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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4 thoughts on “Moccasin Trail Park

  1. Warren

    What an extremely informative and well written article. Many a time have I driven northbound and observed the rainbow tunnel not ever knowing anything about its heritage. Now l plan to take my wife and kids there this comming weekend to share with them the reality of what I have just read. Thank you.

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  3. Michael

    Always wondered about the Rainbow! Has been there all my life and noted when graffitied, it would appear freshly painted fairly quickly. Often wondered who did that! The 70s were unkind to Toronto… grey coloured and prison-like architecture ruled and sprung up everywhere as the Toronto Powers-that-Be were trying to bring Toronto into the future, and in doing so, put up some of the ugliest buildings ever… grey, prison like monstrosities and we lost so many beautiful buildings. Visit the Guild Inn Park to see some of the saved pieces that are on display thru out the park. Thanks for the article! Will enjoy it even more knowing the history!

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