Monthly Archives: May 2022

Old City Hall

May 29, 2022

When Toronto was incorporated as a city in 1834 it changed its name from York and it started a city hall in a temporary accommodation in the market buildings. They stayed there from 1834 until 1844 as the city continued to grow. By 1845 they were looking for a new larger space for the city council to meet. They found it in what is now St. Lawrence Market but as the city continued to expand it soon needed even more space. Toronto city architect Edward James Lennox was commissioned to design a new city hall. The building was intended to house both the Toronto City Hall and York County Court House. The design work was begun in 1883 but not completed until 1886. Construction began in 1889 and there is a date stone on the west side of the building to commemorate it.

Construction would last for ten years and along with delays there were many cost over-runs. The building of the foundations was particularly slow and delayed completion. When it opened on September 18, 1899 it was the largest municipal building in North America. The cost ran up to 2.5 million dollars which is the equivalent of 53 million dollars in 2022.

The building was constructed in the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style which was popular for large public buildings in that era. The dominant feature of the building is the 104 metre tall clock tower. It was placed off centre so that it would be seen as central by those looking up Bay Street.

The east side of the building was identified as City Hall and the lettering can be seen among the finely carved sandstone above the doorway.

York County Court House was entered from the west side of the building and the words can be seen in the sandstone carvings above that entrance.

The building features sandstone from the Credit Valley as well as near Orangeville and as far away as New Brunswick. There’s plenty of towers and round arched openings and delicate carvings all around the fa├žade.

The building is four storys tall and includes an attic and basement. The steeply pitched hipped roof is cut by gable dormers and the windows are often set in pairs or arcaded bands with colonettes and stone mullions.

Clock tower still has a working clock and and is set with medieval motifs.

The original gargoyles on the clock tower were in poor shape by 1938 and so they were removed to eliminate the risk that they would fall and injure someone. New ones were fashioned out of bronze in 2002 and installed on the tower bringing back some of its former glory.

The details that can be seen around all four sides include an image of the sun as well as butterflies and caricatures of some of the city councilors who gave Lennox a hard time about the delays and price increases.

It was only a few decades before the building was becoming too small for the size of city council and the courthouse. When Metropolitan Toronto was formed in 1953 the courthouse was moved to Newmarket and City Hall occupied the entire building. In spite of this, the building was destined to be replaced with a new city hall in 1965.

The building shape is known as a quadrangle and it has an inner courtyard. In its present use as a courthouse this is where the police vehicles enter with the people who are being charged with a crime and are facing the judge for trial or a bail hearing. The courtyard can be accessed from the inside of the building but is not open to casual pedestrians who merely wish to look around.

The original plan for the Eaton Centre included the demolition of the Old City Hall but a group of concerned citizens managed to save it. It became a courthouse once again and was designated as a National Historic Site in 1984. The city has built a new courthouse and the plans for the old city hall are once again up for discussion. One plan would see it used as a new city museum. There are over 150,000 historic artifacts in the city archives which are rarely put on display and this could make an excellent home for them.

Old City Hall is just as elaborate inside as it is on the outside and you used to be able to get in on any day that court was in session.

See also our post on Queens Park, another of the historic government buildings in downtown Toronto.

To see a list of our top 50 stories check out our post Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails.

Google Maps Link: Old City Hall

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Bruce Trail – Coolihans To Finnerty

Sunday, May 22, 2022

I decided to go to the Bruce Trail for a hike and to look for a natural feature called The Dingle as well as an old school house associated with it. There’s parking on Coolihans Side Road where the trail crosses and so I headed for there to begin my hike. I had the understanding that I could reach the side trail to The Dingle from the main trail, however, that wasn’t the case. At any rate, I had a good hike through to Finnerty Side Road and back. It was a beautiful afternoon and the trail was basically deserted.

The woods were full of flowers of various colours but these bright yellow ones stood out because of their size. Yellow Wood Poppies grow in shaded areas and are also known as Celandine Poppies. The can grow as a single flower or in large patches like the ones I found along the trail.

There were many patches of trilliums growing in the woods, most of them were white. A few of the white ones had a green stripe running along each petal. These are not a different type of trillium but rather one that has a disease. There is a small virus known as a mycoplasma that infects the plants and causes this discolouration. It will get worse until the plant is no longer able to flower. In some cases the streaks can show up as pink lines on the flowers.

I found a large Garter Snake sunning itself on the trail. It moved into the undergrowth when it saw me coming but I managed to get a picture before it slithered away. I don’t know if it was a male or female but other snakes would have known right away. Garter Snakes leave a pheromone scented trail that is very different for either gender. Some male snakes give of both male and female scents and this can fool other males into trying to mate with them. This isn’t very effective with the other males but it increases the snakes body heat and gets them more interaction with the females.

Red trilliums are less common in this forest than the white ones but there were a few examples scattered around. It is said that ants often carry the seeds of trilliums underground and then eat only the outer part leaving the seed to germinate. Once a trillium starts it will take between 4 and 15 years to flower the first time after which it will flower annually. However, if they are picked it sets them back and they can take up to seven years before they start to flower again.

The Eastern American Toad can have a variable colouring as they adapt to their habitat and the females have a wider variety of markings. Stress and temperature as well as humidity can also play a role in the colours of these toads. The tadpoles protect themselves by the toxic chemicals in their skin which can kill a fish if it eats just one of them.

Carolina Wren are most common in the eastern United States but range into the extreme southern parts of Ontario. If the winter is severe these wrens will not venture as far north but they can have several broods during the summer. The young are often victims of the brown-headed cowbird who raid their nests. Carolina Wrens will mate for several years and live for an average of ten years. They tend to stay out of the open and rarely sit still long enough to get their pictures taken.

The Northern Flicker is a member of the woodpecker family and is medium sized. The males have a red patch on their head like many other woodpeckers in Ontario. Unlike most woodpeckers. the Northern Flicker migrates for the winter season.

Short-winged Blister Beetles are also known as Oil Beetles. They grow to be 8-10 millimetres in length and get their name from the droplets of oil they excrete from their leg joints when they are disturbed. This oil can cause blisters on the skin and is a deterrent to predators. The larva of this beetle is a parasite that attacks the larvae of bees. The one below has a hitch-hiker on its back.

There are lots of Jack-In-The-Pulpits along the trail and these plants can live for up to 100 years. They have very earthy colours and the hood that hides the flower is called a spathe. Although they are not brightly coloured like many of the other spring flowers they are one of my favourites.

At Finnerty Side Road I turned around and made my way back to the car. This trail feels like it is uphill in both directions but it makes a great hike.

Having failed to find the Dingle or the Dingle Schoolhouse it appears that another trip will be in order in the near future.

Check out our top 50 stories at this link: Back Tracks

Google Maps Link: Coolihans Side Road

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Defacing History

May 8, 2022

Many of the historic places we visit have been the victim of graffiti, most often in the form of spray painted tags and images. The cover photo shows the Hyde Mill in Streetsville which was built in 1840. When we visited there in September of 2014 there was very little graffiti on the building. The photo shows what the mill looks like less than 8 years later. Similar activity is happening everywhere including active buildings in the city of Toronto. In the past 50 years the amount of graffiti has increased greatly in most of the western world, much to the delight of spray paint manufacturers everywhere.

Graffiti isn’t a new invention, it’s been around since at least ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. In early days it was often carved into the stonework of buildings. It was popular in the Roman Empire and many examples of it have been found in Pompei, which was buried in 79 AD after the volcano in Mount Vesuvius erupted. Examples of Latin curses and declarations of love have been uncovered on the walls of the buildings during recent excavations. There were also magic spells and insults, many of which had to do with defecation, written on the walls.

A lot of early graffiti was erotic in nature and this continues to be a theme in modern times. In Pompei there were advertisements for various prostitutes describing their talents in great detail as well as descriptions of activities that could be had a the local brothels.

During World War Two, graffiti appeared wherever the allied soldiers were stationed in the form of a bald head with a big nose peering over the top of a wall. The inscription “Kilroy Was Here” was included and became famous. There were even reports that it had been found already on the beaches where the allies landed. It is generally accepted that modern graffiti got started in the subways of New York City with a particular person who identified himself as Taki 183. Around the same time in Philadelphia it began with a young juvenile offender who went my the moniker of Cornbread. Graffiti quickly spread and has gone through several stylistic changes over recent years.

In Ontario it has shown up on all sorts of buildings including a lot of our historically designated structures. The Merritton Tunnel is an abandoned railway tunnel underneath the third Welland Canal. It has been the subject of graffiti on the boards that close the north end of the tunnel as well as inside on the limestone blocks.

Graffiti is considered vandalism in Canada and can lead to a charge of mischief over or under $5,000 depending on the location and size of the markings. Toronto and several other large cities have laws to control this type of vandalism but they place the responsibility for cleaning it up on the property owner. So, it’s not bad enough that your property has been defaced but you have to pay for the removal. In some locations the property owners have had to clean their buildings multiple times, resulting in financial hardships. If they don’t clean it up they can be fined, so there’s no winning either way.

In Milton, the former Robertson Screw factory sits abandoned and has been the subject of multiple tags. A tag is usually a quick, one colour graffiti that identifies a person or a gang. These are often put up in many different places to mark their territory.

Aside from gang activity and personal tags there’s a third type of graffiti which is used by people to declare their love for the sweetheart in their life. This can be a simple phrase painted on a building such as “Jack loves Jill”. Unfortunately, graffiti can also include vandalism against trees in which a heart is sometimes cut into the bark with the couple’s initials inscribed within it. This can’t be removed so easily, and if it is too extensive it can kill the tree.

The century old Long Branch Rifle Range in Mississauga has been the target of multiple, overlapping examples of graffiti.

Some graffiti can be hate motivated! This has included painting Nazi symbols and racist comments on buildings and national monuments. Oakville briefly had a park dedicated to Taras Shevchenko, who was a Ukrainian author from the early 1800s. It was vandalized several times including the painting of graffiti on the monuments and now has been removed and the property developed for a subdivision.

The former office for the Weston Plank Road Company was built in 1846 and is the last remnant of that former wooden road. This building is described in greater detail in our story Elm Bank.

Railway cars and bridges seem to be favourite targets for graffiti. In fact, when it was just getting started in New York City the primary target was subway cars and lines. The bridge below on the lower Don River has been painted over a few times since this picture was taken in April 2015. It is from our feature story on The Don Narrows.

Toronto has an alley where graffiti is encouraged as a local tourist attraction. Some of the artwork in Graffiti Alley is really quite well done and there’s murals that take up the entire sides of buildings. We have a feature story on this location that can be found by following the link to Graffiti Alley.

In our humble opinion, there may be a place for graffiti but it isn’t on the remnants of our historic buildings.

Related stories: Graffiti Alley, Hyde Mill Streetsvile, Merritton Tunnel, Long Branch Rifle Range, Taras Shevchenko, Elm Bank, The Don Narrows

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Bowmanville Valley Trail

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Bowmanville Valley Trail roughly follows the winding course of Bowmanville Creek through the floodplain on the west side of the creek. To explore the section between King Street and Baseline Road I found free parking in the lot on Baseline Road. Beware because it is full of deep holes, so be careful as you drive in. There’s a second parking lot off of King Street which is paved and might make a better choice next time. I hadn’t got out of the parking lot when an American Goldfinch landed in a tree near me. The male is bright yellow in the spring when it is in the mating season. The females are duller in colour, as are the males in the winter.

Bowmanville Creek has its headwaters in the Oak Ridges Moraine and drains about 170 square kilometers in its watershed. The creek was clear and low on this visit but the erosion that brought this tree down suggests that it can be pretty wild at times.

The main trail is paved and fully accessible as it runs for 1.8 kilometers between the Baseline Road and King Street parking lots.

The first tent caterpillars are starting to make their nests in some of the trees along the trail. They start with a small nest and as they grow they will expand it. Tent caterpillars tend to come in cycles with every 9-16 years seeing a larger amount of them. Although they can strip a tree of its leaves they seldom do any permanent damage to the trees. Where they cause significant damage is with pregnant horses. When a horse ingests too many of them while feeding on grass they can spontaneously abort their fetuses. in the year 2001 there was a large infestation in Kentucky and horse owners reported that about one third of all foal fetuses were lost to mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS).

Side trails can be found throughout the area and tend to provide glimpses of wildlife that stays clear of the busier main trail.

There was a large Belted Kingfisher, or perhaps two of them, which refused to sit still long enough to get his picture taken. Great Blue Herons are also attracted to the creek as are sports fishermen. There is a fishing ban within 120 metres of the old dam but they’ve also provided a place where people in wheel chairs can access a good fishing hole allowing them to enjoy the sport as well.

The woods along the trail were full of Trout Lilies. These plants actually have three common names which also include Dogtooth Violet and Adder’s Tongue. The name trout lily is given because the mottled colouring on the leaves is said to resemble to speckles on a brook trout. They bloom in the spring and are one of the first green plants to form a carpet on the forest floor. When they first come up, before the leaves uncurl the bulbs can be eaten raw. They have a sweet flavour but after the leaves form the bulbs lose most of their nutrients to the growing leaves which can also be eaten raw.

In the 1920s a dam was built across Bowmanville Creek by the Goodyear plant to provide water for cooling their equipment as well as for fire suppression. The dam remains in place in spite of the plant closure in 2016 because it provides a barrier to keep lamprey eels from getting upstream. The original fish ladder provided a way for trout to get upstream to spawn but when salmon were reintroduced into the Great Lakes it proved to be restrictive to them and many of them died at the dam. The solution was to build a new fish ladder but while this was going through three levels of bureaucracy volunteers lifted fish over the dam. Finally, on December 16, 2013 the 36-metre Fish By-Pass channel was opened to allow the fish to get past the dam and reach their spawning grounds. It can be seen on the left side of the dam in the picture below.

The Goodyear plant operated form 1910 until it closed and now stands idle on the east bank of the creek. We’ve featured the plant in our recent post called Goodyear Plant Bowmanville.

An old pumphouse stands just to the north of the plant and after being vacant for a few years it has recently been turned into a private residence.

This trail is very popular in the spring and fall when the trout and salmon are going upstream to spawn because the fish ladder makes a great place for viewing them.

Related Stories: Goodyear Bowmanville

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Google Maps Link: Bowmanville Creek Southern Parking Lot

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