Monthly Archives: September 2016

Highland Creek

Saturday August 27, 2016

Highland Creek marks the eastern limits of the Scarborough Bluffs and very nearly the county itself.  The community of Highland Creek grew around the place where Kingston Road crossed the creek.  The presence of water and the road made this one of the first places to be inhabited in Scarborough township.  There is some parking on Beechgrove Drive and the trail to the bottom of the ravine enters from the south east corner at Lawrence.  The trail does a couple of hairpin turns as it winds it’s way down the side of the ravine.  The county atlas below shows the community of Highland Creek and the trail that this hike follows (red).

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Highland Creek (blue) flows through a ravine that was cut during the retreat of the last ice age.  Like the Credit, Humber, Don and Rouge Rivers the water volume was much greater during the melting of the 1 kilometer thick Wisconsin ice sheet.  The creek averages about 20 meters across but the ravine is 100 meters wide and 30 meters deep.  This formed a natural barrier that prevented major development of the eastern side of the county.  The long span bridges that cross the ravine today didn’t exist until 1937 when the one on Kingston road was built.  Ellesmere Road and Lawrence Avenue didn’t get their bridges until the 1960’s.  The long span bridge across the ravine at Lawrence Avenue is seen below and it gives a perspective to the depth of the ravine.

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It is easy to think of Kingston Road, or Old Kingston Road (purple), as the early route between York (Toronto) and Kingston when the latter was the military capital of Upper Canada.  When the British set off the gun powder magazine and abandoned York to the Americans during the War of 1812 they retreated to Kingston to save the troops for battle another day.  The only bridge across Highland Creek at the time was north of here on the appropriately named Military Trail (green).  Just south of the bridge over Lawrence Avenue (yellow) is a large water pipe that crosses the creek high above.

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Muskrats are the only species in their genus but are related to 142 other species of rodents, including moles and lemmings, of which they are the largest.  In spite of the name they are not related to rats. They are semiaquatic and can be found in wetlands over a wide range climates.  The name likely comes from the Algonquian name for the animal which means “it is red”.  They can weigh up to 4 lbs and reach over 2 feet long but the length is half tail.  The tail is their primary means of propulsion while swimming even though the hind feet are partially webbed.  In addition to being a food source for people, muskrats also are used for their fur in clothing.  RCMP winter hats are made from muskrat.  In 1976 The Captain & Tennille performed their hit “Muskat Love” for Queen Elizabeth II.  Some thought a song about muskrat sex to be a little racy for the occasion.

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The ravine also became a barrier to the Toronto and Scarboro’ Electric Railway, Light and Power Company.  In 1904 this electric radial line had been merged with the Toronto & York Radial Line and was expanding eastward.  When they reached West Hill, on the west table lands of the creek, they had to end the line.  The street cars were not able to make the grade where Kingston Road entered the ravine.  The ravine continues to be a shelter for wild life even as the surrounding lands have become developed.  There are 360,000 people living in the watershed and 85% of the area has been developed.  This makes it the most developed watershed in the GTA.  The sand along the edge of the creek shows the foot prints white tailed deer.  At least two different generations have been passing in each direction.

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Highland Creek was home to Atlantic Salmon until the late 19th century.  Dams at mills blocked migratory routes and pollution degraded the habitats.  Atlantic salmon became locally extinct in Lake Ontario and were replaced with Chinook which are not native.  Due to the highly developed nature of the watershed rainwater runs into storm drains and causes flash floods and poor water quality in the creek.  Because of this, only the hardiest fish remain in the creek.  It is now home to White Sucker, Creek Chub, Blacknosed Dace, Longnose Dace and Fathead Minnow.  There were schools of these  little fish in the creek as can be seen in the picture below.

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Erosion is a serious problem because of the rapid flooding that can occur when it rains hard.  The layers of sand have been washed out from under the trail causing the path to be rerouted a little farther away from the river bank.

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Stinging nettles grow in several places along the trail.  The leaves and stems of the plant are covered with a fine hair-like mess of fine needles.  These little hollow tubes spread a chemical on your skin that causes an immediate stinging sensation.  It will pass in just a few minutes, unless you rub it.  In that case you will spread the chemical into your skin and the burn could last much longer, possibly for days.  Stinging nettles lose the chemical when cooked and can then be eaten.  They are also used in arthritis and fibromyalgia pain management.

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There are plenty of places along Highland Creek that the city seems very far away.

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These woodland sunflowers are one of three varieties of sunflowers that grow wild in Ontario.  They bring a nice splash of yellow to the woodlands as the summer winds into fall.

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The mouth of Highland Creek is crossed by the CN tracks as well as a pedestrian bridge.  The original tracks were the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1856.  They built the cut stone bridge pier pictured below.  A more recent addition is the steel and concrete ice breaker that has been built around the base of the pier.  The pedestrian bridge is on the Pan-Am Path, an 80 kilometer pathway that links the Humber River with the Rouge river.  Parts of this path also serve the Waterfront Trail.

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Just before the rail bridge are the old telegraph and electrical poles which obviously carried many more wires in the past.  The glass insulators are remarkably intact.

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Walking down the beach toward the west will bring you to East Point Park while a trip to the east brings you to Port Union.  Can I see the Pickering Nuclear Generating Plant in the distance?  Candu!

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There are plenty of areas along Highland Creek north of Lawrence Avenue that beg to be explored someday.

Google Maps link: Lower Highland Creek Park

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Electric Railway Generating Plant

Tuesday Sept. 6, 2016

An electric railway extended up Yonge Street all the way to Lake Simcoe and then on to Sutton.  Electric railways had to have a continuous supply of electricity and so they built generating stations along their route.  The Toronto & York Radial Railway reached Aurora and Newmarket by 1899 and they built a power generating station at Bond Lake just north of Richmond Hill.  The railway was abandoned in 1930 but soon resurrected until October 1948 when it was finally closed for good.  The need to generate power had ended years before and the facility was no longer needed for it’s original purpose.  The Toronto Public Library has the following picture from April 13, 1955 which shows the substation in relation to the foundations of the steam generating plant in the foreground.  The foundations include the furnace section to the right.  A transmission pole stands near the foundations.  Bond Lake can be seen in the background.  This picture was likely taken from Yonge Street.  The substation is in use as a private residence at this time.

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The front of the substation as it exits in 2016.  The siding is peeling off showing the original brickwork.  The front porch is missing as are all the add on sections to the right in the picture above.  It has been some time since this building served as a home.

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From the rear the old steel substation roof can be seen under the shingles that were not present in 1955.  Two gaping holes in the roof suggest that there isn’t much time left for the historic structure if no one intervenes.

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Notice in the archive picture how the entire area was sparsely treed in 1955.  Now the forest has regenerated around the substation.

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This photo shows Bond Lake as seen from behind the generating station.  A pipe still extends out into the lake.

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The foundations of the steam generating station are seen in this second 1955 photo from the library.

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A similar picture today shows the advance of nature on the station over the past 60 years.  Trees are growing between each of the chambers and it is only a matter of time before they will begin to slowly topple the remaining structures.

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The entrance to one of the furnaces in the steam generating plant can be seen in the following photo.

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The structure is mostly made from cut blocks of limestone as was common for the railway just before the turn of the last century.

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The foundations to the left in the picture of the full site were clear of any trees.  Today there is a young forest around them and they are overgrown with vines.

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This set of wires and poles lays beside the generating plant.

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In 1912 the town of Richmond Hill made a contract with the Toronto & York Radial Railway to buy excess power that they were generating at their Bond Lake plant.  On December 30, 1912 the electric streetlights came on in Richmond Hill for the first time.  Commercial use in stores and homes began at the same time.  A lone transmission pole stands near the generating station.

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In 1899 The Metropolitain Railway purchased the property of William Bell to create a park on the shores of the lake.  It was Ontario’s first electric park with the power being supplied by the railway generating station.  Later, Eldorado Park would build upon the same model.

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More pictures and details of the Toronto & York Radial Railway as well as Bond Lake will be featured in upcoming posts.

Google Maps Link: Bond Lake

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Guelph Radial Trail – Acton East

Saturday August 27, 2016

The Toronto Suburban Railway (TSR) line was closed in 1931 but parts of it have been resurrected as the Guelph Radial Trail.  Much of the trail runs on the old railway right of way but large parts are also on trails granted by local landowners.  Hiking the GTA has crossed paths with the TSR several times during our wanderings in and around the GTA. The TSR schedule shown below illustrates the two hour trip from Guelph to Toronto.

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Access to the trail can be made off of the corner of 25 and 25 just south of the town of Acton.  Side Road 25 has some parking just before the intersection with Regional Road 25.  A previous hike starting on Mill Street in Acton led onto the Guelph Radial Trail and ended at 25 and 25 and so a continuation east from there seemed to be in order.

The trail follows the fence line east across the field.  The wild grapes are ripening in clusters where the vines are taking over the bushes and trees.  Wild grape, unlike moonseed, has climbing tendrils.  They can be seen in the picture below wrapped around one of the branches to the left of the cluster.  If in doubt on the identification of wild grapes versus the poisonous moonseed you should eat a leaf.  Grape leaves will taste like grapes.

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At the back corner of the field the trail turns and enters the woods.  There is some kind of a hunter’s blind built into the trees where it can look into two fields.  It is not uncommon to find some sort of fort or tree house on an exploration but this time there was far more wooden structures than is normal.  There were two of these blinds in different fields.

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At the foot of this one is an old rectangular structure made of concrete.  Livestock needed water and farmers had to provide large amounts for cows and horses.  They had several options, including creating a pond by damming a creek on the property.  Some landowners were lucky enough to have a spring which could feed into a watering trough.  Others would install windmills to drive the pump needed to bring water from a well to a trough.   There are a couple of pipes on the ground beside this abandoned trough that brought water from somewhere else on the farm.

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The trail leads through an area of young growth trees.  The forest floor through here is covered with large stumps of burnt trees.  Canada has about 10 percent of the world’s forest cover.  Each year in Canada about 8,300 fires burn and they consume an average of 2.3 million hectares annually.  These fires are essential to forest renewal because they release nutrients that are trapped in the plant matter on the forest floor.  They also open up the forest canopy so that light reaches the floor and gives new growth an opportunity to get started.  Older, often diseased, trees are cleared out giving the forest a chance to grow new healthy ones.  The cones of the jack pine tree don’t open and release their seeds until they are heated in a fire.  They actually require a fire to reproduce, and the older ones get out of the way!

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Crown Coral fungus is a member of a group of fungi species which, though not related, are grouped together as coral fungi.  The crown coral, or crown-tipped coral, is distinguished by the little crown shaped tips on the end of the fruit bodies.  They tend to grow on decaying wood and have a peppery taste that disappears when cooked.

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A hand-painted sign announced that we had found a tree fort but it’s possible we would have identified it even without the sign.  This two story tree fort had been covered with tarps but they have since started to come loose.  The steps to climb up into the fort, as well as the height of the rooms suggest that this was not built to be used by children but rather by teenagers.

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The trail runs along the south side of a small creek until it meets up with the abandoned rail line.  The trail follows the railway corridor to the right but it needed to be investigated a short ways to the left.  The berm is very obvious even though it has been covered with forest on both sides.  The berm rises above the surrounding fields which are also over grown with forest through here.

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The railway crossed the creek on a short trestle which has been replaced with an improvised foot bridge in the bottom of the creek ravine.  Just beyond the creek crossing the berm runs through an open field and is clearly visible in Google Earth shots.

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After following the railway for a short distance it was time to return to the trail and follow it out to where it intersects with the third line.  Along the side of the trail is the most fully realized tree house I have ever seen.  It has several rooms some with sitting or sleeping provisions. It can be seen from the rail berm and is featured in the cover photo.  It even includes a library, complete with Ghost Rider, a book by Rush drummer Neil Peart.  A note welcomes everyone to use the place provided they take care of it.

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At the third line the abandoned railway ran parallel to the active line and a short distance in from the road lies what appears to be an old railroad sign.

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The Guelph Radial Trail runs for 33 kilometers and is best enjoyed with two vehicles parked on different sideroads.  This allows you to go twice as far because you don’t have to back track like was done here.

Artifacts from the Toronto Suburban Railway that have been featured in previous posts include:

Google Maps Link: Acton

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