Monthly Archives: February 2016

Unionville – Dating By Design Styles

February 23 and 26, 2016

Gothic Revival, Queen Anne or Italianate?  What do design features reveal about the age of a building?  The town of Unionville was founded in 1794 by Philip Eckhardt who had surveyed the county under a ten year contract with the British government.  The town remained a rural community into the early 20th century and has retained many of it’s heritage homes.  Unionville has now been recognized as a cultural heritage district because of the historical community that has been preserved here.  The town boasts homes built from several major architectural styles that were popular over the decades. This post explores some of the defining features of those architectural styles using examples from the town, mostly from walking the main street.  Friday’s pictures are the ones with snow.  The examples are from Unionville but the styles can be used to give date ranges to buildings throughout Southern Ontario.

Georgian (1790-1875)

The Georgian Style was named after the first four British kings named George who ruled between 1714 and 1830.  The design is usually 3 bays (openings) and sometimes 5.  The plain windows are rectangular with small panes, often 6 over 6.  The roof tends to be of a medium pitch.  This example was built in 1835 and at one time served as the town jail.


The Regency Cottage (1810-1840)

This style of home was made popular in England when the Prince Regent had the Royal Pavilion redesigned using elements from eastern temples. Regency cottages tend to have low pitched roofs, compared to the Georgian, and a 3 bay construction. The front door is elaborate with two sidelights mounted on the pilasters and a transom across the top of the door frame. The windows tend to be large, running from floor to ceiling.  They are typically divided by thin glazing bars into small rectangular shapes.  The Eckardt house was built in 1829 for a member of one of Markham’s oldest families.  Philip Eckhardt had been a founding leader of the Berczy settlement in Markham and was responsible for the early construction of Yonge Street.


Gothic Revival (1830-1890)

This style became popular in England in an attempt to recreate the styles of the gothic and medieval periods.  They tend to have steeply pitched roofs , pointed arched windows set in high gables and decorative brickwork.  The house below has a regency cottage lower story but a Gothic Revival centre gable with the arched window.


The Gothic Revival style was frequently used on churches in Ontario and there are two great examples in Unionville.  The Primitive Methodist Church, now the United Church, was built in this style in 1879.


The Italianate (1840-1890)

The Italianate style was developed in England as a return to the architecture of the country villas of the Italian Renaissance.  The style makes a middle ground between the plain Georgian and the extensive gingerbread of the Gothic Revival styles.  This style typically uses a lot of brackets under the eaves and repetition of the ornamentation. Round headed windows in a decorative surround like the ones on Dr. Albert Pringle’s house below from 1877 are a common feature of Italianate style homes. Pringle served as the community doctor from 1878 to 1883.  This house has a high pitched roof typical of Gothic Revival instead of the low pitched roof more common on the Italinate style.  There are several homes in Unionville that exhibit a mix of styles.


Second Empire (1860-1900)

Second Empire was the official style used in France and her colonies during the reign of Nalopeon III.  One of the distinguishing features of this architectural style is the mansard roof. Francois Mansart (died 1666) is credited with developing this roof style which increases the amount of usable space in the upper floors.  He is considered by some to be the most accomplished French architect of the 17th century.  Mansard roofs have a four sided double slope where the upper slope is very shallow and the lower one very steep.  This brings the roof and shingles down the side of the building where they are usually punctuated by windows in the lower sections.  Second Empire buildings tend to be square, often with a wing projecting from one side.  The windows tend to be round-headed and bay windows are often used.  The house below was built in 1879 for Esther Summerfeldt and displays Second Empire styles.  The Summerfeldts arrived in Markham in 1794 with the Berczy settlers and lived on a local farm.  After her husband’s passing Esther moved into Unionville where she commissioned this house to be built.


The Queen’s Hotel was also built in the style of Second Empire.  The use of the mansard roof allowed the third floor to be used for guests because it allows for full head room almost to the outside wall.  The hotel was built in 1860 but was badly damaged by fire in 2015.  Restoration is ongoing but notice the large white door on the second floor.  This led onto a balcony that ran the length of the building.  The iron brackets for the balcony are part of the ornate detail which includes yellow brick quoins and lintles.


Queen Anne (1880-1910)

Named after Queen Anne who ruled from 1702-1714 the style actually has little to do with architecture from her period.  It emerged in the late Victorian era when variety and complexity dominated life.  They tend to have asymmetrical towers and bays and windows of all shapes and sizes.  Decorative bricks, wood and shingles were also used.  The example below has vertical wood siding.


Edwardian Classicism (1910-1930)

This style emerged in reaction to the increasingly complex styles of the late Victorian Era. They feature simplified roofs, often pyramidal, with large dormers featuring two windows. Verandas tend to have heavy columns with brick piers.  The most popular examples are known as the Four Square because they are two bays over two bays.  The example below has had the front veranda modified into a full porch.  The original brick piers can still be seen on the outside.


Unionville Vernacular (1790-1920)

A vernacular architectural style refers to those elements that are specific to the location. The use of local tradesmen as well as wood and trim produced at the Unionville Planning Mill give the town a unique flavour.  A four leaf clover motif appears on many homes.  The extensive use of gingerbread can also be attributed to the local planning mill.  The Andrew Eckhardt house featured below was built some time before 1856.  It features a gothic window with 12 panes, 6 over 6 windows and extensive trim.  It sits on a foundation of field stones while concrete foundations indicate a 20th century construction.


The Miller’s house is a good example of a vernacular home.  It resembles a Gothic Revival with it’s steep gabled roof but has rounded windows like the Italianate instead of pointed.


This date stone from the Evangelical Lutherin Church contains the earliest date I have seen inscribed anywhere in Ontario.  A frame church was originally built in 1794 and replaced with a brick one in 1862.  After the centre of town shifted south to the railway, the church was taken apart and moved in 1910.


The history of Unionville and an exploration of Toogood pond park await a future post.

Google Maps: Unionville

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Island Lake

Saturday Feb. 20, 2016

The story of Island Lake dates back to the retreat of the last great ice age in North America. The Wisconsin Glaciation period ran from about 85,000 to around 11,000 years ago.  When the glacier was advancing it swept up all manner of debris and carried it along.  As the ice retreated it left the Great Lakes, the Scarborough Bluffs and the Oak Ridges Moraine. The soil and rocks that make up the glacial debris are deposited by the glacier as it retreats in a land feature known as moraine.  Occasionally a large chunk of ice will calve off of the glacier and get buried in the moraine created by the outwash from the melting ice.  When these ice chunks eventually melt they leave a hole in the moraine.  These holes, known as kettle lakes, can be up to 10 meters deep and fill up with water.  North east of Orangeville a kettle lake formed on a piece of land that would later belong to George Island.  The 1877 county atlas below shows the Island property, along with the kettle lake that formed there.  First line east is seen to deviate to go around the east end of the kettle lake.

Island Lake

Michael Island came to Mono from Ireland in about 1830 and settled on this land grant.  He raised a family including his son George who was born in 1834.  Mary Ann Shaw and George were married in 1866 and had six sons and a daughter.  Mary Ann died in 1909 and George followed in 1913 but by this time their son Frank C was running the farm.  In 1967 it was decided to create a reservoir for Orangeville and the Island farm was flooded by the construction of two dams.  These dams are used to control the outflow of the reservoir into the Credit River.

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Originally known as Orangeville Reservoir, the park has been developed into a playground for all four seasons.  Along with cross country skiing trails there are snowshoes for rent so you can fully experience the season. Ice fishing huts are also set up on the lake.  We saw cracks appearing in the ice and some parts of the lake were already marked as off limits.


A series of trails extend throughout the conservation area but we chose to focus on the 8.2 kilometer Vicki Barron lakeside trail.  The trail makes it’s way around the entire lake except the most eastern portion which is a wildlife sanctuary.  It crosses the lake at the two eastern islands using a series of bridges before heading back toward the parking lots.  The trail is named after Vicki Barron who worked for Credit Valley Conservation for 24 years and retired in 2001 as the General Manager. The first 2.5 kilometers of trail were opened that same year.  The trail has now been completed around the lake with plans to link it to other trails in the neighbourhood.  The Credit Valley Trail is currently in the planning phase and envisions a trail from Island Lake to Lake Ontario. The trail is seen below as it runs through the straight rows of trees that reveal a planted forest.

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There are many areas were the sun has melted the ice and snow clear and in one of these stretches we encountered an unusual fellow hiker.  This wooly bear caterpillar normally spends the winter hibernating under a rock or piece of bark.  There was a 52 degree Celsius change in temperature between this Saturday (12 C) and last Saturday when it was minus 40 C with the wind chill while we were visiting Frozen Waterfalls near Ancaster.  The sudden warm up likely tricked this little one into thinking spring had arrived.  Legend has it that the thicker the black bands on the caterpillar, the harsher the winter.  This specimen has a wide red-brown band in the middle which should indicate a mild winter. Perhaps…

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When Michael Island arrived on his 100 acre parcel of land it contained the kettle lake, a cedar swamp and the rest was a forest of mature trees.  He started to clear the land and build a farm to make a life for himself and his family.  As George and his brothers grew up they would have helped with the farm chores including building and maintaining fences. The straight line of moss seen in the photo below is revealing an old fence line.

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In 1949 Frank Zamboni invented the first ice resurfacing machine and it has since taken on his name.  To encourage ice skating, the park resurfaces a trail on the lake as can be seen in the picture below.

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There are several of these wooden bridges built to connect the trail and provide places to sit, relax and enjoy the day.  These bridges were built with the help of many partners in a program known as Bridge The Gap that connected the north and south shore trails.

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The longest of these bridges runs from the north side of the lake to the first of two islands. The original kettle lake is located off the end of these islands.  The trail map posted in the park shows approximate water depths.  Much of the lake is about 6 feet deep but there is one area marked at 22 feet.  This is the location of the kettle lake on the Island family farm and is somewhere in the middle of the picture below.

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With the water level reduced for the winter the beach and bandstand are left to wait for the summer crowd to return.


Along the south side of the lake is a small stream flowing into it.  This is seen on the historical atlas where it entered the original version of Island Lake.  These are the headwaters of the Credit River and will eventually flow into Lake Ontario at Port Credit.

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Near the parking lot are a couple of buildings.  There are a pair of old blue School Crossing signs that mark the site of The Outlook Inn.  This is an Outdoor, Environmental and Earth Education Centre operated by the Upper Grand District School Board.  Behind the parking lot is a shorter trail known as the Sugar Bush Trail which runs for 2.3 kilometers.  The picture below shows the sugar shack where maple sap is boiled down to make maple syrup.  A large stockpile of wood has been cut in preparation for the sap which will be running around the middle of March.


We saw plenty of wildlife tracks in the snow and with swimming and canoe rentals it looks like a park that requires more than one visit.

Google maps: Island Lake

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Old Mills of Southern Ontario

Feb. 20, 2016

February 15-21, 2016 is Heritage Week in Ontario and we have a large number of old mills that form a significant part of our industrial heritage.  Mills were very often the first buildings in a location where a town would eventually start.  When the counties and townships were surveyed in the 1790’s in preparation for settlement, the surveyor was charged with identifying suitable mill seats.  These were typically places where there was a large enough water supply to turn the wheels of a saw mill or grist mill.  Rivers would be dammed and a mill pond created to provide water storage for dry seasons.  Places where a large head, or water drop, could be created allowed for greater power production.  The buildings that ran Victorian industry were known as mills and they did more than just cut wood and grind grain.  Over the past couple of years we have visited a number of the old mills in and around the GTA and present here a pictorial of various mills and the links to their respective stories.

The first mill in York (Toronto) was constructed in 1793 at the request of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe and this was the first industrial site in Toronto.  It was known as the King’s Mill after King George III of England who was the reigning monarch at the time. The mill went into operation the following year when the mill wheels and gear systems arrived from England where they had been forgotten the year before.  A series of fires caused the destruction of the mills on this site until the fourth one, known as Gambles Mill, was destroyed in 1881.  After sitting in ruins until 1914 it was restored and today we call it The Old Mill.

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The Barber Paper Mills in Georgetown were founded in 1837 by the Barber Brothers who had helped James Crooks open Upper Canada’s first paper mill in Crook’s Hollow in 1825. The paper mills in Georgetown operated for 111 years until they closed in 1948.  The buildings were abandoned in the 1970’s and now may be partially restored as part of a development proposal.


The Barber brothers built themselves a dynamo to power their paper mills.  This was one of several power mills that were set up in the late 1800’s to generate electricity for our early industry.  The remains of the Barber Dynamo are located about 3 km downstream from the paper mills.


The Darnely Grist Mill was operated by James Crooks and this old structure was completed in 1813.  As noted above, Crooks opened the first paper mill in the colony near this grist mill.  The building was converted into another paper mill in 1860 when Crooks died.


In 1843 the Barber Brothers, William and Robert, decided to expand their Georgetown mill operation by buying William Comfort’s farm and mill site just south of Streetsville.  In 1852 they built a 4 storey wollen mill.  When it burned in 1861 their workers just built a new one and opened again only three months later.  Within 10 years it was the fourth largest textile mill in Ontario.  Their mill and the worker’s housing they provided became known as Barbertown.


The Rockwood Woolen Mills were started in 1867 by three brothers named Harris along with a brother in law.  They became known for quality blankets, sheets and underwear. Their original building burned down in 1880 and was replaced with a stone building in 1884.  During the first world war they worked 24 hours a day to supply blankets to the military but by 1925 they were closed.  Fire destroyed the building in 1965.


In 1842 William and Robert Bruce bought a mill site that had been started in 1829 by Casper Sherk.  They built the grist mill pictured below in 1858 using some of  the wood from the original mill.  Bruce’s Mill still features a nine foot wide Fitz Overshoot Waterwheel housed behind the steel grate on the left side of the building.


Alton still has more than one mill still standing.  The cover photo shows the 1881 knitting mill that was built by Benjamin Ward.  The picture below is of another mill from the same year.  William Algie operated Beaver Knitting Mills which became famous for it’s fleece lined underwear.  It is seen from across the mill pond in this picture.


In the early 1830’s the government set up a 9,800 acre reserve for native peoples in the area that is now known as Coldwater. In 1832 over 500 bushels of grain were harvested and the need for a grist mill became apparent.  A saw mill was constructed first and by July 1833 it was busy cutting the wood for the grist mill.  By April 1834 the grist mill was completed and opened for business.  The saw mill was closed in 1874.  In 1880 the mill changed hands again and extensive modifications began.  The third story was added and by the end of the decade the undershot water wheel was replaced with more efficient turbines.  These turbines are still on display behind the mill.


John Nicol arrived in 1828 and built a grist mill on this site.  As the farming community grew around the mill it was converted to also be a feed mill.  It provided flour to farmers and feed to their livestock until 1900 when it burned down.  The community was without a mill until 1907 when it was replaced with this current building.  The settlement came to be known as Nicolston when the post office arrived.  The turbines are still on display on the property.


Some records indicate a government operated mill in Marchmont as early as 1834.  When the original mill burned in 1884 the town went without one for about three years.  A new mill was built in 1887 by Charles Powley who installed two runs of mill stones.  He used one for grinding flour and one for making livestock feed for the local farmers. In 1947 it was converted to a full time feed mill and the flour rollers were removed.  The mill records indicate 13 different people operated the mill until it closed for good in 1987.


North of the GTA in the Meaford area the Georgian Bay Milling and Power Company built a power mill in Trout Hollow.  They supplied electricity to the town to light the streets and provide power to local industries.  The remains of the old power mill and the Trout Hollow dam can still be found along the river side.


Some of the mills remain intact while others have been destroyed by fire and left to the elements.  There are others, like Millwood Mills on the Humber River, which are mere foundations that can best be located by tracing the outlines of the former raceways.


There are plenty of other mills in and around the GTA, some already explored and others awaiting their turn.

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Frozen Waterfalls of Ancaster

Saturday Feb. 13, 2016

The original town of Ancaster in England is named from the Latin word “castra” which means camp.  It was the site of a military camp in the time of the Roman Empire.  The local town of Ancaster was named after it and was officially founded in 1793 making it one of the first communities in Upper Canada.  United Empire Loyalists had already begun to settle here by the time Lieutenant Governor John Grave Simcoe decided to build a series of roads for the military defense of the colony.  The town grew up around a flour mill that was located near a pair of waterfalls.  In and around Ancaster there are several other waterfalls that can be reached by a series of hiking trails.  Starting near the Ancaster mill we made our way toward Canterbury Creek and the two sets of falls that are located there.  Being -26 with a wind chill near -40 it was necessary to dress in layers to avoid being as frozen as the waterfalls we meant to explore.

Canterbury Creek is a tributary of Sulphur Creek. Lieutenant William Milne was a naval commander who lived between 1766 and 1844.  He entered the navy in 1799 as midshipman.  Milne had been in command of the HMS Carrier on Nov. 14, 1807 when it captured a french privateer ship for which he was later awarded a medal. He proved to have great valour in several campaigns and when he was shipwrecked and captured by the French in 1809 he was aquitted in a court-marshal because of the strong testimony of the French commander.  William bought the property that contains Canterbury Falls and sold it to his son in 1832.  It passed out of the family in 1845 and went through various owners until 1960 when the Anglican Church of Canada bought it for a summer camp retreat. Canterbury Falls are also known as Milne Falls and they are 9.5 metres tall and 3.3 metres wide at the crest.  They are known as a ribbon waterfall because they are much taller than they are wide.  They are also known as terraced because they have a step part way down. The picture below shows the frozen falls and the major terrace half way down.  The foot bridge at the top of the falls is on the Bruce Trail and was completed in 2008 by the Iroquoia Section who maintain the trail through this part of the escarpment.


Just to the east of Canterbury Falls is another small falls known as Little Canterbury Falls. These falls do not have a strong water flow and dry up during the summer months.  They are best viewed during the spring when the usual melting snow swells the creek.


The sun was shining brightly and steam was rising in the freezing air near the old mill in Ancaster.


The first three mills that stood on this site were of wood construction and each was lost to fire in it’s turn.  This was a common fate of wooden mills because grinding flour is a dusty business.  When the harvest season was underway it was common to work late into the night with candles and lanterns providing the only light.  Open flames, lots of dust, dry wood and tired employees can be a recipe for disaster.  The current stone structure was erected in 1863 with the intention of making sure it would last.  The limestone for the building was quarried on site and the walls are four feet thick at the base.  After being restored, the mill opened as a restaurant in 1979.


The mill falls and raceway.


A set of turbines sits in Ancaster Creek beside the old Ancaster Mill reminding us of a time when water was the primary source for power for this industry.  Water would have been forced through the turbine after dropping from the mill pond above.  The turbine would spin, transferring power to a series of belts and drives that led to the mill stones.  These stones would then turn to grind grain into flour or to make livestock feed.


Old Dundas Road Falls is located on Old Dundas Road just outside of Ancaster.  It is on private property but the owners allow people to access the falls.  The falls are 24 metres tall and 10 metres wide making them a ribbon falls like those on Canterbury Creek.  These falls are also known as a complex cascade because of the way in which the water tumbles over a series of steps on the way over the falls.  These falls were being played at by a couple of kids who were trying to break the ice away from the face of the falls.  They can be seen at the base of the falls in the picture below.


Once you pass the Old Dundas Road waterfalls the road continues to the bottom of the hill where there is a small amount of parking.  A trail leads from the road in to the final frozen waterfall of the day.  Sherman falls is located on Ancaster Creek and is 17 metres high and 8 wide.  It has also been known as Whitton Falls and Smith Falls.  Clifton and Frank Sheman founded Dominion Founderies and Steel Company (Dofasco) in 1912.  This steel company would help to bring an industry to Hamilton that was instrumental in the development of the city.  They lend their name to the falls.

The cover photo shows the falls from behind the ice curtain that hangs in front of it.  The hard dolostone of the upper layer has been undercut as the softer Rochester Shale has eroded away below it.  A second layer of dolostone forms the distinct ledge part way down the falls.  The same erosion of softer shale under harder dolostone creates the characteristic ledge on each of the falls featured in this location.  The cover photo was taken from under the ledge half way down this waterfall.


Ancaster has plenty of history left to be explored on another occasion.

Google maps link: Ancaster Mill

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Erosion – Cathedral Bluffs Scarborough

Sunday Feb. 7, 2016

The Lake Ontario shoreline is constantly changing due to the effects of erosion and this can be seen in full measure at the Cathedral Bluffs in Scarborough.  We previously looked briefly at the formation of the Scarborough Bluffs in Sand Castles with a post going west from Bluffer’s Park.  Today we go east from there toward the Cathedral Bluffs and will see the effects of erosion in several forms.

The cover photo above shows a small section of the bluffs where several homes sit above a horseshoe shaped section of the bluffs that has collapsed in several places.  Sloping sand piles, or talus, can be seen in half a dozen spots reaching nearly to the top of the bluffs. In some places homes at the top have been losing about 30 cm of their back yard per year and the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority has been implementing measures to reduce this and preserve the bluffs.  The section of sand pictured below provides home to a large number of bank swallows who live in a relatively narrow band dictated by the density of the sand in the section.  The bluffs provide home to many birds and butterflies as well as white tail deer and coyotes.  They also serve as a green migratory route for wildlife that is moving between the various ravines in the area.


As you walk along the Bluffer’s Park Marina an interesting attempt to overcome erosion can be seen on the top of the bluffs.  Someone has built shoring for the edge of their property.  Normally if you want to shore up a structure you transfer the weight onto something solid.  That isn’t possible here because the sand is up to 96 metres deep. Although erosion has been slowed down through the implementation of shoreline controls it continues in spite of mankind’s best attempts to control nature.  This piece of property will eventually disappear and perhaps so will the next one north of it.


Several actions are being taken to help reduce the rate of erosion on the bluffs.  Gentle slopes are being developed rather than the vertical surfaces.  The picture below shows shrubs, reeds and grasses that are growing along the base of the cliffs.  The common reed grows in wetlands and is considered an invasive species but it is encouraged here because of it’s root system which is serving to hold the sand together and reduce the amount that gets washed away.  The fact that it’s yellowish stocks are growing half way up the side of the bluffs shows how much water is retained in the sand.


The bluff in the picture above looks quite different when viewed from the side.  Another strip of bird nest holes runs along the same layer of sediment in the bluff and can be seen at the front corner of the nearest point in the picture below.


Between the sections of bluff there are several ravines that have been cut through the sand.  Invariably there is a rivulet of water running in the bottom and it is always clouded with sand.  This swells when there is a rain storm.  On the right hand side of the picture below is an outcrop of sand which is being held together by the roots of the shrub growing on top.


A shingle beach is one made up of stones ranging in size from 2 milimetres up to around 200.  Quite often they occur naturally and serve to protect the beach from the erosive effects of the waves in a process known as armoring.  When the stones are placed intentionally they are called riprap and often include pieces of concrete and brick from demolished buildings.  To control erosion much of Toronto and the surrounding areas have been given hard shorelines through riprap and concrete forms.  Along this beach there are stretches of riprap made up of rounded stones that have been deposited as a buffer between the waves and the reeds on the edge of the bluffs.


Among the stones on the beach is this concrete block which has been eroded down through abrasion.  The repeated effect of the smaller stones knocking against the sharp corners of the block has worn them off.  The waves only reach this far up the beach when there is a storm and the waves are at their most powerful.


Past the shingle beach is a stretch where the reeds have reached almost to the water’s edge.  A recent collapse of the side of a higher range of bluffs has closed the beach at this point.  The waves will carry this away as the lake continues it’s relentless assault on the shoreline.  The sandy beaches that line the shore of the lake west of the bluffs are made of material which has been deposited from here.  The predominating current of the lake is known as longshore drift and on the north side of Lake Ontario it is in an westerly direction.  Water entering the lake from Lake Erie through the Niagara River carries the lake water east along the southern shore toward the St. Lawrence River.  This creates a motion in the lake that carries sand from the bluffs to the west and deposits it to form a series of ten beaches.  These range from Bluffer’s Park beach in the east to Sunnyside and Marie Curtis in the west. Notice the white birch tree that is hanging over the edge of the bluff just beyond this mudslide in this photo.  It will find itself in the lake shortly.


Behind me the roots of one of the dogwoods rise out of the water.  It’s journey from cliff top to water front has been completed.


The picture below shows one of the places where the water in the bluffs is draining across the beach and carrying fresh sand from recent collapses into the lake.  The beach is protecting the bluffs from the action of the waves and gentle slopes reach up to the bluffs. In spite of this, the sand continues to relentlessly erode away.  A $6.5 million dollar investment east of here has been made in the interest of protecting homes that are falling over the edge of the cliff but one must wonder how effective it will be in the long run.


Looking toward Lake Ontario the lighter sands of the bluffs are carried into the waves. The lake will carry this sand until it deposits it along the Leslie Spit, now that the spit guards the Toronto Islands from the east.  The Toronto Islands were a peninsula guarding the harbour in 1793 when York was founded.


The Scarborough Bluffs extend east from here and include a ravine that was formerly known as the Grand Canyon of Scarborough, before it was partly filled in.  Perhaps we’ll get a chance to investigate there soon.

Google maps link: Cathedral Bluffs

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Terra Cotta Conservation Trails

Saturday Feb. 6, 2016

The Terra Cotta Conservation Area has gone through many transformations over the years and has now been converted from a campground and picnic area into a naturalized park full of hiking trails.  We parked on the 10th line where the Bruce Trail crosses and a side trail known as the Walking Fern Trail leads to a rare species of ferns.  The main trail follows the road for a short distance before passing along the edge of a series of fish ponds.  This property is legally known as lot 29 10th concession in Halton.  The home was built around 1910 and is known as Edwardian architecture because King Edward was on the throne (1901-1910).  This style of building is generally less ornate than the Victorian style that preceded it.  The home is made of field stone with cut stone quoins on the corners and around the windows.  An enclosed stone porch surrounds three sides of the building.  A small stone bridge leads to a circular island in the pond.


There is a small footbridge at the bottom of the ponds to allow access to the Bruce Trail. Concrete from a former dam structure remains in the bottom of the creek creating a small waterfall.  The current bridge is built on wooden beams set in metal drums which stand on the old dam structure.


Queenston Shale can be seen along the sides of the trail.  The distinctive red and grey shale was formed in the Queenston Delta during the Silurian period when the sediments of the Niagara Escarpment were being laid down.  These shale formations have almost no fossils in them and are the lower layers of the escarpment.  They can be seen here as well as at the Devil’s Punchbowl and Cheltenham Badlands.


In the 1940’s Clancy’s Ranch opened and it soon turned into a popular swimming spot. Soon it would pass to Leo Wolf and Gord Ward who developed a weekend recreation park which they called Terra Cotta Playground.  It became a popular place for dances and picnics.  In 1958 the Credit Valley Conservation Area of Terra Cotta was opened.  In the 1980’s we used to camp here in one of the 137 campsites that the park featured.  These have since been replanted as have the 650 parking spaces that used to serve the 10 acre day use park.  Mini golf, a concession stand and a 1 acre swimming pool used to round out the facilities.  The pool had replaced the swimming hole on Clancy’s Ranch.  A more environmentally friendly approach has since been taken with the pool being torn out and replaced with naturalized wetlands.  These wetlands are now used as an educational tool. Wolf Lake is named after Leo Wolf and has a thin coating of ice on it at this time.


One of the side trail loops in the park is known as Maple Hills Loop.  Near where this trail joins  the Terra Cotta Lane trail there is a series of tubes fixed in the trees for the collection of maple sap.  This will then be boiled down to make maple syrup.


When we entered the woods we had heard the hard tapping of a large woodpecker as it searched for it’s food.  From the sound we guessed that it was a pileated woodpecker and we found plenty of evidence of their presence in the area.  The pine tree pictured below has a fresh pileated woodpecker hole dug in it.


Terra Cotta Conservation Area has a wide variety of hiking trails that are mapped out in eight colour coded trails.  The post below has an orange tag to mark the Vaughn Trail, a red tag for the Bruce Trail and a purple one for the Terra Cotta Lane trail.  After wandering around parts of each of these trails we took the Bruce Trail in search of the Terra Cotta Waterfalls.


We took the purple trail named Terra Cotta Lane.  This trail follows an old roadway along the western shoreline of Wolf Lake.


Terra Cotta waterfall is a 12 metre plunge waterfall on Roger’s Creek.  It is visible from the main Bruce Trail just north of the conservation area.  The waterfall has a deep plunge pool and the shale is deeply undercut below the harder dolomite that it flows over.  It is possible to reach the bottom of the waterfall in the summer but ice makes it impossible at this time of the year without proper gear and ropes.  This waterfall is also seen in our cover photo.


A coyote has passed along the side of Rogers Creek leaving a set of distinctive footprints. The front prints are larger than the rear with the average size being about 2.5 inches long by 2 inches wide.  They have an oval shape and are more oblong than a dog’s prints.  The claws are less prominent than a dogs and the two front claw marks will be close together.


The earliest versions of the horse drawn sickle mower began to appear around 1845 but they didn’t become popular until the 1860’s.  By the second world war there was a push from the government to replace work animals with tractors.  This example of a late 1800’s farm implement sits on display in the front lawn of the Terra Cotta Inn.


Across the street from The Forge Park stands this old building.  Typical of wagon maker shops this building has a doorway on the second floor where painted parts would be left to dry.  The date stone on the front of the building is badly worn but appears to say 1900.


On the edge of town stands this gorgeous five bay Georgian Revivalist home which is very similar to the Cawthra Estate house we visited last weekend.


There is plenty left to visit in Terra Cotta including the historic brickworks and kilns. These will have to wait for another time.

Google maps link: Terra Cotta

GPS coordinates for Terra Cotta Waterfalls:  N 43° 43.165 W 079° 58.165

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Lotten – Cawthra Estate Mississauga

Sunday Jan. 31, 2016

York (Toronto) was just ten years old in 1803 when Joseph Cawthra emigrated from Yorkshire in England.  He was granted 400 acres of land extending north from Lake Ontario.  Cawthra raised nine children and soon found that farming wasn’t for him so he moved to York where he established an apothecary and then a general store.  They built houses at King and Sherbourne and later at King and Bay.  The land grant was broken up when the lake front portion was given to Mabel Cawthra and her husband Agar Adamson for a wedding gift.  The Adamson Estate was featured in a previous post.

In 1926 Grace Cawthra-Elliot and her husband Colonel Harry Cawthra Elliot built a new home on the family property near Port Credit using bricks covered with plaster.  The old dirt road that accessed the home has since been named Cawthra Road and widened to 6 lanes in places.  The home was built to remind them of the families roots in England in a style known as Georgian Revivalist.  The house is five bays long designed symmetrically around the centre door.  Each window has twelve over twelve double hung sash windows. They feature plain lintels above each window and plain lugsills below.  At two and one half stories the upper floor has quarter round gable windows with radiating muntins.  Some say it also has the ghost of a servant who can be seen looking out the quarter round windows at Cawthra Road.


The house was designed to make a statement with the front door where the symmetry continues down to the centre line.  Four pilasters support a simple entablature above the doorway.  Side lights mounted on either side of the door are made of wrought iron as are the shutter hinges and closures.


The front of the house featured a extensive lawn with landscaped gardens along either side.  The gardens were accessed by three sets of steps which today lead into the new growth of trees which have taken over the property.


The Cawthras had a swimming pool dug in the front yard, at the end of the south gardens. The swimming pool was filled with water collected on the property and at one time was much larger than the remnant that lies behind the chain link fence.  The two steps that can be seen in the picture below would have been under water in the 1930’s when the pool was one of only a couple in Mississauga.  We previously featured pictures of Mississauga’s first swimming pool, constructed in 1918, in our story on Riverwood Estate.


The north side of the house also featured extensive gardens.  A wide lawn stood between the house and the family’s prized rose gardens.  Their orchard was at the end of the rose gardens and provided a quiet place for Grace and Harry to sit and quietly enjoy their country home.  The picture below shows the rose bushes whose green leaves provide a welcome change from the usual browns of mid-winter.


The north gardens were flanked by a row of pine trees on either side.  This row of trees is clearly visible from Cawthra Road as you drive by, once you know where to look for it.


The Cawthras built themselves a walled garden where they could grow flowers and vegetables and keep them protected from the local rabbits and deer.  The wall was three bricks thick and stood over 8 feet tall.  They featured arched entrance ways and, like the house,  were built with bricks brought from Yeadon Hall, the family home at College and St. George in Toronto.


The property was legally known as lot 10 in the original survey and so they called it Cawthra Lotten.  The house can be seen behind the gate post.  Joseph recieved the grant in 1804 and by 1808 he had completed the requirements to take full possession of the property.  These requirements normally included the clearing and fencing of a few acres, the construction of a small house and the clearing and maintaining the road allowance along the sides of the property.  The house was added in 1926 and Grace lived here from then until she passed away in 1974.  The city of Mississauga purchased the property at that time and operates it as a limited use park because it contains specimens of Jefferson salamanders.  They are one of the salamander species considered most at risk in Ontario. Fences are in place to keep people from disturbing their habitat.  We have previously featured pictures of the eastern red-backed salamander, one at least risk, in our Vandalized Memorial post.


Having parked at the end of 9th street we made our way through the woods that cover the former lawns of the estate.  The forest floor is littered with the trunks of ash trees that were recently cut down.  Most of the ash trees in southern Ontario will be killed by the Emerald Ash Borer.  This insect will have completed it’s devastation by 2017 having killed 99% of the 860,000 ash trees in Toronto alone.  The city of Mississauga is in a similar situation and is actively removing ash trees and replacing them with other native trees. The picture below shows the remains of ash trees lying on the ground among the pink ribbons of the newly planted replacement trees.


Google maps link: Cawthra Estate

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Sunnybrook Park

Saturday January 30, 2016

In the early 1900’s Toronto’s wealthy elite bought large country estates on the edge of the city where they kept their horses and engaged in fox hunts for leisure.  They moved to the Bayview and Lawrence area where they could live in opulence in their grand English styled mansions. Most of these lots featured the steep ravines of the West Don River and it’s tributaries.  Several of these grand homes are featured in Bayview Estates and today we look at the former estate that now contains Sunnybrook Hospital and Sunnybrook Park.

Joseph Kilgour along with his older brother Robert had made their fortune in the paper industry.  In 1874 they started Kilgour Brothers in Toronto where they specialized in paper bags and cardboard boxes.  The business grew into one of the largest of it’s kind in the country under the name Canada Paper Box Company.  In 1909 Joseph and his wife Alice bought a 200 acre lot south of Lawrence Avenue where he established Sunnybrook Farms.  It was one of the first country estates along Bayview Avenue and one of the largest as well.  Starting at Bayview (first line east) and Blythwood it stretched across to Leslie Street (second line east).  Joseph died in 1926 and although Alice would live for 12 more years she transferred the land to the city for a park just two years later. Joseph and Alice built themselves a grand country manor in the English tradition.  The home had high wood beam ceilings and oak paneling on the walls. The open gallery made it ideal for hosting parties and displaying a couple of his hunting trophies.  An archive photo of the inside of the Kilgour mansion around 1910 is seen below.  Note the rooms that exit off each side of the gallery.

Interior of Joseph Kilgour home. - [ca. 1912]

The house has since been removed and Sunnybrook Hospital was built in it’s place. Having parked on Stratford Crescent, just east of Bayview, I walked through the Sunnybrook Hospital grounds keeping the single smoke stack in view at the rear of the facility.  At the back of the hospital campus is a former access road that leads down to the stables and a parking lot at the bottom of the ravine.  The sign at the top of the hill says that access to Leslie Street is closed.  One of the conditions of the park is that there should never be a road running between Bayview and Leslie.  For that reason the bridge at the bottom of the hill has been closed. The bridge also supports a cast iron water pipe as it crosses the West Don river from the former mansion to the stables.


Major Kilgour was one of the best known horse men in North America.  His reputation for keeping a well bred stable of hunting horses was celebrated, as was the farm he built.  He named the estate Sunnybrook Farm and it was considered to be the perfect model hobby farm in it’s day.  The stables were used by the Metropolitan Toronto Police for their mounted unit to house their mounts until they moved their horses to the horse pavilion at Exhibition Place in 2005.


Kilgour built one of the first indoor riding arenas in Canada.  It also featured a viewing gallery with the provision of a section for a minstrel in the gallery.  Groomsmen’s quarters provided living space for the men who took care of his horses.


The stables were built adjacent to the Don River with the table lands above used for horse riding and frequent fox hunts.  Today this area can be reached by a road to a parking lot or by 86 stone stairs that climb the ravine behind the stables.  The former plateau has been converted to a series of sports fields.


Kilgour and his prized hunter Twilight would host fox hunts with 30-40 members of the Toronto Hunt’s Hounds riding in pink outfits on the plateau above the stables.  The Toronto Archive picture below is from around 1910 and shows Joseph and Twilight.

Joseph Kilgour and his hunter Twilight. - [ca. 1910]

As I made my way along the edge of the playing fields in search of the 116 stone stairs that would lead me back down to river level I was surprised to see a group of a dozen robins. Robins will stay over winter on occasion and with this year’s warm weather it’s possible some may have. These ones seem quite plump and I wonder if they didn’t get pushed a little north by the recent blizzard in the United States.


As the sign said “No winter maintenance.”


After making my way back down to the river level I stopped to check out a 150 year old log cabin that has been reconstructed in the park.  The Rotary Club of Don Mills moved this pioneer home here and dedicated it on July 16, 1975 to the people of Toronto.  The dedication plaque quotes John Milton from Paradise Lost “Accuse Not Nature, She Hath Done Her Part, Do Thou But Thine.”  This is a suitable motto for Hiking the GTA as well. Nature did it’s part, yours is to get out and simply enjoy.  Leave the wild flowers behind, but not your garbage.


Last year in February we walked across Etobicoke Creek to investigate what turned out to be a coyote mating ritual.  Based on current conditions I’m not sure I’ll be walking on any of the local waterways this year.  If you follow the West Don River upstream from Sunnybrook Park you enter an area known as Glendon Forest.  This forest is one of the largest natural areas in central Toronto and is a unique wildlife habitat that waits to be explored in the near future.  Two waterways join the Don River in Sunnybrook Park. Burke Brook enters the Don River just upstream from the stables and Wilket Creek enters just downstream.


For many years Sunnybrook Park was known as Kilgour Park and a set of elabourate stone gates marked the entrance off of Bayview Avenue.  The archive picture below is from 1933 and shows what the entrance to the roadway that I had used to access the river and stables in the valley looked like at the time.  Sunnybrook Park was granted as a perpetual free park for the citizens of Toronto but with permission of the family heirs a section was transferred to the government for construction of the hospital.  The gates were removed in the mid 1940’s when the hospital was built but a second set of gates remain in the park. The ones in the park have a plaque commemorating the 1928 donation of the park by Alice Kilgour.

Sunnybrook fence at Bayview

Sunnybrook Hospital has it’s own tales to tell.

Google Maps link: Sunnybrook Park

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