Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Cataract Electric Company

Saturday July 25, 2015

Another one of those days that are actually too hot for hiking being 29 degrees but feeling like 35.  Personally, I’d rather it be minus 29 than plus when it comes to hiking.  There’s always another layer that can be added in winter but unless you want to feed the local insect population, there’s only so far you can go in the summer.

We found parking on the east side of the river, off of Charleston Sideroad. Parking is also available in the Forks of the Credit Provincial park.  We set off following a fishing trail that we thought would lead to the Cataract Falls and the remains of the Cataract Electric Company.   An archive photo of the five story building is shown below.

Cataract Powerhouse

What it led to was a long hike through poisonous wild parsnip patches and through places where the trail was impassible without fishing footwear.  One of the more unusual things we have seen is a piece of plastic pipe that was running like a broken tap.  The word siphon comes from a Greek word meaning pipe or tube.  A siphon causes a liquid to be carried uphill, against gravity, in a continuous self sustaining flow.  This pipe is carrying water from the river bottom on one side of the log and siphoning it over the log and back into the river.  The mystery is this, how did it get started?


There are several places along the river where evidence of former dams still exist.  This picture shows one of these sites which is just upstream from the Quarry Dr. bridge, seen in the back ground.  Another concrete structure stands on the opposite river bank just down stream from the bridge.


Evidence of former power transmission equipment now lays in the river a little farther along.


During World War two previous styles of temporary bridges were no longer suitable due to the weight of tanks.  Donald Bailey developed a system of pre-formed steel trusses that could be easily adapted to a wide variety of uses which was approved in 1940.  This bailey bridge was built in three days in 1999 by the Canadian 2nd Field Engineer Regiment.  Foundations for a former bridge appear on both sides of the river to the right in the picture below.


In 1818 William Grant, from Scotland, acquired the land at the falls on the north branch of the Credit River near the present day village of Cataract.  The original plan for a salt mine didn’t pan out and eventually a saw mill was built.  A tiny settlement called Gleniffer was started but soon disappeared.  The land was bought in 1858 by Richard Church who started a milling empire at the falls consisting of saw, grist and woolen mills.  The village of Churches Falls was born and would later come to be known as Cataract while the mill pond was known as Cataract Lake. Church’s original dam was just above the falls but it was badly damaged in a flood in 1912.  After that the dam was built upstream where a pedestrian bridge now crosses on the 1912 sluice gates.  This dam was dynamited in 1953 by the Canadian Pacific Railway because they feared that a flood might damage the tracks that run along the western side of the river gorge.  Just a year later Hurricane Hazel destroyed dams and bridges throughout the GTA.  The Credit Valley Explorer scenic rail tour now runs along these tracks.


Church built his sawmill out of wood and it was destroyed in a fire in 1881.  The Wheeler brothers rebuilt it as a three story stone grist mill.  This mill didn’t last and was destroyed by fire in 1885.  John Deagle purchased the property in 1890 and built a 5 story grist mill on the same foundations.  He soon closed the grist mill and converted the structure to the production of electricity.  As you approach the remains of the building a large electrical pole is down on the ground.  The cross beam carried many glass insulators, all of which have been removed.  A cable over an inch thick lies on the ground here as well.


Deagle produced his first electrcity from the Cataract on Nov. 2, 1899 under the name of The Cataract Electric Company Limited to light three experimental street lamps in town.  Due to right-of-way negotiations he supplied electricity to the farm on lot 5, concession 5 in Caledon making it the first farm in Ontario to have electricity.  In 1904 he signed contracts to bring electricity to the villages of Erin and Alton and eventually carried it as far as Orangeville.  He also supplied the Cheltenham Brickyards.  The view below looks out of the end of the power plant, beyond the falls, to the river in the gorge below.  Cataract Falls drops 21 meters over the side of the escarpment here and can be seen in the cover photo as it cascades over the falls.


After the flood of 1912 Deagle rebuilt his mill but sold the power plant just three years later. After several ownership changes it was under the control of the Caledon Electric Company by 1925.  Ontario Hydro purchased the property in 1944 but due to low water levels they shut the facility down in 1947.  The wall below has original Wheeler Brothers stonework in it while the poured concrete in the picture above is a later addition.  The water fall upstream is the site of the pre-1912 dam.  The riverbank has been reinforced twice to protect the CPR tracks above. The earlier work was done with cut stone and is at water level just below the dam.  Concrete was a 20th century addition.


Eastern hemlock grows in selected spots in the park.  It is known as a high yield cone producer and this year appears to be a good year.


We took the trail from the power station directly back into Cataract.  It comes out close to the Cataract Inn.  The window above the door on the left that says Cataract Inn is composed of stained glass.  This was known as the Horseshoe Inn in the late 1800’s.  The window over the door on the right has 1855 written in the glass to denote the date of construction.


A parting shot of the water dropping off the shelves of shale near the remains of the Cataract Electric Company.


Also check out the top 15 treks in the first 100 posts here.

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Hiking the GTA #100- Pernicious Plants and Beautiful Blossoms

April 28, 2014 to July 18, 2015

Presented below is a gallery of plant, flower and fungi  pictures taken during the first 100 hikes on the journey called Hiking the GTA.  This post concludes our celebration of chapter one in this adventure.

On July 21, 2015 I published my 100th post in this blog under the title Hiking the GTA #100 – Greatest Treks.  That post presented the 15 most popular stories on the blog, so far.  I’ve posted a gallery of animal pictures from those first blogs under the title Hiking the GTA – Amazing Animals.  Ontario has many edible plants, some very beautiful ones and several really nasty ones.  The pictures below are in no particular order except that the three most common poisonous ones are presented first.

Giant Hogweed is one of the nastiest plants in Ontario.  It can cause severe burns and even blindness.  These picture shows last year’s stocks and this year’s white blossoms and was published in the Canada Day post on July 1, 2015.


Wild Parsnip is another plant with similar poisonous sap to the Giant Hogweed.  This picture was taken in Riverwood Part 1 – The Bird Property on June 28, 2014.


A third poisonous plant is Poison Ivy.  This patch was photographed at Barbertown on Aug. 23, 2014.


Burdocks have a tiny hook on the end of each stem that inspired velcro.  This one, complete with Lady Beetle, was photographed at The Winding Lane Bird Sanctuary on Oct. 11, 2014.


Coral Mushroom are one of the plants that although relatively rare can be eaten.  This fungi was discovered on Canada Day 2015.


Ontario’s provincial flower is the Trillium.  These were seen on our hike from Old Mill to Lambton Mills on May 17, 2014.


The Yellow Iris is an invasive species that takes over our wetlands and chokes out other plant life.  This patch was seen on June 14, 2014 near Raymore Drive.


Dog-Toothed Violets were seen on the hike where we discovered the Ovens Above Old Mill on May 10, 2014.


The Vipers Bugloss has a brilliant shade of blue.  We found this example during our hike at the Devil’s Pulpit on July 11, 2015.


We found young teasels growing at Glen Williams on June 27, 2015.


Jack-In-The-Pulpit plants can live up to 100 years.  We found this large plant growing in Palgrave on May 30, 2015.


Forget-Me-Nots were used in Newfoundland for their Remembrance Day celebrations before they joined confederation and adopted the poppy.  There were photographed near the Barber Paper Mills on June 6, 2015.


Coltsfoot is one of the first flowers seen in spring.  We found this patch at Churchville on April 3, 2015.


Canada Thistle isn’t native to Canada but appears on our Coat of Arms.  This bee was collecting pollen on a Canada Thistle near the Erindale Hydro Electric Dam on Oct. 19, 2014


Black Willow trees grow in wet areas and reach massive sizes.  This one is in Riverside Park in Streetsville where we visited on Sep. 6, 2014.


Trees suck the chlorophyll back out of the leaves and store it in the woody parts of the tree for re-use the next year.  These trees appear to be doing just that.  These were also photographed at The Winding Lane Bird Sanctuary on Oct. 11, 2014.


Our parks are full of a wide variety of plants which keep the woods alive with splashes of colour from early spring until late fall.  Watch out for the pernicious plants and enjoy the beautiful blossoms as you have your own adventures, Hiking the GTA.

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Hiking the GTA #100 – Amazing Animals

April 28, 2014 to July 18, 2015

Presented below is a gallery of animal pictures taken during the first 100 hikes on the Hiking the GTA adventure.

On July 21, 2015 I published my 100th post in this blog under the title Hiking the GTA #100 – Greatest Treks.  That post looked back at the creation of Hiking the GTA and listed the top 15 hikes as determined by activity on WordPress.  This post presents some of the amazing animals that we encountered along the way.  By hiking quietly and keeping off of the beaten path you have the opportunity to come face to face with some of the wide variety of wildlife we share our parks with.  Most of the animals are more afraid of you than you are of them and will disappear quickly.  In reality some of the plants in our parks are more dangerous than the wildlife.  The following pictures are in the order in which I took them except that I saved my personal favourite for last.  Links to the related articles are provided where additional descriptions of the animals are presented.

This White Tail Deer buck was following me through the woods along Wilket Creek on June 22, 2014.  This was the only creature I saw all year that made me nervous as I’m usually the one doing the following.


The little baby Cross Orb Weaver spiders in this picture are just hatching and look like grains of pepper leaving the egg sac.  The mother spider had previously brought a Daddy Long Legs spider into the web to provide a breakfast to the hatchlings.  Seen near Middle Road Bridge on Aug. 16, 2014


This Red Tailed Hawk was feasting near Barbertown on Aug. 23, 2014.


Also seen in Barbertown was this Dekay’s Brown Snake on Aug. 23, 2014


The Monarch Butterfly below was seen at the forks of the Don on Sept. 14, 2014.


Spadina House has it’s own resident fox as photographed on Dec. 21, 2014.

Spadina 74

This Snowy Owl was seen at the Adamson Estate on Jan. 24, 2015


This coyote was photographed in West Deane Park on Jan. 31, 2015


The beaver in this picture was seen in Etobicoke Valley Park on Feb. 28, 2015


This White Egret was fishing near the dam at The Old Mill on May 10, 2015.


The Red Breasted Grosbeak below was photographed in Norval on May 16, 2015.


This Trumpeter Swan, complete with tracking tag, was seen at the mouth of the Credit River and featured in The Ridgetown – Port Credit on May 23, 2015.


This Black-crowned Night Heron was published in The Forks of the Credit – The Stone Cutter’s Dam on July 18, 2015.  Unlike the Great Blue Heron in the cover photo it does not have long legs and neck.


Hiding in plain sight in the picture below is a new born White Tail Deer Fawn.  This is my favourite picture of the past year and was taken near the Barber Paper Mills on June 6, 2015.


This is just a sample of the some of the amazing animals we saw on our journeys in the first 100 hikes in this blog.  Many others were featured and many more will yet be photographed on future hikes.

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Hiking the GTA #100 – Greatest Treks

April 24, 2014 to July 18, 2015

The following is a look back on some of the most popular hikes in the past 100 blogs. Companion posts will include some of the more interesting plants and animals photographed along the way.

After years of hiking up down down the ravines in the GTA and collecting thousands of pictures I needed a better way to organize and describe my photos.  A friend suggested WordPress and so I took the pictures for Saturday April 24, 2014 and created my first post.  Since then I’ve had the opportunity to hike much of the Humber, Don and Credit Rivers along with a wide variety of other spots.  My mom has become an avid reader and I’ve picked up some other readers along the way.

We’ve visited some very interesting historical places, seen a lot of wildlife and the abundant nature the area has to offer.  We never missed a weekend due to rain-outs.  One hike this past winter never got published when I couldn’t differentiate between the polar bear picture and the egret due to the driving snow storm .  To celebrate this, my 100th post, I thought I’d take a look back at those stories that were the most popular in this first chapter of the ongoing adventure that is Hiking The GTA. Below are the top 15 posts and a link to the full story should something catch your fancy.

15. High Park – Colborne Lodge – Hike Date: Nov. 22, 2014

John Howard donated the land for High Park in 1873.  He built his house, Colborne Lodge in 1837 and it remains largely unchanged today.  This post explores the west side of the park including Grenadier Pond.


14. Humber Bay to Bloor – Hike Date: May 24, 2014

One of the earliest hikes in the blog, this one covers the lower stretch of the Don River.  Near Bloor Street an abandoned building overlooks King’s Mill Park.


13. Guildwood Park – Hike Date: Apr. 19, 2015

Home to the Guildwood Inn, this former artist colony features artwork from several of Toronto’s demolished buildings.


12. Military Burying Grounds – Hike Date: Mar. 22, 2015

The first burial in York (Toronto) occurred in 1794 when Lieutenant Governor Simcoe buried his one year old daughter in the woods behind Fort York.  This became the site of the Fort York cemetery until it was declared full and a second military burial grounds was opened at the west end of the Fort York Commons.


11. Don Valley Brick Works – Hike Date: Nov. 16, 2014

Starting in 1882 and lasting for close to 100 years, the Don Valley Brick Works produced much of the brick used in constructing early Toronto.  This post explores the various buildings as well as the old pit, now converted to a park.


10. Erindale Hydro Electric Dam – Hike Date: Oct. 19, 2014

Constructed between 1902 and 1910 the electric power generation plant in Erindale operated until 1923.  This hike explored the old dam, the surrounding park and the intake housing for the head race to the power station.


9. Bayview Estates – Hike Date: Nov. 2, 2014

The area of Bayview Avenue and Lawrence Avenue was home to several grand estates owned by Toronto’s millionaires in the early 1900’s.  This post visits several of these estates and stops by the pre-1929 Bayview Ave. bridge, pictured below.


8. The Devil’s Pulpit – Hike Date: July 11, 2015

The area around the Forks of the Credit was home to quarries during the late 1800’s.  This post explores an old lime kiln and climbs the 100 metre face of the Devil’s Pulpit.  The picture below shows the view from the top.


7 . Garbage Park Toronto – Hike Date: Apr. 13, 2015

This post was an example of me skipping stones in the big pond called city hall.  I was attempting to get the city to clean up an incredibly polluted stretch of parkland.  I went back and did a regular historical feature on the site in a later post called Dufferin Creek.  The Toronto Star featured the story in their column called The Fixer on April 22, 2015.  You can read their story here.


6. Barber Dynamo – Hike Date: June 6, 2015

Built in 1888 the Barber Dynamo provided electricity to the Barber Paper Mills until 1913 when electrical power was brought from Niagara Falls.  This historic building stands about 3 km downstream from the paper mill.


5. Pottery Road – Hike Date: Aug. 10, 2014

Pottery road likely followed part of an old Indian trail that ran along the Iroquois Bluffs.  When the Bayview extension was built in 1959 Pottery road was cut in two and the part west of Bayview was left to be reclaimed by nature.


4. Half Mile Bridge – Hike Date: Aug. 13, 2014

Built in 1888 this bridge brought the CPR into Union station.  Prior to it’s contruction the CPR train had to back up all the way from The Junction to Union Station.  This bridge across the Don River Valley was abandoned in 2007 and trees now grow beside the rails along the former right of way.


3. Barber Paper Mills – Hike Date: June 6, 2015

Situated on the side of the Credit River in Georgetown, the Barber Paper Mills were the first industry in Canada to build it’s own dynamo and transmission lines to provide electrical power to their mill.  A paper mill was operated here from the mid 1800’s until 1948 when it was closed.


2. Limehouse – Hike Date: June 20, 2015

The village of Limehouse developed around a local lime industry.  The remains of set kilns from the 1840’s and an 1860’s style draw kiln along with the foundations of a lime mill with it’s stone arch and a powder house make this an historically interesting hike.  The Bruce Trail runs through an area known as the Hole in the Wall where you can climb through cracks in the rock face.


1. Newmarket Ghost Canal – Hike Date: June 21, 2015

Although two previous plans to build a canal system using the Holland River had been abandoned when found to be impractical and too expensive, the idea was resurrected in 1904. The canal would run from Cook’s Bay on Lake Simcoe to Newmarket using three locks and four swing bridges.  Cost over-runs and insufficient water supply to fill the locks caused it to be cancelled in 1912 when construction was nearly complete.


Who knows what the future holds?  One thing I’m sure of is this.  If I get the opportunity to do another 100 hikes I’m going to see some awesome things.  Thanks to everyone for coming along on chapter one and let’s see what’s in store in chapter two of the adventure that is Hiking The GTA.

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Forks Of The Credit – The Stonecutter’s Dam

Saturday July 18, 2015

It was the hottest, stickiest day so far this year.  It was already 22 degrees, feeling like 30 at 9:00 in the morning.  By the time we got back to the car the humidity was making it feel like 39 degrees.  You need to carry a lot of water on days like this to avoid dehydration and possible heat stroke.

Peel County was surveyed in 1818-1819 with settlement starting the following year.  Settlers found a rugged terrain that was difficult to farm.  Lot 9 concession 4 was typical of the area and included a stretch of the escarpment where the Credit River cascades through a ravine.  The property didn’t suit farming but there was plenty of Queenston shale and limestone as well as gravel deposits.  It would be used for quarry purposes from the mid 1800’s until the 1930’s.  In 1986 the Ontario Heritage Foundation acquired the property in a combined purchase and donation from Bert Willoughby. Now known as the Willboughby Property it is west of the Devil’s Pulpit which we visited last week. Historical research conducted in 1988 identified several items of cultural heritage significance, a few of which are presented below.

We parked on the end of Scott street and entered the park near the old gravel pit.  As we entered the laneway to the former caretaker’s house we found a single yellow daylily.  These plants usually grow in small clusters so finding a single flower is unusual.  They get their name from the fact that the flowers only last for a single day.  They bloom overnight or in the morning and wither up the following night.  A new flower may grow on the same stem and if the flower is cut off it will continue to bloom for several days.  They come in many brilliant colours with this one having brown stamen which are the male parts and a yellow carpel, or female part.  This example is known as a lemon lily.


At the west end of the property a  gravel pit operated until the 1930’s.  Nearby stood a barn and workshop as well as the caretaker’s house and a windmill.  The gravel pit has started to grow over with trees as can be seen in the picture below.  We found evidence of the other structures but they appear to have all been removed.


As you follow the trail along you will come to the Crow’s Nest side trail.  To the left this trail runs past the Hillis Quarry overlooking the Forks road.  To the right it runs past Crows Nest Quarry and several smaller pits where limestone and sandstone were cut from the hill side.  We took the side of the trail along the Hillis Quarry which eventually loops back toward the river.  Along here an old pump house stands.


Behind the pump house stand two old bridge abutments made from blocks of cut stone.  These supported a siding from the Credit Valley Railway (CVR) that ran to the quarries.  The cut stone from these quarries was used to build some of the grandest buildings in Ontario in the late 1800’s.


What we call Old City Hall in Toronto was actually the third city hall.  It was completed in 1899 using 1,360 train car loads of cut stone.  The grey stone came from the Credit River Valley and may have crossed the bridge shown in the previous picture.  The brown stone was brought from New Brunswick.  The picture below shows the water colour that was created to promote the idea of building a new city hall.


The CVR retaining wall along the siding is part of the built or human heritage on the property. With the rails pulled up and trees growing on the former rail bed this almost appears to be a random wall built in the woods.  The retaining wall is yet another example of the use of cut stone on the property.


The rail siding to the quarries on the Willoughby property joined the CVR near the train station. The train station sat in the clearing at the hairpin turn on the Forks of the Credit road.


The Willoughby dam is about 100 metres upstream from the Forks of the Credit road along a Bruce Trail blue side trail in the bottom of the valley.  With a rise of 1.5 metres it is a migratory obstacle to all but jumping species of fish such as salmon and trout.


Along the side of the river we found a recently hatched nest of Eastern Snapping Turtle eggs. This turtle is considered to be of Special Concern in Canada.  The empty shells look like little curled up strips of paper running down into the hole.


Up river from the concrete dam is a mid 1800’s structure made of blocks of cut stone.  The stonecutter’s dam has a unique stone penstock that can be seen in the cover photo.  The penstock is a stone tunnel extending from the downstream side of the dam.  The intake in the wall of the dam was higher than the exit causing the water to fall through the penstock to deliver energy to turn a turbine or water wheel.  The picture below shows the back side of the dam where a large amount of wood has been washed up over the years.  Many dams were washed out in the major floods of 1878 and 1954 but the stonecutter’s dam has survived. When the Willoughby property was acquired and a conservation plan was developed the restoration of this dam and it’s associated mill structures was reviewed but unfortunately dismissed.


The mill pond behind the stonecutter’s dam is filling up with silt and weeds.  The dam was considered to be impassable to migratory fish but a single salmon was recently caught upstream and this suggests that some can go through (or get tossed over by fishermen).


If you follow the trail past the dam you will have to continue into Belfountain. The Willoughby property has been used for farming, quarrying and has now been turned into a park that hides it’s abundant history among the new growth forest.

The Black-Crowned Heron in the picture below was photographed a couple of days earlier but this bird was auditioning for a spot in the blog by posing for pictures.  This stocky little heron stands up to two feet tall and can weigh two pounds.  Unlike the great blue heron, night herons do not have long necks and legs.


The Forks of the Credit contains ample space for future explorations of it’s natural beauty and historical artifacts.

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Milne Dam Conservation Area

Sunday July 12, 2015

It was 25 degrees and partly cloudy.  Having hiked small portions of the Rouge River in the past I decided it was time to feature some part of it in a blog.  I drove to the founding place for the town of Markham to investigate the Milne Dam.  I parked just off of Highway 7 near Milne Lane, a lane way that once led to the Milne property and dam.

William Berczy was born in 1744 and came to Upper Canada with Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe and basically co-founded York (Toronto).  With a group of German settlers he cleared part of the town site for York as well as building a powder magazine for the Queens Rangers to help protect the town.  His men then cleared Yonge Street from Eglinton to Elgin Mills, a span of 15 miles.  With 64 families Berczy then settled in Markham Township in an area which came to be known as German Mills.  The settlement didn’t thrive but Berczy did and his son Charles became Toronto’s first postmaster.

Alexander and Peter Milne built a dam and a mill on The Rouge River in the 1820’s.  The business prospered and soon there was a woolen mill, fueling mill, ashery and general store. Soon a community named Markham was growing along Markham road to the north of the mills.  The Milnes were also responsible for building mills in the area of Edwards Gardens and in Milne Hollow.  In 1911 Archie Milne, grandson of Peter, built the first concrete arc dam in Canada.  It was washed out in a flood in 1929 but replaced right away.  When it was washed out in the flood of Hurricane Hazel in 1954 it wasn’t replaced.  The Toronto Region conservation Authority bought the property in the 1950’s when they began to acquire the lands in the city’s floodplains.  They replaced the dam in 1973 as part of a master flood control plan and created Milne Dam Conservation Area.

The cover photo shows the side view of the dam where the water falls over the rim and onto the diversion weir at the bottom.  From there it flows to another small dam before being released through a spillway into the open river again.  The picture below is from down stream looking back up at the ten foot dam.  The Milne Fishway can be seen at water level on the right.


The photo below shows the view up into the fish ladder.  The Milne fishway was constructed in 2001 and opened in 2005 at a cost of over $1 million.  Prior to that, the dam had presented a migration obstacle for fish but now another 45 km of the Rouge River was opened to migration. Records show that Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Smallmouth Bass and 10 other species have used the ladder to reach upstream.  During periods of migration, such as spring time, a cage is placed on the top end of the fishway.  This allows the removal of undesirable species such as sea lampreys.  Sea lampreys attach themselves to fish with a suction cup-like mouth and feed on them until they die. The Milne dam is the final barrier to lampreys to keep them out of the upper Rouge River.


The Toronto region has been subject to flooding from the earliest days of it’s founding.  The first written records of floods start in 1797.  The first major destruction was caused by 5 inches of rain that fell in 24 hours in 1878 and washed out mills, bridges and dams.  Other floods happened over the next 66 years until 1954 when Hurricane Hazel hit.  With a death toll of 81 people it was time to get serious about flood control.  15 dams and flood control ponds were planned of which only three were built so far.  Claireville dam in 1964, G. Ross Lord dam in 1973 and Milne Dam in 1973.  The view below is from above the dam looking out across the smooth surface of the Milne Reservior behind the dam.  The orange floats collect debris and prevent it from going over the dam.


These mushrooms look like Fly Agaric which is a psychoactive drug capable of producing hallucinations.  It actually more closely resembles Amanita Crenulata, of the same family, which is highly poisonous. The ring around the stipe tends to be a single fuzzy ring rather than several concentric rings. These mushrooms are the type that are typically shown, although most often red, in pictures featuring elves and fairies.  In a strange twist, children’s books are filled with pictures of poisonous or hallucinogenic mushrooms.


There are some real quiet places along the side of the reservoir where you can sit and watch the fish jump in the air.  As I sat on a log, and roasted in the heat, the yellow tree branch hanging over the water reminded me to enjoy summer while its here because its over far too soon.


With lots of wetlands and woodlands the park is home to a wide variety of wildlife.  It’s excellent for migratory birds and I caught a great blue heron in flight along the far shore in the picture below.


The black raspberry has a distinct taste from it’s red cousin but they were juicy and plentiful. Not to mention how good they taste when put on top of rich french vanilla ice cream.


Where the Rouge River crosses under Markham road stands one of the early businesses in Markham.  Archibald Barker bought this piece of property in 1844 and took out a mortgage in 1852 which likely indicates the date the house was built. The building was constructed to house a store on the south half and the Barker residence on the north half.  Aside from running the store, Barker was a notary public and ran the Rouge Mills.  This building stood near the mill complex and may have provided a place for workers to purchase supplies.


Markham has plenty of history waiting to be investigated in future posts but the Milne Dam Conservation Area is a great place to visit and as I only hiked around one corner of the 305 acre park I’m certain to be back.

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The Devil’s Pulpit

Saturday July 11, 2015

It was 23 degrees and sunny without a cloud in the sky.  We parked along the side of the Credit River just before Dominion Road.  The cover photo shows the area of the Forks of the Credit trestle around 1900.  We set out to investigate the remnants of several elements of this picture. We visited the trestle, the kilns where the chimney is and the white rock face on the cliff wall above and to the left of the kiln known as The Devil’s Pulpit.

This area was surveyed in 1819-1820 with the earliest settlement being at the site of present day Belfountain at the top of the escarpment.  With the coming of the Credit Valley Railway (CVR) the area of the Forks of the Credit became an industrial hub focused on the quarry industry.

At its peak Forks of the Credit had 33 houses, a store, a hotel and a brick school with a Mechanic’s Institute.  Mechanic’s Institutes were places where adults could access the use of books.  Often funded by industrialists with the intention of having better access to educated employees these preceded and often turned into public libraries.  The school still stands on Chisholme Street which is roughly where the third line would have passed had the hill not been so steep.  The picture below shows the date stone indicating that this was Caledon School Section 19 and it was built in 1884.  The date stone also reads Pro Bono Publico or For The Public Good.


Medina or Whirlpool sandstone was noted in an 1863 geological survey however there was no easy way to get it from quarry to potential market.  The CVR was established in 1872 and one of the key objectives in it’s charter was to provide a link between the aggregate resources in the Credit Valley and the markets in Toronto and Hamilton.  It came through the area in 1879 and ignited an industry that would prosper for 20 years.  The CVR built a 1,146 foot wooden trestle, 85 feet high to cross the valley.  At the time it was the longest curved trestle in Ontario but safety concerns led to much of it being filled in by dumping gravel through the trestle.  The archive photo below shows the trestle before being filled in with the Devil’s Pulpit in the background.  Compare this with the cover photo after infilling.


Only three spans over the Credit River and the Forks of the Credit Road remain open with the balance of the old wooden structure now hidden below a berm of gravel.


The original wooden trestle was replaced with concrete support and three steel spans in the early 1900’s. The centre span has steel truss work as can be seen in the picture below, taken from the south abutment, and is also seen in the cover photo.


Portions of the original round wood trestle still support the tracks on both abutments.


Vipers Bugloss or Blueweed grows in barren places and we found a few plants growing in the rocks beside the trestle.  The leaves, especially those closest to the root, can be infused in a tea. This tea is reported to alleviate headaches, fevers and inflammatory pains.  it is also said to give a general feeling of well being, relieving melancholy.


Turkey Vultures are carrion eaters and are the most common of North American vultures.  Like other North American vultures they are not closely related to the European vultures they resemble.  Convergent evolution is the term used to explain two series of random mutations that come out with the same results.  A hundred or more turkey vultures were riding the air currents above the river and the picture below shows just a few of them.


Between the trestle and the top of Chisholme street a siding used to run from the main CVR line to the Hoffman lime kilns.  Twelve draw kilns were built in a ring 30 metres long and 15 metres wide.  The whole set-up was enclosed in a sheltering building.  Several quarries operated in the Forks of the Credit in the late 1800’s supplying cut stone for buildings such as the Legislative Assembly of Ontario building at Queens Park in Toronto.  A layer of Dolostone covered this sandstone and Hoffman built the lime kilns in 1896 to take advantage of this resource.  Moss covers the walls of the pathway between the stone kilns.


Each of the 12 draw kilns were loaded and burned individually and with separate heat control. The kilns were started in a sequence such that there were always some being loaded, some in mid cycle and some being emptied of cooled down lime. The picture below shows inside of one kilns with it’s fire brick lining.  Similar kilns can be found at Limehouse.


The chimney stood 30 metres tall to exhaust the smoke and heat from the kilns but only the lower few metres remain standing.


The Bruce Trail works its way up the side of the escarpment past discarded boulders and small run off streams.  After climbing a little farther you come to an open quarry face of what was known as The Forks Quarries and now is referred to as The Devil’s Pulpit.


As you reach the upper portion of the 100 meter climb a series of stone and wooden stairs have been provided.  A steel cable is anchored into the rocks for added safety.


The view from atop the Devil’s Pulpit is quite spectacular at any time of the year but especially so in the fall when the leaves are changing.  A small white strip near the centre of the picture below, and about a third of the way up, is the railway and is almost lost in the valley below but gives perspective to the distance that can be seen from up here.  It can be seen when the picture is expanded.

Devils Pulpit

The climb to the top of the escarpment is a lot of work but it is well worth it.  The Bruce Trail continues out along the right of way for the third line but we went back down the hill.  The descent is easier and quicker than the ascent but be sure to watch your footing.  You don’t want to get back down too quickly!

Google Maps Link: Forks of the Credit

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Saturday July 4, 2015

Having explored the Cheltenham Brickyards and Badlands we walked up Mill Street and into the village of Cheltenham.  The dominant feature in the area is the Niagara Escarpment which offered prime building material, close to the surface.  Large red pieces of whirlpool sandstone were cut and used for major public buildings in Toronto and other urban centres.  In Chingaucousy Township, outcroppings of Queenston shale proved perfect for making terra cotta (Terra Cotta) and bricks (Cheltenham).  The Credit River winds its way through farms, past mills and industrial sites and provided power and transportation to the early settlers.

Charles Haines emigrated from Cheltenham, England and arrived in York (Toronto) in 1817.  Charles drew a half lot on the Credit River that had excellent prospects for a mill seat.  His first grist mill in 1827 was built of logs and had a single run of stones.  As the needs of the farming community increased a larger mill was required and Haines built a new one with three run of stones.  Haines was taking advantage of increased grain production in Peel as well as grinding American grain.  Under colonial tariffs it was lucrative to turn American grain into Canadian flour and sell it to England.  The grist mill burned down in 1945 and only the foundations remain. This is why Cheltenham has no mills on Mill Street.  The picture below shows the remnants of the dam structure as seen from the south side of the river.


As you look across the Credit River you can see remains of the dam on that side as well.  More imposing is the structure of the saw mill.  The first saw mill was erected by Haines around 1835.  The existing structure is reported to be the third one on the site.  It was built around 1886 and is one of the few remaining saw mills that are close to Toronto.  It is also featured in the cover photo in a shot from Mill Street.


Across from the old saw mill, also on Haines property, is a building called the Honey House.  In this building Theodore Haines, followed by his son Rusty, keep an apiary.  Cheltenham is surrounded with meadows where a wide variety of flowers are in bloom.  Here, the bees can collect nectar which is basically sucrose and water.  They use an enzyme to convert the sucrose into glucose and fructose and then eliminate all but about 18% of the water, making honey. This building is made of yellow and red brick, possibly from Interprovincial Brick, in the most interesting pattern I have yet featured.


Although the bumble bee doesn’t make honey it is useful in it’s own way.  Like the honey bee, it collects pollen from flowers and transfers it to other flowers, completing the process of pollination.


This house was built by Frederick Haines Sr. beside the general store following the fire of 1886.  In addition to running the general store and the grist mill Frederick was a key figure in the town.  The dichromate brick in this house gives beautiful decoration to the home. The extended bay windows give the house a symmetry around the arched entrance.  The building was used as an antique store during the 1960’s and 1970’s before being used as a retreat for the United Church.  It has now come full circle and serves as a private residence once again.


When a fire destroyed several buildings on the main street they were quickly rebuilt.  The General Store is located in a building made of local sandstone and limestone which replaced an earlier frame structure.  It was built in 1887 and has served a wide variety of uses over the years.  As well as being the general store and post office it has also been a bank, library, tailor’s shop and a doctor’s office.  When the telephone came to the community it housed the first local switchboard.  Also, Cheltenham’s first gas pumps were located in front of this building.


William Henry opened a frame inn beside the general store in 1848.  Lost to the fire of 1886 it was replaced with the brick building that stands here today.  The Cheltenham Hotel has dichromatic brick using yellow for corner quoins and window lintels to offset the red brick, making the building look more substantial.


The town has a large collection of historic buildings including several homes on the main street. The one pictured below with the fine scroll work sits across from the end of Mill Street.  It was built around 1875  by Charles King who had purchased the property from Fred Haines in 1870. The front lawn still sports the well and water pump.  This pump was made by R. McDougall & Co. in Galt.  McDougall was a manufacturer of heavy steel equipment from the late 1880’s until they were bought out in 1951.  They specialized in lathes, but also made water pumps, including the one at Earl Bales house and at Spadina House.


Charles Haines built his second house in 1835 on the top of the hill over looking the valley with his milling empire and the town it spawned.  The house is pictured below prior to restoration in 1988.

Top of the Hill-page1

The restored Haines house has now been converted to a bed and breakfast which is conveniently called Top Of The Hill.  The owners are related to Charles and Martha and the house has been in the family since it was built.  In 1988 the house was stripped of some of its additions and lifted up to get a new basement.  Guests of the B&B can relax among family antiques and read the diary written by Charles’ son, Charles, which describes life in the pioneer town.


The Credit River flows through town and makes a beautiful tapestry to portray the trees and the nearly still Canadian Flag.


Charles Haines lies buried in the cemetery across the road from the fire hall.  His legacy includes transferring the name Cheltenham from the UK to Upper Canada.  Several heritage buildings in town were built by himself or his direct descendants.


Cheltenham is a picturesque village which retains much of its historic form and buildings.  For this reason it is designated as a Cultural Heritage Landscape and many of its buildings are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.


Cheltenham – Brickyards and Badlands

Saturday July 4, 2015

We parked at the site of the Cheltenham Brickyards.  It was 22 degrees and sunny, a beautiful Saturday morning.  It was time for us to investigate the brickyards as well as the community of Cheltenham, which will form a companion post.  The brickyards are fenced off so it’s handy to have a camera where the lense can fit through chain link fencing.

Cheltenham is situated on the Niagara Escarpment and the surrounding area has plenty of easily accessible shale deposits.  In the early 1900’s it was discovered that this shale made especially good dry pressed bricks.  Frederick Bruce McFarren was born Oct. 25, 1889 in Toronto and would become one of the best known figures in the Canadian clay brick industry. In 1914 he produced his first bricks in the Cheltenham Brickyards under the name of Interprovincial Bricks.  The brick in the picture below is marked “I B 8 0” for Interprovincial Bricks. Like other less than perfect examples, it has been discarded along the sides of the old railway tracks.


The Brickworks was sold by McFarren to Cooksville Brick in 1928 but Frederick retained a management position there until at least 1955.  McFarren was responsible that year to oversee the conversion of the plant from coal fire to natural gas. The building closest to Mississauga Road is the concrete coal storage shed.  Built of poured concrete with concrete buttresses it was used to store the coal that fed the kilns until 1955.  


Two, three story brick buildings remain on site.  These were known as crushing or mixing sheds and stood just to the north of the kilns and chimneys.  The two buildings feature brick buttresses and overhanging gable roofs.  The cover photo shows all five remaining kiln chimneys along with one of the crushing sheds.  Also seen in the picture below are concrete bases for brick storage sheds and steel beam supports for manufacturing buildings.


Five of the original six brick chimneys are still standing.  These four sided chimneys are built of bricks and reinforced with metal banding.  Originally they were set in pairs but the south eastern one is missing today.  Long buildings containing kilns ran between the chimneys.  The chimneys were used to exhaust the underground ventilation tunnels from the downdraft kilns.  The tunnels and some underground works still remain.  Intercontinental Brick introduced the first continuous or “railway” tunnel type of kiln in Canada in 1922.  The kilns at Intercontinental Brick were built by G. W. Booth.


Two manufacturing plants existed on the site and although they have been removed the brick walled earthworks still remain.


The Hamilton & North Western Railway was incorporated in 1872.  In 1888 they were absorbed into the Grand Trunk Railway.  The GTR was taken over by the Canadian National Railway in 1923.  Mcfarren chose the site of his brick factory carefully.  He needed a place where the raw materials for his bricks could be extracted on site so that he wouldn’t need to pay to transport it.  He also needed easy access to shipping, preferably by rail.  In 1912 a site was selected near the GTR tracks, close to Cheltenham for labour and with easy access to the local shale.  The picture below shows the now abandoned railway tracks and the berm on the right that hides the still active shale pit.


Another local innovation was the bringing of electrical power from Georgetown to power the plant.  Interprovincial Bricks was sold to E. P. Taylor in 1954 and to Domtar in 1955.  It was under Domtar ownership that the brickyards were finally closed in 1964. Meanwhile McFarren had purchased Streetsville Brick with the money he made from the original sale in 1928, renaming it McFarren Brick in 1929.  McFarren is remembered in Streetsville with a park named after him.

The Familiar Bluet is a damselfly, sitting with wings folded, and is common in Southern Ontario. They were darting all around us and one is hiding on the stalk of grass in the centre of this photograph.


The picture below shows what the brickyards may have looked like around 1930.  Several additional buildings can be seen, some of which were workers housing.  Notice the kilns running between the six chimneys.


Eyed Brown butterflies seemed to be everywhere along the sides of the old railway line.  As weather patterns change this butterfly is becoming more common in northern areas.  The less common Smoky Eyed Brown has 5 spots on the forewing instead of just four as on the example in the picture below.


Just north of Cheltenham are the Cheltenham Badlands.  The area of the Great Lakes was formerly an inland sea known as the Michigan Basin where over time a delta was formed of iron rich soil.  This mud was slowly compressed into what is now known as Queenston shale.  The iron in the shale gives it its red colour.  This shale was exposed when cattle grazing removed the protective vegetation cover.  Farming has been discontinued at this site since 1931 but the erosion is ongoing.  The clay seen here is similar to that found at the site of the Cheltenham Brickyards.  A hiking trail used to cross the badlands but people won’t stay on the trails and the erosion is increasing.  Therefore, the area has recently been fenced off while a new preservation plan is developed.


The Cheltenham Brickyards have a cultural heritage designation because they reveal an important use of the local landscape.  Proximity to raw resources and transportation allowed the nearby community to continue to prosper after the decline of the saw mill and grist mill industries.  Look for more on the founding of Cheltenham in an upcoming post.

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