FISHER, THOMAS, merchant miller; b. 3 March 1792 in Pontefract, Yorkshire, Eng., son of John Fisher and Mary Colley; d. 23 July 1874, in Toronto, Ont.
Thomas Fisher, who received a good education, was a merchant in Leeds, Yorkshire, by 1813 when he married Sarah Sykes. Three sons and one daughter were born to them in England, and three daughters in Upper Canada.
Leaving his family in England, Fisher emigrated to North America in 1819. He landed in New York, and spent three years partly in the United States and partly in Upper Canada looking for a good investment. In May 1820 he was given the right to locate 200 acres in Upper Canada as a farm. In 1821 he selected 100 acres in Nissouri Township (now East and West Nissouri), but did not receive the grant until 1823. Meanwhile, his family had joined him at York (Toronto) in 1821, and in 1822 he settled down as tenant of the King’s Mill on the west bank of the Humber River, Etobicoke Township. The Nissouri lands were still undeveloped when he sold them in 1827.
The King’s Mill was a saw mill, with a timber reserve of 1,100 acres, built in 1793 by the Queen’s Rangers at the head of navigation, about 21 miles above the mouth of the river. The Humber flooded each year making repairs to the dam costly and government policy towards the mill’s tenants was so niggardly that few did more than patchwork. The property was dilapidated when Fisher took it over.
By 1829 Fisher had turned the mill into a profitable business. He had paid off back rent and other debts incurred by his predecessor, Josiah Cushman, and had begun to manufacture nails; he was also a merchant miller: a designation given to millers who acted as traders, shippers, storekeepers, and frequently as innkeepers, and who performed other services for their customers, labourers, and neighbours.
Fisher surrendered the timber reserve in 1834 and most of it was assigned for a rectory for Christ Church, Mimico. He had been a major contributor to the building of the church. He retained the King’s Mill and was granted 100 acres of land with a mill site on it about 1 1/2 miles south of Dundas Street. In 1835 he sold the King’s Mill to William Gamble*, who added a grist mill, and on his own property Fisher built Millwood House, a grist mill, a store, and cottages for his labourers. As Millwood was hemmed in by the rectory, Fisher built roads north to Dundas Street and south to Milton Mills (the former King’s Mill) where, under arrangement with Gamble, he sent his flour in summer. In winter he teamed his flour to Toronto. He was active in 1844 in the organization of the parish of St George’s-on-the-Hill (Islington), as a contributor to its building in 1847, and as a parish officer until 1864.
In the prosperous 1840s Fisher began to mortgage his property and engage in speculative ventures, partly in properties and partly in expansion of his mill after a fire in 1847. He was unable to meet his commitments in 1849 when a number of export firms failed after the repeal of the British corn laws, and mill credits were tightened. A disastrous flood in 1850 washed out the dams on the Humber. Fisher got so into debt that in 1860 the mill was bought for a fraction of its value by Edward William Thomson* whose daughter Sarah Maria had married Edwin Colley Fisher, now working with his father.
After the flood Fisher left management of the mill mostly to his son, and took up another career. He had bought land at a crossroad where the village of St Andrews (now Thistletown) was taking shape. Here he built a store which he sold at a profit in 1857. He then retired from business.
Fisher had performed a number of public duties. As an officer of the West York militia, he had turned out with the regiment during the rebellion of 1837. He had been given responsibility for road improvements. He was appointed to the Court of Requests in 1836, made a justice of the peace in 1837, and a coroner in 1838.
Borough of Etobicoke, Clerk’s Office, assessment rolls, 1851–60. Middlesex County Registry Office (London, Ont.), deed of sale, lot 11, concession 2, Nissouri Township, 16 Jan. 1827. Ontario Provincial Secretary’s Office (Toronto), patent, 5 Jan. 1835, east half of lot 9, concession C, Etobicoke. PAC, RG 1, E3, 10, pp.169–72; 29, pp.12–15; 30, pp.156–57; 31, pp.60–63; 34, pt.3, p.28ff; L1, 29, p.412; 35, p.353; L3, 130, p.494; 190, no.136; 191, no.13; 196a, years 1822–25; RG 7, G16, C, 30, p.21; 36, p.51; RG 9, I, B5, 2, list of 1824; 3, list of 1827; 6, list of 1838; RG 31, A1, 1851, Etobicoke Township; 1861, Etobicoke Township; RG 68, 151, p.47. PAO, RG 1, C–IV, Etobicoke Township papers, Fisher to J. W. Gamble, 12 Dec. 1832; J. W. Gamble to [the civil secretary], 24 Dec. 1832; Nissouri Township papers, certificate of 4 Oct. 1826; RG 22, ser.7, 20, 28 May 1840; 25, 9 June 1858. St George’s-on-the-Hill Church (Toronto), minutes of the vestry, 1848–64. York County Registry Office (Toronto), deeds relating to land sales and transfers, 1835–60. York County Surrogate Court (Toronto), will of E. W. Thomson, 1865.
Courier of Upper Canada (Toronto), 17 Sept. 1835. Globe (Toronto), 1 Nov. 1848, 23 July 1874. Landmarks of Toronto (Robertson), II, 771–72. Toronto Mirror, 12 July 1843, 15 Dec. 1845. Toronto Patriot, 1 Sept. 1835, 20 Sept. 1837, 17 May 1849. Upper Canada, House of Assembly, Journals, 1828, app.21, “Revenue accounts. Upper Canada. Names of persons licenced as innkeeper. . . .” Edna-Mae Pickering, Through the years at St. George’s-on-the-Hill, Islington, Ontario, 1844–1969 (n.p., n.d.).