RCAF Station Downsview

Sunday, November 4, 2018

This blog looks at the former military base in Downsview and is part one of a two part story which included an exploration of our new urban park.  The site of Downsview Park has a long history including being home of the first aircraft manufacturing plant in Canada.  In April of 1929 de Haviland Aircraft of Canada purchased 70 acres of land along Sheppard Avenue and moved their operations from Mount Dennis.  The property was chosen because it was flat and sat at a high elevation. de Havilland erected a 20,000 square foot building and hired a staff of 35 to start production of airplanes.  The original building still stands at 65 Carl Hall Road.  The section of old Sheppard Avenue that runs through the base is now known as Carl Hall Road.  Many of the roads on the base were named after World War One heroes and Carl Hall served and died at the river Seine on October 10, 1916.   The original manufacturing plant is one of a collection of twelve properties on the site that are collectively being considered for historic designation.

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Between 1936 and 1938 de Havilland added a new main building (75 Carl Hall), paint shop and hanger.

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Additional land along Sheppard was purchased and production facilities were expanded during the Second World War when the facility began producing war planes.  Their staff grew to 2,400 and in 1942 they produced 550 Tiger Moths and another 362 Ansons.  That year they also developed the Mosquito fighter bomber at their Downsview plant.  When the war was over de Havilland went back to making commercial airplanes.  The Canadian Military maintained an interest in the runway at de Havilland and in 1947 bought up 270 of the surrounding properties to form RCAF Station Downsview.  The expanded runway is still in use to the east of the hanger where a small plane readies for take-off.

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After the war the air force moved the 400 Squadron to Downsview and reformed the 401 Squadron there.  These two Auxiliary Squadrons became the heart of a new Air Material Base.  In 1952 the Department of National Defense was given control of the lands and they granted de Havilland a long term lease on some land to the south of the base.  With de Havilland moved out, the air force soon built maintenance buildings, headquarters and housing.  They expanded the runways and in 1962 expropriated the section of Sheppard Avenue that crossed the base.  In exchange, the military granted 86 feet of land along the north end of the runway for the construction of a new Sheppard Avenue.  It is good to see that several of the maintenance buildings at 60 Carl Hall have been re-purposed and Wildlife Rescue occupies at least one of them.  The portion with the curved roof was built in 1928 as a hangar at de Havilland’s airstrip at Mount Dennis.  It features a rare wooden bow truss structure and is the oldest building on the grounds.

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In 1954 the RCAF built No. 1 Supply Depot.  This massive building covers 18.5 acres and was designed to survive the largest non-nuclear bomb of 1951.  It was also built with a one-million gallon storage tank beneath it.  Storm water was collected here for use as fire suppression.  It was also pumped onto the roof at times to reflect the sunshine and control the temperature inside.  Today it is 40 Carl Hall Road and among may other uses it houses a weekend flea market where one can buy some amazing shortbread cookies.

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Plant Complex Number 3 was built by de Havilland at 35 Carl Hall in 1952 and consists of three buildings.  The rear of the complex includes two sets of concrete ventilation towers and chambers.  These were used in the development and testing of advancements in the testing and repair of jet engines.  The building was still rented by de Havilland after they moved into their new home later in 1952.

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A central heating plant was used to supply heat to over 2 million square feet of buildings on the site.  The concrete construction uses fireproof cladding on the outside.  Four chimneys on the south side of the building mark the huge boilers inside.

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Most of the historic buildings on site have been put into service with new tenants.  A notable exception is the old fire hall at 10 Carl Hall Road.  There are several older fire halls in the city that display fine architecture and ornate styles but by the 1950’s a more utilitarian style took over and buildings became purely functional.  The 1953 fire hall at Downsview had two bays on the east side, one of which could be driven straight through and out the west end.  As a result of the style few fire halls from this period survive once they are decommissioned as it is hard to find new tenants.  This shuttered fire hall is one of the very few that remain from this era that are not still in active service.

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On the base the housing was divided into two sections.  At the north end of the base the Officers lived in William Baker Park where 81 detached and semi-detached houses were constructed.  The historic county atlas shows the area of William Baker as virgin trees in 1877, one of the rare spots on the map.  Today those houses have been removed and William Baker Park stands as a ghost town where the streetlights preside over empty streets and the houses have been demolished.  In the south end of the base a grouping of  barracks known as Stanley Greene were constructed for the enlisted men.  These were damaged in the Sunrise Propane Explosion on Aug. 10, 2008 and were demolished in 2009.  They have since been replaced by a great number of stacked townhouses.

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Although the base closed in April 1996 the military has not completely moved out.  Defense Research Development Canada operates DRDC Toronto along Sheppard Avenue near Dufferin Street.  They have a display of military equipment in front of their building including the CF-5 Freedom Fighter jet seen on the cover and in this picture.  An M113 APC is on display adjacent to the jet.  The display also incorporates two Sherman Firefly tanks, a floating pontoon bridge and several other pieces of military equipment.

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The pictures and story of our exploration of Downsview Park will be featured in an upcoming post.

Google Maps Link: Downsview Airforce Base

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William Baker Park

 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

In 1947, following the end of the Second World War, the Canadian Government purchased 270 properties near the De Havilland Aircraft manufacturing facility in Downsview.  That year, RCAF Station Downsview was opened north of the city.  For the next 50 years the role of the base rose and declined with the cold war as the city grew all around the base.  In 1996 it was decided to close the base and developers started thinking about all the prime land Downsview was occupying.  It amounted to one of the largest undeveloped spaces in the city.  We set out to explore the small area of former military housing at the north end of the base and perhaps Downsview Park as well.  The capture below is from Google Earth on December 31, 2004 and shows the double row of houses set around the curve of Robert Woodhead Crecent at the bottom and John Drury Drive at the top of the picture.

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When the housing was built Sheppard Avenue was on the original alignment.  When it was realigned and widened a new bridge was built to allow easy access for personnel to get to work at the base.  At the foot of the bridge stand two larger parking lots that still retain one flag pole.  A mounting plate for a second one can be seen on the right of the sidewalk.  Perhaps the park could one day fly the Canadian and Provincial flags at the corner of Keele and Sheppard.  This little piece of grass with the flag poles was on the south side of the original alignment of Sheppard Avenue which can be seen in the background of the picture below.

Robert Woodhead Crescent and John Drury Drive are named after Canadian soldiers from World War 1.  Between them they contained 81 houses, mostly built in 1953. Eight more were added in 1971 and the last six were built in 1980-1981.  Today, the curving roads have been given benches for pedestrians to stop and relax while cyclists, joggers and feral cats pass by.

Generations of families lived in these homes, raising their children and celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.  There are still a few clues to the daily lives of the former inhabitants.  When the base closed in 1996 ownership of the three housing lots in the Downsview area was passed to the Canadian Forces Housing Authority.  In 2009 they sold the property to Canada Lands Company who are responsible for the redevelopment of the Downsview lands.  They began that year by demolishing the military housing known as Stanley Green at the south end of the base.  Some of these homes had been damaged by the Sunrise Propane explosion of August 10, 2008.  The William Baker houses fared a little better but the last of the families moved out of there in October 2012.  A clothes line that may have held a line of drying clothes on a beautiful day in October still remains nailed to a tree in the picture below.

When the government expropriated the farm lands for the base they got some prime farm land.  Farmers often left the ravines as woodlots because they were difficult to farm and provided wood for heating and fence posts.  The woodlot at William Baker was already an established climax forest and the military left it intact.  Today there are trees that are over 100 years old in the forest and it is a great place for a walk in the fall.  The 30 acre woodlot has been protected from development in the Downsview Secondary Plan of 2015.

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This private little community was featured in the 2010 Bruce Willis movie Red.  After the closure of the base, military families continued to live in the housing.  Many of them attended the military college on Wilson Road.  Today driveways are already becoming indistinct as nature takes over and grasses begin to invade the pavement.

Power lines have been removed from some of the poles but the transformers were left behind.  If these lands are redeveloped these poles will be removed but I wonder what will happen if it is left as a natural area.  Will the poles be taken out or left to fade into the forest as it takes over?

Nature has a way of using everything and switch boxes have become sheltered homes for funnel spiders.

There are some large trees in the woodlot and white tailed deer have made the former community their home.  Fields of milkweeds suggest that this will be a prime habitat for monarch butterflies in the coming years.  Many of the birds have left for warmer climates but the woods must be alive with songbirds in the summer.  It’s getting late in the season but the hardier species of mushrooms can still be found and this log has turkey tails growing around the end and all down the sides.

The sewer grates in the roads are dated 1953, 1979, 1980 and as recent as 2006.  A few houses were added at the back of John Drury Drive in the mid-1980’s but sewer upgrades were ongoing even ten years after the army closed the base.

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Here and there reminders of the recent past can be found in the woods and the power is in fact, still turned on as we noted on one of the meters.  At night, the street lights still come on to provide a measure of safety in the park.

Whats next for William Baker Park?  If the developers have their way there will be 6,700 new residents living in the 3534 new units they plan to build.  The woodlot will be saved and the rest of it would be cleared for mid-rise condominiums, capped at 15 stories.  At least that was the plan as laid out in the Downsview Secondary Plan from which the map below is taken.  However, Toronto City Council voted 43-0 to request the federal government sell the property to the city so it can be held as a city park forever.   William Baker Park is outlined in blue on the map below while the section of forest to be saved is outlined in green.  On the map the newly created Downsview Park between Keele Street and the Canadian National Railway is small in comparison to the size of the former base.  At the bottom left of the map is a section marked with little squares that was the Stanley Green housing and has already been redeveloped into townhouses.

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Having wondered the quiet trails of William Baker Park I am convinced that it should remain a park.  We never made it to Downsview Park and so that waits for another week.

For other military themed posts see: Military Burying Grounds, The Battle of York, The Battle of Queenston Heights, The Rebellion of 1837 and The Arsenal Lands

Google Maps Link: William Baker Park

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Bruce Trail – Olde Base to The Forks

Saturday, October 20, 2018

In a previous post we had looked at The Devil’s Pulpit having approached from the Forks of the Credit road.  Thinking that the fall colours might still hold some charm we decided to hike to the pulpit from the south.  When possible, we like to hike longer sections of the Bruce Trail using two cars.  We met on the Forks of the Credit Road near the end of Chisholm Street where we left one car.  We drove east to McLaughlin Road and then two concessions south through the historic community of Inglewood to Olde Base Line.  There is parking for a few cars west of here where Chinguacousey Road dead-ends.  The Bruce Trail roughly follows the old road allowance north from here.  It was an ideal morning for a hike in the woods with the sun shining and the smell of fall in the air.

The remains of an old split rail fence snake their way through the woods.  These fences were often the first method a farmer employed to divide his fields.  They were easy to build and could be made from material cut from the property.  They also provided the farmer with the option to reconfigure his fields, changing the size and shape of them quite easily. Their biggest drawback came in the amount of land that was used in their construction.  In later years when farming techniques improved and productivity was sought from the greatest amount of land possible.  The wooden snake fence was often replaced with flat wire fencing.

There are several ponds along the side of the trail that appear to have formerly been aggregate extraction sites.  Many of these former quarries along the Niagara Escarpment are now flooded and have become important wildlife habitats.  Mother nature reclaims her own.

Original property owners found that land grants along the top of the Niagara Escarpment were often not the best farmland.   The climax forests provided an initial resource in wood but this was soon exhausted.  Many land owners then sought to make money off the natural resources on the escarpment.  Transportation costs meant that many small quarries could no longer be profitable when local road building projects were completed and the market moved farther from the quarry.  Other uses for the property then had to be developed.  Grants have been offered at various times over the years for property that is reforested.  The production of maple syrup can turn a forest into a profit centre for a few weeks each spring and there are remains of sugar shacks in the woods.

Eventually the trail emerges onto a small section of Chinguacousey Road that provides access to one of these aggregate extraction sites.  Deforest Brothers Quarries is licenced to operate a quarry that is just over 10 hectares in size.  They are allowed to extract up to 20,000 tonnes of material per year.  How ironic that the Deforest Brothers have been cutting down trees to reveal their product.

The trail follows the Grange Side Road west for one concession until it reaches the third line, now known as Creditview Road. Once again, the Bruce Trail heads north along the old right of way for the road.  The road was never completed through to connect with the Forks of the Credit Road because the Devil’s Pulpit lies in the way.

The fall colours are still quite vivid on some of the trees but most of them are past their prime.

White Baneberry grows in a small patch along the trail.  Birds will eat the berries and the seeds pass through their digestive system and are deposited somewhere else to start a new plant.  Toxins in the seeds are known to have a sedative effect on the human heart muscle and ingestion can lead to cardiac arrest and possibly death.

This beautiful pond is one of several along this stretch of the trail.

When you reach the top of The Devil’s Pulpit the view is quite spectacular at any time of the year.

Stairs and a guide wire help you up or down the side of the escarpment.

The rock face at The Devil’s Pulpit must have been an interesting place to work every day.  Workplace standards have changed considerably in the last 150 years.

The trail continues to descend and passes the Ring Kiln Side Trail that leads to the Hoffman Lime Kilns.  This 0.6 kilometre trail leads to a dozen set kilns built in a ring for the burning of limestone.  As the trail descends to the former Credit Valley Railway it uses another set of stairs.

On the way back to the car near Olde Base Line we decided to check out the one-lane rail bridge where the CVR was built over The Grange Sideroad.

We encountered very few people for such a nice fall day on the Bruce Trail.

Google Maps link: Forks of the Credit

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Caledon’s Stone Culverts

October 13, 2018

Just west of Palgrave are two culverts made of cut stone that have been given heritage designations by the town of Caledon.  We decided the check them out and found parking on Patterson Sideroad just west of Duffy’s Lane.

The Hamilton & North-Western Railway (H&NW) was built in 1877 as far as Barrie and completed into Collingwood by 1879.  Various sections had been opening upon completion during construction but the official opening was in December of this year.  The next decade saw mergers and extensions until the entire network was taken over by The Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in 1888.  One of the GTR’s first projects appears to have been the upgrade of trestles across the Humber River and a nearby tributary known as Coffey Creek.  The rail line passes through this area on an extensive berm which suggests that the track originally crossed the waterways on high wooden trestles.  Culverts of cut stone were built below the trestles and later buried when the trestle was filled in to match the berms on either end.  The map in the county atlas shows the railway during the two years that it was known as the H&NW.  The Humber River crossing has been coloured in blue while Coffey Creek on the left is a lighter blue.

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Just east of Patterson Road the trail crosses Coffey Creek and the first of the two stone culverts.  By climbing down the rail berm you can reach the mouth of the culvert on both ends but there is no way to get inside it.

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Duffy’s Lane is crossed by a steel railway bridge set on abutments of cut stone that were likely laid at the time of railway construction.

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Bolete mushrooms are a class that contains about 200 species characterized by the lack of gills.  Instead, these mushrooms have a sponge-like surface with thousands of pores from which their spores are released.  Many bolete mushrooms are edible, some of them are the choicest ones.  There are a few of them that can be poisonous though and so you must really know what you’re eating.  If you crush the edge of the mushroom or the stalk and it turns blue it is likely toxic.  One certain trait of the poisonous ones can be found on the pore surface.  If this surface is white it may be okay but if it is red, the mushroom is definitely poisonous.

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The Caledon Trailway is 35 kilometres long and is suitable for hiking and cycling.  It is wheelchair accessible and frequented by joggers and dog walkers and sections of it are used by horse and riders.  The trail surface is crushed gravel and on this particular day it was lightly used.  East of Duffy’s Lane there is a section that has a wooden railing along the side.  This is on the section that crosses the Humber River.  We decided to climb down the south side of the embankment first as we could clearly see the top of stone culvert from the top.

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The culvert on the Humber River is also made out of blocks of cut stone like the one on Coffey Creek.  These have been cut precisely so that in most places they fit together without the use of mortar.

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The keystone is dated 1889 on the culvert which was designed by Joseph Hobson who was the chief engineer for The Grand Trunk Railway.  The keystone is a critical element of a mason’s arch.  It is the last piece installed and provides downward and outward pressure, locking the rest of the stone blocks into place.  The whole thing is held in position by the weight of the railway berm on top of it.

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The view out of the south end of the culvert looks onto a potentially interesting fishing hole.

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When the water is low it is easy to walk the ledge along the west side of the culvert if you enter from the north end.   Access from the south end is restricted due to the growth of cedars and deposits of mud on the walking surfaces.  The picture below looks back toward the north end.

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The floor of the culvert on The Humber River has been lined with thick boards but there was no wood in the bottom of the culvert on Coffey Creek.  The planks appear to be trapped under the stone foundation and extend the full length of the stone walls at both ends of the tunnel.

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These two stone culverts make an interesting historical site that is worth the effort to investigate.  We have previously covered some of this section in our feature on The Great Trail – Caledon East.

Google Maps Link: Palgrave

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Rouge National Urban Park – Mast Trail

Saturday, October 6, 2018

When Rouge Park was created in 1995 it was about 40 square kilometres in size.  Since then, it has been doubled and now consists of 79.1 square kilometres of parkland.  There are several trails through the park already and many more are planned.  We decided to eventually explore all the trails but this week we were going to check out the southern end of the park.  To do so we parked in the free lot just off of Twyn Rivers Drive near the Maxwell Bridge of the Little Rouge River, just across the road from the remains of Maxwell’s Mill.  The bridge has a historic designation and can be reached from the parking lot by following a short stretch of the Orchard Trail.

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The Mast Trail runs for 2.2 kilometres and, along with Riverside Trail (3.2 kilometres but currently closed) form a loop through the lower end of the park that connects to the campground near the 401.  The Mast Trail runs through an area that was once harvested for the abundant tall straight trees that made excellent masts for ships.  The trail roughly follows an old logging road that was used to remove the trees once cut.  Today the area is home to mature forests and some open meadow that made for an interesting hike in spite of the overcast conditions.  Be sure to read the signs about ticks as you enter the trails and remember to check yourself at the end of the hike.  On this day I saw one walking across the back of my hand before I had a chance to have a methodical look and a shower.

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The trail is lush and moss growth thick on the rocks along the way.

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Even though we are late in the season, there are still a few puffballs growing along the sides of the trail.  They typically grow until October and since the leaves on the trees appear to be about a week behind changing colour this year, it isn’t surprising to see these large mushrooms.  Unfortunately, this one was picked just for the “fun” of smashing it. Giant Puffballs are one of the best mushrooms for harvesting and eating.  However, since you are not allowed to do this in the park, please leave them to produce their spores for the next generation of mushrooms.

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One of the distinctive features of the Mast Trail is the set of log stairs that climbs the side of the hill.

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These mushrooms resemble Tree Volvariella except that mushroom typically grown by itself rather than in colonies like these ones.

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Asperagus seeds can be harvested when the berry turns red.  You can split the fruit open with your fingernail and then remove the seed.  Rinse them under cool water and then lay them out on wax paper to dry for about a week.  These dried seeds can remain viable for up to three years but are most likely to germinate if planted about 1/2 inch deep within the first year after harvesting.

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With the coolness of the morning, the bees were inactive.  They usually need the temperature to be above 13 degrees Celsius before they become active.  These two were sitting on a sunflower waiting for the day to warm up a little.

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Caper Valley Ski Hill operated in the Rouge Valley until the late 1970’s.  Today the hill is still clear of trees but the top of the ski lift is marked by only the concrete pad that supported to the tow rope pulleys.

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The archive photo below shows the ski hill in the spring of 1975. Flood waters are racing in the river in the foreground.

Apricot Jelly is one of the less common forms of mushrooms found in Ontario.  Jelly mushrooms have a fruiting body where the exposed surface is fertile and has microscopic structures called basidia which are club-shaped and produce the spores.  Apricot Jelly is considered edible but is usually added to food for the attractive colour it adds to the plate rather than its food value or taste.

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Having been only to the southern corner of the park there is no doubt that we’ll be back to check out some of the other trails in the area.

Other things to check out while you’re in the area: Maxwell’s Mill, Toronto Zoo, Toronto’s Only Suspension Bridge

Google Maps Link: Rouge Park

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Elora Gorge

September, 22, 2018

Summer holidays in September give one the opportunity to visit places that are just outside of the range of a normal weekend.  Elora is one of those places and so off we went.  The town of Elora was founded as Irvine Settlement in 1832 but changed the name to Elora when the first post office was established in 1839.  Like Saint Mary’s, Elora is a town of stone buildings, much of the materials were extracted from the Elora Quarry.  The Quarry is now a swimming area managed by the Elora Gorge Park and one fee allows access to both parks.  Unfortunately, at this time of year the swimming area is closed and the quarry property is marked as No Trespassing.

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After being unable to visit the quarry we parked in the large town lot behind Ross Street.  The local foundry business was established in 1848 and rented out to several entrepreneurs who repaired anything mechanical or made of metal for the community.  The operation is most famously known as The Potter & Matheison Foundry.  Later, nuts and bolts as well as saws and other implements were made here.  This building is a fine example of restoration and we look forward to seeing what is done with the building next door.

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The building that is locally known as The Kiddie Kar Factory was built in 1873 following a fire at the site.  At the time it was known as The Elora Foundry and Agricultural Works.  In 1916 John Mundell purchased the rights to the Kiddie Kar which was a wooden tricycle.  He bought the old Potter foundry to use as a production factory.  The plan for redevelopment of the south side of the river calls for the development of condominiums and a hotel.  The old Kiddie Kar Factory is scheduled to be restored and included in the lobby of the condominium.

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Captain William Gilkinson, who founded the town, made plans for a sawmill as soon as he had purchased his property.  Three years later it was destroyed by a fire but it was rebuilt in 1839.  In 1854 the structure was rebuilt in stone but was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1859, 1866 and 1870.  The mill operated under many owners for the next 100 years but by 1974 it was ready to be converted into a 5-star hotel.  This was closed in 2010 but a new hotel development in 2018 has brought life back into the building.  It is one of the few remaining 5-story mills in Ontario.

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All that remains of The Elora Furniture Company is the shell of the building they developed in 1910.  The site dates back to the 1850’s and had several uses and several fires as well including those of 1886 and 1896.  By the 1920’s the factory was turning out bedsteads and wooden furniture frames with a staff of over 40 people.  Much of their production was shipped unfinished to upholstery shops who completed them to the specification of the customers.

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A trail leads from behind the old industrial section of Elora and into the Elora Gorge Park from the back entrance.  Three kilometres of trails wind through the park offering spectacular views of the gorge.  Limestone cliffs rise 22-metres from the river to the table lands above.

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A stairway allows you to pass through a karst cave where you can reach a platform halfway down the side of the cliff face.  This cave is known as the hole in the wall.  A second cave is seen on the left in the picture below but it can’t be accessed safely.  From here you have to climb the stairs back to the top of the ravine to continue downstream.

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There were several species of mushrooms that we hadn’t seen so far this season. Birch Polypores are quite distinctive among these shelf fungi.  The tree below shows them in several stages of development, from a small bud to a fully formed mushroom.  The underside has a lip around the outer edge.  This polypore has had several uses over the years including being used as a razor strope, an anesthetic and to keep fires burning.

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Following the trail leads to a bridge where you can cross the river at the height of the gorge.  There is also a low level bridge which was closed leading to a temporary closure of most of the campsites on the north side of the river.  This bridge gives a nice view up and down the river which will be interesting as the fall colours come on.

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The park promotes tubbing down the Grand River through the ravine.  There is a 2 kilometre course with specified entry and exit points.  The stairs that access the river at the entry point have a crank at the top to hoist the stairs for the winter.  This keeps the winter ice from demolishing them.

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There is room to follow the shore upstream a short distance when the water isn’t too high.  This provides some nice views of the gorge from the lower perspective.  People use the trails and stairs to access the river for fishing purposes.  The area is known for brown trout but smallmouth bass, carp, northern pike and walleye are also caught.

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We followed the north side of the river until we found ourselves back in town.  Elora has much of their early heritage preserved in the many stone buildings that remain in town.  One building of interest is the drill shed which was built in 1865.  During the 1860’s the United States was fighting their civil war and British North America started to fear for their defense and so the strength of local militias was increased.  This led to the construction of drill sheds in which to train the volunteers.  Most of these have been destroyed but this rare one still survives and today serves as a liquor store with an unusually beautiful interior.

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Just upstream from this building is a foot bridge and another dam.  A nice old stone raceway leads from the pond behind the dam.

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Elora is a remarkably well preserved community that still displays much of the early architecture due to the fact that it was built of stone and didn’t fall prey to fire.

While in the area, why not visit the Shand Dam?

Google Maps Link: Elora Gorge

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Toronto Zoo

Tuesday, September 28, 2018

One hundred years ago people in this city had two options if they wanted to take their children to see wild animals from around the world. The zoo at High Park was smaller then the Riverdale Zoo but both presented some interesting collections.  These two Victorian zoos paid little attention to the habitat in which the animals were housed. The picture below is from the Toronto Archives and shows the polar bear display at Riverdale. The empty cage and concrete pool do not reflect a natural setting and was likely stressful to the animals.

A private citizen’s brief in 1963 made the proposal to build a new zoo which resulted in a recommendation for a location in Don Mills.  This site is now E. T. Seton Park and a location was selected in Scarborough on the Rouge River.  A master plan was created in 1969 and construction began in 1970.  On August 15, 1974 The Metropolitan Toronto Zoo was opened.  It greatly expanded the 7.4 acres of Riverdale Zoo being 100 times the size at 710 acres.  Care was taken to enhance the living conditions for the animals as well as the public’s viewing pleasure.  The hippopotamuses have a nice pond to cool off in and living quarters that are far more comfortable than the polar bear exhibit at Riverdale shown above.

The zoo participates in several breeding programs with other accredited zoos.  Animals that are considered to be endangered in the wild are bred and where possible, the offspring are released back into the wild.  There are several species of wild cats at the zoo and I tried to see all of them.  The clouded leopard is considered vulnerable and there are only about 10,000 of them remaining worldwide.  The tail is very long with some males having up to three feet of tail.  The canine teeth are also very long being 1.4 inches and the longest in any modern feline.  They are considered to be the modern saber-tooth cats for this reason.

Sulawesi Babirusa is considered to be a pig but scientist say that it may be more closely related to the hippopotamus.  The name comes from the Malay words Bibi meaning pig and Rusa meaning deer because the tusks are said to look like antlers.  The tusks continue to grow for the 10 years the animal lives in the wild.  Specimens in zoos can live up to 20 years and if the tusks are not broken or ground down they will eventually grow to the point where they pierce the skull.  Zoo workers have to keep them trimmed.

The zoo is home to snakes from all around the world including pythons and cobras.  They have participated in programs to help protect the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake which is considered vulnerable to extinction.  The population is in decline due to decreasing habitat and loss of genetic diversity in isolated populations.  The snake cannot be moved from one population centre to another as transplanted snakes tend to die.  The zoo now works on genetic diversity in the species through breeding programs at the zoo.

The zoo is divided into seven sections arranged by the geographic region that the animals are native to.  There are both indoor and outdoor displays with some animals having the ability to move indoors or out at will.  Many of the species that come from hot climates have now been at the zoo long enough that the current animals were born here and are somewhat used to our winters.  The bats made me think of all the vampire shows that are popular these days.  I think the red lighting was used to good effect in making the bats look creepy.

The zoo tries to be educational and to inspire city children to have a love and respect for wild animals.  The information displays for each animal usually speak of the status of the animal in the wild was well as any threats to survival.  Practical examples are given of ways in which we can help protect the species we share the world with.  For example, the Sumatran Tiger is threatened by loss of habitat.  This habitat is being destroyed for the harvesting of palm oil.  Therefore we are being encouraged not to buy products that contain palm oil unless it is certified as coming from sustainable sources.  As part of the educational program they sometimes have displays of skeletons.  This hippopotamus skeleton shows just how scary those teeth can be.

Cheetahs are the fastest land animals but are considered vulnerable as far as conservation status is concerned with only about 7,100 animal in the wild.  They have a very high infant mortality rate with some estimates being that only 4.8% of cubs survive until they are weaned.  Three quarters of those killed as infants fall prey to lions.

It was interesting to watch how the animals reacted to their human keepers.  I was beside the lynx when the keeper arrived to feed him and clean up his droppings.  The lynx had been sitting in the shade when he heard the keeper’s keys in the lock.  He moved closer to the door and then sat down to watch.  The keeper entered the cage and replaced the old food with fresh meat.  The lynx watched this but did not go straight for the food, instead waiting for the keeper to leave and return with a shovel and rake.  It waited while the man cleaned up the piles of droppings in the enclosure and left again.  It then moved over to the feeding platform and began to eat.  The keeper never spoke to the animal but it was clear that he was unafraid of being attacked.

There is always some debate about keeping wild animals in captivity.  Some will say that wild is wild and there is no responsible way to keep them in captivity.  I personally think the animals in the zoo are comfortable, well fed and taken care of.  They typically have longer life spans than those in the wild and are free from predators and illnesses.  The specimens at the Toronto Zoo appear quite relaxed and happy if this otter is any example.

The zoo has over ten kilometres of trails that wind past the enclosures for over 5000 specimens.  It is the largest in Canada and one of the biggest in the world.  It is constantly going through improvements and expansions of the displays.  In the near future the Canadian section is scheduled to be moved from the Rouge Valley back up onto the table lands above.

The zoo is a place that needs more than a few hours to explore and fully appreciate.  At $41 for parking and single admission it is a little expensive but by becoming a member or adopting an animal you can get free admittance.

Google Maps link: Toronto Zoo

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