Monthly Archives: July 2014

Earl Bales Park

Saturday July, 19, 2014

It was a cloudy day and at 18 degrees, a little more comfortable than last week’s swelter. We parked in the lower parking lot for Earl Bales Park off of Finch.  Climbing the hill to the west of the parking lot brings you to John Bales homestead.

John Bales came to Canada from Yorkshire, England in 1819.  He bought the lot at the south west corner of what is now Bathurst and Shepperd (Lot 15 1-W).  In 1822 he built a log house which was later covered with a combination of cement and pebbles.  A kitchen wing was added around 1850 when the family reached 10 children.  The house still stands and is listed as the 8th oldest house in Toronto.

The picture below shows John’s storey and a half house.  The term storey and an half refers to the upper floor which was tucked under the roof so you could only stand up in the middle.  Log houses reveal themselves by the fact that no upstairs windows cut the roof line of the house.  There are four logs that run around the upper rim of the house, where the lower edge of the roof rests, that tie the structure together and cannot be cut through for windows.  In the cover picture of the house you can see that windows cut the roof line on the kitchen wing which was therefore not built from logs.  In the same picture the older wing has yellow brick chimneys and the newer one has red bricks.


Early wells in Ontario were dug by hand and had to be large enough to allow a man to swing a pick axe.  They were dug in depths up to 30 meters or more.  Early wells had a hand crank which wound or unwound a rope that lowered a bucket into the well.  The invention of hand pumps allowed for easier access to water but were limited in the depth of their draw to about 15 meters.  The old well and pump still exists at the front of the house.


In the woods just behind the old Bales house we disturbed a rookery of American Kestrels.  Kestrels are members of the falcon family and are often confused with hawks, to which they are not related.  There were at least four of them in this small area of trees.


The park sits on land that used to be The York Downs Golf and Country Club and the land forms still show.  Just south of the house is a memorial to the Holocaust.  The memorial includes a chimney on the right which has the names of various death camps on it.  The black wall to the left of that contains the story of the holocaust on one side and 23 panels of names of victims and their country on the other.  This is certainly the most somber place we’ve come across while hiking.


We went back down the hill towards the river.  There is an area where some stuff has been thrown down the hill.  Amongst it we found this old guitar.  It was sold by Eglinton Music Centre which still exists today.  It made me think of a song by Jethro Tull called Songs From The Wood.


We walked back past the car and crossed the 1962 bridge to get to the path that leads down the east side.  We took a few minutes to have a look just north of the 401 and here we found a place where a large mudslide has ripped away part of the hill.  In all my years of hiking this is the first time I have seen this.


An area without larger trees at the bottom of the hill suggests the need for investigation. The foundations of a building lie here.  Another hand pump was found inside the foundation.


R. McDougall & Co. in Galt was a manufacturer of heavy steel equipment from the late 1880’s until they were bought out in 1951.  They specialized in lathes, but apparently also made water pumps.  The one we found here was dated 1921.


Most of the things we find along our journey were designed to last, and so they have. Today, especially in computer technology, we have something called planned obsolescence.  When a new computer is released to the market the manufacturer is already working on a newer version which replace the older one.  From massive card operated machines in the 1950’s to hand held computers, that we call phones for some reason, the change has been swift.  When Apple released it’s iMac G3 computer in 1998 it eliminated all floppy drives and introduced the USB drive which has pretty much made all other external media connections obsolete.  Even as this new technology was being introduced, the vision was already set for cloud-based file storage.  The unit pictured below is a G4 released in early 1999.


If you walk through the woods on a regular basis you start to see that although plants come and go, there is always something edible in season.  From Leeks and Fiddle Heads in the early spring through to Puff Balls in late fall it’s a changing menu.  This week the Black Raspberries are just getting going, but it looks like a good crop this year (and tasty too!). Wild Ginger, pictured below is also in season now.


Summerlea Park

Saturday July 12, 2014

It was another in a string of warm and sunny Saturdays.  It wasn’t very long before we were feeling the effects of the heat and humidity.  The Humber river has a west branch which meets up with the main river in Summerlea park.  We parked both vehicles here and took a brief excursion to the confluence of the two.  The water was high and dirty.


There is a stretch of rocky shoreline here where we found two excellent examples of Crinoid fossils.  Crinoids are marine animals of which about 600 species exist today.  They have a mouth surrounded by feeding arms.  The arms have a mucous that captures food particles as they float past.  The picture below is a species that lives near Indonesia today.


The two crinoid examples below are the best we have seen so far.  The segments of the feeding arms have been particularily well preserved.


We also found a very small piece of pottery about the right size to hold a small candle.


We left one vehicle parked here and moved to the corner of Finch and Islington where we parked the other in Irene Risk Park.  We wanted to look for Rowntree Mills after which the park on the east side of the Humber, just north of here, is named.  We didn’t find the mill because we got side tracked and actually never looked for it.  Along the side of the ravine there is a deep set of woods with multiple steel artifacts.  As we wondered through here we saw deer in front of us. We followed their trail and ended up on the side of the hill again.

Dairy farmers used to sell their milk to local creameries and cheese factories.  They collected the milk in 17 gallon milk churns which were left on a platform at the end of the laneway.  In the 1930’s a smaller 10 gallon churn was introduced.  Creameries collected the milk and packaged it in glass bottles which were delivered directly to the home well into the 1950’s. With the improvement in processing and delivery of dairy products a lot of smaller dairy operations were bought out and closed.   A 1925 list of cheese factories and creameries in Canada lists 1600 in Ontario alone.  By 1998 there were only 270 in all of Canada.  We found the old milk churn in the cover photo which was imprinted with “Canada Dairy” “Oakland” “Toronto”.  In the 1925 directory Oakland Dairy Limited is listed as registration #419 at 108 Nassau Street, near Spadina and College.


It seems like every week we are finding parts of old washing machines.  This is the wringer hood from a Kenmore Visi-Matic wringer washer.  Kenmore was the store brand sold by Sears.  Like the Thor and General Electric we found earlier, this one is from the 1950’s. There doesn’t appear to be a good reason for so many washing machines to be spread out along the Humber River valley.  Jim Gifford in his book “Hurricane Hazel” published a photograph of a washing machine that had been swept out of a home and deposited along the flood plain.  While that may explain the Thor machine, the GE and Kenmore were found well up the side of the ravine.


This washing machine sold for $149.95 in 1954.

Fall 1954 944_96

The side of the ravines in Toronto are strewn with old bricks.  Some of them have a story to tell.  In 1913 the Ontario Government found clay and shale deposits on land it owned in Mimico and opened the Toronto Brick and Tile Company using labour from the Toronto Central Prison which had opened in 1874.  The plant could produce over 2 million bricks per year which were used on government buildings providing a cheap source of construction materials.  During WWII the site was converted into POW Camp 22 and housed German marines and U-boat men.  In 1969 it was closed after pressure from labour unions claiming the factory was taking jobs away from their members.  The Mimico brick below was either made by a prison inmate or a prisoner of war.


As we made our way south along the hillside we got boxed in between two fences.  There is a large assortment of old metal objects along here including an old bbq, an engine, old oil containers and car horn.  We also found an old bottle from the late 1860’s or 1870’s. Bottles from this era are dated by the seam on the side.  On this one the seam only extends to the bottom of the neck and the lip on the top was added later.


It looks like Rowntree Mills will have to wait for another day.


Pine Point Park

Saturday July 5, 2014

We parked in the Pine Point arena parking lot and walked down the hill to the river. During the winter months the long steep run makes this one of the best toboggan hills in the city.  It was 19 degrees and sunny when we set out.  The trail runs under the 401 into a small park that extends to the Weston Golf and Country Club.

Crawford-Jones Memorial Park is named after Jim Crawford and Herb Jones.  Jim Crawford was a police officer and Herb Jones a contractor in 1954.  On the night of Hurricane Hazel they took a small boat along the Humber River and rescued dozens of people stranded in their homes.  The picture below is taken from the park on the east side of the river looking at the stack on the steam plant on Resources Road.  There is a spiral staircase running up the outside of the tower.


Along the edge of the river we saw a couple of dead Crayfish.  Crayfish are fresh water lobsters and live in places where the water does not freeze to the bottom in the winter.   They don’t tolerate polluted water which suggests that the Humber is pretty clean these days.  This was a larger specimen, about 10 cm long, but is missing one claw.


Most of the parks we hike have evidence of a local coyote but we rarely see one.  Coyotes are related to the wolf and have become very successful in urban areas.  Coyotes hunt a variety of small animals and will even eat a crayfish if the opportunity presents itself.  The tracks below were found along the edge of the river.


North of the 401 we followed the embankment on the side of the ravine.  This area is known as Pine Point Park.  Part way along we found a 1963 Pepsi bottle in an area where a lot of old bricks had been dumped.  Among several manufacturers we found Milton Bricks.  In 1877 when the Credit Valley Railway passed through the area of Milton they found a lot of clay and shale. Lot 1 Concession 1 of Esquesing Township belonged to Duncan Robertson and a large amount of Medina Shale was found here.  His son, David, started Milton Pressed Brick and Sewer Company.  Their bricks were pressed before baking and were a much higher quality brick than much of their competition.  By 1901 they were considered to be the best bricks available on the continent.  They employed 200 people at their peak but closed in 1974.  Ontario is unique in the large amount of it’s buildings which are made of bricks. In 1931 27% of Ontario buildings were built of brick while only 6% of Quebec buildings were and 2% or less in other provinces.  Ontario was rich in clay and had a huge export market for lumber which led to this trend in construction in the province.


By the early 1900’s Milton Brick was publishing a catalog of beautiful brick fireplace designs that could be ordered.









A little further along we found the half buried artifact that is in the cover photo.  We excavated enough to determine that it is an old hand crank broadcast seed spreader.  It is rusted right through and likely dates to the 1930’s.


As we were starting downhill to make our way back we found and old set of wooden stairs on the side of the hill.  Beside here in the little ravine we found the wringer from an old General Electric washing machine. Edison General Electric Company was founded in 1889 by American inventor Thomas Edison.  Edison is credited with inventing the long lasting light bulb, phonographs and the motion picture camera among his 1,093 patents.  This washing machine likely dates from the 1940’s or early 1950’s.  Clothes would have been taken out of the washer and pressed between the two rollers to squeeze the water out of them.  This machine had a quick release handle, seen open on the right hand end, to let you get your hand out when it got caught in the rollers.  Earlier versions didn’t have this safety feature and were nick-named “manglers” for obvious reasons.


The hillside trails are fully overgrown and its quite possible to walk within a few feet of something interesting and never see it.  The woods and fields are full of colour and purple is now prominent.  Asters, thistles, bellflowers and violets abound.



Riverwood Part 3 – Zaichuk Property (Mississauga)

Sat. June 28, 2014

Having made our way through the Bird and Riverwood Estates we followed the trail that led up the hillside and left the main trail near the river to be hiked on our return trip.  The upper trail leads past an old red brick foundation from a house that used to stand on the crest of the hill.  John and Theodosia Zaichuck had purchased the northern lot from Ida Parker in the 1940’s and this would have been one of their buildings.  As you near the crest of the hill you pass a small pond on the side of the hill.  When you cross the open field on the trail you will be following the track of an old horse raceway.

Just around the first curve you come to the remains of an old baling machine.  Around 1940 the first machines were made that tied up a bale of hay.  The machine has a set of rakes that collect the dried hay and packed it into a cube.  The cube is tied with two strings and cut into lengths called bales.  Each bale could weigh 70 – 100 lbs.  These were manually stacked into mountains in barns for use by horses, cows and sheep during winter.


We found a Massey Ferguson Logo and the number 9 on one side of the baler.  Massey Ferguson is an international company today, but it had it’s origin just east of Toronto in Newcastle.  In 1847 Daniel Massey opened a simple shop to make farm equipment.  Hart Massey took over his father Daniel’s business in 1855.  He moved it from Newcastle to Toronto where he competed with Alanson Harris.  He merged with Harris in 1891 creating Massey Harris.  Hart wanted to give back to the city and he did so by creating Hart House for U of T students.  He also purchased a lot at Shuter and Victoria streets to create an auditorium for the citizens of Toronto.  Massey Hall opened on June 14, 1894.

Another merger, this in 1953 with Harry Ferguson of England, created what would become Massey Ferguson in 1958.


The MF 9 bailer was sold in 1970 and shared an owner’s manual with the MF 12.  In the manual’s cover picture below the hay is being thrown onto a wagon.  The wagon in the cover photo for the previous hike on Riverwood Estate may have been an earlier version of a hay wagon.

MF 9

The old orchard that runs down the middle of the field attracts deer in the fall who come to enjoy the fruit.  There are several pieces of farm equipment scattered around the Zaichuk property.  A few in the field and many more in the woods on the south end of the field.  The Tiller featured in the cover photo is near the old orchard.  At the west end of the orchard a tangle of grape vines conceals a manure spreader.  Animal manure was saved up to be spread on the fields every year to replace the nutrients in the soil and improve crops.  The auger took the manure and threw it over quite a wide distance.  I remember driving along country roads as a child and seeing these machines at work.  You didn’t pass a field when the farmer was fertilizing it with the car windows rolled down.


Walk back across the field toward the large willow at the south end.  Behind the willow you will find the basement from an older building  This was a small barn or a perhaps a house.


The trees to the east of this foundation contain a large field of garbage.  There are a lot of broken soda bottles here from the 40’s to the 60’s.  A decade ago over 50 intact specimens were rescued from a possible similar fate.  These include a near perfect 1959 Hires Root Beer, a 1954 Wishing Well and a 1959 Canada Dry.  There is also a large amount of household garbage, including the kitchen sink.  This 1960’s gas can looked like it has seen better days.


The remains of a transplanter lay in the edge of the woods. The water tank is mostly rusted away but the frame is still intact. Seedlings were fed into the machine from trays in front of the operators.  A couple of decades ago these various pieces of equipment were still mostly intact and could have easily been used for an interpretive display of mid-century farming methods.


The picture below shows an early transplanter.

There are many other things to be seen in the south woods, including parts of an old truck and an old refrigerator.  This area is best explored in late April to mid May before the leaves are out if you are interested in finding some of the many artifacts that are strewn about.

Milkweed grows in patches throughout the Zaichuk property and also on the Bird property.  This weed has been in decline due to the use of herbicides, to which it is particularly sensitive.  Monarch Butterfly larva live on milkweeds and the decline in the plant has been matched with one in the butterfly.


There is a paved pathway that follows the river and will lead back to the parking lot.

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