Monthly Archives: March 2016

Glendon Forest

Sunday Mar. 27, 2016

The piece of land that we call Glendon Forest was, in fact, cleared and used for farming between 1816 and 1920.  It has also been home to a quarry and a millionaire’s estate.  Today it belongs to York University.

Lot 5, first line east was first owned by John and Nancy Blewett who were the original settlers.  In 1818 they made arrangements with Francis Brock who operated a stone quarry known as Brock’s Quarry for close to 60 years.  Large boulders were left in the Don River Valley during the retreat of the last ice age and these were collected from along the lower lands of the flood plains.  By the 1860’s  the farm had been sold to John Burk but the 1878 atlas below shows it was owned by the Russell family by that time.  When the Russells sold it to Edward Rogers Wood in 1920 there were only two small areas of the original woodland that had not been cut down.  The area along the east valley slope and the west woodlot adjacent to Bayview Avenue.  This second woodlot is known as Lawrence’s Bush in honour of the neighbouring farms which belonged to Peter and John Lawrence after whom Lawrence Avenue is named.

Glendon Forest

E. R. Wood converted the open fields of the farm into an estate and woodland in just a few years.  The story of Glendon Estate is included in the post on Bayview Estates.  The park can be accessed from Sunnybrook Farms where there is parking near the stables. There is also parking on the east side of the river that can be reached from the back of Sunnybrook Hospital.  From here the trail starts near the closed bridge and follows the twisting West Don River.  It was a beautiful spring day with the sunlight dancing on the river.


Common Snowdrops bloom in the early spring from perennial bulbs.  Each bulb produces one flower which, when closed, resembles a drop of snow hanging from the pedicel.  Some countries have approved the use of an alkaloid from the plant to treat Alzheimer’s disease. There is a large patch of Common Snowdrops along the trail as it makes its way out of Sunnybrook Park.  Snowdrops were also seen the previous day in Jack Darling Park, this picture can be seen on our Facebook page.


Mallard ducks form into pairs before the mating season begins.  Mallards are generally monogamous with the females making the familiar quacking sound.  The males make a quieter, raspy sound when they can fit a word in.


Glendon Forest was replanted during the 1920’s by the Woods and today is home to a surprising array of plants and wildlife.  There are at least 37 species of rare flora and at least 100 species of fauna that call the forests, ravine slopes and wetlands home.  The picture below shows the marsh which is quiet today.  In a few weeks it will be alive with thousands of tadpoles and all the creatures that find them tasty.


Along the trail between Sunnybrook Park and Glendon Forest there are three bridges, the first two abandoned.  These bridges have been closed, in part, as an effort to keep people from using the trails on the east side of the river.  There is a plan to let the east part of the forest naturalize because the trails on that side have eroded badly in many places.  The trail from the other side of this bridge leads to the old access road for the Brock Quarry.  It can be seen in the cover photo.


Quietly rotting in the trees along the side of the west trail are the remains of this wagon.


After passing the second closed bridge you come to the only one that is still open.  It leads to a campus parking lot which contains the trail-head for the eastern trails.  Adjacent to the modern bridge are the old abutments for the previous bridge.


Like the Common Snowdrops featured above, Coltsfoot is another sure sign of spring. This year they are a week ahead of their first appearance a year ago when we found them while investigating Churchville.


The picture below shows the second closed bridge, as seen from the east side of the river. Notice the major crack on the concrete at the left hand side of the bridge.  The quarry was located close the the site of this bridge, which is a replacement for an earlier one.

Glendon Bridge

The 1947 aerial view below shows the east side of the Glendon Forest as it was in 1947. Closed bridge number 2 is located on the upper left with closed bridge number 1 on the lower left.  The old gravel quarry laneway runs along the wooded eastern slope of the ravine and is mostly hidden in the dark strip of trees.  The leading end is marked near the first bridge and the tail end can be seen where it meets the roadway between the second bridge and Lawrence Avenue, which runs along the top of the picture.  The slope above the roadway had collapsed at some time in the past and was reinforced with a stone wall.  As can be seen in the cover photo, this wall is now collapsing as well.

Glendon Aerial

A tree was used to cross Limestone Creek in Nassagaweya Canyon last weekend that was half the size of this tree.  Limestone Creek is small and would have provided wet feet if one slipped off of the tree.  The Don River is high, moving fast and very cold.  This tree could be crossed in the summer, but not when the Don River is raging as it is right now.


Along the eastern trail as it approaches Sunnybrook Park are four concrete platforms standing in the woods beside the river.


In the distance of this picture is another closed bridge.  This one crosses the Don River between Sunnybrook Park and Sunnybrook Hospital and I was parked just to the right of it.  This bridge was closed after the park was donated to the city by Alice Kilgour. Alice requested that the park be free for the use of everyone and that there not be any road passing through from Bayview Avenue to Leslie Street.  Having completed the loop around the forest I was almost back to the car.  However, a large chunk of the trail has been eroded away and you can’t get to the bridge along this path.  The options here are to turn around and go back to the bridge or attempt go up the side of the ravine.  I recommend you go back, or don’t come this far, because sliding down the hill would drop you in the river.


Glendon Forest will need to be visited again when all that rare flora and fauna is around to be observed.

Google Maps link: Glendon Forest

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Roundhouse Park

Sunday March 20, 2016

In the 1850’s the era of steam locomotives arrived in Toronto.  At that time the name “Front Street” applied to the street that ran along the water front.  Wanting access to the harbour, the railways decided to create land by in-filling, a process that continued for another 70 years until the corner of Front and John Streets was half a mile from the water. Running for two miles from Strachan Avenue to Yonge Street this new land became known as the railway lands.  The picture below shows the railway lands with Spadina Street Bridge crossing near the middle.  The Canadian National (CN) Spadina roundhouse can be seen just above it with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) John Street roundhouse near the top of the picture.


The first railway to enter Toronto was the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron in 1853.  They built a station near the current Union Station.  Soon the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) and the Great Western arrived in town.  The first Union Station was built by the GTR in 1873 and served the growing needs of the railway lands.  In 1888 the CPR brought a new level of competition and they soon outgrew the Union Station.  By 1900 plans were in place for a new Union Station with construction beginning in 1915 but it didn’t open until 1927.  In 1923 the GTR went bankrupt and was merged into the CN.


When the CPR was completed it passed through Leaside and over the Vale of Avoca and the Belt Line Railway ravine and bypassed downtown Toronto.  The CPR was finally granted permission to access downtown via the Don Valley and they constructed the Half-Mile Bridge. They built a station named Don Station at the corner of Queen Street in 1896.  The station remained in use until 1967 when it was closed.  From 1969 until 2008 it was housed at Todmorden Mills.  In 2008 it was moved to Roundhouse Park where it was restored and opened as a visitor’s centre.  The restored Don Station is seen in the cover photo.

Servicing and repairing trains became a major function of the rail yards and the best way to store locomotive engines was in a circular building or roundhouse.  The John Street Roundhouse was built in 1929 and had 32 bays.  Each of these was accessed by a set of tracks that linked up with the turntable.


Locomotives were usually operated in one direction and the turntable was used to turn them around.  This is a twin span turntable and in this photo it is shown with the Reinhard Vinegar wood tank car on it.


The picture below from 1973 shows the CPR John Street roundhouse on the upper left. Notice that the coal towers are located east of the roundhouse, almost out of the photograph.  The coal tower has since been relocated to the west end of the roundhouse. The footings for the CN tower are just rising above grade level in the middle of the shot. On the right the CN Spadina roundhouse, built in 1928, can be seen.


As the area around Union Station became busier the control of the signal lights and track switches became more complicated.  The GTR built five control towers lettered A to E with cabin D located just west of Bathurst Street where several tracks converged.  Switch tenders manually set the track switches according to directions broadcast from the cabin. When the other cabins were replaced with modern structures in 1931 Cabin D was left in operation.  It used this manual system until 1983 when the cabin was moved to Roundhouse Park.  Beside Cabin D is it’s tool shed as seen below.


The coaling tower at the roundhouse has been relocated and is currently sheltering some of the museum’s pieces.  Coaling towers were used to elevate coal above the train so that it could be gravity fed via a chute into the steam engine tender.  The picture below shows the black Canadian National Vanderbilt cylindrical tender that was coupled with the museum’s CNR 6213 steam locomotive.  It would have been loaded with coal at a tower such as this.


The Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo (TH&B) was originally chartered in 1884 and began operations is 1892.  In 1895 the CPR and the New York  Central Railroad bought the TH&B and jointly operated it.  They never built the railway into either Toronto or Buffalo and so the name is a bit misleading.  The steel sheathed, wood sided caboose below was built in 1921.  A caboose was intended to provide a home-away-from-home for the rail crew.  The cupola on the roof was designed to allow the crew to observe the performance of the train in front of them and apply emergency brakes if required.  In the mid 1950’s it was painted yellow and black after the colours of the Hamilton Tiger Cats.  It has now been fully restored and added to the Toronto Railway Museum, a city in which it never served.


One of the more unusual pieces of rolling stock that the museum has is RVLX 101 which is a rare wooden tank car.  It was originally built in 1938 and acquired by Reinhart Vinegars in Stayner in 1964.  They used it for the next 12 years to ship vinegar to Dallas, Texas.  It has been in museums since 1976.


The wooden box car was the most common piece of stock used by the railways.  The CPR owned over 33,000 of them and this example was built in 1917.


One of the newest operations in the roundhouse is Steam Whistle Breweries.  They occupy the first 14 bays in the roundhouse and opened for business in 2000.  The three founders were former employees of Upper Canada Brewing and have the code 3FG embossed on the bottom of their bottles as a reference to the fact that they were 3 Fired Guys.  The photo below shows the rear of the roundhouse and a number of Steam Whistle vehicles.  The former roundhouse water tower is in the background, painted in the Steam Whistle colours.  The truck in the foreground is a 1957 Chevrolet 3100 Apache.


The CN Spadina roundhouse was demolished in 1986 to make room for Skydome (now Rogers Centre).  When the stadium was built they created a monument to the Chinese workers who helped build the CPR and unite the country.  Between 1880 and 1885 there were 17,000 men who came to work on the railway through the rocky mountains in Alberta and British Columbia.  Over 4,000 of the Chinese workers lost their lives and many others had no way to get back to China when the work was finished.  This memorial is in appreciation of all those people whose names have been lost to history.


One of the newest tenants of Union Station is the Union Pearson Express.


The John Street roundhouse was renovated in the 1990’s and opened as Roundhouse Park in 1997.

Google Maps link: Roundhouse Park

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Nassagaweya Canyon

Saturday March 19, 2016

The cover photo shows a turkey vulture sitting in a tree looking out across the Nassagaweya Canyon.  This canyon is a deep cut in the Niagara Escarpment and it takes it’s name from an Indian word meaning “Meeting of two rivers”.  Sixteen Mile Creek and Bronte Creek both occupy the canyon.  When the escarpment was formed a large river cut through the bedrock and created an island of rock which is known as the Milton Outlier.  It has Rattlesnake Point on the southern end.  Four ice ages have further carved the river channel and widened it to the present size as glacial meltwaters flowed through the canyon.

When the county atlas was drawn in 1877 the 4th line was continuous and ran along the Nassagaweya Canyon floor next to Limestone Creek.  The portion of road through the canyon has since been closed.  The northern section is now known as Canyon Road and the part south of Rattlesnake Point is known as Walker’s line.  We parked on Canyon Road where it dead ends near the north end of Nassagaweya Canyon. The closed roadway is still open as a trail which leads toward a connection with the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail, The Bruce Trail and a Bruce side trail.  One possible factor in the closing of this road allowance is the wetlands that it passes through and it’s three crossings of Limestone Creek.  I’ve marked the road in red and the property of John Agnew with a red arrow.

Rattlesnake Point

The early settlers who owned the land grants on either side of this road struggled with the maintenance and elected to create a corduroy road.  Logs were placed perpendicular to the roadway to make the road passable.  These roads were bumpy at best and a danger to horses because the logs often shifted.  They were not as refined as plank roads like the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road.  The picture below shows a section where the logs from the corduroy road are showing through the mud and grass.


Along the old roadway there is clear evidence of human engineering in the form of drainage pipes, ditches and embankments.  At one point we noted a ridge on the west side of the road that didn’t look natural or man made.  Beavers build retaining walls for their ponds by scooping dirt up using their tails.  The trees around the pond don’t show any sign of recent chewing and so it looks like the beaver pond has been abandoned for a little while.


The old road allowance connects with several other trails including the main Bruce Trail which is marked with a white blaze.  The blue blazes indicate Bruce Trail side trails and the orange is the 7.2 kilometer Nassagaweya Canyon Trail.  Following it to the right will bring you to Crawford Lake and the restored village of Longhouses there.  Following it, as we did, to the left takes you up the Milton Outlier where the trail follows the canyon edge to Rattlesnake Point.


The blue side trail indicated above with two markers in a T formation is the Jack Leech Porter trail.  It is named after a member of the Iroquoia Section and had a boardwalk installed in the mid-1980’s.  In 2010 it was decided to replace the old 480-foot boardwalk with the new one which features a 16-foot bridge over Limestone Creek.  An 8-foot rest area is built into the boardwalk and can be seen in the picture below.


The Nassagaweya Canyon provides a perfect habitat for Turkey Vultures.  They nest on the sides of the cliffs and in April or May produce up to three eggs.  The little ones are fed with regurgitated carrion which makes a smell that attracts predators.  The remote edges of the canyon cliffs provide protection for the nests from these threats.  The vultures spend the winter south of New Jersey and have recently returned to the canyon.  We were approaching Rattlesnake Point when we saw several pairs of vultures circling and resting in trees.  Making our way along the edge of the cliff allowed us to get some close-up shots of the birds.


When we visited Rattlesnake Point last weekend we noted an old farm house near the mouth of the canyon.  From our vantage point, we had wondered if it might be abandoned and if we should investigate it some day.  We decided that climbing down the side of the cliff to reach the canyon floor was the only way to find out and so we set out to do so.  We are in no way suggesting that this is a good idea or that you do this.  This picture shows the limestone cliff face near Rattlesnake Point from part way down the side of the canyon. Traversing the valley would allow us to turn the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail into a loop instead of the usual two-way walk.


Limestone Creek is a tributary of Bronte Creek and flows through the canyon.  We found a solid tree that had fallen across the creek to use as our bridge.  The forest through the canyon valley is quite young and most of the trees appear to be less than 40 years old.


The mouth of the canyon at the south end is full of glacial deposits of sand and gravel. Farmers had to clear their fields of rocks every spring and they were lined up along the edge of fields in place of a fence.  This old stone fence marks the line where a field on the right has recently gone back to forest while the one the left was sold for the mining of aggregates. This property belonged to John Agnew in 1877 as shown on the county atlas above.


The abandoned house we were seeking is on the edge of the old quarry.  This story and a half Georgian style home has a small dormer on the front which sits just slightly off centre.


 The house hasn’t been abandoned for very long as there is little damage from weather or vandals.  The view from the upstairs hallway looks out over the extension at the rear of the house toward the site of the quarry.  The tree to the left of the house has an abandoned dog house beneath it.


We had to ascend the canyon’s western wall to where we could see people on the Bruce Trail walking along the top of the cliff.


This is the view from the top of the canyon looking back across to the Milton Outlier.  We had descended the 144 feet to the canyon floor at the left end of the white limestone cliffs on the far side.


Scarlet Elf Cup is a type of fungus that grows in early winter through to early spring.  They are bright red on the inside and were used by the Oneida people to stop the bleeding on umbilical cords when an infant bled longer than usual.  We found large patches of them growing along the closed roadway.


Along the old 4th line road allowance stand the remains of this old building, likely abandoned long before the road was.


Google Maps link: Nassagaweya Canyon Trail

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Beltline Railway – Moore Park

Sunday March 13, 2016

Long before the discussion of subway vs LRT Toronto had it’s first commuter railway in service in 1892.  The Belt Line Railway was intended to take advantage of the building boom the city had been experiencing in the 1880’s.  The Belt Land Corporation was formed in 1890 and new communities named Moore Park, Forest Hill, Fairbank and Fairbank Junction were planned. They purchased large tracts of land and subdivided them into lots and then built a commuter rail system with 44 stops to service them.  Many of these stations were little more than a wooden shack similar to a bus shelter.  These were known as whistle stops and the train only stopped if requested.  The grand masterpiece of all the stations was the one at Moore Park.  It is seen in the cover photo and was intended to service the richest community on the line.  With four towers surmounted with conical roofs, often called “witches hats”, it was intended to speak of the elegance of the neighbourhood.  The fact that the station was really still on the edge of town can be seen in the presence of a chicken standing at the door waiting to get in.

The building boom came to a crashing end when a recession set in.  The lots stood empty and the speculators had their capital tied up without return.  The ridership never showed up and the company was unable to support the failing railway.  At 5 cents per station ($1.00 in today’s economy) it was too expensive and there was no way to continue beyond the first 28 months of passenger service.  Service was discontinued and the station was abandoned.  We started our exploration of this part of the old railway at the site of the Moore Park station on Moore Avenue where I parked on Brendan Road.  Today the former site can be seen clearly again because of the removal of ash trees in the wake of the Emerald Ash Borer’s devastation.  Notice also the steep slope of the rail line which was too much to haul freight up.  After passenger service ended this section of tracks was abandoned.  The rails were removed from this section of railway and shipped to France during World War 1.  After the war the station was demolished.


The old map below shows the route of the railway with Moore Park being on the right hand side at the northern edge of the city as it existed in 1890.  The CPR bridge and the Belt Line station are also shown on the map.  The ravine with Yellow Creek that forms the western boundary is marked as Vale of Avoca.


Moore Park was a land speculation concept of John Thomas Moore who envisioned an exclusive enclave for the very rich on the edge of Toronto.  Mud Creek and Yellow Creek each have a deep ravine and the table land between them remained undeveloped.  Moore built the original bridge east of Yonge Street on St. Clair (3rd Concession) over Yellow Creek to allow access to his subdivision.  He named that bridge the Vale of Avoca and the replacement one bears the same name.  To support his community he attracted the Belt Line Railway to the eastern ravine where Mud Creek flowed.  With the housing crash, most of the lots in Moore Park remained undeveloped until decades after the demise of the railway that was intended to serve it.  The railway lands lay abandoned until the city purchased them in 1990 with the intention of creating a linear park 4.5 kilometers long.  In 2000 the Beltline Park was renamed Kay Gardner Beltline Park after a local city councilor.

The Belt Line pond formed when the rail line was built and has been the site of recent restoration efforts.  The water level is low right now but ducks have begun to pair up in preparation for mating season and there were two pairs in the pond.


As you progress south along the old rail bed there are seven circular stone formations along the east side of the trail.  They may have been old wells but if so, they have been filled in almost to ground level.  Their construction suggests that they may have been contemporary with the construction of the rail line and therefore could have been ash pits. Regardless of their historic use the abundance of plant pots and fertilizer products suggests that they may have gained a whole new purpose for some urban agriculturalist.


Many of Toronto’s ravines have been altered over the years until they would hardly be recognized by the original land owners.  They have been used for landfill sites and many of them contain several feet of buried garbage in the bottom.  Along one area of Mud Creek the sides of the hill are covered with broken concrete from a building demolition.


When the railway released its promotional schedules it began to refer to Mud Creek as Spring Creek because it sounded better.  In places where the creek has been left natural it it still a beautiful place in spite of its unflattering name.


The North Toronto subdivision of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was the main line between Toronto and Montreal.  It passes over both the Vale of Avoca and the Belt Line railway and prior to construction of the Half Mile Bridge, trains had to back from Toronto Junction into downtown.  When the North Toronto Station was built at Yonge Street passenger traffic increased greatly and it was decided to double track the line.  In 1918 old steel trestles were replaced over both of these ravines with concrete ones which were built of similar construction.  The bridge over Mud Creek is 386 feet long and 80 feet high.


Gabion is a word we borrowed from the Italian language and it means cage.  We use it as a term to describe a civil engineering feature that is used to control erosion.  A wire cage is filled with stones and placed along the banks of a stream.  In this case along Mud Creek the gabion on the right hand side of the picture is already drooping into the stream because the dirt has eroded away below it.


Mud Creek was redirected from it’s natural course to flow through the Don Valley Brick Works to provide a source of water for use in the brick making industry.  Many of the bricks used in historic Toronto were manufactured at this site with clay that was dug out of the rear of the property.  When the clay was exhausted the factory was closed and left abandoned.  Recent efforts to rehabilitate the property have resulted in the partial filling in of the huge hole left from the open pit clay mine.  It has been turned into a park with ponds where people can walk and enjoy the wildlife that has made itself home here.


The trail leads to the Don Valley Brick Works buildings which have been transformed into a farmer’s market, heritage museum and parkland.


Beyond the Brick Works the trail connects to Milkman’s Lane.

Google Maps link: Belt Line Trail

Getting there by transit: From Davisville Station walk two blocks south past Merton to the trail.  The south end is accessible via route 28 which also runs from Davisville Station.

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Rattlesnake Point

Saturday March 12, 2016

Rattlesnake Point is located on a mesa-like outlier where the Niagara Escarpment makes a rise in elevation from about 240 meters to 440 meters.  A glacial ravine divides it from the vertical rock faces of the escarpment to the west.  This ravine, known as Nassagaweya Canyon, is partially filled in with glacial stream deposits.

On the 1877 County Atlas map below the escarpment is marked by a series of scalloped lines that indicate a quick change in elevation.  Just west of Milton the shape of the escarpment reminded the surveyors of the shape of a rattlesnake’s tail.  The southern promontory of this geological formation was known as Rattlesnake Point at least 140 years ago when the map was drawn.  Timber Rattlesnakes were seen here by the hundreds sunning themselves on the rocks but they have been gone for over 60 years.  The land is rugged and covered with rocks but the map shows that it has all been granted as homesteads to settlers.  Joseph Dice owned the property with Rattlesnake Point on it while his father, Matthew owned the one just below it.  The little square of small dots beside the larger one on Joseph’s property indicate an apple orchard planted near the house.  In a twist of the macabre, Joseph died on Aug. 1, 1917 when the wagon load of hay he was harvesting rolled over.  He jumped clear from the wagon but the horses bolted and they dragged the wagon wheel over his abdomen, fatally wounding him.

Rattlesnake Point

Joseph Dice never opened the road allowance up the side of Rattlesnake Point and it is shown as a dashed line on the map above.  It has since been opened and now features a tight hairpin curve as you climb the escarpment.  Whereas the land on top of the escarpment was predominantly open in the 1870’s it has now been largely reforested. Some of the new tree cover was planted in straight rows while other areas have been reclaimed naturally over the years.


Eastern White Cedar trees can live to be hundreds of years old.  Starting in 1998 the Niagara Escarpment Ancient Tree Atlas Project began identifying trees that are between 500 and 700 years old.  These cedar trees cling to the cliff face where their ecosystem has remained undisturbed during the clearing of the table land for farming.  They also tend to be small in size making them less desirable than the trees that the farmers harvested for fence posts and other building materials.  Prior to opening the park to sport rock climbing it was necessary to conduct a study to make sure that none of these ancient trees were disturbed. At Rattlesnake Point one cedar, for instance, was identified at 588 years old but only 3.2 meters tall.  The cedar tree clinging to the rock face in the picture below is not that specific tree but demonstrates how they can find a way to survive almost anywhere.


The Trafalgar Lookout is seen in the cover photo and is near to one of the rock climbing areas.  in 2006 a series of bolts were installed on the top of the cliff face in areas where the vertical face was clear of vegetation.  These bolts are inspected regularly to provide a safe anchor for top-roping.  Once the rope has been run through the anchor it is dropped over the side.  At this location there is a set of stairs to provide access to the cliff bottom.  Top-roping is usually how most rock climbers get started.  We saw a licensed  instructor teaching first timers how to rope off at the top of the cliff.  A second type of climbing, known as lead climbing, is done near the same location on a tall thin fragment of rock that stands a few feet out from the cliff face.  In lead climbing a rope is clipped to the rock wall every few feet to limit the amount of a potential fall.  The climber removes the clips as they ascend and fixes them to their belt.  On the way back down they replace them for the next climber.  We watched the guy in the picture below as he made his way up onto that thin sliver of rock.  Notice the collection of clips on his belt.


The picture below is taken from beside the rock face that the individual above was climbing.  Looking up you can see some small cedars clinging to the rock face on the side where climbing is not allowed.


The hackberry tree is a member of the hemp family and can live up to 200 years.  It has a light grey bark which has extensive ridges and warts on it.  It will bloom between late April and early May and produces both male and female flowers on the same tree making it a monoecious plant.  The natives used hackberry bark to treat sore throats, sexual diseases and menstrual cramps.  They also ate the fruit in a form of a porridge.  Today, the fruit is eaten fresh or in the form of jam.  Leaves from the tree provide food for deer and small mammals and birds eat the fruit.  The hackberry tree does not grow farther north than Halton and is part of the Carolinian Forest, the richest vegetation zone in Canada.


Around 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, glacial melt and raging rivers carved out sections of the escarpment.  The Nassagaweya  Canyon is one of these meltwater channels.  The canyon runs between the Milton Outlier which contains Rattlesnake Point and Crawford Lake with it’s historic village of Longhouses.  The mouth of the canyon is filled with glacial outwash till and is home to sand and gravel quarries like the one in the picture below.


Lowville Valley extends 5 kilometers between Rattlesnake Point and Mount Nemo.  It is drained by Bronte Creek which was a powerful river when the glaciers were melting.  Lake Ontario can be seen in the distance.


Eastern chipmunks hibernate in the winter and are a sign of the return of spring.  They live in solitary except during mating season which happens in early spring and again in early summer.  We saw several pairs of them playing their little chipmunk games.  A litter of four or five will emerge from the den about six weeks after they are born.  Within two weeks the newborns will set off to build their own dens.  Those that don’t end up as prey to hawks, snakes or a wide variety of predatory mammals will live for three years or possibly longer.


Looking to the east you can see the towers of Mississauga and on a clear day, the CN tower.


Rattlesnake Point contains several trails including the Bruce Trail, the Vista Adventure trail and Buffalo Crag trail.  The Nassagaweya Canyon trail also connects at Rattlesnake Point.

Google Maps link: Rattlesnake Point

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Mt. Charles – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday Mar. 6, 2016

Mount Charles is a lost town at the corner of Dixie and Derry Road.  In the 1870’s it was a small community of about 50 people but they had two wagon making shops to serve the needs of local farmers.  The Second Purchase, or Treaty 19, was signed in 1818 in which the First Nations surrendered most of what is now Peel County.   In 1819 it was surveyed and our modern Derry Road was simply a narrow trail cut through dense forest by the surveyors.  Charles King Sr. arrived 1819 and took the 100 acre land grant on the north east corner of Dixie and Derry.  Seven years later his son, Charles Jr., received the adjoining land grant.  The community started to grow under the name of Kings Crossing or King’s Corners.  Charles Jr. opened a post office in 1862 in his store on the south east corner (where the gas station is today).  To avoid confusion with other communities they decided to drop King in favour of Charles.  There are no hills, let alone mountains, in the area so the name Mount Charles may contain a bit of jest as well.  By the time of the county atlas in 1877 the Kings had sold their homestead and it was owned by James Jackson.  The pioneer cemetery is located on this lot.  Also shown on the atlas are the two homes featured in the story below.

Mt. Charles (3)


One of two surviving houses in Mount Charles is the former farmhouse of the Dale family. John Dale was a farmer and may also have been the Justice of the Peace.  This three bay house also features an odd off-centre doorway.  In Georgian styled homes the doorway is almost always centrally located in a well balanced layout.  This home has recently been restored and is in use.


The Dale family farm is now home to the Ontario Khalsa Darbar which is one of the largest Sikh temples in Canada. Formally known as a gurdwara, or doorway to the Guru, this is the place of worship and celebration for the Sikh faith.  This temple can attract up to 10,000 people for special days and in spite of it’s size can be over-crowded.


By the 1870’s the town was typical of rural Ontario with it’s own blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop in addition to the wagon makers.  Being on a well traveled road, they also had need of an inn for travelers to rest their horses and wet their dry throats.  The Primitive Methodists had a church in town until around 1859 when they appear to have joined with the congregation in the town of Palestine at the next crossroads.  The community had already been sharing a school with Palestine.

Built in 1860 the Hornby House went through several owners and so is listed on the heritage register as the Hornby-Scarlett Ambler-Courtney House.  It is shown on the atlas at the end of a long lane way on the estate of William Hornby.  Hornby also owned a corner lot in down town Mt. Charles.  The house was moved from its original location on the lot so that it could be saved during the development of the farm as a subdivision.  The five bay, one and a half story house has ornate brickwork with highly decorative wooden trim.


It now serves as the Old Scarlett House Restaurant and is located near the corner of Dixie Road and Courtney Park Drive East.


Charles Irvin and his wife Jane were both born in the 1790’s when the colony of Upper Canada was just getting it’s start.  They came to Mount Charles where Charles worked as a weaver.  Weavers provided a valuable service in the community because they freed the women up from the task of weaving all their own cloth.  Weavers usually kept a small herb garden to grow plants used to dye the wool.  Irvin became locally famous and his loom is now located in Black Creek Pioneer Village in the Charles Irvin Weaver’s Shop.  The cemetery, which still contained a church on the county atlas, is the other remaining evidence of the community that once thrived here.  Several of the King family are buried here including both Charles Sr. and Jr.


Mt. Charles is a ghost town that has been slowly wiped from existence by the huge industrial zone around the airport.  Until a few years  ago there were several other buildings which have since been lost.  The south west corner contained three buildings in 2003, including the old blacksmith shop, but they have since been demolished.  We followed Etobicoke Creek south along the west end of Toronto Pearson International Airport where a formal trail begins near Courtneypark Drive.  We followed the trail south along the airport, at times right along side the fence.  In 1937 the Toronto Harbour Commission began to buy farms in the area of Malton for the purpose of establishing an airport.  When it opened in 1939 it was known as Malton Airport and the Chapman farmhouse served as both the offices and the original terminal.  The archive photo below shows the house in 1937.


The trail is a great place for people who love to watch airplanes landing and taking off. Being in an industrial zone it was nearly empty and we saw plenty of wildlife which might be in hiding during lunch hours on a week day.  We crested a hill in time to see half a dozen white tail deer who vanished into the thickets along the Etobicoke Creek.  Today the view through the fence is quite different then it was in the 1937 picture above.


There are several local species of mammal that look similar and can be distinguished by their colouring and habitat.  Along Etobicoke Creek we saw at least three different examples of the American Mink.  They have dark brown fur with a white patch on the chin. They are very fast and refuse to pose for pictures.  Their diet consists of small animals but can include rabbits and the occasional sea food in the form of crayfish and sometimes also unwary birds.


White tail deer give live birth to their fawns between late April and early July.  This doe was sitting in the woods quietly observing us.



The former town of Mount Charles may have disappeared under the development of the airport but there still remains a few reminders of the community that was.

Google Maps link:  Mount Charles

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Union Mills – Unionville

Saturday March 4, 2016

When millwright Ira White arrived at the north end of what would become Unionville in 1839 he recognized the east half of lot 13 in the 5th concession to be an ideal site to harness the water power of Bruce Creek.  He built a sawmill first and then set about cutting the wood for the grist mill he built where the creek crosses Main Street in Unionville.  This street was originally the winding lane to the mill but soon became lined with homes and businesses as the community grew around the mills.  It is believed that White named his mills Union Mills when Upper and Lower Canada were united in 1841.  When a name was needed for the post office Unionville was selected.  An archive photo of the mill is seen in the cover picture.  The area along the main street has now been declared as a cultural heritage district because of it’s unique collection of heritage buildings that demonstrate many architectural styles from log houses to condos.

Toogood pond was named after Arthur Toogood who owned the property prior to the town of Markham buying it in 1980.  We parked on Main Street in the public lot across the street from the original site of Union Mills and walked along Bruce Creek toward the dam.  An early name for the mill pond was Willow Pond and the reason for this can still be seen today in the old willow trees that line the sides of Toogood Pond.


On the east side of Toogood Pond is a pavilion with restrooms that are open and heated at this time of year.  There is also a viewing deck and restaurant.  This picture is taken from the fishing platform that is built out into the pond on the west shore.


William Berczy led a group of about 67 families of Pennsylvanian German settlers into the woods north of Toronto and founded what would become Markham.  They completed 15 miles of Yonge Street between Eglinton Avenue and Elgin Mills and one of his group was Philip Eckardt.  Berczy Creek flows into Toogood Pond and is named after Berczy.  The trail criss-crosses the creek several times before reaching 16th Avenue which runs along the south side of lot 16.  One of the bridges across the creek can be seen in the picture below. By walking east on 16th avenue for 1 kilometer you will come to Bruce Creek which leads back to the pond.  A little side detour to Kennedy Road will bring you to a surprising log home and pioneer cemetery.


The oldest surviving home in the community of Unionville is known as the Philip Eckardt Log House. Lot 17 in the 6th concession was first granted to Frederick Westphalen in 1794, when he arrived with Berczy, and he received his crown patent in 1803.  In order to receive the full ownership of the property a settler had to complete some basic requirements including the clearing of 5 acres of land, the construction of a home at least sixteen by twenty feet and the opening of the road allowance along the property.  Therefore, there was a log house on the property before Philip Echkardt arrived in 1808 and it is very likely that the home credited to him was already there when he purchased the lot.  The house was used to host Lieutenant Governor Simcoe when he visited the area.  It has been altered several times over it’s 200 year life and siding has been added over the original log construction.


After following Bruce Creek south from 16th Avenue you return to the top of Toogood Pond.  This pond has two creeks that flow into it and supports a large wetland.  A long wooden boardwalk has been constructed that crosses both Berczy Creek and Bruce Creek.


The original wooden crib dam at the bottom of the mill pond has been replaced with the modern concrete 5 sluice gate construction.


To allow the passage of fish around the Toogood Pond dam a fishway has been constructed. Fish can make their way up this little stream along the west side of the dam.  At the top they have to make a small jump to get into the pond.


One of the reasons for the unique style of the buildings in historic Unionville is the 140 years that the Planing Mill produced the wood and gingerbread for local tradesmen.  The original planing mill was built in 1840 by William Eaken and operated until severely damaged in 1978.  The building was destroyed by a fire in 1983 but replaced with this modern structure in 1987.


The Stiver Brothers grain mill is the last remaining one of its kind in Markham and a style of building more commonly seen along the railway lines in the prairies.  Unionville was the centre of a rural farming community and around 1900 grain elevators began to appear beside the railway station.  in 1916 Charles and Francis Stiver repaired a grain elevator beside the train station that had been damaged by fire.  The Stiver Coal and Seed company was in the business both of buying and selling seeds.  They provided seed for planting as well as animal feed.  Originally the chopping work needed to make the animal feed was done at the Union Mills.  When they were destroyed in a fire in 1934 the Stiver brothers added a feed mill to their operations.  The Stiver Brothers closed the business in 1968 and by 1993 the building was empty and deteriorating.  It has recently been restored and was opened again in 2014 as a cultural centre.


John Noble Raymer came to Markham township in 1809 and his cheese factory is believed to be one of the first in Upper Canada.  John operated a family farm but in 1866 he traveled to Evans Mill, New York to study the art of cheese making.  When he returned he opened a cheese factory on the family farm.  It was so successful that he decided to expand with a second factory in Unionville.  He purchased a half acre property on the east side of main street just above the Union Mills.  In 1870 he built and opened his cheese factory in Unionville.  After he died of smallpox in 1874 the business carried on until 1878 when it was closed and the building sold.  The front wing and porch were added when it was converted into a home.


The Crown Inn is the oldest surviving inn in the community and it is also on the east side of Main Street just above the site of the Union Mills.  It was built around 1860 by a man named William Size who lived with his parents in the Union House which was an inn across the street.  He operated his hotel in direct competition with his parents. One of the first hotel keepers here was Avery Bishop whose great-grandson was Billy Bishop a World War One flying ace.  The Toronto Island Airport is named after Billy Bishop.


The Union Mills may be gone but the mill pond and historic community it spawned remain almost untouched by time.

Google Maps link: Toogood Pond Unionville

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Ghastly Tales of Sawmill Valley Creek

Saturday Feb. 27, 2016

This hike focused on an area around Sawmill Valley Creek which features one of the earliest homes in the area, an haunted historic grand estate as well as the possible burial site for Tootsie the Elephant. The Glen Erin trail and the Sawmill Valley Trail connect everything.  We parked on Dunwin Drive just north of Dundas Street and followed it north to Brookmede Park.

This part of Dunwin Drive used to be the laneway for the Miles Park Farm.  In 1912 a Toronto undertaker named A. W. Miles built a country home and small zoo in Mimico.  By 1936 the neighbours were complaining and city council was telling him to shut it down.  He decided to buy 200 acres of land on the north west corner of Dundas Street and fifth line west (Erin Mills Parkway) near Erindale.  The park was an instant success with bears, monkeys, llamas and peacocks.  Donkeys and camels were also residents along with many other animals but none were more popular than Tootsie.  Born in Burma, Tootsie the elephant loved children.  Unfortunatey, Tootsie perished along with 70 other animals in a fire on Valentines Day 1943.  Children from all around came to attend her funeral and the burial which took place on the farm.  In spite of the tragic loss, the farm continued to operate into the 1950’s before being sold for development.  The bones likely are buried under modern Brookmede park as there is no record of their discovery during construction on the property.  The picture below shows the park and possibly even the final resting place of Tootsie the elephant.


A small tributary feeds into Sawmill Valley Creek and we followed it from Brookmede Park to where it joins Sawmill Valley Creek near Mississauga Road. Along one section it descends the ravine in a hydraulic energy dissipator. This is designed to slow the water down and remove the energy as it falls so that it arrives at the bottom of the ravine without the energy to cause erosion or do damage. Looking at the series of concrete steps and cylinders running down the hillside it makes me wonder about the waterfall that must have been in this location at one time.


In 1927 William Watson Evans built Glenerin Hall in a glen near Erindale on Sawmill Valley Creek.  The 85 acre estate was intended as a summer retreat for the millionaire and his family so they could get away from their Rosedale home in Toronto.  This was the era of grand estates and several were built in the area but only a few survive.  The tower and the music room at the front were added a couple of years later but sadly, Evans died in 1932 before getting to enjoy his estate for very long.  At his request he was buried nearby.  The home was used as a school by over 100 students, mostly girls, and their teachers during World War 2.  The students, from Hornby England, spent the last part of the war in safety here.  One of the interesting uses of the property began in 1945 when the Simpsons purchased it.  They converted it into a convalescent retreat for employees who were injured on the job or underwent surgery.  All expenses were paid from anywhere in Canada including full salary while you were here recovering.  When the Simpsons had to cut expenses in the early 1960’s this was quick to go.  It was later used as a monastery, a real estate development sales office and also served as home to Mississauga’s first Jewish community.  It is now the Glenerin Inn and spa.  It is featured in the cover shot as well as below.


They say that there is a spirit in the house and it is a site frequently visited by those seeking the paranormal.  Although reported as a full apparition in the doorway they claim he is most often seen tending the fire in the great hall.  Some believe it is the spirit of William Watson Evans as he continues to host his guests in the home.


When Glenerin was built there was a gatehouse on the corner of the lane way at Mississauga road.  The picture below, from the Mississauga Library, shows the gatehouse in 1978.

Gatehouse 1978

Today the foundation for the gatehouse have been converted into a sign for the subdivision that stands on the property.  The subdivision is named Ivor Woodlands after Roy Ivors who owned the Winding Lane Bird Sanctuary on the property to the north of the Inn.


In the woods not too far from the Evans  Estate is an old utility pole which brought electricity when the building was first constructed.  Electrical insulators were introduced in the 1850’s along with telegraph wires.  Electrical transmission adopted the same poles and the glass insulators were used for this application as well.


Sawmill Valley Creek has recently been landscaped for erosion control.  What was formerly a long series of cascade waterfalls has been turned into a series of steps made of cut stone blocks.


The Grange was built sometime around 1828 for Sir John Beverly Robinson who was the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada.  He was also considered to be the leader of the Family Compact which controlled the government leading to The rebellion of 1837.  The regency styled house with it’s ornate windows was indicative of the status of it’s owner.  Robinson only owned the house until 1833 when it began a rapid change of ownership until around 1910 having seen up to ten owners during this time. Then the Adamson family took up residence here and they stayed until 1973. Sometime during the Adamson years the exterior of the home was given an exterior layer, or veneer, of brick from the local Cooksville Brickyards.  The building was given to the city of Mississauga by the land developers and used by the Boy Scouts until 2004.  It has now had it’s bricks removed and been fully restored to it’s original splendor.  The Heritage Resource Centre of Heritage Mississauga is now the occupant of this home.


Community Canoes are a way of re-purposing old canoes and turning them into bee friendly gardens.  Due to a phenomenon called  Colony Collapse Disorder we have lost over one third of our bee colonies since 2007.  Bees are essential in the pollination of most of the fruits and vegetables we eat as well as the colourful flowers we enjoy.  They also pollinate many of the plants that the animals in our diets live off of.  On June 13, 2015 Heritage Mississauga planted a community canoe on the lawn of The Grange.  We had previously encountered a community canoe along Garrison Creek during our exploration of Military Burying Grounds.


Google Maps link: Glenerin Inn

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