Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Ridgetown – Port Credit

Saturday, May 23, 2015

It was one of those spring mornings that start off cool, at only 10 degrees, but quickly warms up.  After several recent visits along the Credit River it seemed like a good time to visit the mouth of the river.  Port Credit is an unusual town in that it didn’t grow up around a mill or a cross-roads.  It was a planned community laid out by the government to support the harbour that was being built as a back-up to the harbour in York (Toronto).  The Port Credit harbour is at the river mouth and is sheltered by a pair of break walls and The Ridgetown, a partially sunken bulk freighter which can be seen in the cover photo.  The Ridgetown was also featured in the Adamson Estate on Cooksville Creek.  There is plenty of free parking in town near the library.  We crossed Lakeshore Road where the post office sits on the corner of Stavebank Road.

The Port Credit Post Office, Customs House and Armoury was built in 1931 as part of a “make-work” program during the Depression.  The site had been reserved for government use since 1820 and when the decision was made to build a new public building in Port Credit it was ideally suited.  The Department of Public Works had specific criteria which included “good drainage, easily accessible, in a commercial district, visually prominent, and on a corner lot”.  Post Offices were also to be “fairly” close to the harbour or railway station.  31 Lakeshore Road East met all these criteria.  The building is constructed in a style known as Edwardian Classical which was popular during the reign of Edward VII (1901 – 1910).  Public works had suspended it’s building program at the start of WWII and picked it back up in 1927 with its existing building designs. This is how the Post Office building came to be 20 years out of date in its architecture.


On the west bank of the river stands the lighthouse.  The first lighthouse in Port Credit was built in 1863 but it was separated from the mainland by a flood in 1908.  By 1918 the lighthouse had closed and it stood vacant until it burned down in 1936.  The present lighthouse was built in 1991 and is a replica of the earlier one.


The Port Credit harbour has been active since 1834.  Between 1880 and 1910 the harbour was home to an industry called stone-hooking.   Large flat slabs of shale were raked up off of the bottom of the lake for use in the construction boom in Toronto.  At its peak there were 23 ships registered as stone-hookers in Port Credit.  Today the harbour is protected by two stone breakwalls as can be seen in the 1972 aerial photo below.  The Credit River empties into Lake Ontario where it’s mouth is protected by an angled line of rock.  Running straight out into the lake to the right of this is a second, longer, wall of rock.  We chose to climb out to the end of each of them.  In 1974 the ship The Ridgetown was added at 90 degrees to the end of the straight breakwall to shelter most of the open end of the marina.

Port Credit Harbour

The first breakwall runs out from the eastern bank of the Credit River.  The Ridgetown can be seen in the distance and one of many Mute Swans is watching us in the foreground.


Built for $475,000 in 1905 as a flagship for the Pittsburgh Steamship Company the William E Corey was shipwrecked within 3 months.  After $100,000 in repairs it was ready for service again.  In July 1963 it was placed into British registry and renamed Ridgetown.  Two years later it was sold to Upper Lakes Shipping Limited who operated it until 1969.  Between 1970 and 1973 it served as a temporary breakwall for the construction of the Ontario Hydro Power Plant at Nanticoke.  After this it was brought to Toronto where it spent the winter of 1973.  In June 1974 it was loaded with rocks and sunk to protect the mouth of the Port Credit Marina. The picture below shows the ship when it was the William E Corey.


As we made our way out the lengthy breakwater we got some great views of The Ridgetown.


Finally, we reached the end of the breakwater and our goal of The Ridgetown.  On the right of the ship can be seen the end of the first breakwater that we investigated.


Looking back at the Port Credit shoreline gives you an idea of how long the breakwater is.  The hike along this breakwater is challenging.  The biggest danger comes from dozens of Canada Geese and Mute Swans that have taken to nesting along its length.  They are prepared to defend their nests and several of them got into hissing at us.  On the way back it started to feel like we were running the gauntlet.


The Trumpeter Swan is the largest living bird that is native to North America.  At 28 pounds the largest of the males are also the largest birds capable of flight.  They can be distinguished from the more common Mute Swan by their black bill and feet.  Of all the swans in the mouth of the river and along the two break walls this is the only one we noticed that was a Trumpeter Swan. It was also the only one which was tagged, in this case with a bright yellow “K94”.  This is part of a project to reintroduce these swans which were near extinction.


Port Credit has a cultural heritage designation and there is plenty more to be explored in the area.  J. C. Saddington Park and the Imperial Oil Lands were explored on March 4, 2017 and can be found here.

Google Maps Link: Port Credit

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Nicolston Mill

Monday May 19, 2015

Victoria Day in Ontario and so I had the day off work.  The weatherman was calling for rain starting later in the morning so I decided to make a quick exploration before it started.  As it turns out there was no need to rush because it didn’t rain.

John Nicol arrived in 1828 and built a grist mill on this site.  As the farming community grew around the mill it was converted to also be a feed mill.  It provided flour to farmers and feed to their livestock until 1900 when it burned down.  The community was without a mill until 1907 when it was replaced with this current building.  The settlement came to be known as Nicolston when the post office arrived.  As the town grew it gained a post office, hotel, blacksmith shop, school, a woolen mill and general store.  The town slowly disappeared and the mill was closed in 1967.  It was the last water-powered mill to close in South Simcoe.  The mill area has been converted to an RV campground and it is posted as no trespassing unless you are registered as a camping guest.


The river above the mill dam was quiet and is marked as no fishing.


The mill dam at Nicolston has a series of steps to it as well as an overflow at the side (not pictured)


Many fish migrate between the sea or open lakes and fresh water streams and these fish are known as diadromous.  When settlers arrived and started to put dams up across the local rivers and streams they caused a major disturbance to the migration patterns of fish.  In 1837 Richard McFarlan built and patented a fish ladder to let fish get around his dam in Bathurst New Brunswick.  Nichols mill dam has a fish ladder as can be seen in the picture below.  I wonder if maybe Darwin had seen a fish climbing a set of stairs and that inspired his theory of evolution?


Various wheels transfered the power from the wheel or turbine to the grinding stones inside the mill.  The wooden ribs are slowly falling out of the largest wheel.


Nicolston’s Mill has a large water turbine on the side lawn. Water forced this wheel to turn and transfer energy to a series of wheels and drives like those pictured above.


The spiral casing held the turbine blades causing them to spin by the force of the water rushing through the chamber.


After visiting the mill I decided to take a drive into the countryside to see what I could see.  I found an old closed road that appeared to still have an accessible road allowance.  Along here I found the remnants of a shed which contained several interesting artifacts that appeared to need a good home.

The Calumet Baking Powder Company dates to 1889 when it was established in Chicago Illinois. The company is named after a local word for peace pipe and the area of Calumet City. The company adopted an Indian Head for a logo which later appears to have been copied for the Chicago Black Hawks logo. The baking powder was known as double acting because it started to work while it was being mixed but continued working in the oven as well. In 1929 when General Foods bought them out, Calumet became a brand name for General Foods to distribute under. This little tin was a free promotional sample which was distributed by General Foods Toronto.


I also found a Carruther’s Whole Milk Dairy bottle with a small chip in the lip.  Located at 1315 Davenport Road they marketed their milk with the slogan “Carruthers’ Milk – Stands for happiness and good health, and is essential to both.”  They are listed in the 1928 Department of Agriculture listing of Cheese Factories and Creameries.


In May 1868 Dr. Samuel Pitcher was granted a patent for a product known as Castoria.  It was sold as a laxative.  In 1871 Charles Henry Fletcher bought the rights and renamed the product Fletcher’s Castoria.  The bottle I found says Dr. S. Pitcher on it making it one of the first three year’s production.


Minard’s Liniment was invented in the 1860’s by Dr. Levi Minard in Nova Scotia.  Made with camphor it provided instant relief for sore muscles.  Minard’s liniment is still sold today but you have to travel to the back roads of Ontario to come up with a bottle from the 1880’s like the one pictured below.


The town of Nicolston isn’t much more than a mill and a new subdivision on the hill overlooking it.  This is the view of the mill as you drive up the hill and out of town on the 5th line.



Norval on the Credit

Saturday May 16, 2015

Seventeen degrees under mostly cloudy skies but as the cover photo shows, when the sun came out it was a beautiful day.  Earlier in the spring we had made several visits to the Credit River, working our way north.  The next set of mills north on the river were at Norval on the Credit, now known simply as Norval.

In 1818 the natives ceded the last piece of riverfront for use by settlers.  The earliest pioneer in Norval was Alexander McNab, a loyalist who arrived in 1820.  His brother, James, was a veteran of the War of 1812.  James built grist and saw mills on the Credit.  The village was known as McNabville or McNab’s Mills until the post office opened in 1838 when the name was changed to Norval.  The village grew because it was a transportation hub and a main stage coach stop along the route from Toronto to Guelph.  It had several hotels, the usual blacksmith and carriage shops plus less frequent industries like broom makers and an ashery.  The photo below from 1910 shows the flour mill, grist mill and cooperage (where the barrels were made for shipping the flour).  We parked on the side of Adamson Street North looking out over the Credit River and the former mill pond, which can be seen in the cover photo.


Where Winston Churchill Blvd runs through Norval it is called Adamson Street after General Peter Adamson who bought the mills in 1838.  In 1845 Gooderham & Worts expanded their interests by purchasing the mills in Norval.  They acquired other mills along the Credit River including both Alpha Mills and Silverthorne Grist Mill in 1860. As you walk along you can see the east end of the Norval dam through the barbed wire fence. The picture below shows the hand wheel and gears that opened and closed the gates to control the water level in the mill pond.


The current bridge over the Credit on Adamson Street was opened in 1989 and replaced a wrought iron bridge from the 1880’s.  From this bridge we spotted the Red Breasted Grosbeak in the picture below.  Only the male has the bright red splash on the chest.


The original McNab house was built on the west side of the river, below the dam.  When Adamson took over the mill he put an addition on the house.  Today you can walk through the spot where the house had been without seeing a trace.  The Norval dam is seen pictured below from the west side of the river.  The cement construction indicates that this replacement dam was built in the 1900’s.  Earlier wooden dams were rebuilt on a regular basis as they didn’t last through severe floods.  The sluice gates stand on the left (east end) of the dam.  A fish ladder runs up the west side of the dam and the area near it is a fish sanctuary.


The sluice gates as seen from the west side of the river.  The steel wheels and rods that lifted the gates can be seen on the top of each one.  The sluice gates have trapped a significant amount of trees and branches that are building up behind them now that it is no longer kept clear.


The head race ran across Adamson Street and over to the mills which stood where McNab Park is today.  The flour mill burned down in 1930 and the grist mill was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954.  With the mills out of use, in 1961 the head and tail race were filled in and two of ten bridges in town were eliminated.  The remains of the mill foundations were removed when highway 7 was expanded in 1972.  From Mcnab Park you can see the foundations for an earlier bridge on the east side of the Credit.  With the arrival of the Guelph Plank Road in 1851, the Grand Trunk Railway in 1856 and the Toronto-Guelph Suburban Railway, Norval and it’s mills prospered.


Fiddleheads are very tasty when fried in butter.  They contain antioxidants and are high in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.  They are harvested when the young fern tips are still tightly curled. Unfortunately, this field has opened up a little too much.  We were probably three days too late to enjoy this year’s crop.


The Presbyterian congregation was the first to erect a frame church in town some time around 1838.  They replaced it with a brick church in 1878 and added the parsonage to the rear of the church in 1888.  In 1925 when many Presbyterian churches joined the newly formed United Church the Norval Presbyterian church elected not to join.  Lucy Maude Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, lived in the parsonage from 1926 until 1935 while her husband was pastor of the church.  During this time she wrote 5 of her 20 novels.  The church is seen in the picture below with the parsonage to the left.


The Weslyan congregation built a frame church in 1850 and replaced it with a new building in 1889.  Rather than the usual date stone the Weslyan congregation chose to date their building in the stained glass so that it can be read from inside the church and is in reverse from the street.  The Weslyans elected to join the United Church and today the Seventh Day Adventist congregation shares the building with the United Church.


The only congregation remaining in it’s original church building is the Anglican Church.  Their building was erected in 1846.



The carriage maker’s shop can usually be identified by the second story door used to dry painted parts.  We saw plenty of deer tracks but had to settle for the deer on the door of this building as our only sighting.


Perhaps this is a locally made carriage.


Norval is a village that is full of historic buildings and bridge foundations.

Google Maps link: Norval

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The Old Mill

Sunday May 10, 2015

It was 20 degrees with rain in the forecast and the Japanese Cherry Trees in High Park were in full bloom.  Unfortunately, several thousand other people went to view them as well and there was simply no parking.  (This would have been a good time to use the subway). Fortunately, the Old Mill is very close and has some interesting things to explore.  Parking in the parking lot on the east side of the Humber River we chose to walk as far north as the old dam and then from there back to the mill.

False Solomon’s Seal is growing in the woods along the east bank of the river.  This plant can be eaten in the spring when the stems are still tender.  The native peoples used it for it’s strong laxative properties.  When it is a young plant is strongly resembles another highly toxic plant so please make sure that it is positively identified.


Robins lay their eggs in clutches of 3 to 5 eggs.  They hatch about two weeks after they’re laid and the bald babies with their eyes closed are protected by both male and female birds.  A couple of weeks later and the young birds are already proficient fliers.  A mating pair will raise two or three broods in a season.  Only about 25% of the young will survive the first year with the longest known life span being 14 years.  Robins take the egg shells and throw them at some distance from the nest.  This is to keep predators from robbing the nest.


The Humber was dammed just north of the Old Mill.  Today, most of this has been removed for flood control following Hurricane Hazel in 1954.  An egret stands fishing in the waters just below the water falls.


In the 19th century people had a love for the plumage of the egret and this led to their demise. Egrets are monogamous with both male and female protecting the young in the nest. The little ones are fiercely aggressive with the stronger ones often killing the weaker so that they don’t all reach the fledgling stage. Over hunting lead to their near extinction and the implementation of some of the first conservation laws protecting birds.


The cormorant in the picture below looked like he was having fun.  He rode the river straight toward the fastest part of the water falls.  He did his last second launch and landed gracefully to score a perfect ten.


An earlier mill bridge over Catherine Street was made of steel truss with a wooden decking and it was lost in the spring ice break up of 1916. The picture below shows the bridge on Mar. 29th in the ice field.  Two days later it was gone.

old mill bridge

The bridge was replaced the same year by this three arch stone structure.  Stone arch bridges date back to Roman times and the frequent loss of bridges on the Humber led to the decision to construct this more substantial one.  Frank Barber had pioneered the use of concrete in Canadian bridge construction in 1909 and by 1913 had designed all nine that had been built in Upper Canada.  His design for the bridge at the old mill has survived 99 spring ice break ups and Hurricane Hazel while others up and down the river have been lost.  The Humber River divided York County and the Township of Etobicoke at the time of construction and their crests are carved in stone on either side of the centre arch.


Water from the dam on the river was brought under Catherine Street via the head race which flowed through this passage.


From here it was dropped onto the water wheel.  This type of water wheel is known as over-shot because the water comes from above.  Close examination of the wall in front of the wheel shows that the tail race used to pass through here but has been closed off with new stone. There is a straight line up the wall that marks the old passageway.


The first mill in York (Toronto) was constructed in 1793 at the request of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe and this was the first industrial site in Toronto.  It was known as the King’s Mill after King George III of England who was the reigning monarch at the time.  The mill went into operation the following year when the mill wheels and gear systems arrived from England where they had been forgotten the year before.  The government elected to lease the mill and ended up with a long series of mill operators.  The first mill was a  saw mill but while Thomas Fisher was the miller he replaced it with a grist mill in 1834.  William Gamble bought the mill and replaced it with a new larger mill.  This mill was destroyed by fire in 1849. The fourth mill was built on the same location by Gamble.  During this time it was known as Gamble’s Mill and the upper story was used to store apples.  During the winter a wood burning stove was kept going to keep the apples from freezing.  This practice ended badly when the stove overheated in the winter of 1881 and burned the mill down.  It sat abandoned until 1914 when Robert Home Smith, who was instrumental in developing the Port Lands, bought 3000 acres in the area of the mill to create a subdivision.  He converted part of the site into the Old Mill Tea Garden.  Various additions were made over the next 80 years as the area became a focal point in the community. In the  1990’s significant restoration and reconstruction of the original grist mill was undertaken and in 2001 the Old Mill Inn was opened with 57 luxurious suites.  The picture below shows some of the original stonework from the 1849 mill with the new English Tudor style hotel on top.


The stone on the lower portion of the mill is darker and may represent the foundations of Fisher’s mill.  The cover photo shows the abandoned mill as it looked in 1913 just prior to the start of redevelopment.


I close with this majestic tree simply because it’s nice after months of brown and white photo’s to have a vibrant green one.


Google Maps Link: The Old Mill

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Dufferin Creek

Thursday May 11th, 2015

After previously publishing this area as Garbage Park Toronto I wanted to come back and show some of the beauty of this green space.  After pressuring the city through several agencies they came and did a very poor job of cleaning up the years of garbage that had accumulated.  I will continue to work at getting a satisfactory resolution to this mess.  In the mean time, this park has much to offer because it is virtually unused.  The pictures presented below were taken during several brief explorations on lunch breaks or after work, however, most of them were taken on the 11th of May on my lunch.

Dufferin Street, like other roads in York Township, went through seasons when it was impassable mud.  In 1855 The Gore and Vaughn Plank Road Company was formed to surface the road with planks.  These were cut strips of wood several inches thick that were held together by long steel nails.  The construction and maintenance of these roads was financed through the use of tolls.  A toll booth was built at Dufferin and Sheppard where it operated until 1891.  It can be seen in the historical atlas picture on the cover photo.  There are still traces of the early Gore and Vaughan Plank Road in the Dufferin Creek valley on the west side of the road.  These have been uncovered by the recent channel work on Dufferin Creek.  The picture below was taken on April 28th during a brief exploration of Dufferin Creek on the west side of the road.


When the road was built the pioneers chose to make the decent into the valley by going along the edge of the ravine, crossing in the bottom and then curving back up the far side of the ravine.  The cover photo shows the 1877 historical atlas map of the area.  I have coloured Finch Avenue yellow and Dufferin Street in pink.  The park is green to denote it’s upcoming status as a green space instead of a polluted brown one.  The curve in the road is shown on Dufferin just south of Finch.  In the 1947 aerial photo below, the curve in the old road can still be seen. Dufferin now runs straight up on left side of the picture across a tall berm that hides a large culvert in the valley.  The old road bed can still be seen in the “S” curve that begins just to the right of the road just up from the bottom of the picture.  Finch runs across the top of the picture below.  Two homes (white spots) are seen in the park area just south of Finch with driveways off of Dufferin.  Three driveways of increasing length run south off of Finch, east (to the right) of Dufferin.  The home with the longest driveway is lost under a subdivision but the locations of the other four can still be found.

Garbage Park 1947.jpg

This archival picture shows the corner of Dufferin and Finch in 1958.  The view is looking north where Finch crosses near the middle of the picture.  A house stands on the north east corner where the bus stop currently is.  Across the street on the north west corner stands an old blacksmith shop where a used car dealer now stands. Two mail boxes stand in the near right corner, one for the home whose foundations remain on that corner and one for the building across the road.

Dufferin 2

Walking north from Dufferin Creek the driveway to the first house is marked by a yellow pole. There is an area of old concrete and the remains of the garage are along the side of the dell to the north of the house.  A tree is now growing in the former garage.


The only trail in the park leads from the back of this former house down to the creek valley. Most of the park area to the east of the creek is untamed bramble and hawthorn bushes.  At the valley floor the creek spreads out into a large mud flat before passing under Finch Avenue and entering the West Don River in the G. Ross Lord flood reservoir.


The house on the corner of Dufferin and Finch is almost completely lost now.  A few bricks and the remnants of a chimney are all that survive.  I went down to the valley floor where starting this spring the creek has been channelized for about half of its length.  This quiet section has been replanted with shrubs and small trees.


Along the east end of the park are the driveways of the three homes that used to stand here. Two patches of pavement in the trees are all that remain to mark the location of the home that used to stand closest to Finch Avenue.


The hairy woodpecker is considered to be a species that is not at risk because there are an estimated 9 million individuals in North America.  The one in this picture is digging for his lunch as I was thinking about my own.


The picture below was taken on April 13 and shows the work crew busy creating the new channel for Dufferin Creek  on the east side of Dufferin Street.  A new mouth for the culvert under Dufferin is being constructed with large blocks of cut stone.  A new channel for the creek has been cut and lined with stone.  Along the edges a mesh has been laid down for erosion control.


Now complete, the mesh has been covered with a spray of soil and seeds.  Small trees have been planted along either side of the creek.  Over the coming years this creek will become more natural along either side as the green takes over again and hides the efforts of the work crew.


Dufferin Creek park is unique among our green spaces in that it doesn’t have any maintained trails.  When the city finally gets the mess along the two streets cleaned up this will be one of the truly pastoral places in the heart of our city.

Google Maps Link: Dufferin and Finch

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Toronto Port Lands

Sunday May 3, 2015

It was a beautiful day, sunny and 19 degrees by the edge of Lake Ontario. I parked at Cherry Beach with the idea of walking the beach east to Leslie Street where I could get around the shipping channel and back along Commissioners Street.

The Port Lands are an entirely artificial construction, tacked onto the end of an artificially straightened Don River.  Formerly marsh land at the mouth of the Don River, it was home to abundant wild life.  Gooderham and Worts used the marsh to dispose of animal waste and wheat swill from their distillery.  Soap factories and other heavy industry upstream as well as raw sewage worked together to create Canada’s most polluted river.  By the 1890’s the marsh had become so foul that there was constant fear of cholera outbreaks.  The Don River was straightened from just below Riverdale Farm, but silt continued to be a problem that required annual dredging of both the river and the harbour.  In 1912 the Waterfront Plan was implemented and the city began a program of filling in the Ashbridges Bay Marsh.  The cover photo shows the dredging operation that helped create what became the port lands.

There are some nice spots along the beach in spite of the fact that it is made of rubble and fill. In many places bricks and parts of demolished buildings litter the sand on the shore. Considering that there is a large concrete recycling facility along the Leslie Slip, just past the turning basin, I think cleaning this up must be too simple to occur to a politician.


Although the city attempted to crowd the marsh out it has been re-established in places. New wetlands exist that provide habitat for birds and butterflies.  I notice that the robins and red-winged blackbirds are looking fat and are getting ready to lay their eggs.  The picture below was taken looking back toward the city across a field of Typha (cattails) and European Common Reeds.


As you walk east along the beach the massive tower of the Richard L Hearn generating station remains a focal point along the way.  It stands on the south side of the ship channel beside the newer Port Lands Energy Centre.  Commissioned in 1951 as a coal fired generating station it was in service for only 32 years before being decommissioned in 1983.  At it’s peak in the 1960’s it was burning 400 tonnes of coal per hour which could be offloaded from ships right beside the generator.  The smoke stack was built in 1971 to replace the eight shorter ones that were considered to be polluting downtown. At 215 meters it was one of the tallest in the world at the time.  This is one of three old smoke stacks on the waterfront, all of them are out of service. The other two are on the Ashbridges Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant and Commissioners Street Waste Incinerator.  The picture below is taken from the corner of the ship turning basin looking at the two power generation buildings, with “The Hearn” being on the right.


This boat is sitting beside the turning basin.  The name plate on the front identifies it as a CB2 made by Suka Van Vene.


As you walk along Commissioners Street you come to fire hall No. 30, built in 1928.  This building has it’s single bay bricked off and is now used as a meeting hall.


The four buildings along the east side of Cherry Street are all listed as heritage properties.  On the corner is the former Dominion Bank building from 1920.  It is currently in use as Cherry Street Restaurant.


Next to it stands the 1930 Toronto Hydro Substation.


One of the remaining industrial buildings in the port lands is the former William McGill and Company offices.  The company was established in 1871 on Bathurst Street as coal and wood merchants.  Much of the port lands was used for coal storage and distribution.


The Bank of Montreal building on the corner also dates to 1920.  As the city looks to redevelop the port lands it will be allowing residential and commercial development on either side of the new Don river park.  This block has been proposed for condo development but the heritage buildings will be retained in some form.


Also on this small block are some of the few remaining oil storage facilities on the port lands.  At one time large tracts of land were covered with these tanks.  Most of them have been removed and have left acres of contaminated soil behind.


The plan for a new mouth for the Don river received approval Jan 28, 2015 on it’s final environmental assessment.  This clears the way for the river to be disconnected from the Keating Channel and given a new winding, more natural entrance to the harbour.  Soil would be removed, cleaned on site and used in berms to provide flood control.  Trees would be planted and a new green corridor leading into the heart of the city would be established.  A diagram of this was presented in the companion post, The Don Narrows. The picture below shows the area where the new river mouth would be built.  This was once the site of 40 or so oil storage tanks.


An artists conception of the newly created park lands at the mouth of a naturalized Don River. In the background the artist has included the smoke stack from “The Hearn”.

urbantoronto-2938-8289 (1)

The Docks Entertainment Complex added a drive in theatre in 2000 making Toronto the only city in North America to have a downtown drive in theatre.  It stands on the site of the former Polson Iron Works Limited, a Toronto ship building company founded in 1886.  In the redevelopment scheme, Polson Slip, where they launched their ships, would be converted into the mouth of the river. The 1930 Strauss Trunnion Bascule bridge over the ship channel is seen in the background.


Having seen the turning basin once, I don’t see why I would ever walk down Commissioners Street again.  The beach, however is another story.  You can walk along the beach in one direction and take a small nature trail on the way back.


I’m waiting to see if they will actually complete the naturalization plan for the mouth of the Don River.  That may never happen, but I just might go with my wife to a drive in movie on the waterfront this summer.

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Marchmont Grist Mill

Saturday May 2, 2015

It was 18 degrees with just occasional clouds.  I had the occasion to meet my parents and an older brother in Orillia for breakfast.  West of Orillia is the village of Marchmont, named after the Earl of Marchmont.  It grew up as a small farming community where the mill served initially to grind grain then primarily as a feed mill preparing food for local farmers for their livestock. Other local industries such as the blacksmith also served the needs of the farmers in the adjacent land grants.

Some records indicate a government operated mill here as early as 1834 built to provide employment for local natives.  This didn’t work as expected and by 1843 the mill was sold into private hands.  When the original mill burned in1884 the town went without one for about three years.  A new mill was built in 1887 by Charles Powley who installed two runs of mill stones.  He used one for grinding flour and one for making livestock feed for the local farmers. In 1947 it was converted to a full time feed mill and the flour rollers were removed.  The mill records indicate 13 different people operated the mill until it closed for good in 1987.  It has been used as a private residence since 1989.  In the picture below the dam on the North River creates the beautiful Marchmont mill pond.  The residents used the pond for swimming in the summer and skating in the winter.


Water flows out of the mill pond and over the dam to maintain the water level in the mill pond. When the mill was in operation water was allowed out of the pond and through a flume to the water wheel.  The original wooden flume was replaced in 1910 with the present metal one which is four feet in diameter.  It runs under Marchmont Road and into the mill.  Before the mill was closed the aging pipe had sprouted many leaks.  In the winter natural ice sculptures 15 feel high would be created around the leaks.


The Marchmont Grist Mill as it appears today in service as a home.  The mill is featured in the cover photo as it appeared in the early 1900’s.


The flume is seen entering the side of the mill a few feet above the river level.  At first there was a large water wheel here which was later replaced with the more efficient turbines.  The water was returned to the river through the chute at the bottom.


The spiral casing for the turbine was connected to the end of the flume.  Water is forced into the spiral casing spinning the turbine blades.


The spinning turbine blades power a system of drive shafts, belts and pulleys inside the mill.  A chute would be opened with a hand cranked wheel to allow water to flow into a chamber about 30 feet below the lower floor of the mill.  When running at full speed the turbine could produce 75 horse power.


Corn was brought in by the wagon load, and later on trucks, to be prepared as food for livestock. It would be dumped into a slot on the floor just inside the door where it would drop into a bin below.  Customers brought grains for processing or came to purchase products such as Swift’s Dairy Feed that was produced on site.  In this archival photo we see the front side of the mill where customers would have entered.  In the background we can see the Baptist Church and then the Blacksmith’s house.


Marchmont Baptist church celebrated it’s 127th Anniversary this past weekend.  It’s formation dates back to 1877 when church meetings were held in people’s homes.  Jacob Powley owned a town lot just to the west of the mill pond.  He sold it for $1.00 for the purpose of erecting a church.  In October 1888 thrity-one members of Orillia Baptist Church formed the new congregation that came to be known as Marchmont Baptist Church. In 1923 the church numbered 61 and had outgrown the building.  The abandoned Gospel Hall was purchased and moved as an addition to the back of the church.  In 1962 a new church lot was acquired in trade for the old lot and building.  The cemetery in town belongs to the Baptist Church but is dated to 1832.  This contains the earliest settlers and came under the care of the Baptist church at a later date.  The old church building is gone but the owner of the house pictured below has added a considerable history of the place in the comments at the end of this post.


Across the lane from the old church building stands the former blacksmith shop and an 1860 home from it’s former owner.


Built of local logs in the 1840’s, this house is the oldest one in Marchmont and one of the oldest on it’s original site in Ontario.  It is currently in use as an artist’s studio.


This old board and batten building has the appearance of being an old garage.  The White Rose sign contains the logo for a Canadian motor oil company with roots to the early 1900’s.  By the 1920’s they were opening up stations to serve the growing need for gas for cars.


Old gas pumps stand beside the old garage.  Imperial Oil is Canada’s second biggest oil company, operating under the brand name Esso.


Built in 1898 the old union school building has also been converted into a residence.


It was nice to get out of town and see an historic community that hasn’t been surrounded by development.  It should take the GTA a few more years before it expands to the point that high rises are needed in Marchmont.