Port Union expanded as reliable transportation point
By Don Allen
With the opening of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1856, the area we know as Port Union expanded as a reliable transportation point for travellers and local farmers wishing to ship their goods to the city markets.
Mr. Thomas J. Laskey came to the Highland Creek area and resided on Lot 5 Conc. 1 in the mid-1800s to operate a cooperage, constructing barrels for the shipment of apples and various other goods. Thomas was 34 years old at this time and his wife Martha was 28. They prospered and soon purchased a newly constructed 1859/60 hotel building from a Mr. Isaac Stoner, “while it was fresh from the painters’ brushes.” He named his new business venture the Laskey Hotel.
This was the second hotel in Port Union at the time, as the Union Hotel had been built by Mr. Will Hetherington approximately 10 years earlier. It should be noted that Hetherington’s hotel was located on the west side of Port Union Road (Scarborough) while the Laskey was on the east side of Port Union Road (Pickering).
At this time the population of Port Union had grown to approximately 100 residents. Yet with the Scarborough, Markham and Pickering Wharf Company plying the shipping trade and the railroad station tending to the needs of the farmers and travelling public, there could be up to 300 people in the small community on a business day.
The Laskey Hotel was located at the southeast end of Port Union Road on Orchard Street (later called Duthie Street). The building was constructed in the Georgian style of architecture with full-width verandahs on both the first and second floors. The first floor of the hotel had a large kitchen, dining room and bar. The second floor had six bedrooms, caring for the needs of up to 12 travellers at any one time, and a ballroom that was located at the rear of the building directly over the kitchen.
Many social activities would take place in the Laskey Hotel, such as political meetings, church socials and community dances followed by moonlight cruises from the nearby wharf. Thomas’s daughter, Jane, was married in the building in 1891 and following the service and dinner, the newlyweds were followed to the Port Union train station by well-wishing friends showering the customary rice and “old shoes.”
Like many hotel keepers, Mr. Laskey had his share of violations with the law. During 1864 he was charged with such offences as selling liquor on a Sunday, a $5 fine; gambling on premises, a $2 fine; raffling and gambling on premises, a $20 fine. Pretty basic activities by today’s standards.
Although it is unknown as to when the hotel ceased operation, it seems logical that with the loss of the wharf during an 1895 storm and the resulting lack of lake traffic, the hotel had outgrown its importance to the area. As late as 1942 the building was still in the Laskey family, being owned by Mr. Secor Johnston, grandson of Thomas.
In 1974, the area from Port Union Road east to the Rouge River (known as The West Rouge) was annexed into Scarborough. Council passed by-law No.18297: “A By-Law to designate the Laskey Hotel as being of historical and architectural value.” Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the unattended building was destroyed in a suspicious fire on December 29, 1993, and was eventually demolished in 1998.