You may be familiar with the name Stong from Black Creek Pioneer Village, as the first two homes of Daniel and Elizabeth Fisher Stong formed the basis for much of the village. Or you may know the Stong name from the college, pond and residence at York University. Or perhaps you’ve simply driven along Steeles just west of Keele and seen a desolate old farmhouse standing near a barn on the York University campus, a stark reminder of the area’s agricultural past.
This old but once proud residence was the home of Jacob and Sarah Snider Stong. Jacob, born in 1821, was the eldest son of Daniel and Elizabeth Fisher Stong. He was born in the tiny log cabin known today as “First House” that is now part of Black Creek Pioneer Village. Sarah Snider, sometimes spelled Snyder, was the daughter of Samuel Snider and Mary Nell and was a member of another prominent pioneer family in the area; a Snider home, now a workshop, cider mill and drive shed can all be seen at BCPV.
The Stong and Snider families came to Upper Canada from Pennsylvania as part of the loyalist migration from the United States following the American Revolution. The property the Jacob & Sarah Snider Stong house sits on, part of Lot 25, Concession 4 West, York Township, was inherited by Jacob’s mother, Elizabeth Fisher, from her father. John Fisher had received the 100 acre land grant in 1796 but never farmed it and died when Elizabeth was young. When Elizabeth’s brother died in the War of 1812 the property went to Elizabeth. She and Daniel married in January 1816 and moved to the uncleared land later that year, eventually raising eight children, building two homes and the successful farm that you can visit today.
Jacob bought the east portion of the land from his father for £750 in 1854 and between 1857 and 1860 he built the 2 1/2 storey home that still stands today. When they moved in Jacob and Sarah already had seven children and then added three more to their family; this was a home built to house twelve. Jacob Stong was a prominent citizen – he was a noted livestock judge, Justice of the Peace, and member of the York Pioneer Historical Society. When the Canadian National Exhibition opened in 1879, he was one of its first judges and directors.
Jacob Stong died in 1898 at 78 years old, in an accident at the Downsview Railway Station, along with his 52 year old daughter and mother of two, Mary Stong Puterbaugh. Another daughter, Melinda Jane aged 36, was very seriously injured. The accident occurred as the Stongs, in a double rig, attempted to cross the track in front of an oncoming train. The horses broke away and were unhurt but Mary was killed, Jacob was decapitated and Melinda Jane was mangled and tossed over a fence. At his death, Jacob was described as a man of “massive frame, weighing fully 225 pounds” who was “highly respected by a large circle of friends”. An inquest said that trees at the crossing blocked the view and recommended that all rail crossings be cleared of obscuring trees.
Sarah Snider Stong died two years later. The home and the 1905 barn remained in the Stong family until 1951.
In the 1960s York University acquired 400+ acres of farmland at Steeles and Keele, including the part of Lot 25 that included the Jacob and Sarah Stong house and associated barn. They were restored and left in their original locations, and have been used for a variety of purposes over the years including serving as a studio facility for the Faculty of Fine Arts. Today the house is boarded up and falling apart, especially at the back while the barn appears in relatively good shape and in use by the university for storage.