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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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