The oldest human artifacts found in Whitchurch Township date back to 1500 BC and were found in the hamlet of Ringwood (now part of urban Stouffville). Prior to the arrival of Europeans, two Native trails crossed through what is today Whitchurch–Stouffville. The Vandorf Trail ran from the source waters of the Rouge River to Newmarket, across the heights of the hamlet of Vandorf, and the Rouge Trail ran along the Rouge River and northwest from Musselman Lake; both were part of the aboriginal and Coureur des bois trail system leading through dense forests from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe. The territory was the site of several Native villages, including Iroquois settlements around Preston Lake, Vandorf, and Musselman Lake. In 2003, a large 16th century Huron village was discovered in Stouffville during land development; approximately 2000 people once inhabited the site (Mantle Site), which included a palisade and more than 70 longhouses, yielding tens of thousands of artifacts. Other significant late precontact Huron village sites have been located to the south-east (the Draper Site on the Pickering Airport lands) and to the north-west of urban Stouffville (the Ratcliff or Baker Hill Site on Ontario Highway 48, and the Old Fort or Aurora Site on Kennedy Road).
The western end of Whitchurch and Markham Townships was purchased by the British crown from the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation in 1787 as part of the Toronto Purchase. Whitchurch Township was created in 1792 as one of ten townships in York County. It was named in honour of the village of Whitchurch, Herefordshire in England, where Elizabeth Simcoe (wife of Upper Canada Lieutenant Governor Sir John Graves Simcoe), was born. The first European settlements in Whitchurch Township were established in the 1790s, though Whitchurch and large areas of southern Ontario were only ceded by the south-Central Ontario Mississaugas in 1923. Between 1800 and 1802, John Stegman completed a survey of the township which created a system of land concessions. This allowed for the organized distribution of land to settlers, with each concession containing five, 200-acre (0.81 km2) lots. This layout remains visible today, as the road network in the area reflects the locations of the boundaries between concession blocks.
Early settlers of this period included Quakers and Mennonites–two pacifist groups from the nearby American states of Pennsylvania, Vermont and New York. Both groups were seeking religious freedom, and were identified by the Upper Canadian government as people with necessary skills and abilities for establishing viable communities that could, in turn, attract others to settle in the region. Mercenary German Hessian soldiers, like Stegman, were also granted land in Upper Canada by Britain in exchange for their service in the American Revolution against the 13 Colonies.
Many of the first settlements in Whitchurch Township were developed at the intersections of main roads throughout the township and /or near streams where mills could built to process the timber cleared from the land. Stouffersville was one such hamlet that grew around the saw and grist mills of Abraham Stouffer, a Mennonite who with his wife Elizabeth Reesor Stouffer came from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in 1804, and acquired 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land (Elizabeth’s brother Peter Reesor established what is today Markham, first called Reesorville). Fifty-five more families from Pennsylvania, mostly Mennonite, arrived in Stouffersville in the next few years.
In the early 1830s, the old Stouffville Road was carved through largely virgin forest to connect York (Toronto) with Brock Township; a post office was opened in 1832 and the name Stouffville was standardized. In 1839, a new resident from England noted that Stouffville still had “no church (other than the Mennonite Meeting House in neighbouring Altona), baker, or butcher,” though “saddlebag [Methodist circuit] preachers sometimes arrived and held meetings at the schoolhouse. Nonetheless, Stouffville was considered a centre “of Radical opinion,” and it was here that William Lyon Mackenzie set forth his plan for the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837-38.
The hamlet of Stouffville grew rapidly in the 1840s, and by 1849, it had “one physician and surgeon, two stores, two taverns, one blacksmith, one waggon maker, one oatmeal mill, one tailor, one shoemaker.” The population reached 350 in 1851, 600 in 1866, and 866 in 1881, with a diversity of Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist and Congregational places of worship. In 1869 Ballantrae had a populuation of 75, Bloomington 50, Gormley 80, Lemonville 75, and Ringwood 100. In 1876, there was a regular stage coach connection from the hamlet of Stouffville to Ringwood, Ballantrae, Lemonville, Glasgow, Altona and Claremont.
In 1877, Stouffville became an incorporated village. Stouffville’s growth was aided by the establishment of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway, built in 1871, which connected Stouffville and Uxbridge with Toronto. In 1877, a second track was built north to Jackson’s Point on Lake Simcoe. These connections were created in large part to provide a reliable and efficient means of transporting timber harvested and milled in these regions. Soon Stouffville Junction serviced thirty trains per day. During this time of prosperity, Stouffville businessman R.J. Daley built a large music hall, roller-skating rink, and curling rink. In 1911 Stouffville had a public library, two banks, two newspapers, as well as telephone and telegraph connections.
Intensive forestry in Whitchurch Township led to large-scale deforestation, eroding the thinner soils of northern Whitchurch into sand deserts; by 1850 Whitchurch Township was only 35 percent wooded, and that was reduced to 7 percent by 1910. The Lake Simcoe Junction Railway Line was consequently abandoned in 1927. Reforestation efforts were begun locally, and with the passage of the Reforestation Act (1911), the process of reclaiming these areas began. Vivian Forest, a large conservation area in northern Whitchurch–Stouffville, was established in 1924 for this purpose. This development has helped to restore the water-holding capacity of the soil and to reduce the cycles of flash spring floods and summer drought. In 2008, the town had more than 62²km of protected forest; the forest is considered one of the most successful restorations of a degraded landscape in North America. Yet similar environmental consequences due to increased urbanization were projected in 2007 by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority as probable for southern Whitchurch–Stouffville (headwaters of the Rouge River watershed) if targeted plantings in this area did not begin quickly. Already in 1993, the Whitchurch Historical Committee warned a new generation of “Whitchurch-Stouffville residents” to be ever “vigilant to treat trees and forests with respect … . In the 1990s care must be taken so that urbanization and concrete road-building do not repeat the destruction to our forest heritage.” And in 2009, a similar warning was made by the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority about water quality: after a major assessment of the Musselman’s Lake subwatershed, it recognized that the water quality was not only “impaired” and “degraded,” but had declined since a previous assessment in 1989.
Though growth in the hamlets of Whitchurch–Stouffville was stagnant after the demise of the forest industry, the population began to grow again in the 1970s, with development in Metropolitan Toronto and the consequent arrival of new commuters. These developments led to a reexamination at the provincial level of municipal governance. On January 1, 1971, Whitchurch Township and the Village of Stouffville were merged to create the Town of Whitchurch–Stouffville; the combined population was 11,487 (see demographics below). In addition to the merger, the southern boundary of the town was moved four farm lots south of the original southern boundary of Main Street. This land was formerly a part of Markham Township, and now residents along the south side of Main Street were legally part of the same town as those on the north (the population of urban Stouffville was 5,036).
Whitchurch–Stouffville adopted its coat of arms in 1973. The dove of peace, the original seal of Whitchurch Township, is at the crest, recalling the pacifist Quaker and Mennonite settlers who founded many of the town’s communities, including Stouffville. The British Union banner of 1707 pays tribute to the United Empire Loyalists. The white church symbolizes Whitchurch, and the star and chalice come from the Stouffer family (Swiss) coat of arms.
The growth of Toronto brought serious ecological problems to Whitchurch–Stouffville. Between 1962 and 1969, hundreds of thousands of litres per month of sulphuric acid, calcium hydroxide, and oil waste were poured into unlined Whitchurch–Stouffville dumps never designed as landfill sites and situated directly above the town’s main aquifer. This was followed by years of solid waste from Toronto (1,100 tons per day in 1982). In the early 1980s, a group initially named “Concerned Mothers” found that the miscarriage rate in Whitchurch–Stouffville was 26% compared to the provincial average of 15%, and that the town had a high rate of cancer and birth defects. Though the Ministry of Environment was satisfied that the wells tested in 1974 and 1981 had negligible levels of cancer causing agents (mutagens), the town opposed the expansion of the “York Sanitation Site #4″. Only after much grass-roots advocacy at the provincial level was the site ordered to close on June 30, 1983. In 1984 it was reported in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that PCBs were found in well-water, and that 27,000 gallons of contaminated leachate per day were leaking from the site, threatening ground water quality.
With new commuter rail service on the Stouffville Line in the 1990s, the drilling of two deep aquifer wells to secure safer water for a large, new development in the hamlet of Ballantrae in 1996, and the controversial expansion of the York-Durham Sewage System Big Pipe with additional water capacity from Lake Ontario, Whitchurch–Stouffville began a major self-transformation. Not unlike the late 19th century, responsible land and water stewardship, as well as the positive integration of many new residents annually into the community, define the challenges and opportunities for Whitchurch–Stouffville in the years to come.
The most significant challenge facing Whitchurch–Stouffville in the coming years, however, is the federal government’s proposed development of an international airport immediately south-east of Whitchurch-Stouffville (the Pickering Airport lands). Under the current plan, approaches for two of the three landing strips would be directly above Whitchurch–Stouffville communities: the first over Ballantrae, Musselman’s Lake and the north-east corner of urban Stouffville, with planes descending (or ascending) from 535 to 365 metres (with an allowable building height in Stouffville of 43 metres); the second over Gormley and the Dickson Hill area (near the Walmart and Smart Centre). The plan anticipates 11.9 million passengers per year (or 32,600 per day) by 2032. Stouffville is the closest urban centre to the proposed airport and would be most directly impacted by noise levels and quality of life; yet because planned roads to the airport are from the south only (Highway 407 and Highway 7), a direct economic benefit, however, would be minimal. The current runway configuration would also block the continuous flow of vehicular traffic south out of Stouffville on the York-Durham Line. In 1998, Whitchurch–Stouffville Council endorsed a resolution by the Town of Pickering requesting the Minister of Transportation not to declare the federal lands in Pickering as an airport site. When public consultations were held in 2003, Whitchurch–Stouffville was one of the few directly affected municipalities that did not submit written representation to Transport Canada. A confidential “needs analysis study” was completed by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority for the federal government in May 2010; in summer 2010 Transport Canada was completing a “due diligence review” and was expected to make a decision sometime in 2010.