Monthly Archives: April 2021

The First Seven Years

April 25, 2021

Seven years ago this weekend we published our first story on WordPress using the website http://www.hikingthegta.com. On April 20th we had been exploring the area around Finch and Islington and the following week it was released to universal acclaim. Both readers loved it, lol. It hinted at the combination of nature and history that the blog would evolve into. During that first year we covered most of the Humber River from Lake Ontario north. Click here to see more of that initial story called Humber River at Finch and Islington. Hiking the GTA with the idea of presenting “Places to hike and things to see in and around the Greater Toronto Area” had been born.

We published 50 stories that first year and added a Facebook Page on November 13th, 2014. The most popular story of the year turned out to be our feature on the long bridge that crosses Bayview Avenue. The bridge is currently out of service and although not quite that long it goes by the name of the Half-Mile Bridge.

2015 was our first full year and saw the release of a record 85 new stories. We covered The Credit River and large areas of Mississauga and Oakville during the year. That summer we featured the remains of the canal that was being built from Lake Simcoe to Newmarket. The project had been cancelled over a hundred years earlier as it neared completion. The Newmarket Ghost Canal was the most popular story of the year and has gone on to retain the top spot in the all time read count.

In 2015 we got one of our best Heron photos in Rockwood.

Another 80 stories were published in 2016 and we visited the former estate of Joseph Cawthra in Mississauga. The house survives as an outstanding example of Georgian Revival architecture but the grounds also feature much of the old landscaping including a walled garden and an abandoned pool. The land grant was Lot 10 and so the property became known as Lotten – The Cawthra Estate.

Our love of local history has surfaced in the series of stories called Ghost Towns of the GTA. These feature the remains of historical places and former communities from all over the area. Of the 59 blogs published in 2017 Palermo – Ghost Towns of the GTA was the most popular of all. The final residents of the home below provided a video they took the day they moved out. Quite remarkable.

Of the 66 features in 2018 we again had a Ghost Town story finish as the most popular. This time it was from the other end of the GTA in Markham, the former community of Ringwood. Many people remembered passing through there or eating in the diner. Ringwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA features more intact buildings than most of the other former communities we’ve covered.

Cardinals have an elaborate mating ritual in which the male feeds the female.

Every year we feature a couple of stories from outside the GTA from as far away as Taiwan. In 2019, for the first time, one of these road trips finished as the most popular post of the year out of the 61 we published. The story of the London Asylum for the Insane features many buildings that won’t likely survive the redevelopment of the property.

In 2019 we had the experience of watching a hawk take a squirrel out of a tree for its dinner.

The Covid pandemic has a huge impact on Hiking the GTA during 2020 as we were restricted from travelling for most of the year. We still published 61 stories by looking for creative places to explore near home. A morning walk along Jarvis Street admiring the architecture in the old mansions of one of Toronto’s early wealthy districts produced the most popular story of the year. Gooderham House and The Keg Mansion are both examined in The Mansions of Jarvis Street.

In 2020 while we were visiting some secluded areas we were still able to photograph some interesting wildlife such as this mother mink carrying her kits across Etobicoke Creek.

That brings us to 2021 which is just a third of the way through and has seen 18 new stories published. Covid continues to restrict travel and we’ve been able to publish several stories that were photographed while restrictions were eased last year. The most popular story so far has been about a former community near Milton called Omagh – Ghost Towns of the GTA. Where it stands at the end of the year remains to be seen.

Thanks to everyone who has helped make Hiking the GTA a success over the past seven years and here’s to many future explorations.

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Log Cabins

April 18, 2021

When a pioneer arrived to start to farm on their new land grant they were faced with a few government requirements. In order to take possession (or hold patent on the land) they had to clear and fence five acres, build a dwelling of at least 16 feet by 20 feet and also open the road allowance that passed along the edge of their property. They had twelve months to complete all this in what was usually 200 acres of solid virgin forest. Fortunately, the means to build the home were gained through the clearing of the land. Therefore most of the first homes were log cabins. Families lived in these homes until they were able to build larger brick homes, sometimes many years and several children later.

The oldest building in Toronto is one of these original log cabins. It was built in 1794 by John Scadding who owned the land grant on the east side of the Don River between Danforth Road and Lake Ontario. He lived here until 1796 when he returned to England and eventually selling it in 1818. Until 1879 it served as a farm outbuilding and then it was offered the the York Pioneer and Historical Society. They moved the cabin to the site of the first Toronto Industrial Exhibition, now the C.N.E. Scadding Cabin is also featured in the cover photo of this story.

Over the years we’ve presented many other log homes in our stories. Below you’ll find pictures of 16 of them along with a brief description. More details about the homes and their locations can be found in the links presented with each house. The question is, which one is closest to you and when will you check it out?

Augustus Jones originally surveyed Yonge Street and then in 1795 he was commissioned to survey Scarborough township. Augustus Jones House is said to be the oldest house in Scarborough and the second oldest in Toronto dating from 1795.

George and Mary Lyon were married in England in 1868 and sailed for Canada that same summer.  They bought 50 acres of land on Trafalgar Road near the Oakville Townhall.  This cabin dates to about 1810 and was already standing on the property when they took possession. The George Lyon home was used to raise a family of 9 children.

Daniel and Elizabeth Stong took possession of their lot in 1816 and built a log cabin where they lived for 16 years and raised 7 children. The Stong Log Cabin stands in its original location where it forms the heart of Black Creek Pioneer Village.

John and Esther Leslie built this log home in 1824 and it was moved to its present location in 1994 to make way for development of the Leslie Farm in Mississauga. The Streetsville Historical Society are the current owners of the Leslie Log Home.

This log cabin was built in 1830 and occupied by a lifelong bachelor named William Porteus McCowan. His family were among the earliest settlers in Scarborough and the McCowan Log Cabin is now part of the collection at Thomson Memorial Park.

In 1835 George Ludlow and his wife Francis moved to Trafalgar and built this log cabin which stands at the end of Burnhamthorpe Road in Glenorchy. The Ludlow Log Home is certainly in the poorest condition of any in this collection.

The Bradley Museum Log House was built in 1850 near Mono Mills. It was moved to the mouth of The Credit River in 1967 where it again faced demolition. It has been a working building at Bradley House Museum since 2007.

The Erindale Log Home was built in 1855 and moved to its present location on Jarvis Street in the 1970’s where it continues to serve as a private residence.

There’s also a half-dozen log homes that we’ve visited that are not dated and many of them are no longer in their original locations.

The Halton Region Museum has an interesting log home because it has a front gable with a small window. This would have made this home much better lit inside than the average log cabin.

The Rotary Club of Don Mills moved this pioneer home to Sunnybrook Park and dedicated it on July 16, 1975 to the people of Toronto. The dedication plaque quotes John Milton from Paradise Lost “Accuse Not Nature, She Hath Done Her Part, Do Thou But Thine.”

The log cabin at Marylake has had some additions to each end as well as a small entry porch.

The Puterbaugh Log House has been moved from its original location in Maple and now is preserved in the Pickering Museum Village. It originally had a second floor as evidenced in the row of log ends that runs just above the door. These would have supported the floor for the upper level.

The Frank Robson Log House is noted for the large timbers used in construction. It was restored in 1929 when it was still a cabin in the woods outside of the town of Maple.

A house similar to the original Ball Log Cabin home is now being used to display the typical lifestyle of a settler and a spinning wheel can be seen through the window. This one is a little outside the GTA at Ball’s Falls.

Many log cabins were hidden behind a veneer of bricks, wood siding, shingles and later even insulbrick in an attempt to make them look more modern and help to insulate them against the winter. One feature of these homes which helps to identify them is the window structure. There will never be a window that passes between a main floor and an end gable. This is because the upper logs are required to be intact for building stability. The Philip Echkardt Log house in Unionville has been covered in siding. It is said to have been built around 1800 and is the oldest home in the Markham Heritage Inventory. In the 5 years since the picture below was taken, the siding and two roof dormers have been removed and the house restored.

There’s also a new group of log cabins that have nothing to do with pioneers or land clearing. They stem from a sense of nostalgia, perhaps mistakenly thinking they represent a simpler time . In 1936 Robert Clifford and Edith Gamble built a cottage on Bond Lake which is one of these.

Log cabins let us quickly imagine the lives of the pioneers and the harsh conditions they had to endure. In a society where developers are king and historical designations are almost meaningless we’re fortunate to still have several of these relics scattered throughout the GTA and surrounding areas.

Google Maps link: Scadding Cabin

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L’Amoreaux – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The farming community of L’Amoreaux developed along Finch Avenue after it was founded in 1816 by a French Huguenot family of that name. It never gained much in population but it served a large number of farms in the area. There are still a few original houses as well as an early church and the well known Zion Schoolhouse.

With the ongoing lockdown restricting travel I chose this location to investigate because it could be reached on my lunch from work. I’ve included two County Atlas images which each show the points of interest on their respective sides of Highway 404. The map below shows the Scarborough side of town with two houses marked as well as the cemeteries for the Wesleyan Methodists and the English Church (Anglican).

Christie’s Wesleyan Methodist church stood where the parking lot for Bridlewood Mall is today. This historic picture from around 1896 was found on the Scarborough Historical Society web site. The congregation formed in 1846 and lasted until it was absorbed into the United Church of Canada in 1925. The building was moved to Buttonville in 1938 leaving the cemetery beside it stranded in a field.

A cemetery was opened on Isaac Christie’s lot beside the church with the first burial coming after Permelia Roy passed away on January 10, 1849. The cemetery was closed in the 1930’s and in 1975 was incorporated into a little memorial garden in the mall parking lot. Unfortunately, I noticed that there has been some recent vandalism and at least one stone has been knocked over. There’s around 100 people interred in what is perhaps one of the least sedate of cemeteries in the city.

Isaac Christie along with Isabella Graeme bought lot 33 in Concession 4 in 1836 after emigrating from Ireland. Both are buried in the little cemetery on their farm and their grave markers have been incorporated into a wall for preservation. Several later marble stones still stand throughout the little garden.

Anglican church services were held in the L’Amoreaux log school from 1832 until 1840. A small frame church was dedicated in 1841 and served the community until 1935 when it was destroyed by a fire. The congregation temporarily moved into the Christie Methodist Church and in 1937 began work on a new building. When the city expanded to swallow the little community, they found their building was too small. A new church including senior apartments, seen in the background of the picture below, was dedicated in 1978. After that, the 1937 church was demolished.

Glendinning House was built in 1870 and originally faced onto Pharmacy Avenue when it was a working farm house. It mixes several different architectural styles into what is commonly referred to as Upper Canadian Vernacular. It blends Gothic, Georgian and Victorian traditions which likely marks the various additions that the family made to the home as more room was needed. The house was designated as having historical and architectural value and a notice was served to the developers that they had to incorporate it into the subdivision that was planned for the farm.

The Risebrough house was built around 1860 in the common one and a half story design with a gable and window over the front door. The original cladding has been covered over with aluminum siding but it is believed that the rear kitchen may be the original home. It is currently being used by an Islamic congregation who might lose the right to use the building for religions ceremonies due to problems with parking.

Half of L’Amoreaux was in Scarborough Township and the other part in North York. The three places of interest from the west end of town are circled in green on the County Atlas below. These are the Primitive Methodist Church, Zion School and the property of Sam Kennedy.

The Primitive Methodists built their church on the west end of town and replaced it in 1873 with this buttressed brick building with simple gothic revival accents around the windows. The church is still known as the Zion Methodist Church although it ceased that function many years ago. The building was empty in 1971 when the city acquired it to be used as a community event space.

School section #1 was on the east end of L’Amoreaux and was part of the Scarborough School system while School Section # 12 was on the North York end of town. The cover photo shows the front side of this 1869 building which replaced an earlier school from the 1830’s. The school closed in 1955 and was little altered during its years of teaching. One obvious addition is at the back of the school building where a new chimney was added against the wall when the wood stove was replaced with a furnace for heating. The school sat empty for three decades before it was restored in 1986 and opened as a museum showcasing school in 1910. This is the only one room school in North York that is still in its original location and hasn’t been converted to a residence.

Green Meadows was built as an estate house for John Angus McDougald who made his fortune in the world of high finance. The estate was built in 1950 when the surrounding area was all still in use for farming. Like many of the large estates of the wealthy that were built in the early to mid-20th century this one was set up for horses and various equestrian pursuits such as fox hunting. In spite of its recent construction, the house has been listed for heritage purposes as an example of a country estate.

This aerial picture from 1971 shows the outbuildings that survived the onslaught of development on the neighbouring farms and all but 19 acres of Green Meadows. The last 19 acres was sold for development after 1996. All the out buildings were removed and houses built surrounding the mansion.

The former community of L’Amoreaux is remembered in these few buildings and there’s also a park system that looks like it should be explored at some time in the near future.

Google Maps Link: Zion Schoolhouse

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The Reesors – Pioneers of the GTA

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Christian Reesor was born in Pennsylvania in 1747 to Anabaptist Mennonite parents who had landed in the New World in 1739. The family had moved to Pennsylvania for the promise of free land to escape religious persecution. Their pacifist faith didn’t allow them to bear arms and so they were neutral during the American Revolution. A new type of persecution followed and soon Christian planned to move to York County. He sent his son Peter to evaluate the area for suitable farms. Then, he waited until his father had passed away at 91 before finally leaving the USA. In 1804 he settled on Lot 14, Concession 10 in Markham Township and by 1877 the family owned considerable land on the west side of the tenth line. The school, the Reynolds house and the Wesleyan Methodist Church are all circled.

Sadly, Christian was killed on March 26, 1806 when they were still chopping trees to clear the land. A tree fell on him and he died almost instantly. He was laid to rest in small section of the family farm. When his wife Fanny passed away on the 10th of October 1818 she was buried in the same small family plot. Please note that this cemetery is on private land and I approached with the utmost respect for the family and their preserved history. Please respect it as well and enjoy it through the cover photo and this picture and avoid the temptation to visit in person. The small plaque on the stone was placed there during a three day family reunion in 2004 to mark the 200th anniversary of their shared heritage in Canada.

The original crown patent on Lot 10 was granted in 1801 to Isaac Westbrook who sold it to Christian Reesor in 1804. When he passed away in 1806 it went to his eldest son Peter. When he prepared to move to Cedar Grove, Peter transferred the property to his younger brother Christian. This was the Christian Reesor who in 1840 built the stone house that still stands on the property. There are also a number barns and out buildings on the property including a sawmill and a carding mill.

I really admire the Reesor family and their dedication to preserving and enjoying their family history. They have gone to great lengths to trace their family tree and contact as many of them as possible. The bicentennial plaque that we saw near the original family cemetery isn’t the only one that has been placed in the area. At the corner of Highway 7 and Reesor Road is a cairn that was placed there in 1930 to honour Christian and Fanny and their children. This came two years after the first publication of the family genealogy. They have kept the genealogy going and updated it in 1934, 1950, 1980 and 2000 before going digital for the 2004 bicentennial family gathering.

William Reynolds originally owned Lot 10 in concession10 where he started the Methodist Church which was originally known as Reynolds Chapel. In the 1851 census they are recorded as living in the one story stone house on Lot 9. The house was likely built in 1846 by Henry Reynolds. Today it is an heritage property that sits vacant in an area that is entirely surrounded by land that is part of Rouge Park. Like Cedarena just down the road it is hard to envision what the TRCA will do with these properties, if anything, before they become lost to decay or vandalism.

Locust Hill was founded in 1832 and named after the Locust trees that grew on the farm belonging to William and Esther (Reesor) Armstrong. By the time of the County Atlas pictured above The Reesor family also owned the property in Locust Hill where the Methodist Church had been built in 1856. The original church was replaced with the present brick structure in 1890. It joined the United Church in 1925 and now shares the building with the Baptist Church. A large cemetery sits across the road from the church and Reesor is a prominent name on the headstones there.

The original school building for this area stood on the west side of Reesor Road on lot 15. In the early 1860s it was decided that a new building was required and William Reesor, William Button and John Pike were appointed as trustees to purchase land for the new school. A 1/2 acre site was found on the northwest corner of lot 13 and the new school was built in 1864,

The school was closed in the 1960’s and converted to residential use. A second floor was built inside the structure and the windows were radically altered to accommodate it. Today it belongs to the Toronto Region Conservation Authority who plan to restore it to it’s original beauty. All the two-toned brick work around the windows and on the quoins was painted over making the school quite drab.

The oldest son Peter Reesor had travelled to the area to look for land in 1796 and returned with his parents as a young married man. Along with his wife Ester, their two daughters, and infant son he took up land on Lot 4 in Concession 9 in what became Cedar Grove. The county Atlas shows extensive Reesor holdings on the west side of Cedar Grove. Peter’s lot is circled in green as are the two Mennonite Churches on Reesor properties.

Locust Hill used to have a string of heritage properties along the south side of the street west of the railway tracks. The 1885 Nightswander Hotel stood into the 2000s before being lost and this 1872 dwelling that was associated with the Nightswander family is all but lost as well.

Today the Reesor family continues the 200 year old operation of a farm just south of Steeles avenue in Toronto which is said to be the only operating farm within the city limits. So, the Reesors were some of the first farmers in the area and continue to be some of the last ones too. Kudos to the family for preserving their pioneer heritage so well.

Links to Cedar Grove and Cedarena

Google Maps link: School Section 21

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