Barnett Museum Visitors - The Brown Brothers

Archaeological Discoveries: 
The Brown Brothers

The signatures of Joseph and Richard Brown of Vaughan in the 1846-9 Niagara Falls Museum Register. Niagara Falls Museums, 2015.030.5.
In 1846, brothers Joseph (1820-1907) and Richard Brown (1822-1892) from Vaughan, Ontario, paid a visit to the Niagara Falls Museum.

Postcard depicting the 5th Concession of Vaughan Township, looking South. The Edgeley Post Office can be seen on the left. The properties of Richard and Joseph Brown would be further down this road, today’s Jane Street. Credit: Vaughan archives. Joseph and Richard were the only sons of James and Susannah Brown. James had been an early settler to the small, unincorporated community of Edgeley (part of Vaughan), moving there around 1800. The Browns were typical Edgeley residents- Pennsylvania German Mennonite farmers from Somerset, Pennsylvania. James was remembered in an 1885 biography as, “a man much esteemed by his neighbours, and was ever ready to bring his experience to bear in assisting new settlers in their difficulties.”

When they visited Niagara Falls in 1846, Joseph was 26 and Richard was 24. Both were married; Joseph to Catherine Burkholder, and Richard to Rebecca Burkholder (no known relation), and each had two children. Both went on to have large families which they raised on farms very close to one another. In fact, in the 1846 Toronto city and district directory, both were listed as living on Concession 5 Lot 2, which had previously belonged to their father (Joseph later moved to Lot 3). Raised Mennonite, the brothers converted to the Wesleyan Methodist church fairly early in life. Both men were considered conservative.

Interestingly, the Concession 5 Lot 2 farm, which Richard Brown had kept, was the subject of an archaeological assessment in 2009 by Archaeoworks, Inc. The site, which is only 1 kilometre away from Black Creek Pioneer Village, is the future location of the new TTC Pioneer Village stop, part of the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension.

Map showing the land holdings of the Brown family in Edgeley (Any relation of John Brown to the family is unknown). Taken from Tremaine's Map of the County of York, Canada West (1860). As with any archaeological investigation, their first step was historical research. Archaeoworks found that the Crown land patent for Lot 2 was given to King’s College (which is now the University of Toronto), which then sold it to James Brown in 1837. He sold it to Richard in 1848 and at least part of the land was held by the Brown family until 1891.

The archaeologists then conducted a surface survey, which involves walking in rows to see if and where you can see any artifacts on the ground. They moved on to test pitting (digging small holes on a grid with shovels), then dug 1x1 metre squares in the areas where they had found the most artifacts. Because of their findings, the site went on to be fully excavated in larger trenches.

The finds on the site, in particular the pottery, led the archaeologists to date the site from c.1860 to 1891. They mention that it seems that the Browns moved house there from another part of the land. While they did not find any evidence of the house itself, they were able to find a privy (an outdoor toilet) and a refuse heap.

The pottery that the archaeologists found was markedly plain and inexpensive. Their report theorizes that this may mean that the household had modest means or that they were conservative in their tastes. The latter reason is probably truer than the former- Knowing that Richard and Rebecca were from Mennonite families, it makes sense that their tableware wouldn’t be flashy. Images of some of the archaeological finds can be seen in Archaeoworks’ report, linked to below in ‘Sources’.

There is now a plaque commemorating the original families of Vaughan in front of the Edgeley Cemetery on Jane Street which reads, in part, “The first inhabitants of the Edgeley area came from Somerset County, Pennsylvania, circa 1800. Early family names were Smith, Stong, Shunk, Hoover, Burkholder, Snider, Brown and Dalziel.” Richard and Rebecca are buried in that small cemetery.


  • Robinson, C.B., comp. (1885) History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario; Containing an Outline of the History of the Dominion of Canada; a History of the City of Toronto and the County of York, with the Townships, Towns, General and Local Statistics; Biographical Sketches.


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