The Devil’s Cave

Saturday, November 25, 2017

On December 7th, 1837 William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebellion in Upper Canada was crushed and he was forced to flee to the United States to avoid arrest and trial for treason.  The story goes that he hid for the night in a cave north of Oakville before making his way to the border.   Locally the cave has become known as the Devil’s Cave.  An artesian spring in the back of the cave created a small pool which local school children came to call the Devil’s Pool.

The picture below is from the Oakville Archives and is believed to have been taken around 1915 on a school trip to the cave.  Where Bronte Road meets the present QEW was a community known as Merton.  The Merton school was known as SS #15 and was a log building until 1857 when a brick one was constructed.  It was demolished to make way for the QEW and the few remaining students were taken to Palermo starting in 1958.  We knew the cave had collapsed and couldn’t be entered but set out to locate it and see what remained.

Merton

As soon as we started moving through the grass on leaves we disturbed a number of small white moths.  Winter moths emerge from the ground between late November and the end of the year.  They are an invasive species of which only the male can fly.  The female crawls to the base of a tree where she attracts the male with her pheromones and then lays about 150 eggs in the bark.  In the spring the caterpillars hatch and begin to devour the leaves of maples, oaks and apple trees.  In the middle of the summer, the caterpillars go underground to pupate and emerge as moths in the fall.  They can kill a tree by removing the leaves for three years in a row.

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There are several distinct roadways and man-made berms as you descend the side of the ravine.

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This section of the ravine revealed a pioneer artifact in the form of an old saw.

Saw

There is a fisherman’s trail along the creek but you will need good footwear or you can count on wet feet and you make your way through several sections of wetlands and marsh.  The sides of the ravine have open seepage as water flows along the surface of the hillside.  There were still a couple of late-season salmon in the river although the run is basically over.

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There is a point where you will not be able to continue at river level due to the shale cliff that has been eroded into the embankment.

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Forced upward you will find the limestone to be full of fossils.  The limestone is full of holes which is evidence of karst activity, typical of the formation of caves.

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About 3/4 of the way up the hillside is the remains of the entrance to the Devil’s Cave.  It has collapsed some time ago and can no longer be entered.  Water flows out of the bottom of the old entrance, perhaps a legacy of the old pool inside the cave.

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Probing with sticks and flashlights showed that the cave extends farther than can be seen with the available light.

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At this point you will be forced to retrace your steps.

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9 thoughts on “The Devil’s Cave

  1. Martin Keenan

    Congratulations on finally finding the entrance. It would be interesting to know when the entrance finally collapsed. My recollection is that the entrance was not too far from collapse in 1975, but it was still possible to enter and the cave opened up once you got inside.

    Reply
  2. Rob Hood

    I lived in Palermo as a child and I have been in this cave. Entry was very narrow and I recall crawling on my stomach as there was very little room. The cave did open up after about 8 feet into a larger area. There was a pool of water and we were told if you dared to swim under that it opened into a larger cave. We did not venture any further. I would guess that was around 1978.

    Reply
  3. Mike Hood

    I was in there in the early 70’s.Was about 14 years old.You had to crawl in on your belly to get in.
    I was told Boyd the famous Canadian bank robber held up in the cave when he was on the run.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Palermo – Ghost Towns of the GTA | Hiking the GTA

  5. Frank

    My brother and I crawled in there in 1964-65. Didn’t hear that it collapsed. And yes there was another larger one if you dared holding your breath for a bit. The William Lyon story is the most famous. We were 12 and 14 and lived at 250 bronte rd on the curve next to the art dude that had tv’s on poles. Realy

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Rebel Rebel – William Lyon Mackenzie | Hiking the GTA

  7. Pingback: The Devil Made Me Do It | Hiking the GTA

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