Brickworks – a history

Mattew Stickney Gray

Harriet Elizabeth Anstead Gray

  • In 1847, Rev. Matthew Gray, age 24, arrived in Canada from England with his wife Harriet who was 21.  Their first child, Rachel Emily, was born in July 1848; her birth is recorded in Peel Country
  • In August that same year,  Matthew purchased a 3.5 acre parcel backing into the Bolton’s south hill from Charles Bolton.  In 1846, Charles had acquired the 200 acre Clergy Reserve in the southeast quadrant of Bolton directly south of the grist mill, and he lost no time in starting to sell lots
  • Matthew immediately started to set up a brickyard.  Brickmaking is a seasonal business so it is unlikely that the business was operational before 1849.  He built a house on a 1 acre lot below the brickyard
  • Matthew and Harriet were joined in Canada by her father Charles Anstead and her brother William, his wife Emily and their infant daughter.  Charles and William are listed as brickmakers on the 1851 census
  • Making bricks in an age before mechanized equipment was heavy, hot and labour-intensive work
Harriet and Matthew Gray’s house, 68 Willow Street, built carca 1852
1854 Prosser Map of Bolton
  • The earliest evidence of bricks from Matthew Gray’s brick yard is likely the circa 1852 store built by the Callendar Brothers at Bolton’s 4 corners.  That building, the oldest commercial structure in Bolton, still stands although the bricks have been plastered over
  • The pre-1859 house at 117 James Street which faced the brickyard was built as a brick worker’s cottage.  Interestingly, the brick on each side of the house has been laid using a different style- an early ‘model’ home 
  • Late in 1856,  Matthew Gray gave up brick making and moved his family to Laurel in Amaranth Township, north-west of Orangeville.  He took up farming
  • He sold the brick yard to David Norton who came from a line of experienced brick makers in the UK and had pursued brick making first in Toronto and then in Vaughan

Callendar Bros brick store at 1 Queen Street North

117 James Street

  • The 1857 Bolton Business Directory lists Norton as brick maker; yet, the 1859 Tremaine Map still shows Matthew Gray as the property owner, perhaps because Matthew Gray held the mortgage or simply an error
  • Around 1860, David and Ruth Norton built a large house for their growing family.  The beautiful red brick home still stands at 116 Meadowvale Court
  • David Norton was a respected businessman who also served in the local council and as a School Board Member
  • The brickyard was a major employer keeping 12 to 16 men working during the summer months
  • Warm weather was needed to dry the bricks before they were ‘fired’.  In the fall season, clay was dug and left exposed to the elements to help it break down.  In winter, firewood was hauled from nearby farms and stacked ready to fuel fire pits the following year
  • In 1880, bricks sold for $6.00/thousand
1859 Tremaine map
116 Meadowvale Court

68 Louisa Street

1906 School Board members

  • Making bricks created strong arms and Alsey Norton along with his younger brother George were key players on the 1884 Bolton baseball team that won the Three Counties championship (Peel, York and Ontario)
  • David Norton transferred the brickyard as well as the business and house to 25 year old Alsey around 1887, the same year Alsey married Margaret Devins
  • David and Ruth retired to a new house that still stands at 68 Louisa Street.  The side additions sit along what used to be Brick Lane.  The lane was re-named David Street after David Norton
  • Alsey was as a founding member of the Bolton Board of Trade and served as a member of the School Board

  • The impact of WW1 and the depression which followed quelled virtually all building activity in Bolton from 1918 until the end of WW2. 
  • The brickyard ceased to exist after 1918 and by 1921, that year’s census recorded that Alsey and his two sons, Charles and Howard, had taken up farming
  • In the early 1950s, the brickyard property along Louisa Street (north side) and James Street (east side) was sold and the streetscape was transformed into post-war housing
  • In 1968, Mrs. Alberta Norton Haines died.  She was Margaret and Alsey’s daughter and had remained living in the family home at 116 Meadowvale Court
  • The Norton house was sold and by 1973, the balance of the Norton property had evolved into the Cherry Lane /Meadowvale Court housing development
Panorama of the Bolton Valley with Norton’s brickyard visible in the upper centre circa 1897.
Norton Brickworks employees circa 1890s: Jack White, William Stewart, Fred Stubbs, Alsey Norton, William ‘Skinny Bill’ Robertson, George Norton

Alsey and George Norton were both part of the Bolton baseball team which won the three counties championship (Peel, York and Ontario) in 1884


The Norton brickyard circa 1914 showing the covered drying hacks

  • Middle centre is a horse powered mixing paddle held by a large beam in the kettle containing wet-processed clay for bricks 
  • The Norton brick house, facing east, is to the left in the photo
  • The totally denuded north hill is in the background behind