Second Empire Worker’s Cottages

January 23, 2022

Many Irish immigrants arrived in Toronto starting in 1847 because they were trying to escape desperation and famine in their homeland. They took the work that they could find and lived in shared accommodations while they saved money to buy a place of their own. Many of these would end up in the small community of Don Vale which stood just outside the early city, on the west side of the Don River. It is said that poverty led to growing cabbages on the front lawns for food and this is where the area took the name Cabbagetown from. This part of town has an amazing collection of Victorian architecture including different styles of worker’s cottages. We previously featured some of the One-Storey Worker’s Cottages that can be found in the Leslieville area of the city. I parked near Wellesley and Sumach and went for a walk around the area. You could do this almost anywhere in Cabbagetown and see similar beauties.

Second Empire architecture was also called Napoleon III and became popular in the second half of the nineteenth century. The most obvious feature is the mansard roof which is often convex or concave and usually cut with ornate dormers. These are often curved and frequently have ornate pilasters and lintles. It’s also common for the eves to be supported by brackets, especially on the larger homes. Second Empire construction only lasted a few decades and all the examples in this post were built within a couple of years of each other in the late 1880s. More recently, the style has gained negative exposure as both The Munsters and Addams Family lived in Second Empire homes which looked a little forboding during lightning storms.

The homes at 454-456 Sumach Street were built in 1886 by Josiah Bulley with the first resident of 456 being a painter named John Bolton. These two houses have a side hall plan with a living room at the front of the ground floor and a kitchen at the back. Upstairs are the bedrooms with the larger front one having a window with a dormer. These dormers are quite plain without the arched windows that were common to this architectural style.

Looking south along Sumach Street there’s a row of cottages similar to the one above. The first two buildings are semi-detached that were built in 1886. The last building in the picture is a row of three cottages that were built two years later.

126-128 Amelia Street was built as semi-detached in 1878 while number 130 to the right was built the next year. The addition of the front porch makes this cottage stand out.

142-144 Amelia is another semi-detached but it still has its slate shingles on the mansard roof. This one is also interesting for the keystones in the arches above the doors and windows which have a purple thistle carved in them.

My personal favourite in these few blocks is the one at 146 Amelia Street. This one is a little bigger and has a centre hall plan which allows for four rooms on each floor. The dichromate brickwork around the windows is partially hidden by the heavy gingerbread on the porch. The two dormers on the upstairs bedrooms are curved with interesting woodwork along the sides and stained glass in the tops.

Alpha Avenue is filled with second empire styles worker’s cottages arranged in a “U” shape down each side of the street and at the end. These cottages were built in 1888 and most have had their original slate roofing replaced with shingles. A few have had the dichromate brick patterns painted over which is unfortunate given the context of the street. The north side of the street contains even-numbered houses.

The south side of Alpha Avenue continues the same style of cottages, again with a few of them having been painted over. The two cottages at the end of the street can also be seen in this picture. There are still a couple of hitching posts for visitors to tie up their horses but most of these residents would not have owned one. People walked to their workplace as they tended to live close to their employment. Long commutes were still almost a century away.

438- 440 Wellesley Street presents another row of Second Empire cottages where the first one might have original windows while the other three all have had their windows replaced.

323 Wellesley was built between 1888-1889 and is an interesting little cottage with two dormers on the second floor. The front still has slate shingles with a red circle and dot pattern between the dormers. There’s a beautiful stained glass window in the transom above the door that contains the house number. Transom windows were often designed to open and allow air to come into the long, narrow structure. I wonder if this one was designed to open and if it is still functional.

These little cottages have become popular again and many of them have been upgraded and restored. I can just imagine what the original occupants would think of their value in today’s real estate market.

Related blogs: One-Storey Worker’s Cottages, Unionville – Dating By Design Styles

Google Maps Link: Cabbagetown

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Riverwood – Armstrong Wild Bird Trek

January 16, 2022

The Riverwood Conservancy is located on 150 acres of an original 200 acre land grant that was part of the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. We’ve covered the history of this property in detail in previous stories about Riverwood and a full set of links will be provided at the end of this post. There’s lots of free parking on site although sometimes it can be busy on the weekends.

I always have to stop and admire this century old home that was built with stone carried up from the river below. An old set of stairs still leads from the back yard down to the trails below but it has been blocked off by a fence at the top. From the back yard you can also see the remains of the first man-made swimming pool in the present city of Mississauga and admire the old stone cistern.

The surrounding land was used for farming purposes and there’s still several old agricultural items strewn around the property. All of them are in an ongoing state of deterioration. This wagon has seen considerable rot since we published a picture in our 2014 post of Riverwood.

The Riverwood Conservancy has been in an ongoing state of development with new gardens and features being added over the years. One of the newest attractions is the Armstrong Wild Bird Trek. It was founded in 2017 and features a number of bird feeders along the Red Trail. Armstrong Milling in Hagersville provides birdseed that is placed in the feeders by volunteers. In the fall and winter, this attracts a lot of birds and subsequently a lot of bird watchers. The trail follows the edge of the valley and uses boardwalks to pass over wetlands and streams.

Most of the bird feeding stations have a sign identifying various species that can be found in the local habitat. The Conservancy claims 180 species of nesting and migratory birds can be seen in the park. There are fewer species in the winter but the ones that stay are more dependant on the feeders and become quite used to humans. This isn’t necessarily a good thing but at least they are getting nutritious food. For this reason, it is recommended that people not bring anything to feed the birds. Feeding them bread and domestic bird food is actually harmful to them. This male Cardinal was one of several that was waiting for a turn at the feeders.

The Blue Jay is one of the largest song birds in Canada and there are four sub-species of which ours is known as the Northern Blue Jay. They tend to mate for life and can become aggressive if people approach their nest, especially in breeding season. Blue Jays can immitate the call of various hawks. A technique which they use to test and see if there are any in the area. They can become prey to hawks when alone but in groups will attack a hawk and drive it away.

This male White-breasted Nuthatch can be distinguished from his female counterpart by the black cap on his head. The female has a cap which is a lighter shade of gray. If you take a few seeds from one of the feeders and hold them in the palm of your open hand it’s quite likely that a bird will come and land on you to feed.

Black-capped Chickadees are cute little birds that appear very friendly because they have very little fear of humans. It’s pretty easy to get one to sit on your hand if you have a few seeds in your palm.

There’s an abundance of squirrels due to the free food but in most cases, they can’t get into the feeders. They hang around below them and eat the seeds that are thrown out by the birds. Where branches hang close enough to the feeder they will climb and jump into it. This is bad news because they are quite greedy, literally stuffing their faces.

This little female Downy Woodpecker is happy to come and get a few seeds. These tiny woodpeckers are able to feed in places that the larger Hairy Woodpeckers and other species can’t get to. This includes eating insects from plant stems and pecking holes in goldenrod galls to get the larvae inside. These woodeckers can often be seen in mixed species flocks among the tall grasses with the other birds because there’s protection in numbers.

American Robins fly south to keep ahead of the frost line so that they can get adequate food. Those that stay behind switch their diet to berries and seeds and we saw several that were hanging around the trail. They tend to look fat in the winter but it is just the way that they fluff up their feathers.

You have several options for a route back to the parking lot including retracing your steps along the Red Trail. The Culham Trail passes through Riverwood and can be used to create a return loop. We chose to take the smaller “fisherman’s trail” along the side of the Credit River. This will allow you to see some of the water birds that don’t use the feeders. On this day there were lots of Mallard Ducks and a pair of Mergansers and at times you could see a Kingfisher. We also caught a quick glimpse of a coyote trying to sneak past us unseen and were able to watch three White-tailed Deer browsing on the other side of the river.

Although there appears to be an increased number of Great Blue Herons that stay for the winter, I was a little surprised to step around a fallen tree and see one. Almost as surprised as it was to see me and my camera. With a loud honk, it was gone.

We’ve been through Riverwood many times over the years and there’s always something interesting to see. No doubt we’ll be back.

Related blogs: The Culham Trail, Riverwood – Bird Property, Riverwood Estate, Riverwood – Zaichuk Property

Google Maps link: Riverwood Conservancy

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Brougham – Ghost Towns of the GTA

January 9, 2022

Brougham existed for 150 years as a quiet rural community that supported agriculture on the surrounding farms. Brougham had one claim to historical fame that came from a local man named Peter Matthews. The veteran of the War of 1812 was well respected in town and also a vocal supporter of democratic reforms. On December 2, 1837, Peter led a group of local men to join William Lyon Mackenzie in an armed rebellion against the government in Toronto. The rebellion failed but Matthews and another rebel named Samuel Lount were convicted of treason and publicly hanged. Matthews and Lount are buried in The Necropolis in Toronto.

When the excitement died down, Brougham went back to being a quiet hamlet where not much ever happened. That suddenly changed in 1972 when the Federal Government of Pierre Trudeau expropriated the entire community for an airport that it claimed would be operational by 1979. That airport was never built but the lands have been held in trust for a potential future airport.

William Bentley became one of the founders of Brougham after he emigrated from New York State in 1839 and settled in Pickering Township. Along with his brothers, he established a general store as well as a patent medicine factory. William built this house in 1853 at the main intersection of town and it quickly came to represent the prosperity of the community. The home boasts Italianate styling in the architecture including the belvedere on the roof. It’s interesting to see it sitting empty while carrying a Federal Historic Register designation and sitting on a potential airport flight path leading to a runway.

Constructed in 1854 as Pickering Town Hall, this wood-framed building was designed as an open concept meeting area for making community decisions. As such, it is fitting that it became the site of community meetings in 1972 to fight the federal government’s decision to expropriate the community in the name of a new airport. People Or Planes was a larger citizens group from throughout the original expropriated lands and beyond. They banded together and fought to stop the government from going ahead. Their success has kept these lands from being destroyed for the past half a century. For years it read “Pickering Community Hall” but the name has been changed above the entrance to reflect the community that it represented. This building also has a Federal Historic Designation, this one given in 2009. Just beside the community hall is a one-storey Georgian home with dichromate brick veneer that was built in 1860. As I was photographing the community hall the two residents next door asked me what I was doing. When I explained that I was photographing historic buildings we got into an interesting conversation about the community and the airport plans. I haven’t included their home out of respect for them, but it is listed on the Pickering Municipal Heritage Register (PMHR).

Brougham decided to replace their original wooden schoolhouse with a new brick one in 1859. It served the children of the community for 100 years before being closed. Recently it has been used as an art gallery and the building appears on the Federal Heritage Register.

The Wesleyan Methodists came to town early but the small size of the congregation didn’t allow them to have their own full-time pastor. Records indicate that in 1870 they were part of the Pickering circuit in which they shared a pastor on a rotation that included Claremont, Glen Major, Greenwood, and Kinsdale. By 1890 they were able to erect this handsome brick building at the main intersection in town. After 1925 it was known as St. John’s United Church. Today it carries on ministry as Pickering Standard Church and is listed on the PMHR.

The Temperance hall was built in 1880 and is listed on the PMHR. The Temperance Movement sought to restict or ban the consumption of alcohol and got started around 1820. Through various successes and failures they eventually managed to see legislation passed in both Canada and the United States that prohibited the sale of alcohol. The Temperance Hall in Bougham appears to have been raised at some point and a second floor added beneath. This could account for the fact that the brick butresses are not continued on the lower floor making them essentially useless. Early pictures of the main street show the building as it looks today but the windows are not bricked shut.

The former Commercial Hotel was built as a private home in 1860 and later converted into a hotel. It faces Highway 7 on the east end of town and is the last of three hotels that used to serve travelers through the hamlet. The former hotel has some interesting Gothic Revival architectural features. The pointed arch windows in the two second-storey gables are augmented by the decorative bargeboard or gingerbread trim. Each is topped by a finial (the pointed decoration) that makes it distinctive. In 2009 this building was added to the Federal Heritage Register which seems at odds with the plan to level the town for an airport.

The Miller Residence was built in 1880 and is the fifth building in town to appear on the Federal Heritage Register. This house was occupied by several leading families in the community over the years including the Bentleys, Hubbards, and Millers. The house is representative of late Victorian architecture in that it includes several styles such as Gothic Revival bargeboards and Italianate windows with rounded arches.

On the north side of the community hall is this 1 1/2- storey house which was built in 1860. It is typical of many homes that were built in this era with its centre gable and pointed arch window. This house is listed on the PMHR.

Just on the north edge of town, there stands a house that is also listed on the Pickering Municipal Heritage Register. It was built in 1860 and is shown on the County Atlas as being on the property of R. Lambert. The register lists it as the ex-Vanderligt home but on March 16, 2021, a fire broke out in the house. The two occupants were able to escape, but the fire department reported “extensive damage”. It’s unlikely that the federal government will want to restore the building because it solves the problem of yet another building on the PMHR.

Brougham is a community of driveways that go nowhere and vacant lots. With the government owning every property in town with an undisclosed demolition date no one wanted to invest in maintenance. Slowly people moved on and buildings were demolished as they became increasingly dilapidated.

In March of 1972, the federal government announced plans to build a major airport in Pickering to take the expected overflow from Malton Airport (Pearson International). they went ahead and expropriated 18,600 acres (7,530 hectares) and began making plans for construction. By 1975 construction was halted and the farmlands and houses were leased out for interim use. Recent studies suggest that the airport might be needed between 2027 and 2037, but might never be, and the federal government has given two large portions of the land to create Rouge National Urban Park. A study by KPMG concludes that it will not be necessary and Covid may have a lasting negative effect on the airline industry as well. The government remains committed to developing an airport on the reduced lands which include Brougham. The Transport Canada map below shows the original airport site in yellow and the reduced one in purple. Brougham is located in the extreme lower right-hand corner of the site but would be under an approach flight path. Land Over Landings carries on the work of People or Planes in fighting to save not only the communities involved but the farmland as well. There’s a great deal more information that’s available on their website Land Over Landings.

While the government is still actively talking about building the airport, the locals have slowly gone about the job of obtaining historical designations. With almost every property in Brougham listed on one heritage register or another, it will be interesting to see how the Federal Government goes about building an airport in the face of the existing local history.

To read more about the Rebellion of 1837 check out our story Rebel Rebel. You can also check out our story The Necropolis.

Google Maps Link: Brougham

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Enniskillen Conservation Area

January 2, 2022

Enniskillen Conservation Area is a 65-hectare park in Durham Region that has 5.5 kilometres of trails. The conservation area is mostly forested but has diverse forest cover and some wetlands. Be aware that there is a $6.00 parking fee that can only be paid by Visa or Mastercard. Cash is not accepted, so follow the map link at the end of the post but come prepared.

The Google Earth capture below shows the conservation area with an old mill pond outlined in blue while the current pond is just a small blue dot. The yellow line roughly follows the figure eight of the trails I took around the outer edge.

The conservation area has a network of five trails that are each loops, which share some common sections where they intersect. From the lower parking area, you can either choose the Turtle Trail, which takes you through a wetland around a small pond, or the Moorey Mill Trail which connects you to the other trails in the northern part of the conservation area. Not expecting to see very many turtles on this visit, I chose the Moorey Mill Trail. This trail is a 1.2 kilometre loop that takes you up one side of Bowmanville Creek and then down the other side.

Near picnic area 3 the trail crosses Bowmanville Creek on a small footbridge. This is also where the Moorey Mill Trail Meets up with the Cedar Trail. The Moorey Trail from this point heads back toward the car and so I saved it for the return trip.

The remnant of the millpond has a thin layer of ice on it but during the summer is likely alive with activity. A much larger mill pond existed here between 1874 and 1954 but we’ll get to that later.

For now, I turned and followed the Cedar Trail up the hill and into the cedar forest. This 1-kilometre trail winds through a dense forest which, in places, shows the obvious straight lines of having been planted. In other places, it appears quite random and grows very close together. You could be just a few feet away from something in the forest and never see it.

We have reviewed the trails in several parks over the years and some of them are quite well marked while others seem to invite you to get lost. The trails at Enniskillen Conservation Area are very well marked. The trail marker below indicates that the Cedar Trail turns here or that you could choose to follow the Ruffed Grouse Trail. This is what I decided to do.

The cedar forest gives way to a mixed coniferous one which is suitable habitat for roughed grouse. In the winter they will eat seeds and the buds of deciduous trees. I didn’t see any roughed grouse or very many birds at all. The forest was silent except for the approach of a lone hiker clacking along with his walking poles and disturbing the wildlife.

The Roughed Grouse Trail carries you out of the woods and returns south on a trail along the edge of a field. This part of the conservation area provides habitat for a whole different range of plants and grasses, insects, and the small birds that feed on them. None of which were to be seen today but it won’t be long before they start to return. The fields have been planted with trees by Forests Ontario as part of their 50 million trees project. Through sponsorship from the Federal Government, landowners have been able to plant over 34 million trees at greatly reduced costs. This is part of Canada’s response to the global Trillion Tree Campaign which has planted over 14 billion trees since the fall of 2018 in an attempt to restore the global forest cover. This grassland habitat will slowly be returned to forest just as the rest of the conservation area has. The butterflies and a host of other pollinators will have to find somewhere else to hang out, but not for several years.

Within the present confines of the park, a 4-storey grist mill was built by Alexander Secord in 1874 which was known as the Boyne Water Mill. The wooden building had the unusual configuration of a horizontal water wheel that turned two sets of millstones. In 1914 James Moorey bought the mill and upgraded the sluice gates at the mill pond to concrete. These concrete gates stand along the creek however, at least one set and probably two have been washed out and have collapsed into the creek. This could have happened during any flooding event but Hurricane Hazel in 1954 fits the right time frame. The mill was closed in 1953 and dismantled in 1956, the wood is reused in several local homes.

The earthen berm of the dam is cut by the trail near a verticle slab of concrete where something was once mounted with large bolts. Perhaps the flume used to carry water from the pond to the water wheel at this location. The berm is still quite distinguishable as it crosses the ravine floor marking the forward edge of the former millpond.

The trail continues south toward the parking lot following an old access road that led from the dam to the mill. The concrete bridge is still in use for pedestrians and maintenance vehicles.

Although I didn’t see much wildlife in the conservation area during this visit it seems likely that there’s plenty to see at other times. This will be an interesting place to visit again in the future.

Google Maps Link: Enniskillen Conservation Area

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One-Storey Worker’s Cottages

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Over the years we’ve featured numerous mansions of the wealthy from the early years of the city of Toronto. However, the story of the working-class people who built the city is equally as important. The working class was drawn largely from recent immigrants who came to Canada fleeing persecution, landlessness, and famine with the idea of free land and lots of available work. What they found was overcrowded living conditions in cramped quarters, low-paying jobs, and years of toil to earn money to bring their families to join them. Very often they would move into places like The Ward where they lived in slum conditions with multiple families packed into small rental units. They also worked for years in the hopes that one day they could own their own little cottage that they could call their family home.

There were five designs for these workers homes but the most basic was the one-storey cottage. Beginning around 200 years ago, these cottages were usually built around a central hall plan with four rooms. Two bedrooms on one side of the hall and a parlour and kitchen on the other side. Sometimes the kitchen was in an extension on the back and there were three bedrooms. Washroom facilities were in the outhouse in the back yard. Most people had to walk to their workplace and so these homes were built close to the industrial areas. In some cases, such as Gooderham & Worts, the employer built the homes for their employees. Most of these homes were very basic but some, like 52 De Grassi in the cover photo, were much more ornate. To investigate some examples of these homes I went to Leslieville, which was a working-class community on the east side of the Don River. I parked across from 10 Lewis Avenue and went for a walk. I wonder if the 9 over 9 windows are original to this cottage.

The cottage at 26 Lewis Street is an example of one that could use a little bit of attention. The roof seems to have a bit of a sag to it and the front drain pipe is becoming detached from the roof. Many of the worker’s cottages that used to line our streets in the working-class neighbourhoods have been lost to poor maintenance over the years.

86-90 Lewis Street is a row of three attached cottages. Unlike many of the small cottages in Leslieville, this row of housing was added to the original heritage register in 1973. At the time, they were just four years shy of reaching the century mark.

Walking around the corner and going east on Queen Street you will quickly come to Saulter Street. This street also contains a selection of interesting residential styles including several of the little one-storey cottages. The home at 30 Saulter Street is board and batten construction where the small strips of wood, or batten, are used to seal the spaces between the boards. A small window in the transom above the door lets more light into the home.

The cottage at 38 Saulter Street has been painted blue and has the house number in the glass in the transom window. It also has a neat little Gothic window in the centre gable.

A few of these small cottages were decorated with some fancy gingerbread. 58 Saulter is one of those that has a decorative bargeboard.

Audley Street is just a few houses long but it starts off with a pair of attached cottages at numbers 2-4. Number 2 has angel stone on the front gables and both have had their brickwork painted over.

The homes between 2 and 14 Audley Street are all original cottages except for number 10 which is a replacement. Number 12 has had a veneer of angel stone added to the front but then it looks like the stone was painted a drab colour. Thankfully they painted the door frame green to give it a bit of colour.

79 Knox Avenue is another of these homes that have been decorated with some fancy scrollwork on the gable as well as on the ends of the drainpipes. The main windows have some interesting glazing and the south one has some stained glass in the upper panel.

There are a few of these cottages scattered on almost every street throughout Leslieville, including along Eastern Avenue. The cottage at 523 Eastern Avenue is still occupied and looks to be in pretty good repair although the siding isn’t original.

Walking, or driving, around Leslieville can be an exercise in the appreciation of our city’s architectural heritage with respect to the accommodation of our early working-class heroes.

Further reading on this subject can be found in the excellent book “Modest Hopes” by Don Loucks & Leslie Valpy.

Google Maps Link: Leslieville

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Doube’s Trestle Bridge

Sunday, December 19, 2021

On June 1, 2021 The Great Trail reverted back to its origial name of The Trans Canada Trail, which better defines this 28,000 kilometre long national trail. There’s a 53.8 kilometre section of the trail that is known as The Kawartha Trans Canada Trail. I set out to cover a small section in the middle that contains the famous Doube’s Trestle Bridge. There are a few parking spots on Orange Corner Road where you can enjoy this location which is just a short drive north of the GTA.

Starting in the 1850s, several railway lines were run north from communities along Lake Ontario including Whitby, Port Hope, Cobourg, Trenton and Belleville. These lines were intended to draw business from the larger towns to the north to their harbours and access to Toronto and Hamilton markets. Eventually these lines were connected by east west lines running between these northern towns. Peterborough and Lindsay were not connected and part of the solution was to run a line between the two. This line had to cross Buttermilk Valley and they built a 1500 foot (457 metres) wooden trestle to carry the rail line. It stood about 100 feet (29 metres) above the valley floor on the Omemee-Peterborough Line which was locally known as The Missing Link. The line was taken over by The Canadian National Railway in 1921 and track and trestle improvements were completed to accommodate heavier trains. The trestle was filled in from both ends and the centre span over the creek was converted to a steel trestle 500 feet long (150 metres). By the end of 1988 the line was abandoned and the rails lifted. Although the line was purchased in 2000 as a potential rail trail corridor it was the construction of the Trans Canada Trail that really got things moving as this was identified as a major link. By the end of 2010, 53 kilometers of the Kawarthas Trans Canada Trail was 95% complete and it would be finished in 2014. The railings below identify the steel bridge structure.

The view looking south from the bridge shows the small size of Buttermilk Creek compared to the wide ravine that stretches out on either side. About 12,000 years ago the last ice age was retreating and there was a large sheet of ice up to a kilometer thick covering this area. A large river of meltwater was flowing under the ice creating the valley below and depositing the large drumlins made of sand and gravel that dot the local countryside.

The view looking north is equally impressive with the tops of the cedars far below.

The south west end of the trestle has a park bench where you can sit and rest and look out over the valley. There’s a small trail here that will allow you to get a view of the side of the trestle. Going very far down this trail would be unadvisable because it would be easy to slip and require a rescue.

The photo below was taken from the book The Last Trains From Lindsay by Keith Hansen and shows the trestle and berm in May 1974. It gives a good idea of the height of the trestle and the size of the berm created when the ends were filled in. Also notice how the trees have been kept cleared off of the berm.

Just beyond the trestle there was a herd of cattle wandering around in the trees on the side of the hill. When they saw that I had a camera they all came down closer to the fence. They started to “Moo” at me as if I was supposed to open the gate and let them out. That wasn’t happening, there was already enough horse poo on the trail without letting 50 cows have a go at it.

There are two old trestle overpasses between Orange Corner Road and Highway 7. They allowed farmers to move livestock and equipment from one side of the tracks to the other as the rail lines often cut through the centre of a farmer’s property. This is the second of the two as you walk west and this one shows the depth of cut that the line made when it emerged from the Buttermilk Creek Valley and back onto the local topography. This part of the province is dominated by some pretty impressive glacial formations including large drumlins on the farmlands on both sides of the trail.

One of the least likely things to see on top of a tall berm is a stranded canoe. It’s obviously not going to be paddled too far in its current condition. It looks like it should have some wildflowers planted in it so that at least the local polinators can enjoy it.

Fire was always a threat in the days of steam engines because of sparks and cinders that would blow out of the smoke stack. To reduce the potential to start a fire the railway would keep the trees cleared away from the tracks for 50 feet on either side. That would have left the berm along this railway exposed to the sun and the wind and it would not have been a very nice hike on days with extreme weather conditions. Fortunately the slopes of the berm have been allowed to grow into a nice little strip of woodland.

Highway 7 passes over the old rail line on a high level concrete bridge and this is the point at which I turned around. According to the trail map at the trestle bridge, this is 3.5 kilometres from the parking spots on Orange Corner Road.

You really get to appreciate the height of the trestle above the surrounding farmland on the eastbound part of the trail. The filled-in section of the former wooden trestle runs well above the roof of the barn and the farm house just beyond it.

The views from the trestle will change with the seasons making this a year-round trail but we wonder how great it would be on a cold windy day in the middle of winter.

Google Maps Link: Doube’s Trestle Bridge

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Windfields Estate

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Windfields Estate is one of several grand estates that were built for the wealthy when Bayview Avenue north of Eglinton was home to those who could afford to escape the city. Windfields Estate is now home to the Canadian Film Centre who invite the public to enjoy the grounds. It is also connected to Windfields Park and to check the two of them out we took advantage of parking at York Mills Arena and walked down through the park system until we reached Windfields. There isn’t really any public parking on the grounds so unless you live in the area, this is likely your best option.

The site amounts to 20 acres of an original 200-acre lot. Peter Whitney was a United Empire Loyalist who cleared the land for farming. His family would sell the west half of the farm to William Bell in 1873 and the County Atlas from 4 years later shows where it was located relative to modern Bayview Avenue and York Mills Road. Wilket Creek has been highlighted in blue while the area that would become Windfields Estate is outlined in green.

From the parking lot, you can follow the paved trail or walk closer to Wilket Creek. If you take the lower route you will come to a set of stairs that lead back up to the main trail.

The park is fairly narrow as it follows the creek south toward Windfields Park. Where the greenbelt widens out into the park there is a buried culvert that used to carry a private road across the creek. The road has been removed but it followed the depression toward the modern subdivision in the distance.

There is a small dam on Wilket Creek that would have retained a pond of water for the horses to enjoy. Currently, there are still a couple of layers of wood in the bottom of the two sluice gates and by adding additional ones the farmhands at Windfields were able to control the size of their pond.

As long as Bayview Avenue crossed the Don River on a single lane bridge it remained a farming area. With the development of the high-level bridge over the river in the late 1920s, the area opened for the development of estates for the wealthy who were looking for places to indulge their horse riding pleasures. The farm was bought by Bayview Heights Limited in 1928. The 20-acre estate lot was then bought by Edward Plunkett (E. B.) Taylor in 1932 so that he could develop an equestrian estate for his wife Winnifred. She apparently gave the name Windfields to the estate while walking through the fields on a windy day. It is interesting to note that the apple orchard which is shown on the count atlas is still in place. The smaller trees set in between the apple trees are plums and pears.

The estate property was landscaped with two hedgerows to compliment the existing three small woodlots. There are 55 gardens and more than 200 trees outside of the main woodlots. There is also a row of about 15 Japanese Cherry Trees that will be interesting to observe in the spring rather than trying to get into High Park to see their Japanese Cherry Trees. The grounds were laid out in the typical estate style of the times and the worker’s cottages, stables and greenhouse estalished a pattern simular to a small English village. The gardens behind the house transitioned to the pool at the back of the yard.

The mansion is in the process of having some restoration work done on it. The north end, at the left in this photo, was added after the Second World War.

The most attention to detail was given to the front door. There’s a Palladian window in the gable above the door and a swan’s neck pediment above the door.

In 1946 three workers’ cottages were added to the property creating a little cluster of buildings which included the stables and the greenhouse. The one below was known as Cottage C.

Each of the three cottages has its own design with the one below having two mirrored units. They were added in 1946 and built to a design by architect Earl C. Morgan and referred to as cottage AB.

Cottage D is the smallest of the units. Just to the west of the cluster of cottages are two buildings that were added by the City of Toronto after they took over maintenance of the parklands. There’s a garage and a workshop which have been built to blend into the style of the cottages and stables.

The stables were designed at the same time as the house and also in the Georgian Revival style of architecture. The side of the stables that faces the house is adorned with a portico with columns. The stables housed the Taylor family’s personal horses that they would ride around their estate and very like the estates of some of their horse-loving neighbours. You can read about several of them in our feature Bayview Estates.

The estate was even provided with its own greenhouse so that fresh flowers and garden plants could be grown year-round. It was added in 1952 and built from a kit sold by Lord and Burnham who have been designing premium greenhouses since 1849. The small building at the end closest to the house was used as a potting shed.

The gatehouse was also designed in 1946 at the same time as the workers’ cottages. A swimming pool and cabana, or change room, was also built behind the main house that same year. The gatehouse is set apart from the other buildings and was used by E. P. Taylor as his office. In 1969 the Taylors bequeathed the property to the borough of North York although members of the family continued to live there until 1987. The next year the Canadian Film Centre was founded by Canadian film-maker Norman Jewison. What started as a film school has grown into a training facility for people involved in many aspects of film, television and other digital media.

In 1961 on Edward Taylor’s breeding farm in Oshawa, known as Windfields Farm, Northern Dancer was foaled. After being named “Canadian champion two-year colt” in 1963 he went on to have an even bigger year in 1964. This is when he won the Kentucky Derby, among other prestigious races, becoming the first Canadian bred horse to do so. He was retired to stud work and sired some other famous racehorses including Nijinsky who won the English Tripple Crown. The newest building on the site was opened in 2014 and is named the Northern Dancer Pavillion. It was built over the old swimming pool and cabanas.

The Canadian Film Centre provides an interactive map that will allow you to explore the site and even lets you identify the types of trees on the grounds.

Associated blogs: Bayview Estates, Japanese Cherry Trees – High Park.

Google Maps Link: Winfields

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St. Alban the Martyr Cathedral Toronto

Sunday, December 5, 2021

This is the story of a cathedral that was almost built, but not quite. Up until less than a hundred years ago, the spire on St. James Church was the tallest structure in early Toronto. It represented the Church of England in the early city. When John Strachan was made the First Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto in 1839 he was allowed to use the St. James Church but there was a problem. The parishioners had financed the church and were unwilling to turn it over to the Bishop for his use. The home church of the Bishop is known as a cathedral and is the most powerful church in the diocese. From the middle-ages, cathedrals have been grandly designed and were intended to reflect the majesty of God. In 1843 Strachan opened the cathedral establishment fund with the intention of giving Toronto one of these grand buildings.

Neither Strachan nor his successor would see the building started, it would have to wait until 1883. Arthur Sweatman was the third Bishop of Toronto and he oversaw the purchase of 4.5 acres of land in the newly developing Seaton Village area just west of the expanding city. The plot was made available by a syndicate that was developing a prestigious housing development in the area. They put up $5,244, half of the purchase price, and promised another $2,000 if the choir and chancel were completed by 1886. The archive picture below shows the construction of the east end of the cathedral during 1886.

The diagram below is from Wikipedia and shows the most common parts of Christian Cathedrals. The basic layout has been in place since Roman times and the intention is to create the most spectacular building in the region. When St Alban the Martyr Cathedral was planned it was intended that Toronto should have such a building.

Sod was turned on August 20, 1885, but the cornerstone wouldn’t be laid until the following year. Funding for the building wouldn’t be consistent and work was slow to progress. When Canada went into a depression in the 1890s money was diverted to building local parishes which were badly needed by the expanding city. The portion of the cathedral in the picture below, taken on July 14, 2021, was completed by 1891 and that was about as far as they got.

The archival sketch below shows the cathedral as it stood in 1898. By this time they had consecrated the choir and the crypt below it. They moved their worship services into the crypt while they waited a few years, or so they thought, for the rest of the cathedral to be completed. This turned out to be the end of the original design.

The synod of the diocese renewed its commitment to completing the cathedral in 1910. The new plans called for the elimination of the two western towers which were to be replaced with a single central tower. This would have been placed on the south side in the corner where the transept met the aisle. Twenty-five years after the cornerstone was laid the same trowel was used to initiate the new construction. Problems arose immediately when the tenders came back $200,000 over budget. World War 1 broke out before there was a resolution and the project was once again put on hold. Construction wouldn’t begin again until 1956 when the western end of the building was closed in with a short brick structure. The idea of a cathedral at St. Alban the Martyr had already been over since 1935.

The aerial photo below from Toronto Archives shows the choir end of the cathedral with the foundations of the transepts and the nave forming the outline of a cross. The Bishop’s house can be seen circled just above the cathedral and three of Toronto’s bishops would live here before 1935.

The original plans for the cathedral included a 135 foot (41 meters) tower on the southwest corner while a shorter one adorned the northwest corner. This image below was taken from The West Annex News and gives you a good idea of what the other three-quarters of the building would have looked like if completed as designed.

Starting in 1918 St. James Church downtown began to lobby to be the cathedral for the Toronto Diocese although it wouldn’t happen until the middle of the Great Depression. In 1935 St. James Church was confirmed as the cathedral and St. Alban was downgraded to a local parish. The bishop moved downtown and the church carried on until 1964. That’s when St. George College rented the property and they continue to occupy it today. They built their school buildings on the old foundations for the proposed cathedral.

Their rather typical educational building sits on top of some pretty impressive stone footings that were intended to support a much grander building.

The footings at the western end of the building haven’t been built on but it doesn’t look like there are any grand towers in their near future.

A lot has changed since the original conception with its two grand towers. These were downgraded to a single tower in 1910 and finally, in 1956 they settled for one of the most unimaginative spires in Christendom.

Between 1885 and 1886 the church also built a home for the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. The diocese went by the short name of “See” and this was the home of the bishop from 1885 until 1935.

We close with a view of the west end of the proposed cathedral. This is where the parishioners would have entered for the services.

Some of the grand cathedrals in Europe took centuries to be complete but in Toronto, we lost the will to finish our cathedral almost as soon as it was planned.

Google Maps Link: St. Alban the Martyr

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Time Travel in Toronto

November 28, 2021

Throughout the GTA there are several homes and historic sites that are open to the public, although usually with a small admission price to cover upkeep costs. They are typically decorated in the style of a different era. This means that if you chose to, you could visit each one in sequence and watch the changes over time. This post collects the various historic homes and sites and presents them in chronological order. A link will take you to the feature article on the site, if available, where a Google Maps link can help you locate them for yourself.

1814 Fort York

Fort York contains an amazing collection of buildings that date to the War of 1812, although many of them were replaced in 1814 after they were destroyed in the Battle of York on April 27, 1813. This is the first stop on our time journey as we start with our oldest museum.

As you go through the buildings notice how low the ceilings are. This is due to the fact that two hundred years ago people were generally shorter than today. (The track lighting and interpretive signs are obviously recent additions)

1820s Todmorden

If we move ahead a decade we come to Todmorden Mills, a reminder of the city’s early industrial era. Mills were operated by water power and the Don River provided power to a series of three paper mills belonging to the Taylors. Only the lower one, which was at Todmorden, still survives. There’s also an old brewery and a pair of early industrialists homes. During the 1820s Trade Unions were still illegal and people were apprenticed for 7 years to learn a trade. General labour required long hours worked six days per week for sustenance wages.

1830s Montgomery’s Inn

If we move ahead another decade we can get a glimpse of how people survived as they traveled in the 1830s. A journey had to be broken into smaller sections so that horses could be allowed to rest and passengers could rest their weary bones that had been shaken up on the poor roads. Inns and taverns were built at convenient distances along the main roadways. Montgomery’s Inn was built in 1830 by Thomas and Margaret Montgomery.  It served as a rest and watering place for travelers along Dundas Street as they passed through the town of Islington. It served food and beer to travelers while providing fodder and water for their horses. Rest could also be had for those who needed to break their journey into several days’ travel.

1835 TollKeeper’s Cottage

Those same travelers often made their way along snow-clogged roads in the winter with their sleds but in the spring and fall, these same roads could become almost impassable due to the mud and ruts. One solution was the creation of plank roads where cut boards were laid side by side to create a wooden road. These were expensive to build and required constant maintenance. A system of tolls was established and people were employed to collect them. This small cottage was built for the family whose job it was to collect tolls along Davenport Road at the intersection with modern Bathurst street. Inside it is furnished with the items that kept a family of 9 as comfortable as the times would allow.

Inside the cottage is the wood stove for heating and cooking that had to keep the family from freezing in the winter.

1845 McKenzie House

Our next two stops are related to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. William Lyon McKenzie was the prime instigator for the rebellion. He used his printing business to incite discontent with the ruling Family Compact which would lead to rebellion. This museum takes you into a typical printing shop of the era.

This museum even includes a set of MaKenie’s own printing types.

1850s Gibson House

David Gibson was a consistent supporter of Mackenzie and when the rebellion failed he was exiled and his house and barns were burned down in retaliation. When he returned in 1851 he built the next house on our museum tour. Here we get a glimpse into the life of a provincial land surveyor in the 1850s.

1855 Colborne Lodge

Colborne Lodge was built in 1837 but became a full-time home in 1855. This stop on our journey shows us how the wealthier people lived in the mid-1850s. The Howards built the first indoor flush toilet in the city and devised a method of delivering heated water to a showerhead.

When Jemima became ill, John Howard nursed her at their home. Her sick room shows the level of medical intervention that could be expected in this period.

1860s Black Creek Pioneer Village

The next stop on our time travel trip lands us in the 1860s on the farm of Daniel and Elizabeth Stong. Their early houses and farm buildings were so well preserved by the family that they became the basis for Black Creek Pioneer Village. Many other buildings have been moved here and a small town has been recreated. A blacksmith shop, printing shop, hotel, store, carriage works, church, and manse, among other buildings, can be explored. Christmas By Lamplight has been an annual favourite because it allows one to sample treats and decorations from the mid-1860s.

Women of the 1860’s would cook using the fireplace and the small oven on the side and could turn out quite impressive dinners with the means that they had at hand.

1870s Don Valley Brick Works

Although not specifically operated as a museum, the Don Valley Brick Works demonstrates this industry as it operated in the 1870s. It was owned by the Taylor brothers who also operated the mills at Todmorden.

1910 Zion School

Throughout the 19th-century and into the 20th-century it was common for children to go to school in a one-room schoolhouse. The teacher was responsible for teaching all grades and so you didn’t want to get on their bad side because you would have them again next year. This school was vacant for several decades before it was restored and opened as a museum showcasing school as it was around 1910.

1914 Thomson Park

Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough contains the Scarborough Historical Society and a few locally historical buildings that have been moved into a small cluster. This stop on our time trip lands us just prior to the start of the First World War.

WW 1 Benares House

Benares House is not in Toronto, it is in Mississauga, but we’ve included it here because it showcases life during The Great War (WW1) for the average farming family in the area. Keeping up with the chores around the farm was a constant challenge with so many of the men off fighting the war in Europe.

1920s Spadina House

Our final stop on our journey brings us to 100 years ago and the house of a wealthy Toronto politician and businessman. Spadina House and gardens have been furnished and decorated to reflect the 1920’s, a period of prosperity that followed The Great War and preceded the economic depression of the 1930s.

While time travel might not be possible, a structured tour through Toronto’s museums could be the next best thing. Where will you start?

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Benares House

Sunday, November 21, 2021

In 1835 Edgar Neave took possession of two lots just north of the hamlet of Clarkson. He built a house out of fieldstone that he named Benares and then in 1836, he sold the property to Captain James Beveridge Harris. His family had a long history of service in the British Military and James sold his commission and used the money to buy Benares and move his family there. His wife, Elizabeth Molony, gave birth to eight children although three of the boys died in their youth. Arthur Harris inherited the farm and eventually it was passed on to another two generations of the family. The map below is from the 1877 county atlas and shows the Harris farm occupying the northeast corner of the intersection where the Clarkson post office stands on the northwest corner. Benares House is circled in green.

There was a fire in 1857 and much of the original home was destroyed. The replacement was built in the Georgian Style and made of honey-coloured bricks. The two-story home has five bays with a central doorway adorned with sidelights. The open veranda presents a touch of Queen Anne styling and features no balustrade. Above it is a small balcony with turned balusters, lattice, and spool work. The fifth generatiom of the Harris family decided to donate the house and its contents to the city of Mississauga while the surrounding property was developed into subdivisions.

The inside of the house is filled with all the things that a family could collect over a four-generation period. Throughout the GTA there are several historic homes that have been turned into museums and each is furnished in the style of a specific era. Benares House recreates the typical family home during World War One. Included in the collection of personal belongings that the Harris family donated are many early family photographs. Some of these include pictures of the house over the decades. The one below includes a few of the cars that were at the home sometime in the 1930s.

The house has four unique chimneys, two on each end, that are internally bracketed, and double linked giving them eight outlets. The house still features its original shutters and the mysterious name that Edgar Neave gave the single-story stone home. In the early 1800s, it was common to name your house after some exotic place that you had traveled to. Varanji (also Benares or Banaras) is a city in northern Inda and is the holiest of seven cities that were important in the development of Hinduism and Jainism. They also feature in Buddhism.

At the rear of the house is the old family dairy. This is thought to be part of the original 1835 section of the house and is built of stone rather than bricks as was used on the main block of the house. In the mid-nineteenth century milk was not a drink of choice and farmers who had milk cattle would consume the milk almost immediately or turn it into butter or cheese as there was no effective way to store milk for extended periods. Prior to the invention of pasteurization and homogenization drinking milk was a risky business because of bacteria and “milk sickness”. Pasteurization heats the milk up and kills the bacteria that are present while homogenization takes milk from many sources and mixes it together. This reduces the risk of people getting sick from milk tainted by poisonous plants, such as white snakeroot, that the animal has eaten.

The family photo below shows a horse and sled in front of the old barn sometime in the early 1920s.

The barn is believed to date to the 1830s and has been kept well maintained over the better part of two centuries. The farm was mainly used for produce and so the Harris family didn’t keep a lot of livestock. The barn was used to house their carriage and the horses that pulled it. They adapted it for the family automobile as the years passed and their mode of travel changed dramatically.

Although the house has five bays on the front there are only three sets of openings per floor on the rear. The stone extension of the earlier house can be seen at the back of the newer block and stands out as being only a single story. It’s interesting that they chose a shade of bricks that matches the stonework so well.

The 1835 bake oven could still be used to turn out a loaf of bread or a fresh-baked apple pie. The county atlas above shows the house surrounded by two rectangles of little dots. This is the way orchards were represented and I can imagine a fair amount of that fruit was baked in this oven over the years.

At the rear of the outdoor oven is the old well pump. The modern convenience of hot and cold running water makes us tend to forget that at one-time water was pumped by hand from a well and carried into the house in buckets. Early pumps had a single-cylinder that brought a sudden gush of water when the lever was activated. When dual cylinder pumps were invented they doubled the amount of water delivered because as one cylinder was emptying into the bucket the other was refilling. Once as common as the kitchen faucet is today, there are still lots of examples on farms and around older buildings. Many of them are still in working order while others have been repurposed as lawn and garden decorations.

Benares House sits in a park-like setting and was opened as a museum in 1995. The original 190 acre site has been reduced to just 5.7 but the home still sits among lots of mature trees. It’s certainly worth checking out if you are in the area.

Google Maps link: Benares House

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