This week our Ontario travel destination is the Sharon Temple in Sharon, Ontario. Located just north of Toronto, this interesting building has a unique and powerful story. Come along with me and discover how a small group of people helped changed the course of history in our country.
Walking into the Welcome Center, A wonderful young lady named Michelle would take me on a journey back to the 1800s. A kind of story that when it ends, you wish there was another chapter. She was a great storyteller and tour host. Thank you, Michelle! Let’s go on a Tour!
Children of Peace
David Willson, the leader of Children of Peace was originally from New York State. He migrated to Canada in 1801 at 23 years old with his wife and two eldest sons. He joined a Quaker Sect in Toronto and began to preach. The elders did not like his ideas and his ministry was rejected in 1811. He began Children of Peace with some other members from the community who liked his ideas and philosophies, including the man who would be in charge of building the temple, Ebenezer Doan. These people came together and created a community in a village they called “Hope”. That village is now called Sharon. By 1851 it would be the most prosperous village in the province.
I had to look up what a Quaker was because I was just not sure. They are a religious group that came to North America in the 1600’s. They are historically Protestant Christian and were known as the “Religious Society of Friends”. Quakers believe that “there is something of God in everyone and that each human is of unique worth”. Very Interesting.
Children of Peace would grow to no more than 350 members but the mark they made in history is still with us in many ways. They were an inclusive society. They believed in social equality. They helped the community where they could. The temple was built not to have religious ceremonies in but to have monthly meeting to raise money for the poor and hold events.
They did not just talk the talk, they walked the walk when it came to finding ways to help each other and those around them. They adapted a “cooperative economy”. From that strategy they developed the first Credit Union and a land sharing system. They built the provinces first homeless shelter and had a lead role in the development of Canada’s first cooperative known as the “Farmers’ Storehouse”.
A Fight for The People
David Willson was also very politically motivated. He fought for political reform in a time when government was run by a self interest group known as the “Family Compact”. Their powers over the citizens was great. They had the power to limit patents, created a limited representation of the people and implemented unfair taxes on the people of Canada. In the 1830’s the Children of Peace would champion a rebellion that would change the course of Canada’s political history.
Fighting beside William Lyon MacKenzie for a fair and just Canada the rebellion would take on many consequences. The most well known is the skirmish at Montgomery’s Tavern. Many of the members as well as other rebels were arrested and kept in abhorrent jail cell conditions during a harsh winter. One man, Samuel Lount was hanged for his role in opposing the goverment.
While in prison the men would carve little wooden boxes to send home to their families and the families of those lost in the rebellion. Messages of love and hope ornately inscribed on each one. They are beautiful.
David Wilson would go on to be active in politics and gave a suggestion that would lead to the first true political party in the province, the Canadian Alliance Society.
The Temple and buildings on the grounds truly brings you back to the 1800’s and gives you a sense of Ahh.
The Temple is the only structure on the grounds that is in its original place. Some of the other buildings were moved to the site or reconstructed to give you a sense of how they lived. The Temple is a beautiful ornate building that took 7 years to construct, starting in 1825 until 1831. In 1832 it officially opened. As you walk up to the temple you notice it is the same on all four sides with each side having a door. Welcoming everyone from “all four corners of the earth”. As you walk into the Temple you notice the curves in the ceiling, a steep ladder leading to a second floor balcony, and an opening and welcoming feel. Quakers were not traditionally a musical group, but David Willson loved music. Children of Peace were the first to construct an organ in Ontario, while also creating the first civilian band.
It is interesting to note that the organ plays like a player piano. The roll in the middle is turned to create the music.
The second floor balcony would hold the orchestra for special events. David Wilson did not want the music to be caught in the corners, the reason for the curves in the ceiling. A steep ladder leads to the second floor balcony. I cannot imagine walking up that ladder, never mind having a musical instrument strapped to my back while climbing it.
Everything in the Temple had a flow to it. From the round posts with messages of Hope and Peace to the stunning Alter or “Ark” that sits in the middle, is soft and welcoming. There are four pillars located in the center of the temple. These represent the “four core virtues” for the Children of Peace. Love, Hope, Faith and Charity. These four pillars are the main structure for the temple. They suppprt the entire structure just as the Children of Peace were supported by the their core virtues.
The Ark itself was built to hold the Bible, opened to the Ten Commandments. Built by craftsman John Doan, it is constructed with no nails. Each piece is slotted together to build this truly magnificent piece of architecture. Positioned in the middle of Sharon Temple it is supported by twelve posts representing the twelve apostles. The roof of the Ark is sloped to help the music flow from above. The pictures of this Ark do not do it justice. It is a magnificent piece of work that really needs to be seen in person.
Fun Fact: in the 1990’s a secret compartment was found in the Ark containing many of David Willson’s original writings.
David Willson died in 1866. After his death the Children of Peace would start to separate. The last time they used the Temple was in 1890’s. Until 1917 the Temple sat abandoned in disrepair. The York Pioneers, recognizing it’s historical value, purchased it and turned it into a museum. In 1991 the Sharon Temple Museum Society acquired ownership of the Temple.
As you walk the grounds you are surrounded with big beautiful trees. The buildings on the site walk you back to a time of feather pens and ink blotter. David Willson’s Study was constructed with the same form as the Temple. This is where he would work and study. A beautiful little building with a desk, wood stove and even a bed for when he worked long into the night.
Notice the small piano across from the desk.
The Cookhouse was originally built around 1830. It was moved to this site in 1978 and took two years to be restored. The Cookhouse is where the women of Children of Peace prepared feasts. Feasts were prepared only a few times a year. They were open to all members of the community and entry was 25 cents. In 1857 they had over 1000 people attend. Unfortunately there was not enough food so some tickets had to be refunded. Can you imagine cooking for up to 1000 people using the cooking utensils they had back then?
The Log Cabin
A little Log Cabin sits on a grassy spot surrounded by a small wooden fence. The Log Cabin was once the home of Jesse Doan. He was the son of John Doan who built the Ark. Unlike his father and Uncle, Ebenezer Doan, master carpenter of the Temple, Jesse was a musician. He became the leader of the Sharon Silver Band in 1820 and would lead the band for 30 years. This cabin is an example of the type of cabin an early settler would have built. It is made using mud and sticks between the logs to keep the wind and snow from getting inside. The method was called “wattle and daub”. Yes I giggled a little when Michelle told me that.
The House that Ebenezer Built
The house that Ebenezer Doan built for his family looks more like a 1900 era home and had the architectural structure that you could find in Pennsylvania, where Ebenezer and his brother John grew up. It was a large home with two floors and large front porch. There Ebenezer and his wife Elizabeth would raise seven children.
Fun Fact: The home was saved in 1957 by the York Pioneer Historical Society from being converted to a cattle barn and moved to the Sharon Temple Historical Site.
The home included a kitchen, parlor, study, scullery and pantry on the first floor. Three bedrooms and a spinning room on the second floor with access to the attic.
As you walked towards the shed that Ebonezer kept their farm implements in, there is a little round building. This building was originally behind David Willson’s house. It was their Outhouse. David believed the devil hid in corners and he did not want to be caught by the devil with his pants down. Ok I giggled again..
It was also a two seater outhouse. David Willson had five children and a lot of grandchildren. That calls for more than one seat.
Fun fact: the holes in the outhouses were different sizes. A smaller one so that the littler children would not fall in.
The Outbuildings, as they were called back then, consisted of Ebonezer ‘s Drive Shed, Lean-To and Granary.
Built in approximately 1818 they would have been the first buildings Ebonezer would have built for his family. These are the original buildings and were moved from their original location in 1957. The drive shed would hold his buggy and other large farming instruments. The buggy that sits there now is the original buggy the he and his family traveled in coming from Pennsylvania.
Also in the drive shed among other things was a Turnip Planter. I had never heard of a turnip planter before. I thought it was kind of neat.
The Lean-to held smaller farm instruments such as saws and axes and acted as a workshop.
The Granary held food for their livestock. Being farmers Ebonezer’s family would have kept livestock for both working on the farm and for food. He would store his crops after harvesting in this building. The walls are re-enforced to keep the animals and mother nature away from his harvest.
Community gardens were used not only to feed the people of Children of Peace but also to help feed the poor. Today the Sharon Temple Museum Society keeps that idea alive. All summer the museum grows fresh fruits and vegetables and donates them to the local food pantries.
On the grounds there is an extensive museum that gives you all the information on these amazing, brave people that paved the way for a gentler more inclusive Canada.
I so enjoyed my trip to Sharon Temple. A unique place with a wonderful story. This was actually my second trip to Sharron Temple. The first time I went happened to be on a car show day. The Temple was not open but it was a spetacular car show and I even met with a few friends that happened to be there.
They hold many different events here. A wedding would be beautiful with the Temple on these grounds. In October they have a Haunted Halloween Hike. Check out their events page on the website. Just wandering around the outside I knew I had to go back. I am so glad I did. A special thanks to Michelle Ransom for the wonderful tour and Katlyn Jones and the team from the Sharron Temple Historical Society for the promotional information and keeping such an interesting and important piece of our history here for us to enjoy.
Thanks for coming along on my Chipmunk Adventure.
See you next time
2 thoughts on “Feature Travel Blog: Sharon Temple”
One of your best adventures! Thank you. That will go on our “to visit” list for sure!
Thanks for coming along! 🙂 It is a very interesting place to visit.