Monthly Archives: May 2014

G. Ross Lord Park

G. Ross Lord Park runs from Steeles Ave south to Finch Ave. on the east side of Dufferin Street. The park was created in 1972, mostly for flood control purposes.  It was based on plans developed after Hurricane Hazel hit the Toronto area on Oct. 15, 1954 killing 81 people and causing $137 million worth of damage.

Two mills are marked on the 1887 map of the park area, along with their mill ponds.  A grist mill located on the second property south of Steeles Ave. is the site of Jacob Fisher’s original mill.  I have been unable to find any trace of the saw mill on the second property north of Finch.

Fisherville Mill

Fisherville was named after the Fisher family. Jacob Fisher emigrated from Pennsylvania with 22 members of his family in 1797. They were granted a tract of land which was on both sides of Steeles, east of Dufferin street. They ran a saw mill on the West Don River and later a grist mill which operated with different owners until about 1912.

The Presbyterian church that used to stand near the north east corner was built in 1856 on land donated by Jacob Fisher.  It was moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1960 and I got married there in 2007.  It’s site is marked by a cemetery where this stone from 1840 marks an early settler in the area.

Fisherville stone

The park can be entered by a trail the follows the West Don River south from Steeles Ave. in the hollow east of here.  The trail follows the river winding its way through grand old trees like the one in the cover photo that dwarfs the park bench beside it.  When you are abreast of the old smoke stack on the left, you will be standing in the middle of the old Fisherville mill pond.

In the 1947 aerial photo below the dam still crosses the river in the lower right corner.  The three light patches that straddle the river just above it are the clear space at the bottom of the former mill pond.  The trail passes through the middle one of these.

mill pond 2

A little further along there is still some concrete from the old dam on the north side of the river.


A curved wall of earth  about 10 feet high marks the retaining wall of the old mill pond.  There is a line of older trees behind it  that can be seen from the trail and marks the spot.  Staying on the foot path leads to a little bridge that will take you across the river.  From here it is possible to go back along the fence line to the old mill site.  The curve of the earthen wall is visible in this picture.


The bottom of the mill pond is now growing over with small trees and brush.


Across from Supertest Road there is an entrance to the park off of Dufferin Street.  Two parallel rows of evergreen trees mark the laneway of a home that stood here until the city bought the land and tore the home down in the early 70’s.  These trees were planted around 1950 and now are part of the off-leash area where dogs still run up and down the lane.


The cluster of evergreen trees just to the south of the first parking lot was planted at the same time.  They were planted on the north side of the house to provide some shelter from the cold northern winter winds.  This was a common practice for country homes across Ontario.  This is the view from where the house once stood.  The house looked out over Westminster Creek down in the hollow.


Close by in the woods is an old garbage dump, likely from this house.  The bottles here have all been smashed but date from the late 1800’s into the 1940’s.


Following the trail will bring you to the parking lot off of Martin Ross Ave.  The lower mill pond and saw mill site is most likely somewhere below the new flood control pond built in 1973.  This picture looks at the possible site of the mill, now mud flats when the water level is low.


Google Maps Link: G. Ross Lord Park

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Humber Bay to Bloor Street

Saturday May 24, 2014

It was a gorgeous sunny morning with temperatures soon rising into the 20’s C.  We parked in the parking lot near the Petro Canada on the South Kingsway.  This area was home to Jean Baptisite Rousseau who had a fur trading post at the mouth of the Humber River into the 1790’s.  He greeted Governor Simcoe when he arrived in 1793 to start Fort York, later to become Toronto.  We crossed the Humber on the Queensway and followed the river to the pedestrian bridge at the mouth of the river.

This 1860 bridge abutment for the Grand Trunk Railway stands just to the north side of the rail crossing near the mouth of the river.


The Palace Pier was conceived in the early 1920’s as an 1800 foot long entertainment facility sticking out into the lake.  It was designed by the same company that had opened Brighton Pier in the UK in 1899.   The depression delayed construction and in 1941 the Dance Hall was opened.  The Pier was destroyed by an arson in Jan. 1963.  A footing is all that has been preserved.


Shown in this 1957 aerial photo of the mouth of the river, the Palace Pier juts into the lake on the west side of the river.  Just above the Lakeshore bridge, construction is underway for the bridge for the new Gardiner Expressway.  The darker bridge is the railway tracks and the old bridge abutments can be seen just above, on either side of the river.

Humber mouth

This view is from the footbridge across the Humber looking east to the downtown.  The shore line to the east was extended about 100 yards into the bay by extensive land fill projects in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s.


This monument to the east of the river mouth was dedicated on June 7, 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the QEW highway.  This was also the occasion of the first visit to Canada by a reigning monarch.


In 1908 the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario contracted to purchase electricity from Niagara Falls and began construction on a set of power lines that ran along the lake shore into Toronto.  The towers crossed the Humber just north of the current Petro Canada station from 1910 until 1940. The footings remain on the eastern embankment.


The photo below shows the hydro towers being dismantled at Sunnyside Beach just to the east of here in 1940.

Dismantling Pole

We attempted to follow the river’s edge north from there but found that it quickly became inaccessible.  We did find the bottom of a 1952 soda bottle along here but not much else as it is very overgrown.  We were forced to follow the path of the old Toronto Carrying Place trail which roughly follows Riverside Drive. The scent of lilacs and other garden trees made the walk along the streets a little more enjoyable.


Unable to access the river again we crossed the bridge on Bloor street and started back down along the western river bank.  The main trail takes you behind the boat club and up onto Humber Valley Road.  If you stay with the river you will eventually be forced back up the hillside near this relic sitting in the trees.



It’s possible to climb back down to the river bank at the end of Stephen Dr. but you will only be forced back up again very soon.  Following the Discovery Walks markings along Stephen Dr. will lead you back into the park a short way later.  This wooded area as well as the site of the water treatment plant a little farther along used to be the Humber Valley Golf Course.  Damaged extensively by Huricane Hazel this golf course was taken over by the city as part of it’s plan to control watershed floodplains.

This structure, known as The Pavilion or The Oculus,  was built in 1959 as a public washroom.  It’s location makes security and maintenance difficult and it has been closed for several years.


The leaf coverage is nearly full this week giving the river a secluded and peaceful feeling.


Old Mill to Lambton Mills

Saturday May 17, 2014

The morning was overcast and cool at only 7 Celcius.  We parked again in the lower parking lot at the foot of the Old Mill bridge on Catherine street.  Here we met two guys preparing to go treasure hunting with metal detectors.  They told us that last year they had found a musket ball in this area.  French forts at this site date to 1720 when Magasin Royal stood near present day Baby Point.  The Toronto Carrying-Place trail, a main route to the upper great lakes, also ran up this side of the Humber River making this an ideal location for treasure hunting.

Keeping to the main trail we rounded Baby Point (home to last week’s stone ovens) before entering the woods on the north side of the point in an area known as Magwood Park.  There are several places along here where someone has taken the time to balance a lot of flat stones on top of each other.  This set is just below the third of six little waterfalls between Bloor street and Dundas street.


This person obviously had a lot of spare time and a very steady hand.


Along the top of the hill are several more impressive stone walls and decks looking out over the edge of what is often a hundred foot drop down to the river below.


Along here we found an old utilities pole standing alone in the woods at the top of the hill.  It still had wooded steps at the bottom and metal rungs near the top from when someone used to climb it.  Those a little older than me might think of Eva Gabor climbing the pole to answer the phone in the late 60’s tv show Green Acres.


Following the river you will come to the old town of Lambton Mills at Dundas street.  William Cooper opened a mill here in 1807 and the hamlet of Cooper’s mills was started.  In 1851 the name was changed to Lambton mills.  Soon a town of 500 people stood on either side of the Humber where the Dundas street bridge crossed.  The bridge in the photo below was destroyed in 1954 by Hurricane Hazel.

Humber River flood, Lambton Mills. - 1913

Lambton House was operated as a hotel from 1847 until it closed in 1988.  At one time it was surrounded by mills and a general store.  A fire in 1915 destroyed all the wooden structures on the east side of the river leaving the brick hotel standing by itself.  Today it is tucked in among a bunch of apartment buildings.  Along with the old bridge abutments this is all that’s left of the historic village of Lambton Mills.


This week the trees are much greener than last week and visibility in the woods is becoming limited which makes it easy to walk right past a point of interest and not even see it.  The woods is an ever changing pallet of colour and this week Ontario’s Provincial Flower, the Trillium, appeared for the first time this season.


Ovens Above Old Mill

Sat. May 10, 2014

This was the nicest day we’ve had so far this year for hiking.  It was sunny and 17 degrees C, warm enough to hike in a t-shirt but early enough in the season to be free from mosquitoes.  We parked in the lower parking lot beside the Old Mill bridge on the Humber river.  This magnificent stone bridge was built in 1916 as a replacement for the previous one which was washed out during the spring ice break-up that year.  In the photo below, from March 29, 1916, The Old Mill is abandoned and the earlier bridge is a twist of steel in the middle of the ice flow.

Old Mill Mar. 29 1916

The mill in this photo was built in 1849 and destroyed by fire in 1881. It is actually the fourth mill on this site and is the foundation for the restored inn and restaurant that currently form a local tourist attraction.  The first mill was constructed in 1793 at the request of Governor Simcoe and was the first industrial site in Toronto.

As is our habit we decided to stay away from the paved path going north along the east side of the river.  At this time of the year the ground along the base of the hill is marshy and we had to keep going up to avoid getting wet feet.  We climbed about half way up the forested embankment and made our way along the side of the hill.  There is an animal trail here which includes prints from the local deer.

From our position part way up the hill, we were able to see old stone walls further up the hillside.  Climbing up, my brother found an old stairway and railing in hiding in the trees.  In places, the trees have grown around the old railings.  In others, the railings and stairs go down the hill and suddenly end where the slope increases dramatically.


The tree has grown completely around the fence rail.


Old stairways in the woods always require investigation and this time it was well worth the climb.  We found a series of abandoned terraced gardens with at least 4 old ovens sitting at the top of the hill looking out over the old mill.  Some of these contain ornate stonework likely built with rock hauled up from the river below.


James Baby served in the war of 1812 and when his property was damaged, and he was taken as prisoner, he was awarded land in the area of York (Toronto).  In 1815 he acquired the point of land that overlooked the Humber River and the Kings Mill (The Old Mill).  The land had been a Seneca village and Baby used it to build his estate.  Baby and his family lived on there until 1910 when the government purchased the land with the idea of building a military fortress and barracks.  When this idea was abandoned the land was sold to a developer named Home Smith.  He developed an enclave for the rich and many of these homes had grand views over the ravine.


A set of stone pillars on Jane Street mark the entrance to this early version of a gated community.  Homes started developing the subdivision in 1912 and it is easy to envision Great Gatsby type of garden parties here in the 1920’s.


We found a lot of broken bottles on the hillside as well with dates on them from 1938 to 1947.  Two of the more interesting ones were a Lavoris Chemical Co. bottle which would have contained mouth wash and a City Dairy milk bottle.  City Dairy opened in 1900 and operated until 1930 when it was bought up by Borden’s Dairy.  It was famous for it’s safe drinking milk, which was preferred by the city’s doctors for their own use.  City Dairy was started by Walter Massey, who’s father ran Massey-Harris, because at the time Toronto’s milk wasn’t safe and it was estimated that 400 children a year died from drinking it.


It was a good day for enjoying the spring wild flowers.  Yellow, purple and white flowers carpet the woods.  This dog-toothed violet was one of the first to open itself to the morning sunshine.  A few days from now they will be out in the thousands.


It’s amazing to see how much the leaves have opened on the trees in just one week.


Google Maps link: Baby Point

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Humber Marshes – Urban Oasis

Saturday May 3, 2014

It was a cloudy morning around 7 degrees.  We entered the trail on the east side of the Humber River, south of Bloor St.  This is Etienne Brule park and it is undeveloped.  It is named after the first European to see the Toronto area and who arrived at the mouth of the Humber River in 1615.  Once down in here among the trees and the ample wild life it’s easy to imagine that you’re not in the heart of Canada’s largest city or perhaps its 1615 all over again.  The little trail quickly descends to the marshes and runs along the river bank.  We were surprised to find deer tracks, thinking they weren’t this far down the river.  We stayed along the river until the first pond was passed.  Here the trail climbs the hill and then drops back down.  If you follow the river you will soon come to a stretch of water you can’t get across.  There is a second pond in here which has a permanent opening to the river.  The two ponds on the right hand side of the river show up as green in the shot below because it was taken in late summer and they’re covered in algae.  At this time of year the ponds clear and are home to many wetland bird species.

Etienne Brule Park

We had seen that the deer tacks went into the woods so we followed and it wasn’t long before we saw a female deer.  It’s standing at the edge of the grass with its head hiding behind the tree that’s in the middle of this picture.


We had already determined that you couldn’t get through around the back side of this pond because the hillside is steep and runs right down to the water’s edge.  However, we’d seen the deer come from that way and guessed it knew something we didn’t.  It turns out that the deer had made it’s way along the edge of the water and we could too.  We eventually came out at the river’s edge having got around the point we couldn’t cross.  Somewhere along the way we re-graded this hike from “advanced” to “daring”.  This part of the hike should not be tried.  For our efforts, we got to watch an Egret making it’s way along the opposite shore as it was fishing.



There was a small strip that contained hundreds of freshwater clam shells.


This is an excellent hike if you like bird watching as we identified  more than 30 different species.  Among them were many waterbirds, including Egrets, King Fishers, Swans, Cormorants and Terns.



It was also nice to see the willows turning green and everything else coming into bud.  It seems late this year, maybe that makes it a little more beautiful to see.