Downsview Dells

Saturday March 14th, 2015

It was a couple of degrees above freezing when we parked in the Downsview Dells parking lot south of Sheppard.  With one week left before the official start of spring, there are finally some signs that it is coming.

Bartholomew Bull bought a farm on lot 8 concession 3 (west of Keele between Lawrence and Wilson) in 1830 and gave it to his 2 year old son, John Perkins Bull. When John got married in 1844 he settled on the farm and named it Downs View.  He opened his house up as a place for religious services and during the 35 years he spent as Justice of the Peace he held court in his house and locked the convicts up in the cellar.  The house is currently in use as North Park Nursing Home.  Hopefully they don’t lock up the patients in the old jail.

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When this park was created in 1960 it was named Black Creek Park.  The name was soon changed to prevent confusion with Black Creek Pioneer Village.  Black Creek flows from its headwaters in Vaughan to where it empties into the Humber River in the middle of Lambton Golf and Country Club.  Golf balls are a frequent sight along Toronto’s parks and ravines.  A golf ball will have between 300 and 500 dimples on it, with the number 366 being used frequently. Early in the history of golf, players noticed that older balls with nicks and bruises on them went further. These marks create turbulence in the layer of air closest to the ball and increase the distance the ball travels.  The dimples on the ball are there to act as turbulators. We found a Lambton golf ball that wouldn’t be out of place a few kilometers south of here.

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As we headed south down the west side of the creek we found ourselves climbing in and out of little valleys and hills.  A dell is a small treed valley.  When the name was changed from Black Creek Park to Downsview Dells it was certainly appropriate.  The cover photo shows the entrance to the park in 1963.

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One of the first sure signs of a change in the weather is the revival of those creatures that hibernate.  Not all spiders hibernate.  Many of them produce an egg sac and then die in the fall. Others build a nest inside the bark of a tree or in a rock pile.  At one point we found a split in a rock and dozens of tight little spiders nests inside.  When the weather warms up in the spring they hatch or wake up.  We saw this little spider hanging from a sumac tree.  Later we saw another spider of a different variety.  It was very tiny and perhaps a new hatchling.

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The American Robin migrates south and returns along with the warmer weather.  We saw a large flock of them making their way along the muddy ground listening for worms.  With the ground still frozen below the surface the worms are not yet accessible but at least the spiders are.

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A further sign of spring is the open water on the creeks and rivers in the city.  Two weeks ago we were able to cross at will.  The water has not crested yet and it will continue to rise until the snow is melted and the ground thaws out.  With the slow melt this year we may avoid some of the more serious flooding that a quick melt can cause.

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This giant paper wasp nest is about the size of a soccer ball.  Notice the buds on the tree which are starting to open.

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In the 1930’s the Great Depression resulted in many homeless men drifting through Toronto looking for work.  The original Seaton House was built in 1931 to provide food and shelter for some of these men.  In it’s current facilities since 1959, it has housed up to 900 men at a time, making it the largest homeless shelter in the city.  Seaton House also operates Downsview Dells.  This drug and alcohol rehab centre is tucked within the northern end of the park.  It houses 30 men who are referred there from Seaton House.  The house has a no trespassing sign on the side but is clearly visible from the park.

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Perhaps the high success rate is due to the Ent who stands guard near the drive way to the rehab centre.

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