Monthly Archives: January 2016

Slacking In Smokey Hollow

Saturday Jan. 23, 2016

Grindstone Creek flows through Waterdown where it drops over the Great Falls, runs past the former mills of Smokey Hollow then descends the lengthy Grindstone Cascade.  In the 1800’s it provided water power for a selection of mills and industries in the valley below the falls.  Alexander Brown held the original land grant and he built a saw mill at the top of the falls near the current parking lot.  Ebenezer Griffin bought half of Brown’s land and built a mill in the valley below.  in 1830 he had his property surveyed for building lots and the town was born.   Soon other mills were built along the creek to create Waterdown’s industrial hub.   Saw, grist, flour and woolen mills, tanneries and foundries along with factories for rakes, staves, cradles and baskets all arrived.  With the mills came smoke and soon the nick-name Smokey Hollow was being applied to the area. Steam replaced water wheels to turn the machines in the mills and by the early 1900’s electricity was the common form of power.  Competition, shifting markets and fires led to the loss of all industry in the valley and today there are few traces of the milling community left.

Great Falls, also known as Grindstone Falls, Boundary Falls and Waterdown Falls is 10 metres high and 5 metres wide.  The softer Rochester Shale has eroded away below the harder dolostone of the Lockport Formation on top leaving an overhang that will eventually break away as the falls moves slowly upstream.  It is possible to see the rock strata behind the curtain of ice should one climb behind it.


On the west side of the creek are the remains of an oval structure.  The poured concrete on top suggests a construction date in the 1900’s.


Grindstone Creek makes it’s way down the escarpment in two lengthy cascades.  Here the waterway is jumbled with chucks of dolomite that have had the shale eroded out from under them.


Beavers have dammed Grindstone Creek to create a pond for their habitat.  The pond and the little waterfall created by the dam have frozen over and we didn’t see any beaver foot prints in the snow around the dam.  Beavers do not hibernate in the winter but live off of bark they strip from trees.  They keep a stash of branches in the ponds but we also saw several places where they had been feeding.


We see less wildlife in the winter but there is always evidence of their presence.  Distinct footprints in the snow as well as unique feces allow one to identify the creatures that are not hibernating.  We found a set of squirrel footprints that led between food stashes. Squirrels stash many more nuts than they actually need to survive the winter and they forget most of them.  Grey squirrels bury their stashes and the ones they forget often sprout, meaning that the squirrels are beneficial in the spread of nut bearing trees. Unfortunately, the red squirrel piles it’s stashes of nuts on top of the ground where they dry out which means they have a negative impact on the spread of nut trees.  The picture below shows two places where the snow has been dug up and the leaves turned over in search of caches of food.


Water seeps out of the shale along the sides of the Grindstone Creek ravine and forms ice sculptures.


When we returned to the falls we found a group of slackliners enjoying an outing at the gorge.  Slackline is different from tightrope walking in the way the wire is tensioned. For a traditional tightrope the wire is tightly tensioned and the walker maintains their centre of balance above the wire.  A slackwire is made of nylon webbing and is left to stretch and bounce like a trampoline.  The walker moves the wire to keep it under their centre of balance while making the crossing. The start of Slacklining dates to 1976 and is credited to Adam Growsowsky.  Gerald Situ of Toronto Slackliners is seen in the photo below as he makes his way across the falls. Notice that in spite of the freezing temperatures the crossing is made barefoot. The term highlining can be applied when the line is strung above a waterfall like the group was doing over Grindstone Falls.  We witnessed one walker leap off the cliff face with just his harness attached to the line and go sailing out into open air above the rocks below.  The cover photo shows this crossing in context.


Waterdown became a source of cut stone which was used extensively in the early construction of the town.  Stone quarried here was taken to Toronto for use in the construction of King’s College.  A set of cut stone abutments stand at the top of the waterfall.


As you walk along Mill Street you find that there are still remnants of the industrial past of the community.  Typical of mill worker’s cottages from the mid 1800’s the ones pictured below have survived. Originally three homes, this building has been renovated to have just two active doorways. The central unit retains it’s original arched window, unlike the end units.


At the corner of Mill Street and Dundas Road stands a cut stone hotel built in 1824.  It occupies the site of the original log school house.  One of the oldest stone structures in Southern Ontario it is called the American House and the building has had at least one notable modification. The third window from the end on the ground floor has a stone arch set above it.  This arch likely led to the stables in the rear of the hotel similar to the Exchange Hotel in Hillsburgh.  The stone mason that filled the arch in did an excellent job of matching the original stone work.


East Flamborough’s township hall was built in 1857 and served as the local government seat until 1974.  The Waterdown public library is now housed in the iconic building.


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Sand Castles – Scarborough Bluffs

Sunday Jan. 17, 2016

Glacial Lake Iroquois covered downtown Toronto with about 60 metres of water which would have covered all but the dome of the Rogers Centre and left it sticking out of the lake some four kilometres from the shore.  The lake had been left behind when the last great North American glacier retreated.  Lake Iroquois cut a prominent bluff along it’s shore which can still be traced through the area today.  The lake suddenly drained through the Hudson River about 12, 200 years ago when the weight of ice in northern Ontario and Quebec caused the crust to tilt.  The lake drained to a much smaller size called Lake Admiralty whose shore line was about 5 kilometres south of Toronto in an area known locally as the Toronto Scarps.  Since then water levels have been rising due to post glacial rebound as the tilt is slowly reversed. The former shoreline of lake Iroquois has become an escarpment known as the Iroquois Shoreline.  Casa Loma overlooks the city from the top of this escarpment.  The Scarborough Bluffs are also part of the ancient Lake Iroquois shoreline.  A 1912 picture of the bluffs from the Toronto archives is presented below.

Scarborough Bluffs. - [ca. 1912]

The Scarborough Bluffs had been eroding at a pace of a metre per year until recent erosion controls have slowed the pace.  The sand that has been falling into Lake Ontario is carried by the westward rotation of the lake and deposited near the harbour in Toronto. Over the centuries this deposit has formed Toronto Islands.  When Elizabeth Simcoe came with her husband to found the town of York (Toronto) in 1793 she took an active interest in the land around her.  Her journal provides key insights into the founding of the town and pioneer life in it.  She hiked up and down the Don River as well as around the islands.  She fell in love with an area east of the city that reminded her of home.  Along with her husband, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, she contemplated building a summer home on top of the bluffs and calling it Scarborough.  From this we get the name of the township and the city that grew there.  The picture below shows some of the bluffs in Bluffer’s Park where I parked.  Brimley Avenue is one of the few places where one can drive down the bluffs to the beach level.


The cliffs at Scarborough, North Yorkshire in England are made of limestone and not sand like the ones near York.  However, the local ones reminded Elizabeth of the cliffs near her home and so she named them the Scarborough Bluffs.  The picture below is taken from and shows the remains of the 12th century Scarborough Castle on top of the cliffs in England.  These cliffs have changed relatively little since Elizabeth viewed them in the 1790’s.

scarborough england

The sand formation of the Scarborough Bluffs occurred when the area was the bottom of a large river delta.  The first 46 metres (150 feet) contain the fossils of plants and animals while the upper 51 metres (200 feet) is a mix of boulder clay and sand that was left during the retreat of the last ice age.  The Rogers Centre would rise to about the same height as the bluffs if it was built beside them.  The bluffs run for a distance of about 15 kilometres east from Victoria Park Avenue to the mouth of Highland Creek.


A thousand years ago the bluffs were a full kilometre farther out into the lake.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s it was fashionable to build homes on top of the bluffs overlooking the lake.  This destabilized the sand below and sped up erosion.  Many of these cottages have already had the ground disappear from below them.  To slow erosion the city has built hard shorelines with large chunks of rock along portions of the bluffs.  Even with these controls in place the piles of sand are under constant attack from wind, rain and ice.  The various shapes of sand that are pictured here will certainly be different a year from now.  The picture below shows the cracks that appear in the sand and where new sections can collapse at any time.


A storm was brewing out over the lake but it was a nice enough day along the bluffs and several people were here taking pictures.  Some were climbing the bluffs which speeds up erosion and ends up with an ever growing list of people who get trapped and need to be rescued.  If this happens to you, expect to get an expensive bill in the mail.


This part of the bluffs has eroded with an open core down the middle.


I walked along the edge of the bluffs where the sand has collapsed into fresh piles of talus. Some appeared to have come down since the last good rain.  They say that if you listen closely to the bluffs you can hear the sand shifting inside.  Looking down the bluff face there is a large corrugated storm pipe sticking out.  This is set in a ravine that can’t be seen from this angle but the length of pipe sticking out is an indication of the amount of erosion that has taken place since it was laid.  The pipe itself has corroded and icicles hang from a large hole about 2 metres from the end.


Bluffer’s Park, including the upper meadow, is a great place for bird watching.  In season the meadow is also home to many species of butterflies.  The cardinal in the picture below provided a bright red splash of colour in the trees near the ponds.


Storm water collects on all the paved surfaces in the city and runs along roadways picking up contaminants. These are carried into the storm drains and eventually out into the the lake. Toronto has implemented a Dunker’s Flow system in Bluffer’s Park. The picture below shows where the storm water is released at the bottom of the bluffs after being collected up top.


Karl Dunkers, of Sweden, invented a system for storm water purification.  Storm water is released into the first of five cells where it begins to have impurities filtered out.  The picture below shows the settling ponds and the walkways in between some of them.  Each walkway has a screen suspended below it that causes solids to drop out of the water before it passes into the next cell.  The final cell is a naturalized wetland where marsh grasses provide a living filter before the water enters the lake.  When the sediment in the filtration cells reaches a certain level it is removed.


Two small peninsulas have been created to provide protection for the bluffs and to give vantage points for people to enjoy the view.  This picture is taken from the closer of the two.


One of the unique features of the Bluffer’s Park facilities is the shape of the buildings themselves.  Built in 1973 they fit in nicely with the shapes of the eroding bluffs behind them.


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Crooks’ Hollow – Upper Canada’s First Industrial Complex

Saturday Jan. 16, 2016

The Spencer Creek reach between Bullock’s Corners and Crooks’ Hollow is one of the best dammed stretches of water we have investigated so far.  Beginning with the old dam foundations of William Bullock’s grist and saw mills and continuing upstream to the Christie Dam we found the remains of at least ten of these old structures.  One might expect that the earliest industrial park in Upper Canada would be in York (Toronto), Bytown (Ottawa) or Kingston (first capital of the Province of Canada, 1841) but it was in fact at Crooks’ Hollow near Hamilton.  We started our hike in Bullock’s Corners where at this time of year about the only place you can park is at the park on Park Street.

Bullock’s Corners centres around the site of a large grist and saw mill built in 1841 by William Bullock.  The mills continued to operate until 1866 when they were converted to a blanket factory.  A three story stone building was erected after the original one was destroyed by fire and it continued under various owners until damaged by a flood in 1938. The remnants of the dam mark the site.  Adjacent to it was the mercantile block William built in the 1840’s.  It consisted of general, flour and feed stores as well as shoe and harness maker’s shops with some apartments above.  The foundations of a former storage shed are shown below.


John Green Came to Spencer Creek in 1797 and built a mill, establishing the town name for Greensville.  Bullock’s Corners and Greensville are separated by Spencer Creek and in the early days by language as well.  Bullock’s Corners was home to the mill owners and was an English speaking town.  Greensville was home to many of the mill workers who spoke predominantly French.  Green’s mills were later sold to Andrew Todd Kirby. Although Crooks’ Hollow originally only encompassed the small area around James Crooks’ mills upstream, the term has now been applied to all the industrial operations as far down stream as the Kirby dam.  The picture below shows a more recent Kirby dam, made of concrete, with square stop logs still in the creek bed.


In addition to about 2200 dams in Ontario there are the remains of countless former dams. Along Spencer Creek you can find the remains of several construction methods that were employed over the years.  The earliest dams were made of wood cribs filled with rubble. Due to the high maintenance requirements, and the dangers presented by them, these were often replaced with large field stone dams.  After 1900 concrete became the standard for dam construction.  The Cockburn Property was taken over by the town of Dundas in 1909 and contains the remains of the old stone dam from his sawmill.  Along this stretch are the more complete remains of another modern concrete dam and mill.  This dam includes the mill foundations in the foreground, just behind that is the rectangular turbine housing and then the slope of the spillway.  The earthen berm on the far bank of the creek once extended to the side of the spillway.


The Crooks’ Hollow Dam was built in 1913 to create a reservoir for the provision of water to the town of Dundas.  It was 5 metres tall and 30 metres wide with 4 spillways consisting of three overflow weirs and one stop log bay.  The picture below from wikipedia shows the dam in 2010 when all four spillways were in action.  The dam was assessed for safety concerns in 2007 and it was determined that the concrete had deteriorated to the point where it was becoming a potential danger during times of high flooding.  Even the concrete repairs that can be seen on the first spillway below were determined to be unsafe.


It was decided that the dam needed too many repairs to be practical and it was recommended that it be removed.  Restoring the creek to it’s former level would provide additional benefits in water quality and wildlife habitats.  The dam was demolished in 2013 and the remaining abutments were turned into viewing platforms.


Water was drawn from the bottom of Crook’s Hollow reservoir and taken by pipe to the town of Dundas to provide for the needs of the community.  After town water became available in Dundas the reservoir was used by a golf course for irrigation purposes.  The cast iron pipe that once carried drinking water still runs along the side of Spencer Creek. It is now broken in several places and trees are growing on top of it.  The picture below was taken near the Kirby Dam and there is a small waterfall known as the Greensville cascade which descends the hillside in this same location.


Just upstream from the Crooks’ Hollow dam are the remains of a much earlier stone dam known as the Morden Dam.  This little cascade waterfall was hidden for 100 years below the Crooks’ Hollow reservoir but is revealed now that the dam is gone.


James Crooks was born in Scotland in 1778 and came to Upper Canada when he was 13. He served in the war of 1812 where he fought in the Battle of Queenston Heights in which General Issac Brock perished.  In 1814 he moved to a 400 acre lot on Spencer Creek which he had purchased in 1811.  Here he set up the first major industrial complex in Upper Canada.  His milling empire consisted of a grist mill, a tannery, distillery and a linseed oil company.  In 1826 the British Government imposed a heavy tariff on paper imported from the United States.  A 500 pound reward was offered for the first successful paper mill in the colony. With the help of the Barber family James Crooks won that prize for the paper mill he built just downstream from the grist mill.  The Barbers later moved to Georgetown and built the Barber Paper Mills and the Barber Dynamo.  The map below shows Crooks’ Hollow as it existed in the late 1820’s.


The Darnley Grist mill was completed in 1813 by Crooks and was named after Lord Darnley of Scotland who was a famous ancestor of Crooks.  The mill was made of stone quarried downstream near Morden’s mill.  It originally had a 9 metre overshot waterwheel that supplied power to the four run of stones inside.  It’s first mission was providing flour for the British army during the war of 1812.  In 1860 when Crooks died the mill was sold and converted into another paper mill.  In the 1930’s the Greensville Paper Company replaced the wood floors with poured concrete.  The mill was later abandoned in 1943 after it was destroyed by a fire.  The picture below shows a couple of remaining window frames inside the mill.  The cover photo also features an internal view of the old paper mill.


The Darnley Cascade is a 4 metre high waterfall just upstream from the mill site.


The Christie Conservation Area Dam is 180 metres long and was completed in October 1971.  It features two sluice gates and 8 spillways that flood an area the size of 900 Olympic size swimming pools.  It is designed to provide flood control for areas downstream including Webster’s Falls and the town of Dundas.  This picture is taken from the top of the Christie dam looking down on Spencer Creek, which is full of ducks.  The picture also shows the steel structure from a previous dam.


There are several dams and lots of foundations that space didn’t allow us to present here but which are worth the exploration as well.

GPS coordinates for the paper mill: 43.27648N 80.00685W

Google maps link:,-80.0015295,16z

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Gore and Vaughan Plank Road

Jan. 14, 2016 featuring pictures from May 13, 2015.

The early roads in York County were laid out in a grid by the original survey with five 200 acre lots in each box. Augustus Jones surveyed York Township in 1796 and he made Yonge Street (grey) the north-south marker.  Going west (left on the map below) were 1st line west, second line west, etc.  Today we call them Bathurst (purple), Dufferin (red), Keele (white), Jane (black) and so on.  Eglinton was the east-west marker and known as Base Line.  The side roads going north were the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th named after the lot number they ran along.  The lot numbers are shown on the map below along side of Jane St.  Today we call these roads Lawrence, York Mills (yellow), Sheppard (green), Finch (blue) and Steeles (orange). This grid of roads connected all the little farming and milling communities in the township and is still imprinted on the city today.  The 1877 county atlas section below has been coloured to illustrate this.

plank road

Settlers were granted 200 acres which came with several conditions. One of the mandatory tasks a pioneer faced was the clearing and maintaining of the road allowance along the edge of their property. They had to clear an area which amounted to 1 acre of land for public road allowance. They were also responsible to spend a certain amount of time working on road maintenance each year. This would include pulling stumps and filling in holes and swampy areas. The settlers had a full day’s work on the homestead and often the road repair was overlooked and people would be fined for not complying. The system led to some very messy roads where people got stuck 3 seasons of the year and bounced over ruts the other one.

The solution was to cover some of the roads in cut boards or planks. The Gore and Vaughan Plank Road Company was established in 1855 to build a plank road along Dufferin Street. The road was to be built of local wood and various saw mills were engaged along the route to cut and prepare the planks. The picture below shows one exposed end of the plank road along with one of the steel spikes that held it together.  The same spike is shown in relation to my shoe in the cover photo.


Where Dufferin street, shown in red on the map above, crossed the ravine for Dufferin Creek the descent was very steep.  The solution for the pioneers was to run the road on a curve down the side of the ravine.  This shows on the map just below the blue line of Finch Ave.  The planks for the Gore and Vaughan Plank road were sixteen inches wide by 8 inches thick and sixteen feet long.  The picture below shows the length of one of the boards.


For durability the planks were laid up and nailed through to create a roadbed that was sixteen inches thick.  Planks were held together with four foot long spikes that were driven in two feet apart in opposing directions.  The picture below shows the head of the spike on the left and the point of the spike on the right.  The tape measure is laying on the seam between two planks.


In this spot there is almost 2 feet of spike sticking out of the plank where the exposed boards have rotted away.


The spikes used in the plank road construction have a 3 inch diameter head on them and were over 4 feet in length.


The body of the spike is 1 inch in diameter.


The picture below shows the business end of the spike.


The plank road was expensive to maintain as new wood was continually replacing worn and rotten boards.  The solution was to assess a toll for the use of the road.  Toll stations were set up at various places along the plank road.  On the map above there are two.  One is at Finch (yellow) and the other at Sheppard (green).  They are marked on the map and underlined in blue.  Yonge Street was also planked with a toll station at Hoggs Hollow.  The picture below was taken on Dundas Street near Lambton Mills and shows a representative toll charged for using a maintained road.


Times changed and crushed gravel and asphalt replaced plank roads.  Dufferin was paved and where it crossed Dufferin Creek on a long curve it was straightened out.  The curved section in the ravine was left to rot or to be buried by flooding.  When the trunk sewer along Dufferin Creek required repair work in 2014 a portion of the plank road was exposed again. Hiking the GTA found these remains and gave a brief description in Dufferin Creek in May 2015. This post allows for  greater detail and more pictures to be presented of this 160 year old part of our transportation heritage.  The archive photo below from 1954 shows the old roadbed as seen from the modern Dufferin Street.

Dufferin 1

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Toronto Islands

January 9, 2016

The Toronto Islands were a peninsula in 1793 when Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe and his wife Elizabeth  hiked there.  It was the year that York (Toronto) was founded and Elizabeth had named the Scarborough Bluffs after the chalk cliffs in England that they reminded her of. She never knew the connection between the two.  The force of water entering Lake Ontario after flowing over Niagara Falls gives the lake a rotation that carries eroded sand and gravel from the Bluffs and deposits it at the outer edge of the Toronto harbour.  The shape of the peninsula has been evolving over time and by 1815 when the map below was drawn it was nine kilometres long. The marsh on the right is Ashbridges Bay and has been filled in to form the Toronto Port Lands. To get to the islands we took the ferry from the Jack Layton terminal.


The eastern end of the peninsula had been opened up during storms a couple of times but the damage done by a storm in 1858 wasn’t repaired. The Eastern Gap has been open ever since. Since then, dredging of the Lower Don River and the harbour has resulted in the islands more than doubling in size.  Today there are 15 islands that form an archipelago about 1.6 kilometres from the downtown core. The islands are no longer eroding due to hard shore lines and erosion controls.  On the Port Lands side of the gap the pier is lined with old tires and ships still tie off while they wait to be off-loaded or for their turn to enter the ship channel.  On the Ward’s Island side of the gap the old port facilities lay abandoned.


The main roadway across the island is Lakeshore Avenue and it runs the full length of the island along the lake coastline.  Today a boardwalk has been built along part of the old roadway.


In 1862 the Hanlan family were one of the first to settle on the island but following confederation in 1867 the federal government transferred ownership of the island to the city and the land was divided for cottages and an amusement park.  John Hanlan built the hotel shown in the archive photo below on the west end of the island in 1878.


By the early 1950’s there were 8,000 people living on the islands in 630 cottages and homes. They were pretty much self-sufficient with their own stores along with theatres, dance halls and a bowling alley for entertainment.  When the city built the Gardiner Expressway they destroyed a lot of lakefront parkland and they decided to replace it with new parkland on the islands. They began to demolish homes as the leases expired and other residents were encouraged to give up their leases. Today there are about 600 people on the island in what is considered to be North America’s largest urban car-free zone.  The picture below is from a 1953 aerial photograph in the city archives.  It shows the density of homes along Centre Island with Lakeshore Avenue running along the shore of the lake.

Toronto Island2

Today the boardwalk is lined with low walls and sets of foundations.  Stairs lead up and over walls into grass and shrubbery.


Dogwoods come in several varieties and the berries of some of them are used to make jam.  There has also been medicinal use of the plant over the years with the bark being infused in a tea to treat pain and fever. The morning light caught the dogwood berries and made them glow neon orange.


The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was completed in 1808 and is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the great lakes and the oldest stone building in the city.  Originally just 8 metres from the water it now stands isolated in a wooded area. In 1832 the tower was raised by 30 feet to bring it to a total height of 82 feet.  Legend suggests that the first lighthouse keeper, J. P. Rademuller, was murdered in 1815 and that his ghost still haunts the lighthouse.


The two lighthouse keeper’s cottages are seen in this 1910 photo.  The original cottage on the left was built in 1809 and stood until about 1950.


A whale oil lamp burned in the lighthouse and was tended by various keepers over the years.  After 1878 the mechanism that rotated the light was installed and it needed to be wound every 48 hours. The Gibraltar point lighthouse was closed at the end of the shipping season in 1957 when it was replaced with a new, fully automated, steel tower.


Hanlan’s point beach was created in 1862 but in 1999 it became the site of a pilot project for a nude beach.  In 2002 it was officially recognized by an act of city council and has been Toronto’s only nude beach since then.  If there was ever a good day to see the beach this was it because no one was hanging out there.


In 1894 the Toronto Ferry Company created land through infilling to make space for an amusement park on the west end of the island.  That same year a baseball stadium was built on Hanlan’s point for the Toronto Maple Leafs Baseball Team and this is where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in 1914.  The stadium was demolished and more land created in 1937 for the construction of an airport.  The local cottages had to be relocated and 31 were moved by barge to Algonquin Island.  The picture below shows Billy Bishop airport with the city in the background.


Built in 1912, the Manitou Road bridge replaced an older wooden structure. Manitou Road was the former main business section of the island and now runs from Centreville amusement park to the Centre Island pier.


Centreville was opened in 1967 and features over 30 children’s rides and attractions.  They are all packed up for the season but Far Enough Farm, which was established in 1959, is open all year around.


There are plenty of places to sit and relax as you wait for the ferry back to the mainland.


An article of this length can only hope to touch on the highlights of the Toronto Islands.  I think several visits would be required to really get the full scope of this little oasis in the city.

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Milkman’s Lane

Sunday January 3, 2016

Seen on historic maps since at least 1890, Milkman’s Lane is an abandoned roadway in Rosedale that now serves as a pathway connecting one of Toronto’s wealthiest communities with the Rosedale Ravine, the Don Valley Brick Works and the Lower Don trail system.  It has been given various names over the years and when it took on the name Milkman’s Lane is unknown, as is the reason behind the unusual name. The 1890 Goads Fire Map below is available in the Toronto Archives but the city was nice enough to add the red arrow on their parks page where this map can be found.  South Drive and Milkman’s Lane were known as Beau Street at the time.  I parked at the corner of Beau and Elm on the map below.

Rosedale 1890

The fire map shows the large property on the south side of Milkman’s Lane as Craigleigh and belonging to E. B. Osler.  Edmund Boyd Osler was born in 1845 and as a teenager began to work as a clerk at the Bank of Upper Canada which was featured in Toronto’s First Post Office. By 1901 he was president of the Dominion Bank as well as being in the fifth of his 21 years as MP for Toronto West.  Osler had a major impact on the city having helped fund Toronto General Hospital, he was also a trustee at the Hospital For Sick Children.  After a trip to Egypt in 1906 Osler became a founder of the Royal Ontario Musem.  Craigleigh was his family home from 1877 until 1924.  After his death his children donated the property to the city for a park.  The ornate gates to the park have the date 1903 in the metal work on either side of the centre.


Milkman’s lane ran down the side of Osler’s property and carried traffic into the Rosedale Park Reserve.  Park Drive made it’s way through the bottom of the ravine.  The property belonged to Thomas Helliwell in the 1820’s and provided access through Park Drive to his mills at Todmorden. Horses and wagons, and possibly the milkman, once climbed the steep ravine side along the 300 metre lane. Today it is used by hikers, joggers and dogs walking their owners.


Some time prior to 1875 Edgar Jarvis bought the property.  In 1854 at the age of 19 Edgar submitted what was known as plan #104, called “Plan of Rose Park”, to the city to subdivide Rosedale Estates.  He bought up land in the area through the 1860’s and 1870’s in support of this plan.  He had been living with his wife Charlotte and their 12 children in Glen Hurst, their home which still stands behind the stone gates of Branksome Hall.  Edgar built the first two high level bridges across the ravine and planted the trees that give Maple and Elm Avenue their names.  He also likely named Beau Street after his son.  In 1880 he built the home on the other side of Milkman’s Lane from Osler’s Craigleigh property.  Jarvis named his home Sylvan Towers and it can be seen on the map as well.  For awhile Yellow Creek was known as Sylvan Creek.  At the bottom of Milkman’s Lane runs Yellow Creek.  It lies buried for much of it’s 12 kilometers but in 1915 it had a bridge at the bottom of the hill.  The picture below is from the Toronto Archives and the road is labeled as Milkman’s Road.


In 1880 the right of passage for the land known as Milkman’s Lane was granted to The Scottish Ontario and Manitoba Land Company.  Today you are greeted at the bottom of the ravine with a place where the Yellow Creek is forced underground as it makes it’s way toward the Don River.  Near the bottom of Milkman’s Lane stand a pair of stone gate posts that now enter onto a tennis court.  In years gone by they led to the estate at the top of the hill on the other side, likely 4A on Beaumont Street. They are featured in the cover shot.


The bridge over the ravine on Glen Road took on the name The Iron Bridge.  It was later replaced with the bridge shown below that is built in the typical City of Toronto style.  This type of architecture was promoted by Roland Caldwell Harris when he was city engineer.  He designed the R. C. Harris Filtration plant and commissioned the Prince Edward Viaduct on Bloor Street. That famous concrete and steel arch bridge style would be repeated many times in the city, including here.


The picture below is from Wikipedia and shows the bridge on the lower end of Glen Road.  It was built by Jarvis and now serves as a foot bridge over Rosedale Valley Road.


Yellow Creek flows partly underground and partly above.  As you follow the trail toward Mount Pleasant Road you come to the place where the creek emerges from the underground pipe. Notice the concrete squares at the mouth of the pipe.  They are designed to dissipate the water’s energy before it is released into the channel.


Partial walls and other concrete structures stand high on the hillside near Mount Pleasant Road. A couple of years ago I found an intact glass milk bottle here from City Dairy.  I didn’t realize at the time how fitting this was, so close to Milkman’s Lane.  On the other side of Mount Pleasant Road the trail continues into The Vale Of Avoca.


Following the trail south again and back past Milkman’s Lane will bring you to a link with the Don River trail system.  Just south of the Don Valley Brick Works there is a patch of new pavement on Bayview Avenue.  It marks the former crossing for a side spur that carried rail cars to the brick factory for shipping purposes.  Hidden in the trees along the trail are a few exposed sections of the former rail line.


The trail leads up the old right of way for The Belt Line Railway which looks down upon the structures of the former Don Valley Brick Works.  The straight line above the roofs in the picture below is the now abandoned rail bridge known as the Half Mile Bridge.


Google Maps link:,-79.3733876,16z

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The Spencer Gorge – Webster’s and Tews Falls

Sat. Jan. 2, 2016

The Spencer Gorge is a Y-shaped cut in the escarpment that contains Tews Falls, a waterfall that may have rivaled Niagara Falls a few thousand years ago.  Webster’s Falls, seen in the cover photo, is found on the other arm of the Y.  To investigate the two of them we parked in Webster’s Falls Conservation Area.

Webster’s Falls is what is known as a classical plunge falls.  It drops 22 metres off of the Niagara Escarpment and has a width at the crest of 30 metres.  A plunge waterfall is one where the water loses contact with the surface of the bedrock due to it’s speed as it drops over the edge. They typically have deep pools at the bottom known as plunge pools.  A plunge waterfall where the water spreads out into a wider pool at the bottom is known as a punch bowl.  A local example of this is The Devil’s Punch Bowl.


Joseph and Maria Webster emigrated from England in 1819 and bought the 78 acres of land surrounding what was then known as Dr. Hamilton’s Falls.  A small distillery and grist mill were operated by Joseph Jr., who expanded them in 1830 and again in 1842.  New owners George Harper and W.S. Merrill took over in 1891 and the mills were expanded for the last time.  Milling operations at the falls ended with a fire in 1898 which destroyed the buildings.

After the fire to the mills a new business venture was started.  George Harper turned to the idea of generating electricity.  It is said that he built one of Ontario’s first electrical generating plants at the base of the falls.  Harper’s power plant was able to turn on the street lights for January 27, 1899 and kept them supplied with power until the plant burned down in February 1901.  In actual fact The Barrie Light Company had predated Harper by over 10 years in providing light to Barrie in 1888. The picture below shows part of the old foundations at the base of the falls.


The remaining structures were sold to the Cataract Power Company of Hamilton around this time.  An archive photo of the power plant as seen in 1910 is presented below.  The metal penstock that delivered water to the dynamo can be seen to the left of the falls.  It was removed before a subsequent shot of the falls was taken in 1920 by which time power was being delivered to the area from Niagara Falls.


Some of the interesting features of the escarpment are the places where part of the geological column is exposed.  The escarpment was formed of sediment during a period of the earth’s history known as the Paleozoic era which included the Ordovician and Silurian periods.  At the escarpment top is the hard dolostone of the Lockport formation which formed along with the Rochester shale below it during the Silurian period more than 420 million years ago.  The Rochester shale is grey in colour and is a prime source of early marine fossils.  At Webster’s Falls this band is 2.5 metres thick and because of it’s relatively soft nature it erodes quickly leaving the dolostone on top undercut and ready to break away.  This can be clearly seen to the right of the falls where the shale is set back well below the dolomite.  The talus slopes below the Rochester shale are coated with ice from the mist of the falls.


When Webster’s Falls was sold next in 1917 it became property of Dundas Public Utilities Commission who used it as part of their waterworks.  Originally known as Webster’s Falls Park the area was landscaped in the 1930’s and a cobblestone bridge constructed across Spencer Creek.  The bridge was restored in 2000 and the property became part of the Spencer Gorge Wilderness Area.


The Webster family was buried on the property overlooking the Spencer Gorge and the creek below. Broken headstones have been collected into a small family plot where the pioneers are remembered.  Joseph Webster’s memorial stone is seen below.


From Webster’s Falls a trail leads to Tews Falls and around to Dundas Peak.  We followed the trail to where we could see Logies Creek joining with Spencer Creek down in the valley below. Dundas Peak can be seen in the distance in this picture and it became the turning around point of our hike.  From this vantage point the city can be seen in the background and Tews Falls is in the gorge on the left while Webster’s is on the right.


Tews Falls is known as a ribbon falls because the water flow is narrow compared to the rock face exposed around it.  Both Webster’s Falls and Tews Falls were formed at the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago when Spencer Gorge was forming.  Tews Falls flows over a distinct bowl shaped gorge that is actually the smallest of several bowls in the Spencer gorge. These get larger as one travels down the gorge until the final bowl is nearly as large as the one at Niagara Falls.  The height of Tews Falls is 41 metres while the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara is 52 metres.  Tews Falls is the highest waterfall in the Hamilton Area.  There is a Lower Tews Falls, just 3.7 metres high, which is just downstream from this one.


In 1906 the falls were known as Hopkins Ravine after the family that owned the property at the time.  When the Tews bought it the falls took on their name.  The layers of shale and dolostone can be seen quite clearly at the falls where several lower formations are exposed that are hidden at Webster’s Falls.  The Rochester shale layer at Tews Falls is only 1.5 metres thick and can be seen just below the crest of the falls.


From Dundas Peak it is possible to see into Hamilton and Dundas.  There is also a spectacular view back up the Spencer Gorge with Spencer Creek flowing through the valley.  As we made our way along the edge of the gorge we were able to see many vistas that would be obscured by foliage during the summer months.


On the way back from the peak we took the Glen Ferguson Side Trail which loops back to join with the Webster’s Falls Trail.  Along the way we surprised five white tailed deer.  They ran away as soon as they saw us revealing the original meaning behind the phrase “high-tailing it out of here”.


Websters Falls is located at: 43.2764N 79.981W

Tews Falls is located at: 43.2815N 79.978W

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