Monthly Archives: August 2016

South Marine Drive Park

Sunday August 21, 2016

The Scarborough Bluffs run for fifteen kilometers from Victoria Avenue east to Highland Creek.  At their highest point they rise ninety meters above the water and have been described as a geological wonder. They are the only bluffs of their kind in North America.

Hiking the GTA has made several visits to the bluffs starting with Guidwood Park in April 2015.  At that time the historic inn sat closed and in need of repairs.  The Guild Inn is currently undergoing restoration along with the addition of a multi-purpose event hall.  It was time to go and see how that was coming along as well as explore the construction roadway that leads down to the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs.  The $20 million dollar restoration will include a 40,000 square foot addition to the original inn.  The Guild was the only Depression Era artist colony in Canada.  Over the years the Guild had been expanded with several additions, including a hotel tower.  After the inn closed in 2001 the tower was removed.  The current restoration strips the inn back to it’s original building and adds new structures to both ends.


The restoration is scheduled for completion in December 2016.  The city is paying for the removal of mold and asbestos while the developer will pay to renovate the inn to it’s 1932 appearance.  A banquet hall is being built on the one end while an outdoor pavilion is going on the other end.  The developer has signed a 40 year agreement with the city.


Parking is currently restricted to a lot on the east side of the old construction roadway.  The road was littered with old leaves and this Northern Crescent butterfly was quite well disguised among them.  I only caught sight of it when it moved.  It feeds on many species of the aster family of which we have many in Ontario.  The Northern Crescent has only recently been recognized as a separate species from the Pearl Crescent.  The latter of which has black lines in the large orange patches on the hind wings.

Northern Crescent

There are only a couple of places where a vehicle can get to the bottom of the bluffs.  Bluffer’s Park is one of them and it sits near the western end of the bluffs.  This roadway is not open to public vehicles and is currently in use for heavy construction equipment.  One of the ways in which the city is trying to slow down the erosion of the bluffs is to create hard shorelines and South Marine Drive was created for that purpose.  Old construction material, demolished buildings and slabs of pavement are known as rip rap when dumped along the shoreline as seen below.  There is a project currently in process on the shoreline in front of The Guild.


This roadway has been turned into a linear park known as South Marine Drive Park.  It runs for several kilometers along the south edge of the bluffs and was largely abandoned this morning except for a couple of hikers and a few cyclists.  With the views of the bluffs, and the breeze off the lake, I was surprised to see so few people.  Access is very limited though as you must come in from one end or the other.


The sand in the bluffs was laid down in a river delta prior to the last ice age.  The melting ice sheet created a larger lake where Lake Ontario is today and this was known as Lake Iroquois.  It cut through the old river delta and exposed the bluffs.  This lake suddenly drained into a smaller lake known as Lake Admiralty which has since become Lake Ontario.  The exposed sand face has been eroding quickly ever since and in spite of all our efforts, continues to do so.  The roots of the trees and grasses hold the top layer together but when the sand below disappears it is only a matter of time before the tree crashes down the hill side.  The sand will make its way into the lake and eventually come to rest on one of Toronto’s many beaches, all of which are west of the bluffs.  The lake has a slow rotation that means that water takes six years to make its way around the lake and out into the St. Lawrence River.


Jack-in-the-Pulpit can live up to 100 years.  The corm, similar to an onion,  grows underground and it will produce one flower if it is male or two if it is female.  The plant has the ability to change sex over it’s lifetime with only the female plant producing berries.  These berries will turn bright red and provide food for wild turkeys and wood thrushes.  The berries are listed as toxic to humans most likely because of the raphides of calcium oxalate that are present in the plant.  The sap of the plant makes an instant pain reliever when applied to a wound.  The natives used the plant in this way as well as making a red dye from the berries.  The picture below shows the unripe green berries in their cluster.


The trees along this section of the bluffs are hanging over the edge as they start their journey to the bottom.


Milkweed provides the only home for monarch butterfly larvae and the park has quite a large number of the plants growing along the side of the roadway.  The seed pods are getting ripe.  They will soon pop open sending the little white seeds floating on the wind.


Following the trail will bring you to Gates Gully where the Doris McCarthy Trail leads back up to the Kingston Road.  Just before you reach the gully one section of a sunken ship can be seen sticking out of the lake.  On August 3, 1915 the steamship Alexandria was wrecked near the entrance to the gully. The Alexandria was built in 1866 and served both as a passenger ship and a cargo ship.  On this night it was bringing 300 tons of beans and tomatoes when it was blown too close to the shore and was grounded.  The ship broke into sections and was completely destroyed.  The locals made short work of stripping everything of value above the water line.  They say that many cellars were well stocked with sugar, vinegar and canned goods for the coming winter.  In maritime tradition Captain William Bloomfield was the last man off the ship at about 2:00 am the following morning.  All passengers were brought to safety and led up the bluffs through Gates Gully. The steamer remains in the lake 100 years later, just to the east of the gully.  The picture below shows the wrecked ship as seen from the shore.  The cover photo shows the ship in close up.  There is a place rusted through the rectangular part of the hull right at the waterline.  A rounded piece of hull on the left of this is briefly exposed with each rolling wave.


There are plenty of places where the slopes of the bluffs are covered with shrubs and trees.  This helps to stabilize the slopes and you will notice on the return trip that this section has some well vegetated areas.


Having reached this point it is about a 45 minute walk back to the parking lot at the Guild.

Other posts in our Scarborough Bluffs Series:  Guildwood Park, Sand Castles (Bluffer’s Park), Erosion(Cathedral Bluffs), Gates Gully, East Point Park

Google Maps link: South Marine Drive Park

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Marie Curtis Park

Aug. 6, 2016

The Etobicoke Creek runs through Marie Curtis Park which means that half of the park is in Toronto and half in Mississauga.  The park has had many uses over the years including being the site of two streets of homes, 42nd and 43rd streets.  These were some of the homes that were destroyed during Hurricane Hazel.

In 1787 the British Crown purchased the area along the north shore of Lake Ontario from The Mississaugas of the Credit.  The natives had been using the creek as a transportation route for centuries and there is some speculation that there may be artifacts 10 to 20 meters out in the lake.  Lake Ontario has been slowly increasing in size for the past 12,000 years.  At that time it was known as Laurentian Lake and was responsible for carving the Scarborough Bluffs out of it’s shoreline.  When the lake suddenly drained through the Hudson River it shank back to a much smaller size that we named Lake Admiralty.  Earlier native settlements would have been located at the mouth of the creek as it existed at the time on the shore of the smaller lake.  The mouth of the creek has been modified over the years and today it is protected from erosion by a concrete channel.  The picture below is taken from the pedestrian bridge looking out to where the mouth of the creek meets the lake.


The British set about surveying the lands for settlement and counties were established.  Etobicoke Creek was used as a boundary between York and Peel.  Today the city of Toronto is on the east side of the creek while Mississauga is on the west.  Colonel Samuel Smith fought for the British during the American Revolution but was part of 7,000 soldiers captured following the Battle of Yorktown in 1881. After the war Smith moved to New Brunswick but eventually took a land grant at the mouth of the Etobicoke Creek.  He purchased other lands and put together a 1,000 acre estate.  Smith would later serve as the Administrator of Upper Canada.  I parked on the little stub of 43rd street beside Maurice J. Breen Park.  The trail heads north under the train tracks and into Enfield Park where the remains of the Long Branch Dam are on the Etobicoke Creek.  The concrete structure can be seen with a small waterfall in the cover picture.  Prior to Hurricane Hazel there was a road that crossed the creek on top of this waterfall.  The wall of the dam extends to the edge of the ravine and has, unfortunately, collected a lot of garbage as can be seen in the picture below.


Colonel Smith’s son sold the property in 1871 to James Eastwood who sold a portion of it in 1883 to be developed as an amusement park.  Over the next few years lots were subdivided for cottages and the Long Branch Hotel was built.  In the 1920’s the Etobicoke Flats, the area at the mouth of the creek, was developed for homes and cottages.  The trail extends south of Lakeshore Road to Marie Curtis Park where a foot bridge allows the Waterfront Trail to pass over the Etobicoke Creek.  The Waterfront Trail extends for over 1600 kilometers along the Canadian shores of Lakes Ontario, Erie and St. Clair using the Niagara, Detroit and St. Lawrence Rivers to connect and extend everything.


The western portion of the property was sold in 1891 and became the Long Branch Rifle Ranges.  In 1910 a series of wooden baffles was installed on the rifle range, many of which remain on the site today.


The military built Small Arms Limited in the 1940’s and manufactured rifles and machine guns here.  The water tower and one building is all that remains of this industry.  The Arsenal Lands was explored in a previous post as well as a separate pictorial.


The property of the former Small Arms facility is now over grown but has a lot of old roadways running through it.


On October 16, 1954 Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto flooding every waterway and killing 81 people.  Long Branch was especially hard hit as the Etobicoke Creek flooded three streets around it’s mouth.  Houses were swept away by the rushing waters, several of them into the lake and seven people were killed here.  Many other houses were carried off their foundations and crashed into trees.  One such house was held back by two trees and 35 people survived by climbing onto the roof.  Marie Curtis was the Reeve for Long Branch (1953-1962) at the time and she is recorded as saying the trees were responsible for saving many lives.  The sanitary sewer which had been buried three feet under the creek now stood a foot above it and it was broken.  Homes in the area were condemned to prevent an epidemic.  The government expropriated 192 properties and cleared 300 buildings at a cost of $1.6 million dollars.  Marie Curtis campaigned to have the lands converted into a 35 acre park which was eventually named after her.  Just south of the bridge this black swallowtail butterfly was darting from flower to flower on a patch of Canada thistles.


Prior to Hurricane Hazel there was a sandbar in the lake at Long Branch and the houses extended to the shoreline of the lake.  At that time the Etobicoke Creek took a sharp 90 degree turn before entering the lake.  The beach that exists on the east side of Marie Curtis Park today was created from the sandbar by back filling.


Dog Strangling Vine is a relative to milkweed and has a similar pod of seeds.  The plant is an invasive species that chokes out native vegetation.  The seed pods can produce up to 28,000 seeds per square meter.  The seeds are easily spread by wind and animals.  They also cling to clothing and hikers should be careful to remove any from their clothes and the treads of their boots if they pass through a patch of the plant when it is in seed.  The picture below shows seed pods that have broken open.  The plant is hard to eradicate because aside from the seeds it also grows from broken pieces of the roots.


Marie Curtis Park has a lot of history and some interesting places for a small parcel of land and was well worth the exploration.

Google Maps link: Marie Curtis Park

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Eramosa Karst

August 20, 2016

In 1998 the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) was called to a construction site to examine a hole in the ground.  They discovered a geological feature known as a karst cave.  The Toronto Caving Group was called in to examine the cave and they identified a whole series of sinklholes, dry valleys, underground streams and springs.

Ben Vanderberg founded the HCA in 1966 shortly after joining the Spencer  Creek Conservation Authority.  Ben recognized the significance of the area and started working toward acquiring the property for preservation.  Vanderberg retired from the HCA in 2002 and MPP Brad Clark gave him a gift he really wanted at his retirement party.  He announced that the Ontario Government would transfer ownership for 180.5 acres of Eromasa Karst lands to the HCA. The karst was designated as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI).  The map below shows the trail system that has been put in place to allow the general public to locate the various karst features in the park.


Animals create carbon dioxide when they exhale and machines emit it into the air.  When rainwater picks up this carbon dioxide it becomes a weak form of carbonic acid.  Decaying plant matter also puts into the soil where it can attach to the water molecule.  This carbonic acid can slowly dissolve the carbon based bedrock of the escarpment creating features known as karren.  These little pockets and grooves make places for the carbonic acid to sit and eat away over time.  This creates sinkholes, underground streams, caves and springs.

The Nexus Cave is 335 meters long, making it the 10th longest cave in Ontario.  It begins where the Nexus Creek drops through a sinkhole into the underground cave.  The picture below shows Phoenix Creek dropping into it’s sinkhole.  Nexus Creek goes underground in a similar fashion.


The entrance to Nexus Cave is seen in the picture below.  The harder dolomite on the surface has been cut through in several long cracks.  This is the capstone for the Niagara Escarpment and is known as the Lockport Formation.  This dolostone is made of magnesium carbonate and is harder than the calcium carbonate shale just below it.  This shale is known as Rochester Shale.


The entrance to the cave is not very tall but it is possible to see the gap that has been created between these two layers of stone.  The cover photo shows the entrance to this cave looking out from the inside.  This cave is considered to be the most accessible dolostone cave in Ontario.


Walking farther along the orange trail will bring you to the Nexus Window.  A karst window is a place where the roof of a cave has collapsed allowing access into the cave.  Quite often it is possible to look in through a karst window and see the underground stream flowing across the floor of the cave.  This summer has been too dry and there is no water flowing through the cave today.


When it is dry it is possible to get a look down inside where the water has cut a passage through the limestone.


Stewart Creek has a sinkhole as well.  Scientists injected biodegradable dyes into the streams above the various sinkholes in the park so that they could monitor down stream to see which spring was the output of each underground stream.


The Pottruff Blind Valley is an example of place where a creek no longer flows above ground. This ravine was cut through the escarpment by water at the end of the last ice age.  Since then the carbonic acid in the water has dissolved a hole where the water disappears into an underground channel.  The ravine still bears the original sink hole but the water now goes below ground farther upstream at the Phoenix  Creek and Stewart Creek sinkholes.  Water only reaches here when the flow is too great for the previous sink holes to handle.


Pottruff Cave very likely started off like the Nexus Cave entrance.  A series of deep fissures in the dolostone over a sink hole eventually collapsed leaving the cave mouth open.  The entrance to Nexus Cave, like all the karst features, is still growing as the stone continues to dissolve.  Nexus too will eventually collapse leaving it looking more like Pottruff Cave.  The state of decay for each of the karst features gives scientists a way of estimating their relative ages.


Pottruff Springs marks the location where the creek re-emerges from underground.  The creek flows underground until it reaches the base of the Eramosa Escarpment which is a 3 meter slab of dolostone that sits on top of the Lockport Formation of the Niagara Escarpment.  The pool of water forms here and continues as a stream on its way toward Lake Ontario.


Limestone is a prime construction material and the Niagara Escarpment provides good quality stone near the surface.  When this part of the province was surveyed for settlement in the late 1790’s the land grants were generally 200 acres.  These lots varied greatly in the nature of the land and not all of it was ideal for raising crops or livestock.  The pioneers learned to take advantage of the resources their property offered and so limestone was quarried here.  The original Pottruff homestead was built out of limestone blocks cut from this location.


Near the old quarry is a grouping of limestone slabs that are laid out like the seats in an amphitheatre.


Near the old foundations for the Pottruff home there are the remains of a paved driveway.


Some of the rose hips in the conservation area are still quite green but this bush is getting it’s prime conditions and is turning red already.  Rose hips are the fruit of the rose plant that forms after successful pollination of the rose flowers.  They have been used in many ways over the centuries and have one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C available.  Fresh rose hips are a great source of vitamin C as they carry 25 times as much as citrus fruit.  Dried rose hips can lose a great deal of their nutritional value.


The trails at the Eramosa Karst are a little confusing and it is easy to get turned around because the orange trail has orange side trails on it.  I suggest that before you leave the parking area you take a picture of the main map on your cell phone so you have a reference while on the trails.

Google Maps link: Eramosa Karst

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Glen Stewart Ravine

July 17, 2016

The Glen Stewart Ravine is home to a Red Oak and Red Maple forest mixed with Witch Hazel which is a rare forest type in Toronto.  In 2008 it was determined that the forest was suffering due to loss of the understory.  The ravine slopes had been cut through with secondary trails that compacted the soil and exposed the tree roots.  These trails have been closed off and in some places they have been planted over.  Other areas are being left to regenerate naturally.  The park has undergone a major restoration and planting program in an effort to create a forest that will be healthy and self sustaining for generations to come.

The Glen Stewart Ravine is a great place if you are one of those people who like to exercise by running up the stairs in the park.  The steel stairs in the cover photo rise 114 steps from the ravine floor to Balsaam Avenue.  These stairs replaced a set of wooden stairs similar to the set featured below that currently descends the ravine from Kingston Road.  More stairs climb the ravine to an entrance on Beech Street.  The Balsaam Avenue stairs and the wooden boardwalk below them had deteriorated to the point of becoming unsafe and both were replaced.


The picture below shows some of the trees that have been planted to replace invasive species that were removed as part of the restoration process.  Spring of 2016 saw the planting of over 800 trees and shrubs, including one lone white pine, as well as 2,500 grasses and herbs.  The three red oak trees planted here go along with 20 other small red oak trees and 3 mature ones to help restore this rare red oak forest.


Chicken of the Woods is considered to be one of the “foolproof four” mushrooms.  This easily identifiable mushroom is recommended for those who are nervous about collecting their own mushrooms for fear of poisoning themselves.  The underside of the fungus does not have gills but rather is covered with fine pores.  This mushroom grows on decaying trees and will rot the inside of a living tree if it gets started on one.  They can be harvested year after year or twice in a season, if you only take the outer few centimeters.  The younger fungi are brighter in colour and the older ones develop a bitter taste.  The plant gets its name from the fact that it can be substituted for chicken in recipes.


The eastern slope of the ravine has a lush undergrowth in this little dell along the side of the Balsaam  Avenue stairs.  The ravine supports a diverse population of migratory birds with more anticipated when the restored forest is mature a few decades from now.


South of these stairs is a section where the former erosion control has been removed.  The wood cribs that had been installed were rotting and in danger of collapse.  They were replaced with a new environmentally sensitive product called Enviroloc.  These fabric sand bags are designed to allow vegetation to grow on top providing a more natural stabilization of the slopes.  The picture below shows some of the restored slopes.


Ames Creek flows through the ravine.  It’s waters come from ground seepage in the sandy soils of the slopes.  This seepage is one of the reasons for the boardwalk along the floor of the ravine.  During heavy rain events the trail was turned into a muddy mess.  The new boardwalk provides an accessible trail as far as the rest stop that can be seen near the Balsaam stairs in the cover photo.  The picture below was taken from the boardwalk and shows the creek where it flows through a wetland.


The new stairs to Balsaam Avenue were built with helical piers.  This construction method screws the piers into the soil until they meet a specified amount of resistance.  This allows the piers to support the load of the stairs without having to do major excavation on the slopes.  The railings on the stairs and the boardwalk are made of hemlock which was chosen because it is naturally disease resistant.  The picture below shows the new boardwalk looking north.  The new stairs can be seen in the distance.


The creek and ravine are almost void of signs of their past usage except for this old covered discharge system.


Ames Creek is forced underground into a storm water pipe just before it reaches Glen Manor Drive East.  Years ago developers filled the ravine in and buried the creek.  Glen Manor Drive East and West frame a narrow strip of park which has the former creek running below it.


On June 10, 1925 about 70 percent of the Presbyterian churches in Canada joined with the Methodists and Congregational churches to form the United Church of Canada.  The idea was to form a Canadian Church which would be inclusive of all nationalities. The few Presbyterian churches in Southern Ontario that refused to join were cut off from the resources of the main group.  Many congregations lost everything and had to start over with new buildings and new missions.  The corner stone for the Beaches Presbyterian Church was laid on July 17, 1926, just one year after the split in the church.   The Beaches Church is on the east side of Glen Manor Drive, roughly where the filled in portion of Glen Stewart Ravine has been built over.


Glen Manor Drive brings you to the part of Toronto known as The Beaches.  The sand here has been carried by the motion of the lake from where it has been picked up east of here.  Erosion of the Scarborough Bluffs is dropping houses into the lake near Gates Gully.   The boardwalk runs for 3 kilometers along the sandy shore line from Balmy Beach to Ashbridges Bay.  The tall smoke stack in the back ground is at The Hearn, an abandoned power plant in The Port Lands.  It stands on the former marsh of Ashbridges Bay at the mouth of the Don River.


Wild Blackberries are less common than wild raspberries but they are growing in the Glen Stewart Ravine.  The blackberry is not actually a berry in the botanical sense in that it is an aggregate fruit made up of many little drupelets.  Blackberries and Raspberries are related but one difference can be seen when picking the fruit.  The torus, or stem, of the fruit remains on the plant with a raspberry leaving a hollow core on the fruit.  The blackberry torus remains in the fruit.


Google Maps Link: Glen Stewart Ravine

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Small Arms Testing Site – Mississauga

Saturday Aug. 6, 2016

The Waterfront Trail on the lake shore in Mississauga runs through The Arsenal Lands.  Many of the users who pass between the 106 year old military testing range and the remnants of a small arms manufacturing site have no idea what the structures they see really are.  There is parking at Marie Curtis Park with access to the Waterfront Trail.  The water tower in the cover photo was near the heart of the factory complex while the wooden baffle in the foreground was on the testing range.

The picture below looks from Marie Curtis Park looking east to the water tower.  It was built in 1941 to provide water for the arms factories.  Notice the platform just below the tank that runs from the ladder on the leg to the standpipe in the middle.  Ascending, where the ladder passes the walkway around the outside of the tank you have to lean out, climb up and over.  This will happen again if you were to climb onto the roof.  Graffiti at the top shows that some one has been up there.


In 1868 the Ontario Rifle Association was formed for the training of militia to help defend our newly founded country.  They used the garrison common at Fort York until 1891 but the increase in the use of the CNE grounds and the addition of a passenger wharf at the foot of Dufferin Street made firing rifles at the fort increasingly unsafe.  A property on the west side of Etobicoke Creek was purchased and used as the Long Branch Rifle Ranges.  Much of the wooden crib around the central water pipes on the water tower has started to fall off since the bands have broken away.  The ladder that was used to access the very top of the tower can be seen rising up the leg on the left


After serving as Canada’s first Aerodrome it was purchased by the Department of National Defence in 1935 and a small arms factory was opened in 1940.   World War Two ended in 1945 and war-time production was completed in December with over 900,000 rifles and 126,000 machine guns having been produced.  Various military parts were produced in the facility from then until it closed for good in 1974.


In 1910 Canada’s Department of Militia and Defense (renamed the Department of National Defense in 1922) acquired the property and built the wooden baffles that remain in place today.  On the short rifle range there are 16 remaining baffles after 105 years exposed to the elements. Originally there were 30 of these which were hollow and filled with sand and soil.  They were intended to stop any stray bullets from leaving the range but also served to provide sound barriers for the adjacent small arms factory.  They are the oldest surviving military baffles of their kind in Ontario.


The inside of one of the baffles showing the sand that filled them.


At the back end of the rifle range is a fifteen foot high and thirty-five foot wide concrete backstop which was constructed around 1925.  It’s surface is dotted with the impacts of hundreds of bullets from over the years.


The end view of the backstop showing how thick the concrete is.  The three electrical insulators at the top give an idea of the scale.


The trail winds back out of the testing range between the historical baffles.


I believe that this is one site where the city should consider putting up a few interpretive plaques to let the many trail users appreciate the history they’re passing through.  A more detailed story can be found in a previous post called The Arsenal Lands that was photographed in the winter of 2015.

Google Maps link: Marie Curtis Park

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Canada Goose Side Trail

July 2, 2016

The Canada Goose Side Trail is on the former homestead of one of Esquesing Township’s earliest settlers and any geese seen along the trail will be on their way to the lake that has been created by the quarry that now operates at the rear of the property.

There is Bruce Trail parking on Regional Road 43 (22 side road) but I parked on the 4th line just north of the corner where a little side trail leads to the official parking lot.  The Canada Goose side trail begins on a curve in the road, right on a blind curve.  There are no shoulders on the road so this is an important place to take care when emerging from the trees.  The trail roughly parallels the fourth line along a ridge of escarpment.  It runs for about 3 kilometers before it reaches the main Bruce Trail (White on the map).  The map below is taken from the 1877 county atlas and I’ve traced the rough outline of the hike, which includes other trails as detailed below.

Canada Goose side trail

The trail leads into the woods through a patch of tiger lilies.  Tiger lilies get their name from the spots on their bright orange petals.  They are also known as ditch lilies because they commonly grow in ditches.  This lily is toxic to house cats and can produce vomiting and even death.  In humans a tincture made from the plant is used to control vomiting during pregnancy.  Baked tiger lily buds taste a lot like baked potato.


John Nickell Jr. was born in 1821 on Lot 22, Concession 4 in Esquesing Township.  John Nickell Sr. had come from Ireland in 1819 and obtained the land grant that still bears his name on the county atlas above.  John Jr. lived on the farm and continued to work it until 1897, the year before he died.  The records show that John Jr. was born in the log cabin built by his father on the rear of the property and that he was the first European male born in the township.  The old silo from the barn still stands only a few meters away from where the quarry now extends.  The construction of a concrete silo must have occurred sometime near the end of the productive life of the farm.  This type of construction wasn’t common until after 1900.


The stone foundations for the barn stand adjacent to the silo.  John Nickell Sr. would have built his first barn on the ground and only later it would have been raised onto a foundation or replaced with a new larger barn.  Prior to the mid 1800’s the normal barn construction was timber frame.  By the middle of the century stick framing replaced it using mass produced nails and boards.  It’s likely that the homestead had both types of barns at one time.  The county atlas shows an orchard beside the house and farm buildings.


The homestead of John Nickell, like his neighbours to the north, sat on top of 30 meters of dolomitic limestone that was accessible near the surface.  This stone is critical to the construction industry and aggregates like those produced here find their way into most GTA roads and building projects.  The Dolly Varden – Acton Quarry is listed on the 1904 Ontario Geological Survey and some early lime kilns are still to be found on quarry property.  Dufferin Quarries owns and operates 222 hectares of land that is licenced for limestone extraction and are in the application process for an expansion.  They also operate the quarries near Milton where The Gap in the escarpment is seen from the 401.  The picture below shows the rock face where a fresh cut is being made.  Broken stone lies at the bottom of the rock face waiting to be transported to the main part of the quarry for processing.


Here is a classic example of hiding in plain sight.  This bird has built it’s nest to match the size and shape of the broken tree pictured below.  There is a little wall to stop the wind from blowing in from the west.


The Canada Goose Side Trail has some challenging footing.  It passes through several different types of forests.  You’ll be walking on hard path, rocks, through wetlands and over stumps and roots.


Robin’s Plantain is a member of the aster family along with 23,600 other recognized species.  Robin’s plantain has had several other names over the years including hawkweed a name given it by the ancient Greeks who thought that hawks used the sap to improve their eyesight.  It has a common family name of fleabane.  The plant grows up to two feet tall on a single stock.  Four or more flower blossoms grow at the top of the stock. The plant was used by Native Americans steeped in a tea for it’s medicinal properties.  It was believed to be both a diuretic and analgesic.  It was used to stop bleeding, for coughs, diarrhea and urinary tract infections.


The main Bruce Trail crosses the fourth line and continues east toward Limehouse on the fifth line.  The trail uses these stiles to cross over fences and over half of the Bruce Trail is on private land so there are many of these stiles along the trail.


The fourth line makes it’s way back toward where I parked.


There are lots of trails in the area of Limehouse.  Following the Bruce Trail into town instead of cutting off on the Benton Brown Side Trail will bring you to the Limehouse Conservation Area where the historic Lime Kilns are.

Google Maps link: Canada Goose Side Trail

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Nodwell House – Homestead Farm

August 4, 2016

William Nodwell came to Canada from Ireland in 1838 and settled on Lot 24, concession 8 in Erin Township.  Nazareth Hill hadn’t yet given his name to the town that grew around the farm.  At the time of the county atlas in 1877 the mill ponds hadn’t been created on the Gooderham and Worts property across the street.

Nodwell map

His first log home burned down within a year.  Nodwell then sold the east half of the lot to Angus McMurchy and constructed another log house and barns.  In 1868 the brick house shown in this pictorial was built.  The cover view shows the front of the now abandoned house with it’s second story oriel window.  This is the view of the side of the house as you approach from the driveway.


William Nodwell died in 1845 leaving the farm to his two sons.  Robert bought out Thomas by trading him another farm for his half of the homestead.  A frame barn (now demolished) and shed were added in 1857.  This is the side entrance to the house and possibly the most frequently used of the three.


In the 1890’s the Nodwells were known for raising short-horn cattle.  The family was active in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church which was located on the corner of their property.  The picture below shows the side porch of the house.


In 1895 the house at the corner of the lane was added for use by family members.  In 1926 Mungo Nodwell took over running the farm which was well known for the  seed potatoes he grew.  They also kept a herd of dairy cattle and delivered milk in town with horse and wagon.  This view shows the back corner of the house and the side door which has been bricked closed.


Ross R. Mackay public school is built on land donated by Mungo Nodwell in 1960 from the side of his dairy pasture.  For the next decade an electric fence would separate the cows from the school children.  The east side, or rear of the house, has had a back porch removed.  This room would have served as a place for the removal of dirty shoes and work clothes before entering the house.  Some would call this a mud room.


In 2004 Mungo’s daughter Nina sold the farm and moved to Markdale.  Access to all windows has been closed off with bricks since then.  This shot shows the basement window.


The great room in the house had a plank table that could seat 12 and the family was known for it’s hospitality.  This is the front view of the house facing toward the west and the main street of Hillsburgh.


As I was admiring the oriel window a blue jay arrived to get to the nest that hides behind the front facing.


On the east side of the laneway stands the driving shed.  The Nodwell’s kept many of their farming implements in there when the farm was active.


A look up into the ceiling of the driving shed.


All of the tools were removed from the driving shed except for this level.


The back of the driving shed.


Today there is a proposal to develop Homestead Farm into a subdivision.  Fortunately it looks like the old Nodwell house will be preserved.  More on the history of Hillsburgh can be found in this previous post.

Google Maps link: Hillsburgh

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Berry and Bruce to Borer’s

July 9, 2016

The Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) obtained permission from King George V in 1930 to use “Royal” in their name.  Thomas Baker McQuesten who was an early environmentalist  created the gardens during the Great Depression as a make work project to provide work for unemployed men.  Since then the RGB has grown to include a series of properties that connect the Niagara Escarpment to Lake Ontario in a continuous greenbelt that includes the historic Cootes Paradise.  They have 2300 acres of environmentally sensitive lands that are home to two of Canada’s most endangered tree species, one of which is found only in the park. In 1941 they received a provincial mandate to develop a program that would focus on conservation, education, horticulture and science.  The RBG is a National Historic Site which encompasses much of the map below.


One of the properties owned by the RGB is known as the Berry Tract.  After parking on Valley Road the Berry Tract is on the east side of the road.  In the 1877 County Atlas shown below the properties are owned by John Hayes and William Simpson.  These former pioneer land grants have been abandoned as farms and left to return to a more natural condition.  Notice that the land owners in the lower right corner are the Rasberry  families.  They owned the properties adjacent to Cootes Paradise.

Rockchapel (3)

Black Raspberries grow in abundance on the Berry Tract.  The ones in the picture below are starting to ripen and are only slightly smaller than usual.  Most of the berries seen on other bushes are small and dry.  A little rain at the right time might have made a big difference.


The Thornapple Trail is a 3.4 kilometer loop that runs through the Berry Tract.  Near the start of the trail the boardwalk is being over run by wetland grasses.  The trail runs through a small orchard which was planted in the 1930’s.  Apple and pear trees were cultivated here until the 1960’s when the land was bought for conservation purposes.  The apples and pears attract white tailed deer in the fall who come to enjoy a piece of fresh fruit.


The wild grapes are doing quite well as the picture below shows.  Canada Moonseed looks similar to wild grapes but has poisonous fruit.  Moonseed does not have the tendrils that grape vines use to climb.  Grape tendrils often grow opposite to a leaf and have a forked end.  Moonseed fruit has a moon shaped seed and leaves that attach to the stem just in from the edge unlike grape leaves that attach at the edge.  Another distinguishing feature of grapes is that the leaves taste like grapes.


The Bruce Trail runs for 890 kilometers from Queenston to Tobermory but the idea originated with Raymond Lowes of Saskatchewan.  Ray moved to Hamilton where he became interested in the Hamilton Naturalists Club.  In the winter of 1959 he began to dream of a trail winding along the escarpment.  He proposed to the idea to famous artist Robert Bateman suggesting a trail from one end of the escarpment to the other.  On Sept. 23, 1960 the first Bruce Trail Committee meeting was held and by 1963 the trail was established with regional clubs obtaining landowner permission and building various sections.  The trail is named after Bruce County which it runs through as well as the Bruce Peninsula where it terminates.  Bruce County was named after James Bruce who was Governor General of the Province of Canada between 1847 and 1854.  Today the trail has annual visits numbering 400,000 and the Bruce Trail Association stewards over 5,000 acres of escarpment protecting it from development.  There are also over 400 kilometers of side trails marked with blue slashes.  Crossing Valley Road the Bruce Trail leads past several of the 100 waterfalls in the Hamilton Area.  There is a little cluster of five waterfalls near the trail.  Unfortunately Patterson East and West Cascade, Valley Falls and Upper and Lower Hopkins Cascade are all dry on this day.


Another dry waterfall.  A trip in the spring when the meltwater has swollen the streams would show these waterfalls off at their best.


On hot summer days the shade of the Bruce Trail can be a welcome relief to the direct sunlight.  The cover photo shows a set of stairs along the trail to Borer’s Falls.


On April 9th we visited Borer’s Falls and at that time we climbed up from the bottom to see the Lower Borer’s falls as well.  John Borer owned the property with the falls on it at the time of the county atlas above.  The falls drop 15 meters over the side of the escarpment where it powered the Borer family sawmill for almost 100 years.  This sawmill supported the community of Rock Chapel.


Goldenrod Gall Fly eggs were laid into the stems of the young plants during the two weeks that the adult fly lived.  Although called a fly it really doesn’t fly that well and mostly just walks up and down the stems of goldenrod plants.  In about 10 days the larva will hatch and begin to feast on the inside of the plant’s stock.  It’s saliva causes the plant to grow a large ball, or gall, in which the insect lives.  The gall fly can’t live without goldenrod and there are two species of wasps that rely on the goldenrod gall fly for their survival.  They seek out the galls and deposit their eggs into the gall.  When the wasp larva hatch they eat the gall fly larva which means that in effect there are three species fully reliant on the goldenrod for survival.


This male white tailed deer, known as a buck, was standing along the trail near the little community of Rock Chapel.  In 1822 a small frame church was built there by the Episcopal Methodists. Later the Wesleyan Methodists took over and they built a new church in 1876 on Rock Chapel Road which is shown on the county atlas.


Google Maps link: Berry Tract

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