Cedar Grove – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The area of Cedar Grove was first settled in 1790 but it really got going when the Reesor Family arrived and built the first mill on this part of Little Rouge Creek.  Within a few years Cedar Grove had four saw mills, two grist mills, a hotel, post office and general store and a blacksmith shop.  The community continued to prosper until the local wood supply was exhausted and the saw mills were closed down.  The hamlet was bypassed by the railway and a slow decline began.  Today Cedar Grove is part of Rouge National Urban Park and is specifically part of 470 acres known as Bob Hunter Memorial Park.  This park has several trails of which we chose the Reesor Trail.  The Monarch trail is 7.6 kilometres and will have to wait for another day to be explored. The Reesor Trail takes you along the Little Rouge Creek past the site of their mills.  Peter Reesor owned this property and his house was built of local field stone and was completed in 1832.


Little Rouge Creek was partly frozen and in some places the open sections were just starting to glaze over.  The thin ice looked like plastic wrap spread over the surface of the water.  Water that is flowing has its potential energy converted to heat energy and thus it resists freezing at the molecular level.


While walking through the trails it is easy to see why the area was named Cedar Grove.  With all the saw mills in the community they would have eventually exhausted the wood supply leading to the closing of the mills.  The areas along the creek have become reforested as their farming potential was limited.


One of the more unique features is this former ring of water.  The last remains of a set of stairs can be seen below where it crossed the ring of water to the large island in the middle.  Many farmers created ponds to water their animals, perhaps that was the purpose of this construct.  A large clay pipe appears to have fed water into the channel.


An old well sits a few feet away with a tin bucket that is rusted through.  The well has recently been boarded over.  A smoker or barbecue made of field stone sits a few feet farther along the trail.  Unfortunately, people have stuffed it full of garbage.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the well was closed off.


White Tailed Deer do quite well in the GTA.  Most weekends we will either see deer or at least signs of their passing.  A recent study of Rouge National Urban Park suggested a herd of 85 – 95 in the park.  They have several large predators including cougars, alligators, jaguars and wolves, none of which are common in the GTA.  Packs of coyotes have been known to prey on fawns or any animal that is sick or has been injured.  Some would say that this improves the stock, over-all but it doesn’t sound very nice.


Cedar Grove still retains plenty of remnants of the agricultural past.  Within the park area are two silos, the foundations for a barn and several old fence lines and roadways.


Cedar Grove had three schools over the years beginning with a log school house on Steeles Avenue which was built in 1820.  Around 1850 it was decided to build a larger school one concession north.  A frame building was constructed on the north side of 14th avenue but it was replaced in 1869 with a brick building across the road.  This school had a gallery inside where adults could come and sit in on the teaching so they could learn as well.  The school lasted almost 100 years but closed in June of 1966 and the building now serves as Cedar Grove Community Centre.  The original slate chalkboards and gallery have been left in place as part of the heritage of the building.


The community had several mills which have since disappeared.  One which survives in a couple of ways is Lapp’s Cider Mill.  The building is the last of the large industrial ones in town but the inner workings have been removed.  They are now in Markham Museum in their working cider mill.  The new mill is housed in the former Lapp drive shed that was on another of their properties south of the creek.  The Lapp blacksmith shop was also on this lot and has been moved to the Markham Museum as well.   There will be a separate mini-blog to feature more pictures and details of this heritage building.


Beside the mill is an example of Edwardian Classicism architecture.  These four-square houses had two bays on two floors.  The also typically had a large dormer with two small windows in the attic.  This home is also on Lapp property and was likely added after 1910 at a time when the mill was still prosperous.


The Cedar Grove Mennonite congregation officially formed in 1867 but they had been a presence in the community since Peter Reesor and family had arrived in 1804.  His mill lane ran from Reesor Road along the Little Rouge to the mills beside the creek and the house which still stands on the hill.  Samuel Reesor had erected the first building in 1861 but it was mostly used for funerals.  They were formally organized in 1912 and now have a newer building than the one shown below in which they house the Rouge Valley Mennonite Church.  In 1913 a deacon named Samuel G. Reesor died in the pulpit while praying


In 1824 the first burial took place in what would become Cedar Grove Cemetery.  Many of the early settlers that built the community lie here including many members of the Reesor family.  The wrought iron arch was donated in 1966 by Elsie and Ira Reesor in honour of their parents.


Bob Hunter Memorial Park and Cedar Grove combined to make an interesting hike and we never had the chance to check out the 7.6 kilometre Monarch Trail.  I guess we’ll likely be back some day.

Google Maps link: Cedar Grove

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The Alexandria

Sunday, January, 6, 2019

There are estimates that over 6,000 ships have sunk in the Great Lakes.  Lake Ontario seems pretty calm but it has claimed over 200 ships since the arrival of Europeans.  One of those lies near the shore at the foot of the Scarborough Bluffs.  As it is the only one that can be easily located, it makes a great place to connect with a piece of our local history.

There weren’t very many birds out on this day but I did see a couple of  red-tailed hawks. One of them was hunting along the edge of the bluffs, riding the wind as it looked for food.


The Doris McCarthy Trail runs from free parking on Ravine Drive down to Lake Ontario.  It descends about 90 metres over a length of 900 metres, making it a fairly steep trail.  The trail runs through a ravine known as Gates Gully which has a number of historical features, including the allure of buried treasure.  The trail gives great views of the lake as you make your approach to the beach.


Sections of the beach trail can be pretty muddy but I think that is preferable to a shingle beach of eroded bricks.


The Alexandria was a steamer built in Hull, Quebec in 1866.  The 508 ton vessel was over 170 feet long and 30 feet wide.  It was built as a freighter and later had passenger decks added in Montreal.  It worked the route along the north shore of Lake Ontario, occasionally making trips to Rochester, New York.  On this fateful night the ship was carrying 300 tons of sugar, beans, vinegar and tomatoes.

Wreck of the ferry Alexandria, Scarborough Bluffs. - August 2, 1915

On the afternoon of August 3rd, 1915 there was a storm raging with heavy winds blowing along the shore of the lake.  The steamer was blown closer and closer to the Scarborough Bluffs until it ran aground 200 yards from shore and began to sink.  Her crew of 22 was rescued and led to safety up Gates Gully.   The remains of the Alexandria are rusting badly and you can now see through several layers of metal near the waterline.  Eventually the parts of the ship that remain above water will rust away and slip into the lake leaving little trace of the majestic ship that lies below.


For the next two days souvenir hunters scoured the beach carrying away anything that could be put to use.  Many people were able to fill up their pantry with food from the wreck.  Due to the extreme damage the ship had taken it was decided that there was no point in doing any kind of salvage work.   There is a lot of ship still below the waterline and in the 1930’s it was very popular to go diving around the wreck looking for artifacts.


Waterbirds are common along the shore of the lake.  Mallards and Canada Geese can be seen on almost every visit.  Sometimes you get to see some of the less common ducks and there was a trio of long-tailed ducks swimming near the sunken steamer.


This section of the bluffs is continuing to erode and the shore line has not been completely modified with armour stone.  This is one of the few remaining “natural” sections of the bluffs and we hope that current plans to modify it don’t come to pass.  Near the top of the bluffs a sign warning people to keep back from the edge because it isn’t stable, has itself fallen over the edge.


The sky looked like our neighbours on the south side of the lake might not be having quite as nice of a day as we were.


The view along the side of the bluffs is always interesting and ever changing.  It makes it worth returning time and again.


The thing about visiting a site at the bottom of a hill is the certainty that you will have to climb back up.  With the slippery footing this was an interesting challenge.  In the summer this trail is a great place to jog or bike uphill to increase your stamina.


The Scarborough Bluffs are a unique geological feature that we get to enjoy in the GTA and one of my favourite places to pass a few hours and enjoy being outside.

Google Maps Link:  Gates Gully

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Meadowvale Conservation Area

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Armed with the new camera I got for Christmas and the promise of a warm sunny day we set off for Meadowvale Conservation Area in Mississauga.  We have previously written about much of the history of the conservation area from the perspective of the various dams and berms associated with Silverthorne’s grist mill.  We won’t cover that again here and the link will be supplied again at the end of this story.  Today we were interested in the western side of the conservation area where the Guelph Radial Line used to run.  The Toronto Suburban Railway operated 5 electric commuter lines, including the one that ran up Yonge Street known as the Toronto & York Radial Railway   The line to Guelph was the longest in the system at 49 miles.  Stop 47 was a small station in Meadowvale after which the line crossed the Credit River and ran through the property that would become the conservation area.

When visiting the conservation area in the 1990’s there was quaint little suspension bridge that carried the pedestrian trail across the Credit River.  It was demolished in 2009 leaving only the metal posts on the river bank.  A decaying sign in the woods announces the removal of the bridge but it isn’t really needed any longer.  To see a picture of what the bridge looked like you can follow this link to a similar bridge in Warden Woods.


My new camera allows me to get much better shots of birds and the cardinal in the photo below was only a small red spot to the naked eye.  I think I’m going to like having it along.


The new bridge is a little farther south and considerably longer.  It crosses an area that is likely under water when the river is flooding.


From the west end of the bridge there is a line that can be seen running horizontal through the woods.  This is the right of way for the former radial line.  The official opening of the railway came on April 14, 1917 and soon trains were running between Lambton and Guelph every two hours.  The trip lasted two and half hours and was very popular until the early 1930’s.  Rising costs, poor profits and a string of accidents coupled with a new love of the automobile led to the line being closed in August of 1931.  The tracks were removed in 1936 and in many urban areas the line has been built over with housing developments.


The bridge that carries Old Derry Road over the Credit River was built in 1948.  It is known as a camelback truss bridge and is part of the Meadowvale Cultural Heritage District.


The tail race for the Silverthorne grist mill joined the river just north of the bridge.  The tail race was crossed by the radial line near the last house on Willow Lane.  Both of the abutments are crumbling after 100 years with no maintenance.  This picture was taken at the time we explored the side of the conservation area with the mill foundations in it.


The abutments for the crossing of the Credit River are still easy to locate a short distance north of the truss bridge.  The picture below shows the south abutment as seen from across the river.


The last house on Willow Lane is undergoing a restoration.  The south abutment can be seen in the lower corner of the picture and the abutments for the crossing of the tail race are basically in the front yard.  With frequent passenger and cargo service this must have been a great place for train enthusiasts or a noisy place for anyone else.


The abutment on the north side of the river has become completely overgrown with vines and must be all but hidden in the summer when the grass is full height.  Behind the vines the century old concrete is crumbling badly.


Where the radial line ran through the park there are still about ten of the old electric poles standing.  The poles supported an overhead caternary system that delivered 1500 volt DC to power the cars.  They can be picked out because of their straight lines and flat tops.  In several cases the pole has a blue slash on it as can be seen on the extreme left in the cover photo.


Fungus can still be found in the winter and it often adds colour and interesting patterns to what can be an otherwise drab landscape.  These turkey tail fungus entirely surrounded this old stump.


The intersection of the radial line with the active Canadian Pacific Railway appears to lie somewhere under the six lanes of the new Derry Road.  North of Derry, the Samuelson Circle Trail continues on the old right of way.  The berm can be identified in many places along here because it rises a couple feet above the surrounding land.  Culverts allowed drainage from one side of the berm to the other and one can be found in this section.


Cinnabar-red polypore can grow p to 14 centimetres in size and those pictured here are some of the larger specimens.  They grow all year and some will produce spores in the second and third years.  This fungus is not edible.


Meadowvale Conservation Area is full of interesting historical artifacts for those who like to look for such things in the area in which they are hiking.  Many of these are associated with the Silverthorne Grist Mill which we covered in detail in a previous blog. The Guelph Radial Line has left only a few clues to the former right of way as it passed through the GTA.  A ghostly set of piers that cross the old mill pond in Limehouse is one example of interesting place to visit.

Google Maps Link: Meadowvale Conservation Area

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Bruce Trail – Highway 10 to Brimstone

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Over the years we have covered large sections of the Bruce Trail without recording where or when we went hiking.  In the past four years Hiking the GTA has blogged about most of the Toronto Section as well as other parts of the trail.  We have started to look at the portions we need to visit in order to at least complete this one section of the 900 kilometre trail.  Today we decided to hike the trail north of the Forks of the Credit as far as Hurontario Street.  We parked one car near Dominion Street and took a second one to Escarpment Sideroad on the east side of Hurontario Street.  This property belonged to Mrs. Maxwell in 1877 when the county atlas was drawn.  Her house is circled in green and the trail we hiked is also marked in green on the map below.


Mrs. Maxwell owned this little story and a half Georgian style house.  This design of house was popular from the 1790’s until about 1875.  This house likely replaced an earlier log cabin and was built around 1855.


The Bruce Trail conveniently passes under the six lanes of Hurontario Street or Highway 10.


The trail follows Escarpment Sideroad for a half the concession before entering the bush on the north side of the road.  The view along the escarpment from here was enhanced by a low level air inversion that was holding fog along the side of the escarpment.  The fog makes the hills in the distance look like they are covered with snow.


The trail passes through private property and it is clearly marked requesting that you stay on the trail.  One reminder of recent farming activity is this old wind mill that once drew water for livestock.  An old metal crib near the windmill may have served as a feeder.  It has been awhile since farm animals grazed in this area and the forests are taking back over.


The trail follows the old road allowance and there is evidence of property lines marked with fences on either side.  The road allowance is one chain wide as per the original survey.  One chain is equal to 66 feet or 22 metres long.  The fences haven’t been maintained in a few years and there are many places where the trees have grown up around the wire.  Deer blinds in the trees indicate that the road is still used by the local wildlife.  The structure in the picture below was either an elaborate deer blind or a pretty cool tree fort.


Polypore mushrooms get their family name from the thousands of little pores that cover the underside of the caps.  Many of these fungi can survive over the winter and will grow on favourable days all year around.  Some species can live for several years.  These bell shaped ones pictured below have a white ring around the outer edge and may be Berkley’s Polypore.


Standing in the woods some distance off the trail is an old cottage which can only be seen during the winter months.  It looks like it has been out of use for awhile but we didn’t go near it.


Mushrooms are one of the few sources of colour in the plant world at this time of year.  This Stalkless Paxillus has bright yellow gills.


Pileated woodpeckers can dig large holes in a dead tree while they seek the bugs within.  The wood shavings on the ground in front of this tree reveal that the bird has been working here very recently.


Following the main trail when you get to the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park will take you on a loop around the ponds and near the old mill in the park.  Since we had previously covered this section in the blog linked above, we decided to cross the Dorothy Medhurst Side Trail off our list.  This is a 440 metre trail that makes a quick decent to Dominion Road where it joins the main trail again.  This cuts about 3.5 kilometres off the hike compared to following the main trail.


Following Dominion Road south will bring you through the hamlet of Brimstone.  This used to be a bustling community of quarry workers in the 19th century.  In those days Big Hill Quarry sent quarried rock to market by loading it on the Credit Valley Railway on the opposite side of the Credit River.  This was done using an aerial tramway.  The unloading end of the tramway was explored in our story on the Cox Property.  From the bridge on Dominion Road you can see the Forks of the Credit.  This is the opposite view from last week when we were at the point in the middle of the Forks of the Don.


We arrived back at the car looking up at The Devil’s Pulpit and the trail toward Old Base Line.  This section of the Bruce Trail proved to be interesting and we can’t wait to check out another section in the near future.

Google Maps Link: Highway 10

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E. T. Seton Park

Saturday, December, 8, 2018

E. T. Seton Park is named after Ernest Thomson Seton who was born in England but moved to Canada with his parents in 1866 at the age of 6.  His father was abusive and he spent much of his time in the Don Valley near the park.  He became famous as an author, painter and a founding member of The Boy Scouts of America.  The park that was named after him follows the West Don River south and features an archery range, disc golf and extensive trails.  We parked for free in the lot that is south of Eglinton accessed off of Leslie Street.  We roughly followed the orange trail on the Google Earth capture below as far as the Forks of the Don.


The north part of the park has a couple of ponds that sit in the valley below the Ontario Science Centre.  Originally the Science Centre was planned in 1961 with an opening in 1967 for the Canadian Centennial celebrations.  The three pods were designed to match the contours of the Don Valley that it was built along.  Opening was delayed until September 2, 1969.  The ice may be thin on the pond but this was no obstacle to the local coyote.


The fresh snow always looks so nice sitting on the tree branches.  As the morning progressed the brief periods of sunshine caused the snow to slide of the branches and created the occasional brief snow shower and even a nice dump of snow down the back of the neck just for laughs.


E. T. Seton Disc Golf Course is 18 holes long, each one a par 3.  The course winds along the river in both directions so that yo get to walk the length of the park as you play.  There are disc golf associations that play here but the course is open to everyone who wants to try.  Local rules require a spotter on holes 9 (two-way pedestrian traffic) and 10 (near the archery range) to avoid hitting someone from a tee shot.  The first disc golf course was built 1975 in California.  Today there are over 4,000 courses around the world with there being three free ones in Toronto.  The E. T. Seton Park course opened in 2001 but there is also a course on Toronto Islands and at Centennial Park.


An old bridge crosses the Don River near where the Upper Mill was in the Taylor Paper making empire.  The Lower Mill was located at Todmorden.  The large parking area just north of the bridge was the site of the paper mill for over 100 years.  The main trial is paved and continues along the east side of the river while a smaller bicycle trail follows the west side of the river.  It passes under the railway tracks.


Each of the major rivers in the GTA have a split or fork in them.  The West Don River flows through the heart of the park until it reaches the point where east meets west.  The East Don River was formerly known as the Middle Don.  At that time, Taylor-Massey Creek was known as the East Don.  The Forks of the Don can be explored from either side of the river but access to the middle of the forks is only possible by trespassing on the short but active railway bridge above and so we don’t suggest that you do this.


From the tracks you can see the bridge where Don Mills Road crosses the ravine with the railway in it.  Behind the road is the bridge that carried an old section of Don Mills Road that has been abandoned when the new section opened.


Two trails make their way up the west side of the West Don River.  The upper trail is known as Catalyst while Beaver Flats is the name of the lower one.  These trails appear to be primarily used by bicyclists and the sharp turns and sudden rises in the trail will require a sharp eye to avoid getting run over.


I’m not sure if this is intended to be a piece of artwork but we do get tired of seeing tires in our parks and ravines.  They are great places for still water to sit in the summer and create breeding grounds for mosquitoes.


The Canadian National Railway bridge spans the West Don River ravine in the distance.  This bridge sits on an old set of cut stone piers as well as a newer set that was made of poured concrete.



The CPR bridge is seen in this 1955 photo.  Of note is the system of wires that along the poles beside the trestle.  Today there are only one or two wires and all the accessible glass insulators have been removed.


The park continues to the south and links up with the Lower Don Trail as well as Taylor Creek Park.  There is plenty more to explore another day.

Google Maps Link: E. T. Seton Park

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Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Lake Ontario has been in a constant state of change since the end of the last ice age.  When the ice was melting about 12,000 years ago the lake was much larger than it is today.  That lake had a shoreline that was farther inland that today’s.  The larger lake has been named Lake Iroquois.  The Scarborough Bluffs are part of the old shoreline as is the rise in land on Spadina near Casa Loma.  At the west end of the lake, the old shoreline is visible in places like Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park in Oakville.  There is a small parking lot and forest access on Joshua Creek Drive but it is gated at this time of the year.  There are also several places where you can park on the street and access the park, including Edgeware Road.

The old Iroquois shoreline is one of the major geological land forms in the GTA.  When Lake Iroquois covered the lower part of the park, the lake was at the largest it has been in recent history.  Suddenly, the lake drained away through the Hudson River leaving a much smaller lake known as Lake Admiralty.  This lake sat in the basin of modern Lake Ontario.  Over time the lake has slowly been filling back up so that it has reached the shoreline we know today.  Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park was one of the last large undisturbed Carolinian forests in the area.  Carolinian forests are climax forests and consist of red oak, white oak, various maple, hickory and beech trees.  The picture below shows the rise in land that marks the old shoreline.


Several staircases provide access to the park and these all seem to be in a good state of repair.  The park had been shut down due to the condition of the forest but efforts to restore it have been successful and there are five sites where significant new plantings have taken place.


Joshua Creek sometimes forms the border between Oakville and Mississauga and has headwaters just north of the 407.  The forest around the creek has been thinned out considerably by the removal of ash trees to deal with the problem of emerald ash borers which have killed almost all ash trees in the GTA.  Controlled burns in the park have also left a scattering of burnt tree stumps.  All the stumps and downed trees have been left because they form part of the ecosystem in the forest.


Witches’ Butter is a golden jelly type of mushroom that can grow all year.  It appears on warmer days in the middle of winter but in the summer is found in cool places, usually at higher elevations.  It is considered edible and is sometimes added to soups but in my opinion it looks better on the stump than it would on my plate.


Along the way we noticed the family in one house has added indoor rock climbing hand and foot holds on the back of their shed.


Sheridan Valley Park connects the upper and lower sections of Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park and contains this extensive stairway that allows access to the park from the subdivision.


Puffball mushrooms are named for the way in which they spread their spores.  These purple spored puffballs have developed a small hole on the top where the spores are released when the ball is hit by heavy rain drops.


The short video below shows the spores being released from the opening on the top of each puffball.  Hitting the balls with a small stick created a cloud of spores which may serve to start another small colony of puffballs next year.


Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park is large enough, and has plenty of trails, making it an ideal place to visit multiple times.

Google Maps Link: Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park

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Abandoned Baby Buggy

Sunday, November 25, 2018

E T Seton Park runs all the way from Eglinton Avenue to the Lower Donlands and the Ontario Science Centre backs onto the park at the north end.  Near here I came across an old baby buggy that has become ingrown in a small tree.


For as long as mothers have been having babies they have needed a method of carrying them around.  The first modern stroller was invented in 1733 in Devonshire and was intended to be pulled by a goat or donkey.  By the 1840’s preambulators, or prams, were becoming popular in England and production was beginning in America.

The buggy may have been placed in the tree or the tree may have grown up under the buggy.  It does appear that at some point someone decided to bend the front axle around the tree.  It has been a few years since this happened as the tree is enclosing the steel.


Part of the mounting bracket can be seen where the baby seat was once attached.  Newer versions had a detachable carrycot while modern ones become a car seat when removed.


The main frame of the carriage has been in this tree for many years as the tree has fully grown around it.  This may have already been well enclosed when the front axle was wrapped around the tree.


A childhood rhyme was used to tease each other about liking someone.

“Jack and Jill sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, First comes love, then comes marriage, Then comes Jill with a baby carriage.”  Someone forgot to tell them not to leave the carriage in the tree.

The carriage had a simple braking system.  By pressing the wire pedals under the carriage the end of the wire was pressed into the rubber of the wheel.


Only one of the wheels still has the white rubber but it has split in several places and may not last another season of freezing water expanding in the gaps.


E T Seton Park is a significant green strip along the Don River and will quite likely have a full length post one day.

Google Maps Link: Ontario Science Centre

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