Sunday June 22, 2014
It was sunny and 25 degrees, a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. I parked on Bridle Path and entered the gardens from there. The upper part of the gardens is an arboretum full of many varieties of mature trees. The main trail will lead you down the bluff and into the Wilket Creek valley. Wilket Creek was known as Milne Creek for the first 150 years of settlement. Here, the creek has been dammed to create a small mill pond as seen in the cover photo. A miniature water wheel has been recreated below the dam. This is an example of an “overshot” wheel where the water would be dropped into the buckets from above to turn the wheel. Inside the mill, the drive shaft that the wheel is turning provides power to turn the gears and pulleys that run the factory.
Alexander Milne and his family first settled on this property in 1817. He built a three story mill and a small community grew around it. The mill stood on the east side of the creek an the top floor was used as a saw mill while the lower two floors were a woolen mill. The wooden wheel in the Milne mill was an overshot wheel, 18 feet in diameter. When the water level became inconsistent at Milne Creek, the Milnes moved to their property on the West Don River at Lawrence. Here the town of Milneford Mills was re-established. Two building survive from this era. One is described separately in a post called “Milneford Mills”. The second has been moved back to Edwards Gardens. One of the buildings in Milneford Mills was a wagon shop. The large door on the end of the upper floor in the picture below is typical of wagon shops where painting and drying were done upstairs. A temporary ramp would allow access to the door.
When the Milnes moved the property was left to turn into a weed patch. In 1944 Rupert E.Edwards purchased the property with the intention of making a country estate. Very soon the city was closing in on all sides and Edwards sold everything to the city for a public gardens.
Leaving Edwards Gardens you enter Wilket Creek Park. As I walked along the west side of the river I found that there were a lot of small rivulets that cut steep channels through the hillside. I kept having to go back down to the river to get around the valleys. Fortunately there are several sets of “stairs” running up the sides of the hills made of tree roots. In the picture below the trail runs between the large trees and climbs a point of land which is over 100 feet high. These hill sides have been kept clean by the groundskeepers, but I did find a 1976 nonreturnable Pepsi bottle.
Along the way the main path follows the creek crossing it on several bridges. Just north of the fourth bridge up from the mouth of the creek lies the ruins of an old dam. The centre piece has been broken out. Erosion was a constant enemy of the settlers who built dams on the rivers. Early wooden and earth dams often had to be rebuilt or repaired every spring. Wilket Creek is prone to flooding and the one end of this dam has been washed clean so that water now flows around it.
This may have been the mill race for this dam but I suspect that it is the original creek bed and that the old mill race has been taken over by the creek.
The remains of another dam stand near the first foot bridge up from the mouth of Wilket Creek at the West Don River. This one, like many others, was likely destroyed by the conservation authority as part of flood control measures implemented after Hurricane Hazel. It has been difficult to find any information on these other millers in the Wilket Creek watershed.
At one point along the top of the hill I began to follow a set of deer tracks through the woods. It wasn’t too long before a young buck stepped out of the woods and posed for a few pictures. I normally see the tail ends of deer as they try to get away but this one was looking me straight in the eye. I had no way of knowing if he was used to being fed by humans or was thinking about trying out his new antlers. He followed me through the woods until I found a place to get out onto Leslie Street.
White Tailed deer bucks grow a new set of antlers every year, beginning in the spring. The antlers generally grow larger every year until the animal reaches it’s prime at 5-7 years of age. Antlers can grow up to an inch per day and are covered with a tissue known as velvet during the growth period. In late summer the antlers calcify, becoming hard and losing their velvet. The antlers come in handy in the fall when the males fight for supremacy and the attention of the females. At the start of winter when mating season is complete they lose their antlers.
Having circled the deer I found a way back into the trees. The trail makes its way along the crest of the ravine until it reaches Sunnybrook Park and the West Don River.
Wilket Creek empties into the West Don River in a rather unspectacular way just beside the roadway into the park.