Roblin’s Mill

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Black Creek Pioneer Village is built around the homestead of Daniel and Elizabeth Stong.  Their story and a brief history of the village can be found in this earlier post.  Once the decision had been made to collect historic buildings to allow people to glimpse the life the settlers lived it was time to identify potential buildings to put in the village.  Since most pioneer villages were founded around a saw mill, grist mill or woollen mill it was necessary to move a mill to the site at Steeles Avenue and Jane Street.

Owen Roblin took possession of a land grant not too far from Trenton that included a lake that came to be known as Roblin’s Lake.  Owen blasted a head race from the lake to a point where he could create a 75 foot head of water to turn his 30-foot overshot water wheel.  He divided part of his property to create town lots which were the beginning of the town of Roblin’s Mills.  He added a sawmill and carding mill and the town attracted blacksmiths, a harness maker hotels and a general store.  Today the town is known as Ameliasburgh.  The picture below shows the mill around the time it closed.  The building in the foreground is the carding mill and the water wheel is between the two buildings.  The head race runs under the road.  The building in the background with the sloping roof is the File Brothers General Store which closed in 1951.


During the peak period around the time of the American Civil War, the mill was producing up to 100 barrels of flour per day.  Most of this was shipped to the northern states where it supported the army.  The mill was closed in 1920 and sat abandoned until 1965 when it was decided to demolish it.  The Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) was looking for a mill for Black Creek Pioneer Village and decided to purchase Roblin’s Mill and relocate it to the village.


A mill pond was created at the village using Black Creek as a source of water.  There is a second mill pond behind the mill where the water goes after it flows over the water wheel.  This picture shows the upper pond and the entrance to the headrace which also flows under the road.


The five-story stone mill was built in 1842 and soon became the focus of the community and included a post office.  As a commercial mill, it operated 24 hours per day with three run of stones.  The picture below and the cover shot show the open wooden flue that carries the water to the wheel.


Inside, large wooden gears turned by the water wheel drove the three mill stones.


Millstones relied on fine grooves that had to be dressed at least once a month when the mill was running 24 hours per day.


Samples of grain and flour were moved from one floor to the other using these belts and cups.


The ground flour was stored in dry barrels that were produced next door in the cooperage.  A dry barrel was less precise than ones known as wet barrels which were used for liquids such as whiskey.


Black Creek has added the cooperage of John Taylor to their collection of buildings.  The building dates to the 1850’s and was moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1976.  It wasn’t restored or opened until 1988.  Coopers often located next to mill complexes so that there was a ready market for their wares.


Inside John Taylor’s Cooperage, you can see several types of barrels that were produced in the shop when it was located in Paris, Ontario.


We close with an archive picture of the mill before it was moved to the village.


I have yet to see the mill in operation although I have purchased a bag of flour that was milled there.

Google Maps Link: Black Creek Pioneer Village

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Laskay – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Laskay is not a ghost town in the formal sense because people still live there.  It was founded in 1832 when a dam was erected on the East Humber River to create a mill pond for a sawmill.  Joseph Baldwin took over the mill site that year when he bought the 100-acre property.  In 1849 he added a grist mill and later expanded with a woollen mill.  When he arrived the community had the nickname Bulltown but Baldwin changed the name to Laskay after his hometown of Loskay in England.

Laskay (2)


The Humber River was prone to flooding and the mill dam was often washed out.  The buildings themselves were destroyed in the floods of the late 1870’s.  By the time of the map above the sawmill was already gone.  The Grist Mill and Carding Mill are marked in blue.  Fires took out the rest of the mills and by the end of the century, they were all gone.


Village lots were laid out on either side of the river on Joseph Baldwin and David Archibald’s lands.  From the 1850’s these lots began to fill up with workers from the mills along the river.  The town soon had a blacksmith whose shop once stood on Old Forge Road.  Travellers along 3rd line west (Weston Road) would seek a place to water their horses and wash the dust from their throats and beginning in 1845 they made Laskay Tavern a regular stop.  The tavern was built by Baldwin who constructed a general store and post office next door.  Adjacent to that, he built a dressmaking store for his wife to run, a business she shared with her sister.  The tavern is in use as a private home today.


The town doctor lived in this house on the main street.  The side and rear of the house were planted with herb gardens used in various healing ointments and potions.


The county atlas shows a Primitive Methodist church in the town in 1877, marked with red on the map.  The church itself was absorbed into the United Church of Canada and the building was eventually closed as a church.  Today it is marked by Old Church Road on which this interesting house can be found.  The walls contain double sets of buttresses with concrete caps as was common on churches around the turn of the past century.  It appears that the old wood structure was either replaced or given a new brick cladding around 1908.  Today most of the church structure is gone and a house stands amid the old walls.


The Laskay Emporium is shown below and in the cover photo.  It was one of the main hubs of the community starting in 1856 when it was built.  It served the town as a general store and post office for nearly a century.  The store had a “Boom Town” front that hid the sloping roof from the street.  The veranda has a unique sloping roofline under which the locals would sit to watch the evening fade and smoke their pipes.  The Emporium closed and sat vacant waiting for demolition until February 19, 1960, when it was rescued and moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village where it is preserved.


Joseph Baldwin’s son Henry was the postmaster for 20 years and part of his job was to sort the daily mail into the various slots on the post office pigeonholes.  The Post Office is designated with PO and marked in orange on the map.


The emporium was the Walmart of the era, importing things and reselling them.  All the usual household needs could be bought here.


Customers could buy milk by the cup for 2 cents or a lemon for 3 cents.  Three cups of sugar sold for 20 cents and eggs were 2 cents each. You could get four cups of flour for 20 cents, a cup of butter for 18 cents and baking soda for 5 cents.  For under a dollar you could get the ingredients to make a cake.  The cod for your main meal would cost you 8 cents.


The Emporium was divided into three rooms on the ground floor with one serving in part as an office.  The post master’s desk and safe are seen in this picture.


The third room was used to sell larger items and to unpack the crates of imported goods.  Beginning in 1852 the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway began stopping at their new station in Springhill (King City) to deliver products from overseas as well as to allow local products, such as grain milled in Laskay, to be shipped to market. A selection of typical cookware is displayed in the rafters of the Emporium.


One other building from Laskay has been preserved and that is Laskay Hall which was moved from the town to King Township Museum in 2017.  It was built in 1859 by the Sons of Temperance.  Since this museum also houses the railway station mentioned above, the oldest surviving railway station in Canada, it will certainly be featured in a future post.

Google Maps Link: Laskay

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Mackenzie House

Sunday, October 22, 2017

William Lyon Mackenzie was a politician, publisher and rebel who became the first mayor of Toronto when the city was incorporated in 1834.  He had already been publishing his controversial Reform newspaper, The Colonial Advocate, for ten years at this time.  Frustrated, he concluded that the political process had failed him and so in December 1837, he led a rebellion to overthrow Upper Canada’s colonial rule, locally known as the Family Compact.  The rebellion failed and Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head placed a one thousand pound price on Mackenzie’s head.  William took his family and fled to the United States where he lived in exile until 1850.  Mackenzie was re-elected to the Legislature in 1851 where he served until 1858 when he retired from politics, but not from controversy or publishing.  His paper was then known as Mackenzie’s Toronto Weekly Message.  The picture below shows the July 16, 1859, issue.


The picture below shows a carving of Mackenzie delivering his famous Seventh Report on Grievances to the Assembly.  This was his manifesto of all the changes he was demanding of the government.  It included three levels of government, all elected by the people, the abolishing of a state church and clergy reserves as well as giving the vote to women.


Mackenzie House, seen in the cover photo was built in 1858 as the middle of three such townhomes.  It was given to Mackenzie in 1859 and he lived here until he died in 1861. The house has been serving as a museum since 1950 and has been decorated in the time period of the 1850’s to reflect what it would have been like when Mackenzie lived here.  Adults pay an entrance fee of $7.00 and more information can be found on their website.  The irons below are typical laundry tools of the period.  They were heated in the fire and then used to press the clothes after they had been hung to dry.


In the winter the family would have spent much of its time in the basement as this was the warmest part of the house.  Both the kitchen and the dayroom had fireplaces in them and, naturally, only the rooms in use would have been heated.


The master bedroom faces Bond Street and, unlike Colborne Lodge (built in the rebellion year of 1837), it had its own fireplace in the bedrooms.  Colborne Lodge, on the other hand, had an indoor washroom and so there was no need for the chamber pot under the bed, seen below.  There would have been an outhouse in the backyard of the Mackenzie house, likely about where the printing shop is located now.


The house was built in an era when insulation was unheard of, with the possible exception of old newspapers stuffed in the walls.  Winter nights would have been very cold and the bed was heated up before you dared to slip into it.  The copper coloured pan on the long handle was warmed in the fire and slid between the sheets just before you crawled into bed.


The second floor has two bedrooms and a box room which would have been used to store hat boxes and boxes of William’s printed materials and newspaper clippings.  This room had no fireplace but was likely used as a bedroom when their son George was living here.  The girls shared the bedroom at the back of the house, pictured below.  One of their daughters, Isabel, lived in this room until she married into the King family.  Her son William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister.  His actions during World War Two helped move Canada out of the shadow of Great Britain, something his grandfather was trying to do with his rebellion.


One of the antiques in the print shop is known to have belonged to William and that is this case of printing type.  On June 8th, 1826 a group of young men who represented the Family Compact broke into Mackenzie’s print shop and smashed his printing press.  They took his cases of type and carted them down to the bay where they summarily deposited them.  This attempt to silence the constant criticism of the government that was printed in The Colonial Advocate became known as the Type Riots.  Mackenzie used this incident as a focal point to create anger over the abuses of those in power as he gathered support for his rebellion.


Mackenzie didn’t usually set his own type, one of his apprentices would have done that.  The type that was used on his early newspapers was made from lead and print journeymen tended to have a very short lifespan due to lead poisoning.  The letters were laid out in the case so that letters that occur frequently beside each other are placed together in the tray.  Originally, capital letters were stored in the upper case and small letters were kept in the lower case.  From this practice, we derive the terms upper and lower case letters.  A good typesetter would be capable of 22 words per minute.


This press is similar to the one that Mackenzie would have used during the later years of publishing.


Mackenzie House is open 7 days a week as a museum and if you take the print shop tour you can operate the printing press yourself.

Google Maps Link: Mackenzie House

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Humber Grove – Ghost Towns of Caledon

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The remains of a ghost town lie along the Humber River on Duffy’s Lane just north of Bolton.  The property of George Elliot on the county atlas below was in the Elliot family from 1855 until 1929.  During this time a few homes were built along Duffy’s Lane with views of the river.  Only two are shown at the time the atlas was drawn in 1877.  By 1909 there were half a dozen homes with a small community forming around the bridge over the river.  In 1929 the 100-acre half lot was sold to Bertram Realty Company who planned to capitalize on the quiet setting along the river.  They divided the land into small parcels and started selling them for cottages.  People began to buy the lots and build on them and by the early 1950’s there were enough children support the construction of a new school at the corner of King Road and Duffy’s Lane.

In October 1954 Hurricane Hazel hit the GTA killing 81 people and changing the way we managed our floodplains.  Local conservation authorities across the GTA began to buy properties and remove houses that were considered at risk.  They also developed a plan that called for the construction of 15 major flood control dams and reservoirs including one on the Humber River just north of Bolton.  Of these dams only Claireville, G Ross Lord and Milne Dam were constructed.  The Glasgow dam would have been 29 metres high and Humber Grove would have been under the new flood control lake.  Slowly the houses were moved or demolished until by 1977 there were no buildings remaining.

humber Grove (2)

Duffy’s Lane is exactly that, their original laneway.  This is what is known as a “given road” because it is not part of the original grid of the township survey.  It is a privately constructed road, on private land, that was given for the use of the public.  For reference, Duffy’s Lane has been coloured brown on the map above.  The Duffy house was built in the 1840’s and has been given a historical designation by the township of Caledon.  It is seen in the picture below and marked with a red arrow on the map above.


Duffy’s Lane has had many alignments in the area where Humber Grove was and there have been at least four bridges over the river.  The county atlas above shows a bridge over the west branch of the Humber River that predated the use of poured concrete for bridge construction by 20 to 30 years.  Therefore, the abandoned bridge in the cover photo has to be at least the second bridge at this location.  The picture below shows the abutment for the old bridge in the lower right corner.  This bridge was likely built at the time that a subdivision plan was put forward in the 1920’s.  A new bridge would have been helpful in persuading people to buy a lot this far outside of Bolton. On the left in this picture are two newer bridges, the lower one from 1985.  In 2013 work began on the Emil Kolb Parkway as a bypass to keep the increasing flow of traffic from going through downtown Bolton.  The new multi-lane bridge was built in 2014 and the older one converted to a pedestrian trail.  It is likely that some of the original Humber Grove foundations were lost during the construction of these various bridges.


Milkweed pods have started to break open exposing their seeds to the wind.  Each tiny, flat seed is carried on the breeze by hundreds of tiny filaments attached to it.



Milkweed is essential in the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly.  There were many of these orange beauties flying around and it seems like it is late in the year for them.  This is the fourth generation of monarch born in Ontario this year and it is programmed to fly to Mexico to spend the winter.  The example in the picture below is a female because it lacks the two little black dots on the hind wings that mark the male scent glands.

IMG_0071 (1)

Throughout the woods, there are several obvious laneways, most often marked with a double row of trees that lined either side of the old roads.  In a couple of places, there are old hydro poles in the woods that have the wires cut from them because the homes they once served no longer exist.


At the end of the laneway above is an obvious clearing where a house once stood.  The back end of the property has been reinforced with a concrete wall.


A garter snake was sitting on a fallen branch taking in the late October sunshine.  These snakes don’t actually hibernate unless they are in a climate where it goes below -40 Celcius.  In reptiles, hibernation is normally referred to as brumation.  In most cases, the garter snake is awake through the winter with a 77% reduced heart rate and minimal oxygen intake.


The original alignment of Duffy’s Lane can still be found running north from the earlier bridge abutments at the river.  Former laneways extend into the woods along the sides of the road.  We found an old concrete foundation a few feet into the first of these laneways.  The woods have been regenerating for 40 years and most of the former entrances can only be made out due to the parallel rows of mature trees that line either side.


Old fence lines mark the edges of the various properties that used to line both sides of old Duffy’s Lane.


The boletus family of mushrooms includes over 100 varieties, many of which are edible.  They can be distinguished by the tubes that carry the spores under the cap rather than the gills that can be found on many other types of mushrooms.  Make sure that you never touch or eat any mushroom that you cannot positively identify.  There are often similar looking species where some are edible and some are poisonous and can kill you.


There is a lot of tall grass, dog-strangling vines and undergrowth throughout the area. There are plenty of foundations remaining to be found, perhaps when there is less foliage.  Humber Grove can be accessed from the Humber Valley Heritage Trail.  We explored part of this trail in a previous post called Humber Heritage Trail Bolton.

The Toronto Region Conservation Authority has an informative article on Humber Grove with historic maps that can be found here.

Google Maps Link: Humber Grove

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Bronte Creek at the QEW


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Legends of Devil’s Cave abound, including one that claims that William Lyon MacKenzie hid in the cave when his rebellion fell apart in 1837.  The cave is said to have an artesian well inside that creates a pool known as the Devil’s Pool.  It is located along Bronte Creek just north of the QEW.  The QEW and Bronte Road is the site of the former community of Merton  The last of the buildings for the town, including the 1857 school were removed to make way for the highway.  The Devil’s Cave has been closed and is not easily accessible but we decided to try and find it along with having a general exploration of the area looking for any evidence of the former community.  To start, we decided to try and make our way along Bronte Creek from a free parking lot in Petro Canada Park.

Mike “Prime Time” Post was an Oakville native and lightweight boxer.  Mike had a promising career when, tragically, he was found dead at the age of 28.  A memorial was erected in 2009 on the one-year anniversary of his untimely death.  It stands at the entrance to Petro Canada Park where Mike used to practice by running up and down the hill.


The Green Heron is one of the least common of all the heron species we have in Southern Ontario as we are near the northern extreme of its habitat.  It is small and stands at just 17 inches.  The neck is short and usually held tight against the body.


Black walnuts grow along the trail and are starting to drop off the trees.  These walnuts can be eaten and are grown for food.  The hull can be used for medicine to treat such ailments as syphilis and diphtheria.


We crossed the tracks to see if there was a better way access to the bottom but found that the best place was right beside the bridge abutment where large boulders had been placed and we were able to climb down.  Notice how the bridge has been expanded with the original section being made of cut limestone blocks while the newer part is made of poured concrete.  The original line was known as the Hamilton and Toronto Branch of the Great Western Railway and was opened to traffic on December 3, 1855.


Once at the bottom, we had to skirt around a small section of shale cliff but there is lots of room along the bottom with the water level in the creek being low.  You can make your way along the creek for some distance and today there was several dead salmon that had been left on the edge of the stream.  It is impossible to make it past this cliff of red shale and so continuing upstream at water level is not an option.  Notice the fisherman in the distance as it gives the photo a means of perspective.  This is a very long, high shale cliff.


We circled back and made our way to the top of the shale cliff and from there back out to Bronte Road which we followed back to the car.


We moved the car to the Car Pool parking near the QEW bridge.  From here we began to make our way upstream again.  This section of the creek flows through Bronte Creek Provincial Park with its very own haunted house.


There is a long section where there is a manmade berm running parallel to the embankment.  This very likely was a raceway leading to a mill in Merton.  The berm can be seen in the photo below where an animal trail runs along the top.  Trees grow on the top and sides of the berm where the ground is less marshy.


Bronte Creek was full of fishermen and we saw one person take a nice size salmon home.  It was hard to find occasions when you could get a picture without people knee deep in the river.


We followed animal trails along the side of the ravine trying to stay above the parts where water is seeping out of the side of the embankment.  The lower floodplain is a swamp throughout this area.  The side of the hill has a lot of loose leaves and topsoil on it and is very unstable.  Eventually, we determined that we needed to make our way to the top of the hill.  This landed us in someone’s backyard and so it was time to make a quick exit to Bronte Road before we found ourselves face to face with the owner.  Along the pathway, we came across this carving of an owl.


Returning to the car we followed the old Bronte Road that runs under the highway.  Prior to 2008 this was a 3 lane road, it now serves as a pedestrian and cyclist path that leads back to the Carpool parking lot.


Near the bridge, a small patch of milkweed stands with the seed pods almost ready to burst open and spread their seeds to the wind.  The pods are known as follicie and the seeds each have white filaments on them called coma.  These are hollow and make good insulation.  Due to this, milkweeds are also grown commercially for use as stuffing in hypoallergenic pillows.


We didn’t find the cave and discovered that this is not a hike that safe for everyone.  Also, you may eventually be forced out onto private property so beware.  The cave is out there, waiting for us to come and find is some other day.

Google Maps Link: Petro Canada Park

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Abandoned DVP Ramp

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The most popular new post so far in 2017 has been a collection entitled “Toronto’s Abandoned Roads“.  It contains links to a dozen posts about sections of road in Toronto that have been closed for various lengths of time but can still be identified and explored.  There is a closed ramp to the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) that has been on my “to do” list for a long time.  You can’t park on York Mills but it is only a short walk from Lochinvar, where you can park for free.  The Google Maps picture below shows the remains of the ramp as it appeared in 2016.

DVP ramp

When the DVP was built the 1960’s the ramp was opened in a partial cloverleaf that did not include the northeast corner.  As the highway got busier the ramp in the northwest quadrant became the site of an increasing number of accidents.  Westbound traffic on York Mills entered the highway into the southbound lanes in close proximity to the exit ramp for southbound motorists who wanted to get off the DVP.  Cars slowing down right where others were trying to get up to highway speed proved to be a bad combination.  In 2005 it was decided to close the ramp and the section along the side of York Mills Road was removed and replaced with landscaping that hides the fact that there is an old ramp just out of sight.


The old road surface is already showing the signs of neglect.   The picture below shows the end of the pavement near York Mills.  There are trees growing through cracks in the pavement.


When the ramp was in use a ring of maple trees circled the inside of the ramp.  Today the area inside the ramp has been taken over by first-generation regrowth.  There has been some planting of white oak trees and other native trees and shrubs and now the open grass field has been transformed into a little oasis just metres away from the rush of the DVP.


The afternoon had turned warm at 19 degrees with only a slight breeze and I was pleasantly surprised to hear the call of cicadas in the trees.  I saw this large cottontail rabbit that paused to get his picture taken.  Cottontail rabbits are seldom seen on windy days because the wind interferes with their hearing which is their primary defence against predators.


An old sign prohibiting stopping can be seen beside what once served as a pedestrian walkway alongside the ramp.


A little farther along the old road, I came to a small trail leading into the trees along the side of the ramp.  The entrance to the trail was marked with a large amount of coyote scat which gave me a pretty good idea of what the rabbit had been listening for.


In the days before this sound barrier was constructed cars entered the DVP at this point.


This Google Earth shot was captured in 2002 at which time the ramp was still in use.  A car can be seen as it approaches the curve at the top of the ramp.

DVP ramp

We have investigated several other closed sections of road, some of which have been out of service for many years.  It was good to see how much had been reclaimed in just twelve years to get a perspective on how fast nature moves back in.

Google Maps Link:  DVP and York Mills

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Kariya Gardens Mississauga

Sunday, August 7, 2017

Kariya Garden Park was officially opened in July 1992 in honour of Mississauga’s twin city, Kariya Japan.  The idea of sister cities, or twin cities, arose following the Second World War as a way of creating respect and commerce between former foes.  The city of Mississauga was twinned with Kariya on July 7, 1981.  To share a small bit of their culture with their twin city, there is a Mississauga Park in Kariya, Japan to match the Kariya Park in Mississauga, Ontario.  The Japanese city of Kariya has a population of about 150,000.   There are a few paid parking spots on Elm Street just east of Kariya Drive.

Japanese Gardens are designed with shrubs and rocks that are meant to have several layers of meaning.  The Japanese have developed their gardens over a 1,500 year period and the idea is to delight the senses and challenge the soul.  Kariya Gardens has worked hard to capture this sense of balance and aesthetics.  As you enter the park through the front gatehouse you see a small cascading water fall with a Red Japanese Maple standing beside it.  Every rock placed in the garden has a meaning and the city has provided a detailed tour guide explaining everything.


The south end of the park is being developed into a more deeply wooded section.  This area also includes several colourful gardens to compliment the Japanese Cherry Trees which bloom in May.


The south pond has a large rock in it which is known as turtle rock.  It is meant to represent a turtle coming out of the water.  On this day, there was a turtle sunning itself on the rock.  Turtles are said to be the oldest group of reptiles and are claimed to be unchanged in 250 million years.  Unlike many shelled creatures, the turtle cannot crawl out of its shell as it is attached to the spine and shoulders.  Turtles don’t breathe like most creatures which expand the ribs to make room for the lungs to take in the air.  Turtle shells prevent this and so the animal has an extra set of muscles to pull the other organs out of the way while it takes in air and then pushes on the lungs to expel it.


The gardens were designed in 1989 by Mississauga City landscape architects and then reviewed with their counterparts in Japan. Stones have been set up to represent a dry stream bed.  The stones are placed closer together to represent the faster moving water and smaller stones imitate slow moving eddies in the stream.


Outside the park, on the north end, is a Zen garden which can be seen from the bridge across the north pond.   There is a pavilion which separates the north pond from the Zen garden.  The pavilion is made of two main sections which each represent one of the twin cities.  The two sections of the pavilion are joined in the middle where a friendship bell hangs.


The friendship bell was cast in Japan and represents the friendship that the two cities have forged together.  It was installed for the opening ceremonies of Phase 2 of the park on July 7, 2001, and is just one of many sculptures that have been donated to the park by the City of Kariya, Japan.  The inscription on the bell reads “By welcoming the new century this bell is produced as a symbol of everlasting friendship between the City of Mississauga and the City of Kariya”.  The bronze bell is rung on ceremonial occasions.


Kariya Gardens is a unique park in the city as it provides an interesting and relaxing look into the culture of a Japanese Garden.

Google Maps Link: Kariya Gardens

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