Monthly Archives: January 2017

Sunnyside Beach

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sunnyside Beach originally was part of High Park when the entire land grant belonged to John George Howard.  The name Sunnyside first referred to a summer villa that John had built on the sunny side of a hill overlooking Lake Ontario.  The 1877 County Atlas pictured below was drawn just 4 years after Howard gave High Park to the city and just a year after it opened to the public.  Previous posts on High Park are linked at the end but today the goal was to explore the area along the lakefront.  In 1854 John sold a strip along the lakefront for the construction of a railway.  It is marked with a white and black dashed line and labelled as Great Western Railway on the map.  In 1891 a second line was added when the Grand Trunk Railway came through.


There is a small parking lot beside Colborne Lodge (red arrow).  A trail leads from here to the Lower Duck Pond on the eastern edge of the park.  The outflow from the pond no longer goes directly into the lake  as it was diverted into Grenadier Pond during the waterfront redevelopment.  A trail runs between the two ponds and passes through the corner of the orchard which is marked on the map between the house and Grenadier Pond.


On May 19, 1911, the Toronto Harbour Commission was established and given the mandate to create a plan for the redevelopment of the entire waterfront.  This included the filling in of Ashbridges Bay to create the Port Lands, deepening the harbour to twenty feet and creating over 1400 acres of land through lake fill.  The plan called for a strip of parkland with recreational uses that would stretch from the Humber River almost all the way to Bathurst Street.  The picture below shows the outflow from Grenadier Pond.  A sandbar that separated Grenadier Pond from the lake was shored up to support the trains when the railways were constructed.  The outflow from the pond was also altered at that time and a weir was constructed to help control water levels.  The weir, at the corner of today’s Ellis Avenue, was replaced with a concrete one in 1936.


Colborne Drive follows the old driveway to the house that is marked on the atlas above. Following it south you will pass under the old railway line and the more recent concrete Gardiner Expressway bridge.


Looking from the east when you reach the beach, the pedestrian arch bridge can be seen over the mouth of the Humber River. Some of the breakwall can be seen in the lake.


The Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion was built in 1921 on land that was created by pumping muck from the bottom of the lake on the inside of the 17,985 lineal feet of breakwall.  To cover this with soil The Harbour Commission bought a farm in Pickering and moved 40,000 cubic yards of soil to the site.  The picture below shows the bathing pavilion facing the lake, with some of the original, now mature, trees growing beside it.


The main entrance to the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion has this decorative archway.  The date 1922 can be seen at the top and this reflects the June 28, 1922 opening of the pavilion.


The picture below shows the interior courtyard of the pavilion.  When it was constructed it cost $300,000 which would be $4.1 million dollars today.  At 400 feet long, and with separate sections for men and women, it could accommodate 7,700 bathers.  It also had lockers for each bather.  Surprising by today’s standards was the ability to rent a bathing suit for 15 cents.


After two very cool summers in which there were few people who braved the cold waters of the lake it was decided to build a swimming tank (not called a pool by the local residents). It cost $75,000 in 1925 but at 300 feet by 75 feet it was once considered the largest outdoor pool in the world.  It was built to accommodate 2,000 swimmers at a time.   Originally the tank cost 35 cents for adults and 10 cents for chidren but today there are no fees (and no water).


There is a fibreglass mould for making canoes in front of the pavilion.  A local canoe club is storing canoes in the pavilion for the winter.


Starting in 1922 Sunnyside Amusement Park became the best-known park of its kind in Canada.  A roller coaster, Ferris wheel and merry-go-round provided exciting rides while the midway offered food, games and entertainment including watching horses jump off high platforms into the lake.  The archive photo below shows a crowd at the park on Canada Day 1924.

Sunnyside, crowd in amusement area, looking west. - July 1, 1924

In November 1955 a small fire destroyed one of the concession stands near the roller coaster.  A second fire just a few days later made the city suspicious of arson.  Then on the 24th a major fire destroyed several buildings and nearly took the lives of some youth that were trapped in one of them.  City council passed a motion on November 26th calling for the removal of the park in preparation for the construction of an expressway.  A contract was awarded on December 5th and within a couple of months, the park was gone.  One of the rides continues to operate because the old carousel was moved to Disneyland in Florida.  Only the bathing pavilion and swimming tank still remain to mark the site of the amusement park.  Memories of the docks and wharves at the beach can be seen in the water off shore.


The city built the Gardiner Expressway on the site of the former amusement park but retained a strip of parkland between the road and the lake.  In Budapest Park just east of the pavilion a stegasaurus appears to be wandering along near the boardwalk.


The Sunnyside Boardwalk and The Martin Goodman Trail provide a link to The Waterfront Trail and join a hiking system along the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario.

Our other High Park blogs:  Colborne Lodge looks at the origin of the park and the historic home it still contains.  High Park Zoo examines the history of the zoo and features many of the animals it houses today.  The Eastern Ravine reveals a unique geological feature in the park.


Google Maps Link: Sunnyside Beach

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Colonel Samuel Smith Park

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Etobicoke has a large waterfront, is home to over 100 species of birds and features the restored buildings of the Mimico Branch Asylum.  There is parking in a paid lot in the park as well as limited free street parking off 13th street.

Samuel Smith was born in Hempstead New York on December 27, 1756.  At 21 he joined The Queens Rangers to fight for the British in the American War of Independence.  After the war he moved with other Loyalists to New Brunswick but ended up in England before long.  He earned the title of Captain and was sent to Niagara where his promotions continued and he rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.  In 1801 he retired and purchased 1000 acres of land in Etobicoke.  Eventually, he owned the land between Bloor Street and the lake in a strip from Kipling to Etobicoke Creek.  He sold John Strachan the land that was used to build Trinity College. After the college was demolished in the 1950’s that section was converted to Trinity Bellwoods Park.  These two swans were quite sure that I might be a source of bread for them and the hundreds of mallard ducks that were there.  In fact, bread is not good for waterfowl as they can’t digest it properly and it sits in their stomach and gets bloated.  It can prevent them from eating sufficient good food to get their nutrition.


Samuel Smith served as the Administrator of Upper Canada between 1817 and 1818.  His term followed very shortly after the War of 1812-1814 and distrust for the Americans still ran high.  Smith imposed strict rules on American immigrants, requiring them to take an oath of allegiance as well as live on their land for seven years before they were granted the patent to the land.  Samuel Smith Park is a stopping place for Whimbrels in their migration from Virgina each year.  It is hard to believe that 12 kilometres of water separates the point of land known as Whimbrel Point and the Toronto skyline but Google Earth confirms that it is.  The cover photo shows the view back toward Toronto.


Smith was on the Executive Council until October 1825 when he retired from politics.  He passed away just a year later on October 20, 1826.  From the end of the break wall, you can see the Long Branch skyline including the old water tower at The Arsenal Lands.


The land for Col. Samuel Smith Park was acquired by the city in the 1970’s but not a lot was done with it for twenty years.  The Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital occupied part of the grounds until it was closed On September 1, 1979.  The buildings sat empty until they were renovated starting in 1999.  Construction debris was dumped along the lakeshore creating much of the land south of the hospital old sports field.  Thousands of old bricks from brick makers as far away as at least Milton can be seen and someone has taken the time to make a little brick road which displays some of this diversity.


The shape of the spits that have been built into the lake has caused an interesting flow to the water that can be seen in how things are deposited on the beaches.  There are small shingle beaches made up of tiny stones, a small section covered in seaweed and a section of shoreline where the old bricks have been worn to very small pieces.  The picture below shows another section which is covered several inches deep with crushed zebra mussel shells.  Zebra mussels are invasive having only been first recorded in the Great Lakes in 1988.  Since then they have spread into connected waterways.  Colonies can produce between 30,000 and a million eggs per year allowing them to take over large areas.  They attach themselves to almost anything and when they run out of room they pile on top of each other.


American Mink have made the park home and have many nesting places in the rip rap that forms the shoreline.  They build a fur-lined nest in which they will raise a litter of between three and six kits which will be born blind.  After 25 days they open their eyes but remain dependent on their mother’s milk for five weeks.  The mink is a good swimmer who can dive as deep as sixteen feet in search of food.  Their diet consists of fish, rabbits, squirrels, snakes and frogs.  When distressed it will spray with a foul smelling secretion from glands in the anus that smells worse then that of the skunk.  They say that mink will purr like a kitten when they’re content.  I mink, therefore I am.


The harbour at the park contains The Lakeshore Yacht club of which there are still three in the water, apparently being lived in.


The Colonel Samuel Smith Skating Trail opened on Dec. 8, 2010, giving the city its only skating trail.  The half-kilometer long, figure-eight, trail is kept frozen using two 75 hp compressors and is maintained with a dedicated Zamboni.  The changerooms in the old Generating Building are closed for renovation but washrooms are being provided with porta-potties.  A hand-warming fire near the trail is only lit when a staff member is there full time and therefore ends up being lit only between 6 and 8 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.


The park is home to the Mimico Branch Asylum with its collection of late 1800’s hospital buildings.  The old asylum is currently under a 99-year lease to Humber College.  It was covered in greater detail in a separate post called Mimico Branch Asylum but the buildings can be seen from many vantage points in the park.


Between the hospital power plant and sports field runs an old swale which can be crossed on a footbridge.  Near the footbridge are the remains of an earlier bridge that can be seen as a red brick pier standing in the swale in the picture below.  The fire hydrant was installed in 1952 and is known as The Kerr.  Bawden Machine Company of Toronto was founded in 1902 and made pumps.  From 1919 until the 1940’s they made the Toronto Water Works fire hydrants.  In 1949 they bought The Kerr company and started making The Kerr fire hydrant.


A few trees planted by the patients at the asylum still remain along the back of the property near the old lakeshore.  This willow tree was recently cut down and I was amazed at the six-foot diameter of the tree.


Google Maps Link: Samuel Smith Park

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Beachcombers – Scarborough Bluffs

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The beach along the Scarborough Bluffs is an ever changing environment.  It is eroded by wind, rain and waves.  Objects are washed ashore, washed down the bluffs or dumped here.  As such it is a great place to look for treasures, each of which has a story to tell or a little bit of history to reveal.

This hike set out to investigate the Scarborough Bluffs, specifically the section from The Guild Inn through to East Point Park. There is a small parking lot for The Guild Inn at the end of Galloway Road and Guildwood Parkway that will provide access to the beach via an old construction road which was used to harden the shore west of here in an attempt to prevent erosion.  The picture below shows the view from the top of The Bluffs looking west.


The morning was bright and sunny but the beach was virtually deserted.


East Point Park is one of the places that is known for its Monarch Butterfly migrations. Milkweed is essential to the lifecycle of this species of butterflies and it is encouraging to see milkweed seeds scattered along the bluffs.  The flat brown oval seeds are attached to the white fluff that helps them to be spread by the wind.


The vegetation on the top of the bluffs slows erosion down but doesn’t stop it.  The roots are holding a thin layer of soil above where the sand has vanished below.  Walking along the top of the bluffs it is, therefore, necessary to stay back from the edge so that you don’t have the ground disappear below your feet.  The cover photo shows a fence that was installed to keep people away from the edge.  The fence is now falling over the edge itself.


The area of Leslieville was situated on clay deposits that were excellent for brick making. As a result, Greenwood Avenue in 1914 had seven brickyards including that of Albert Wagstaff.  When Wastaff died in 1931 he left the brickyards to his drinking buddy Albert Harper who operated the brickyards while the family contested the will.  When the will was found to be valid he closed the yards down and the pit was turned into the town dump. The name Harper on the brick below was his way of stating his claim to the company while the will was being reviewed.


The ravine at Greyabbey Park is one of the places where there is a flow of water from the top of the bluffs to the bottom.  Tall invasive phragmites grow in wetlands all along the sides of the bluffs, sometimes as much as half way up.  These ravines provide homes for the white-tailed deer, coyotes and other animals that call the bluffs home.


As we walked along the beach we met a local couple who walk there daily.  We noted that they were combing the beach looking for interesting objects, as were we.  They collect antique bottles and glass and display them on an Instagram account.  Their treasures can be seen at this location.  The picture below shows several pieces of glass, including a couple of Coke bottle bottoms, that have been tumbled by the water and sand until they are well rounded.


The Toronto Brick Company was stamped onto bricks produced at The Don Valley Brick Works, one of Toronto’s largest manufacturers.  Their bricks may also read TPB Co for Toronto Pressed Brick Company.  Much of the early Toronto skyline was made of buildings constructed using bricks from this brickyard.  Much of the beach along The Bluffs is also made up of bricks from this brickyard now that old construction debris has been used for fill and for hardening the shoreline.


Rose hips provide a splash of colour in the winter and can also be eaten if you avoid the seeds.  It is said that they help to reduce inflammation and they contain 50% more vitamin C than oranges do.


It’s hard to say where this plastic elephant got tossed away at because the lake may have carried it a long distance before depositing it here.  It may also have come from the top of the bluffs.  Unlike some of the glass on the beach, plastic has little chance of being taken home.


The rusting remains of a milk chum, or milk can, lie behind a log on the beach.  Starting in the 1850’s metal cans were introduced for milk collection so it could be taken to the dairy.  By the 1970’s collection was converted to tanker trucks and the cans became collected for their antique value.


There is a movement to pave a trail along this section of the bluffs and add armour stone to the shore to slow down the erosion of the bluffs.  Nature will continue to have its way and the bluffs will continue to recede.  The vegetation that is growing along the shoreline and up the sides of the bluffs will go a long way toward slowing the process down.


This post brings the total along the Scarborough Bluffs to 8 which cover much of the distance between Bluffer’s Park and Highland Creek.  From the west to the east the adventure began with Sand Castles in Bluffer’s Park.  That story looks at the geology of the bluffs.  Erosion investigates the effect of the lake, the wind and rain on the bluffs.  Gates Gully is the most famous ravine along the bluffs with a sunken ship and stories of buried treasure.  South Marine Park Drive follows the lakeshore between the sunken Alexandria and The Guild Inn.  The Inn is a former artist guild and preserves some of Toronto’s early architecture.  This post fills the gap between the Inn and East Point Park where there is a Monarch Butterfly migration point.  Highland Creek is the eastern most point of The Bluffs.


There’s still Greyabbey Park on the top of the Bluffs to be explored at some time in the future.

Google Maps link: The Bluffs

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Ball’s Falls

Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016

Ball’s Falls is a quick drive down the QEW toward St. Catharines.  In the mid-1800’s it was a major industrial centre and a hub for the region.  By the late 1800’s most of it was gone and the commercial activity had moved off the escarpment and closer to the lake.

George and John Ball were living near Albany New York in the 1770’s with their families operating a potash business.  Many settlers in that area produced potash by burning the wood on their property and then running water through the ashes repeatedly.  This ash was then boiled down in a pot until a potassium rich fertilizer was created.  When the American War of Independence broke out the Ball brothers fought on the side of the British.  At the end of the war in 1783 they fled to Niagara and took up land as United Empire Loyalists.  Their land on the Niagara Escarpment was an easy source of limestone and they operated several kilns on the property to produce lime.  One of the kilns closest to the house is being preserved.  A roof has been erected over the top of this draw kiln where at one time the chunks of limestone were poured into the top of the kiln.  The fire was kept hot from below until the rock was broken down.  The entrance to the oven is also being supported and inside the kiln the brick lining is starting to cave in.


The first job of a settler was to secure a place to spend the winter.  Clearing the forest provided the logs to build the first family home.  Having a permanent dwelling was also a requirement for gaining the full patent on the land.  A house similar to the original Ball home is now being used to display the typical lifestyle of a settler and a spinning wheel can be seen through the window.


By 1809 a grist mill had been set up to grind flour for the local farmers.  The building had four floors and George Ball was listed as the miller.  During the War of 1812, the American forces made several advances into Upper Canada but had to keep retreating.  When they did they would try to burn the mills along the way, as was done with John Burch’s mill at Niagara Falls.  To protect the food supplies of the British Military, and the local population, the army decided to station troops at Ball’s mill to ensure that it wouldn’t be destroyed.  As a result, the mill played a critical role in supporting the war effort.


The mill was expanded in the 1840’s to include another run of stones.  Twenty Mile Creek was dammed above the lower falls to create a steady flow of water to operate the mill. Water was brought to the mill, in the background of the picture below, via the raceway which ran through the opening in the rock wall.  The large water wheel is still in place in the mill. After turning the wheel the water poured out through the back of the mill and dropped down the ravine face to the creek below.


In 1816 they built a sawmill close the lower falls.  There was plenty of timber in the area and many local bridges were made with lumber sawn at the Ball’s sawmill.  In the early 1900’s the local supply of timber was exhausted and the sawmill closed.  The lower falls can be seen in the cover photo and they are classified as a classic waterfall because the width and height are about equal at 27 metres.  In the picture below, taken at the crest of the falls, you can see the walls of the gorge that the falls have cut over the years.  This waterfall exposes the upper layers of the Niagara Escarpment.  The top, darker layer, is the capstone of the escarpment known as the Lockport Formation.  Below that is the softer shale layers of the grey and red sandstone known as Thorold and Grimsby respectively.


In 1824 they further expanded by adding a wool mill to their holdings.  Built onto a 60 foot bluff overlooking the creek it was placed 1/4 mile upstream near the Upper Falls.  The mill housed 8 looms that produced cloth and yarn.  It was run by water diverted from above the falls.  Due to the gradient of the land no dam was required to keep the mill operating. The archive photo below shows what the mill looked like during its years of operation.


The mill is long gone but there is still one wall and a window frame nestled into a crevice overlooking the ravine.


The upper falls are classified as a curtain falls because the width is greater than the height. The falls are 11 metres high.


To the left of the falls in the picture above is a section of rock where the water is pouring out between layers of harder dolostone and softer limestone.  This is a type of karst activity that results from carbon dioxide mixing with rainwater.  This creates a weak form of carbonic acid which can erode the limestone.  Over time, the water has cut channels between the layers of rock where it flows out near the falls.


As the Balls became more established they built the home which still stands close to the grist mill and adjacent to the lower falls.


In the 1840’s there were several homes added to the community as well as a boarding house for the mill workers.  All communities needed a place of worship and a little church was added for the spiritual welfare of the residents.


As the population grew it started to attract other tradesmen including a butcher, a cooper, a tailor, a bookmaker and a blacksmith.  In 1849 George P. M. Ball, the son, had a plan drawn up for a subdivision for a community to be called Glen Elgin. However, the community had already reached its peak and the plan was never implemented.  Two main factors led to the demise of Ball’s Falls.  The opening of the Welland Canal helped to prosper the communities closest to it.  Roads and railways ran along the strip of land between the escarpment and the lake and the area declined in importance.  By 1883 when George Sr. passed away only the grist mill remained in operation.  Within 5 years most of the buildings had been dismantled and sold for materials.  In 1910 the grist mill closed and the town was gone.  The blacksmith shop is seen below.


In 1962 The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority purchased the property and it is currently managed as Ball’s Falls Conservation Area.  Some of the buildings at Ball’s Falls have been moved there from other locations to recreate the scene of the typical community.  There are three marked trails in the park as well as The Bruce Trail which runs beside the lower falls.  Twenty Mile Creek is prone to drying up in the summer so plan to visit in spring or after a good rain storm or snow melt.

Google Maps Link: Ball’s Falls Conservation Area

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Mimico Branch Asylum

December 27, 2016

In the beginning there was the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at 999 Queen Street.  Built in 1850, it was designed by John George Howard who built Colborne Lodge and donated High Park to the city.  When it was decided to expand the government looked for space outside the city so that they could build a hospital with natural surroundings to help calm the patients.  They found Lot 5 and 6 in Etobicoke which were originally deeded to Daniel Stuart and Samuel Smith respectively.  The government bought lot 5 in 1888 for use as an extension of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in a style known as Moral Treatment.  Lot 6 was bought in 1901 and used by the asylum for a farm that helped supply the kitchen at the hospital.

In the 1880’s it was thought that building a new facility with several cottage style buildings rather than a centralized hospital structure would provide better therapy for the mental patients it housed.  Construction began in 1888 using patients from the 999 Queen Street asylum as labour, all of which was supervised by local tradesmen.  When the asylum opened on January 21, 1889, it was known as the Mimico Branch Asylum.  It had several other names over the years and when it became independent of the Queen Street Asylum in 1894 it took on the name Mimico Insane Asylum.  In 1920 it became The Ontario Hospital, Mimico and in 1934 The Ontario Hospital, New Toronto.  In 1964 the final name was Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, a name it carried until it closed on September 1, 1979. The picture below shows several of the hospital cottages facing the lake.


Cottages were built to house 50 patients each.  Including the extensions on the either end, each cottage was 40 by 80 feet.  The cottages were all connected by underground tunnels which are still in use.  One of these tunnels contains the morgue and over the years thousands of patients died here.  There is an ongoing suggestion that some of the buildings may be haunted.  The picture below shows one of five the cottages on the south end which would have housed female patients.  The male patients were housed in the buildings on the north side of the campus.  This particular cottage, and the male counterpart, were not part of the original concept.  They were added in 1892 as maximum-security wards for the criminally insane and those who were deemed to be incurable. Rooms here were single occupancy.


A power station was constructed that could burn coal for energy and provide heat for the cottages.  In the early 1930’s a campaign by the Department of Public Works to eliminate fire hazards led to the closing of the congested boiler rooms in the centre building.  The powerhouse originally stood beside the lake.


The building below was originally part of the earliest construction and was designated as cottage 1 and 2.  It housed women and in 1931 it was expanded due to an increased need for space.  An extension was put on each end and the centre between the two cottages was filled in.  A similar treatment was given to cottages A and B for the men.  Notice the flat grey section between the second and third story windows which only shows on the three sections that were not part of the original construction.  Cottage number 2 on the south end had the inside destroyed by fire in 1905 but was quickly refurbished using patient labour.


By decreeing that the work was part of the patient’s therapy it was possible to justify not paying them.  Patients worked at building and maintaining the hospital and in planting the grounds.  With the addition of a farm, also operated with free patient labour, the hospital was self-sufficient.  All that remains of the farm is part of the orchard which can still be found across the road from the hospital.


The Administration building was constructed in 1889 to house the resident physician and his attendants.  Starting in 1910 the attic space was used as a nurse’s residence and this continued until 1932 when the Nurse’s Residence was built.  As originally constructed, the administration building had an additional floor and a turret.  These were removed during renovations in the early 1930’s to avoid the cost of maintaining them.


The superintendant’s house was built in 1894 in the Queen Anne style that was popular between 1880 and 1910.  The late victorian era was a time of change and innovation and homes had asymmetrical towers and bays and windows of all shapes and sizes.  Dr. Thomas Daily Cumberland was in charge of administration between 1936 and 1959 and was the last superintendent to live here.  The house took on the name Cumberland House in the 1950’s and now serves as the Jean Tweed Centre, a place for women to get help with addictions.


The Assembly Hall was built in 1898 as a place of worship and entertainment for the patients.  The second floor served as a meeting room with a church on one end and a stage on the other.  The main floor held space for a storehouse, boiler room and coal storage. Today it has been renovated into the Assembly Hall Community Cultural Centre.


An oval field was created by the patients for playing cricket.  Today it remains as a depression surrounded by mature pine trees.  It is between the Assembly Hall and the Gatehouse.


The Gatehouse was built in 1893 and was originally known as the Entrance Lodge.  Prior to its renovation in 1998 it was in very bad condition inside with most of the walls and ceilings crumbling.


Over the years many people died while they were living at the psychiatric hospital.  People who had no relatives or other means of providing for their burial were taken a short distance north and buried in a graveyard that was exclusive to the hospital.  Originally a road divided the graveyard down the middle.  Catholics were buried on the west side and Protestants on the east.  Until 1957 the graves were not marked except by a numbered row on the east side and lettered row on the west.  Each row contained 25 burial plots. Between 1890 and 1974 there were 1511 burials in the cemetery with only the last 154 getting grave markers bearing their names and the year they were born and died.  This graveyard can be seen as an open field on the south side of the Gardiner Expressway, just east of Kipling. The cover photo shows the sign that marks this old graveyard


In 1979 the hospital was closed because it was believed that a more community-based treatment program would be more effective.  The buildings were in need of repair and the funding wasn’t made available.  Over its 90-year operation, the hospital had many nameless individuals who lived, worked and died hidden away from the community.  In 1991, after a dozen years of neglect Humber College signed a 99-year lease on the property and began to renovate the bildings.  Colonel Samuel Smith Park will be the subject of a future post.

Google Maps link:  Mimico Branch Asylum (Humber College Lakeshore Campus)

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All-Time Top Trails (So far…)

December 31, 2016

April 2014 saw the release of the very first Hiking the GTA post.  It was greeted with great enthusiasm by myself and one other person.  Since that time there have been over 220 stories released to an audience that continues to grow.  I would like to take this opportunity to say “Thank You” to the people who checked out the Facebook page and gave the page or a post a “like”.  I’m also grateful for the people who follow the blog at  With all those stories to choose from, and limited time to explore, how do you decide where to start?  To help ease that decision here is a listing of the most popular stories from 2014 – 2016.  Check out the link (blue) to something that interests you and, perhaps, print the story.  Then, it’s road-trip time!

No. 15.  The Devil’s Punch Bowl.  This story includes the climb down to visit the Lower Punch Bowl and the interior of the Devil’s Punch Bowl.  These two waterfalls can be quite spectacular when there is a full flow of water.


No. 14.  La Grande Hermine.  Jacques Cousteau explored Canada in a ship named La Grande Hermine.  An abandoned replica of this ship lies burned-out near the QEW just north of St. Catherines.


No. 13.  Raymore Drive.  This section of The Humber River suffered the worst loss of life during Hurricane Hazel when a swing bridge came off one mooring and directed the surging river onto a residential street.


No. 12.  Military Burying Grounds.  Downtown Toronto is home to a small park that contains the first burial after the founding of the town of York (Toronto).  Many of the soldiers and civilian militia who died in the war of 1812 are buried here as well.


No. 11.  The Vandalized Memorial.  A park in Oakville is home to a memorial for a Ukrainian author named Taras Shevchenko.  Unfortunately, the park has been vandalized several times and the statues have been stolen and sold for scrap metal.


No. 10.  Graydon Hall  Graydon Hall was built in 1934 as an estate with terraced gardens fed with water pumped up from the Don River.  Today the mansion and gardens remain but most of the lawns have been replaced with apartment buildings.


No. 9.  Ghost Town Of Sixteen Hollow.  The town of Sixteen Hollow was once a thriving industrial centre.  Today the church remains as a lone testament to the community that has vanished.


No. 8.  The Devil’s Pulpit.  The Forks of the Credit was an early industrial community centred around several quarries.  The Forks Quarries, or Devil’s Pulpit, makes for a challenging hike on the south side of town near the Hoffman Lime Kilns.


No. 7.  Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster.  When the train left the tracks on route to the CNE that September day in 1907 it left 7 dead and 114 injured.  The railway that ran on the horseshoe curve has been abandoned since 1932 but the curve can still be seen in this field.


No. 6.  The Devil’s Well  The Devil’s Well is an intact glacial pothole near Rockwood.  It is the only pothole that hasn’t collapsed in a series of six and can be accessed from the bottom through a small hole in the wall.


No. 5.  Bronte Creek’s Haunted House.  The Spruce Lane Farmhouse is said to be haunted but it is not the only reason to visit this beautiful park.


No. 4.  The Longhouse People Of Crawford Lake  Crawford Lake is a meromictic lake, which means that the bottom is never disturbed.  From studying this they discovered a precontact native village which has been partially recreated.


No. 3.  Lotten – Cawthra Estate Mississauga.  The  Cawthra family built their estate in Mississauga in 1926.  The property features an early swimming pool and the remains of a walled garden.


No. 2.  The Gap. The open gap in the escarpment near Milton is the result of a quarry that began extraction in 1962 by blasting an opening to the pit.


No. 1  The Newmarket Ghost CanalThis post looks at the relics associated with an attempt to build a canal from Lake Simcoe to Newmarket.  Three abandoned locks for the canal remain along with a complete swing bridge mechanism.


The first three years of Hiking the GTA have been an incredible journey and producing the stories has been made easier by the constant assistance of my brother Dave.  His company on many of these hikes, knowledge of nature, assistance in researching and his proof-reading skills are all greatly appreciated.  Thanks, as always.  Okay, enough looking backwards, there are hundreds of trails out there just waiting to be explored.

Google map links for each site are included in the individual story.

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