Eramosa Karst

August 20, 2016

In 1998 the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) was called to a construction site to examine a hole in the ground.  They discovered a geological feature known as a karst cave.  The Toronto Caving Group was called in to examine the cave and they identified a whole series of sinklholes, dry valleys, underground streams and springs.

Ben Vanderberg founded the HCA in 1966 shortly after joining the Spencer  Creek Conservation Authority.  Ben recognized the significance of the area and started working toward acquiring the property for preservation.  Vanderberg retired from the HCA in 2002 and MPP Brad Clark gave him a gift he really wanted at his retirement party.  He announced that the Ontario Government would transfer ownership for 180.5 acres of Eromasa Karst lands to the HCA. The karst was designated as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI).  The map below shows the trail system that has been put in place to allow the general public to locate the various karst features in the park.


Animals create carbon dioxide when they exhale and machines emit it into the air.  When rainwater picks up this carbon dioxide it becomes a weak form of carbonic acid.  Decaying plant matter also puts into the soil where it can attach to the water molecule.  This carbonic acid can slowly dissolve the carbon based bedrock of the escarpment creating features known as karren.  These little pockets and grooves make places for the carbonic acid to sit and eat away over time.  This creates sinkholes, underground streams, caves and springs.

The Nexus Cave is 335 meters long, making it the 10th longest cave in Ontario.  It begins where the Nexus Creek drops through a sinkhole into the underground cave.  The picture below shows Pheonix Creek dropping into it’s sinkhole.  Nexus Creek goes underground in a similar fashion.


The entrance to Nexus Cave is seen in the picture below.  The harder dolomite on the surface has been cut through in several long cracks.  This is the capstone for the Niagara Escarpment and is known as the Lockport Formation.  This dolostone is made of magnesium carbonate and is harder than the calcium carbonate shale just below it.  This shale is known as Rochester Shale.


The entrance to the cave is not very tall but it is possible to see the gap that has been created between these two layers of stone.  The cover photo shows the entrance to this cave looking out from the inside.  This cave is considered to be the most accessible dolostone cave in Ontario.


Walking farther along the orange trail will bring you to the Nexus Window.  A karst window is a place where the roof of a cave has collapsed allowing access into the cave.  Quite often it is possible to look in through a karst window and see the underground stream flowing across the floor of the cave.  This summer has been too dry and there is no water flowing through the cave today.


When it is dry it is possible to get a look down inside where the water has cut a passage through the limestone.


Stewart Creek has a sinkhole as well.  Scientists injected biodegradable dyes into the streams above the various sinkholes in the park so that they could monitor down stream to see which spring was the output of each underground stream.


The Pottruff Blind Valley is an example of place where a creek no longer flows above ground. This ravine was cut through the escarpment by water at the end of the last ice age.  Since then the carbonic acid in the water has dissolved a hole where the water disappears into an underground channel.  The ravine still bears the original sink hole but the water now goes below ground farther upstream at the Pheonix Creek and Stewart Creek sinkholes.  Water only reaches here when the flow is too great for the previous sink holes to handle.


Pottruff Cave very likely started off like the Nexus Cave entrance.  A series of deep fissures in the dolostone over a sink hole eventually collapsed leaving the cave mouth open.  The entrance to Nexus Cave, like all the karst features, is still growing as the stone continues to dissolve.  Nexus too will eventually collapse leaving it looking more like Pottruff Cave.  The state of decay for each of the karst features gives scientists a way of estimating their relative ages.


Pottruff Springs marks the location where the creek re-emerges from underground.  The creek flows underground until it reaches the base of the Eramosa Escarpment which is a 3 meter slab of dolostone that sits on top of the Lockport Formation of the Niagara Escarpment.  The pool of water forms here and continues as a stream on its way toward Lake Ontario.


Limestone is a prime construction material and the Niagara Escarpment provides good quality stone near the surface.  When this part of the province was surveyed for settlement in the late 1790’s the land grants were generally 200 acres.  These lots varied greatly in the nature of the land and not all of it was ideal for raising crops or livestock.  The pioneers learned to take advantage of the resources their property offered and so limestone was quarried here.  The original Pottruff homestead was built out of limestone blocks cut from this location.


Near the old quarry is a grouping of limestone slabs that are laid out like the seats in an amphitheatre.


Near the old foundations for the Pottruff home there are the remains of a paved driveway.


Some of the rose hips in the conservation area are still quite green but this bush is getting it’s prime conditions and is turning red already.  Rose hips are the fruit of the rose plant that forms after successful pollination of the rose flowers.  They have been used in many ways over the centuries and have one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C available.  Fresh rose hips are a great source of vitamin C as they carry 25 times as much as citrus fruit.  Dried rose hips can lose a great deal of their nutritional value.


The trails at the Eramosa Karst are a little confusing and it is easy to get turned around because the orange trail has orange side trails on it.  I suggest that before you leave the parking area you take a picture of the main map on your cell phone so you have a reference while on the trails.

Google Maps link: Eramosa Karst

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Glen Stewart Ravine

July 17, 2016

The Glen Stewart Ravine is home to a Red Oak and Red Maple forest mixed with Witch Hazel which is a rare forest type in Toronto.  In 2008 it was determined that the forest was suffering due to loss of the understory.  The ravine slopes had been cut through with secondary trails that compacted the soil and exposed the tree roots.  These trails have been closed off and in some places they have been planted over.  Other areas are being left to regenerate naturally.  The park has undergone a major restoration and planting program in an effort to create a forest that will be healthy and self sustaining for generations to come.

The Glen Stewart Ravine is a great place if you are one of those people who like to exercise by running up the stairs in the park.  The steel stairs in the cover photo rise 114 steps from the ravine floor to Balsaam Avenue.  These stairs replaced a set of wooden stairs similar to the set featured below that currently descends the ravine from Kingston Road.  More stairs climb the ravine to an entrance on Beech Street.  The Balsaam Avenue stairs and the wooden boardwalk below them had deteriorated to the point of becoming unsafe and both were replaced.


The picture below shows some of the trees that have been planted to replace invasive species that were removed as part of the restoration process.  Spring of 2016 saw the planting of over 800 trees and shrubs, including one lone white pine, as well as 2,500 grasses and herbs.  The three red oak trees planted here go along with 20 other small red oak trees and 3 mature ones to help restore this rare red oak forest.


Chicken of the Woods is considered to be one of the “foolproof four” mushrooms.  This easily identifiable mushroom is recommended for those who are nervous about collecting their own mushrooms for fear of poisoning themselves.  The underside of the fungus does not have gills but rather is covered with fine pores.  This mushroom grows on decaying trees and will rot the inside of a living tree if it gets started on one.  They can be harvested year after year or twice in a season, if you only take the outer few centimeters.  The younger fungi are brighter in colour and the older ones develop a bitter taste.  The plant gets its name from the fact that it can be substituted for chicken in recipes.


The eastern slope of the ravine has a lush undergrowth in this little dell along the side of the Balsaam  Avenue stairs.  The ravine supports a diverse population of migratory birds with more anticipated when the restored forest is mature a few decades from now.


South of these stairs is a section where the former erosion control has been removed.  The wood cribs that had been installed were rotting and in danger of collapse.  They were replaced with a new environmentally sensitive product called Enviroloc.  These fabric sand bags are designed to allow vegetation to grow on top providing a more natural stabilization of the slopes.  The picture below shows some of the restored slopes.


Ames Creek flows through the ravine.  It’s waters come from ground seepage in the sandy soils of the slopes.  This seepage is one of the reasons for the boardwalk along the floor of the ravine.  During heavy rain events the trail was turned into a muddy mess.  The new boardwalk provides an accessible trail as far as the rest stop that can be seen near the Balsaam stairs in the cover photo.  The picture below was taken from the boardwalk and shows the creek where it flows through a wetland.


The new stairs to Balsaam Avenue were built with helical piers.  This construction method screws the piers into the soil until they meet a specified amount of resistance.  This allows the piers to support the load of the stairs without having to do major excavation on the slopes.  The railings on the stairs and the boardwalk are made of hemlock which was chosen because it is naturally disease resistant.  The picture below shows the new boardwalk looking north.  The new stairs can be seen in the distance.


The creek and ravine are almost void of signs of their past usage except for this old covered discharge system.


Ames Creek is forced underground into a storm water pipe just before it reaches Glen Manor Drive East.  Years ago developers filled the ravine in and buried the creek.  Glen Manor Drive East and West frame a narrow strip of park which has the former creek running below it.


On June 10, 1925 about 70 percent of the Presbyterian churches in Canada joined with the Methodists and Congregational churches to form the United Church of Canada.  The idea was to form a Canadian Church which would be inclusive of all nationalities. The few Presbyterian churches in Southern Ontario that refused to join were cut off from the resources of the main group.  Many congregations lost everything and had to start over with new buildings and new missions.  The corner stone for the Beaches Presbyterian Church was laid on July 17, 1926, just one year after the split in the church.   The Beaches Church is on the east side of Glen Manor Drive, roughly where the filled in portion of Glen Stewart Ravine has been built over.


Glen Manor Drive brings you to the part of Toronto known as The Beaches.  The sand here has been carried by the motion of the lake from where it has been picked up east of here.  Erosion of the Scarborough Bluffs is dropping houses into the lake near Gates Gully.   The boardwalk runs for 3 kilometers along the sandy shore line from Balmy Beach to Ashbridges Bay.  The tall smoke stack in the back ground is at The Hearn, an abandoned power plant in The Port Lands.  It stands on the former marsh of Ashbridges Bay at the mouth of the Don River.


Wild Blackberries are less common than wild raspberries but they are growing in the Glen Stewart Ravine.  The blackberry is not actually a berry in the botanical sense in that it is an aggregate fruit made up of many little drupelets.  Blackberries and Raspberries are related but one difference can be seen when picking the fruit.  The torus, or stem, of the fruit remains on the plant with a raspberry leaving a hollow core on the fruit.  The blackberry torus remains in the fruit.


Google Maps Link: Glen Stewart Ravine

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Small Arms Testing Site – Mississauga

Saturday Aug. 6, 2016

The Waterfront Trail on the lake shore in Mississauga runs through The Arsenal Lands.  Many of the users who pass between the 106 year old military testing range and the remnants of a small arms manufacturing site have no idea what the structures they see really are.  There is parking at Marie Curtis Park with access to the Waterfront Trail.  The water tower in the cover photo was near the heart of the factory complex while the wooden baffle in the foreground was on the testing range.

The picture below looks from Marie Curtis Park looking east to the water tower.  It was built in 1941 to provide water for the arms factories.  Notice the platform just below the tank that runs from the ladder on the leg to the standpipe in the middle.  Ascending, where the ladder passes the walkway around the outside of the tank you have to lean out, climb up and over.  This will happen again if you were to climb onto the roof.  Graffiti at the top shows that some one has been up there.


In 1868 the Ontario Rifle Association was formed for the training of militia to help defend our newly founded country.  They used the garrison common at Fort York until 1891 but the increase in the use of the CNE grounds and the addition of a passenger wharf at the foot of Dufferin Street made firing rifles at the fort increasingly unsafe.  A property on the west side of Etobicoke Creek was purchased and used as the Long Branch Rifle Ranges.  Much of the wooden crib around the central water pipes on the water tower has started to fall off since the bands have broken away.  The ladder that was used to access the very top of the tower can be seen rising up the leg on the left


After serving as Canada’s first Aerodrome it was purchased by the Department of National Defence in 1935 and a small arms factory was opened in 1940.   World War Two ended in 1945 and war-time production was completed in December with over 900,000 rifles and 126,000 machine guns having been produced.  Various military parts were produced in the facility from then until it closed for good in 1974.


In 1910 Canada’s Department of Militia and Defense (renamed the Department of National Defense in 1922) acquired the property and built the wooden baffles that remain in place today.  On the short rifle range there are 16 remaining baffles after 105 years exposed to the elements. Originally there were 30 of these which were hollow and filled with sand and soil.  They were intended to stop any stray bullets from leaving the range but also served to provide sound barriers for the adjacent small arms factory.  They are the oldest surviving military baffles of their kind in Ontario.


The inside of one of the baffles showing the sand that filled them.


At the back end of the rifle range is a fifteen foot high and thirty-five foot wide concrete backstop which was constructed around 1925.  It’s surface is dotted with the impacts of hundreds of bullets from over the years.


The end view of the backstop showing how thick the concrete is.  The three electrical insulators at the top give an idea of the scale.


The trail winds back out of the testing range between the historical baffles.


I believe that this is one site where the city should consider putting up a few interpretive plaques to let the many trail users appreciate the history they’re passing through.  A more detailed story can be found in a previous post called The Arsenal Lands that was photographed in the winter of 2015.

Google Maps link: Marie Curtis Park

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Canada Goose Side Trail

July 2, 2016

The Canada Goose Side Trail is on the former homestead of one of Esquesing Township’s earliest settlers and any geese seen along the trail will be on their way to the lake that has been created by the quarry that now operates at the rear of the property.

There is Bruce Trail parking on Regional Road 43 (22 side road) but I parked on the 4th line just north of the corner where a little side trail leads to the official parking lot.  The Canada Goose side trail begins on a curve in the road, right on a blind curve.  There are no shoulders on the road so this is an important place to take care when emerging from the trees.  The trail roughly parallels the fourth line along a ridge of escarpment.  It runs for about 3 kilometers before it reaches the main Bruce Trail (White on the map).  The map below is taken from the 1877 county atlas and I’ve traced the rough outline of the hike, which includes other trails as detailed below.

Canada Goose side trail

The trail leads into the woods through a patch of tiger lilies.  Tiger lilies get their name from the spots on their bright orange petals.  They are also known as ditch lilies because they commonly grow in ditches.  This lily is toxic to house cats and can produce vomiting and even death.  In humans a tincture made from the plant is used to control vomiting during pregnancy.  Baked tiger lily buds taste a lot like baked potato.


John Nickell Jr. was born in 1821 on Lot 22, Concession 4 in Esquesing Township.  John Nickell Sr. had come from Ireland in 1819 and obtained the land grant that still bears his name on the county atlas above.  John Jr. lived on the farm and continued to work it until 1897, the year before he died.  The records show that John Jr. was born in the log cabin built by his father on the rear of the property and that he was the first European male born in the township.  The old silo from the barn still stands only a few meters away from where the quarry now extends.  The construction of a concrete silo must have occurred sometime near the end of the productive life of the farm.  This type of construction wasn’t common until after 1900.


The stone foundations for the barn stand adjacent to the silo.  John Nickell Sr. would have built his first barn on the ground and only later it would have been raised onto a foundation or replaced with a new larger barn.  Prior to the mid 1800’s the normal barn construction was timber frame.  By the middle of the century stick framing replaced it using mass produced nails and boards.  It’s likely that the homestead had both types of barns at one time.  The county atlas shows an orchard beside the house and farm buildings.


The homestead of John Nickell, like his neighbours to the north, sat on top of 30 meters of dolomitic limestone that was accessible near the surface.  This stone is critical to the construction industry and aggregates like those produced here find they’re way into most GTA roads and building projects.  The Dolly Varden – Acton Quarry is listed on the 1904 Ontario Geological Survey and some early lime kilns are still to be found on quarry property.  Dufferin Quarries owns and operates 222 hectares of land that is licenced for limestone extraction and are in the application process for an expansion.  They also operate the quarries near Milton where The Gap in the escarpment is seen from the 401.  The picture below shows the rock face where a fresh cut is being made.  Broken stone lies at the bottom of the rock face waiting to be transported to the main part of the quarry for processing.


Here is a classic example of hiding in plain sight.  This bird has built it’s nest to match the size and shape of the broken tree pictured below.  There is a little wall to stop the wind from blowing in from the west.


The Canada Goose Side Trail has some challenging footing.  It passes through several different types of forests.  You’ll be walking on hard path, rocks, through wetlands and over stumps and roots.


Robin’s Plantain is a member of the aster family along with 23,600 other recognized species.  Robin’s plantain has had several other names over the years including hawkweed a name given it by the ancient Greeks who thought that hawks used the sap to improve their eyesight.  It has a common family name of fleabane.  The plant grows up to two feet tall on a single stock.  Four or more flower blossoms grow at the top of the stock. The plant was used by Native Americans steeped in a tea for it’s medicinal properties.  It was believed to be both a diuretic and analgesic.  It was used to stop bleeding, for coughs, diarrhea and urinary tract infections.


The main Bruce Trail crosses the fourth line and continues east toward Limehouse on the fifth line.  The trail uses these stiles to cross over fences and over half of the Bruce Trail is on private land so there are many of these stiles along the trail.


The fourth line makes it’s way back toward where I parked.


There are lots of trails in the area of Limehouse.  Following the Bruce Trail into town instead of cutting off on the Benton Brown Side Trail will bring you to the Limehouse Conservation Area where the historic Lime Kilns are.

Google Maps link: Canada Goose Side Trail

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Nodwell House – Homestead Farm

August 4, 2016

William Nodwell came to Canada from Ireland in 1838 and settled on Lot 24, concession 8 in Erin Township.  Nazareth Hill hadn’t yet given his name to the town that grew around the farm.  At the time of the county atlas in 1877 the mill ponds hadn’t been created on the Gooderham and Worts property across the street.

Nodwell map

His first log home burned down within a year.  Nodwell then sold the east half of the lot to Angus McMurchy and constructed another log house and barns.  In 1868 the brick house shown in this pictorial was built.  The cover view shows the front of the now abandoned house with it’s second story oriel window.  This is the view of the side of the house as you approach from the driveway.


William Nodwell died in 1845 leaving the farm to his two sons.  Robert bought out Thomas by trading him another farm for his half of the homestead.  A frame barn (now demolished) and shed were added in 1857.  This is the side entrance to the house and possibly the most frequently used of the three.


In the 1890’s the Nodwells were known for raising short-horn cattle.  The family was active in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church which was located on the corner of their property.  The picture below shows the side porch of the house.


In 1895 the house at the corner of the lane was added for use by family members.  In 1926 Mungo Nodwell took over running the farm which was well known for the  seed potatoes he grew.  They also kept a herd of dairy cattle and delivered milk in town with horse and wagon.  This view shows the back corner of the house and the side door which has been bricked closed.


Ross R. Mackay public school is built on land donated by Mungo Nodwell in 1960 from the side of his dairy pasture.  For the next decade an electric fence would separate the cows from the school children.  The east side, or rear of the house, has had a back porch removed.  This room would have served as a place for the removal of dirty shoes and work clothes before entering the house.  Some would call this a mud room.


In 2004 Mungo’s daughter Nina sold the farm and moved to Markdale.  Access to all windows has been closed off with bricks since then.  This shot shows the basement window.


The great room in the house had a plank table that could seat 12 and the family was known for it’s hospitality.  This is the front view of the house facing toward the west and the main street of Hillsburgh.


As I was admiring the oriel window a blue jay arrived to get to the nest that hides behind the front facing.


On the east side of the laneway stands the driving shed.  The Nodwell’s kept many of their farming implements in there when the farm was active.


A look up into the ceiling of the driving shed.


All of the tools were removed from the driving shed except for this level.


The back of the driving shed.


Today there is a proposal to develop Homestead Farm into a subdivision.  Fortunately it looks like the old Nodwell house will be preserved.  More on the history of Hillsburgh can be found in this previous post.

Google Maps link: Hillsburgh

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Berry and Bruce to Borer’s

July 9, 2016

The Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) obtained permission from King George V in 1930 to use “Royal” in their name.  Thomas Baker McQuesten who was an early environmentalist  created the gardens during the Great Depression as a make work project to provide work for unemployed men.  Since then the RGB has grown to include a series of properties that connect the Niagara Escarpment to Lake Ontario in a continuous greenbelt that includes the historic Cootes Paradise.  They have 2300 acres of environmentally sensitive lands that are home to two of Canada’s most endangered tree species, one of which is found only in the park. In 1941 they received a provincial mandate to develop a program that would focus on conservation, education, horticulture and science.  The RBG is a National Historic Site which encompasses much of the map below.


One of the properties owned by the RGB is known as the Berry Tract.  After parking on Valley Road the Berry Tract is on the east side of the road.  In the 1877 County Atlas shown below the properties are owned by John Hayes and William Simpson.  These former pioneer land grants have been abandoned as farms and left to return to a more natural condition.  Notice that the land owners in the lower right corner are the Raspberry families.  They owned the properties adjacent to Cootes Paradise.

Rockchapel (3)

Black Raspberries grow in abundance on the Berry Tract.  The ones in the picture below are starting to ripen and are only slightly smaller than usual.  Most of the berries seen on other bushes are small and dry.  A little rain at the right time might have made a big difference.


The Thornapple Trail is a 3.4 kilometer loop that runs through the Berry Tract.  Near the start of the trail the boardwalk is being over run by wetland grasses.  The trail runs through a small orchard which was planted in the 1930’s.  Apple and pear trees were cultivated here until the 1960’s when the land was bought for conservation purposes.  The apples and pears attract white tailed deer in the fall who come to enjoy a piece of fresh fruit.


The wild grapes are doing quite well as the picture below shows.  Canada Moonseed looks similar to wild grapes but has poisonous fruit.  Moonseed does not have the tendrils that grape vines use to climb.  Grape tendrils often grow opposite to a leaf and have a forked end.  Moonseed fruit has a moon shaped seed and leaves that attach to the stem just in from the edge unlike grape leaves that attach at the edge.  Another distinguishing feature of grapes is that the leaves taste like grapes.


The Bruce Trail runs for 890 kilometers from Queenston to Tobermory but the idea originated with Raymond Lowes of Saskatchewan.  Ray moved to Hamilton where he became interested in the Hamilton Naturalists Club.  In the winter of 1959 he began to dream of a trail winding along the escarpment.  He proposed to the idea to famous artist Robert Bateman suggesting a trail from one end of the escarpment to the other.  On Sept. 23, 1960 the first Bruce Trail Committee meeting was held and by 1963 the trail was established with regional clubs obtaining landowner permission and building various sections.  The trail is named after Bruce County which it runs through as well as the Bruce Peninsula where it terminates.  Bruce County was named after James Bruce who was Governor General of the Province of Canada between 1847 and 1854.  Today the trail has annual visits numbering 400,000 and the Bruce Trail Association stewards over 5,000 acres of escarpment protecting it from development.  There are also over 400 kilometers of side trails marked with blue slashes.  Crossing Valley Road the Bruce Trail leads past several of the 100 waterfalls in the Hamilton Area.  There is a little cluster of five waterfalls near the trail.  Unfortunately Patterson East and West Cascade, Valley Falls and Upper and Lower Hopkins Cascade are all dry on this day.


Another dry waterfall.  A trip in the spring when the meltwater has swollen the streams would show these waterfalls off at their best.


On hot summer days the shade of the Bruce Trail can be a welcome relief to the direct sunlight.  The cover photo shows a set of stairs along the trail to Borer’s Falls.


On April 9th we visited Borer’s Falls and at that time we climbed up from the bottom to see the Lower Borer’s falls as well.  John Borer owned the property with the falls on it at the time of the county atlas above.  The falls drop 15 meters over the side of the escarpment where it powered the Borer family sawmill for almost 100 years.  This sawmill supported the community of Rock Chapel.


Goldenrod Gall Fly eggs were laid into the stems of the young plants during the two weeks that the adult fly lived.  Although called a fly it really doesn’t fly that well and mostly just walks up and down the stems of goldenrod plants.  In about 10 days the lava will hatch and begin to feast on the inside of the plant’s stock.  It’s saliva causes the plant to grow a large ball, or gall, in which the insect lives.  The gall fly can’t live without goldenrod and there are two species of wasps that rely on the goldenrod gall fly for their survival.  They seek out the galls and deposit their eggs into the gall.  When the wasp larva hatch they eat the gall fly larva which means that in effect there are three species fully reliant on the goldenrod for survival.


This male white tailed deer, known as a buck, was standing along the trail near the little community of Rock Chapel.  In 1822 a small frame church was built there by the Episcopal Methodists. Later the Wesleyan Methodists took over and they built a new church in 1876 on Rock Chapel Road which is shown on the county atlas.


Google Maps link: Berry Tract

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Harwood 1

Rice Lake’s Sunken Railway

July 26, 2016

On March 6, 1834 the Cobourg Rail Road Company was chartered to build a railway from Cobourg to Peterborough crossing Rice Lake.  This was one of the first two Railroad charters issued in Canada and it came just a few years after the first railroads were built in the UK.  In the summer of 1996 I set out to investigate the remains of the railway.
The concept had begun in 1831 when several businessmen from Cobourg contracted the Provincial Land Surveyor, F. P. Rubidge, to survey possible routes for a railway from Cobourg to Rice Lake.  The following year a map showing a proposed route following several valleys ran to the community of Sully (Harwood).  Money didn’t show up but the Rebellion of 1837 did and the plan got forgotten until 1846.  This is when Samuel Gore revived the idea as the Cobourg and Rice Lake Plank Road and Ferry Company.  Gore intended to bring lumber and other natural resources to the Cobourg harbour for shipping, thus creating a thriving port community.  His plank road didn’t survive past the first couple of winters but pictures of a similar plank road called The Gore and Vaughan Plank Road were published in a previous article.
In 1852 a new plan was chartered for the Cobourg and Peterborough Railway.  The official sod turning for construction was performed by the wife of the Cobourg mayor on Feb. 7, 1853.  During that first year farmers along the way contributed wood from the forests and labour from their horse teams. The old plank road bed was used but in 1854 a labour shortage was caused by the Crimean War and labour rates rose to $1.00 for a 12 hour day.  German labour was brought in and tragically, 14 of them perished that year to cholera.  When completed at the end of 1854 the trestle was nearly 5 kilometers long making it the longest railway bridge in North America at the time.  The archive photo below shows the trestle set on piles that had been driven into the lake bed.  Each truss was 24 meters long and it took 33 of them to make the crossing.  In the deepest part of the lake a 36 metre swing bridge was installed to allow navigation from one end of the lake to the other.
The view below from Google Earth shows Harwood and the railway causeway reaching out into the lake.  Starting in 1855 John Fowler took over as chief engineer and he began to fill in the cribs below the trusses in an effort to secure them from the winter’s damage.  The trestle from Harwood to Tic Island was filled in and this can still be seen from aerial photography.  The railway manager, D’Arcy Boulton continually defended the railway claiming that Samuel Zimmerman hadn’t properly completed the line when he turned it over and started work on a rival line out of Port Hope.  Boulton suggested that a half a million cubic yards of fill could be dumped into the remaining open cribs and that would solve the trestle problem permanently.  The cover photo shows the causeway as it stretches away from shore as it appeared in 1996.  It is one of four pictures from that trip that have been scanned and added to this article.
The first train from Cobourg to Peterborough ran the 45.8 kilometer track for free on December 29, 1854 to show off the new railway. Celebrations were a little premature as ice damaged the trestle just three days later on January 1, 1855 and the line was shut down until it could be repaired in the spring.  The seventeen truss sections that ran south between the draw bridge and Tic Island were shoved hard enough that the span on the abutment on the island was displaced by four feet.  Ice damaged the bridge again in the winters of 1856-57, 1859-60 and fatally damaged it in 1860-61.  Parts of the trestle collapsed and some claim that a rival railway had removed some of the bolts from the truss sections.  The trestle was permanently closed and the railway from Hiawatha to Peterborough abandoned.  The archive photo below shows damage to the trestle following the shifting of the ice.  Notice how the rail is twisted near the person standing on the bridge.
 Finally I had reached the end of the causeway and found a couple of fishermen trying their luck.  The causeway stretches off toward Tic Island which is hidden by the cluster of trees that have found a home on the rocks.
Harwood 3
The line was sold in 1866 to the Marmora Iron Works for $100,000 but the citizens of Cobourg had invested ten times that much in the railway.  The company planned to bring iron from a mine on Crowe Lake to Trent Bridge at the northern end of Rice Lake by rail.  From there a barge would move the ore Harwood for shipping on the old railway to Cobourg.  The venture went well until 1873 when the economy went bad and the iron market collapsed.  This led to the closure of the mine and by 1877 the company was again bankrupt.  Parts of the rail line were absorbed into the Grant Trunk Railway in 1893.  The picture below shows the rail end in Harwood at Rice Lake around 1865 with a barge tied up at dockside.
Harwood 1865
Hiking to the end of the causeway involves a lot of climbing over tree roots and around rocks.  The picture below shows the width of the causeway as it stretches from the shoreline.  The water level in Rice Lake was raised by about eight feet in the 1920’s when the Trent Severn Waterway was constructed.  The rail berm I was hiking on was originally built 4 feet above the high water mark.
Harwood 2
In 1996 it was possible to make your way a considerable distance from the shore along the old causeway.  This picture is taken from the end looking back to the shore.
Harwood 4
It’s now been 156 years since a train made the crossing but the remains of the Cobourg & Peterborough Railway still have their story to tell.
Google Maps link: Harwood