Beechwood Wetlands

Sunday, April 23, 2017

In 1826 The Taylor Family moved to the property that today we know as Crother’s Woods. Beechwood Drive is the road that led to the homestead they built and for decades was one of only a few places where you could travel across the Don Valley. Parshall Terry owned the property that became known as Terry’s Field and was the next property north of the Taylor property.  To check out this 11-hectare area I took advantage of free parking on Beechwood Drive just off of O’Connor Drive.

Around 1900 the Taylor family purchased Terry’s Field to make bricks from the clay that had been located there.  They already had an extensive industrial empire to which they kept adding.  The colony was offering a bounty for the first industrialist to open a paper mill and the mill at Todmorden had opened although it did not win the title.  That went to the paper mill in Crook’s Hollow.  The Taylor Paper Mills were a success and they eventually operated three of them.  The one at The Forks of The Don was the most northerly of the trio with Todmorden being at the south.  The Taylors opened Sun Valley Bricks which operated in the valley into the 1930’s.  This was in addition to the Don Valley Brick Works which they managed just south of Todmorden.  Later Domtar opened facilities here that left the land contaminated when it closed in the 1980’s.  After removing truckloads of soil and most of the buildings the land was deemed safe for use again.  Toronto Police Services is using the only remaining facility to train their canine units.

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Near the site of the old Taylor house stands the crumbling remains of an old kiln.  This likely predates anything else remaining on the site.  The cover photo shows the kiln from a little different angle.  As can be seen from the picture below the kiln is crumbling on one corner and it is surprising that the city isn’t taking steps to keep people off of the kiln.  There is also a couple of trees growing on top of the structure.  I believe that it should be restored and given a proper interpretive sign as it may be the best example of an old kiln in the city.

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The river shows many signs of its past usage including a narrow pond which is likely the remains of a 19th-century mill raceway.  Outfalls line the river including two that come directly from the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant which was opened on August 1, 1929.  There is also evidence in the river of a past dam, the crib can be seen below the water in this picture.

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Beechwood Avenue is now closed to through traffic but formerly curved to meet the CNR tracks just before it reaches the river.  The Lower Don Recreational Trail runs parallel to this section of roadway.  Directly in front lies the Beechwood Wetlands and to the right, Cottonwood Flats where the city dumped snow until 2004.  Sun Valley, former home to Sun Brick Company and the Sun Valley Land Fill lies beyond in Crothers Woods.

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Beechwood wetlands was built in 2002 and 2003 in a joint effort by the Task Force To Bring Back The Don, Toronto Region Conservation Authority, Toronto City Parks and several others.  The used heavy equipment to recreate the landscape and eliminate the damage done by years of use as an industrial site.  Volunteers planted 6500 native trees, shrubs and wetland plants and maintained them twice a week for the following year to ensure they got off to a good start.  The wetlands are now home to frogs, snapping turtles and various wetland birds and are considered one of Toronto’s most successful restoration projects.

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The Red Admiral butterfly makes a migration north each spring to recolonize most of North America.  It will have two cycles per year, one in March which spends the summer in Ontario.  A second brood is hatched in October that flies south to spend the winter months in south Texas.  Red Admirals have a red/orange band that encircles both wings and prominent white spots on the front of each forewing.

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The Lower Don River has cut through layers of shale that can be seen near the waterline and perhaps this is what was being burned down in the kiln.

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After the buildings were demolished piles of construction rubble were dumped along the side of the river.  These piles in many places have become habitat for the various species of wildlife that inhabits the parkland.  Throughout the concrete slabs can be seen the wrought iron reinforcing bars that were used prior to tied rebar used today.

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The Canadian National Railway line cuts through the property and the winding nature of the Don River required the railway to build two bridges.  The bridges are nearly identical in construction and the railway is still active.  The former Beechwood Road crossing has signals and caution should be exercised when making your way from the Cottonwood Flats into Crother’s Woods on the other side.

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The other side of the Don River can be accessed via a footbridge just beyond the train bridge.  Therefore, there is no excuse for crossing the river on the rail bridge like I observed several people doing.  There’s a sign by the rail bridge that gives a number to call if you are feeling suicidal.  I wonder if they too saw someone taking their bike across?  A mountain bike park has been set up along the trail near the rail bridge. There’s even a small place where you can step out of the weather for a moment.

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Sun Valley and Crothers Woods still have areas that I haven’t explored.  Perhaps one day…

Google Maps Link: Beechwood Drive

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