Monthly Archives: December 2015

Hiking The GTA – A 2015 Monthly Review

January 1, 2016

Hiking the GTA was able to visit 86 different places in 2015 where we were able to see some truly amazing things.  Each season has it’s own beauty and there are always things to be discovered. Over the course of the year more people became aware of the stories we were publishing and readership increased dramatically.  Therefore a David Letterman “Top Ten” list would really only focus on the more recent stories.  For that reason we present a review of the year 2015 by looking at the most popular post from each month.  A brief outline of the story, a picture from it and a link are provided below.  Thanks to everyone who read one of our stories this past year.  I hope some of you were able to get out and enjoy some of these sites yourself because they are all interesting in their own way.  Plus, you never know what wild life you’ll encounter.

Graydon Hall was released on January 10th.  It visits a former millionaire’s estate finding plenty of evidence of it’s past usage.  The abandoned pump houses featured below are part of the former irrigation system.


The Arsenal Lands was released on Feb. 7th.  The abandoned water tower and rifle inspection building along with the former rifle range made this an interesting hike.  One of the baffles from the rifle range is featured below.


Military Burying Grounds was published on March 22 and re-posted for Remembrance Day. This hike visits the two nearly forgotten places where our early military dead are buried in downtown Toronto.


Originally published on April 19th and recently given a Throwback Thursday release Guildwood Park where the inn is currently being restored.  The post looks at the Guild Inn and it’s history along with several preserved pieces of early Toronto architecture.

Guildwood Inn original

May saw the release of Dufferin Creek which featured the remains of a 150 year old plank road that ran up Dufferin Street near Finch Avenue.  It is related to Garbage Park which was a post featured in The Toronto Star.  The spikes in the planks from the old road are 2 inches thick and 3 feet long.


The first day of summer saw the release of our most popular post of all time.  The Newmarket Ghost Canal features the remains of the nearly completed but long abandoned attempt to link Newmarket to Lake Simcoe by a canal.


In July we completed our first 100 posts on Hiking the GTA and issued a review called Greatest Treks.  One of the most interesting hikes of the month was The Stonecutter’s Dam.  We visited an old dam near the Forks of the Credit which is made of blocks of cut stone.  It also sports a rare stone penstock as seen below.


On August 15th we checked out Kerosene Castle in Oakville.  The castle was built by Richard Shaw who was refining coal into kerosene in a factory across the street on Sixteen Mile Creek. Until it blew up, that is!  When we got looking at the pictures we saw that one of them appears to have a large face in the oriel window.  It doesn’t show up in any other pictures we took that day.

IMG_7400 face

September 12th we visited the Ghost Town of Sixteen Hollow to see what remains of the formerly thriving mill village on Sixteen Mile Creek.  There is plenty of history here but all that remains of the original village is the church and the some newer bridge structures.

Sixteen Hollow 2

October featured a discovery related to the Caledon Aerial Tramway which made for an interesting hike.  On the 24th we found the 2 inch steel cable on The Cox Property. The underground chamber for the cable is seen below.


in 1962 a quarry blasted a gap in the escarpment near Milton.  We visited The Gap on Nov. 14th in a hike that went on to become the second most popular story so far.


December was a busy time but it was an interesting month of hiking as well.  We were back in Oakville on Sixteen Mile Creek on Dec. 13th when we visited The Vandalized Memorial to Taras Shevchenko.  The museum was burned down, the monuments stolen and the site abandoned.


Thanks again for reading Hiking the GTA in 2015 and we hope you all have a great 2016 and enjoy the trails!  We’re looking forward to many great hikes this year ourselves.

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The Devil’s Punch Bowl

Saturday Dec. 26, 2015

The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a 37 metre gorge in the Niagara Escarpment near Stoney Creek where all the various strata of the Paleozoic era can be seen together.  Their colourful sequence along with a pair of waterfalls makes this a gorgeous gorge.  There is paid parking in the Devil’s Punch Bowl Conservation parking lot on Ridge Road in Hamilton.

The history of the Devil’s Punch Bowl name has been lost and all that remains are stories.  One of these stories suggests that moonshiners were working along the Ridge Road and would go into the falls to get pails of fresh water for their wares.  Regardless of the origin of the name it is just one of the local geological features that have been given devilish nomenclatures.  Two other ones are The Devil’s Pulpit and The Devil’s Well, all three of which are far more beautiful than their names suggest.  The history of the gorge is as old as the escarpment and it’s formation over 450 million years ago.  The colours seen in the rock show the various layers as they were laid down in a vast inland sea.  The bowl itself was formed at the end of an ice age a million years ago from the flow of melting ice caps.  The picture below shows the gorge looking away from the punch bowl and toward Hamilton.  A steel cross stands on the right side of the gorge where it has been lit since Dec. 18, 1966 when it replaced a wooden cross on the same location.  The Toronto skyline can be seen from near the cross.


The picture below was taken from the top of the gorge where Stoney Creek plunges over the side.  Sometimes there’s a strong ribbon waterfall here but today the water level was very low.  The sides of the gorge have been filled with piles of talus which hides all but the upper rock layers. Over the years, erosion has broken rock debris off the sides of the gorge until it accumulates in sloping piles most of the way to the top. This makes decent of the sides impossible although I did notice the remains of rappelling anchors on the side of the old bridge abutment near where this photo was taken.


The road passed much closer to the Punch Bowl a hundred years ago.  Half of the north bridge abutment has broken off and fallen toward the creek.  The other half has been defaced with graffiti.  The bridge is right on the brink of the falls which means that either people were more adventurous in the past or the cliff edge is eroding back with time.


As you walk along the side of The Devil’s Punch Bowl you can see full depth of the gorge and the waterfall.  The cover photo also shows the concrete bridge abutment where the road used to pass closer to the gorge edge .  There are stories of people who have either jumped or fallen to their death in the punch bowl and it is important to keep back from the edge as it can give way at any time.


We descended a blue side trail to reach the level of Stoney Creek so we could make our way back into the punch bowl.  The creek bed is littered with broken pieces of Whirlstone formation sandstone that have trees growing up between them.  Along the way, between the train tracks and the lower punch bowl, the creek cascades over several minor waterfalls.


The lower punch bowl is 7 metres deep and 7 metres in diameter.  This second waterfall exposes another formation that is not visible in the upper punch bowl.  The harder sandstone of the Whirlpool formation sits on the bedrock of the Niagara Escarpment which is known as the Queenston Formation and is named after the town of Queenston.  The Queenston formation is made of maroon coloured shale that formed in slow moving waters in an area known as the Queenston Delta.  The red comes from oxidation of iron minerals and the grey-green layers contain shale that has gained an electron during oxidation in a process known as reduction.  This layer can be up to 300 metres thick and is often devoid of fossils.  The sandstone is harder than the shale and therefore it erodes slower leaving an overhang at the lower falls.  This shelf will eventually break off as can be seen by the sandstone chunks at the bottom of the falls.


This is the same layer that is exposed at the Cheltenham Badlands where this picture was taken on July 4th, 2015.


We passed the lower punch bowl and continued to climb the creek bed uphill.  As you enter the Devil’s Punch Bowl from the bottom you pass by sloping talus on both sides to emerge into the round inner bowl.  Even with only a limited waterfall the sight is incredible.  In the picture below a person is standing on talus to the left of the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls.  This gives some indication of the height of the gorge at this location. There are at least 10 distinct formations or layers that can be seen here.  The bottom visible layer is the Whirlpool formation which forms the upper shelf of the lower punch bowl falls.


The capstone of the Niagara Escarpment is known as the Lockport formation and is a hard dolostone.  It has two distinct layers with the second being the first thin light line and below it is the softer Rochester Shale formation which is a darker grey band.  It appears near the top of the picture below.  A second thin light band of dolostone lies just below it.


This shale formation is known for it’s heavy concentration of marine fossils including many trilobites.  The picture below is not mine, unfortunately, but shows one of these fossils that was found in the same geological layer in New York State.


The waterfall bounces off of the reddish layer known as the Grimsby formation.  Directly above it is a grey-green layer known as the Thorold formation.  These two sections, and specifically the contact point between them, provide much of Ontario’s gas production along Lake Erie.


We followed a blue side trail which runs along the the north side of the gorge and links back to Ridge Road.  Along the side of the trail stand the foundations for a former building which had a grand view of the Devil’s Punch Bowl.


As we returned to the car we took a minute to investigate the start of the Dofasco 2000 trail which is right across the street from the parking lot.  This 11.5 kilometer trail will connect to Battlefield House where the Battle of Stoney Creek took place on June 6, 1813.  We only went a short distance where runs through what appears to be an abandoned Christmas Tree farm. This trail offers a potential future exploration.


The Devil’s Punch Bowl can be found at N43.21045 W79.75594

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Guelph Radial Trail – Acton Section

Dec. 19, 2015

Revised Jan. 6, 2016

The Toronto Suburban Railway (TSR) ran between Guelph and Toronto providing commuter service until it was shut down and abandoned on August 15, 1931.  Since that time the line has been dismantled and much of the right of way has been re-purposed, some of it as a hiking trail.  We decided to visit a small section of the Guelph Radial Trail near Acton.  We parked on the edge of town near where Mill Road has been closed off at the bottom end of Fairy Lake.

Mass transit in Toronto got started in 1849 when cabinet maker Burt Williams designed and built 4 horse drawn stage coaches which he operated from St. Lawrence Market to The Red Lion Inn in Yorkville.  On Sept. 11, 1861 the Toronto Street Railway began with a similar route and made some expansions over a 30 year franchise it held with the city.  In 1891 a new 30 year franchise was granted to the Toronto Street Railway under William Mackenzie and James Ross who agreed to eliminate horse drawn buses as part of their deal with the city.  Over the next 30 years the city annexed large areas and was unable to force the Toronto Street Railway to service them under their contract.  When the contract expired in 1921 the city created the Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC) to operate mass transit.

The first trail to the left takes you to the Guelph Radial Trail but first passes through a wooded area where we noticed an odd patch of trees.  There are bent trees throughout the woods but we found one spot where they all appear to have been taken from a large oval and tucked into a knot the middle.


I had originally thought this looked like a circular cluster that had been produced by a spinning wind event but could find nothing on record.  A local resident confirmed that the ice storm of Dec. 22, 2013 had, in fact, caused the cedars to bend over to the ground where they stayed until the spring.  Some recovered but many didn’t leaving this reminder of just how powerful the weather can be.  This individual and his son, like countless others, helped clear the trails in the aftermath of the storm.  The long side of the oval is seen in the picture below.


From the inside the bent trees it’s possible to see a few that have cracked but most of them appear to have been folded over without breaking.


Just below the horizontal branch on the largest tree in the picture below is a “toonie” which shows that trees up to 4″ in diameter have been bent over.


The 1877 county atlas shows Acton as having grown to the east of Fairy Lake along regional road 25 (2nd line) .  A grist mill stood at the outlet on the smaller of the two arms of the lake. Mill Street ran from the mill to Dublin Line (1st line).  We began our hike near the point where Mill Street touches the lower end of the lake.


William Mackenzie, along with his partner Donald Mann, decided to expand their Toronto Street Railway service by adding radial lines to other communities.  In 1911 they surveyed the route for the Guelph Line which would run from Lambton yards for 49 miles to Guelph. Construction began in July 1912 and most of the track was installed in 1914.  The Great War slowed construction as did the building of a 711 foot bridge to cross the Humber  River.  One of the cars for the railway is seen crossing the Humber River trestle in the archive photo below.


Mackenzie and Mann took steps to keep the costs down and this resulted in many curves to avoid purchasing expensive prime land for construction.  This caused the rail line to have to run slowly and this was partially responsible for it’s low ridership, especially in later years.  The line ran on private land, in some cases adjacent to highway 7, as it made it’s way toward Guelph. Personal automobiles led to the demise of the line and by 1929 it was operating at a loss.  In 1931 the daily ridership was down to just 300 passengers and service was suspended on Aug. 15.  The line was abandoned and the rails removed and re-used overseas during WW2. Today the Guelph Radial Trail covers part of the line from Limehouse into Guelph and has painted the trees with an orange blaze to mark the trail


We visited remnants of the TSR in several places this summer and presented photographs in the following stories.  The crumbling remains of the bridge across Silverthorne’s grist mill tail race in Meadowvale and the rotting pilings in the mill pond at Eldorado Park are just two examples.  Today commuters sit on highway 7 and dream about a rail service on a private right of way that could run from Guelph to Toronto.  Perhaps the TSR was just 100 years ahead of its time.

The lot on the corner of today’s regional road 25 and 25 side road was owned by James Bell in 1877 when the atlas above was drawn.  He was born in 1841 to Samuel and Ann Bell who had built the stone barn and house on the property.  The remains of the barn are featured in the cover shot along with the unique silo.  This silo is unlike most that remain in rural Ontario which are made of poured concrete.  This one has been constructed of preformed concrete blocks that were made to look like cut stone.  The Bell’s would have obtained livestock feed at the mill in Acton until the farm became more prosperous.  Later a silo was added to store feed that was grown and milled on the farm.  The block construction of the silo dates it to around the turn of the last century.  The barn has collapsed in on itself and the old beams can be seen in the bottom. Hand made nails give an indication of the age of construction.  James and Agnes Bell were married on Oct. 26, 1877 and the stone house and barn were abandoned after a new brick house was built closer to the front of the property.


The old stone house stands near the barn and it too is slowly falling over.  The rear wall looks like it has about one more good wind storm left in it before it becomes a pile of rubble on the ground. When the Bells cleared the land they found an abundance of field stones which had to be removed to make the land suitable for farming.  These stones provided building materials for the barn and house as well as the fence lines to separate their fields.


We arrived at regional road 25 and walked back through Acton to the car.  We noted an old steel pipe carrying water from Fairy Lake right past the mill and through the heart of town. There’s obviously lots more here for another time.

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The Vandalized Memorial – Taras Shevchenko Museum

Dec. 13, 2015

On the side of Sixteen Mile Creek stand the remains of a memorial park that has been vandalized on multiple occasions. The scattered remnants stand abandoned waiting to see if they will fall victim to land developers or be restored as a public park. We parked on the fourth line where it dead ends south of Dundas Street and set out in the light rain and 6 degree temperatures.
Taras Shevchenko was born in Ukraine in 1814 in the feudal system of the era. He was orphaned at the age of 11 and went on to become one of the country’s most prolific writers composing over 1000 works. Some consider him to be the Ukrainian version of Shakepeare. When his writing was seen as agitating against the czarists regime he was sentenced to serve in a military outpost and banned from writing. Although he could have lived in luxury from his work he chose to live humbly like the people he loved.  He died in 1861 just the day after his 47th birthday.  Ukrainians began to emmigrate to Canada in 1891 and by 1939 there was already a plan to erect a statue in honour of Taras. The Second World War prevented the community from getting things started but in 1950 it was picked up again. The plan was revised this time with a park and statue envisioned for the following year. Ten thousand people attended a performance in Maple Leaf Gardens on June 30th, 1951 which featured 1,500 performers. The following day the park was opened with up to 45,000 in attendance. An archive picture from the opening ceremonies is shown below.


The 15 foot tall statue stood on top of a 70 tonne granite monument. It was a gift to Canada from Ukraine and was shipped here in 121 pieces which included the pedestal and garden stones. The total weight was 51 metric tonnes and the assembly work was completed by two local brothers. The statue was controversial from the start with a split between Communist and Czarist Russia causing the statue to be under 24 hour guard for some time after it opened. The Taras Shevchenko monument is seen below as it looked when the park opened on July 1, 1951.


The Taras Shevchenko Museum opened a year later on July 1, 1952.  It housed over 500 exhibits, mostly from the museum in Kiev.  It included 23 of Taras’ oil paintings as well as carvings and Easter eggs.  On September 16, 1988 the museum was destroyed by an arson. The death mask, an original bronze copy of the mold was the only thing rescued from the museum. It has been moved to the new museum which was opened at 1604 Bloor Street W.  Today an old sidewalk runs to the field where the museum stood until 27 years ago.


Park benches are scattered around the formerly landscaped park. 16.5 acres were planted with over 600 trees and 500 pounds of grass seed. The grass near the bench shows signs of a recent grass fire that threatened to consume the remnants of the park.


The old flag pole still stands in the open field near the monument.


Sometime around Christmas 2006 thieves drove a truck up to the statue. They attached ropes to the statue using a ladder stolen from the caretaker’s property and pulled it to the ground. The scrap value was estimated at $20,000 by police and only the head was recovered. It alone weighs 170 lbs and has been placed in the new museum on Bloor Street.


There was a smaller statue of Taras sitting in a chair reading a book near the entrance to the park but it was stolen in 2001 just a few days after the July 1st celebration of the park’s 50th anniversary. There also used to be ornate iron gates that welcomed visitors off of Dundas street but they too appear to have been stolen for their scrap value. The cover photo shows the entrance to the park with the broken monument in the background. Even the granite marker naming the park has been vandalized by graffiti.

We followed the trail to where an old access road leads down to the level of Sixteen Mile Creek. There is a limited range one can travel upstream on this side before you must climb the ravine to cross a shale cliff. Near here is an old pump house on the side of the creek. There are intake pipes in the river as well as pipes running to the top of the hill. The pump house appears to have been associated with a children’s campground that occupied 47 acres adjacent to the Memorial Park. The children’s campground was closed in 1998.  The picture below shows the view through the open door facing the creek.  Pieces of PVC pipe can be seen on the far embankment and in the water.


The eastern red-backed salamander lives in woodlands and is considered to be the salamander species of least concern for preservation in Southern Ontario. They typically breed in the fall but can also breed in the spring. They can reach population densities as high as 1,000 salamanders per acre. This salamander has a short hibernation period compared with other salamanders and have been known to be seen even in winter. The slow start to the winter season this year seems to have kept this one still active.

IMG_20151213_124021 (2)

Before the current Dundas Street bridge was built the road used to climb the side of the ravine in a switchback that connected with the fourth line. That road was closed to traffic and now provides a link to the hiking trails. We previously visited this site when investigating the Ghost Town of Sixteen Hollow.


The future of the Taras Shevchenko memorial park is uncertain. The park owners had been in negotiations with the City of Oakville to donate the property as a city park when the statue was stolen. At the same time the surrounding land from the children’s camp has been bought by developers who plan 205 single family homes and 125 townhouses on their land. They have been actively trying to acquire the memorial site for part of their development. I’m not sure what is in store for this repeatedly vandalized memorial.


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Shalebank Hollow

Saturday Dec. 5, 2015

Mullet Creek flows through an area known as Shalebank Hollow in Mississauga.  Freshly reforested, the area still retains some evidence of it’s farming past.  Normally I like to look for the unique history of the places we hike but this week I must be satisfied to present a few pictures we took while on a short exploration.  With the passing of our father on Thursday, getting away from things briefly seemed even more necessary than usual but there isn’t time for the regular research and writing.  Therefore, please enjoy the following photo journal of some of the things we saw.

An early horse drawn hay rake known as a dump rake has been left sitting close to Mullet Creek and the trees have grown around it.  These rakes were operated from a seat above the curved steel teeth of the rake where the farmer lifted the implement as he went back and forth to create a windrow of hay.



There are many old “stubby” beer bottles along here plus this worn 1973 Pepsi bottle.


An old building on the floodplain for Mullet Creek has almost completed it’s collapse.





On the hill above the collapsed building stands what may be the original log home on the property.


In the woods are the remains of an old electric fence complete with ceramic insulators.  This type of fence was used to keep livestock from wandering away.


This old steel stove liner is being used in a shelter built in an old deer stand.


Where Mullet Creek crosses Mississauga Road there is this beautiful and restful waterfall that was featured in Mullet Creek’s Secret Waterfalls.


Look for a full feature story coming next week.

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Eden Mills – Back To The Garden

Saturday Nov. 28, 2015

The historic village of Eden Mills is home to 350 people who share the dream to become North America’s first carbon neutral village.  Starting on Nov. 7, 2007, Eden Mills set themselves the ambitious goal of balancing the amount of CO2 that the village emits with the amount it absorbs. Having hiked to The Devil’s Well in the morning we decided to take a short detour on the way home and check out the village. We parked in the parking lot for the community hall and explored a little.

The original inhabitants of the area were the Neutral Confederacy.  They were a group of North American natives who lived up to their name by trading with both the Hurons and Iroquois, two tribes who were at war with each other.  Their territory covered much of what is now Southern Ontario with their numbers reaching toward 40,000 prior to the onset of Europeans who came with their diseases that the natives had no immunity to.  The Neutral may well have been the builders of the Longhouses at Crawford Lake.  The Neutrals lived in harmony with nature much more like the Garden of Eden than the later town which bears it’s name.  With the arrival of three mills on the Eramosa river starting in 1842 the town of Eden Mills was born.  Founded by David Kribbs it was originally known as Kribbs Mills.  Both saw and grist mills were built and they went through many owners in the first few years.  We see paintings of quiet mill ponds with scenic mills and a peaceful community in the countryside.  In reality mills were noisy and usually polluted land, air and water.  The local rivers were used to dispose of saw dust and other waste.  The mills themselves were responsible for making the place less like Eden than the name suggests.  The former Kribbs grist mill stands on the side of the Eramosa river.


When the community began their carbon neutral project they started by determining the baseline for their carbon footprint in January 2008.  With the help of University of Guelph students they set up measurements to be able to quantify their success and provide evidence of their claims.  The 2007 figure of 4,708 tonnes of annual emissions presented the village with a huge challenge. The good news was that over half of the annual emissions were being stored by the local forest. Plans were made to plant certain species of trees that sequester carbon better than others. Sugar Maples absorb four times more CO2 than white spruce or pine trees of a similar age. Over 40,000 trees have now been planted to supplement the existing forest cover.

The picture below shows the tail race for the grist mill which passes under the roadway and returns the water back to the river. It is made of a circle of cut stone with the landscaping being designed to match.


The Eden Mills pond has been drained but it creates a scenic playground in the heart of town.  It is managed and maintained by the Eden Mills Millpond Conservation Association Inc. which is a registered charity started in 1990.


The dam walls and other structures were restored by a group of volunteers who devoted hundreds of hours of labour to complete the work.  This group has also been the inspiration for the current carbon neutral initiative.  A set of wooden steps can be seen at the left in the picture below that have been fixed to the far end of the concrete dam.  They lead down to the summer swimming area of the mill pond.  The pond also supplied water for the saw mill through a head race that was fed from where the spillway is seen as a cut-out section on the dam.


A wooden water wheel is shown in the cover photo and below.  It hasn’t been used in awhile as the overgrowth of vines shows.  This wheel spins in a counter-clockwise direction and is known as a breastshot wheel.  The wooden buckets had water dropped in them at a point near the centre line of the wheel’s edge or just above it.  Breastshot wheels are not as efficient as overshot wheels but were commonly used where high volumes of water flow were available.


The community hall stands beside the mills.  The original building was built in 1893 but burned down in 1917.  It was immediately rebuilt and has now become a good example of the steps taken toward reducing the carbon footprint of the village.  Following a series of upgrades in 2013, it was estimated that the carbon impact of the hall would be reduced by 63%.  They installed a new metal roof and insulated the ceiling.  The windows were replaced with triple glazed Low-E argon windows for increased energy efficiency.  One of the propane furnaces was replaced with an air-to-air heat pump and two heat recovery ventilators were added.


Individual households participate in biannual surveys to help track the progress of the village in reducing, replacing and absorbing CO2.  As of Dec. 1, 2013, they have achieved 75% of the target to become carbon neutral.  Another one of the main objectives was to ensure they all had fun while working on this project.  By all accounts, they have been successful at this too!

The Niagara Escarpment provides an abundance of stone for building materials and the older buildings in Eden Mills are made from cut stone blocks.  David Darby was the town tailor making and mending clothes for the community.  Darby built this stone house in 1859 showing that his trade came early to the village of Eden Mills, just as it did in the Garden of Eden.


Built in the year of Confederation the Eden Mills Hotel is another example of local stone architecture.


The General store is the only three-story building in the village.


As the village of Eden Mills works toward being the first carbon neutral village in North America they are also becoming more and more like the garden from which their name is taken.

More information can be found at

Google Maps link: Eden Mills

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