Monthly Archives: February 2018

Merritton Tunnel (Blue Ghost Tunnel)

February 27, 2018

As part of a day of exploring the old Welland Canals I decided to look for the Merritton Tunnel.  The story of the first three canals will be told in greater detail in a separate post.  To reach the tunnel you have to walk a fair distance and I parked in a small lot beside the Welland Ship Canal on Glendale Avenue, near the Good Eats Diner.  You will walk past the General Motors Plant which is clearly marked, indicating electronic surveillance and patrols.  I was unsure if this included the old canal and tunnel or not but decided to be wary just in case.

The first Welland Canal was opened in 1829 and consisted of wooden locks.  A second, larger canal was built in 1842-1845 and followed the route of the first but used stone blocks for the locks.  Very quickly it was determined that a third canal, with larger and deeper locks was needed.  It was built between 1872 and 1881 but was modified through to 1887.  It ran straighter and required shorter transit times than the second canal.  The Grand Trunk Railway would need a way to cross the new canal and so in 1876 a tunnel was built.  The Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel is 713 feet long and made of Queenston Limestone.  The tunnel has the formal name of Merritton Tunnel after William Merritt who is seen as the father of the Welland Canal system.  He first conceived the idea of joining Lake Ontario with Lake Erie by canal in 1818.  The nearby community of Merritton was named after him.  On the 1934 aerial photo below the yellow line marks the path of the GTR through the tunnel while the orange line marks the path across the swing bridge.

1934 two Tunnel

Lock 13 of the third canal is crossed by Glendale Avenue and has two large culverts installed to support the road.  The Bruce Trail runs along the east side of the canal but I was hoping to find the west end of the Merritton Tunnel and go through to the east side.  Therefore, I went up the west side leaving the Bruce Trail for the return hike.  Locks 13 through 16 are located between here and the rail bridge.  Lock 16 below shows a drop in river elevation of about 10 feet.


By 1915 the railway had been rerouted away from the tunnel and over a steel Howe Truss bridge.  This bridge was designed to swing out of the way of passing ships and the canal only passes under the west half of the bridge.


At the end of lock 18 you will be forced away from the river by an old dam that retained the water used to operate the locks.  It allowed ponds to be created behind the west side of each of the locks so that they could be flooded as ships passed through.


Once you pass the dam you will be forced out onto a service road that isn’t on the archive aerial photograph above.  The road passes along the side of the GM plant and had sparse traffic on it until now, but as I was unsure if I was actually trespassing I crossed it quickly and looked for a trail in the trees on the other side.  Knowing that the train had to approach the tunnel in a ravine that would be close by, I chose to follow the first one.  As you can see in the picture below, the west end of the tunnel has been closed off because it was considered unsafe.  At times, people have made several holes in the concrete blocks and a few of these have been sealed off again.  The door is currently locked but appears to be broken into regularly.  Entering from this end would require going up the log and dropping into the tunnel.  Being by myself  this wasn’t an option.


The tunnel is closed but the door, apparently looted from some old jail cell, allows you to reach through the bars and take a picture of the tunnel.  Rail ties can be seen on the floor part way in.  The door can be more clearly seen in the cover photo.


This archive photo shows the construction of the tunnel as the first row of blocks for the start of the curved roof were being laid.  A channel was cut and the tunnel constructed and then covered over.  This was done before the canal was flooded and put into service.

Building The GTR Tunnel

Unable to enter from the east end of the tunnel I determined to cross the canal on the swing bridge and look for the other end.  From the railway bridge you can look up lock 17 and see the height difference that the lock allowed ships to gain as they passed through.


The canal locks have started to collapse and it is quite dangerous to get close to the edge in some places.  Most of the damage appears on the upstream ends of the locks due to flooding and annual ice flows pushing downstream.  The picture below shows the south-west end of lock 17 where the entire side is in danger of collapse.  Stepping on the wrong stone block to take a picture could result in a long drop with tons of rock crashing around you.


Between lock 17 and 18 you have to go around the back of a wetland area before you cut back toward the canal.  When you find a small ravine you have reached the former rail line.  This will lead you to the east end of the tunnel.  Two metal posts indicate the original attempt to close this end of the tunnel was done using a low fence instead of concrete blocks.  I wonder why the two ends of the tunnel were treated so differently.


The east end of the tunnel is currently flooded.  Near the curve you can see several support beams that reinforce the tunnel where the river passes overhead.  They have been added since the tunnel was abandoned as they leave no clearance for a train to pass beneath.  Water leaks from the beams and perhaps one day the tunnel will collapse at this point, letting the river above rush in.


The tunnel is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the Niagara Region.  Various paranormal experiences are reported including voices, cold spots and physical pushing.  A mysterious blue ghost has given rise to the name Blue Ghost Tunnel.  Various reasons are given for this such as the 107 deaths that occurred during construction of canal, including two while building the tunnel.  A head on collision between two trains killed two people and there is also a claim that there may have been hundreds of remains left in a cemetery that was flooded by the dam at lock 18. As usual, any spirits in the area chose not to reveal themselves to me.  The closest I came was this skeletal hand which I hope is a Halloween prop.


I may think about returning one day when the east end of the tunnel is dry enough to get inside without getting muddy up to the knees.  Pictures from The First Three Welland Canals can be found at the link.

Google Maps Link: Merritton Tunnel

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Chedoke Radial Trail

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Chedoke Radial Trail is 2.7 kilometres long, it was opened in 1995 and follows the former right of way for the Brantford and Hamilton Electric Railway.  The word “Chedoke” sounds like a native word but is actually a mispronunciation of the words Seven Oaks and refers to a patch of trees that originally stood in the area.  Several waterfalls can be seen from the trail and so we set off to view the ones between the parking lot on Scenic Drive near Chateau Court and Sanatorium Falls.

Two attempts were made to build a railway up the escarpment from Hamilton to Ancaster beginning in 1896 before an actual line was built ten years later.  The sod turning ceremony for the railway took place on August 6, 1906 but construction didn’t begin until late in the year.  Service was opened to Ancaster on December 21, 1907 and to Brantford on May 23, 1908.  The rail line runs up the escarpment at 2.5% to 5% incline.  By June 30, 1931 the line was underused and service was discontinued.  The final trip was made using the same cars as the first run up the escarpment.  Hamilton Parks Board was given the former right of way in 1938 but it would take nearly 60 years to become the Chedoke Radial Trail.  The post card below was post marked on October 16, 1909 and shows a bridge over a railway cut along the line.


The bridge is long gone, as are the electric poles that powered the railway cars.


The first set of falls you come to is known as Upper Princess Falls. They are set back in a little limestone cavern and carry Lang’s Creek over a 6.7 metre drop into a deep plunge pool.


After flowing over Upper Princess Falls this tributary of Chedoke Creek is intended to pass under the trail in a culvert in the bottom of the plunge pool.  Instead, it often flows over the trail and through a fence before dropping 39.5 metres to the level of the 403.  Lower Princess Falls is quite spectacular when viewed from below.


There are a few weeks in the year when Christmas ornaments look pretty on the trees in our parks.  However, after January they start to look like litter hanging in the trees.  Perhaps the people who hang them could come back and retrieve them later.


This rock formation can be seen from the trail and is included here as an example of why one must be careful how close they walk to the edge of the escarpment.  This chunk of rock is well undercut and has a large crack along the back of it.  Walking out to the edge could lead to a sudden dislodging of the rock and a nasty tumble.


The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry were established in 1862 and used to have a rifle range in West Hamilton.  When the Brantford and Hamilton Electric Railway was built they extended the rock cut with a lengthy stone wall to protect the riders from stray bullets.  Rifle Range Road in Hamilton commemorates the Light Infantry and runs beside Alexander Park which can be seen from the rail line.


When the Bruce Trail was opened there were three culverts installed and covered with concrete to allow pedestrians to cross Chedoke Creek.  The escarpment face was covered with patterned concrete to create a spillway for the water to flow down before entering the three culverts.  Over the years the concrete has become cracked and the water flows under it and around the culverts.  A bridge was installed in 2007 over the culverts at a cost of $60,000.   Five years later the bridge needed to be replaced and extended due to heavy erosion.  The new bridge ended up with a price tag of $950,000.


Mountainview Falls is a classical complex cascade that drops 10 metres and has a width of 6 metres.  For a century this waterfall was known simply as the water fall on the mountain.  When a comprehensive listing of the Hamilton Waterfalls was made in 2002 it was given the name Mountainview after a small community that once existed here.  The entire side of the hill was given erosion control below the waterfall but this concrete is broken and being washed away.


Mountainview Falls are actually quite nice when you get up close and eliminate all the man made concrete below them.


Construction of Hamilton’s first reservoir began with land acquisition in 1856 and soon the hand dug reservoir had a capacity of 9 million gallons.  Some time in the 1980’s the reservoir was covered over with a concrete shell and grass was planted on top.  After becoming overgrown with hawthorn bushes it was barely discernible.  Recently the shrubs have been cleared away but the sides of the reservoir have become a target for grafitti.


At the base of Sanatorium Falls is a old hub where a water wheel once rotated.  The main shaft for the wheel would have been made from a single piece of seasoned white oak.


Sanatorium Falls marks the connecting point to a previous exploration of the Mountain Sanatorium.  At one time a set of stairs connected the railway with the Sanatorium so that workers could use the rail line to get to the hospital.  Every day they would have enjoyed a view of the falls as they started and finished their shift.


There are several more falls that can be seen along the trail, but these will be saved for a future expedition.

Google Maps Link: Chedoke Radial Trail

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The Kissing Bridge

Friday, February 16, 2018

While enjoying a visit to The Shand Dam, I decided to make the side trip to see the last remaining vintage covered bridge in Ontario.

The average lifespan of a wooden bridge in the 19th century was 10 to 15 years.  The bridge marked on the county atlas in 1877 was under continual repair and by 1881 the Woolwich Council decided it was time to replace it.  They tendered the job of replacing the bridge with a covered bridge because it could be expected to last up to 80 years.

West Montrose (2)

The winning tender was from John and Benjamin Bear who agreed to $3197.50 for construction.  John Bear had built several barns but West Montrose would be his first bridge project.  Following this success he would go on to become a well-known bridge designer.


The original bridge decking was wood and the covering protected it from storms and inclement weather.  Ironically, in the winter the town had to pay someone to shovel snow onto the bridge.  Buggies switched to sleigh runners for the winter instead of wheels and the snow was needed to protect the oak planks of the decking.  A second advantage that covered bridges offered was a sense of calm for the horses who didn’t have to view the river during the crossing.  Starting in 1885 the inside of the bridge was lit by coal oil lamps during the over night hours.  Innovation came in 1950 when three electric light bulbs were hung inside the bridge.  After four years of having these smashed by tall trucks, the county paid for proper installation of electric lights.


The bridge is two spans supported on a stone weir in the river.  The design is a Howe truss bridge but with the addition of needle beams (elongated floor beams) to laterally stabilize the frame.  It is 205 feet long and 17 feet wide.  It has been restored several times and steel Bailey trusses were added in 1959.


One on-line database lists 35 covered bridges in Ontario, along with pictures.  Only one of these was in existence when this postcard picture was taken in the 1930’s.  At that time there was a 30 foot long pagoda style bridge in Peterborough, among others in the province.  Only the Peterborough bridge survives from this era and it was restored in 1989 and so has an extended future.  Most other covered bridges in the province were built since 1980.  The West Montrose covered bridge is the only Victorian era vehicle bridge still in use in Ontario.  The more famous Hartland Covered Bridge in New Brunswick is much longer at 1282 feet but 20 years newer, having opened in 1901.  It is only one year shy of being the oldest in that province.  Notice how the West Montrose Covered Bridge pictured below had not been painted up until the time of this historic photograph.


The length of the bridge varies from report to report with 205, 200 and 198 feet being cited.  Perhaps the floor deck is 198 while the roof is 205.  There is a small park near the bridge where you are allowed to park but property on both sides of the river is marked as no trespassing.  I can imagine it garners a fair bit of attention from tourists at certain times of the year.   Especially with a nick-name like The Kissing Bridge.


As a bonus, Lost Acre Variety at the north end of the bridge has some very tasty home cooked breads and sweets.

Google Maps Link: West Montrose

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The Shand Dam

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Grand River Conservation Commission was formed in 1934 and one of their first major projects was the commissioning of the Shand Dam.  A vacation day from work was a good excuse for a road trip and I wanted to go and see the dam.  Rather than park at the Belwood Conservation area adjacent to the dam I decided to hike for 2 kilometres to the dam.  I parked on the Second Line, just west of the conservation area where the old railway line crossed and there are a couple of free parking spots.  This is in the former community of Spier, or Spires, where not much remains except for the  school house.  Forbes Moir had arrived from Scotland in 1858 and bought 250 acres of land and a small settlement was started.  It never grew but became a whistle stop on the Credit Valley Railroad when it passed through Moir’s property in 1879.  He operated a post office from 1882 until 1913.  The school date stone reads School Section No. 1 1872.


The railway was operated under several names before it was closed by the Canadian Pacific in 1988.  It is now a 47-kilometre multi-use trail known as the Elora-Cataract Trailway.  I entered the trail near the 8 kilometre marker and quickly saw the remains of an old windmill.  A concrete trough stands at the base of the structure where it once contained water for the livestock that grazed in the field.  The wheel is missing most of the vanes and it appears that it will soon be on the ground.  Steel windmills began appearing in the 1870’s but didn’t gain popularity for another 20 years due to the difficulty the farmer faced in repairing them compared to wooden mills. The ladder is still visible on the tower of this mill and one of the most hated jobs of early windmills was the need to climb the tower to lubricate the mill.  By 1912 the self-oiling windmill had been developed and this chore was greatly reduced.  This windmill is a reminder that this plot of land was generating energy long before the arrival of the dam.


The trail was crossed with several coyote tracks of various sizes. There were several places where there were obvious signs of successful hunting, including this rabbit who didn’t escape becoming a coyote dinner.


Snowmobiles use the trails during the winter months and there is an intersection of a couple of trails. On this day I didn’t encounter anyone, either on a snowmobile or on foot.  I expect that the trail is considerably busier in the summer months.


After a two-kilometre hike you will come to the Shand Dam.  The dam cost two million dollars and funding was provided in part by the eight municipalities that made up the conservation commission.  Brantford, Galt, Fergus, Elora, Paris, Kitchener, Waterloo and
Preston each got work for some of the unemployed in their communities.  The federal and provincial governments kicked in the balance in stimulus spending to help ease the effects of the Great Depression that was lingering.


Part of the price of building the dam included the acquisition of 2,000 acres of land that would be flooded by the 12 mile lake that would be formed.  This was the first dam that the conservation commission constructed and remains the largest reservoir they control with a capacity of almost 64 million cubic metres of water.  It was the first dam built in Canada for the purpose of flood control and the provision of drinking water.  Several ice huts can be seen on the lake as people take advantage of the great ice fishing.


The dam was rushed to completion with the outbreak of the second world war and all Canadian records for construction were broken as the 22.5-metre tall dam was raised throughout 1940.  Crews of men lived on-site as record volumes of concrete were poured and tons of earth were moved in a rush of construction activity.  The dams steel gates were installed in January 1942 bringing construction nearly to a completion.  The CPR had been diverted while the dam was being built and the first train to cross the dam was on March 9, 1942.  The official opening took place on August 7th with 3,500 people in attendance for the ceremony.  The dam was originally called The Grand Valley Dam but tourists looking for the dam and park often ended up in the town of Grand Valley, some 18 kilometres upstream.  As a result, the dam was soon renamed after a local pioneer family named Shand whose land was consumed under the new reservoir.  This picture looks over the side of the dam to the dissipation weir at the bottom.


One hundred and twenty stairs lead from the top of the dam to the bottom.  This dam proved its value when Hurricane Hazel hit Ontario in 1954 and killed 81 people in the GTA.  No lives were lost in the Grand River watershed.


Water levels in the river used to fluctuate from raging highs during spring melting to summer lows when the water was little more than a polluted stream.  Today, the water level below the dam is maintained at a safe and constant level.


The Roman numerals for 1942 adorn the old conservation commission crest on the control room of the dam.


Seen from the south, the difference in elevation of the water in the dam is obvious.


The Elora-Cataract Trailway also serves as part of the Trans-Canada Trail which spans the country and runs to 24,000 kilometres.  The longest connected series of recreational trails in the world.


Belwood Lake Conservation Area looks like a place to check out again in the summer months.

Google Maps Link: The Shand Dam

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Snow Day in G. Ross Lord Park

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Here we have Hiking the GTA’s White Blog.  It was minus five Celsius and snowing steady the entire time we explored G Ross Lord Park.  The park was the subject of one of our earliest blogs, the seventh one, and so the local history won’t be repeated in this post, you can read it here.  The Google Earth capture below has been marked to show where we wandered from the car,  We did the southern section down to where we could see the G Ross Lord flood control dam.  Then we returned and made our way to the Don River flood plain to check it out.  There is a large section of the park to the east that could serve as an adventure for another day.

G Ross Lord

From the parking lot we went down to where Westminster Creek flows into the G Ross Lord reservoir.  There is a small section of land along the west side of the creek that is home to one of the local coyotes

.  There were coyote tracks everywhere but on this day squirrels were the main wildlife braving the storm.  You have to return to the main path to cross this little industrial outflow.  The foot bridge in the picture below will likely be flooded well above the hand rail during the spring melt when the reservoir is used retain a sudden inflow and then deliver a steady flow of water down stream.  The water level in the entire reservoir can rise by over ten feet in a matter of a day or so making the bridge completely disappear.


The picture below was taken on May 9th, 2017 when the water level in the reservoir had risen above the level of the hand rails on the bridge.

Bridge in G Ross

The southern parking lot is closed for the winter but as we passed through we noted this bird house.  It is number 29 and many others can be found throughout the park.  They were added last year.


There are several different terrain types in the park including grasslands, wetlands and meadows making the park an excellent place for bird watchers.  Teasels grow in abundance in the park and their purple heads are quite spectacular when they are in bloom in early summer.  Today they sport a white cap of snow.


The reservoir is frozen over but I don’t think the ice is very reliable because the water level fluctuates so much.  The park was created in 1972 and G Ross Lord Dam is one of three flood control dams built following Hurricane Hazel.  The Claireville Dam and Milne Dam are the other two.  Three hydro towers stand on concrete platforms in the middle of the reservoir.


The picture below shows the reservoir looking north and helps give an idea of the size of the flood control pond.  Also the amount of water required to fill the entire pond to the level seen in the spring flood picture above.


In a great example of re-purposing old things, a running shoe has been converted into a bird house.


Returning to the bottom of the hill near the parking lot we turned right and crossed Westminster Creek on the foot bridge.  Following the creek for a short distance we came to the roadway and the main parking lot.  Beyond it the West Don River flows through a deep ravine.  The cover photo shows the first of two foot bridges that cross the winding river.  The original land owner was Jacob Fisher and he built a grist mill soon after settling.  Aside from some foundations hidden under snow on the opposite side of the river, the only remaining evidence of his mill is the large earthen berm that used to hold back the mill pond.  River bank restoration in 2017 resulted in the removal of a small amount of concrete from the dam that used to sit in the water.  The berm can be seen on both sides of the trail and is clearly marked by the only row of tall pine trees in the area.  It can be seen in the picture below as the berm rises just beyond the river bank.


The mill closed in 1912 and the farm was later bought for the use of horse farming to facilitate the production of vaccines.  Connaught Labs was the original facility and has a museum that Hiking the GTA was able to visit with a guided tour.  Today, Sinofi Pasteur is a major provider of vaccines to the world and for decades was the sole producer of insulin for diabetics.


Just before the main trail turns toward Steeles Avenue and the former community of Fisherville, there is a short trail to the top of the ravine.  We made the climb and followed the upper trail back toward the parking lots.  By this time the snow was really starting to pile up and goldenrod were feeling the weight of it all.


The trails were deserted and the fresh snow made them quite beautiful.


Here are the links mentioned in the story: G Ross Lord Park, Fisherville, Connaught Labs, Clairville Dam, Milne Dam

Google Maps Link: G Ross Lord Park

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Ringwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Jan. 21, 2018

George Fockler bought 200 acres of land at the intersection of the Markham-Stouffville Townline (Stouffville Road) and the 8th concession (Highway 48, Markham Road) and moved his family from Pennsylvania in the late 1790’s.  George owned the northwest corner of the intersection and later his son Sam bought the north east corner lot and built a hotel there.  Revere House opened in 1809 and stood until 1957 when it was demolished to allow for road widening.  The original crown survey created a system of road allowances that were 1 chain (66 feet) wide and this was suitable for the horse and buggy system that was in place at the time.  Stores and hotels were often built close to the road and countless numbers of these structures have disappeared across Ontario as roads get widened to four lanes.  This late Victorian house is for sale and looks like it wouldn’t take too much to fix it up and make it livable again.


Ludwig Wideman arrived in Ringwood along with his parents in 1805.  Thirty years later when William Lyon Mackenzie was fomenting rebellion, the area of Whitchurch Stouffville was firmly on Mackenzie’s side.  Ludwig joined up with the rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern and became one of the casualties there when the rebellion failed on Dec. 7, 1837.  The picture below shows one of a dozen abandoned homes in the former core of Ringwood.


George Sylvester came from Ringwood, England to the growing community and opened a general store on the north west corner of the intersection.  In 1856 the new post office in town was located in his general store and he named the town Ringwood after his hometown.  The name stuck but the residents took to calling the town Circle City in jest.  The post office survived until 1970 when the population had decreased to just 40 and it was replaced with mail boxes, one of which stands where the Revere House used to be.


According to the Annual Report of the Bureau of Industries for the Province of Ontario, A. B. Grove operated a cheese factory in town in the early 1890’s, one of two at the time.  A Chevrolet dealership was established in town by 1928 and was run by the McKenzie family and employed 7 people.    This barn still stands in what was once downtown Ringwood and would have been behind the Revere House Hotel, before it was demolished.  It may have served as stables at one time.


The Lehman house was built around 1870 and there is most likely is a patterned brick house hiding behind the veneer of siding that was been added at a later date.


At the peak, Ringwood had two of many of the standard small town professionals, 2 hotels as well as two general stores, shoe shops, carriage makers, cheese makers, sawmills and blacksmiths.  By the 1850’s a plank road had been built between Stouffville and Richmond Hill and it was served by a stagecoach that would stop at Ringwood to take on passengers.  This sprawling Victorian house once stood among these vanished businesses on the main street of town.


One of the last businesses to close in Ringwood was the diner.  It is reported to have become a biker hangout in the last days of operation.  It stands at the corner of Markham Road and Stouffville Road, which used to have a slight jog in it.  This was where the surveys in the two townships on either side of the road didn’t quite align and an adjustment was made.  When the roadway was widened and straightened in 1957 one of the hotels, a harness shop, several homes and two garages were demolished.


The one room Ringwood school was built in 1838 and was known as a union school section because it served students from two townships.  This is because Ringwood sat on both sides of the town line.  As the town grew the school became too small and was replaced with this dichromate brick building in 1887.  The town population had swelled to 300 by this time.  Twenty years later there were less than 200 people in town and by 1939 there were just 13 students enrolled in the school.  That was the year that the school trustees voted against installing electric lights or hiring a dedicated music teacher.  The $1200 salary for the one teacher was already more than the budget would allow.  The school closed in 1971 and then was used by the Bethel Pentecostal Assembly as a church building.  Today it sits empty with an unknown future.


With the arrival of the Toronto and Nippising Railway and also the Lake Simcoe Junction Railway in Stouffville, the decline of Ringwood began.  The railway provided access to markets and the businesses of Ringwood packed up and moved down the road.  The picture below shows the view looking from the main intersection into Ringwood where the once bustling main street now has only a few boarded up houses.


West of the main intersection a strip of original Ringwood remains in use, although there is a development sign here too.    The Christian Church was built in 1868 but has recently been converted into an interesting looking residence.  This lovely little 1860’s house should be preserved, in my opinion, along with several others that are still inhabited, but endangered by the Ringwood Secondary Plan.  It calls for mixed use commercial / residential in this area.


There is a new master plan for the redevelopment of Ringwood that will likely see the removal of most of the buildings in this post within the next two years.  I’m glad I got to visit before this happens.


Google Maps Link: Ringwood

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