THE STORY OF AURORA

The area occupied by the present day Town of Aurora has seen human activity for the past 9,500 years or so. By the time of European contact, the Late Woodland aboriginal culture had already been established in the area for some 600 years.
It was not until the late 18th century however, that European settlement in the area began. This was due to the creation of Yonge Street. In 1793 Lieutenant‐Governor John Graves Simcoe ordered the extension of Yonge Street from Toronto to Holland Landing as a military road to secure trade and communication routes. To encourage settlement, Simcoe offered generous land grants – the first in the area were granted in 1797 to William McClellan, Thomas Phillips, Charles Fathers, and Frederick Smith.  A small hamlet soon developed centred on the corner of Yonge and Wellington Streets. In 1834 Richard Machell purchased an acre of land on the south-east corner and established a store. Over the next few years Machell bought up surrounding land, primarily to the north, and the area became known as Machell’s Corners.
The 1850s saw further expansion with the arrival of the railway in 1853. Farmlands were subdivided into building lots, with Richard Machell filing the first plan for “Matchville” in May of that year. In 1859 Joseph Fleury arrived and partnered with Thomas Pearson in an agricultural implement manufacturing operation where they developed a cast‐beam plough. The plough was to be perfected over the years by Fleury, and The Aurora Agricultural Works (later J. Fleury`s Sons) became a central part of Aurora’s economy as its largest employer.
In 1863, Aurora was incorporated as a village having been named by Charles Doan who became the first reeve. In 1888 the Village of Aurora became a Town, officially incorporated on January 1st.
By the turn of the century the Town of Aurora was flourishing with a population of 1590 according to the 1901 census. An impressive Public School on Church Street had been built and the Town was home to numerous businesses and industries including the T. Sisman Shoe Company, Collis Leather, Cousins Dairy, Caruso’s Fruit Store, Scanlon Bakery and the Wilkinson Plough Company among others.
Further development and steady growth in the Town occurred particularly after World War II which continues to this day. New industries have replaced the old including Magna International and the Canadian headquarters for State Farm Insurance.  Today Aurora has a population of over 55,000, a number that has doubled since 1986. A skilled, professional workforce has replaced the farmer, merchant and factory worker of the past. Aurora is a young, family-centred community that is growing and ever changing.
The present-day Town of Aurora is situated on land governed by Treaty #13 (The Toronto Purchase) and The Williams Treaties. We respect the rich history of this land and the people who have called it home for thousands of years.
Toronto Purchase
In 1787, representatives of the Crown met with Mississaugas of the Credit where land was purportedly ceded to the Crown. While dubious at best, the supposed deed covering the sale was not resolved until 1805 when Treaty #13 was signed. In 1998, the Mississaugas of the Credit filed a claim against the Canadian Government regarding the 1805 treaty.
A framed document on parchment with circular seal hanging from it.
First Land Grants
This land grant for 210 acres (63.1.1a), dated December 2, 1802, was given to Henry Harman for lot 77, 1st Concession King Township.
Machell's Corners
In 1832, Richard Machell purchased the lot on the southeast corner of Yonge and Wellington Streets where he would later build and operate a general store. By the mid-1800s Machell owned the southeast, southwest, and northeast corners so it is not surprising that this area became known as “Machell’s Corners”. In 1853 he filed a subdivision plan offering lots for sale in "Match-Ville".
A small box carved out of wood with furniture-like feet, decorrated on the top and side with faint images and writing, photographed on a white background
Upper Canada Rebellion
This fine box (989.25.1) was crafted by Charles Doan while held in Toronto Jail for his part in the Rebellion. It is inscribed with the date April 13, 1838, the day after fellow rebels Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews were hung at the jail in front of 10,000 spectators including Doan.
A black and white photograph of a steam engine with an oversized stack, with a group of men posing in front of it, one sits on the pilot, two men are inside the engine's cab leaning out.
Arrival of the Train
On May 16, 1853 the first steam train in Canada West made its inaugural journey from Toronto to Machell’s Corners (Aurora). This two hour journey marked a turning point for the small village and the beginning of a profound era of expansion in British North America.
Black and white postcard image of factory buildings.
Aurora Agricultural Works Established
Established by Joseph Fleury, the Aurora Agricultural Works (later J.Fleury's Sons) manufactured plows and agricultural equipment from its factory on Wellington Street from 1859 until 1940.
A black and white photograph of a group of 6 men sitting dressed in mid-19th century style.
Aurora Incorporated as a Village
A black and white photograph of the interior of a newspaper print shop, with one man working and two men posing.
First Issue of Aurora Banner Published
A black and white photograph of a meeting hall with a small circular window over the entrance, a hydro pole and street sign are in the foreground.
Mechanics' Hall
The Aurora Mechanics Institute and Library Association opened this building in 1870. At a time when most libraries entailed expensive subscription fees, the Mechanics Institute allowed Aurora's poorer farmers and factory tradesmen to access books. The Hall was also used for lectures and concerts.
A black and white photo of soldiers lined up in a treed park, officers are inspecting them, a wooden building stands behind.
Drill Shed Constructed in Town Park
A black and white photograph of a brick building with a semicircular arches and a bell tower on the corner of a street.
Aurora's "New" Town Hall Opens at the Corner of Yonge and Mosley Streets
A sepia-coloured photograph of an ornately trimmed stone school building with stairs leading to large double doors and a cupola on the roof, a small group of students are standing on the stairs and around the building.
Church Street School Opens
A heraldic crest with a farm plow, a sunrise over mountains, maple leaves at the sides.
Aurora Incorporated as a Town
A black and white photograph of a square shaped brick school building with arched door and windows, students stand around the yard with leafless trees.
First Aurora High School Built on Wells Street
A postcard with a black and white photograph of a small brick train station with a passenger car parked beside it, and a group of people on the raised platform, stairs and front walkway. The station is described in text underneath.
The Radial Railway Connects Aurora to Toronto via Yonge Street
A black and white photograph of a long, light-coloured industrial building, a dark smokestack in the rear is producing smoke.
Underhill & Sisman Shoes Move from Markham to Aurora
A black and white photograph of a brick industrial building with a water tower and smokestack on the left, on the bank of a body of water.
Collis Leather Opens on Tyler Street
A black and white photograph of a white semi-cylindrical building with small windows on its end, power lines cross the foreground and a church steeple rises behind
Indoor Skating Rink Opens on Gurnett Street. Collapses Under the Weight of Snow in 1929
A black and white photograph of a brick building with semicircular arches and a tall square clocktower, stone stairs lead to the doors and streetcar tracks are in the road in front.
New Post Office Built on Yonge Street
A black and white photograph of an imposing 4 storey with many windows building behind a row of trees.
De La Salle Training Centre Opens at Yonge and Bloomington
Black and white photo of five boys in suits riding ponies.
First Aurora Horse Show Held July 1st in Town Park
Williams Treaties
In Aurora, lands to the east of Yonge Street had never been formally surrendered. This of course was a problem as settlers had already been living on land that they had no clear, legal title to. In 1923 representatives of the Crown and the Chippewas of Christian Island, Georgina Island, and Rama signed what is known as the Williams Treaties. Legal disputes over the rights to fish and hunt on the land were not formally resolved until 2018.
A photograph edited to combine an old and new photo of the same location: a tall brick memorial with a crowd of people surrounding the base.
Aurora War Memorial Unveiled
A black and white photograph postcard of a row of brick buildings with a large school building at the end of the road, sapling trees line the lawn in front.
St. Andrew's College Opens in Aurora
A black and white photograph of a one-storey brick shop with two horse-drawn dairy carriages in front, one man stands holding a horse, another man in each carriage.
Cousins Dairy Opens at Yonge and Mosley Streets
A black and white photo of an arena building with a peaked roof that has been burned from the inside by fire.
New Arena Constructed on Gurnett Street. Destroyed by Fire in 1965
A black and white photograph of a brick shop with a corner-facing door, its façade has contrasting lines and octagonal windows, an early mid-20th century delivery van is parked on the street.
Aurora Dairy Opens at Yonge and Catherine Streets
A black and white photo of WWII service people riding on the outside of a car travelling in a parade.
VE Day
A black and white photograph of students streaming into a long brick school building from a bus parked on the street.
Aurora District High School Opens on Dunning Avenue
A black and white photograph of a plain low brick library building with a tree in front.
Public Library Opens on Victoria Street
An orange-tinted colour photograph of a community centre building with varied surface materials and a five-peaked roof over the entrance.
Aurora Community Centre Opens
A circular logo in pinwheel shape of red, black and white. Text around reads Aurora Canada's Birthday Town
Aurora Officially Declared Canada's Birthday Town
A colour photograph with a yellowed tint of a group of historical items on display.
Aurora Museum Opens in the Former Waterworks Building on Yonge Street South of Church
a colour photograph of a long rectangular brick and glass one-storey building taken at dusk with a deep blue sky in the background
Aurora Family Leisure Complex Opens
A photograph of a a modern library's rotunda from the street, an ornate school building rises behind and to the right.
New Public Library Opens on Yonge Street
A photograph of a postmodern building with a wide overhanging roof with v-shaped supports.
Stronach Aurora Recreation Complex Opens
An ornate brick school building with large red double doors and a cupola on the roof.
Church Street School Cultural Centre Opens
A museum exhibit inside a wooden-floored room with high windows, the panel facing has an ink image of a 19th century woman, with maps and artifacts on other panels and against the walls.
Aurora Museum & Archives Officially Opens as a Town-run Entity
An aerial rendering of a complex of buildings around a fountain square.
Construction Begins on Library Square
1787
1797
1832
1837
May 16, 1853
1859
1863
1864
1870
1874
1875
1886
1888
1892
1899
1901
1912
1913
1914
1916
1922
October 31, 1923
1925
1926
1927
1930
1938
1945
1952
1963
1967
June 9, 1969
1973
1988
2001
2006
2010
2015
2020
 
We will be adding to this section as  our research into the complex and robust history of the Town of Aurora in an ongoing project. If there is a particular topic you are interested in please feel free to reach out to museum staff!
 

TIME TRAVELLER'S DIARY

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