Sunday Oct. 5, 2015
The Rouge River flows between two historically significant bridges in Scarborough. I decided to try to hike the river from one to the other. I parked on Sewells Road a little north of the suspension bridge. It was a nice fall day with temperatures in the “no bug” zone of 12 degrees.
Frank Barber (1878-1945) was a civil engineer who designed several bridges in Toronto including the Middle Road Bridge (1909) and the bridge at the Old Mill (1916) both of which were visited in previous posts. In 1912 he designed the suspension bridge across the Rouge River on Sewells Road. At the time, Toronto was expanding and access to new parts of the city was restricted by the deep ravines of the Humber, Don and Rouge Rivers. This was one of the early bridges to provide a permanent crossing to the river in this area.
Suspension bridges are normally a solution for major waterways or wide valleys but this one is just 160 feet long. The bridge deck is concrete suspended 13 feet above the river by two cables securely anchored into the ground on either end. The cables are seen in detail in the cover photo. These cables bear the load of the bridge which is suspended on hangers or vertical rods. Barber completed the bridge in 1912 and it was restored in 1981. It is one of only a few suspension bridges in Ontario and the only one in Toronto. It is also one of 15 bridges listed as heritage properties by the city.
Under the bridge is the distinctive nest of the organ pipe mud dauber wasp. This is an unusual wasp in that the male stands guard at the nest while the female gathers food. One of the main food sources is spiders. The wasps are about an inch long and as such are the largest of their species.
Also under the bridge is the Google logo which is a rare example of graffiti that can actually be read.
Rough Cockleburs grow along the side of the Rouge River. This member of the aster family doesn’t have the usual wind blown seeds. Instead, it spreads through seeds that grow inside of oval heads that are covered with spines. They get caught in animal fur and clothing and can be carried long distances. The cocklebur is also related to the sunflower and daisy and has been used for it’s anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
I had chosen to try to follow the west side of the Rouge because a thirty foot sand bank on the east side of the river can be seen from the road. As you get closer you can see that there are hundreds of Sand Martin holes along the edge of the cliff. These birds dig winding holes into the side of the sandbank where they are difficult for predators to reach. There is a large breeding colony living in this embankment.
After disturbing a Great Blue Heron and traversing a mess of poisonous wild parsnips I discovered that there is an even taller sand bank on the west side. It may be possible to pass on the edge of the river, but not when hiking alone. The strip along the water’s edge is made of material that has fallen down the face of the sand bank and may not be very stable in spite of the thin vegetation growing on it.
My attempt to make my way downstream to the second local bridge of interest wasn’t successful and so I moved my car to the Rouge Park Finch Meander Area parking lot. Near the parking on Old Finch Avenue is a tree with a large number of artist conks growing on it. They can be picked and the white underside scratched to produce pictures or writing which turns brown as the conk dries. The surface then becomes hard and the artwork is permanent.
On October 15, 1954 Hurricane Hazel landed in Ontario bringing heavy rain and strong winds and taking 81 lives in it’s wake. Rivers across the GTA flooded and bridges were destroyed or damaged on every major waterway. Sections of the city were isolated and traffic flow was severely affected. To get people moving again the army was called in to help build temporary bailey bridges. Only one of these remains in service in Scarborough and it is the one on Old Finch Avenue. It is 130 feet long and, along with the wood piers in the middle, was constructed by the 2nd Field Engineer Regiment in just 3 days.
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