Monthly Archives: July 2017

Griffin House

July 22, 2017

Enerals Griffin arrived in Port Stanley in 1829 with his wife Priscilla from the United States. They came to Canada via the underground railroad to start a new life where black people had a measure of freedom that they didn’t have in Virginia at the time.  There is no record of where the Griffin family lived during the years between 1829 and 1834 but they started a family and saved enough money to establish themselves.  In 1834 they bought a small one and a half story, four room house that had been built in 1827 and was owned by George Hogeboom.  It has a front-sloping gable roof and is clad in unfinished horizontal clapboards.  The picture below shows the house and the old driveway while the cover photo shows a closer view of the front of the house.

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Along with the house, they purchased 50 acres of land on Mineral Springs Road in Ancaster, from which they would make a living and sustain their family.  Over the next 154 years, the family would continue to farm the property until it was sold to the Hamilton Conservation Authority in 1988.  The house was named as a National Historic Site in 2008 partly because it is one of last early 19th century Georgian Style clapboard homes in the Ancaster area.  It is also listed as one of six sites in Ontario that is culturally relevant to Canadian Black history.  Rather than settling in an area that was designated for former slaves, the Griffins chose to buy a farm and live in a predominantly white European area.  The area has been determined to be archaeologically sensitive and digs on the site have uncovered over 3,000 artifacts including stoneware and clay pipes.  The ruins of the family saw mill stand near the crest of a waterfall on a small tributary of Sulphur Creek.  The original boards for the construction of the home were cut in this saw mill from trees that were felled on the property.

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Following the Griffin Trail to the Homestead Trail allows you to explore the property and also brings you to the waterfall.  Known as Griffin Falls and also as Heritage Falls there was very little water on this day and moss was taking over the cliff face.  In the spring there is normally water here and this is the best time to view this 5-metre washboard classical cascade.

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We had parked at The Hermitage where there is a 10 dollar fee per car.  In the corner of the parking lot, the old gatehouse for the Hermitage still guards the entrance.

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Behind the gatehouse is Hermitage Cascade on Hermitage Creek.  This 4-metre cascade falls had a much better flow than the close by Griffin Falls.

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On a previous visit, the Hermitage was under restoration and we wanted to see how the job had turned out. There are many trails through the property including the Bruce Trail and we followed the one leading to the old homestead.  The ruins of the main house have been restored on three sides.  The burned ends of the second-floor beams can still be seen sticking out of the wall.

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Google Maps Link: Griffin House

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Rosetta McClain Gardens

Monday, July 3, 2017

Rosetta McClain Gardens is a jewel along the Scarborough Bluffs.  The gardens have been transformed into a place for all to enjoy, especially the handicapped.  Close to the parking lot is a sign showing the layout of the park.  The sign has Braille on it and is laid out in relief so that everyone can find their way around with ease.  The walkways and paths have been created out of different types of material so that the handicapped can find their way around more easily.  Cobblestone, bricks and interlocking stones each create a path that feels and sounds different to aid the visually impaired.

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In 1904 Thomas McDonald West bought 40 acres of land over looking the Scarborough Bluffs.  When he passed away he divided it among his four children with each one getting about 10 acres.  His daughter, Rosetta, and her husband Robert Watson McClain made many improvements to their property in the form of gardens and walkways.

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When Rosetta died in 1940 her husband wanted to find a way to commemorate her and in 1959 he offered the city the land for a park to be named after her.  In 1977 the land was conveyed to the care and control of Toronto Region Conservation Authority.  They’ve added parcels of land three times, incorporating other parts of the original homestead) to bring the total to 22 acres.  To add to the enjoyment of the visually impaired the gardens have been laid out as scent gardens.  There are extensive rose gardens which were, unfortunately, a little past their prime.

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The old McClain house still stands, although in ruins, on the property.  Efforts have been made to preserve the remnants by adding concrete along the top edge of some of the crumbling walls.

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Rosetta McClain Gardens have a good view of Lake Ontario from the top of the Scarborough Bluffs but there is no access to the lake.  A fence keeps people from getting too close to an earlier fence which is no longer moored to the eroding sand.  The concrete pole anchor has been left hanging high above the lake while it waits to eventually fall. Access to the lake and the view of the Scarborough Bluffs can be found just east of Rosetta McClain Gardens at the foot of Brimley Road in Bluffer’s Park.

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The extensive gardens and a wide variety of trees make it an excellent place for birdwatchers to observe their feathered friends.

Google Maps Link: Rosetta McClain Gardens

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Pine Ridge Day Camp

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Oakville Recreation Commission operated several day camps in the 1950’s along Sixteen Mile Creek.  Two of them were located on Lower Base Line and were on the Milton side of Lower Base Line.  Children were taken from town to the day camps to give them an experience of the outdoors as part of their summer vacation from school.  Older teens were taken every summer to a training camp at Fisher’s Glen on Lake Erie.

Rotary Park or Pine Ridge Day Camp was located on the top of the hill while Henderson Park was along the banks of Sixteen Mile Creek below.  Day campers would walk between the two to go swimming in the creek on hot summer days.   There were originally 5 buildings on the Pine Ridge site which were screened from the creek by a row of pine trees along the ridge of the ravine.  The three cabins and the dining hall were removed a long time ago but for some reason, the washroom facility was left intact.  The picture below shows the old playing field along with the remains of the washrooms, tucked in under the trees.

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Inside the washrooms, there is little left.  When I first visited here in the late 1990’s the building was more or less intact and all the toilets were undamaged.  The first ten years of abandonment wasn’t very hard on the building.  The next twenty years, along with some senseless vandalism has nearly demolished the building.  It is unlikely that there are very many winter storms left in the old structure.  It is impressive that the children who came to day camp here had the use of flush toilets instead of the typical outhouse one might expect to find.  The people who closed the place up removed four buildings and then placed concrete blocks to prevent people from parking along the road or entering the old laneway.  They took out the electrical wires and left the place pretty much as they found it when it was severed from the corner of the farmer’s field. All except the washrooms!  Perhaps they were expecting to use the fields for games or events in the future and anticipated the need for the washrooms.

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Down the hill from Pink Ridge Camp was Henderson Park where the children would go swimming and fishing.  Adjacent to Henderson Park there used to be a small parking lot that allowed continued access to the river even after the park had closed.  From here you could get to a trail along the top of the ravine above the Queenston shale embankments on the opposite side of Sixteen Mile Creek.

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This parking lot was closed several years ago because there were too many late night parties with large campfires. Alcohol, cars and backroads are a bad combination and so the parking lot was sealed off around 2012 when the one lane bridge was replaced.  The parking lot has since filled up with field grasses and weeds.  A new invader, Giant Hogweed now lines the creek banks and is spreading through the floodplain.  They can be seen in the picture above where they stand out against the red shale.  Each plant goes to seed only once before it dies but it can produce between 50,000 and 120,000 seeds.  These can be blown up to 10 metres on the wind but travel much farther when carried by water.  They will float for up to three days without sinking and get washed out across the floodplains during high water events.  The example in the picture below is likely 10 feet tall.

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Pine Ridge and Henderson Day Camps were in the business of making great summer memories for children.  Today, they are in danger of becoming just a memory themselves.

Google Maps Link: Pine Ridge Park

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