Monthly Archives: January 2018

Duffins Creek

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Pickering Township was surveyed in 1791 by Augustus Jones but a trader named Duffins had already been established for 3 years and the local creek had taken on his name.  Major John Smith was awarded 4,800 acres of land in Pickering Township for his services in the Revolutionary War in the USA and soon a small settlement began around the bridge where Kingston Road crossed Duffins Creek.  To supplement the few houses, John’s son David, determined to build a saw and grist mill and an order was placed with the Commissary-General’s department for the issue of the mill stones and hardware.  We parked on Elizabeth Street near the entrance to Duffins Creek Trail.  There is a totem pole in the park which was installed in 2007 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Scouting.  We had previously visited the remains of the Camp of The Crooked Creek in Morningside Park.


Although the mill equipment had arrived by 1799 the mills were never erected and it is likely that they were sold along with 850 acres of land to Timothy Rogers in 1807.  Kingston Road had been complete just two years earlier and a small community of Quakers began to form at Duffins Creek.  The mills started a long progression of changing hands and going in and out of business.  Stores established in the early community also kept failing.  In 1824 Francie Leys opened a store and used his house as an inn to accommodate travelers.  When he opened a post office in his store in 1829 it was called Pickering, the community continued to be known as Duffins Creek.  The 1878 atlas below still shows the community as Duffins Creek although the name was officially changed to Pickering a decade earlier.  The original village has become overgrown with development and is now referred to as Pickering Village.

Duffins Creek (2)

By 1846 the population was about 130 and there were four churches.  These were comprised of a Presbyterian, Weslyan, Quaker and Roman Catholic.  The usual small town professionals had also arrived including blacksmiths, tanners, tailors, shoemakers, and inn keepers.  Through the 1850s there were at least 3 grist and saw mills operating at the same time, located above and below Kingston Road.  In August of 1856 the Grand Trunk Railway gave the community access to new markets and each of the mills had a spur line.  Milling became the main industry with one grist mill surviving until 1934 and the other in 1956.  Duffins Creek has previously frozen over but the recent warm spell flooded the creek with melt water, breaking the ice and washing it onto the creek banks.  Some of these chunks are over 30 centimetres thick.


As we followed the creek we came to the place where a weir has been built to prevent sea lamprey from having access to the upper reaches of the creek.  Sea lamprey are an invasive species that aggressively feed on the body fluids of fish by attaching themselves with their suction cup mouths and rows of sharp teeth.  The first weir on both Duffins Creek and the Humber River are designed with traps in them to catch the adult lamprey as they move upstream to spawn.  The lamprey weir on Duffins Creek was not visible under all the blocks of ice in the creek.


St. George’s Anglican Church was built in 1841 and is the oldest surviving church building, not only in Pickering but in all of Ajax as well.  The red bricks for the church were provided by the Grand Trunk Railway in exchange for a right of way across lands that belonged to the church.


The Roman Catholic Church was built in 1871 and is the tallest building in the old village.  Built in the Gothic Revival style with pointed arches throughout and even the roof shingles have been laid with an interesting pattern to catch the eye.  Many early communities did not have a Roman Catholic church and so this is a little unusual.  The fact that the roof is cut with dormer windows is very rare in a church.


Pickering village attained a population of 1000 by 1900 and had its own newspaper called The Pickering News.  In 1890 an annual subscription was $1.00 Strictly in advance, $1.25 If not so paid.  This little building with a boomtown front still houses a print shop. Notice the words “The News” above the door, however, this was not the original building for the newspaper.  The prefabricated blocks are designed to look like cut stone and this innovation didn’t come out until around 1900.


In 1850 Dr Robert Burns had this unusual home built to accommodate his family and his medical practice.  The two story extended bays with copper cupolas give the building a decorative look that stands out on the main street of the town.  In the 1860’s, two family doctors ran their practices out of this early medical building


The cover photo features one of the more decorative buildings in the old town.  John Cuthbert’s Hotel features extensive dichromate brick patterns and a recessed main entrance.  The hotel was built in 1881 and was operated by the Gordon Family from 1893 until 1952.


The Trans Canada Trail also follows Duffins Creek Trail and the entire area is a flood plain for the creek.  During the recent melt, this whole section of park was flooded and then the surface froze several centimetres thick.  When the water drained out from underneath it left the ice clinging to the bottom of the trees.


The original village of Duffins Creek, now known as Pickering Village has many other historic buildings that can be enjoyed on a walking tour.  The historical society has produced a tour map that can be found here.

Google Maps Link: Pickering Village

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Massey-Goulding Estate

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Canada’s first major industrialist was Hart Massey whose agricultural implement manufacturing eventually became Massey Ferguson.  In 1855 he moved his father’s business from Newcastle to Toronto.  His son, Walter, was born in 1864 and in 1887 he bought a 240-acre farm which he named Dentonia after his wife’s maiden name of Denton.  The historical map below shows the original extent of the farm and all of the buildings have been marked in yellow.  The one circled in red is the only remaining one and is the cover picture for this post.

sub-history-map (2)

The farm sold fresh eggs and dairy products to the public. City Dairy opened in 1900 and was the first in the city to offer pasteurized milk.  At this time it was estimated that 400 children a year died in Toronto due to contaminated dairy products.  The archive photo below shows the farm in its heyday.  All of the buildings in this picture have been demolished and replaced with Crescent Town towers.

DEntonia Dairy

Walter and Susan Massey had a daughter named Dorothy who got married in 1921 to Dr. Arthur Goulding and they built a house as a wedding gift for her.  The house was built in the arts and crafts style that was popular at the time.  Arthur and Dorothy raised their family in the house and she encouraged her own children and their friends to perform fairy tales and plays as a way of occupying their time.  This grew into the Toronto Children’s Theatre.  This may have been an influence on her nephew, Walter Massey the famous Canadian actor. The house is 5000 square feet and has highly detailed windows.


Walter Massey had pioneered the sale of pasteurized milk in Toronto but ended up dying at the age of 37 due to typhoid that he contracted from unclean drinking water he got on a train.  Susan kept running the City Dairy until 1930 when it was sold to Bordens.  The 240-acre farm was then slowly sold off for development.  Susan donated 60 acres of land to the city for a public park on the condition that it be known as Dentonia Park. The Gouldings were fond of their horses and the house features an oversized porch to allow riders to get beneath it.


When Dorothy died in 1972 the house became the property of the borough of East York and sat vacant until 1997 when it was restored.  Today it serves as the Children’s Peace Theatre, a use that Dorothy would have approved of.

We parked on Victoria Park Avenue, originally known as York and Scarborough Town Line.  Taylor-Massey Creek is named, in part, after the family farm that it flowed through on its way to join the Don River.  It passes under Victoria Park Avenue in a large concrete culvert that is a replacement for an earlier bridge seen on the map.


The trail through the park passes a lot of new growth trees as the farm returns to a more natural forest cover.


Taylor-Massey Creek is one of the most degraded watercourses in the city.  The upper reaches collect pollution off of the 401 and carry it through a long industrial section.  The city has updated its master plan for the revival of the creek and the repair of failing gabion baskets that were installed 50 or 60 years ago.  The ones through this part of the park are in fairly good condition.


Winter camping, or homeless living, in Toronto’s parks must have been a very cold experience so far this winter.  We saw a Jolly Roger flag flying on the top of a small rise along the side of the ravine.  Pirates this far from the bay required investigation and so we proceeded to do so.  There were no recent footprints in the snow and, unsure if the tents were occupied or not, decided to leave them alone.


We followed the trail along Taylor-Massey Creek past all three locations of the ponds seen in the historical map.  Crossing to the unmaintained trail on the other side of the creek we made our way until we could see the O’Connor Drive bridge over the ravine.  This marked the point where we had made it to during our previous hike in Taylor Creek Park.


The picture below is from our investigation of some of some abandoned ovens on the back of Baby Point opposite to The Old Mill.  At that time we found a number of old bottles including this partial City Dairy milk bottle.

city dairy

It is a fitting ending that one of the leading industrial and philanthropic families in the history of Toronto is entombed in a mausoleum designed by the most prolific architect of the late 19th century in the city.  J. E. Lennox designed the mausoleum which was built between 1890 and 1894.  All of the Masseys and their spouses that are part of this story are interred in this family mausoleum in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  It has been repaired over the years and in 1967 the underground crypt was filled in.  In 2000 it was designated as having architectural and historical value.


The Massey family is remembered in Toronto by Massey Hall and the new 60-story Massey Tower rising behind it.  Dentonia Park and Dentonia Park Golf Course are also remnants of the old farm and recall the family.  Their agricultural implements manufacturing lives on in Massey Ferguson a major brand, worldwide.

Google Maps Link: Taylor Creek Park

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Norway – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The first capital of the united colonies of Upper and Lower Canada was in Kingston.  The British military was stationed at Kingston and a road was needed for rapid troop transportation in case of trouble from the newly created United States of America to the south.  A road was cut through the forest from York (Toronto) to Kingston.  Asa Danforth Jr. was contracted to build the road at a cost of $90 per mile to run from York to the mouth of the Trent River.  It was completed by December 1800 but was poorly maintained.  It served as a route for the mail coach and needed to be better maintained.  A series of toll booths were set up to collect funds for the ongoing repair of the road.  One of these toll booths was located at the intersection of the road with modern Woodbine Avenue.  This was the first area near the beaches to have a community arise and an early name for the town was Berkley.  By 1837 it is said that there were 80 people living in the community and they had a hotel, store, brewery and a steam-operated saw mill.  The mill still existed at the time of the county atlas in 1877 and is marked below as SM.  It stood east of the Post Office that had been erected at 320 Kingston Road in 1866 but which has since been removed.

Norway map (2)

A stagecoach ran every week between York and Kingston, beginning in 1817, usually taking four days to complete the journey.  Over the next 15 years, the frequency increased to a daily run that included regular delivery of mail to the village.   Tracks were laid along Kingston Road in 1874 to allow the operation of horse-drawn streetcars which were replaced in 1893 with the  Toronto and Scarboro’ Electric Railway, Light and Power Company.  This radial line was absorbed into the Toronto and York Radial Railway in 1904.

In 1853 Charles Coxwell Small donated 3 acres off his 472-acre estate to erect a church building and create a cemetery so that the local Anglican church could move their meetings out of O’Sullivan’s Tavern and into their own building.  The first building on the site was the old school house which had been purchased by the congregation and then moved by a team of oxen.  According to the terms of the land agreement the church was called St. John’s, Berkley.  The name was later changed to St. John the Baptist Norway at some point following Small’s death.  The picture below shows the original church as it appeared in the late 1920’s.  It had been replaced with the current building in 1893 which can be seen in the corner of the picture.

St. John's Anglican Norway, old church, close. - October 4, 1927

The congregation began to build their new brick church in 1892 and that is the date on the cornerstone.  The building was opened in 1893 and by 1915 an expansion was needed.

IMG_1639 (1)

The term Lychgate comes from the ancient Saxon word for corpse.  English churches often had a lychgate where the body would lie in state until burial.  People often died at home and the body was moved to the lychgate to await burial.  Bodysnatchers forced most of these to be guarded and very often there were seats for the family to sit and mourn for the deceased.  The first part of the funeral service would often be performed under the lychgate.


The cemetery at St. John the Baptist has been in operation since 1853 and has over 80,000 interments.  Originally the cemetery was Anglican only but has been opened up as an interfaith burial grounds.  Many of the early pioneers of the city are buried here as well as founding families of the Beaches area.  Joseph Williams who was the founder of Kew Gardens along with many members of his family is buried here.


The cemetery features a crematorium in which the bell from the original school has been preserved.


The current Norway public school was built in 1976 and is at least the third building to occupy the site.


The building at 340 Kingston Road appears to be one of the original buildings based on the brickwork and the fact that the ground level windows have been buried over time.  Only the bricks of the lintel show at street level.


This store occupies a building that has an unusual name stone at the top.  Where one might find a date or bank name we see the letters T.W.M. which is likely the initials of the person who built the block.


Norway has recently acquired a lot of low rise condos along Kingston Road where the historic buildings are falling, one at a time in the name of progress.

Google Maps link: Norway

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The Castle – Glengrove Substation

Friday, December 29, 2017

Electrical power came to Toronto in 1910 and the network for distribution was born.  Power generated at Niagara Falls was brought to the city on high tension transmission lines.  It had to be converted to currents that could be used by the average consumer but nobody wanted the large sets of transformers, wires and resistors next door for their children to play in.  Toronto Hydro decided to hide them and several designs were developed that allowed the substations to blend in.  In March 2016 we checked out the abandoned Transformer House on Bayview Avenue beside Sunnybrook Hospital.  There were over 250 of these built but perhaps the most elaborate was built in 1930 in North Toronto.  This is the front door to the Glengrove Substation that has become known as The Castle.


The date plate stands on the right side of the front door.


The windows and rough-cut stone architecture give the substation the appearance of a castle that could be found on the moors of England.


The windows on the building come to life at night when the interior lighting switches on.



On the Glengrove side of the building, there is a very tall set of oak doors with the appearance of a drawbridge.  These doors allow the installation and repair of the large transformers inside.


Two major construction projects were going on at the same time that The Castle was being built that had an obvious influence on the design and construction materials used for the sub-station.  In November 1926 a new parish was opened to serve the Catholics in the expanding area of North Toronto.  In the spring of 1929 construction began on their new church building with the first services being held on June 1, 1930.  The rough cut stone and Gothic Revival arch doorways are dominant on both buildings.


The Presbyterian church had been meeting in Eglinton, later renamed North Toronto, since 1860.  In 1929 they moved into their new building kitty-corner across Yonge Street from the sub-station.


A different example of disguised transformer buildings can be seen in the Entertainment District downtown.  The corner of Duncan Street and Nelson Street was home to factories and warehouses in 1910 when the sub-station D was built.  Therefore it looks like a typical factory building of the era and is one of the original buildings in the distribution system.


The transformer house on Bayview Avenue near Sunnybrook Hospital was designed to look like one of the hospital outbuildings.  It has now been abandoned and is in serious decay.  The story of the Bayview Transformer House can be read in greater detail with additional pictures at the link above.


Google Maps Link: Glengrove Substation

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Forks of the Credit Provincial Park

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Forks of the Credit Provincial Park has many things to offer from hiking trails to closed roads and historic ruins.  A Niagara Escarpment study in 1968 made the recommendation that a park should be created near the Forks of the Credit.  The Government of Ontario accepted the proposal and in 1985 the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park was officially opened.  Official parking is found off of Mclaren Road but it is metered and $7.50 for 4 hours or $14.00 for the full day.  We roughly followed the route marked in green on the 1877 county atlas below.

Forks of Credit (2)

From the parking lot, you can follow the Meadow Trail past Kettle Lake, featured below, and on until you come to a washroom facility at the junction of the Dominion Trail.  Along the way, you will pass a short trail called Kettle Trail which links to the Trans Canada Trail.  To get to the falls you will use a portion of the Bruce Trail as a link.  It is good that someone has taken the time to mark the trails with little white signs “falls” and “return to parking” to make the direct route less confusing.


The Credit River runs through the park as does The Bruce Trail.  From the south, the Bruce Trail follows old Dominion Road north from Forks of the Credit Road through the ghost town of Brimstone until it reaches the entrance to the park.  From this point the old road becomes Dominion Trail and the road is closed.  A portion of it was washed out in 1912 and never replaced.  There are also blue Bruce Trail side trails that lead to the ruins at the cataract falls, making the park a great place to hike.


In 1879 the Credit Valley Railway built a1,146-foot wooden trestle, 85 feet high to cross the valley.  At the time it was the longest curved trestle in Ontario but safety concerns led to much of it being filled in by dumping gravel through the trestle.  From there the line heads north through the area of the park.  It runs along the edge of the river and crosses it on the bridge shown below.


Cataract Falls is 13 metres tall and 9 metres wide.  Like many waterfalls, it takes on a spectacular formation of ice in the winter months.  The falls appear to be much wider because there are so many cracks in the shale layers that seep water which adds to the majesty of the falls.


A sawmill and two grist mills stood on this site before it was converted to the production of electricity.  The older parts of the mill were constructed of stone which was apparently quarried behind the waterfalls in the winter time.


The foundations of the Cataract Electric Company stand on the crest of the falls.  This had been the site of mills since 1820 and the power company operated from 1899 until 1947 when it was deemed to be too inefficient to continue.  The frozen waterfalls can be seen to the right of the picture below.


Cataract Lake was held behind the dam and was allowed to survive the closing of the electric power generating plant.  John Deagle was interested to increase the output of his power generating plant and so had begun to construct a tunnel from the lake to the mill wheel.  A major flood in 1912 washed out the dam and put an end to Deagles dreams of tunnelling.  A concrete dam was built as a replacement.    In 1953 the dam was destroyed by dynamite and the lake was drained.  The railway had been concerned that the lake was undermining the railway tracks.  The sluice gates remain from the old dam and are now used as abutments for the footbridge on the Ruins Trail.


A better perspective of the old mill buildings can be gained from the footbridge.


The Forks of the Credit Provincial Park has many trails and interesting things to see but parking fees apply.  It is perhaps better to park at the end of Dominion Road and walk in along The Bruce Trail.

Google Maps Link: Forks of the Credit Provincial Park

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