Author Archives: hikingthegta

Canada Linseed Oil Mills

July 25, 2021

Linseed oil is also known as flaxseed oil because it is made from pressed flax seeds. It is a polymerizing agent which means that it has “drying” properties where it changes to a solid form when exposed to the oxygen in the air. For this reason, it became useful in the manufacture of paints and putties where its drying needed to be kept in check in sealed containers. Linseed oil was also developed into linoleum from which the product gets its name. The availability of a wide range of plastic polymers that don’t yellow with age has led to the decline of linseed oil production since the 1950’s.

Canada Linseed Oil Mills Limited had their first shareholder meeting in Montreal in 1901 and within the decade plans were made for an expansion of production into the Toronto market. A property was secured on Wabash Street adjacent to the one being developed by the Dominion Bridge Company who were expanding their Lachine, Quebec operation into the city. It was 1910 and industry was springing up in the junction along a rail corridor that originally served the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway as well as the Credit Valley Railway both of which were now under the Canadian Pacific banner. The aerial photo below is from the Toronto Archives and shows the site and its proximity to the railway. The Canada Linseed Oil Mills site is outlined in green while the Dominion Bridge is outlined in blue. The orange buildings are the former grain elevator from the Linseed Oil Mills, now demolished. The small yellow building on the left is the former office and has now been repurposed while the buildings in yellow on the right remain to be potentially restored and turned into a new community centre.

Construction of the buildings was completed in the spring of 1915 and the elevator and buildings were boasted as being fireproof. This was important because linseed oil is very flammable and old rags soaked in it have been known to spontaneously combust. The building is now over 100 years old and the ghost sign advertising the business is barely visible. The word “linseed” can be made out in the image below.

The business was served by a rail spur that ran up Wabash Avenue and delivered flax seed to the elevator and took finished products to the market.

Within a year of the start-up of Canada Linseed Oil Mills, Lowe Brothers Paint and Varnish opened up across the street. Supplying the paint industry across the road as well as the oil cloth industry at Scythes and Company just up the tracks gave them a considerable local market and the proximity to the railway gave them an international market as well. The chimney is showing its age and in several places the bricks are giving away but plans are in place to restore it..

The image below is from promotional materials that the company produced to help market some of its products.

Canada Linseed Oil Mills developed livestock feed called oil cake meal which was made from the leftover plant material after the oils were pressed out. This was sold to farmers for feeding horses and cattle. There were some perfectly good uses for the linseed oil and its by-products but there were also some questionable ones as well. Dr. Chase’s Syrup of Linseed and Turpentine for children’s cough being one of them. The National Drug and Chemical Company marketed a product for children’s cough which contained Licorice, Linseed and Chlorodyne (laudanum, cannabis and chloroform). I guess knocking them out reduced the children’s coughing fits.

With the closure of the factory in 1969 the building has sat vacant for over half a century but its story may be far from over. The city bought the structure for $2 million in the year 2000 and approvals have been made to covert the site into a community centre as a final phase of the Sorauren Park development. Plans call for the retaining and restoration of the chimney and walls and the creation of an indoor pool, gymnasium and a wide variety of community use spaces.

The archive picture below shows the Dominion Steel Company making the girders that continue to hold up the King Edward Viaduct (Bloor Street Viaduct).

This Google Earth capture shows the site of the Canada Linseed Oil Mills as it is today. During World War 2 the Dominion Bridge Company made parts for the military and after the war they closed the factory. It served as the TTC Parkdale bus barns for many years until vacated in 1980. The next plan was to use it for storage of garbage trucks and road equipment but this idea was resisted by the local residents. The community lobbied to turn the site into a park and this was eventually realized after the buildings were demolished around 1990. In 1995 the first phase of the park opened with soil being dumped over the remaining concrete pad from the buildings. This was the easiest way to remediate the site but it has created problems with drainage and plant growth. The two-story former office building for the oil mills was restored and turned into The Fieldhouse in 2008 and has a fully equipped kitchen and washrooms. The site of the former elevators was turned into the Town Common in 2014 which features seating and water permeable paving stones.

With construction of the Wabash Community Recreation Centre scheduled for spring 2023 with a 2026 opening, there’s hope that these buildings will have a future role in the community that’s worthy of their past.

While in the area be sure to visit The West Toronto Rail Path that runs on the former Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway right of way.

Related Blogs: Bloor Street Viaduct , West Toronto Rail Path

Google maps link: Canada Linseed Oil Mills

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Milton Mill Pond

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Milton was founded in 1821 by Jasper Martin who had emigrated from Northumberland, England earlier in the year with his wife Sarah and their two sons. They settled on a property along 16-Mile Creek where they built a grist mill. The community was first known as Martin’s Mills but when it got its first post office it took the name Milton from the English poet John Milton, who was a personal favourite of Jasper Martin. A new stone mill was built in 1856 which survived until 1963 when it burned down. At that time the mill was being operated by Robin Hood Flour who donated the property to the town for a park after the fire. The town developed the park as a Centennial Project to mark the 1967 anniversary of Confederation.

This County Atlas map of 1878 shows the town as it used to be, centred on the mill pond. I’ve marked the approximate route of this hike in green and the waterways in blue.

A restoration of the pond took place in 2000 with invasive plants being removed. The gazebo was built in 2001 and has become a popular place to get wedding photos taken.

There’s a nice trail that runs along a narrow berm between the south side of the mill pond and 16-Mile Creek. There’s plenty of great views out over the pond where people have created small paths so that they could go fishing. It’s interesting to contemplate the importance of this berm to the early millers who were responsible for maintaining the waterway for a mile upstream and downstream. They had to remove fallen trees and other blockages that could cause a sudden surge of water taking out their dam or one downstream somewhere. Jasper Martin scooped this berm up from the bottom of the pond and then would have walked it regularly to keep an eye on things.

The Mill Pond has been stocked with trout but it doesn’t provide a suitable habitat to sustain their populations. People as well as the local heron fish in the pond for carp and panfish and there were several places along the trail where people were fishing. I stopped to watch two young boys fishing and was rewarded with the sight of a heron sitting on a rail on the other side of the pond.

A Painted Turtle was taking in the afternoon sunshine on a log in the middle of the pond. This was a fairly large specimen indicating that it is likely getting fairly old. The Painted Turtle shell is made up of 13 plates or scutes. As the turtle grows it sheds the outer layer of its plates and grows new ones. These plates exhibit growth rings like those on a tree and can be counted to determine the age of the turtle. But, you have to catch him first.

The trail passes under an old rail bridge that provides a pedestrian path across the creek and mill pond. It can be accessed from the park on Mill Street or from the north side of the mill pond but not from the walking trail between the two. We’ll look at the history of this railway later in the article.

This 1911 photo from Milton Images shows a Grand Trunk Railway train crossing the bridge at the mill pond.

Once you pass below the old train bridge you can continue to follow the trail with the creek on one side and the inflow to the mill pond on the other. You will come to concrete blocks which mark the start of the pond and after that the curve of 16-Mile Creek. Crossing over the creek on a small foot bridge you come to a larger forested area which featured several different types of mushrooms. These Oyster mushrooms were growing in large numbers in one small area beside the creek and are considered to be a delicacy by some.

Milton was bypassed by early railways and didn’t get the first one in town until 1876 when the Hamilton & North-western Railway arrived running north-south through town and across the mill pond on the bridge we saw earlier. The Credit Valley Railway arrived the next year running east-west just north of the mill pond. The Hamilton & North-western became the Northern & North-western before being bought by the Grand Trunk Railway late in the century. In 1923 the Grand Trunk became part of the Canadian National Railway and they operated the passenger service on the line until 1973 when the tracks were realigned and service discontinued. I followed the tracks to where they end a little north of the mill pond and also in the other direction to where they used to cross Bronte Road.

Several areas of the forest floor were covered in clusters of White Worm Coral fungus which grows between July and September and is considered edible. The white fingers are quite brittle but become almost translucent when wet.

As you make your way around the far end of the mill pond you come to the John Sproat House which was built in the Georgian style in 1857. This stone home was originally built as a Ladies Seminary Educational Residence but was later used as a private residence. One prominent owner of the house was P. L. Robertson who was the inventor of the Robertson Head Screw.

Orange Mycena mushrooms grow in tight little clusters on deciduous wood and are quite common in Southern Ontario. While this species might have some antibacterial properties, it is also known to be a mutagen which can cause genetic mutations that result in cancer.

Founding father Jasper Martin built his house across the street from the mill in 1821 making it the oldest building in town. This home has paired brackets under the eves and an ornate doorway but little other decoration. The Milton historical society has done a great job of identifying historic homes and putting small white plaques on them describing the original owner and date of construction.

I included this house which stands across the street from the mill pond because I love the style of architecture. The round tower with domed cap is Romanesque and all the accents have been done with terra cotta panels giving the home a unique look. It was built in 1892 for Richard L. Hemstreet the Presbyterian Church bought it to house their various pastors between 1924 and 1970.

The little side excursion along the old railway line towards Bronte Road leads past the rear of the P. L. Robertson Manufacturing Company. Formed in Hamilton in 1907 the factory relocated to Milton the following year and began marketing an industrial screw with a unique square drive, the first socket head screw available. The Robertson Screw was quickly implemented by Canadian manufacturing while the Phillips drive became popular in the United States. The Robertson building and properties are now vacant.

Bronte Pioneer Cemetery is a short walk north of the Robertson factory and was opened in 1824 as the final resting place of many of Milton’s pioneers. Jasper Martin, the town’s founder was buried here when he passed away in 1833. The cemetery is partially forested and has several stones hiding in a rear corner of the grounds. Many of the earliest stones have been collected into a cairn to preserve what remains of them.

The historic mill pond is a great place to go for a quiet walk with plenty of things to see and is reported to be an excellent place to see the fall colours.

Google Maps Link: Milton Mill Pond

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Long Branch Rifle Range

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The story of the long abandoned Long Branch Rifle Range begins with Confederation in 1867. As soon as the British North America Act came into effect on July 1st, the new Dominion of Canada was charged with taking a lead role in its own defence. The following year the Militia District of Ontario established the Ontario Rifle Association. With the Garrison Common Rifle Ranges in operation in 1869 citizens were practicing at Fort York but this soon proved to be dangerous. The Industrial Exhibition (Later the C.N.E.) was bringing more people into the area and a new passenger wharf at the foot of Dufferin Street led the city to ask the militia to move. In 1891 the Federal Government bought land on the west side of Etobicoke Creek and established the Long Branch Rifle Ranges. The site was immediately important, training volunteer militiamen between 1899 and 1902 for service in the Boer War. The range was operated from 1893 to 1910 by the Ontario Rifle Association when it was bought by the Department of Militia and Defence (Renamed Department of National Defence in 1922). In 1910 they constructed thirty wooden baffles on the firing range, two of which can be seen in the picture below. The are the oldest surviving military baffles in the province.

The rifle range can be seen in this 1962 aerial photograph from the Toronto Archives. Sixty years ago the grass was still kept short and there were no trees anywhere on the rifle range. Much has changed in the intervening years.

Baffles were built to dampen the sound and also to stop stray bullets from doing any damage. They varied in size from 4 to 6 feet high and were between 4 and 10 feet long.

The baffles were built with a wooden frame covered with tongue and groove boards. The tops were left open until they could be filled with sand and small stones taken from the shore of the lake.

Only sixteen of the baffles remain and some of them are in poor shape.

In 1925 two concrete backstops were built, each 15 feet high and 35 feet long. An archery or shooting target range is known as a butt and these two were built at 300 yards and 600 yards from the shooting gallery. The end of the 300 yard butt can be seen below as well as the concrete overhang that kept bullets from ricocheting wildly.

The 300 yard butt is pock marked with hundreds of bullet holes across the entire face. The vast majority of the Lee & Enfields 303 munitions that were fired at the butt were aimed at targets below the protective overhang. The concrete here is chewed away to expose the rebar inside and the wooden roof has also been blasted away.

Applewood Creek flows behind the butt and separated the rifle range from Canada’s first aerodrome which was opened by the Curtis Company in 1915. The eastern section of the lot was used to train pilots until 1919 when the Royal Flying Corp discontinued using it and the buildings were demolished.

The rifle ranges were used to train soldiers for the Boer War, the Great War and the Second World War. The A-25 Small Arms School (later S-3 Canadian Small Arms School) held shooting matches here with up to 300 participants from across the country. Between 1939 and 1945 the Long Branches Rifle Ranges were used by the Department of National Defence to train infantry prior to deployment overseas. With its proud history of serving Canadas military its sad to see the baffles warped, broken and overgrown.

The proliferation of vegetation at the site has the benefit of providing habitat for birds, insects and various mammals. Seen below, Banded Hairstreak is one of the more common hairstreak butterflies in Ontario. They can have a fair range of variation in the pattern of the orange and silver spots on the underside of the wing but the brown bands with white borders are a defining feature. They lay their eggs on host branches where they overwinter, hatching in the spring. Banded Hairstreaks have one flight per year in late June or early July.

There are two baffles in the picture below but the river grapes and dog-strangling vines have run wild, engulfing everything.

Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies were darting everywhere and a male is pictured below. He has a green body and plain black wings. They eat mosquitoes, fleas and small insects and are a welcome sight. In turn, they provide meals for turtles, frogs and fish who like to snap them out of the air.

Female Ebony Jewelwings have a brownish body and smoky coloured wings. Their wings also have a small white patch at the tips. The female will mate in the early summer and lays her eggs in aquatic plants. When the naiads are hatched they eat small aquatic insects until they become fully grown. Then they crawl out of the water and molt into their adult form.

The water tower in the distance was built in 1941 to supply water for the Small Arms Manufacturing plant. At the time, it stood in the middle of the manufacturing compound and there were no trees between it and the firing range.

From closer up, the water tower can be seen to also be in a state of deterioration. When we visited here in 2016 the central water pipe was still surrounded by a wooden crib but all of this is now gone. The pipe has also become disconnected a short distance below the platform under the water tank.

This 1957 aerial photo from the Toronto Archives shows the site when all the buildings were still intact. All that remains of the manufacturing complex is the water tower which stands alone in a field of rubble and overgrown roadways. The G. E. Booth Water Treatment plant had not yet been built and the 600 yard backstop was still in place. It was demolished in 1972 to make way for the water treatment plant. All of the original baffles are also still standing at this time.

Two small flood control ponds have been created on the old arsenal lands and the larger of them has become home to painted turtles. On this morning we found 7 of them sunning themselves on various rocks and logs. All of them were small, perhaps a few years old at most. Painted turtles can live 20 to 30 years but some have been known to reach 50 years of age.

Every time I visit this site I always leave with the feeling that something should be done to bring awareness to this bit of local history and I’m even more certain now. Mississauga carried out a Cultural Heritage Assessment in September 2013 but the site has continued to deteriorate in the 8 years since then. It remains to be seen what the future holds for this overlooked bit of our military heritage.

Also see our related blogs; The Arsenal Lands, Small Arms Testing Site and Marie Curtis Park

Google Maps Link: Arsenal Lands

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West Toronto Railpath

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The West Toronto Railpath is currently 2.1 kilometers long and runs along the former right of way of the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway. The County Atlas below shows the area as it looked around 1877. Several railways have already been built through The Junction and more would follow over the next decade. On the map I’ve coloured the Toronto Grey & Bruce in blue with the section on the rail path being green. The Grand Trunk Railway is yellow while the Credit Valley Railway is orange. To the right, The Northern Railway is red.

Before mergers began, there were five railways that intersected in West Toronto, or The Junction. These would eventually become three lines of Canadian Pacific Railway and two of the Canadian National Railway. The crossed each other on a complicated set of tracks known as the West Toronto Diamond Crossings. The archive picture below shows crews working on the diamond in 1924 and is part of an information plaque at the northern end of the rail path.

When the crossings were rebuilt with grade separations, which were much safer, the diamonds were no longer required. The last one was relocated to the trailhead and preserved as part of the information installation.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was incorporated on March 4, 1868 with the official sod turning ceremony being held in Weston in October of the following year. To save money, the railway was built to a narrow gauge of 3’6″ instead of the standard (or Provincial) gauge of 5’6″. This allowed construction to proceed for $5,100 per mile instead of the $8,100 required for the standard gauge. It formally opened on November 3, 1871 with the first train making it to Owen Sound in 1873. The picture below shows a nearly deserted railpath early on a Sunday morning but it filled up quickly with a variety of dog walkers, cyclists and joggers.

There are several works of art along the railpath including murals on a few buildings. One building has been painted in blue and green with the shapes of the vegetation along the building being left white. This allows for a visual growth indicator as the trees and vines continue to grow onto the painted sections. Four steel sculptures have also been erected along with various places to sit and pause as you walk the trail. Other buildings have extensive murals on them.

Railway sidings ran along the track side of most of the industrial buildings in the Junction Triangle. Although the rails are gone the sidings can be spotted by looking for doors that open a couple of feet off the ground. These would have been at the right level to load and unload the rail cars.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was converted to standard gauge in 1881 to make the interchange between its freight trains and those of other lines easier because the cars could just be moved from one line to the other. In 1883 it was leased to the Ontario & Quebec Railway and was taken over by the CPR the following year. By the 1950s the line was known locally as the Old Bruce and when it stopped serving the local industry it was closed for good. The line was dismantled in 1996 and the right of way was purchased by the city for a railpath which opened in 2009.

Catalpa Bignonioides is a flowering tree that is native to the southern states but has adapted to northern climates including parts of Canada. There are some of them in flower along the side of the trail and they produce a powerful scent. The flowers will turn into long beans that hang from the branches. This is just one of the many flowering plants that line both sides of the trail making it a great place to see butterflies and other pollinators.

The Junction hydro substation is tucked in along the rail corridor and has a date stone that reads 1920. For some reason several on line resources, including the Toronto Architectural Conservancy, list the building as having been completed in 1911. Perhaps the 1920 date above the large door refers to an expansion.

By 1883 there were five railways passing through the area and getting around them safely was starting to become a problem for the communities that surrounded the tracks. Workers had to cross the busy rail lines to get to the various industries where they worked. In 1907 a temporary pedestrian bridge was built as the first project designed by the Ontario Bridge Company. It is one of only a few multi-span steel Warren pony truss bridges in the province. It connects Wallace Street with Dundas Street West and was only intended to be in use until two underpasses were created on Dupont and Bloor Street. The bridges that were built over those underpasses are dated 1925 and one of them is featured in the cover photo.

The picture below is looking south from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge in July 1985 and was taken from “Old Time Trains” web page. The tracks would be removed in April 1996.

Milkweed grows in great numbers along the sides of the pathway however I didn’t see any Monarch Butterflies nor any caterpillars. Both seem to be a little scarce so far this season but this will be a great place to see them when they are in full flight.

“Ghost sign” is a term that is sometimes applied to faded lettering or images on the sides of old buildings. Also known as brickads, they were common between 1890 and 1960 with most of them being from the 1920s and earlier. Advertising for Coke was often painted on the sides of convenience stores and for industry it was common practice to paint your company name and perhaps a list of products or services right on your building. Canadian Hanson & Van Winkle erected their building in 1917 on the west side of the rail corridor where they produced equipment for the electroplating, polishing and buffing industries.

Scythes and Company Limited opened their company in the Junction in 1910. Aside from cloth and canvas products the building was also home to the manufacture of pickles, sauces and catsup. Ghost signs adorn all four sides of the building but the side facing the railpath has been freshly painted to restore the original brickads on the building.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway passed through the city and headed north through Cardwell Junction which is now only marked by a set of bridge abutments where two former rail lines once crossed. From there it went a short distance north to where it climbed the escarpment on a long horseshoe shaped curve. This was the location of a tragic derailment on September 3, 1907 known as the Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster.

Approval has been made to extend the trail another 2 kilometers with an agreement between Metrolinx and the city to complete it in 2022. A third phase could see the trail extended to Strachan Avenue.

This is a convenient trail because of all the places where there is access and it’ll be interesting to come back and check out the extension when completed.

Other Rail Trails in Toronto: Leaside Spur Trail, the Beltline Railway is described in three parts: Kay Gardner Beltline, Moore Park Beltline and York Beltline Trail.

Other Toronto Grey & Bruce Blogs: Cardwell Junction, Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster

Google Maps Link; West Toronto Rail Path

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The Whitney Block – Toronto’s Empty Tower

June 27, 2021

In Toronto, almost any building that has been vacant since last Thursday has a sign on it for redevelopment as a condo project. So how is it that we have one right downtown that was last used in 1968? Its roots lie in the Ontario Legislature building at Queens Park which was completed in 1892 when the province had a population of just over 2.1 million people. Over the next two decades the population grew by 40 percent and the government quickly outgrew a couple of expansions. Rather than adding a couple of more floors to Queens Park it was decided in 1923 to purchase the land on the east side of Queens Park Crescent. Francis R. Heakes was the Chief Architect for Public Works Ontario and was given the task of designing the new office space that would occupy the site. Envisioning the ongoing growth of the province he designed a facility that could be expanded easily. Plans called for 3 east-west wings, joined by a central north south hallway. Three identical wings could be added, one at a time as required to the south of them. During design and construction it was known as the East Block and the corner stone was laid on July 30, 1925. Each wing was 6 floors except the centre one which had a 7th floor at the front. The first three wings opened on March 26, 1928. The Google Earth capture below shows the site today with the original three wings to the north, the central tower and a fourth wing to the south of it. The land purchased for the fifth and sixth wings is now a park. The MacDonald Block is comprised of the taller buildings to the east.

With the Depression less than a year old, the government approved the next expansion partially as a make work program. The first three wings had cost $2.5 million, of which only $2,000 had not been spent on Canadian materials and labour. The second phase would be similar with all local materials and a hand dug foundation. Francis Heakes died in September 1930 and George White was brought in to complete the works. He added a 16 story tower that had not been in the original plans.

Art Deco architecture became popular around 1915 and had run its course by 1940. One way to recognize Art Deco is the artwork that the buildings are decorated with. These government buildings are no exceptions and display quatrefoils everywhere. A quatrefoil is made of four overlapping circles and in the original Latin context it applied a four-leaf clover. The Canadian Imperial Bank tower is another great example of Art Deco in the city.

The doorways have a nice Gothic arch which gives each of the buildings an interesting entranceway.

Twelve carvings by Toronto sculptor Charles Adamson adorn the buildings with one each on the four upper corners and two on each side a couple of floors lower.

The four carvings on the upper floor are all female and represent Justice, Tolerance, Wisdom and Power (seen below).

Each side of the building has two male figures set in the following pairs: Farming and Forestry, Law and Education, Labour and Mining and finally Finance and Health with the latter being shown below. The tower had a bowling alley in the basement and an entire floor for animals being kept by the Department of Health. It also still has a hand-cranked elevator, perhaps the last one remaining in the city. Unfortunately, one of the problems with the building was poor ventilation and the only way to get fresh air was to open the windows. Government employees were never happy with the slow elevator and the single stairwell. This lack of egress in case of emergency situations led the building to be deemed a fire hazard. All but the first few floors have now stood empty for over 50 years. The tower was featured in the movie “Chicago” and many claim that the spirit of Francis Heakes still haunts its hallways.

Even before the East Block was completed it was being called The Whitney Block although it would have to wait until 1966 to get the name officially. James P. Whitney was elected to his first term in 1905 as the first Conservative Premier in 33 years. Whitney was elected to four consecutive majority governments winning at least 70% of the seats each time. He died in 1914 shortly after the fourth victory making him the only premier to die while in office. His legacy includes bringing power to Ontario through the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario as well as passing the Workers Compensation Act. The image below shows the carving “Agriculture”.

This Toronto Archives aerial photo is from 1956 and shows the houses and buildings that used to stand on the south end of the site. These were cleared away in 1958 in preparation for the construction of the fifth and sixth wings.

However, even as they were planning the next phase of construction it was becoming obvious that two more 6-story wings would not be enough to meet the needs of the ever expanding provincial government. The idea was scrapped and instead the Macdonald Block was built to the east of the site. It consist of four towers of 24, 14, 14, and 10 stories and like the Whitney Block is currently undergoing a massive renovation project which includes new windows and energy efficiency upgrades. A park was developed on the site and now is home to the Ontario Police Memorial. Below the statues of a male and female police officer are the names of those who died in service.

This drawing shows what the Whitney Block would have looked like when it was fully built out. It was taken from the Archives of Ontario and is dated to around 1930.

It’s hard to say what the future holds for this building but the exterior has been kept well restored and perhaps one day a plan will be made to do something with the interior. A proposed exterior staircase on the east side of the building (hidden from Queens Park) and ventilation upgrades might put the tower back into service. However, the single stairway might be adequate if the building was opened for tours and to allow people to get a closer look at the carvings. Time will tell.

Further reading from a little different perspective can be found in these recent articles by Now Magazine and Blog TO

Also see our post on Queens Park

Google Maps Link: Whitney Block

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The Battle Of Beaver Dams – June 24, 1813

June 24, 2021

As the War of 1812 entered its second year the Americans had opened the campaign with two quick victories. On April 27th 1813 they had won The Battle of York, capturing the town as well, but had retreated on May 8th to focus their resources on capturing the Niagara Peninsula. On May 27th they landed near Fort George and succeeded in capturing it. Rather than chase the retreating British, the Americans took their time and only reached Stoney Creek on the 5th of June. A daring attack under cover of night led to the British winning The Battle of Stoney Creek and the Americans retreating back to Fort George. We pick up the story a couple weeks later with the key players located as indicated on the Google Earth capture below. The Americans under Brigadier General John Parker Boyd were in Fort George and the British advance guard were at Decew (DeCou) House. Laura Secord was at her family homestead in Queenston.

The Americans were anxious to break out of Fort George and engage the British forces in an attempt to regain momentum. They decided to send 600 soldiers under the command of Colonel Charles Boestler to capture the 50 British troops that were positioned at Beaver Dams.

Meanwhile, Laura Secord was living at this little one story Georgian Cottage since 1803 and would continue to do so until 1835. Her home had already been invaded and ransacked by the American army during the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. Following the victory at Fort George, several officers had been billeted at the Secord home. When Laura overheard plans to make an attack on the British advanced post at Decew House she decided she needed to alert them to the danger. She set out on a 32 kilometer journey on June 22, 1813. One story has her bringing a cow along in case she was questioned and needed an alibi about doing farm work. On a side note, her house was in poor shape by 1971 when the Laura Secord Chocolate Company renovated it in her honour and later donated it to the Niagara Parks Commission.

James FitzGibbon was stationed at John Decew’s stone house near Beaver Dams with one company of the 49th Foot soldiers. After passing through woods and swamps Secord was able to reach him with the aid of some Natives that she encountered. She was able to warn him of the impending attack. The Decew house would have looked much as it did in 1925 in this photo from Wikipedia.

The Decew house was damaged by a fire in 1938 and sat boarded up until 1950 when it was destroyed by another fire. It then was declared as a National Historic Site, somewhat belatedly. The walls were reduced to the height of the window sills and given a concrete topping to hold them together. The basement was filled in with rubble and flag stones laid down for a floor. There’s a plaque installed to describe the history of the house.

Early in the morning of June 24th the Americans set out from Fort George and after passing St. David’s they found a trail to the top of the escarpment. About 300 Khanawakhe (Christianized Mohawks) and another other 100 Mohawks began to close in on the American troops and began to set an ambush. When the Natives opened fire and wounded the American Colonel they sent the troops into a panic for fear of being scalped. This is when FitzGibbons rode onto the battlefield under a white flag of truce. He convinced the wounded Boestler that if he didn’t surrender the Natives would run wild and slaughter the entire American contingent. Based on this claim a surrender was negotiated even though the American troops could have probably carried the day if they had called the bluff. The cairn pictured below was erected in Battle of Beaverdams Park to commemorate the events.

After the battle the Mowhawks claimed 5 dead and 20 wounded while there were 25 Americans killed and 50 of the 489 prisoners taken were wounded. An obelisk was erected in 1874 to mark the graves of 16 unidentified American soldiers that were buried on the battlefield. It was moved to the new Battle of Beaverdams Park in 1976.

Following this battle the Americans would be demoralized and confined to Fort George. For the Americans, the Niagara Peninsula campaign was over for the year. They continued to send out small scouting parties to keep an eye on the British but when they encountered a large reconnaissance force on December 10th they feared an attack was being planned. Brigadier-General George McClure decided to abandon the fort and ordered a retreat across the Niagara River.

First Nations People don’t celebrate wars or victories the way that white people do. They don’t want to relive the battle and usually won’t participate in re-enactments. Their idea is to celebrate the peace that follows the struggle. The Peace Monument at Decew House Heritage Park is intended to help generate an deeper understanding of First Nations People and their culture as well as their contributions to the founding of Canada. The memorial has a couple of children’s stuffed toys in memorial to the recent finding of 215 children buried in a Residential School in B.C.

The Bruce Trail leads directly to Decew House and then to Decew Falls. Decew House is one end of the Laura Secord Legacy Trail with the other end being at her home in Queenston. The trail is 32 kilometers long (20 miles) and is a close approximation of the very route she took as she walked into history. It can be walked in its entirety but has been broken up into five convenient sections for trail users.

The Laura Secord Legacy Trail is described in detail on the Friends Of Laura Secord website.

The Battle of Beaverdams Park is not the actual location of the battle field which was on the other side of the Thorold Tunnel. This new park was created in 1976 on land reclaimed when the Second Welland Canal was drained and filled in. The name “Beaver Dams” was contracted into a single word for the park name. The sides of Lock 25 can be seen in the picture below and it was the highest elevation Escarpment lock on the canal, which had opened in 1845. The monuments were moved from the actual battlefield to this site but the American soldiers remain interred where they’ve lain for over two centuries.

The anchor on display in the park is also a reminder of the days when ships used to pass through here on their way between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Details of the War of 1812 many be unknown to many Canadians but few people haven’t heard of Laura Secord because she has become a celebrated heroine of the conflict. Or is it just because of the candy store? We hope not.

Other War of 1812 Stories: Battle Of Queenston Heights, Battle of York, Battle of Stoney Creek

Google Maps Link: Battle of Beaverdams Park, Fort George, Laura Secord House, Decew House

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Ghost Towns of York Region

Sunday, June 20, 2021

York Region has many small communities that have shrunk from their late 1800s sizes and faded almost into oblivion. They have lost their industry, blacksmiths and hotels and usually their stores as well. We refer to these as ghost towns although in the strictest sense they aren’t really. This blog collects 7 of the ones that we have visited and arranges them in alphabetical order. Each has a picture that represents the community as well as a brief description. The link for each will take you to a feature article on the community which has the local history as well as pictures of any surviving architectural features. At the end of each feature article is a google maps link in case you should wish to explore for yourself someday. Future companion blogs in this series will cover the ghost towns of the Peel Region, Halton Region, and the City of Toronto.

Cedar Grove still has it’s historic school and Lapp’s Cider Mill but the real treasure is Cedarena. The skating rink operated from 1927 until 2015 and now it sits waiting for skaters who never show up.

Elders Mills formed around a crossroad and thrived for a couple of decades before it went into decline. Several of the original houses and the 1872 school house still remain. A couple of the houses as well as the school have been incorporated into new structures which has saved them from demolition. The homes on the farms around the town have been removed as the land has been cleared for housing.

The former community of Laskay has declined considerably and now the old Methodist Church is a home. A few historic buildings still line the street but the best preserved of all is the old Laskay Emporium which serves as an fine example of a country store and post office at Black Creek Pioneer village. Filled with period merchandise it is a real blast from the past.

Maple has grown into a larger community but there’s still lots of older homes and the historic train station to remind us of the small town that started in the early 1800s. There’s also this amazing log home built with massive timbers that hides in a woodlot on the edge of town.

Ringwood has a lot of abandoned buildings including this 1887 school house which has some interesting wood paneling on the front. At that time, the population was 300 but began declining almost right away until within a few decades there were only 13 students in the school.

Sherwood was larger than Maple at one point but quickly faded into a couple of churches and a few homes. Most of these have since been demolished in order to build a large train switching facility. The Zion Evangelical Church still holds services and has an extensive pioneer cemetery.

Every Ghost Town has its pioneer cemetery where you can check out the old grave markers and remember the people who lived there a couple of hundred years ago. Some even have markers or cairns for Indigenous Peoples who lived here centuries ago and are buried within the community. Teston has both types of burial grounds but neither is well marked and even the pioneer head stones are missing.

Compared to Toronto and some of the other surrounding areas, York Region has still got quite a bit of its pioneer heritage in place.

Other ghost town collections: Ghost Towns of Toronto, Ghost Towns of Peel Region, Ghost Towns of Halton Region.

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The Grand River In Galt

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Grand River is one of our Heritage Rivers and has been a means of travel and a source of power for centuries. William Dickson came to the Grand River area in 1816 and bought 90,000 acres of land with the intention of establishing a town and developing his land holdings. He built a mill at the confluence of Mill Creek and The Grand River and established Shade’s Mills which would be renamed Galt by 1827. The river made it possible for the establishment of Galt as an industrial centre. The residents built their early community along Water Street, an aptly named roadway.

There’s lots to see in the old town of Galt but this post focusses on the buildings along Water Street. I parked in the parking lot near the Mill Restaurant and walked south along the river. The county atlas map below shows Galt in 1877. I’ve coloured the river blue and the section of Water Street that I explored is coloured green.

There has been a dam on the Grand River in Galt since 1837 when water was first harnessed for power in the Dickson Mill. This same dam would also provide power to the Turnbull Woolen Mill and several other downstream establishments.

The Dickson Mill was built in 1843 and named after Robert Dickson who was a son of Galt founder William Dickson. When its milling days were over it was converted into the Galt Gas and Light Company which generated electricity to light the streets and homes of town. They operated between 1889 and 1911 when power arrived in town from Niagara Falls. In 1980 it was converted into The Mill Restaurant.

In 1974 there was a severe flood which caused damage to the riverbank and several historical structures along Water Street. This led the city to form a riverbank development program which saw the creation of Mill Race Park along with other stabilization projects. Robert Turnbull and John Deans had operated a knitting mill in Galt since 1859 and had taken over the old Wardlaw Mill on this site and used it between 1890 and 1897 when it burned down. It was rebuilt and operated under various names until 1972. The ruins have been incorporated into an amphitheater and park area for use by everyone.

The mill race carried a flow of water from the dam and along the side of Water Street where it was used by a series of mills. The turbine still remains in the mill race beside the old Turnbull Woolen Mill. Water rushed through a penstock at the bottom of the mill race to turn the turbine. It turned the belts that ran on the smooth wheels and supplied power to the knitting mill.

Morris Lutz built this Georgian style limestone house in 1850. Lutz had arrived in Galt in 1844 and became part of the Dumfries Foundry where he was foreman in the machine shop. Morris was elected to the first town council and when Galt was incorporated as a city in 1857 he was the first mayor.

Galt got a new post office in 1936 which replaced the one that still stands a little farther down Water Street. This handsome stone building with clock tower has been home to the post office ever since.

The Bank of Toronto opened a branch on Water Street in 1912 and this Beaux-Arts style building is unique in town. It has white glazed tiles on the exterior that are similar to pottery, another example of bank buildings that were designed to stand out from their neighbours.

Andrew Carnegie donated $23,000 for the construction of a new library for the Town of Galt in 1905. Carnegie gave away 90% of his fortune which is roughly $5.2 Billion in 2021 value. He funded about 3,000 libraries in the belief that libraries should be free to the local community. This Beaux-Arts style building housed the library for over 60 years and has since been home to several businesses. It is currently available for lease.

The First Delta Baptist Church was built in 1887 and is a mixture of Romanesque and Italianate styles. In Ontario it is rare for a church to be built with river or waterfront property. Usually they are on side streets, often conveniently named Church Street. The Baptist congregation formed in Galt in 1851 and they met in houses until 1872 when they started using the Primitive Methodist building. Robert Scott donated the land for the church which was deconsecrated in 1980 and then sold to the city for use as a theatre.

This archive photo shows the Baptist Church in 1902. It is interesting to see how the building has changed over the years. The main alteration is the elimination of the two doors on either corner and the opening of a central doorway. The side doors have been bricked in to disguise the fact that they ever existed. The new central door has also been closed in during the intervening years. There appears to be a new small window in between the two buttresses beside the new doorway.

George Landreth arrived in Galt in 1831 and found work in one of the many mills in town. He had this Georgian Cottage built in 1858 and it still has its original doorway with the multipaned side lights and transom. Along with the Lutz home featured above, it is one of just two original homes that remain in the original core of Water Street.

The Imperial Block was built in 1887 and was almost like an early strip mall. This Romanesque Revival structure at one time was home to the Commercial Bank, a grocery store, a tailor shop, a dress maker, tobacco dealer, hairdresser, dentist and a music store.

Scott’s Block was built in 1890 in the Romanesque Revival style. It has a terra cotta tower on top and detailed brickwork on the front. A two story oriel window stands out from the crowd of historic buildings on Water Street.

The Galt Woolen Factory is the oldest surviving textile mill in the city. It was built in 1843 for Isaac Sours who operated it until 1852. During this time his employees worked an average of 64 hours per week. In 1881 it became the Tiger Brand Knitting Company and today has been converted into offices and apartments.

In 1885 the Federal Government commissioned a new post office for Galt which was also used for as a Customs and Inland Revenue Office. It has some of the most interesting masonry work of all the stone buildings in Cambridge which has been preserved in the restoration and expansion project that brought the glass section to the rear.

Partial ruins of old mills and factories line both sides of Water Street and there is a great deal of history being retained in creative ways. Plenty of communities could learn from this example. The Canada Machinery Corporation had a Pattern Works Shop and Stores building beside the river where it forged machinery parts. They operated until 1979 and in 1984 the remains of their building were incorporated into another public park with its history intact.

The Galt branch of the Great Western Railway opened in 1854. Some portions of the former right of way along Water Street can still be traced and the old stone abutments can be seen where it crosses a small creek.

This blog is focused on Water Street and really doesn’t get into Main Street and some of the other parts of town. If you explore these areas you will find the 1857 Town Hall, the 1838 Dumfries Township Hall and the old Galt Firehall among the many interesting buildings in town.

Other Grand River stories: The Shand Dam, The Elora Gorge, West Montrose Bridge (Kissing Bridge)

Google Maps Link: Mill Race Park Cambridge

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The Battle of Stoney Creek

June 6, 1813

The Battle of Stoney Creek may not have been significant in terms of the number of combatants or in casualties but the outcome had a profound impact on the course of the War of 1812. The war had entered its second year with the Battle of York on April 27th, 1813. Capturing York might have been good for morale after the series of losses the Americans had sustained the previous year, but holding it didn’t have great military purposes. So the Americans had withdrawn and focused their attention on capturing the Niagara Peninsula. On May 27th a force of 7,000 men had attacked Fort George with the support of 16 warships. The fort was captured and the British forces of 1,800 men had retired to Burlington Heights where they had dug in to make a defensive stand. The map below was taken from Pierre Burton’s War of 1812 and shows the formation of the battle.

The American forces slowly made their way up the peninsula from Fort George and by the night of June 5-6 had arrived at Stoney Creek. They camped on the property of James Gage who lived with his mother and his wife in their family homestead. Mary Jones Gage had moved to Canada in 1790 and had been building their home in stages since 1796. They had originally lived in the basement while the upper levels were being built. The Americans commandeered their house as a headquarters for Brigadier General John Chandler and had locked the Gage family in the basement.

Billy Green and his brother Levi spent the afternoon of June 5th tracking the advancing army from the top of the escarpment and scaring them by howling in the woods and pretending to be natives. Billy’s brother in-law Isaac had been taken prisoner by the Americans but had been released after claiming to be related to William Henry Harrison, the US President. They gave him the password of the day which he then shared with Billy. Armed with this information, Green made his way to the British camp at Burlington Heights.

Convinced that a surprise attack under cover of night was the only hope for the British due to their much smaller forces, they set off to march to Stoney Creek. The British removed the flints from their guns to prevent accidental firing so as not to alert the Americans of their approach. When they arrived in Stoney Creek they found that a sentry had been posted at the Methodist Church. While giving him the password, Billy Green dispatched him with his bayonet. The plan was to sneak into the camp and kill as many sleeping soldiers as possible by bayonetting them. Instead, the British started yelling in their excitement and the whole camp was awoken. A confusing battle ensued in the darkness with the British capturing four of the six the American field guns. One after the other, both of the American leaders approached the guns to see why they weren’t firing and were captured by the British. Eventually both sides retreat convinced the other side had won the battle.

The American forces retreated to Fort George where they were trapped until the end of the year at which time they slipped back across the Niagara River and returned home. With the exception of another loss at The Battle of Beaver Dams on June 24th, the American campaign on the Niagara Peninsula was over for the year.

Battlefield House has been restored as a museum and is furnished to illustrate life at the time of the war. There’s also plenty of artifacts to help illustrate the battle and these can be viewed as part of a guided tour. The picture below shows the back of the house as seen from the base of the monument.

Sara Calder was the great grand-daughter of Mary Jones Gage and had been born in 1846. When the Wentworth Historical Society had been formed in 1888 she was the president of the ladies committee. In 1899 the women broke away and formed the Women’s Wentworth Historical Society. Later that year they purchased the Gage Homestead for $1900.00 and on October 23, 1899 Battlefield Park was opened. The ladies began planning for a monument to mark the site of the battle and a corner stone was laid on May 26, 1910. With their $5000.00 grant expended, work on the tower was stopped after a year with just the first 25 feet built. It would take another $10,000.00 and three more years to complete the project.

It was 1:25 p.m. on June 6, 1913, exactly 100 years after the battle, that the monument was officially opened. Queen Mary, consort to King George V, pressed a button in Buckingham Palace and a signal was sent along a telegraph line to drop a shroud and reveal the monument.

The tower has been closed since the pandemic began but as I was the only visitor when I was there physical distancing wasn’t a problem and I was allowed inside to see the ground level displays. Regular safety inspections of the stairs had not been completed for months and so I wasn’t allowed to climb to the top. Perhaps another time I’ll have the opportunity to check out the view. Meanwhile, I love the castle doors at the base of the monument.

Allan Smith was plowing his field in 1899 when he started to find human bones in a small knoll. Scraps of cloth and buttons also came to the surface indicating that both British and American soldiers had been buried there. The plot of land became locally known as Smith’s Knoll and was consecrated as “Soldier’s Plot” on May 3, 1908. A cairn with a lion on it was dedicated on August 1, 1910. The pictures for this story were taken on November 6, 2020 which is why the trees are in their fall colours.

The Nash-Jackson house was built in 1818 and formerly stood at the corner of King Street East and Nash Road. Five generations of the Nash family lived in the home and an earlier home on the property was used as a field hospital following the Battle of Stoney Creek. The city was deeded the house in 1996 and moved it to Battlefield Park in 1999.

The Battle of Stoney Creek was a turning point in the war and the Americans would never again penetrate as far up the Niagara Peninsula.

Related blogs in our War of 1812 series: Battle of York, Battle of Queenston Heights

Google Maps link: Battle of Stoney Creek

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Dominion Wheel and Foundry Company

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Dominion Wheel and Foundry Company supplied railway components to the Canadian Northern Railway and in 1914 started an operation in the industrial zone near Gooderham and Worts Distillery. They made car wheels, brake shoes, the nickel iron centres for passenger wheels and other cast iron car parts. Cone valves for stop and check, pressure regulating, liquid level and altitude controls were also made on site. Outside of the railway industry they were also involved in the manufacture of parts and equipment for paper mills and printing presses. They were originally owned by the Canadian Northern Railway and later by the Canadian National Railway.

The photo below was taken from the Toronto Archives and shows the extent of the operation in 1947 when it reached all the way to Cherry Street. The buildings outlined in green have already disappeared leaving only the four outlined in blue. These are the foundry, warehouse, offices and machine shop.

The foundry building was where metal ingots were heated and poured into molds to produce the parts for repairing the rolling stock of the railway. The foundry has a low pitched gabled roofline that is less common in industrial buildings.

This undated photo from Friends of the Foundry shows the interior of the foundry when it was in operation. I can only imagine the heat in this place in the middle of the summer.

The entrance to the office building was located on the north wall and had single story pilasters on either side. Unfortunately, It can’t be appreciated because of the hoarding that was recently installed.

The office building is the only one that has any type of extra ornamentation. The walls are buttressed with brick piers that have small cut stone detailing at the tops. There’s also brick corbelling along the roofline with small stone details worked in.

When the foundry closed down the buildings were temporarily occupied by MSR Inc. into the late 1980’s. Since then it has stood empty while debates over the future of the entire 80 acre industrial zone went on. The City and Province proposed to develop the entire area for affordable housing in 1988. It is located in the flood plain for the Don River and so flood control and years of contamination required extensive remediation before development could begin. This new community would have been called Ataratiri after the Huon village that was destroyed near Midland in 1649. In this plan, the entire area would have been razed and all the buildings lost. Property values declined in the early 1990’s and along with skyrocketing remediation costs led to the project being cancelled.

The picture below shows the side of the warehouse with its double rows of windows and lack of any ornamentation, except for a single row of corbel under the roofline.

The city added the four remaining buildings to their heritage inventory in 2004 and a plan was put forward that would have developed them into a community hub with a musical theme. There would have been studios and places to jam as well as community kitchens and meeting areas. This also didn’t happen.

The machine shop had a full wall of two story windows that let a lot of morning light in through its five bays.

The Pan Am Games were held in Toronto in 2015 and the 80 acre industrial zone became a new project. Now known as the West Don Lands, it was partially redeveloped as housing for the athlete’s village. When the games were being planned the foundry buildings were used for this purpose and during this time Prince Charles visited them. Since then, development has continued unabated with the whole area east of the old Canary Restaurant being turned into midrise condos .

In 2020 the foundry site was announced as the future home of Eastern Avenue Affordable Housing. In January 2021 the Provincial Government invoked a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to allow the development to proceed without delay or further community consultation. Demolition began almost immediately. So did the public outcry. Within days the demolition was put on hold and the damaged sections of the foundry building were boarded over.

The southern elevation of the Machine Shop shows a lot of new wood that has been installed to replace the original window boarding on the buildings. This was done at the specific request of the provincial government who found the anti-demolition graffiti on the older boards to be disturbing. The local community had left chalk and encouraged anti-demolition comments which support the preservation of this part of our railway heritage. It appears from the door in the picture below that the city workers have left a few pro-demolition comments behind.

The 1959 surveyors map below shows the industrial area and how it was completely intertwined with the railways. Much of this railway heritage has already been lost to redevelopment and it remains to be seen what happens to the remnants. The Smithsonian Institute has recognized the cultural heritage of the industry and has one of Dominion Wheel and Foundry’s catalogues in their collection.

A few decades ago this would have vanished without thought but the tide has turned and people are more aware of the diminished cultural heritage that we retain. Hopefully we can continue to influence how it is retained and maintained.

Relevant Blogs: The Distillery District, Canary Restaurant

Google Maps Link: 153 Eastern Avenue

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