Monthly Archives: November 2019

Wexford – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The community of Wexford got its start around 1840 at the intersection of present day Lawrence Avenue and Pharmacy Avenue.  Richard Sylvester had arrived from Wexford County in Ireland and built The Rising Sun Inn on the south west corner of the intersection.  This became the nucleus for a small farming hamlet known as Hough’s Corners.  In 1865 Sylvester added a post office which he named Wexford after his home.  The community served the local farmers for the next 100 years with growth and little change.  After the Second World War, Toronto expanded rapidly and by the 1950’s the farms around Wexford fell to developers.  The little community has been lost with the exception of a couple of churches and a few homes.  These I have marked on the 1877 county atlas shown below.

Wexford map (2)

After meeting in homes for several years the Anglicans of Wexford decided to build a permanent church building.  They built St. Jude’s Church in 1848 on a small parcel of land that had been donated for the church.  It already included a family cemetery plot that would become the church plot.  The 20 foot by 20 foot church has seating for 60 and is the smallest purpose built church in the GTA.  The pews are small and it was described as seating for a “tight four” people.  The church originally had no basement and was heated by a pot-bellied stove but a basement was dug for a furnace in 1929.  Like the town, the church remained small and unchanged for a hundred years,  With the sudden growth of the surrounding community the membership jumped from 79 in 1950 to 1,000 families in 1958.  With this growth came a new church building in 1953 on the south east corner of the lot.  The little church has since been used by several small congregations who have contributed to the upkeep and restoration of the building over the years.  Many of the early pioneering families are interred in the cemetery around the church.


In 1842 a small wood chapel was built by the Primitive Methodist congregation.  They used the church until 1877 when it was replaced with the large brick building that stands beside the pioneer cemetery,


In 1925 they joined with the United Church of Canada but growth still remained slow.  It didn’t take off until the 1950’s when the area was built up.  Then the church decided to add two pieces between 1950 and 1960.  This summer the church closed after years of declining attendance.  Around the area there are several other churches who all seem to be doing okay.


Wexford had all the amenities of a rural farming town including a blacksmith, a hotel and a post office in the general store.  The photo below was taken from the Toronto Public Library collection and is dated 1960.  This was taken just before the 1883 building was demolished to make room to widen Lawrence Avenue.

wexford 1960

Just to the west along Lawrence Avenue stood a small industrial complex where some of the locals found employment.  Milneford Mills contained a woolen mill, dry goods store and wagon shop.  Milne 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.


The house at 37 Kecala Road originally fronted onto Kennedy Road but has been swallowed up by the surrounding subdivision.  This house was built by John Patterson in 1858 and stood on his farm for the next century in isolation.  Today, it is a house in a subdivision that faces sideways to the rest of the homes because it doesn’t align with the new street pattern.


12 Iondale Place hides another historic house on a quiet street of cookie-cutter homes.  This house and the converted drive shed are also on the county atlas featured above as belonging to John Ionson in 1877.


1369 Warden Ave is known as the Richardson House and it is another one of the homes seen on the county atlas. It has been given an historic designation as have all of the buildings featured in this post.  It stands among a street full of single story war time housing units.


There is an abandoned rail spur that runs along the side of the cemetery at the Wexford Zion Church.  I chose to follow it a ways north to see where it went to.  I had previously explored the southern section as it followed the Underwriter’s Reach of Taylor Massey Creek.  This northern section ran for a kilometre north until it was buried beneath the parking lot for Costco.  A high fence kept me from investigation further.


The spur line has only been abandoned for a short while but nature doesn’t care.  This section of pavement was likely a parking area but the trees have taken over pretty quickly.


A black squirrel was trying to get away from me and ran up the side of this building.  When he got to the top he discovered that he couldn’t get a grip on the flashing along the top.  After a couple of attempts I chose to wander along so he could come down safely.


60 Rowena Drive was home to the estate of the O’Connor Family who had invented Laura Secord Chocolates.  There’s a complete story on the candy as well as the home and it can be found here: O’Connor Estate.


Wexford is only represented by a few scattered historic buildings but they are worth the effort to go investigate.

Google Maps Link: Wexford

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Emery Creek

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Long before the arrival of Europeans, the local peoples used The Carrying Place Trail north along the Humber River.  They crossed a pristine Emery Creek near today’s Finch Avenue and Weston Road intersection.  In the 1950s this area was built into an industrial park and the creek was buried in a concrete pipe.  Unfortunately the creek came to carry industrial contamination which included lead, zinc and copper.  During large rain events sewage was also carried directly into the Humber River.  A recent project to improve the water quality is the result of over twenty years of work by local environmental and residential groups.  We decided to investigate the results and so we took advantage of parking at Habitant Arena from which we set off on the west side of Weston Road.

Eastern Red Cedar have a three year cycle.  Their fruit begins as a flower in the first year.  It then turns into a green berry for the second year and ripens into a blue berry in year three.  The berries are harvested and dried after which they turn black.  They are used as a spice and high in vitamin C.  They may also help fight cancer because they are high in antioxidants and flavoniods.



North of Finch Avenue the headwaters of Emery Creek are buried under the industrial sprawl that became its poisoning.  Once it flows under Finch it passes behind a four tower residential complex before emerging back into daylight.  Emery Creek briefly flows in a naturalized watercourse before it reaches the storm water management ponds.


Milkweed seeds are blowing in the wind.  The little parachute that carries the actual seed is known as the pappus.  When attempting to grow milkweed on your property as an aid to monarch butterflies it is recommended that this part be removed.  You can then disperse them on some gently disturbed soil without fear of them blowing away on you before they germinate.


The health of a river begins in the tributaries and so a $14 million dollar project was devised to use natural processes to remove and contain the main pollutants from Emery Creek.  Starting in March 2016 three storm water management ponds were constructed beside Emery Creek.  The plan is to clean the water before it is discharged into the Humber River.  The first pond is designed for sedimentation and the bulk of solid particles are removed here.  The water then flows through a short pipe into a shallow pond where the remaining heavy metals are removed.  The third pond is the biggest one and the fine particles are removed here before water is discharged through a pipe into the Humber River somewhat upstream from the original confluence of the two.  The concrete weir that diverts the waters of Emery Creek into the first pond was cast in place but includes a wooden section that allows for moderation of the water flowing into the ponds.


In spite of the fact that it is mid-November the water in the three ponds had frozen over.  There are sometimes interesting patterns in the ice and these can take the shape of a circle.  Ice circles form in slow moving water as it reaches freezing temperature.  They usually occur where there is a bend in the water flow that causes an eddy.  The water on the surface continues to move in the direction of the eddy as it freezes and this causes the ice circle.


If the rotational shear force is great enough the ice circles can cut away from the surrounding ice and form ice discs.  These discs have been observed as large as 50 feet in diameter.  The new ponds on Emery Creek have set up the slow moving water patterns to allow for sedimentation of solids in the water before it is discharged into the Humber River.  This appears to have also set up the ideal conditions for ice circles to form.  This one below looks like someone was getting ready for a faceoff in a hockey game.


The Humber River was in the process of slushing over with ice forming along the edges where the water is moving slowly or sitting in pools.


Not everyone is willing to hang around and look for food when they require open water to dig for water plants..  Most of the Canada Geese have formed into skeins and flow for easier foraging grounds.  A group of geese in flight is also known as a team because they place the weakest ones behind the rest to take advantage of the air currents generated by the ones in front.


The ponds and trails around them were pretty quiet this morning but are perhaps enjoyed a little more in the summer sunshine.


Someone has thrown the life preserving equipment into the pond where it is now frozen in place.


Not all robins migrate south for the winter and seeing them in the colder months is becoming more common.  Robins move around in response to food rather than temperature.  Birds that move south follow their ability to collect worms and other insects for food.   In the winter robins switch their diet to fruit and the bulk of them move to places where there are sufficient berries for everyone.  The ones that stay behind move around as the sources diminish in each area.


This view from Google Earth shows the area as the area looked in 2002.  Emery Creek flows into the Humber River from the right hand side of the image.  In its original creek bed the watercourse followed the southern embankment of a much wider ravine.

Emery Creek 2002

By 2019 Google Earth is showing a greatly altered geography.  The creek has been diverted through the three new ponds and now enters the river farther north.  The old creek still has a minimal flow of water that gets over the diversion dam and keeps it from becoming stagnant.  The abandoned portion of the old creek has been coloured in orange.

Emery 2019

From the opposite side of the Humber River we were able to locate the original mouth of Emery Creek.  The water coming out of here is moving very slowly compared to the main river and you can see a line of ice forming across the mouth of Emery Creek.


The engineering work has paid off in that the water that enters the Humber River is a lot cleaner than it was before.   Given time, the new ponds will become home to their own ecosystems and the disruptions will be a thing of the past.

Google Maps Link: Emery Creek

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Hornby – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Beginning in the 1830s the area north of Oakville was opened for settlement and the community of Hornby found itself becoming an important stop on the trip into town.  Hotels were opened and in 1850 Trafalgar Road (7th Line) was planked as far north as Stewarttown with a toll station in Hornby.  However, by 1877 the railway had bypassed the town and Milton had been named as county seat.  Hornby began to decline back to a county village.  Today there isn’t much of the community that was named after Hornby Castle in Yorkshire but we went to see what could be found and photographed before it  disappears forever.

Hornby became stretched out along what is now Steeles Avenue to the point where it was referred to as Hornby and West Hornby.  Two cemeteries mark the eastern site of Hornby.  The Methodist church was originally located on Lot 1 Concession 8 on the corner of the William McKindsey lot.  On April 30, 1832 the land was sold to the Methodist Trustees.  The land actually belonged to Kings College until 1840 and so the indenture wasn’t registered until 1842.  The congregation built a small frame church and began a cemetery beside the church.  They soon outgrew the frame church and moved to a new location leaving the cemetery behind.  It has since been restored with the markers being gathered into a central location for preservation.


in 1856 the Wesleyan Methodist congregation built a new brick building a little farther west.  This brick building was part of a preaching circuit that included Bowers, Munns, McCurdy’s, Omagh and Bethel.  In 1925 the Methodists and Presbyterians joined to become The United Church of Canada.  This building served the congregation until November 17, 1968 when it was closed and the parishioners joined with the Ashgrove United Church.  Since then the building has been used as the Hornby Townhall.  The spire with finial was built by Gordon Brigden at his machine shop in Hornby.


The first church built by the Presbyterian Church in Hornby was a frame structure constructed in 1835 across the street from the Wesleyan Methodist Church on Lot 1 Concession 9.  Many of the founding settlers of Hornby are interred here and the cemetery remains active today.  The original frame church was replaced in 1878 with a brick structure.  The congregation did not choose to join the United Church and remained active until 1971 when it was amalgamated with Knox Presbyterian in Milton.  The church building was destroyed by fire in 1978 and arson was suspected but never proven.


The first school building in Hornby was in a log cabin built in 1826.  It was replaced with a new brick building in 1870.  It operated as a school until 1963 when Pineview school was built on 5th sideroad.


Samuel Brooks owned this one and a half story farm house in 1878.  The property changed hands several times until Frank Chisholm farmed the property through the middle of the twentieth century.  There have been multiple additions to the house over the years.  By the time it was assessed for cultural heritage in 2018 the structure was deteriorating and there was damage to the roof that had been covered over with plastic.


There has been a fire at the home since then and there is little doubt that the structure will be demolished for safety reasons.  As of our visit the back door was open providing access to a very unsafe structure.  It will likely be removed for safety reasons.


The drive shed on the property is in similar condition and the former farm will likely soon fall prey to the urban expansion that is spreading along Steeles Avenue.


We had parked on Trafalgar Road where there is an entrance to the Halton County Forest.  After making our way through town and back up Hornby Road it was time to cut back through the forest to the car.  There is a cairn commemorating John Coulson who owned the property and bequeathed it to the county for reforestation.  The 89 acre tract was planted with white pine in 1959 and left to regenerate.


A summers worth of growth goes into producing seed pods to carry on the family line.  The wild cucumbers have produced their edible seed pods, each one containing four seeds.  In the next few weeks the bottom of each seed pod will open up and drop the seeds to the ground below.


River grapes have also come along nicely this year.  These wild grapes have been bred into our table grapes to help produce a strain that is resistant to our climate.  These grapes can be turned into a tasty grape jelly.


We followed Trafalgar Creek part way through the Coulson Tract and came across a cluster of asparagus that has no leaves but there are still many seeds on it.


There are still several early twentieth century homes and farms in the Hornby area. but the former community is in danger of being over run by urban sprawl.

Google Maps link: Hornby

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Anewen Greenbelt

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The East Don River is in the process of having a trail developed along the length of the river.  The East Don Trail is incomplete but has been constructed along some sections of the river.  The formal trail runs south from Lawrence Avenue through the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area.  We parked on Ruscica Drive and entered the greenbelt using the catwalk and stairs located there.

We followed the trail through a short ravine and into an open field where there are several options for trails.  We chose to begin with the trail on the west end of the field.  It wasn’t long before a small Downey Woodpecker arrived and began to put on a show for us.  The male has two small spots of red on the back of the head which the female lacks.


People who have properties that back onto ravines often create their own private access to the park systems.  This is most often done using wooden stairs but sometimes we see elaborate sets of stone steps laid up the sides of the ravine.


The north trail leads toward Milne Hollow where the old Milne Homestead stands empty but protected from vandals while it awaits potential restoration.  The old Don Valley Ski Club has become over-run but you can read about that park at Milneford Mills.  As you go north along the river you come to a place where you can see a new bridge through the trees.


The East Don River winds back and forth through the park and two new bridges are being installed to carry the trail.  Construction of the permanent bridges requires the use of heavy equipment which has been brought to the site using a temporary bailey bridge.


The East Don Trail is being extended through the park following what appears to be an old access road that was hidden in the new growth forest.  This section of the park used to be limited to a couple of seldom used trails and I frequently saw the resident deer here.  I wonder where they have moved to.


The width and the depth of the ravine are sometimes much higher than the current size of the river could have cut.  During the melting phase of the most recent ice age 12,000 years ago the river was a raging torrent.  Erosion is ongoing in many places and the trail is often under cut where the sand has fallen away below the roots of the trees that line the crest.  These areas it is important to keep well back from the edge.


The view up river from the top of the ravine is quite nice and provides an opportunity to envision yourself out in the country rather than just a few kilometres from downtown Toronto.  This little greenbelt is a well kept secret as there is seldom very many people using the park at any point in time.  This will change when there recreational trail is complete and it is easy for people to access the park or to pass through on part of a longer hike or ride.


Active railway tracks divide the park in two and the picture below shows the rail bridge over the East Don River.


Purple Bloom Russula was growing in large clusters in the woods.  This mushroom is considered good to eat but like all plants we recommend that you don’t harvest from our parks.



The trail isn’t complete under Eglinton Avenue and so at the present you have to cross the road at surface level.  Please be careful or walk to the corner and cross at the lights.  At one time there was an extensive network of bike trails through this section of the woods but it has been left to fall into disrepair.  Large sections of it looked quite unsafe for either bike or pedestrian.


A short walk brings you to the remains of Old Eglinton Avenue which no longer extends to the bottom of the ravine.

Google Maps Link: Anewen Greenbelt

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Bruce Trail – Ray Lowes Side Trail

October 26, 2019

Although it was late in the season we decided to head out to the Royal Botanical Gardens to do some hiking and see if there were still any interesting fall colours.  There are three free parking areas along the route we chose.  We selected the one on Valley Road.  The 1877 county atlas map below has been marked to show roughly the route we walked, including the return up York Road.


Ray Lowes was born in Saskatchewan in 1911 and moved to Hamilton in 1936.  The escarpment was pretty impressive after the prairies and he soon began to worry about preserving the area from development.  In 1959 he first proposed the theory of a continuous trail along the escarpment from one end to the other.  The 3.5 kilometer side trail that we followed has been named after him.  At the intersection of the main trail you have a choice to carry on toward Borers Falls or choose the Ray Lowes Side Trail.


It was a beautiful fall day and the trails were covered in leaves.  This looks nice but unfortunately it means that the wildlife know you are coming with plenty of time to hide.


Mushrooms have no opportunity to run and hide so they can still be seen if you keep your eyes open.  We found a couple of Blue Mycena which is a mushroom that has two seasons.  One crop will grow in the spring and a second in the fall.  This mushroom is similar to hallucinogenic mushrooms except that it doesn’t bruise blue as they do.  Since there were only two we didn’t damage them to make a positive identification as we may have done if there were several others.


The Great Western Railway was built in 1853-1854 connecting Niagara Falls to Windsor via Hamilton.  It was taken over in 1882 by the Grand Trunk Railway and is now part of the Canadian National Railway network.  The line is double-tracked and the bridge over York Road was busy as we saw three separate trains while we were in the immediate area.  The bridge at this crossing is set on concrete abutments which dates it after 1900, likely replacing an original wooden trestle.


When the railway was built the small creek that flows along side of York Road was of little consequence as it flowed under the wooden trestle.  Rather than maintain wooden trestles they were often filled in by dumping rocks and soil from rail cars above.  Prior to doing that the creek required a culvert and a cut stone one was built just west of York Road.  This was likely done sometime around the time the line was taken over by the Grand Trunk, perhaps with their influx of capital.


The inside of the culvert has been lined on the bottom with wood which was laid down during the construction of the culvert.  When we investigated the two stone culverts in Caledon we found similar wood flooring in the one on the Humber River.  That culvert has the date 1889 in the keystone at the top of the arch.  That is a similar time frame to the construction of this culvert.  You can follow this link for the story of the Caledon Stone Culverts.

IMG_2653 (1)

The oncoming train in this picture illustrates the height of the berm with the old trestle hidden inside.


Wild asparagus plants stand out in the fall with their bright yellow colour and distinctive leaf shape.  There were several clusters of asparagus along the trail but very few berries on the plants.  Upon inspection we found two dried up berries on one of the plants while several others had none.


William Rasberry built this house in 1860 and it has been enlarged and altered several times since.  By 1877 when the county atlas above was drawn the farm had passed into the hands of John Rasberry.  McMaster University owned the land in 1950 when the Royal Botanical Gardens acquired it.  It has since been renovated and is used by the RBG and Bruce Trail Association.


Ontario farms shifted from wheat production to livestock and dairy in the 1870’s.  The 1870’s and 1880’s were a period a barn construction for the animals to shelter in as well as silo construction for storage of feed for the animals.  Early silos were built out of stone collected from the fields.  Later silos were increased in height and replacements were built of concrete after 1900.  In the late 1880’s the Rasberry Family built a barn and a silo near their house.  The barn is long gone and so is the wooden cap to the silo but the stone structure remains.  As can be seen in this picture and the cover photo, the silo has developed a significant lean.


Dodge entered the muscle car market with the Charger in 1966.  The car came with a 426 Hemi engine and fastback styling.  We passed a house with on one the front lawn which appeared to be painted for Halloween but wouldn’t have been my first choice for the rest of the year.


The Royal Botanical Gardens covers 2,422 acres and was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada on January 1, 1994.  We’ve previously visited The Berry Tract on one of our trips to Borer’s Falls but there’s a lot left to be explored in the RBG.

Google Maps Link: Valley Road

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