Hendrie Valley – Royal Botanical Gardens

November 8, 2020

Hendrie Valley is a 100-hectare section of the Grindstone Creek Valley which has been part of the Royal Botanical Gardens since 1941. Sixty percent of the area is a wetland marsh that is considered to be the best marsh on the western end of Lake Ontario. This part of the larger Royal Botanical Gardens, which covers over 900 hectares and is home to over 750 plant species along with 277 species of migratory birds, 37 species of mammals plus amphibians and reptiles. To enjoy Hendrie Valley you can park where I did on Unsworth Avenue where there are several free spots. If these are all taken there are spots on Plains Road but these ones require a parking fee. William Hendrie came to East Flamborough from Scotland in the 1870’s to purchase land for a racehorse farm. The property was donated to Hamilton Parks Board in 1931 by his son George and then turned over to the Royal Botanical Gardens ten years later. His farm was located downstream from Smokey Hollow and can be seen outlined in green on the county atlas excerpt below.

The main trails in the park are well maintained and there are very few side trails. The Royal Botanical Gardens tries to keep large sections of the grounds free of trails and discourages off trail exploration so the local wildlife can enjoy the sanctuary. Bicycles and joggers are not allowed and all pets must be kept on a leash. It is also a rule that no one can feed the wildlife but as I found out, that one is not observed.

Grindstone Creek flows through the valley on its way to the lake and the trail winds its way along side of it.

There was still a large number of salmon trying to make their way upstream to spawn even though it was late in the season. In the early 1800’s Atlantic Salmon were so plentiful in the streams around Lake Ontario that they used to fish them using a shovel to throw them onto the shore. However by 1898 the last salmon was caught off the Scarborough Bluffs and no more would be seen until restocking programs brought Chinook and Coho into the lake several decades later. In 2011 Atlantic Salmon were reintroduced to the Humber River with 100,000 fry being released. These will grow up in the lake and then return to the Humber River to spawn when they are of age.

Male Cardinals can be quite bold in the spring when they are trying to steer you away from the female as she sits on her nest but the rest of the year they are a little less likely to get in your face. I had one particularly curious fellow who was perhaps used to taking food from people because he was having a close look at me as I went past.

There are several pedestrian bridges that cross Grindstone Creek and evidence that there were previous bridges as well, perhaps dating to the days of private use for horse farming.

The section of the trail that runs through the mashes and wetlands is supported by a couple of boardwalks, one of which runs for 350 meters.

The sunlight was shining on the seeds from the sea of cattails that have populated the marshlands. Considering that each one of these cattails can contain up to 25,000 seeds it is little wonder that they spread very quickly.

It appears that the visitors to Hendrie Valley routinely leave bird feed along the boardwalk and there was plenty there on this day. This has led to the local birds becoming overly comfortable with people and dependent on them for their primary food source. This isn’t really a good thing but it does lead the Black-capped Chickadees to be quite willing to land on your hand and take a seed. A small Downey Woodpecker came for one as well but didn’t stay to get his picture taken.

There were several dragonflies taking advantage of the unusually warm day and soaking up the sunshine along the boardwalk. The Half-banded Topper has become scarce as its habitat has been reduced through development. The marshes of Hendrie Valley provide a perfect place for them to breed. When the eggs are ready the mated pair will fly in tandem while she slowly flips her tail through the water to wash the individual eggs off.

The chipmunks also love the free food that has been left for the birds and so there are a lot more chipmunks here than I am used to seeing in one place. It is also reported that there is an increased number of chipmunks in 2020 because of an unusually large acorn crop last year, which allowed them to do better over the winter. There also seems to be a large crop (or mast) this year based on what we saw during our trip to The Credit River in Georgetown back in September.

You can cross Plains Road and carry on into other parts of the Royal Botanical Gardens or use this as a loop trail and return to the car depending on the length of hike you plan to enjoy.

Google Maps Link: Hendrie Valley

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Chiefswood

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A little west of the GTA, near Brantford, stands a truly unique home. It was built in the 1850’s for a native chief and his English bride and is recognized as Canada’s first truly multicultural home. The county atlas section below shows that area in 1877. The property of George H. M. Johnson is outlined in green and the house is circled in green. The church where our love story starts is circled in orange. The tow path along the Grand River is marked in blue and is a feature from the canal system that once ran along the river.

George Henry Martin Johnson was born in 1816 at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and grew up to become a chief on the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council. He also spent time as an interpreter for local preachers and government officials. Meanwhile, Emily Susanna Howells was born in Bristol, England in 1824. Four years later her family moved to the USA where they became active in the underground railroad transporting slaves to Canada. It was when Emily moved to Canada to live with her sister and brother-in-law at Tuscarora Parsonage that she met George Johnson and fell in love with him. After being secretly engaged for 5 years they were married in August of 1853.

George started building the house in 1853 to be given to her as a wedding present. The nature of their multi-cultural marriage caused George to incorporate some unique features into the design, creating a house that would eventually become a Canadian National Historic Site

The house has a central hall plan with two rooms on either side and four more upstairs. Four fire places kept the place warm in the winter and eventually a summer kitchen was added to help keep the heat down in the summer. The symmetry on the inside of the home was mirrored on the outside in a unique way. The front and the back of the house are identical. There is no “front” and “rear” entrance because both sides of the home are identical. This is because the multicultural marriage was honoured in the very architecture of the home. Emily’s family and friends would arrive by horse and carriage and would be welcomed on the side of the house facing the road.

George’s family would arrive by canoe along the Grand River and be greeted on that side of the house. Neither side of the family was given any preference, although the side facing the river seems to be in a little better shape today. It took three years to complete the building and the family didn’t move in until 1856. The Johnson Family lived here until 1884 and, after various tenants, it was willed to the Six Nations in 1937.

Emily Pauline Johnson was born at Chiefswood and was raised enjoying some of the benefits from both of her cultural ancestries. She went on to become one of Canada’s premier poets and story tellers whose work often focused on the plight of her native ancestors. At the time she was referred to in some circles as half-breed but her fame rises above all that. On the hundredth anniversary of her birth she was honoured with a postage stamp. She has the distinction of being the first woman, other than the queen, to be featured on a postage stamp. She was also the first author and the first indigenous person on a Canadian stamp. One of her poems was called “Both Sides” and reflects the fact that her family entertained people from both sides of the river.

It was recognized as a National historic Site in 1953 and opened as a museum in 1963. Since then it has been renovated a couple of times. Plans are in the works to create a more popular tourist attraction by adding interpretive signage and upscale camping sites. Near Chiefswood, they have already constructed a replica of a longhouse for teaching purposes. This building is very similar to the ones reconstructed at Crawford Lake.

The house is open for tours, and would certainly be interesting to see inside, but that wasn’t an option when I was there so I enjoyed it from the outside.

Google Maps link: Chiefswood

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Scotsdale Farm

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Scotsdale Farm is a 531 acre farm that was given to the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1982. It has several historic buildings and is frequently used as a location for shooting movies. There are several trails that pass through the farm including a side trail from the Bruce Trail. There is limited parking on the site and with frequent movie crews taking up space it is recommended to arrive early. The 1877 county atlas below shows the property outlined in green. The school house near the end of the laneway is still standing and has been circled in green.

Parking is located near the house but you have to walk back up the tree lined lane to get to the trails that lead to the south. The trails also continue behind the barns and out toward the eight line.

The first house on the property was a small log house which was built in 1836 by Christopher Cook. His son David, along with his wife Almira, expanded the house in the 1860’s. They sold the property to Stuart and Violet Bennet in 1938 and they further expanded the home into the American Colonial style that it bears today.

There’s a guest cottage beside the house where people could have a little privacy while visiting the estate. Underground steam pipes provided heating for the cottage but it was still closed off for the winter each year.

From the back of the house you look out over the two barns and the silo. The precast blocks used to build the silo date it to around 1900. The barn closest to the house was used for horses. The Bennetts kept six or seven Arabian horses that they used for riding.

The barns were built prior to 1880 and there were separate ones for the cattle and horses. This is the cattle barn where the short-horn cattle were kept that were the specialty of the Bennetts.

There’s a wishing well by the pond and another one in the back of the house. The cedar and willow trees that line the pond make it an excellent place to take pictures.

You can walk across the concrete dam that is used to contain the pond water used by the farm for their livestock. Snow’s Creek is a tributary to Silver Creek and is one of two creeks that flow through the property. It was quite relaxing looking at the geese on the far end of the pond but they looked to be gathering together for their trip south for the winter.

Trails follow the old lane way that was the rear entrance to the property.

The little pigskin puffballs have gone to spore. When these are broken open they release their green spores. These are cast to the winds by the millions but very few will actually germinate and grow into the next season’s puff balls.

Conks are a type of polypore mushroom that grows on dead or dying trees. They are characterized by the thousands of small pores on their flat undersides through which spores are released. This fallen tree has several that were growing while the tree was standing and many more that grew after the tree fell. That is why some of these conks are growing at 90 degrees to the ground.

Just north of the driveway is school section number 14 which was built in 1871. Like many one room school houses this one was heated by a wood stove. Parents were expected to help with the supply of wood and often children would walk to school carrying a log or two for the stove. Students had to walk up to six miles to school and so the days were long but when the weather was bad or the crops were being harvested is was understood that they wouldn’t attend.

Scotsdale Farm is an interesting place to visit and the trails connect to Irwin Quarry and Fallbrook. Both of these are in the Silver Creek Conservation Area.

Google Maps Link: Scotsdale Farm

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Jacob Rupert’s Octagonal House

Friday, November 13, 2020

The home of Jacob Rupert is known as the Round House of Maple even thought it is an octagon with eight sides. Built in 1865, this home was truly made of local materials. The wood was cut on the property and the bricks were made from clay dug up on the site. It is believed that the Rupert daughters trimmed the wood for the interior. The front doors are quite grand with side lights and lots of little windows to let the sun in. The style was developed in the 1850’s by a man named Orson Squire Fowler whose book promoted this unique shape of home. It was popular for the next fifty years before more conservative architecture arrived with the Edwardian Period. This home stands on Major MacKenzie Drive just a little west of Keele Street.

Most of these homes were built with a flat roof with a small cupola on top. This one is adorned with patterned brick under the paired roof brackets.

At one time there were more examples of this style of house even though they were not overly popular. Today there are about 2000 remaining with only about 20 of them being in Canada.

The floor plans show how the space was used inside Jacob’s house. The house design was considered easier to heat and cooler in the summer because of the reduced outer walls. It also claimed to be filled with more natural light. The circle would have been the ideal shape but it was hard to build and difficult to furnish. Since architects were used to working with 135 degree angles they easily adapted the “bay window” into the shape of an eight sided house.

It’s nice to see that the house continues to be in use even though it seems out of context among the cookie cutter homes that surround it today.

Also see our feature on the historic town of Maple, to which this house belongs.

Google Maps Link: Jacob Rupert’s House

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Sir Casimir Gzowski Park

Sunday, November 1, 2020

It was cold and windy down by the lake but I had decided to check out Sir Casimir Gzowski Park because of its monument to the man who was instrumental in early transportation in Upper Canada. Gzowski was born in St. Petersburg in 1813 to Polish parents and after being exiled to the USA following the Russian November Uprisings he came to Canada in 1841. His first project was work on the Welland Canal. He also completed part of Yonge Street and was a railway builder as well. His work on both the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad and the Grand Trunk Railway helped link communities across Upper and Lower Canada. His design for the international bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo was made challenging by the wind and strong currents but he was successful. As the first chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission, Gzowski was responsible for planning the park system along the Canadian side of the Niagara River. This includes the observation areas for Niagara Falls.

There is a monument to Sir Casimir Gzowski in the park which is a concrete tripod with steel beams at the top and railway ties at ground level. It was built in 1968 and in addition to the bust shown in the cover photo has several panels with considerable detail about his life and accomplishments. He died on August 24, 1898 after being ill for several months. The park and monument celebrate his contribution as a member of the Polish community.

Mute Swans, like the ones pictured here, have mostly orange bills as opposed to the mainly black bills of Trumpeter Swans and Tundra Swans. Mute swans are not native to North America and were introduced in the 1870’s as garden and park ornaments. Today there are over 3,000 of them in Ontario’s Great Lake regions. They can each eat about 4 kilograms of vegetation a day which means that they damage plant systems and destroy the habitat of local creatures.

The view toward Mimico seems to change every time I look. it wasn’t so long ago the Palace Pier was a lone condo near the mouth of The Humber River and the mouth of Mimico Creek was home to a variety of aging motels. The last of the motels has now been demolished and the now tallest building outside the downtown core stands at 66 floors looking out over the lake.

The park features a beach as well as 9 pieces of exercise equipment along with an off leash area for dogs and two picnic shelters. A concession stand also operates during peak periods. The weather along with the weekend closure of three local parking lots along Lake Shore Boulevard meant that I had the park almost completely to myself.

In the 1930’s the era of personal automobiles was really getting underway and Joy Oil Company Limited was one of the late-comers in Toronto. Gas stations today are purely utilitarian in design but it wasn’t this way with the Joy gas stations. They were built with steep pitched roofs, spires and towers in a design known as Chateau Style. A total of sixteen of these stations were built in the GTA with 14 being in Toronto. All but one has been demolished including the one that stood on the other side of High Park at 429 Roncesvalles Avenue. In 1986 bylaw 837-86 designated that station as being of architectural significance. It wasn’t long before it was demolished and replaced with a unimaginative retail store.

During the 1937 Joy Oil built the station which stood at Windemere Road and Lake Shore Boulevard. It survived the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Way and later the Gardiner Expressway before closing. By 2007 it was badly dilapidated but the city chose to rescue it. They moved it across the road into Sir Casimir Gzowski Park and spent $400,000 to renovate it. Since then it has sat behind a chain link fence waiting for one of the many plans to come to fruition. Meanwhile, the paint is starting to peel again.

The east bound lanes of the Gardiner Expressway were closed which meant that I couldn’t get really close to park. Most of the time you can park almost right beside the old Joy Station. I had to park on Parkside Drive and walk along the waterfront trail to get to Sir Casimir Gzowski Park. Along the way I noticed the true reason for the closure of the busy expressway. It was to allow a flock of geese to cross the road.

My route took me past Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, one of the last remnants of the strip of attractions, including an amusement park, that used to line the shore of Lake Ontario. More details about Sunnyside can be found in our feature story Sunnyside Beach.

I recently read about a man named Khaleel Sievwright who is building small mobile shelters for the homeless. They are well insulated and reportedly should help people stay warm at -20 with just their own body heat. The city is opposed to the shelters because they say that they could pose a serious fire hazard to the occupants. For now Khaheel continues to make the shelters and give them away, getting the needed money through on-line fundraising platforms. I happened to find one of just two or three that he has distributed so far.

Sir Casimir Gzowski Park is just one of many parks along the 3,600 kilometer Waterfront Trail and is enjoyed by joggers, cyclists and dog walkers as well as the occasional local history buff.

Google Maps Link: Sir Casimir Gzowski Park

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Markham Heritage Estates

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Markham has an old-age home for homes. Between 1981 and 1988 over 40 structures that were listed on the Markham Heritage Inventory were demolished to make way for construction projects. The citizens were upset and the city council decided to do something about it. They created the first heritage subdivision in the country. The Markham Heritage Estates were established in 1988 to provide a place for heritage homes that otherwise faced demolition. The first option is to retain the homes on their original site but this is not always possible. In those cases, the city has set aside 42 lots that it sells below market value to approved heritage homes. The savings in property price is used to encourage the homes to be moved and restored. For anyone with a keen interest in heritage homes a walk around this subdivision can be most enjoyable.

The section of the County Atlas below shows Markham Township in 1877. A small green rectangle marks the site of the Markham Heritage Estates. I looked up many of the homes in the subdivision and have marked them on the map. The lots marked in red contain homes that are featured in the article below. The lots marked in blue have had their home moved into Markham Heritage Estates. Several other homes in the estates have not been identified on the map due to a lack of information being available.

Houses arrive in the subdivision in various states of disrepair. There is one recent arrival that has several broken windows, holes in the roof and is missing the front porch. It will be interesting to see what this place looks like when the restoration team is finished with it.

The houses shown below are just a selection from the subdivision and are presented in order of age. All of them were on their respective lots when the county atlas was drawn in 1877. The Ambrose Nobel house is Georgian in style and was built in 1830 near the corner of Markham Road and 16th Avenue. The house belonged to the local tanner who operated his business on the same property. The most unusual feature of this home is the fact that it has two front doors. It is believed that Nobel used the door on the left as an entrance to his office for the tannery.

Peter Phillips (originally Phillipsen) built this lovely Gothic Revival home in 1835. Prior to this house being moved it was the last home remaining in the former community of Leek’s Corners.

Robert Gundy purchased the lot on which this house was built in 1818. After operating the farm for a few years he built this regency inspired home in 1840. Gundy was a reformer who is listed as having supported William Lyon Mackenzie in the rebellion of 1837. Gundy died in 1867 after which the house was occupied by Edward Sanderson.

Also constructed in 1840 is the house of Peter G. Mustard. It is a simple 3 bay Georgian style home that was moved the the Heritage Estates in 2003 in preparation for a realignment of the 9th line.

Joachim Pingle emigrated from Germany in 1794 and settled in Markham as one of the first Berczy Settlers. Jacob Pingle who was his son built a gothic revival style house in 1840 that had a wrap around veranda on three sides. It is a rare example of a home with the main entrance on the end, shown, rather than on the long side.

David Leek built this house in 1840 in the former community of Dollar. It is unusual in that it is one of very few examples of second empire style in the township of Markham. The mansard roof is the key architectural component of this style of building where the roof forms part of the upper walls. David Leek was a prominent member of the Headford Methodist Church which was known as Leek’s Chapel at one time.

The Udell-Hamilton house was built in 1850 for Mary Udell and her four children. It originally stood on a lot just south of Stouffville that had belonged to her husband Mathew. He was accused of printing counterfeit money for the Markham Gang and had been arrested and jailed in 1845. The house was sold in 1871 to Abraham Hamilton who converted the story and a half home into a full two stories and added the two bays at the front. This is one of my favourite homes in this little enclave.

David Gohn built this regency style one and a half story cottage in 1855 on Leslie Street near Highway 7. Of all the houses in the subdivision it is the one which was relocated here first and perhaps was moved the farthest of all the rescued heritage homes.

James Thomas used elements of the regency cottage and the Georgian style in 1856 when he built this home. It has an interesting window under the front gable. It has the over-all rounded shape of the Italianate style with pointed arches within that are Gothic in design. The combination of four major design styles makes this one of the more unique homes in Markham.

John McCreight built this two story farm house in 1874. This house is unusual in that it has a T section that comes out of the side instead of the back of the house. This puts both the front and back doors on the same side of the house. A nice wrap around veranda connects the two entrances.

The Google Earth capture from 2002 shows how few homes have been moved in during the first 14 years and how they have been concentrated at the north end of the site. To the east is the Markham Museum and Historic Village where another 30 historic buildings are preserved including homes, barns, a saw mill, train station and church. It is currently closed and will definitely be on the “to-do” list.

The Google Earth image from 2018 shows how much the subdivision has filled in. The new arrival that is waiting for restoration will fill in the last vacant spot in the middle loop. The loop at the top is known as David Gohn Circle and has an information sign on each of the little islands in the middle. These give the descriptions of the houses on the street as well as a brief history. I hope that will be completed on the second loop when all the lots have been filled. It makes the subdivision all the more interesting.

Markham Heritage Estates can be enjoyed as a walk around but it is most popular during Markham Doors Open events when you can visit the insides of the buildings.

Google Maps Link: Markham Heritage Estates

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North Halton Kart Club

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The North Halton Kart Club used to operate on the Fifth Line south of Limehouse but it has been closed for a third of a century. It seemed like a good idea to go and see what remains of a place that so many enjoyed over the years. To access it we parked in the Limehouse Conservation Area and took the Limehouse Side Trail to the main Bruce Trail. The main trail heads north toward The Hole-In-The-Wall and the Limehouse Kilns but we turned in the opposite direction. We were a little wary of the Bruce Trail because of stories of overcrowding and lack of parking. Arriving early, there were only two other cars in the parking lot. However, a few hours later there were no available parking spaces and cars were lined up along both sides of the laneway.

Along the trail on the way to the kart track we observed a small bird known as a Downey Woodpecker. They primarily eat ants and beetles and can often be seen pecking on trees in search of them. They supplement their diet with seeds and berries and this one was in the grass finding things to eat. In the winter they will also be seen at bird feeders eating suet. The small red dot on the back of the head marks this example as a male.

The North Halton Kart Club was founded in 1959 with only three members but they were off to the races and had 30 members by the following summer. This allowed them to rent a piece of land from a farmer in Limehouse and build their first peanut-shaped track which is marked in yellow on the Google Earth capture below. The track was originally unpaved but that only lasted a few races before the members set about fundraising and donating to have it paved in the summer of 1960. The karts were maintained by their owners and had to meet strict inspection before being allowed onto the track. Their engines ranged from 2.5 – 12 horse power and could reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. A second track is outlined in orange while other points of interest are marked in blue on the picture below.

Races were typically run on Sunday afternoons between 2 and 5 and would provide an outing for the whole family. Even the children got to have their turn, some of them beating their elders. Today the track has become overgrown in most places and if you look carefully in the picture below there’s a downed power line crossing the track at about a driver’s neck level.

The scoring booth sat at the corner of the original track and is the best preserved of the remaining buildings on the site. With broken windows and a smashed in door the weather will soon take this structure down.

An expanded second track was built with a loop that extended into the forest and back again. Much of this track has been covered over with new soil, especially at the top end, but the asphalt is just a centimeter or two below the surface.

At the top end of the forest loop is a small berm that was built to help keep the karts from jumping the track. From behind the berm looking back toward the forest loop you can see the berm even more clearly.

Walking into the trees behind the berm proved to be a good idea because we saw a Pileated Woodpecker ripping big chunks out of the sides of several trees as he searched for food. The small red stripe on the cheek near the beak marks this example as a male.

Terry Dalton was an active member of the North Halton Kart Club from 1978 until the end of the 1987 season when the track was closed for good. Terry provided me with some pictures that were taken when the track was in use as well as some valuable insight into what remains today. The picture below was supplied by Terry and shows karts coming back from the loop in the forest.

Scaffolding still stands in the centre of the track area but the power lines are down. Several lamp posts, which were installed in 1961, are on the ground as well. There are still a couple of loud speakers mounted around the area, including one near the old grandstands. The flag pole still stands in the middle of the site but the flag no longer waves. It’s interesting to note that when the park first opened the familiar Maple Leaf Flag wouldn’t be developed for another five years.

The grandstands used to provide seating for family members and guests to watch the races. Sometimes people would sit here and wait for their turn to take a few spins around the track. Today the seating faces the empty track but there is a new growth of trees that obscures the view. The grandstands appear to be one good windstorm away from falling over and perhaps those young trees are all that is holding it up these days.

The snack booth stood just behind the grandstands and it is in bad shape. The front has fallen off as has part of the roof and one side. Looking through the missing wall you can see the hood from the grill where food was prepared for those who were watching the day’s entertainment. There was a red squirrel standing in the window frame chattering at me like a server but the days of hot food, cold drinks and salty snacks are long gone.

The Maintenance Shed needs a little maintaining of its own. The back wall has fallen out of the building exposing a storage shelf of paint cans. The roof is gone and it too looks like it will be laying on the ground before too many more seasons pass by.

Below is another photo of the track when it was in operation which gives the area a bit of context. Once again it was provided by Terry Dalton who is in cart number 68 getting ready to round the turn and head toward the scoring booth.

In 1987 the property owners decided that the liability insurance the club carried was inadequate and attempted to force them to increase it. This was more than the club could afford and so at the end of the season a 27-year race to have fun came to an end. The lights were switched off for the last time and the 33 winters since then have taken their toll on everything.

It is said that the North Halton Kart Club attracted people from all over including many who were not regulars to the club. Paul Tracy and Scott Goodyear are reported to have raced there during their early years behind the wheel. Today, kart racers have to attend other tracks scattered around the province. Ironically, one of these tracks is at Mosport while the old North Halton Kart Klub track is looking more like mossport since nature has been working on reclaiming it.

This site provided one of my personal favourite explorations since the pandemic started and we began to visit forestry tracts and nature reserves instead of the busier trails.

Be sure to check out other sites while you are in the area. The Hole-In-The Wall and the Limehouse Kilns can be explored together.

Google Maps Link: Limehouse Conservation Area

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Cook Woodlot

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Cook Woodlot was once part of the property belonging to Thomas Cook who played an important role in the community of Carrville in Vaughan Township. The county atlas below shows his property outlined in green while the woodlot comprised the section closest to the Northern Railway line. Settlers would often clear most of their lot but left a woodlot that served them as a source of lumber and firewood. There is limited parking on Halo Court and residents would likely prefer people to park on Peter Rupert Avenue if they plan to visit. Notice that Peter Rupert owned the land below the woodlot and he lends his name to the avenue. His property extended west to Keele Street and was the site of Rupert’s Chapel in the former community of Sherwood, a Ghost Town of the GTA.

Cook woodlot is large enough to be home to a variety of animals. The oak trees seem to support a large number of squirrels. These in turn support a number of predators including red-tailed hawks and coyotes. The coyote in the picture below was sitting in the trees when I spotted it. It allowed me to get three successively closer pictures before it got up and took off.

I took two more pictures as it retreated. Although it took its eyes off of me it made sure I wasn’t following it. They have keen hearing and can detect the squeak of a mouse from 100 yards away.

Pear-shaped Puffballs grow on decaying logs and stumps. These ones were still fresh and had a white mass in the centre that hasn’t gone to spores yet. Some of these have been partially eaten by insects and they are considered choice edibles. Although, again, we promote a no picking type of hiking adventure.

An earlier crop of puffballs have reached the stage where they have released most of their spores. They have a small opening near the top of each of the small balls. When they are poked with a stick they still have enough spores to release a small green/brown cloud. Between the effects of wind and rain these spores will be released in an effort to spread the fungus to new hosts.

At the edge of the forest the trail turns and runs along the former pasture on Peter Rupert’s property. At the far end it comes to a paved trail that leads south to Rutherford Road and a large storm water pond. To the north it runs along the western edge of the wood lot and passes a couple more storm management ponds.

Cardinals have a curved beak and powerful set of jaws that allow them to crack hard seeds and nuts. Cardinals have one of the greatest varieties of seeds and nuts in their diet of any species in the local bird population. They eat about 40 different types of grass and sunflower seeds and during summer supplement 30% of their diet with various insects. This allows them to survive quite well in the winter as most of their food sources stay above the snow level.

There appeared to be a large population of juvenile DeKays Brownsnakes. One feature of the young snakes is their small patch at the back of the head. While we saw four different snakes there was one that stood out from the others. This specimen was more red than brown in colour.

On the lighter side, we found several places along the paved path where someone has written messages on the trail. It would appear that they made at least a second trip as I venture that very few people carry a piece of chalk in their pocket when they walk. The part that caught me funny was the fact that most of the feces on the trail wasn’t from a dog. Some contained a lot of seeds and was likely from racoons while other piles had a lot of fur in them suggesting that the local coyote was using the trail in more ways than one. It makes me think that someone should write on there: “You don’t know sh*t, this is coyote”, etc.

Thomas Cook left us a little more than a woodlot. You can’t fully tell his tale without touching on the community of Carrville. This was a mill town in support of a flour mill that was built by Michael Fisher in 1816. Thomas Cook and his brother William emigrated from England in 1831 and Thomas bought the mills from Fisher. He added other mills and built a store in 1856 which contained the post office from 1865 to 1923, of which he was the first post master. The Carrville Mill Dam was originally built in 1816 and must have been repaired many times. It still exists, but on private property, and is designated under the Ontario Heritage Trust. This dam served Cooks mills and it is said that his name is carved in the structure. The picture below was taken from the August 26, 1987 Town of Vaughan council act designating the dam.

The Primitive Methodists began meeting at Cook’s Mills as early as 1848 and in 1850 at the urging of Thomas they erected a white frame church near Bathurst Street. The land belonged to The Evangelical Association and they shared the building until 1857 when it was vacated by the Methodists in favour of their new church building. This church has been moved about a kilometer east on Rutherford Road and can be found in Wood Park.

Thomas Cook wanted the church to have its own land and so he donated it in 1857. He also provided the clay for the bricks which were made nearby on the property. To keep costs down he provided housing for the work crew while they erected the church building. He was known to provide the minister who served the church with lodging and a horse for his personal use. It was known as Cook’s Mills Primitive Methodist Church until it became Carrville Methodist in 1884. They joined the United Church in 1925 and continued to serve the community until the congregation could no longer support themselves and merged with the United Church in Maple. The building now serves as a community centre for the Jewish group Maon Noam.

Thomas Cook also donated land for a cemetery beside the church. Burials date back to 1860 and the cemetery is still active with interments in the past few years. A single tall white grave marker stands near the centre of the cemetery marking the resting places of Thomas Cook, his wife and two children.

Thomas was born in 1801 and after coming to Canada contributed greatly to his new home. He died on Christmas Day in 1877 and although there is a woodlot named after him there is no information plaque there to tell the story of his legacy.

Perhaps one day we’ll return with a feature story on Carrville as a feature story in our Ghost Towns of the GTA series.

Google Maps Link: Cook Woodlot

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Elder’s Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday,October 3, 2020

Elder Mills began life as a farming community that centred around a set of mills where the Humber River crosses Rutherford Road at Highway 27. To investigate we started at Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve which can be accessed off of Napa Valley Road. The 1877 County Atlas section featured below shows the town and the location of the saw mill (SM) and grist mill (GM) on the Elder property as well as the Presbyterian Church (and cemetery (*PC). The school house (SCH) is across the road from the church. It also shows three properties that still contain the Robert Agar House (1855), John Lawrie House (1855) and James Sommerville House (1856) that form part of the legacy of Elder’s Mills.

In 1850 James Gibb Thompson started milling in the area by building a saw mill, grist mill and carding mill along the Humber River. He sold the business to David Elder in 1869 and in 1874 when the post office was opened on the corner of his property the town took the name Elder’s Mills. His children continued to run the grist mill and comb wool in the carding mill until 1919. The Vaughan Archives photo below shows one of the mill buildings but is unfortunately undated.

Elder’s Mills

At the foot of the ravine are a couple of flood control ponds which were showing steam fog this crisp morning. Water cools down slower than the surrounding land and cooler air will flow over the water. The warmth of the pond causes a thin layer of air above it to warm up and moisture evaporates into it. When this air mixes with more colder air coming in off the land a fog condenses out of the moist warmer air that looks like steam rising off the water.

A White Breasted Nuthatch was bobbing its way around the branches of a tree, often standing upside down. Walking straight down the branch of a tree is a quick indication that the bird you are watching could be a type of nuthatch. The back of the neck and cap of the head on the white breasted nuthatch is dark and make it appear to be wearing a hood. Nuthatches probe into cracks in the bark with their long straight bills and unlike woodpeckers they don’t lean against their tails when probing a tree.

There are two small storm water control ponds near the bottom of the hill that were originally separated by a row of about twenty small trees. All but four of these have recently been chewed off and dragged into the water to serve as food supplies. The picture below shows how ambitious the local beaver is as it is working on a much larger tree than it can possibly move after it fells it. It will then work on removing smaller branches and bringing them closer to the underwater entrance to their home.

The former Elder property has seen a few changes over the years. It spent 70 years as an industrial hub when the mills arrived and then it was later turned into a golf course. More recently it has been restored with new plantings and water management systems that allow meadows and wetlands to flourish all year. The noise of Elder’s Mills has been replaced with the tranquility of Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve.

American Goldfinch shed their bright yellow plumage after the mating season and it becomes harder to tell the male from the female. They are better set to blend in with their surroundings for the winter months. Some goldfinches will migrate south into the northern states while a few in eastern Ontario will move north into boreal forests for the winter.

There is a lookout two-thirds of the way up the side of the ravine that provides a nice view out across the nature reserve. The forests on the far side of Highway 27 are a bright red and orange that would really look nice on a sunny day.

The congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church had been meeting from as early 1841 in local homes. After the school building was erected they moved into it until they built their first frame church building in 1845. The church quickly grew to 175 members and by 1883 they had completed the construction of a new brick building on the same site. When the United Church was formed in 1925 nearly half of the congregation left to join the new denomination and the church never recovered its former size. In 1961 it closed and, sadly, the building was destroyed by fire in 1974. Older or damaged stones were gathered into a cemetery cairn in 1983. You can read about other Pioneer Cemetery Cairns in our feature presentation.

Across the road from the church stood the town school. The original frame structure was built in 1843 and then replaced with the structure that still stands behind a new front section. The bell appears to be missing from the small cupola but the date stone is still clearly legible. It reads “School Section No 15 Erected 1872”.

Robert Agar had his house built in 1845 and it is made of bricks manufactured on his farm. The use of light coloured bricks to form the quoins and add a pattern below the eaves makes this a very attractive home. There’s a rear entrance with a porch decorated with gingerbread.

James Sommerville built his story and a half house of split field stone collected on his farm. It was completed in 1856 and cut stone was used for the quoins as well as the window and door frames. It is a simple 5 bay Georgian style house and has recently been renovated and incorporated into the Arlington Estate Event Centre.

John Lawrie built his Georgian style house in 1855 at Lot 12, Concession 9 in Vaughan Township. Four generations of Lawrie family farmed on this lot over the next 120 years. John would have gone into Elder’s Mills to visit the post office for his mail and to get things for his farm. You can read more in our feature post John Lawrie Heritage House.

There were four other homes on Huntington Road that were listed on the Vaughan Heritage Register but only the Agar and Sommerville ones were designated. Developers have apparently demolished the others as the farms around them are being stripped for development.

Google Maps Link: Elder Mills Nature Reserve

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The Credit River – Georgetown

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The section of the Credit River north of Georgetown is one of my favourite places to hike and I’ve returned here a few times over the past thirty years. We typically park on Maple Avenue near River Drive. Once you cross the Credit River on the bridge you can follow the Credit Valley Footpath north to Terra Cotta or south to the Barber Dynamo. This is a side trail to the Bruce Trail and is marked with blue blazes.

The first point of interest is the site of the Barber Paper Mills. These historic Victorian era industrial buildings have sat vacant for over four decades. Several proposals for redevelopment and preservation have been left unfulfilled over the years and the fate of one of Heritage Canada’s 2015 top 10 most endangered sites remains unknown.

The roof on the former paper rolling building, built in 1852, is deteriorating quickly. When we released the feature story Barber Paper Mills in June of 2015 the roof was largely intact on the river side. The side of the roof facing the road was already collapsing at that time. An updated picture was featured in March of 2018 in our story Credit Valley Footpath at which time there were two small holes in the roof on the side facing the river. Today, the roof is collapsing and at least one beam has fallen in as well. Nature is relentless.

The dam that served the Barber Paper mills was replaced with a concrete one that still spans the river below the River Drive bridge. We initially followed the small trail close to the river but it doesn’t go very far past the remains of the old paper mill. You are forced to return to the formal trail and make your way into the forest that lines the sides of the ravine.

The trail follows the river and climbs the ravine three times between the road and the Barber Dynamo. There is one section that climbs a few steps and then follows the root system of the trees along the edge of the ravine. That part of the trail could be challenging in wet or snowy conditions.

The DeKay’s Snake is also known simply as a Brown Snake and has two distinct rows of black black spots running down each side of the back. With the colder weather coming on we may not see anymore snakes this year, but we’re always watching. I should have been watching a little closer because I almost stepped on this one before it slithered off the trail.

The Common Earthball is also known as Pigskin Poison Puffball. However, unlike other puffballs, earthballs do not have a single opening at the top but rather split open to release their spores.

The Grand Trunk Railway Bridge was built in 1855 and earned the nick-name the Iron Bridge. It crosses the 2000 foot wide river valley using 8 spans of 96 feet each and extensive berms on either side. The bridge rises 115 feet above the river. It was expanded in 2010 to accommodate a double track as part of GO Transit’s expansion of services.  Provision has been made for a third track in the future. 

Part of the trail runs through a forest of red oak trees. The weight of nuts or fruit in a forest is known as its “mast” and this year would be known as a big mast year because of the high volume of acorns produced. To have a big mast requires three factors, the first of which is sufficient rain in the fall to prepare the tree for a good spring flowering. Secondly, there can’t be a frost during the week that the female flowers are open in the spring. Lastly, once the acorns are growing they need to avoid summer droughts that can cause fungal problems. The acorns were dropping almost continually in the forest as we passed through, making it the first time we had to hike in acorn rain.

Positive identification of mushrooms can be difficult sometimes and these bright yellow mushrooms were not featured in my field guide or clearly singled out on line. The scales on the caps may indicate that they are poisonous. We don’t harvest mushrooms on our hikes, and recommend you don’t either, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if they are edible or not.

The Barber Dynamo is one of our favourite places to visit in the GTA and we have previously told the story of the building. Each time we take a new set of pictures there is some level of deterioration in the old stone building. Unfortunately it looks like we will eventually lose what remains of the first electrical generating plant to transmit power over wires for the operation of a mill. More details can be found in our feature story on the history of the Barber Dynamo.

The walls are starting to sag in various places and will collapse if steps are not taken to support them, perhaps in a manner similar to the work being done at Goldie Mill in Guelph.

Wolf’s Milk Slime is also known as Toothpaste Slime because of the consistency it has when it first comes out. If the balls are punctured before the spores are ready they will ooze a pink slime. Wolf’s Milk Slime grows between June and November on well rotted logs.

The Credit Valley Footpath continues out to the Tenth Line which could provide a less strenuous hike should you wish to visit the Dynamo. Perhaps we’ll use that end of the trail in the future as we continue to keep an eye on this heritage site over the coming years.

Google Maps Link : Barber Paper Mill

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