Bronte Bluffs Park

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Just west of the mouth of Bronte Creek is a geological feature that dates back 13,000 years to the end of the last ice age. At that time, the lake level was about 100 feet higher than today and that version of Lake Ontario is referred to as Glacial Lake Iroquois. It is responsible for various land formations all around the lake including the Scarborough Bluffs and Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park. We decided to go and see this feature and explore the area and we used free parking in one of the lots on West River Street.

The map below shows the area as it was in 1877 including the Sovereign property which originally stretched all the way to Bronte Creek. The Sovereign House featured below is one of the three at the end of the property by the lake, possibly the one circled. Also circled is the site of the Bronte Cemetery which was on land donated by the family.

Philip Sovereign was one of the first settlers on Twelve Mile Creek, now known as Bronte Creek, when he arrived in 1814. His property on the west side of the creek mouth would be the site of the first school house in the community when he had a small log building erected the following year. His son Charles would be the teacher in the school by the time he was 17. The Sovereign family was instrumental in the early development of Bronte and their house was built in 1825. After Charles passed away in 1885 the house had several tenants the most notable being in the years 1911-1914. During this time Mazo de la Roche lived here. She was the author of the “Jalna” series of books whose 16 novels were among the most popular of the era. The house was moved on Aug. 23, 1988 to Bronte Bluffs Park where it was restored and now houses the Bronte Historical Society. Several trails run east from the house along the bluffs and lead to stairs that provide access to the beach.

Hawks are one of the few animals with colour receptors in their eyes making them incredible hunters even at great distances. Their keen eyesight also allows them to be diurnal, hunting during both the day and night hours. They can take their prey from the air as well as off the ground and can dive at speeds up to 150 miles per hour to capture it. The one sitting in a large tree outside of Sovereign House allowed me to get pretty close before pooping in my general direction and flying off. Such attitude!

There were several swans on the lake and three of them were an obvious family unit. The cygnet, or baby swan, was still grey in colour and slightly smaller than its parents. Swans are not very graceful when they take off as they need about 30 yards just to become airborne and about that much again to achieve a safe height above the land or water. The picture below shows one just as it is landing.

There was a small flock of Bufflehead ducks on the lake. These birds dive for their food and at times the entire group would disappear at the same time. The males have the large white patch that wraps around the back of the head while the females have a smaller white patch on the cheek.

While we were watching from the top of the bluffs a young couple appeared on the beach below. They both dashed into the water but she only went about knee deep. He didn’t hesitate, diving in and getting completely wet. Except for those two people there was no one else enjoying the lake on this sunny day. Even so, the Halton Police were still out on patrol, perhaps looking for those people who froze while swimming.

Chris Vokes Memorial Park is named after Major General Christopher Vokes who served Canada during the Second World War. He was from Oakville and passed away there in 1985. The war memorial in the park is dedicated to the soldiers who died in two World Wars plus the Korean War. It is actually the second war memorial to be built in Bronte, the first one being placed in 1956 at 2457 Lakeshore Road West.

Bronte harbour was home to fishermen and stone hookers who provided much of the early industry in the town. Lake Trout, Whitefish and Herring were cleaned at the docks and packed into ice for shipping to the large city markets. Up to 22 fishing boats operated out of the harbour until the 1950’s by which time most of the fish stocks had been depleted. The stone hooking industry ended after 1910 when portland cement replaced stone as a primary building material for foundations. There are several information signs around Bronte describing the local history and there is one dedicated to the fishing industry as well.

The Methodist Church sent missionaries to Upper Canada as both Primitive Methodists and Episcopal Methodists, often competing to both start a church in a community. The Episcopal church formed in Bronte and built a white structure of wood on the south side of Lakeshore. The two Methodist groups united in 1884 and a period of growth followed. By 1912 the church had outgrown its building and the next year a new brick building was opened across the street. Since this building was a gift from the Walton Family in memory of their father the church became known as Walton Memorial church. It has been part of the United Church since 1925.

Bronte Cemetery is located on land that was owned by Philip Sovereign and both he and his son Charles are buried here. A large portion of the headstones in Bronte Cemetery commemorate those who drowned working in the fishing and stone hooking industries along the lakeshore. Ironically, some of those who drowned and were later recovered and buried may be among those whose remains have subsequently been lost to the lake. Over the years about 70 feet of the cemetery has been eroded into the lake as it relentlessly beats on the shore

Philip Sovereign died in 1833 and was laid to rest in the cemetery he donated to the community.

Bronte Bluffs Park made for an interesting visit and somehow you get the feeling that you may have just scratched the surface of all that is to be seen. Hmmm…

Related blogs: Scarborough Bluffs and Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park

Google Maps link: Bronte Bluffs Park

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