Monthly Archives: May 2019

Chalmer’s Milling Co.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Dawes Road in Toronto has an unusual piece of history in the form of a grain elevator.  While grain elevators were common a hundred years ago, very few still survive.  With a new proposal put before the city in March to develop the site for two condo towers it seemed like a good time to photograph it before the developers arrive.  The picture below is an aerial photograph from 1968 which shows the mill circled in yellow.  Danforth Avenue runs across the top of the clip while Dawes Road runs on a slight angle as far as the former Grand Trunk Railway tracks to the south.


When it comes to research on the internet it is easy to find conflicting information.  Construction dates range to as early as the 1850s with 1890 also being a prominent date.  The city’s land use maps suggest 1906.  The land developers have to present a historic context in their proposals and they also claim it to be a 1906 wooden crib grain elevator and feed mill.  The use of construction materials would suggest that the 1906 date is correct as the first-floor cement would not have come into popular use until after 1900.


The mill was operated under at least two names starting with Chalmer’s Milling Company which is listed in the 1920 Federal Register of Mills in Canada.  The register wasn’t published every year but Chalmer’s appears in it until the 1948 edition.  After that, the next edition is 1954 and it shows Elizabeth Flour and Feed Mill Co. at this site.  Two years later there is no operating mill listed here nor was there again up until 1972 when the registry was discontinued.    The upper floors were divided up into 9 silos for different feed grains.  These were brought in through the front door and lifted to the upper floor by means of the elevator in the corner.


The sign on the side of the building is badly faded but it provides a clue as to what was in the nine silos.  It reads: We carry complete lines for racing pigeons, budgies and other birds. Best mixtures available. Racehorses, dogs, all other animals. Grits, Gravels, Flax


The inside of the grain elevator may look something like the elevator at Roblin’s Mill in Black Creek Pioneer Village where the following picture was taken.  The belt and cups were used to move flour and grain from one floor to another.


Two condo towers are proposed for the site 26 and 33 stories.  The grain elevator will be retained and given to the city as a public asset within the parklands that will surround the site.


Chalmers Milling Company was listed in the 1947 directory of flour mills as producing 60 barrels of flour per day.  The brick structure that housed the grinding rollers is currently divided into three rental residential units.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to have the historic designation of the grain elevator beside it and isn’t likely to get one.  The two story former flour and grist mill will be demolished to make way for the new condo towers as will three buildings to the north of the site.


The image below is from the development submission to the city and shows the old grain elevator looking insignificant beside the 33-story tower.

chalmers condos

On the positive note, at least the grain elevator will survive as a cultural arts centre.  I wonder what kind of interpretive signs will be installed, if any.

Google Maps Link: 10 Dawes Road

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Back Tracks: The First Five Years

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The Crows Nest Side Trail

May 18, 2019

The Forks of the Credit has a lot of interesting history, much of which can be easily accessed from The Bruce Trail or one of several side trails in the area.  Parking is very limited along the side of Forks of the Credit Road near Dominion Street.  Our intention was to cover both the Trimble Side Trail and the Crow’s Nest Side Trail as well as having another look at the Stonecutter’s Dam.  The map below comes from the Belfountain Conservation Area Management Plan and shows the Trimble Trail in brown and the Crow’s Nest Trail in Blue.  It also shows the location of many of the historical features of the Willoughby Property.


We saw several people going down the road on skateboards with a vehicle following them to take them back to the top for another joy ride down the hill and around the hairpin turn.  The Trimble Trail enters the Willoughby Property beside the river.  There is a great deal of local history on the property which had been explored and described in our previous post called Stonecutter’s Dam.  Therefore we won’t go into much of that detail again here.  From the vantage of the trail you can see the curving trestle of the Credit Valley Railway that was instrumental in developing the market for the sandstone that was being quarried in this area.  We looked at that trestle and an old lime kiln ring in our post on The Devil’s Pulpit.


One of the ways to tell a Downey Woodpecker from the slightly larger Hairy Woodpecker is by the size of their bill.  A Downey Woodpecker bill is small and thin and only about half as long as the head of the bird.  The Hairy Woodpecker has a thicker bill that is at least as long as its head.  The Downey pictured below is a female bird as it lacks the characteristic red marking on the head that is unique to the male.


Jack-in-the-pulpit is one of the longest lived perennial plants as the corm can survive for up to 100 years.  The plant contains oxides in the form of raphides that cause a burning sensation if ingested.  Under magnification they resemble tiny shards of glass.  One folklore tale suggest certain native people would poison meat with the cut up corm of the plant and leave it for their enemies to find and consume.



At one time there were literally hundreds of dams strung across the rivers and creeks in the GTA.  Early ones were often wood cribs filled with rocks and required annual repairs that were often quite dangerous.  Earthen berms were built across the floodplains and later concrete dams were constructed.  Through disasters like Hurricane Hazel and then flood control projects most of these have been removed.  Perhaps the oldest surviving dam is a masonry one on the West Credit River that has come to be known as The Stonecutter’s Dam.  The area was known for quarries and this resource was put to good use here as this bit of workmanship has outlasted many newer dams.


The penstock was also made of blocks of cut stone and has been churning away for decades since it last supplied power to a local industry.  There remains no plans to restore this dam and it has become inaccessible due to erosion along the end.  It is now posted to keep people from finding their way onto it.  More pictures of the dam can be seen in our earlier post The Stonecutter’s Dam.



The Crow’s Nest Side Trail is a 1.1 kilometre loop that takes you around some test pits from the old quarry but avoids the original site.  It leads off the Trimble Trail on a boardwalk but soon turns into a dirt path.


Dryad’s Saddle can grow to be up to 12 inches across and can be found from May until about November.  They are considered edible and we found places where people had recently harvested them.  Also known as Pheasant’s Back the soft edge parts of the cap can be sauteed and eaten.


The trails were remarkably empty considering how nice the day was.  That is usually a good thing if you are hoping to see the local wildlife.  The Trimble Trail had people coming and going from the conservation area but the Crows Nest Trail was deserted.


A fence line separates the Crows Nest Trail from a steep drop onto Forks of the Credit Road.  In many places this fence has become secured to the trees which have grown around it.  The picture below shows one of the trees with a fence roughly in the middle of the tree.


There were white trilliums scattered throughout the woods but the red ones were somewhat more elusive.  Finally we came across a large patch of them as we approached Belfountain Conservation Area.  The red trillium does not have any nectar and so isn’t pollinated by the same assortment of bees and insects that visit the white ones.  They rely on flies that are attracted by the smell of rotting meat that is given ff by the leaves.  On close inspection the six stamen in the centre of the flower are different to the nectar bearing ones on the white flowers.


We checked out a small trail beside the bridge and found that it led to an apiary.  With our bee colonies in severe decline we decided not to interfere in any way.  Although the trail may have gone further we didn’t.  Instead we made our way back to the car.


The Willoughby Property is interesting because of the wealth of history that it holds.  It is the type of place that you can still find new things with subsequent visits.

Google Maps Link: Crow’s Nest Trail

Check out the top 20 posts from the first five years of Hiking the GTA at this link:

Back Tracks – The First Five Years

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Rouge National Urban Park – Beare Hill Park

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The City of Toronto has begun the process of transforming the former 75-hectare Beare Road Landfill into Beare Hill Park.  The original plan for the landfill when it opened in 1967 called for rehabilitation as a park when the landfill was closed.  We wanted to see if there were any signs of activity at the site and to explore some trails we hadn’t been to in the adjacent Rouge National Urban Park.  We returned to the free parking on Twyn Rivers Drive from where we had previously explored The Mast Trail.

We crossed the road into Celebration Forest where there is a ring of benches and a sign that recognizes people who were instrumental in creating Canada’s first National Urban Park.  Mayapples were growing in a large colony that is quite easy to spot at this time of the year.  The plants grow from rhizomes and spread over a fairly large area.  Only some plants produce the single flower that turns into the “apple”.  Sterile plants have a single leaf and produce no flower while the plants that do flower will have two leaves.  The flower and fruit are produced between the two leaves.  The flowering plants were just opening their leaves while the sterile ones were well advanced.


Black Morels are one of the first fungi to emerge in the spring.  They can be found in May in Ontario and are considered to be a choice edible.  True morels are hollow and are attached to the stalk at the base.  If you cut into the cap and find that it has the stalk attached at the top it could be a false morel and shouldn’t be eaten.  This was the only example we noticed and we would never suggest anyone harvest anything when there is just a single specimen.


The eastern garter snake can be hard to distinguish from other similar looking snakes.  The butler’s garter snake, red-sided garter snake and northern ribbon snake all look similar.  The ribbon snake will have smooth lines to the stripes while the garter snake will have a checkered pattern.  The eastern garter snake has a yellow chin and belly but the rest of the colouring can be quite varied.  Garter snakes give live birth to between 4 and 80 babies in late July to early October.   They have a life expectancy of about ten years and can grow up to 1.5 metres long.


Some of the trails were still a little muddy and a few of the side trails were almost impassable.


The trillium is Ontario’s official flower and many people believe that it is illegal to pick them.  That actually isn’t true although a recent bill in the legislature would have made it punishable with a $500 fine.  It is probably a good thing that people think it is illegal because it is so damaging to the plant.  Trilliums grow slowly and can take between 7 and 11 years to produce their first flower.  After that they will flower every year until they reach the end of their lifespan of about 20 years.  If you pick the flower and three leaves around it the plant loses the ability to supply nutrient to the underground stem and the plant will die.


The access road for the former Beare Road Landfill is now closed except for service vehicles and park users.  The road leads from this point back to the parking area near the park visitor centre.  The former Pearce House now serves as the visitor centre and is the starting point for our previous exploration of the Vista Trail.


The Beare Road Landfill was allowed to expand their tonnage of garbage in 1971 following a proposal to turn the site into the Beare Road Ski Facility following closure.  The elevation and grade were modified to create a facility for up to 800 skiers at one time.  The picture below, taken from the Beare Road Park Master Plan,  shows the landfill in 1974 around the time the ski hill was proposed.  At this time the former gravel pit has been filled in and the hill is starting to rise.

Beare Landfill 1974

By September of 1982 when the site closed there was over 9 million tonnes of garbage placed in a 60 metre hill.  After the landfill had been allowed to settle a cap of clay around 1.5 metres thick was installed over the top to seal and vegetation has taken over since then.  The plan for skiing, hang gliding, an alpine slide and go carts was scrapped and replaced with a 2013 plan calling for mixed use trails.  These trails are expected to be completed and ready for public use by Fall of 2019.


The former landfill continues to produce methane gas as the refuse rots below the surface.  In the 1990’s a private company installed a series of gas wells and pipes throughout the site to collect it.  They constructed a generating plant that converts the methane gas, and supplemental natural gas, into electricity that is sold back to the grid.  One of the challenges with developing a park will be keeping the public safe from this equipment, and vice-versa.


Painted turtles can live up to 25 years and grow until their shells reach about 25 centimetres with the male being slightly smaller.  There are several varieties but the Midland is the one native to the GTA.  They can be hard to distinguish without looking at the underside and these ones weren’t willing to participate.  Looking at the abdomen can also give you a clue to the age of the turtle.  They develop growth rings similar to a tree and these can be counted to determine the age.  Turtles are born with the first ring in place so it must be counted as “0”.


We had followed the trail north that was closest to the rail line and so the return hike called for the trail closest to The Little Rouge.  There are places along the creek that show signs of a much larger flow than the current level.


Following the trail closest to Little Rouge Creek will bring you back to Twyn Rivers Road at the site of Maxwell’s Mill.  Parts of the mill remain and you will exit back onto the road by passing through the entrance gates for the mill.


We went to Rouge Park to explore some more of this local resource with the idea that we would watch out for ticks during and after our hike.  We sprayed our boots and lower pant legs with “Off”  and stayed out of the grass and we never saw a tick.  That kind of ticked us off.  LOL.  It will be interesting to see what becomes of Beare Hill Park because I understand that there are the remains of an old stone well in the remnant of original forest on the property.

Check out our top 20 post from the first five years of Hiking the GTA here:

Back Tracks – The First 5 Years

Google Maps Link: Twyn Rivers Drive

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Bruce Trail – Kerns Road to Guelph Line

Saturday, May 4, 2019

It seemed like a good time for a hike on the Bruce Trail and this time we planned to do a little larger section using two cars.  We parked one on Guelph Line and moved with the second one to Kerns Road beside Kerncliffe Park.  There is free parking in both places.

Kerncliffe Park is located just below the Bruce Trail and is the site of a former quarry.  Nelson Quarry closed in 1981 and has been the site of an ongoing rehabilitation project since then.  The 40-acre park was completed in 2005 and features gravel trails with a boardwalk and observation decks in the wetlands.  It can be accessed from the Bruce Trail via the Ian Reid Side Trail.  The old rock faces that were blasted to access the limestone have now been taken over by swallows who find this to be a perfect habitat.  Geese and red-winged blackbirds have found a home in the wetlands.


Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest species of woodpecker that is native to Ontario.  Both the male and female have a bright red crest that sweeps off the back of the head.  The male is distinguished by the red stripe on the cheek, as seen on the specimen below.  Their main food is the carpenter ant and they dig large square holes in trees to look for them.  The mated pair stay in their territory all year long and tend to nest in the largest tree in the area.  For this reason they are prone to being killed in lightning strikes.  The oldest known pileated woodpecker was almost 12 years old when it was caught for the second time in a banding operation.


Once again we found a ruined car that had been dumped in the woods and left to rot.  This one has been stripped of everything and has been here long enough that there is a tree growing up through the middle of the engine compartment.


Positive identification wasn’t possible because no identifying stickers or plastic parts could be found.  We did notice that the front bumper incorporated the side signals in a unique three cut-out pattern.  Identical looking side markers can be found on the 1970 Chevy Impala.


These little white puffballs have already released their spores through the hole in each one.  These were likely purple spored puffballs that have overwintered.


Raccoons are primarily a nocturnal animal and seeing one out in the daylight is much less common.  Some believe that a raccoon that is out in the daytime might have rabies.  This could be true but is not necessarily so.  In the spring time when females are nursing young they may be out foraging in the daylight.  Any signs of paralysis in the rear legs, erratic walking patterns or foaming at the mouth should be considered signs of possible rabies infections.  The little raccoon in the picture below was walking slowly and seemed confused so there is a risk that it is not well.


Several species of violets are in bloom.  The ones pictured below are Marsh Blue Violets and are sometimes called Purple Violets.  They are the provincial flower for New Brunswick.


We saw very few other hikers on this morning except a few dog walkers, none of whom had their dogs on leashes.  Having too many people on muddy trails is not a good idea anyway.  There are those who don’t wear the correct boots and are afraid to walk in the mud in the middle of the trail.  They make secondary trails along the edges which can sometimes trample sensitive plants and wildlife habitat.  It can also lead to property owners denying access to hikers and forcing the trail onto roads.  Please stay on the trail.


Dutchman’s Breeches get their name from the flowers which looks like a tiny pair of breeches.  The flowers grow on racemes with up to 14 flowers on the stalk.  The plant can be toxic and some people could get contact dermatitis from touching it.  Native Americans found the plant useful for skin conditions and as a blood purifier.  It was also used to aid people with syphilis.


After we had covered almost 10 kilometres of muddy trail it was time to head for home.  We regularly check ourselves for ticks after each hike regardless of where we’ve been.  This is the first time we have ever found a tick after hiking on the Bruce Trail.  Never assume the area is clear because the risk is always there.

Check out our top 20 posts from our first five years of hiking: Back Tracks – The First 5 Years

Google Maps Link: Kerns Road

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Burlington Canal

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The western end of Lake Ontario has a baymouth barrier formed of sand carried from the Scarborough Bluffs by the longshore drift of the lake.  It shelters Burlington Bay and became the site of a canal proposal in 1823.  James Crooks was instrumental in getting the idea going and had been the man behind the first paper mill in Upper Canada.  Work on the canal began in 1826 and was completed in 1832.  We decided to go and check out this early engineering project for ourselves.  There is plenty of free parking just south of the Burlington Lift Bridge and from there we enjoyed walking along Hamilton beach.  After crossing the lift bridge the beach becomes Burlington Beach although high water levels in the lake are causing the sand strip to disappear.


When the canal was cut through the sandbar it was recognized that piers would need to extend into the lake to calm the waters in the canal and prevent it from silting up with sand.  Wooden piers were installed but these kept being damaged in the winter storms.  In 1830 it was decided to replace the wood piers with stone ones.  Large stones were brought up from the bottom of the lake by stone hookers.  These were then taken and thrown into wooden cribs to build more permanent piers.  The story is told of Jem Horner whose leg got crushed between a scow and one of the cribs.  Apparently his fellow workers carried him up the beach a ways and dumped him in an old building before returning to work.  Jem was later found in agony and a doctor had to amputate his leg.  Jem later died but they say his one legged ghost still walks the beach strip looking for his leg and also for revenge.


The lighthouse keepers house was built of wood and constructed in 1838 beside the wooden lighthouse and the wooden ferryman’s house.  A passing steamer caught the piers and wooden structures on fire in 1856 and they were all destroyed.  This one and a half story cottage was built to replace it.  Originally it faced the canal but was moved a short distance to the present location around 1900.


in 1838 a wooden lighthouse was built to help guide ships into the canal.  When it was lost to the fire of 1856 a new lighthouse was commissioned.  It was built in 1858 and stands 55 feet tall.  Built of white dolomite it was in service until 1961 when it was decommissioned having become redundant.  When the new lift bridge was built in 1962 the lighthouse was obscured from the lake.  There is a concrete light on the east end of the south pier that was built in 1909 to guide ships into the canal.


It originally had a pair of oil lamps which the lighthouse keeper had to tend daily.  They were later replaced with a third order Fresnel lense.  This lense has been removed and placed in storage for the day when the lighthouse is restored.


The long-tailed duck breeds in the arctic and will migrate into Southern Ontario for the winter months.  The long-tailed spends a higher percent of time under water than any other duck.  When it is foraging it can spend four times as long submerged as it does on the surface.  It is also one of the deepest diving ducks being able to go 60 metres to forage.  A banded one was once tracked for 17 years in Alaska.


Environment Canada maintains an automated weather reporting station on the south pier.  The 1909 pier light can be seen in the background.


Two bridges can be seen with the lift bridge in the foreground.  The Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway bridge was built in two phases.  The steel arch span was built in 1958 while a concrete span was added in 1985.


The lift bridge is the fifth movable bridge to cross the canal since it opened.  It is 116 metres long and weighs almost 2,000 tons.  Originally the bridge carried two lanes of traffic and a set of tracks for the Hamilton-Northwestern Railway but in 1982 the tracks were removed so that four lanes of traffic can cross the bridge.  It lifts about 4,000 times per year and we were on it when it was about to rise.  You have to get off ASAP as you are not allowed to go along for the ride.  The bridge lifts 33.5 metres but they have to make sure it is all the way up before the ships start to enter the canal. If there is a malfunction and the bridge drops the larger ships may need a mile to come to a stop.


The house that stands at 900 Lakeshore Court in Burlington was the first house built on the beach strip north of the canal.  George Frederick Jelfs had emigrated to Hamilton in 1871 had been appointed the police magistrate for Hamilton in 1893.  Two years later he had this house built for a summer home.  In 1907 Jelfs was instrumental in keeping Hamilton from annexing the strip of beach north of the canal.  The City of Burlington is now thinking about taking over this property and now it appears to have had a recent fire.  This could be a case of another heritage home bites the dust.


The opening of the canal had a direct impact on the growth of Hamilton.  With a sheltered bay for a harbour heavy industry began to line the shores of the lake.  Of the 6,500 vessels that pass through the canal each year about 1,000 of them are cargo ships.


From the Hamilton Beach you get a view of the city of Toronto that makes it look like it is built out on top of the water.


The beach looks like a great place to spend a hot summer day enjoying the water and the the breeze off the lake.  The whole area is also accessible by the Waterfront Trail which passes along the entire length of the sandbar.

Check out a review of the twenty most popular posts from our first five years at this link. Back Tracks – Five Years of Trails

Google Maps Link: Burlington Canal

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