Monthly Archives: May 2018

Burnhamthorpe – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Monday, May 21, 2018

Today most people know of Burnhamthorpe Road which, along with Highway 10 forms one of the main intersections in Mississauga. A hundred and fifty years ago Burnhamthorpe was the name of a small farming community at the intersection of today’s Dixie Road and Burnhamthorpe Road. The village was originally called Sand Hill or Sandy Hill but this was easily confused with another community nearby. John Abelson had come from Burnham Thorpe in England and he was instrumental in changing the name . It roughly translates as Stone Hearth.

The old community has been over run by the city and not much is left. Known as the Moore-Stanfield house, this is the only farm house that remains in its original position. Samuel Moore built the house in 1882 on his 200 acre land grant. The house and part of the property was later sold to Joseph Stanfield who was Moore’s brother in law. In 1897 Fred Gill rented the house for $10 per month and used the front as a store and post office. This lasted until 1912 when the house was returned to residential uses.

Behind the house is an old field-stone building that dates to the pioneer days of the village. This may have been an earlier home on the property or perhaps a work shed.

Another board and batten building is attached to the rear of the house and it has an interesting cupola.

The village had a short business section that included a Sons of Temperance Hall, an Orange Lodge and later, a steam grist mill. Several tradesmen called the town home and it eventually had a dance hall that attracted people from nearby villages.

In 1912 Fred Gill moved into two houses on the south east corner and opened Burnhamthorpe’s third store complete with post office. It was run successfully by his son George under the name Gill’s Groceteria. It finally closed in 1973 and today has been removed.

Burnhamthorpe was a Methodist village with the first two buildings standing beside the pioneer cemetery on the south west corner. In 1874 land was purchased on the north west corner to build a new church. The name was changed to the United Church of Canada in 1925 from Burnhamthorpe Methodist Church . The church closed in 1978 after 104 years of service . The building was given an historic designation in 2013 and currently is used by St Apostle Andrew Romanian Orthodox Church.

Applewood was home to the Wordsworth-Shaver house which was relocated to Broadacres Park in 1980. James Shaver Wordsworth was born here in 1874. Wordsworth fought for political reforms including old age pensions, unemployment insurance and other social security measures. In 1932 he became the founder of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation which he led until 1940. In 1961 the party became the New Democratic Party.

The archive photo below shows the village wagon maker’s shop. The population of Burnhamthorpe reached a peak of about 100 in the 1870’s.

The village cemetery was laid out on the corner of the property belonging to Abram Markle. Just short of an acre of land was deeded to a group of trustees for the building of a Methodist Episcopal Church. The church would include the allocation of ground to be used as a cemetery. A school was built on the land just west of the cemetery (where the Burnhamthorpe library is today). The cemetery was public until 1859 when it was given to the Primitive Methodist Church. This congregation built the 1874 church we saw earlier. Many of the pioneers of the village are buried in this cemetery.

George Savage came to Canada in 1830 from Yorkshire. He was a blacksmith by trade and soon took up residence in Burnhamthorpe. Serving the village as blacksmith he also sat on the town council. George held the position of postmaster for many years and had a locally famous apiary. George and Sarah Savage are two of the early burials in the Burnhamthorpe cemetery.

Google Maps link: Burnhamthorpe

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Felker’s Falls

Saturday, May 12, 2018

John and Mary (Mingle) Felker were born in 1758 and 1769 respectively.  Johann Friederick Voelkel changed his name to John Frederick Felker when he emigrated from Prussia and purchased two lots in Saltfleet Township in 1820.  After taking up their land grant they went on to raise seven children.  When John passed away in 1838 the farm went to the oldest son, John Frederick Felker II.  The younger Felker also married a lady named Mary (Bently) and they had a family of 13 children who helped to operate the farm.  In 1880, following the death of John II, the land was split between the sons, with the part containing the falls going to the youngest son, Hiram A Felker.  On the county atlas map below Hiram’s land is seen along with Davis Creek which flows over the escarpment creating Felker’s Falls.  Two other properties belonging the the Felker Family can be found, all three of which are outlined in green.  Frederick Felker’s property has a small cross that marks the site of the family cemetery.


Hiram Felker was born in 1844 on the farm and lived there until he died in 1911.  His son Joseph Benjamin Felker was born there as well and he carried on the family tradition until his death in 1956.  His children sold the farm to a developer in 1961 and most of the table land was developed for houses.  This has caused Felker’s Falls to be located in a subdivision.  Around this time there was a land acquisition program along the Niagara Escarpment in an effort to preserve as much of this UNESCO world biosphere as possible.  The Hamilton Conservation Authority currently owns and operates the land.

We parked at Paramount Park and followed a short side trail until we reached the Bruce Trail.  It follows the top of the escarpment and provides some great views out toward Stoney Creek and Hamilton Harbour.  We turned to the right and headed toward Felker’s Falls. The conservation area is only 74 hectares in size but contains a section of path that it shares with the Bruce Trail.  We circled around the top of the falls looking for the best way to the bottom.  From the crest of the falls we could see the quickest way down was to follow the water.  Being careful not to go over the falls we crossed to the other side.  Upstream from the falls is a section of creek that flows through a hole in the escarpment and and runs underground until emerges into the waterfall, part way down.  This is known as karst activity and is similar to what can be found at Eramosa Karst.


Felker’s Falls is a terraced ribbon falls.  A water fall that is much higher (22 metres) than it is wide (6 metres) is known as a ribbon falls.  A terraced falls has an obvious step part way with two distinct drops.  Felker’s, like the nearby Devil’s Punch Bowl, exposes many of the layers of the escarpment in a stunning bowl around the falls.  These falls reveal a much greater flow of water at the end of the last ice age.


There are a couple of places where experienced hikers can get to the bottom of the ravine.  From there it is fairly easy to follow the stream back to the water falls.  With caution, it is possible to reach the edge of the falls but there is a lot of loose talus that makes passing behind the falls unsafe.


On the return climb from the falls we made a brief pit stop to check out this small cave created by the erosion of softer limestone from beneath a harder layer of dolomite.  It is large enough to have a few little seating areas as well as a fire pit.


Returning to the main trail we made our way back to where we were parked and carried on toward Glendale Falls and the abandoned section of Mount Albion Road.  One of the early plants on the forest floor each spring is the Mayapple.  Also known as a mandrake or ground lemon, the plant is poisonous.  The fruit is ripe when it turns yellow and can be eaten if you remove the seeds.  The name is a little misleading because the flower comes in May but the fruit grows in the early summer.  The plant has been used by natives and early settlers for various medicinal properties.  They were used to control vomiting, help with bowel movements and may also have been used to expel parasites from the intestines.  Modern medicine uses a compound from the plant to cure plantar warts.


The trail will lead you to the top of a steep ravine that contains Montgomery Creek.  The creek may have changed course somewhat since the Red Hill Parkway was constructed and now contains several small waterfalls listed as Upper, Middle and Lower Glendale.  It is possible to reach the bottom of the ravine and follow the creek back toward the waterfalls.  Depending where you start and the flow of water, you may be limited on the number of falls you can reach on this creek.

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Mount Albion Road is coloured in brown on the county atlas above and provided access from the bottom up to the top of the escarpment near the community of Mount Albion.  The road has gone through several stages from a muddy access road to two lanes of pavement.  When the Red Hill Parkway was built in the early 2000’s it crossed the former right of way for Mount Albion Road.  The section climbing the escarpment has been abandoned and now serves as part of the Bruce Trail.


The Felker Family Cemetery has at least 46 interments of family members including Frederick on whose property it is located.  Hiram, who was owner of the falls when the county atlas was printed, is buried by a rose coloured head stone on the right.


This is an area that will need further exploration.  There are at least four more waterfalls between Felker’s and The Devil’s Punchbowl if you follow the Bruce Trail in the other direction.

Google Maps Link: Felker’s Falls

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Owen Sound Jail – The Crowbar Hotel

May 13, 2018

Thank you to Urban Explorer Patrick Lipscombe who graciously allowed me to use his photos for this post.

The Owen Sound jail has been closed since Dec. 4, 2011 and is currently for sale for $99,000.  Some parts of the courthouse, including the main courtroom, are protected by the Ontario Heritage Act, but none of the early jail is.  The city is looking for a prospective buyer who will come up with a creative way to re-purpose the land.  Unfortunately, that could include demolishing the 165 year-old jail.  Here’s an idea, perhaps someone should create a real crowbar hotel.  It could get fixed up as a bed and breakfast/extended stay hotel for city slickers to experience the thrill of going to jail without getting a real criminal record.

Let’s follow John Smith, a guest at the Owen Sound Crowbar Hotel where he has chosen to spend a week of his summer vacation.  Let’s see what the hotel has to offer him.  Our customer service people will serve as the guest’s lawyer, booking their day in court and stay at the crowbar hotel.  John has selected the full package, including hanging, set in the 1870’s.  He’s arriving at the courthouse having been charged with murder.


John will be handcuffed and escorted into the prisoner’s box.  A gallery of paying customers will witness the trial and 12 others, who paid a little more, will sit as the jury. The judge is also a customer who wants to experience the thrill of sentencing someone to death by hanging.  Over the years many former inmates will return to pay well for the experience of sitting on the other side of the bench.


Above the judge is a painting containing the coat of arms to remind you that it is actually all the people of Canada who opposed you today.  The French inscription Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense is intended to bring shame on those who disrespect the crown or those with hidden agendas, especially in the court system.  This painting is also part of the heritage designation.  The courthouse at the crowbar hotel will also be available for business groups to rent.  They’ll sit on the jury to learn to solve problems together and have the opportunity try a jail-break scenario where they have to cooperate to escape.


Meanwhile, the jury has found John guilty of murdering a man who had beat him at poker.  To the delight of the audience, the judge passed a sentence of death by hanging. From the courthouse John will be brought over to the jail for processing.  This will include a cooling off period where he will sit with a few other hotel guests in a cell like this one, wondering what the hell he has gotten himself into.  Eventually he’ll be fingerprinted and all his personal belongings confiscated and listed on a form.  He’ll sign it before we lock everything up.  We want to ensure he get’s everything back when he gets out.


The jail has multiple cell blocks spread over 3 floors.  Larger cells are set up for guests who want to spend the night in jail but have the comforts of a four star luxury hotel.  Other cell blocks are set up for time periods so we can showcase Ontario Jails over the decades and provide authentic experiences.  Those who choose a 20th-century package will be given quick strip search and into the showers.  (Never mind that they showered already to impress the judge.  It didn’t work or they wouldn’t be here.)  They’ll be issued period prison garb when they come out.  John has chosen an older time frame and will spend his time in jail in his own clothes.  Minus his belt and shoe laces, to ensure he won’t be tempted to commit suicide before we hang him at the end of the week.


John is now ready to move into his range and meet his new friends.  They’ll spend hours discussing the crimes that got them there and claiming to be innocent.  After days of playing cribbage, poker and rummy they’ll know each other pretty well, perhaps making lasting friendships.  The whole day will be spent in the common area and periodically the guard will come by and yell “Jug Up”.  This means that if the prisoners stick their plastic mug through the main set of bars they can get a drink of some concoction resembling Kool-Aid but with double the water.  Trays of food will be supplied through a horizontal slot on the cell door.  Guards will be played by customers who will spend months on a waiting list.  This will be our most popular position as former inmates from around the world will come to experience life on the other side of the bars.


Cells are just about an inch wider than the bed that sits in them and only a foot or so longer.  A bucket will be kept at the foot of the bed in case any biological needs came up during the night.  In the morning these can be dumped in the main toilet but it can’t be flushed.  Guests are not allowed to secretly possess or dispose of any items, called contraband.  In the morning John will have to take all the blankets off his bed and fold them up.  Along with the pillow they will spend the day locked at the head of the cell.  There will be no strangling each other with bed sheets or escaping out of the window with them.  This means that every night at lock up guests will have to make their bed while kneeling on it.  Guests in the luxury cells will, naturally, have full service.


To complete the experience breakfast might consist of hard boiled eggs with blackened yolks, cold toast and mushy oatmeal.  Lunch and dinner will be comprised of mystery meat and soupy potatoes with overcooked veggies.  A small cash canteen will be allowed so guests with longer stays can order a couple chocolate bars or a magazine to help pass the time.  John has paid for the full package, including The Hole and so he will get into a verbal altercation with another inmate and spend a night in solitary confinement before being moved to death row.


John will be allowed visitors but will have to look at them through the windows and talk to them on the telephone.  The experience won’t be authentic if it is too easy for guests to get contraband.  Day visitors to the hotel will be able to have a tour and get their picture taken in court, a cell or even the hangman’s noose.


From inside the cells prisoners can look out into one of three exercise yards where they will be allowed an hour a day.  John will be hanged in one of these yards in a parlor trick that will shock a full house of customers.  Paranormal seekers will flock to the crowbar hotel to seek the spirits of the three men who were hanged here while the jail was in service.


With time, all guests will be released from the crowbar hotel with a fake criminal record, a bill for lawyer’s fees and memories to last a lifetime.  Troubled teenagers will be booked in by their parents to try and scare them.  Eventually, we’ll franchise to other locations.


The new Owen Sound Crowbar Hotel will be a place that you can truly say “Nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Google Maps Link: Owen Sound Jail

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Moccasin Trail Park

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Moccasin Trail Park is one of those places that is passed by the most people and visited by the fewest.  The entrance is hidden off Green Belt Drive but the park is split in two by the Don Valley Parkway (DVP).  When the DVP was built the park was little used except for a pair of swings.The plan was to park at Moccasin Trail, cross the river into Milne Hollow and then proceed to Woodcliff Greenbelt.  Our trail and the points of interest can be seen on the Google Earth image below.

Moccasin Trail

In 2002 the city and the TRCA decided to build a storm water pond in Moccasin Trail Park.  The stream that follows the roadway down the ravine has been fed through a series of rocks to slow it down before it reaches the pond. Once in the pond it is further slowed down by a series of submerged berms.  The water pauses between each berm long enough for sediment to settle before cleaner water passes into the next section.  The water eventually passes through a culvert, under the DVP and the railroad tracks, before arriving at the Don River carrying much less sediment.  The pond has come alive and is full of cormorants and ducks this morning.  A painted turtle rests on a log and soaks up the morning sunshine.


The park system, including The East Don Trail, was part of the planning process for the construction of the DVP in the early 1960’s.  Two tunnels were built in 1961 to allow a footpath to pass under the DVP and the Canadian National Tracks.


This robin has a rare genetic disorder known as leucism that causes white patches. The lower half of the bird looks like a normal robin while the head and neck are white with some black trim. The loss of pigmentation differs from albinism in there is a loss of several different types of pigmentation and not just melanin.  Project Feeder Watch collects information of 5.5 million birds each year and only about 1,000 leucistic birds are reported.


The tunnel for the Canadian National (CN) line was built just to the north of the existing right of way and then the line moved over and the original berm removed.  In 1972 a Norwegian named B. C. (Berg) Johnson arrived in Toronto and quickly formed the opinion that the residents needed something to cheer them up on their commute.  He chose the CN tunnel because it could be seen from the DVP and prepared a swing on a rope and set about painting a rainbow on the mouth of the tunnel.  Much to his surprise a train went by and severed the rope, dumping him on the ground and breaking his leg.  Students from Don Mills Middle School stepped in and completed the mural which the city works department promptly painted a grey like the DVP tunnel.  Returning with a ladder, Johnson repainted the rainbow over 40 times before a judge issued a no-trespassing order in 1994 after his fourth arrest.


In 2012 the city decided as part of the development of The East Don Trail to restore the public art on the tunnel.  A local organization called Mural Routes was brought in and along with students from Flemingdon Park repainted the rainbow in 2013.  They also created a full mural inside the tunnel to cover the years of graffiti that were there.


The inner mural follows the same colour pattern as the rainbow with the south end of the tunnel marked by winter scenes and cold colours while the hot colours and summer scenes progress as you move north through the tunnel.


Passing through the tunnel you will find yourself in Milne Hollow.  This former industrial site once boasted a woolen mill and several other smaller support industries. Along the East Don Trail in Milne Hollow there is a flood control pond designed to divert water during times when the river is running high.  There is often a great blue heron that can be found in one of the two little ponds along this section of the East Don River.  Since the heron wasn’t at Moccasin Trail it wasn’t a surprise to find it in the reeds on the far side of this pond.  It didn’t sit long but we managed to get a picture of it in flight, just above the bird house.


After the mill was closed, the ravine slope was turned into a ski hill in the 1930’s and was run by the Don Valley Ski Club.  With three lifts, two rope and one Poma it also boasted a $70,000 snow making machine.  There were several 200-meter runs dropping the 40 meters of slope to the bottom of the hill.  It lasted until around 1976.  Today a lone ski lift tower stands halfway up the hill.  It is slowly disappearing in the new growth of trees that have been planted to rehabilitate the hill side.  From the East Don Trail it is becoming harder to pick the tower out of the trees.  We had to climb the hill to get a clear shot. The top of the hill has been over run with dog strangling vines. These invasive plants have the potential to choke out the new trees and shrubs and setting back the reforestation of the hill side.


The Milne family house was built in 1871 and is one of the oldest examples of gothic frame architecture in the city.  The front porch which used to look out over the mills has been removed.  Now abandoned, it is intended to be restored eventually.  Evidence of this intent can be seen in the new shingles and drain pipes that have been installed to prevent further deterioration.


A tree has fallen down and taken out part of the fence leaving access to look through a hole in the wall and see the interior of part of the house.  A real handyman special.


Along the side of the river, near Lawrence Avenue someone has set up a series of little places to sit and watch the river flow by.


To reach Woodcliff Greenbelt from Milne Hollow you will need to cross the DVP on Lawrence.  After navigating past several ramps for the highway you can descend to the pond on a small path at the end of the last guardrail.  The water level in the pond has been lowered and someone still has a gas pump and hose set up.  A solar powered camera took my picture as I was getting my photos.


Moccasin Trail Park is near the DVP but is a prime place for watching birds and possibly seeing the deer whose footprints we found in the park.

Google Maps Link: Moccasin Trail Park

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