day, another pioneer Methodist family of Irish origin which had emigrated from the United States to a district southwest of the Jersey settlement. He and Elizabeth had six children: Whitfield, Elizabeth, Alexander, Isaac, John and William. He died at the age of thirty-four in 1845.1

Whitfield Howell

Whitfield Howell helped to establish the first Methodist Church in Onondaga Village in 1859. Previously there had been a log church or meeting house on the hill west of the Howell mill. A few traces of the old nearby cemetery still remain. He eventually married and moved to Oakland Township1

Isaac Howell

Isaac Howell was born in Onondaga on the 22nd of March 1829. He married Mary Alice Holmes, daughter of the Honourable William Holmes and Deborah Wellwood Holmes, a pioneer Irish settlers of Holmesville, Huron County. As travel was limited at that time, the marriage was very interesting. Because of the convenience of the Buffalo Goderick Railway, the Holmes' visited their cousins, the Thomson’s, Pioneers in the southwest section of Onondaga Township, who were friends of the Howell family. The couple had four children: Melvin Wellwood Howell (1876-1950), Harold Holmes Howell (1879-1944), Albert Edgar Howell (1881-1882) and William Wilford Howell (1886-Unknown.) The two latter sons died young: Edgar, a victim of sunstroke and Wilfred of tuberculosis. In 1898 Isaac Howell died as the result of sunstroke, leaving his second son Harold, eighteen years old, to take over the farm and sawmill1

Harold Howell

Harold Howell was born on the 27th of December 1879 and is the son of Isaac and Mary Alice Howell. At eighteen years old, he took over the farm and sawmill after his father’s death. For eight years, the Harold Howell laboured untiringly to relieve the farm of the heavy load of debt that had accumulated during the ever fluctuating economy of the late nineteenth century. In 1906 Harold Howell married Miss Edith Shaver, a member of the United Empire Loyalist family of Ancaster. Although the Howell’s and the Shavers’ were distinctly separate families, very often they sought each other in marriage. The marriage of Harold Howell and Edith Shaver was especially interesting as their mothers both belonged to pioneer families in Huron County and had maintained their friendship which eventually resulted in their children’s marriage. Immediately after their very brief honeymoon, the couple set out to work to make the already established homestead their ideal home and farm. Their first task was to tear down all the old barns and build one large frame barn with a steel roof. As a bride of only one month, Edith Howell was faced with the colossal task of feeding seventy hungry barn raisers. Of course neighbours and relatives provided much assistance. In their thirty-eight years of life together on the farm, Harold and Edith Howell were ambitious, energetic and symbolized the motto on the Howell family crest: "Tenax Propositi" - "Tenacious in Purpose." They kept the sawmill and chopping mill operating. They grew large crops of grain, often for certified seed. They grew strawberries by the acre. There are still tags used in shipping strawberries via rail - "H.H. Howell, Onondaga - Strawberries a Specialty." They even kept bees in order to have their own honey. In 1910 by chance a neighbour, Mr. A. W. Vansickle, while drilling a water well was amazed at the gas pressure. This inspired Harold and Edith Howell to hire a driller to drill to the six hundred foot level in the hope of gas to provide energy on the farm. Not only did the first well find gas but also a sizeable flow of crude oil. Independently seven wells were drilled yielding a good flow of gas and oil. The gas provided light, heat and engine power on the farm for half a century. Harold and Edith Howell had four daughters - Mildred who died in 1957; Lillian who died in 1978; Helen - owner of the farm, and Margaret living in Hamilton. Each daughter was given post-secondary school education in preparation for the profession of her choice. The period of the Great Depression in the 1930's and of World War II was strenuous for the farm and for the Howell family. Both Harold and Edith Howell died five months apart before the close of World War II1

Helen Howell

After the death of both her parents, the farm was left to Helen Howell, who operated it on a share basis for thirty five years. In the fall of 1981 Helen Howell was diagnosed with cancer of the Pancreas, just as her mother. She had surgery that fall which gave her a good year and she accomplished a trip to Asia. Helen Howell died in the Fall of 1982 at the age of 681

David Thomson and Beverly White

On September 1976 David Thomson and Beverly White (Parents: Dr. Jim and Betty White) were married. At that time David and Bev lived on Clara Crescent, in the City of Brantford. Beverly a Registered Nurse with the Brantford General Hospital and Dave a full-time fireman with the City of Brantford and full-time on the farm. In January 1980 David and Robert Thomson became partners with Helen Howell. David and Robert were the sons of Ross Thomson, who had a dairy farm on Brant School Road. Helen always wanted a family who would care for the cows and she always felt that the Thomson’s were family. In the Spring of 1980 David and Beverly Thomson sold their house on Clara Crescent and moved in with Helen to share the house. Helen lived in the front portion, while Dave and Bev resided in the two back rooms, which were at that time, the kitchen and dining room and also the whole upstairs. In September of 1982 David and Beverley Thomson had a daughter, Kelly. David and Robert had an agreement to purchase the farm from Helen which was done through the estate and was completed in October of 1983. At that time David and Beverly moved into the whole house. In September of 1984 David and Beverly Thomson then had their second daughter, Katie. In 1987 David and Beverly Thomson purchased the property (14 acres) which was north of the farm. It was at that time that David started to build their house. In January of 1988 David and Beverly along with their family moved into their new home across the road. In the Spring of 1991 David Thomson succeeded in becoming a Captain for the Brantford Fire Department. In July 1991 David and Beverly Thomson had their third daughter, Emily1

Robert Thomson and Kimberly Stobbs

Robert Thomson and Kimberly Stobbs (Parents: Francis and Marie Stobbs) were married in October1 of 1983. Robert Thomson was a volunteer fireman with the Onondaga Volunteer Fire Department and full-time on the farm. Kimberly worked with the Ontario Provincial Police, in the City of Brantford. Robert and Kim rented a house off of Arnold Black which was situated on County Road #18 (Blossom Avenue Extension). The house was once the home for the hire man of Phyllis and Arnold Black on their dairy farm. In the Spring of 1985 Robert and Kim moved closer to the farm. They then rented a house off of Cecil Shaver. The house was situated on Old Onondaga Road and was in front of the Shaver Construction business. In October of 1985 Robert and Kim Thomson had a son, Russell. Then in February of 1987 they had a daughter, Breann. In January of 1988 Robert and Kim Thomson with their family moved into the farm homestead after David and Beverly Thomson moved to the new house across the road. In the Fall of 1989 Robert Thomson ran for Councillor of Onondaga and was acclaimed1

Architectural Features

The present brick house was built by the Howell family in 1861. The Maple Arbor Farm house is a one and a half storey Gothic Revival building constructed in buff header bond brick in a T-shape plan with a rear wing and a hexagonal single storey addition. The roof is a center gable with white fascia and frieze. There is a brick joined chimney on the side right. The front door is centered on the main façade with a segmental opening, arch radiating voussoirs, recessed light side panels and recessed light transom. The first floor windows are mainly double hung with shutters while the second floor windows are single hung. Picture hung windows are found in the rear of the house and in the addition. A single window is found in the gable on the main façade with an irregular pointed shape and shutters. All windows original to the house possess arch radiating voussoirs. In 1988 the back porch was transformed into a sunroom. In 1989 the original front porch was removed and a cedar porch was added along with a matching back deck. In 1990 the existing porch on the side of the house was removed and the roof was replaced. In the summer of 1991, the greenhouse which had been added in the spring of 1980, was removed and an addition added approximately 16 x 12 inches.


  1. Thomson, Robert. Personal Interview, January 2012.


  • Thomson, Robert. Personal Interview, January 2012. Retrieved July 2018