Monthly Archives: May 2017

Flynntown – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Last week we visited the former community of Oriole at Sheppard Avenue and Leslie Street and made a short excursion north that only made it as far as Newtonbrook Creek.  To pick up where that hike left off, we took advantage of free street parking on Alamosa Drive and Gatehead Road where there is an entrance to the park.  The next community north along the river was known as Flynntown and was located around the intersection of Leslie and Finch.  Like Oriole, it formed around the mill sites that were prominent along the Don River in the first half of the 19th century.  It too was a name applied to a postal district in much the same way that we use postal codes today.

The 1877 county atlas below shows the area of the hike with the section of the East Don River that we covered being outlined in blue.  A small tip of German Mills Creek is coloured leading to the right near the top of the map.  We started at the former property of William Dunton where we looked for the remains of the saw mill built by Phillip Phillips. Old Cummer Road has been coloured in black and we followed the short piece that runs on an angle from the stream up to where it meets the grey line marking the new section of Cummer Road.  Cooper’s grist mill is shown where the new road meets the older section.

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Near the bottom of the hill when you enter the park off Alamosa Drive you will find a set of tennis courts.  Near the courts, beside the river, is a pole with life saving equipment on it.  That marks the spot where Philip Phillips built his saw mill in the early 1800’s.  The wood for the mill was rough hewn by hand indicating that it was prepared before the mill went into operation.  After the saw mill was up and running the wood produced displayed the obvious signs of being cut with a blade or wheel.  The houses and barns closest to the mill would have been constructed with wood that had been prepared at the saw mill.  The picture below shows the remains of what is most likely part of the wooden crib for the old mill dam.  The only other place we have seen the wooden crib preserved is at the Barber Dynamo.  One of the mill mapping sites reports that these are actual timbers from the saw mill.


Tree Swallows are highly social birds and can form flocks of thousands around their nesting sites.  They breed in Canada and the United States but spend the winter in Mexico, the Carribean and throughout Central America.  Their genus name is tachycineta bicolor which comes from the ancient Greek for “moving quickly” and the bicolor from their two coloured markings.  The males have much brighter blue-green upperparts while the females tend to have duller colours.  The female needs to hide on the nest for two weeks before the eggs hatch and another three before the young ones are ready to leave the nest.  The brighter male likes to be obvious as he dive bombs intruders to protect the nest.


Following the trail north of Finch Avenue brings you to the intersection of Old Cummer Road and the century-old bridge across the river.  The single-lane bridge was replaced when the surrounding farms were developed for housing.  In 1968 the new portion of Cummer Road (grey on the map above) was opened and this became Old Cummer Road and was closed to through traffic.


The road north of the closed bridge has been largely overgrown and the former pavement has all but vanished.  Cummer operated a saw mill and a woollen mill on the river near his home but it closed in 1857 and all traces are now lost.


Crossing under the new Cummer Road bridge, the trail quickly follows a pedestrian bridge to the east side of the Don River.  We chose a small path that led along the west side but after crossing a drainage ditch the trail quickly vanished.  Our intention was to find any evidence of the mill site or dam that was shown on the county atlas.  The mill appears to have been somewhere near the new bridge and no trace exists.  The concrete dam we found on Cooper’s property would have been built here long after the mill had closed and would have replaced a wood crib dam.  The mill pond shown on the map has been drained.  The cover photo shows the dam from the downstream side while the picture below shows the upstream side.


This dam looks more like an electrical generating dam than one used to store water for mill operations.  A large building stood  near the end of the dam but all traces of it have vanished today.  What remains is an old utility pole that has a large transformer attached to the top along with several old light sockets.  A second electrical pole is leaning into the trees a little farther upstream.


Returning to the main trail, we crossed the Don River and went up the east side to explore the dam from that vantage point.  Near this place, German Mills Creek empties into The Don.  German Mills Creek flows for about 10 kilometres as a left tributary of the East Don River.  It gets its name from the community of German settlers who, in 1796, became the first pioneers in Markham Township.  The settlement of German Mills fell apart after only a few years but the name has been preserved via this creek.  The bridge across the creek has been here for a long time and formerly provided access to the mills and other establishments in the valley.  Today this little bridge supports the traffic along the hiking trail that follows the former roadway.


The picture below shows German Mills Creek and the confluence with the East Don River as seen from the old bridge over the creek.


The Don River is interwoven with the early history of Toronto and York County and there will always be more to explore another day.

Google Maps Link: Flynntown

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Oriole – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The East Don Parklands are a much different place today than they were 200 years ago. The corner of Sheppard and Leslie was originally known as the postal village of Oriole and was home to a thriving industrial community.  Seven mills and a brickyard lined the valley along the East Don River as it passed through this intersection.  The remainder of the valley was used by the various landowners for farming.

Over time the saw mills, grist mill and woollen mills all disappeared along with the dams that retained their mill ponds.  Beginning in 1984 the Toronto Region Conservation Authority began a long-term rehabilitation program aimed at improving the wetlands and restoring the forest cover to the parklands.  All of the original mill dams have been removed except for one right at the corner of Sheppard and Leslie beside the parking lot. The river has cut a new path around the east end of the dam as can be seen in the cover photo.  Decades of neglect have taken their toll on the dam and large chunks have been removed at water level.  An extensive amount of tree branches has gathered behind the old sluice gate on the left.  A fence has been installed to keep people from getting on the top of the sluice as it is becoming unsafe.  This dam is likely to be removed in the not too distant future if erosion controls are implemented along the watercourse.


By 1877 when the county atlas below was drawn most of the mills were already gone. I’ve coloured Leslie Street (2nd line east) green and Sheppard (15 Concession) red while a mill access road has been coloured yellow.  I wandered along the west side of the East Don River, across the first little tributary and then as far along Newtonbrook Creek as I could.  This trek I’ve coloured blue.  The south-east corner shows a mill pond in the atlas where North York General Hospital stands today.  The sawmill in the curve of the yellow road belonged to Hunter and Sons and was destroyed in the flood of 1878.  The first sawmill on this site was Stillwell Wilson’s but it was washed away in a breach of the dam in 1828.  Thomas Sheppard then operated a grist mill here until it was lost to a fire in 1869.  The concrete dam featured above was on the property that belonged to Mrs. Lee at the time of the atlas.  South of here the Duncan Mill is shown with an arrow and it still exists on the property of the Donalda Club Golf Course.  Further north, likely on the Gould property, are reportedly the remains of the Philip Phillips sawmill waiting for another day.



River grapes have become a real problem in the valley.  This invasive species has the ability to climb the biggest trees and ultimately can choke the life out of it by covering the canopy.  Their twisted vines grow up to two inches thick where they’re well established.


A couple of foot bridges allow you to cross between the two sides of the river but there is a maintained trail on one side of the river only.  In addition to the usual families with strollers and dogs, the joggers and cyclists are joined on this Sunday by a marathon running the length of the trail.  This makes the trail rather crowded and scares any wildlife away.  Most of the waterways in the GTA have a maintained path on one side and a dirt footpath on the other.  In a busy park like the East Don Parklands the birds, coyote and any deer will be found on the side with the dirt trail.  Therefore, this is the trail I chose.


Erosion is a major problem and the river bank has been washed away several feet from the previous shoreline.  The natural gas pipeline in this section has been exposed and will now need to be buried again to prevent possible damage to the pipe.  This is going to require heavy equipment and likely some of the trees will be removed along the sides of the pathway.  In will come the armour stone and at the same time the dam downstream will likely be removed for “safety” reasons.


People always find places to hang out and have a cold beer, relax and enjoy the feeling of being in the country, even if you’re not too far from high rises and the subway.  In some places, people sit in relative comfort in the little forts they build.  This little rest stop is beside the first little tributary and at this time it was easy to cross on the stones that had been provided by the local explorers.


Sections of the trail along the west side of the river have been very wet at times in the past.  There are several places where there are logs that have been put down similar to a corduroy road.  Recent rain has left the trail pretty muddy in some places.  I’m sure this will turn into a mosquito haven in the coming weeks.


More signs of erosion can be seen along the East Don river with large trees bring washed into the river in several places.  The Conservation Authority will have to come along and remove them so that they don’t form dams in the river and lead to flooding.


The green frog has large, distinctive, tympani or ear drums that can be seen behind their eyes.  They also have two folds of skin that run down either side of the back that are known as dorsolateral folds.  They typically have a distinctive green patch on their upper lips.  Tadpoles overwinter and transform into frogs the following spring.


Having taken the trail on the west side of the river I was forced to turn back when I came to Newtonbrook Creek because I couldn’t get across.  This leaves a large section of the park between here and Old Cummer Road that still needs to be explored, including the Stillwell mill site.

Google Maps Link: East Don Parklands

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Day Trips – Down the QEW

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Living in the GTA presents many opportunities for hikes and exploration.  However, sometimes you just want to get away and plan a day trip.  We stop and explore wherever we find ourselves and so there are several posts that are outside of the geographical area we call the GTA.  Here is a pair of them that are close together and just about 100 kilometres from downtown Toronto.  Presented below is a mini review of Ball’s Falls and La Grande Hermine.  There is a link to each story where more details and pictures can be found.

Balls Hermine

Ball’s Falls

Balls Falls features two waterfalls and several historical buildings.  The old mill still survives as well as a lime kiln, the house and barn.  A historic church has been moved to the location for preservation.  Trails connect the upper and lower falls and provide opportunities for hiking.  The upper falls are pictured below.


Near the lower falls, George and John Ball built a house and barn and like any settlers along the escarpment, they also built a lime kiln.


The mill also is an interesting place to visit as there are not too many left in Southern Ontario.


Near the upper falls stand the remains of the woollen mill.


When you’re finished with your exploration of Ball’s Falls you can make a side excursion to see the abandoned ship in Jordan Harbour.

La Grande Hermine

This ship is visible from the QEW and somehow seems to have been here longer than it really has.  The ship was built in 1914 and used as a ferry and cargo ship for 77 years.


In 1991 it was outfitted with a wooden shell to make it look like La Grande Hermine the largest of the three ships Jacques Cartier used when he explored Canada.  It was brought to Jordan Harbour in 1997 but the owner died and has become a relic in the harbour for the past 20 years.  A fire burned most of the wood cladding off the ship.


You can’t actually reach the ship but you can get pretty close on 3 sides.  Enjoy your day away.

Google Maps Links:  Ball’s Falls  and  The Grande Hermine

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Mount Nemo

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Nemo is a Latin word that means “no one”.  When a post office was opened at the corner of Base Line and Guelph Line no one could think of a name for the community and so Nemo was chosen.  The post office and community are gone but since 1971 there has been a conservation area called Mount Nemo that carries on the name.

In the 1877 county atlas Lot 3, concession 4 of Nelson Township belonged to three different people.  The front 100 acres belonged to Jos. T Blagdon while Benjamin Eager owned the portion of the east 100 acres that was on top of the escarpment.  Below the escarpment, Nathan Lamb has added the most arable part of the east half to his farm.  It is Benjamin’s lot that would become the quarry that produced the park.  There are park fees of $6.75 per adult to get into the conservation area to park.  We hiked the route marked in black on the map and made a visit to the abandoned Lowville Quarry marked in red.

Lowville Hike

The sides of the trail are brightly coloured with springtime flowers and the trees are well advanced with their leaves.  Large patches of trilliums are mixed with several species of yellow flowers including Large Flowered Bellworts and Yellow Violets.


Along the trail, we noticed a fallen tree and as is our habit we stopped to see what it had exposed.  The tree had grown through the limestone and when it fell it broke two large chunks away that remain attached to the bottom of the tree trunk.  Close examination reveals a wealth of fossils mainly crinoids and brachiopods.

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Turkey Vultures were out in large numbers today.  They are considered a species of least concern because they are widespread and the population is stable.  When a turkey vulture is threatened it defends itself by vomiting powerful stomach acids at its attacker. It is unique among vultures because it finds carrion by both sight and smell.  When they are standing on the ground they are often confused with wild turkeys.  There are several places along the trails where you can look out and see them circling and riding on the wind currents.


A lookout along the trail is named after Joseph Walter Brock Harris who worked for the Halton Conservation Authority for 31 years.  The lookout is about 85 meters above Walker’s Line which can be seen running between the farms on the tableland below. From here you can see Milton, Brampton, Mississauga, and on a clear day, The CN Tower. As a reference, the lookout is about half the height of the CN Tower.  You can also see across to the Milton Outlier which is a section of the escarpment that is separated from the rest of the escarpment by the Nassagaweya Canyon which is hidden from view at this distance.  There is a series of trails that connect Crawford Lake and Rattlesnake Point by passing through the Nassagaweya Canyon.


A short side trail leads to the former Lowville Quarry.  Seventy feet of Amabel Dolomite is exposed in the quarry face from aggregate extraction from 1958 to 1959.  An old access road still leads down into the quarry which is becoming overgrown with Paper Birch or White Birch trees.  When a forest is regenerating after a fire or clear-cutting the Paper Birch is one of the first trees to colonize.


Lowville Quarries was operated by a company called Bay Crushed Stone.   The quarry face had holes drilled in it and then dynamite was used to blast the rock chunks free. Along the north wall, there is still a large amount of stone that was blasted from the quarry face but never processed. Stone from this quarry was crushed and used for road construction and concrete aggregate.  The quarry only operated for a couple of years before the Twelve Mile Creek Conservation Authority purchased it and 88 acres of surrounding land to prevent the quarry from expanding.  Operations ceased immediately and the quarry still has freshly blown rock waiting to be scooped up and crushed.  The stone in the picture below has a blast hole for the dynamite.


The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has two or three broods each year.  They hibernate during the winter months in the chrysalis state and emerge in the spring as butterflies to start the cycle of life.  The female has a full row of blue spots along the hind wings while the male has only four.  This male was sunning itself in a rare moment of sunshine on the floor of the old quarry.


At the top of the quarry access road stand two abandoned concrete structures that were most likely connected to the quarry, perhaps the rock crusher.  The concrete to build this place was likely made from stone quarried at the site.  The foundations that stand closest to the road are very unsymmetrical in shape and have a series of threaded bolts rising from the top of each section where the rest of the building has been removed.


Forty metres away a five-metre concrete wall is built into the side of the cliff face.  The cover photo shows the structure and another remnant of the industry that once stood here just in front of it. A close look will reveal a door which someone has painted on the wall.  The picture below shows the view from on top of the wall.  There is an irregular shaped pit that has been partially filled in and has a tree growing in the middle.


The Bruce Trail runs along the escarpment edge through Mount Nemo Conservation Area. There are also two loop trails to let you see more of the conservation area without wandering through areas where salamanders and other rare species could be harmed. The north loop trail is 2.6 kilometres while the south loop trail is 2.3 kilometres long. Along the escarpment face, you will notice many sections that are marked as no trespassing. This has been done to allow the cliff ecosystem to regenerate and to keep people from falling over the edge which has happened a few times.


Mount Nemo is a great place to visit any time of the year and offers great views of the fall colours.

Google Maps Link: Mount Nemo

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Waterfalls Of The Golden Horseshoe

Sunday, May 7, 2017

There are several natural waterfalls in the GTA and many more in the surrounding area known as the golden horseshoe.  Over the past three years Hiking the GTA has been able to visit over a dozen of them.  This post provides the links as well as brief stories for each of them.  Google maps links for each waterfall can be found at the end of the specific article.

The Devil’s Punch Bowl

This is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the area because every layer of the escarpment is exposed at this one site.


Albion Falls

This waterfall is easy to access with parking just beside it.  There is a trail that leads to the bottom of the falls that allows you to see both the top of the falls as well as the bottom.


Wahoosh Falls

This small set of waterfalls in Mississauga is a well-kept secret now that the little parking lot near the falls has been closed.


Balls Falls

Balls Falls is near St. Catherines and contains many of the original buildings from the early days of settlement at the falls including the old mill.


Devil’s Falls

This set of falls is near Cambridge and can only be viewed from above as the descent to the Grand River isn’t safe.


Terra Cotta Falls

The falls in Terra Cotta can be seen from the conservation area.


Hilton Falls

Hilton Falls has the unique feature of the old wheelhouse from the mill that used to stand at its base.


Websters and Tews Falls

Websters and Tews Falls are both located in the Spencer Gorge.  At one time Tews Falls was as grand as Niagara Falls.


Niagara Falls

This is the most famous of the waterfalls in the Golden Horseshoe.



Fallbrook on Silver Creek is a cascade waterfall where the creek steps down the escarpment.


Borer’s Falls

Borer’s Creek plunges 15 metres over the side of the escarpment in a 5-metre wide ribbon waterfall.  Borer’s Falls is also featured in the cover photo.


Great Falls

Grindstone Creek flows over the Great Falls in Smokey Hollow.


Sherman Falls

Sherman Falls is one of 7 falls that can be reached in easy walking distance from Ancaster.


Cataract Falls

These falls are 21-metres high and carry the Credit River off the escarpment.  They used to power the Cataract Electric Company, whose ruins can be seen in this picture.

Cataract Falls

Darnley Cascade

Darnley cascade is 4-metres high and is just upstream from the Darnley Grist Mill.


This is just a small sample of the magnificent waterfalls that can be found in and around the GTA.

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Albion Falls

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Albion Falls is known as a classical, cascade, complex falls because of the stages in the falls.  The total height and width where Red Hill Creek flows over the escarpment are very similar with the height being 19 metres and the width being 18 metres and this makes it a classical waterfall.  It plunges to a terrace and then cascades down to the creek bed.  Having both a plunge and cascade makes it a complex waterfall.

There is free parking in the Albion Falls parking lot which is a short walk from the bridge on Mountain Brow Blvd.  The view from the crest of the falls gives you a perspective of height when you take into account the size of the people in the ravine below.


William Davis owned a plantation in North Carolina until the American Revolution.  He fought on the side of the British, sheltering their soldiers.  After the war, he fled the country and came to Upper Canada where he landed in 1792.  He was granted 2000 acres of land for his service in the war and it included 500 acres at Albion Falls.  William established a grist mill and named it Albion Mills. The settlement was soon growing and blacksmith shops and taverns were added. A church and general store joined the village and in 1880 it received a post office and a name change.  Mount Albion had a main street named Mud Street but by 1880 a stone road had been established to connect the village to Hamilton.  To pay for upkeep on the stone road a toll was implemented.  The road keeper collected 15 cents for a return trip with a one horse wagon or 20 cents for a two horse wagon.  The falls plunge half the distance to the ravine floor before landing on a ledge of hard dolostone.  A series of steps forms a cascade to the pool at the bottom of the falls.


In 1907 Robert Grassie owned and operated the mill but he fell in the wheel housing and was killed.  No one ran the mill after this accident and it was demolished in 1915.  The picture below shows the wheelhouse, which was excavated by hand in 1792, looking into it from the floor level of the mill.  There is a cut, or tail race, for the water to return to the river through which you can see the water far below.  Robert Grassie had no chance of survival if he fell through the tail race and down to the creek level.  A tree is getting well established in the wheelhouse as nature marches on.


Many people climb to the bottom of the ravine to view the falls from close up and get their pictures.


Several layers of the escarpment are exposed in the gorge below the falls. Just above the water level in the creek is a reddish layer known as the Grimsby formation.  Directly above it is a grey-green layer known as the Thorold formation.  The contact point between these two layers is the location that contains much of the natural gas in Ontario. Albion Mills is said to be the first place where natural gas was discovered in Ontario. This gas was used to light the mill for over 100 years.  There is an exposed natural gas leak in the creek bed which can be lit with a match when the water level is low.  It is said that the gas was kept alight with a two-foot flame which became a local tourist attraction.


The pathway to the bottom beside the falls is moderately challenging and most people should be able to navigate it safely.  There is a trail that leads back up the point opposite the falls but it doesn’t get a lot of use.  That is because the trail is complicated by a large outcropping of dolomite that you either have to climb over or inch your way around.  There are several stories of people who have slipped and fallen to their death in the gorge and this is one candidate location for that kind of accident.

Albion Falls

When you get to the top on the other side you are treated to this view of the falls.  Before it was removed, the mill stood on the left side of the falls.


Mud Street used to run on an alignment closer to the creek so that potential customers could bring their grain to the mill.  Since the new road has been in place the old one has become the Red Hill Trail and is a much safer way to get the view in the picture above.  It connects to the road near the parking lot.


An old set of stone stairs leads down the hill to old Mud Street and the back access to the mill.


Foundations and the water wheel housing remain on the site of the mill at Albion Falls. The grinding wheel was preserved and is on display near the viewing platform for the falls.  Grooves in the wheel caused the ground grain to move through the wheel to where it could be collected and bagged for sale.  Millers typically took a percentage of the flour in exchange for the service of grinding a farmer’s crop.


Paranormal investigators love to visit the falls because there are stories of several deaths at the falls.  On Sept. 4th, 1915, it is said that Jane Reilly jumped over the falls to her death when told that she couldn’t marry her childhood sweetheart.  On certain nights they say you can still hear her sobbing in the gorge below the falls.  The gorge has also been used to dispose of several murder victims and on March 16, 1946, the dismembered body of John Dick was dumped there by his wife Evelyn.  John still roams the gorge, perhaps with Jane Reilly.  The spirit from a haunted house down the road has also been reported near the falls.


Swamp Darners are large dragonflies that have bright blue eyes and green thoracic stripes.  The females have flat appendages while the male appendages appear to be hairy.  They like to feed on flying insects and can be seen feeding high up in the air or in packs closer to the ground.  Their main prey is mosquitos, which we expect to make an appearance in the next week or two.  This female swamp darner appears to be a little bit too cold to fly and was sitting waiting for the day to warm up a few degrees.

swamp darner

Above the bridge, the creek is flanked by a flood control pond.  This pond is smaller than the original mill pond that supplied the grist mill.  The dam is gone and so the pond has drained and the floodplain has now grown back into a forest.


Albion Falls is just one in a string of 100 waterfalls that line the escarpment in and around Hamilton.

Google Maps Link: Albion Falls

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