Monthly Archives: May 2019

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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