Monthly Archives: April 2019

Elora Cataract Trail – East End

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The weekend seemed like a perfect one to go for an extended hike using two cars.  We chose to complete about a third of the Elora Cataract Trail running between Hillsburgh and Cataract, a distance of about 18 kilometres.  The east end of the trail can be found at Mississauga Road although the former right of way continues east from there.  Based on the trail map we determined that we should leave one car at The Forks Of The Credit Provincial Park.  The roadway into the park is in horrible shape and the pot-holes will threaten to rip the front end out of your car.  Having braved the lane way you will find that $14.50 is the full day parking fee.

The Credit Valley Railway was built in 1879 to connect Toronto with Orangeville.  A branch line was also built between Cataract and Elora but it was only operated under the original name for four years before it became part of the Ontario & Quebec Railway.  In 1884 it was leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway where it became known as the Elora Subdivision.  A hundred years later in 1988 it ceased to operate and the rails were removed. It only sat abandoned for five years before it was purchased by the Grand River and Credit Valley Conservation Authorities.  They have developed 47 kilometres of the right of way into the Elora Cataract Trailway.  We parked the second car for free at the trail head on Station Road in Hillsburgh, the site of the former railway station in town.  The Hillsburgh Pond was originally created to serve the two grist mills in town.  The Caledon Mountain Trout Club bought the pond in 1902 and sold it to the Guelph Fishing Club in 1946.  Today there is an ongoing debate about the future of the pond and dam as restoration is required and the pond may be drained instead.  This old green shed, like the boathouse in front of it is collapsing into the pond.

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The property beside the train station used to have a set of ramps for loading livestock onto rail.  A wind mill can be seen in the back of the old Awrey house which has recently been expanded to become the new library.

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Although we had chosen a stretch of trail that ran for 17.5 kilometres it was all pretty level as long as we were following the railway right of way.  Only later when we got back to the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and found an extensive set of stairs to climb did we realize that starting at Cataract would have allowed us to descend those stairs instead of climbing them at the end of the hike.  The trail still had snow and ice on it where the hard packed trail was sheltered from a lot of direct sunlight.

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The red squirrel uses his tail for balance and to control his jumping.  When they are upset or feel threatened they also use it for communication.  When it gets cold and they need a blanket to snuggle up with they use their tails for this too.

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After leaving Hillsburgh the trail crosses a couple of side roads before coming to the town of Erin.  The railway ran along the northern edge of town where the rail station used to stand.  At Shaws Creek Road you come to the old Pinkney Farmhouse which was built in 1886.  Fifteen acres of the Pinkney property was used for a large gravel pit and the current owners are Lafarge Canada who might be interested in restoring the house in exchange for increased quarry rights.  The Pinkney barn was in poor shape and was demolished last year.

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The trees are growing back in so that in some places they may offer a little shade on the summer.  When this was a active steam railway the trees would have been kept trimmed back for the full property width to help discourage fires caused by errant sparks.

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The trail ends at Cataract Road but we were still several kilometres from the car.  Based on the signs at Mississauga Road you could park there and walk the short section to the end of the trail.  This would be a lot shorter and considerably cheaper as well.

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The Credit Valley Railway line continued east to connect with the Orangeville line.  Where it is not used as the trailway it isn’t maintained or improved but it is still quite passable.

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Two of our previous posts, Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and Cataract Electric Company, tell the history of the mills in the park.

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A few signs of the old railway still remain including old sleeper ties thrown along the sides of the trail to rot.  For long sections of the trail some of these ties have been used for fence posts by the local farmers.  Inside the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park an old telegraph pole still marks a bygone era.

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Coltsfoot looks similar to a dandelion but has no leaves at the time of the flowers.  Once the flowers have faded the leaves will come out for the summer.

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Having covered about one third of the Elora Cataract Trailway we intend to return a couple more times to complete the trail in its entirety.

Google Maps Link: Cataract

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The Hilarious House of Frightenstien

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A fresh fall of snow overnight left us with white trees which are always beautiful, even as we look forward to getting some warm weather.  One of the great places to view something like this is the Doris McCarthy Trail in Scarborough.  This trail follows Gates Gully down the side of the Scarborough Bluffs and gives you access to the lake.  Just to the west of here a cottage is slowly slipping over the edge and it was time to have a look and see what was left of it.  I parked on Ravine Drive just off of Kingston Road and made way down the side of what was once Doris McCarthy’s property.

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The ravine, like the Leslie Street Spit,  is a migratory route for over 100 species of birds but today there were only cardinals and a few robins.

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At the bottom of the gully is a sculpture designed to look like the rib cage of a fish or canoe.  Perhaps it looks more like eye lashes from this angle.

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The water in Lake Ontario was very calm as you look toward the east and the sunken wreckage of The Alexandria.

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Belamy Ravine Creek drops 90 metres as it follows Gates Gully to the lake below.  In several places blocks of armour stone have been added to the creek bed to slow down erosion.  The Doris McCarthy Trail runs along the lake in both directions.  We turned to the west and crossed the creek and carried on along the beach.  The trail through here was very muddy and partially under water that was running off the bluffs in a few places.  I was glad for my winter boots, now serving as my mud boots.

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Keep an eye on the top of the bluffs as you walk along.  Not only might you see some wildlife but you may also notice man made objects that are in the process of being sucked over the edge as the sand is carried away from underneath them.  Here a wall is being broken away, section by section.

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On a previous visit only the top portion of this pipe stood out of the sand.  Since that time four more sections of corrugated steel pipe have been exposed.  I’m interested to see what is in there.

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If you grew up in Ontario in the 1970’s you likely remember The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein.  The comedy show was aimed at children and featured short educational skits as well as comedy.  All 130 episodes were filmed at CHCH in Hamilton in 1971.  Toronto comedian Billy Van won the lead part as Count Frightenstein.  He also played eight other recurring characters and several minor ones.

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Billy Van owned a cottage on lakefront property on the former McCowan estate which looked out from on top of the Scarborough Bluffs.  At one time this blue cottage sat a good distance back from the edge of the bluffs but by 2008 it was starting to fall over.  Most of the cottage has collapsed now and wood and doors fill a small ravine below the house.  Inside, the concrete blocks in the basement are exposed and have been cracked in several places.  Billy Van’s cottage is one of the last original homes along this stretch of the bluffs.  This is The (not so) Hilarious House Of Frightenstein.

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Several times I heard the rumble of the sand as additional parts of the bluffs broke away in the ongoing erosion.  Ground water seeps out of the sand and flows across the beach carrying more of it away and destabilizing the rest.  In the picture below, a fresh slide has covered over last the fresh snow from last night.  A previous blog looked at the effects of weather and water on the bluffs and shoreline at the Cathedral Bluffs.

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The full magnitude of the Scarborough Bluffs is a wonder to behold at any time of the year.  With the fresh snow on the trees above and the slopes below it was well worth the kilometre hike down the hill and back.  Geologists  around the globe recognize them as one of the most valuable records of glacial sedimentation available.  More of the geology of the Bluffs can be found in our story Sand Castles.

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The fourteen kilometre stretch of bluffs will continue to be interesting for generations to come because of the change it represents and the constant reminder that we really don’t control everything.  Places where the shoreline has been hardened with armour stone or construction rubble only serve to separate the lake from the bluffs.  They continue to recede at their own pace anyway.

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When we last visited this cottage in May 2016 for our post Gates Gully the walls were still standing at the back of the house.  Trevor Harris owned the cottage in 2002 at which time he was able to drive a lawn mover in front of it however the city decided that demolition was unsafe and made Harris fence the area off and post it.  Later that year he lost 10 feet of property in a single drop and it looks like one more event like that and the whole thing will be gone.

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The escarpment is ever changing, even in places like this where there is a fairly wide beach and the water never impacts the base of the bluffs.  However, the Scarborough Bluffs were eroding for thousands of years before Elizabeth Simcoe named them on August 4, 1793.

Google Maps Link: Gates Gully

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