Monthly Archives: October 2020

Cook Woodlot

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Cook Woodlot was once part of the property belonging to Thomas Cook who played an important role in the community of Carrville in Vaughan Township. The county atlas below shows his property outlined in green while the woodlot comprised the section closest to the Northern Railway line. Settlers would often clear most of their lot but left a woodlot that served them as a source of lumber and firewood. There is limited parking on Halo Court and residents would likely prefer people to park on Peter Rupert Avenue if they plan to visit. Notice that Peter Rupert owned the land below the woodlot and he lends his name to the avenue. His property extended west to Keele Street and was the site of Rupert’s Chapel in the former community of Sherwood, a Ghost Town of the GTA.

Cook woodlot is large enough to be home to a variety of animals. The oak trees seem to support a large number of squirrels. These in turn support a number of predators including red-tailed hawks and coyotes. The coyote in the picture below was sitting in the trees when I spotted it. It allowed me to get three successively closer pictures before it got up and took off.

I took two more pictures as it retreated. Although it took its eyes off of me it made sure I wasn’t following it. They have keen hearing and can detect the squeak of a mouse from 100 yards away.

Pear-shaped Puffballs grow on decaying logs and stumps. These ones were still fresh and had a white mass in the centre that hasn’t gone to spores yet. Some of these have been partially eaten by insects and they are considered choice edibles. Although, again, we promote a no picking type of hiking adventure.

An earlier crop of puffballs have reached the stage where they have released most of their spores. They have a small opening near the top of each of the small balls. When they are poked with a stick they still have enough spores to release a small green/brown cloud. Between the effects of wind and rain these spores will be released in an effort to spread the fungus to new hosts.

At the edge of the forest the trail turns and runs along the former pasture on Peter Rupert’s property. At the far end it comes to a paved trail that leads south to Rutherford Road and a large storm water pond. To the north it runs along the western edge of the wood lot and passes a couple more storm management ponds.

Cardinals have a curved beak and powerful set of jaws that allow them to crack hard seeds and nuts. Cardinals have one of the greatest varieties of seeds and nuts in their diet of any species in the local bird population. They eat about 40 different types of grass and sunflower seeds and during summer supplement 30% of their diet with various insects. This allows them to survive quite well in the winter as most of their food sources stay above the snow level.

There appeared to be a large population of juvenile DeKays Brownsnakes. One feature of the young snakes is their small patch at the back of the head. While we saw four different snakes there was one that stood out from the others. This specimen was more red than brown in colour.

On the lighter side, we found several places along the paved path where someone has written messages on the trail. It would appear that they made at least a second trip as I venture that very few people carry a piece of chalk in their pocket when they walk. The part that caught me funny was the fact that most of the feces on the trail wasn’t from a dog. Some contained a lot of seeds and was likely from racoons while other piles had a lot of fur in them suggesting that the local coyote was using the trail in more ways than one. It makes me think that someone should write on there: “You don’t know sh*t, this is coyote”, etc.

Thomas Cook left us a little more than a woodlot. You can’t fully tell his tale without touching on the community of Carrville. This was a mill town in support of a flour mill that was built by Michael Fisher in 1816. Thomas Cook and his brother William emigrated from England in 1831 and Thomas bought the mills from Fisher. He added other mills and built a store in 1856 which contained the post office from 1865 to 1923, of which he was the first post master. The Carrville Mill Dam was originally built in 1816 and must have been repaired many times. It still exists, but on private property, and is designated under the Ontario Heritage Trust. This dam served Cooks mills and it is said that his name is carved in the structure. The picture below was taken from the August 26, 1987 Town of Vaughan council act designating the dam.

The Primitive Methodists began meeting at Cook’s Mills as early as 1848 and in 1850 at the urging of Thomas they erected a white frame church near Bathurst Street. The land belonged to The Evangelical Association and they shared the building until 1857 when it was vacated by the Methodists in favour of their new church building. This church has been moved about a kilometer east on Rutherford Road and can be found in Wood Park.

Thomas Cook wanted the church to have its own land and so he donated it in 1857. He also provided the clay for the bricks which were made nearby on the property. To keep costs down he provided housing for the work crew while they erected the church building. He was known to provide the minister who served the church with lodging and a horse for his personal use. It was known as Cook’s Mills Primitive Methodist Church until it became Carrville Methodist in 1884. They joined the United Church in 1925 and continued to serve the community until the congregation could no longer support themselves and merged with the United Church in Maple. The building now serves as a community centre for the Jewish group Maon Noam.

Thomas Cook also donated land for a cemetery beside the church. Burials date back to 1860 and the cemetery is still active with interments in the past few years. A single tall white grave marker stands near the centre of the cemetery marking the resting places of Thomas Cook, his wife and two children.

Thomas was born in 1801 and after coming to Canada contributed greatly to his new home. He died on Christmas Day in 1877 and although there is a woodlot named after him there is no information plaque there to tell the story of his legacy.

Perhaps one day we’ll return with a feature story on Carrville as a feature story in our Ghost Towns of the GTA series.

Google Maps Link: Cook Woodlot

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Elder’s Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday,October 3, 2020

Elder Mills began life as a farming community that centred around a set of mills where the Humber River crosses Rutherford Road at Highway 27. To investigate we started at Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve which can be accessed off of Napa Valley Road. The 1877 County Atlas section featured below shows the town and the location of the saw mill (SM) and grist mill (GM) on the Elder property as well as the Presbyterian Church (and cemetery (*PC). The school house (SCH) is across the road from the church. It also shows three properties that still contain the Robert Agar House (1855), John Lawrie House (1855) and James Sommerville House (1856) that form part of the legacy of Elder’s Mills.

In 1850 James Gibb Thompson started milling in the area by building a saw mill, grist mill and carding mill along the Humber River. He sold the business to David Elder in 1869 and in 1874 when the post office was opened on the corner of his property the town took the name Elder’s Mills. His children continued to run the grist mill and comb wool in the carding mill until 1919. The Vaughan Archives photo below shows one of the mill buildings but is unfortunately undated.

Elder’s Mills

At the foot of the ravine are a couple of flood control ponds which were showing steam fog this crisp morning. Water cools down slower than the surrounding land and cooler air will flow over the water. The warmth of the pond causes a thin layer of air above it to warm up and moisture evaporates into it. When this air mixes with more colder air coming in off the land a fog condenses out of the moist warmer air that looks like steam rising off the water.

A White Breasted Nuthatch was bobbing its way around the branches of a tree, often standing upside down. Walking straight down the branch of a tree is a quick indication that the bird you are watching could be a type of nuthatch. The back of the neck and cap of the head on the white breasted nuthatch is dark and make it appear to be wearing a hood. Nuthatches probe into cracks in the bark with their long straight bills and unlike woodpeckers they don’t lean against their tails when probing a tree.

There are two small storm water control ponds near the bottom of the hill that were originally separated by a row of about twenty small trees. All but four of these have recently been chewed off and dragged into the water to serve as food supplies. The picture below shows how ambitious the local beaver is as it is working on a much larger tree than it can possibly move after it fells it. It will then work on removing smaller branches and bringing them closer to the underwater entrance to their home.

The former Elder property has seen a few changes over the years. It spent 70 years as an industrial hub when the mills arrived and then it was later turned into a golf course. More recently it has been restored with new plantings and water management systems that allow meadows and wetlands to flourish all year. The noise of Elder’s Mills has been replaced with the tranquility of Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve.

American Goldfinch shed their bright yellow plumage after the mating season and it becomes harder to tell the male from the female. They are better set to blend in with their surroundings for the winter months. Some goldfinches will migrate south into the northern states while a few in eastern Ontario will move north into boreal forests for the winter.

There is a lookout two-thirds of the way up the side of the ravine that provides a nice view out across the nature reserve. The forests on the far side of Highway 27 are a bright red and orange that would really look nice on a sunny day.

The congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church had been meeting from as early 1841 in local homes. After the school building was erected they moved into it until they built their first frame church building in 1845. The church quickly grew to 175 members and by 1883 they had completed the construction of a new brick building on the same site. When the United Church was formed in 1925 nearly half of the congregation left to join the new denomination and the church never recovered its former size. In 1961 it closed and, sadly, the building was destroyed by fire in 1974. Older or damaged stones were gathered into a cemetery cairn in 1983. You can read about other Pioneer Cemetery Cairns in our feature presentation.

Across the road from the church stood the town school. The original frame structure was built in 1843 and then replaced with the structure that still stands behind a new front section. The bell appears to be missing from the small cupola but the date stone is still clearly legible. It reads “School Section No 15 Erected 1872”.

Robert Agar had his house built in 1845 and it is made of bricks manufactured on his farm. The use of light coloured bricks to form the quoins and add a pattern below the eaves makes this a very attractive home. There’s a rear entrance with a porch decorated with gingerbread.

James Sommerville built his story and a half house of split field stone collected on his farm. It was completed in 1856 and cut stone was used for the quoins as well as the window and door frames. It is a simple 5 bay Georgian style house and has recently been renovated and incorporated into the Arlington Estate Event Centre.

John Lawrie built his Georgian style house in 1855 at Lot 12, Concession 9 in Vaughan Township. Four generations of Lawrie family farmed on this lot over the next 120 years. John would have gone into Elder’s Mills to visit the post office for his mail and to get things for his farm. You can read more in our feature post John Lawrie Heritage House.

There were four other homes on Huntington Road that were listed on the Vaughan Heritage Register but only the Agar and Sommerville ones were designated. Developers have apparently demolished the others as the farms around them are being stripped for development.

Google Maps Link: Elder Mills Nature Reserve

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The Credit River – Georgetown

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The section of the Credit River north of Georgetown is one of my favourite places to hike and I’ve returned here a few times over the past thirty years. We typically park on Maple Avenue near River Drive. Once you cross the Credit River on the bridge you can follow the Credit Valley Footpath north to Terra Cotta or south to the Barber Dynamo. This is a side trail to the Bruce Trail and is marked with blue blazes.

The first point of interest is the site of the Barber Paper Mills. These historic Victorian era industrial buildings have sat vacant for over four decades. Several proposals for redevelopment and preservation have been left unfulfilled over the years and the fate of one of Heritage Canada’s 2015 top 10 most endangered sites remains unknown.

The roof on the former paper rolling building, built in 1852, is deteriorating quickly. When we released the feature story Barber Paper Mills in June of 2015 the roof was largely intact on the river side. The side of the roof facing the road was already collapsing at that time. An updated picture was featured in March of 2018 in our story Credit Valley Footpath at which time there were two small holes in the roof on the side facing the river. Today, the roof is collapsing and at least one beam has fallen in as well. Nature is relentless.

The dam that served the Barber Paper mills was replaced with a concrete one that still spans the river below the River Drive bridge. We initially followed the small trail close to the river but it doesn’t go very far past the remains of the old paper mill. You are forced to return to the formal trail and make your way into the forest that lines the sides of the ravine.

The trail follows the river and climbs the ravine three times between the road and the Barber Dynamo. There is one section that climbs a few steps and then follows the root system of the trees along the edge of the ravine. That part of the trail could be challenging in wet or snowy conditions.

The DeKay’s Snake is also known simply as a Brown Snake and has two distinct rows of black black spots running down each side of the back. With the colder weather coming on we may not see anymore snakes this year, but we’re always watching. I should have been watching a little closer because I almost stepped on this one before it slithered off the trail.

The Common Earthball is also known as Pigskin Poison Puffball. However, unlike other puffballs, earthballs do not have a single opening at the top but rather split open to release their spores.

The Grand Trunk Railway Bridge was built in 1855 and earned the nick-name the Iron Bridge. It crosses the 2000 foot wide river valley using 8 spans of 96 feet each and extensive berms on either side. The bridge rises 115 feet above the river. It was expanded in 2010 to accommodate a double track as part of GO Transit’s expansion of services.  Provision has been made for a third track in the future. 

Part of the trail runs through a forest of red oak trees. The weight of nuts or fruit in a forest is known as its “mast” and this year would be known as a big mast year because of the high volume of acorns produced. To have a big mast requires three factors, the first of which is sufficient rain in the fall to prepare the tree for a good spring flowering. Secondly, there can’t be a frost during the week that the female flowers are open in the spring. Lastly, once the acorns are growing they need to avoid summer droughts that can cause fungal problems. The acorns were dropping almost continually in the forest as we passed through, making it the first time we had to hike in acorn rain.

Positive identification of mushrooms can be difficult sometimes and these bright yellow mushrooms were not featured in my field guide or clearly singled out on line. The scales on the caps may indicate that they are poisonous. We don’t harvest mushrooms on our hikes, and recommend you don’t either, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if they are edible or not.

The Barber Dynamo is one of our favourite places to visit in the GTA and we have previously told the story of the building. Each time we take a new set of pictures there is some level of deterioration in the old stone building. Unfortunately it looks like we will eventually lose what remains of the first electrical generating plant to transmit power over wires for the operation of a mill. More details can be found in our feature story on the history of the Barber Dynamo.

The walls are starting to sag in various places and will collapse if steps are not taken to support them, perhaps in a manner similar to the work being done at Goldie Mill in Guelph.

Wolf’s Milk Slime is also known as Toothpaste Slime because of the consistency it has when it first comes out. If the balls are punctured before the spores are ready they will ooze a pink slime. Wolf’s Milk Slime grows between June and November on well rotted logs.

The Credit Valley Footpath continues out to the Tenth Line which could provide a less strenuous hike should you wish to visit the Dynamo. Perhaps we’ll use that end of the trail in the future as we continue to keep an eye on this heritage site over the coming years.

Google Maps Link : Barber Paper Mill

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