There is a series of linear parks that run east of Yonge Street in North York that comprise Willowdale Park North and Willowdale Park South. Starting in 2014, part of Willowale Park North was expanded by demolishing three developer owned residences and the newly created park was named Lee Lifeson Art Park. Construction of the park took place in 2016 with the grand opening being held on September 17, 2016. It was held in the rain with Mayor John Tory giving Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson (as well as Neil Peart who wasn’t present) the keys to the city in front of a few hundred Rush fans.
The one remaining house on the property was purchased by the city in 2015 for just over $2,058,000 with the intention of demolishing it and adding the property to the park. The current tenant was given a four year lease with three options to renew for a five year period each. Therefore, it could be 2034 before this becomes part of the park. The city has acquired several other properties with the intention of expanding Willowdale Linear Park. The December 2015 Google Earth capture below shows the three yet to be demolished houses circled in green while the one remaining home has the park name written over the roof.
Geddy Lee (Gary Lee Weinrib) was born on July 29, 1953 in Willowdale and went to Fisherville Public School with Alex Lifeson (Aleksandar Zivojinovic) who was born on August 27, 1953. In September 1968 they joined forces in the band that would go on to become Rush.
There is a permanent three part art installation in the park called 120 Mirrors which is inspired by the gramophone. The Horn of Reflection was created as a space for someone to sit inside and enjoy the soundscape as it is captured and amplified by the shape. However, you can’t get into the cone anymore because the end has been closed off.
The Hornucopia can be used to amplify sound within the park and by rotating it you can pick up distant bird songs.
Speak and Listen is the installation that has been overtaken by this garden in the picture below. Sound can be transmitted between the two points in much the same way that cup on the wall or a pair of cans on a string can.
Looking from the south east end of the park you can see the band shell and the three level amphitheater west of it.
The bandshell in Lee Lifeson Art Park is fittingly named Limelight after one of the songs on Rush’s 1981 album Moving Pictures. It was their most successful record, having sold over 5 million copies. Limelight was designed on a computer to amplify and direct sound with the best acoustics possible. It is based on a parabolic reflector and is covered with thousands of black glass mosaic tiles. It allows formal and informal presentations to be heard throughout the park. Limelight was created by Paul Raff Studios who also did the mosaic mural of Lee and Lifeson that can be seen in the cover photo and also later in the article.
The park is cut throughout by winding paths that lead among the plantings and art exhibits. Performances in the park were scheduled on a regular basis before being temporarily stopped by COVID restrictions. There’s plenty of space for people to sit on the grass and enjoy a show when the amphitheater is full.
Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and their partner in rhyme, Neil Peart, created a legacy of music that will be enjoyed for years to come. Sadly, Neil Peart passed away on January 7, 2020 but not before amassing 14 Platinum records and 24 Gold ones with sales of over 40 million albums. Together they toured the world multiple times and performed for this writer on 12 occasions beginning in 1982. Lee and Lifeson have been featured in a mosaic mural on the west end of the amphitheater where the washrooms and support buildings are located.
Lee Lifeson Art Park is only about 7,000 square meters, for now, but is an interesting little enclave among the high rises of North York. And, it’s a fitting tribute to two of the neighbourhood’s most nationally and internationally recognized men.
Marita Payne Pond is in a small residential park that follows the Don River through the Dufferin Road and Steeles Avenue area. The pond, and the park it is located in are named after Marita Payne who is a Vaughan resident. She is remembered for winning two silver medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She is also currently a co-holder of the Canadian record for the 400-metre dash.
The park was developed on the grounds of the former Glen Shields Golf Course (1952-1979) where it ran along both sides of the Don River. The 1967 aerial photo below is from the Toronto Archives and shows the river and an earlier pond where Marita Payne Pond is today. The fairways and greens from the old golf course can still be seen in the picture. The table lands were developed for housing while the ravine areas were turned into Glen Shields Park and Marita Payne Park.
The pond serves as a flood control feature by holding heavy rainfall until it can be slowly released into the Don River. The pond is fairly small but has a surprising amount of wildlife.
Although the pond has been home to a Great Blue Heron for the past several summers it was a pleasant surprise to see a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron standing on the rocks at the storm water outfall into the pond. Juveniles have a brown colour with lighter streaks and a pale yellow beak. As they mature the belly turns a pale white and they develop a black crown and back. As their name suggests, they are nocturnal and do most of their feeding in the evenings. During the day they can be hard to spot because they sleep in trees or dense foliage. The average Black-crowned Night Heron can expect to live for about 20 years.
Great Blue Herons, on the other hand tend to live for around 17 years. With their wingspan of nearly two meters they are able to reach speeds of 55 kilometers per hour in flight. It’s common for them to nest in large colonies and then fly for up to an hour each day to reach their feeding places. There has been a Great Blue Heron at Marita Payne Pond for several years in a row and it’s likely the same one each year. Birds that have been banded for tracking purposes are known to migrate to the same place each winter and return to the same nesting grounds each spring. For some reason many of these birds moved farther north this spring and we seem to have a lot more of them in the GTA. The Great Blue Heron in the cover photo is a second one, the first time I have ever seen two at this little pond. It is flying with its neck stretched out straight unlike the normal retracted “S” curve we usually see when they’re in flight.
Painted Turtles usually live between 20 and 30 years but some have been known to survive for 50 years. When you see the feet of Painted Turtles you may notice that some of them have long nails while others have relatively short ones. The long-nailed ones are the males and they use them to stroke the female turtle on the head to indicate interest in mating. If she is tickled correctly she will dive to the bottom of the water and wait for him to come and mate. When I took the picture below I thought there was just one turtle in it but a second one decided to photobomb my picture. That was nice of it.
Call Ducks are domesticated and sometimes kept for pets. They were developed in the mid-19th century as hunting ducks. They were specifically bred to be smaller than average ducks so that they could lure other ducks into funnel traps and then escape through the small exit. They also have a distinct call that carries well and can lure wild ducks from great distances. With the advent of duck whistles and the decline in popularity of hunting, Call Ducks became relatively rare. In the mid-20th century they made a come-back as show ducks and as livestock on hobby farms where they are raised for eggs and food. The pair of Call Ducks at Marita Payne Pond were quite attached to each other and when they decided to sleep they snuggled up and dozed off.
I was surprised to see a Cormorant at Marita Payne Pond for the first time in nearly 20 years of visiting here. An adult Cormorant will eat about a pound of fish per day which is nearly 10,000 pounds in their 23 year lifetime. The pond is said to have Bass, Carp, Sunfish, Catfish and Black Crappie but I wonder if it isn’t being over-fished by the large predatory water birds.
Pleated Inkcap Mushrooms grow in short grass or on wood chips and can be found in the mornings, especially the day after a rain storm. These little mushrooms are also known as Little Japanese Umbrella and the caps are between 1 and 2 centimeters and stand atop a 6 centimeter stem which is only 4-5 millimeters in diameter.
These mushrooms are very frail and thin. The radial grooves that extend from the centre to the edge of the cap match the gills on the underside. They reach maturity around noon and after releasing their spores they bein to fade away. Twenty-four hours later there will be hardly a trace of their coming and going.
The Eastern Grey Squirrel comes in both grey and black colours. Both can be born in the same litter but some confuse them for two different species. The black ones are more common in the northern range of their habitats while they don’t exist at all in the southern United States. Some populations are also known to have a black body with a red tail and a few groups of albino squirrels have also been reported.
The trail through Marita Payne Park is part of the Bartley-Smith Greenway, a 15-kilometer trail that follows the West Don River. As you follow it north-west you pass under the Glen Shields Avenue bridge and the trail changes to fine gravel from pavement. The park also become a little less maintained between here and and where it passes under the bridge for Highway 407.
I was wondering if the second Heron at Marita Payne was possible the one that is usually at the old dam just past the 407 bridge. As it turns out, this bird is in its normal spot at the base of the abutment from the dam. There’s no shortage of Herons this year in any of our parks.
River Grapes or wild grapes are growing in abundance along the side of the river. From the looks of the fruit, it’s going to be a good year for a large crop. Cultivated grapes have been developed from wild grapes by choosing plants that are the hardiest and cross breeding them.
Destroying Angel is one of the poisonous mushrooms that grow in the region. They are often found growing solo and can be identified by their bright white colour and the large veil below the cap. A distinguishing feature is the sac-like cup at the bottom of the stem.
Highway 407 was originally proposed in 1959 but the first section wasn’t opened until 1997. When construction was completed through the Concord area it was decided to re-align Highway 7 where it crossed the West Don River. A small portion of the old highway was closed and the bridge was removed. There is still a small section of the old road allowance that can be found just before the present Highway 7 bridge.
We often look for loop trails so that we can experience more terrain without having to go back over sections we already explored. Trails along the rivers in the GTA tend to be “out and back” as the parks are normally only as wide as the floodplain of the waterway they surround. It’s amazing how often we see something on the way back that was missed on the outward part of the journey. This time it was a baby Snapping Turtle that was lying in a puddle on the edge of the path. It looked a lot like a leaf in the water and could have easily been stepped on or crushed by a bike tire. Snapping Turtles can live up to 45 years in the wild and this one will have a better chance after I moved him up onto the grass between the path and the river.
Returning to the pond, it’s possible to follow the trail to the corner Of Glen Shields Avenue and Dufferin Street where it cuts through the Ghost Town of Fisherville before ending at the entrance to G. Ross Lord Park.
Marita Payne Pond has a direct connection to the Don River and fish have an easy way into the pond. Perhaps this is why such a small pond can support four large fishing birds.
The Town of Georgina is the northern most community in the Township of York. It’s made up of the three little towns of Keswick, Sutton and Jackson’s Point and several smaller communities. At the turn of the last century it was a tourist attraction and served as cottage country for people from Toronto. In the early 20th century it was serviced by the Toronto & York Radial Railway which ran as far as Sutton. One of the objectives of the grand tour presented below was the photographing of two more relics from the old railway.
As the Toronto & York Radial Railway expanded north in 1899 it built power stations at Bond Lake and Lake Simcoe. The Bond Lake power house has been left abandoned and now is in a poor state of repair. The one at Lake Simcoe was located at Kennedy Road and Metro Road and is now in use as a private residence.
The York Regional Forest covers 2,300 hectares of land that is protected and yet available for public use. It is comprised of 18 different forested properties that have a total of over 120 kilometers of trails. The Metro Road Tract is near Jackson’s Point and has a 2.6 kilometer trail in it, although most of the property is left without formal trails.
Jackson’s Point was a beach resort for those who arrived by the radial railway to escape the city for the day. However, when cars started to become more popular its importance started to fade because other places became accessible to the family. Today, most of the beach is private property and parking is restricted to a few parking lots. Even so, Lake Drive East has plenty of great views out over the lake.
Until 2018 the harbour at Jackson’s Point had a day marker to guide boaters away from the rocks at the harbour entrance. That year, the Town Council authorized a local resident to begin work on designing a lighthouse for the harbour that would celebrate Jackson’s Point as a destination on Lake Simcoe. Daryl Urquhart has put up the $160,000 for the lighthouse himself and construction was completed in 2019. It stands 30 feet tall and has an LED light that is programmable and can be seen for up to 5 nautical miles.
In the 1830s Jackson’s Point was a destination for steamships that visited for trade, and later, for tourism. Sometime between 1910 and 1920 the bandshell was built as a shelter on the end of the government wharf. In 1977 it was dismantled and moved to the present site at the Georgina Pioneer Village and Archives. Here it was fully restored and added to the collection of historic buildings. We’ll look at a few other buildings from Pioneer Village a little later in this post.
The Toronto & York Radial Railway built its terminus in Sutton in 1908. The station master and his family lived on the upper floor while the lower one served as the station. Radial service began in Sutton on January 1, 1909 and continued until March 16, 1930. The building was then purchased by the Hydro Electric Power Commission who used it as an office until 1970. It currently serves as home to a real estate brokerage. The beautiful brickwork has been covered over with bland siding but otherwise it remains in good shape with a bay window that no longer looks out over railway tracks.
In 1819 the first grist mill was opened on the Black River where Sutton would eventually be founded. By 1830 it had been converted to a board and batten construction which is now covered over with aluminum sheeting. The mill was operated under several different millers until the 1950’s when milling operations were shut down. For a period of time starting in the 1880s it also supplied surplus electrical power to the community. The mill dam still exists on the opposite side of High Street and the tail race where water was returned to the river is still open on the side of the building.
Georgina Pioneer Village & Archives were officially opened on Thanksgiving Day 1975 and the 10 acre site has become home to quite a few buildings that were constructed in the area between 1850 and 1920. One of these buildings is the Noble House which was built in the mid 1850s and moved from High Street in Sutton in 1986. During its prime it was home to three generations of doctors.
The first Sutton train station was built in 1871 for the Lake Simcoe Junction Railway. When it burned down in 1900 the railway was under the ownership of The Grand Trunk Railway who replaced it with one in their typical style of the era. This station was also lost to fire in 1920 and was replaced in 1924. When the station was no longer in service the Georgina Historical Society was able to purchase it for $2.00, moving it to the village in 1977.
The Smallwood Family built a log house in Elm Grove around 1866. After standing empty from 1966 until 1974 it was acquired by the Georgina Historical Society and relocated to the village.
Roche’s Point kept applying for a post office and was finally granted one in 1870. Most post offices were opened by the proprietors of the local general store. In Roche’s Point it is believed that the local boot and shoe retailer used his store as the post office until 1921. Following the death of the post master, the post office was moved to an alternate location in town. The former post office and shoe store was moved to the Pioneer Village in 1999.
Prior to 1884 there were several Methodist Denominations who competed for the same adherents. The Primitive, Wesleyan, Episcopalian and New Connexion all united as simply The Methodist Church leaving only the Free Methodists as a separate denomination. The Methodist Church in the Pioneer Village is believed to have started life as a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Elm Grove around 1871. When it closed, the Free Methodists bought the building and moved it across the street. They met there from 1887 until 1925 when the joined with the newly created United Church of Canada. The oldest continually serving Free Methodist Church in Canada continues to hold services in Armadale. You can read about it in our feature Armadale Free Methodist Church.
Just north of the Pioneer Village on Civic Centre Drive is the Georgina Animal Shelter. As I was driving past the laneway I saw a very skinny fox which was likely suffering from mange. It was running along the side of the road and looked very ill and terribly skinny. Its eyes were almost crusted closed and it looked like it would have a hard time capturing food. I was able to alert the animal shelter of the fox and hopefully they were able to have it caught and treated.
There’s no doubt that this is just a teaser of all the things to be seen in the Town of Georgina. It’s well worth planning a day trip to enjoy the area for yourself.
During the 19th century a horse and carriage was the primary mode of transportation and travelers had to have a place to keep them at the end of their journey. Hotels and inns were built at convenient distances apart for thirsty horses to get water and fodder and their owners to grab an ale. Almost every hotel had a stable and coach house and while many of the hotels remain there’s very few of the out buildings left standing. There’s only one coach house and stable left in the ten blocks that make up the historic Town of York (now Toronto). In spite of its uniqueness, a developer wants to tear the last one down to make way for a 17-story condominium.
This 1793 map shows the original plan for the Town of York. The Don River is shown on the right hand side of the map and Fort York is in the lower left corner. The fort is labelled as “C” and is nestled between Garrison Creek and the lake. The town plan is shown right on the harbour, which reveals how much infilling the lake has seen over the years. The site of the Little York Hotel is shown at the South-East corner of King Street and George Street and marked with a small red star.
The archive photo below is from 1885 and shows George Street looking north toward King Street, The Little York Hotel was just 5 years old at the time and is in the lower left corner of the picture. Just behind it you can make out the arch of the carriageway on the stables and coach house.
The site of the building is Lot 20 on the original town plan and it was patented to Richard Beasley in 1805. Beasley quickly sold it to Rev. George O’Kill Stuart who opened the Home District School there and operated it from 1807-1817. George Duggan bought the school in 1817 and turned it into a tavern. Over the next 62 years it was the site of taverns, hotels, a grocery store and even a furniture store. In 1879 Robert Waterhouse bought the property and put out a tender to build a new hotel. In May the local architectural firm of Langley, Langley & Burke began contracting the construction of the four story hotel in the Second Empire style that they were using on several other buildings around town at the time. Unfortunately, all those other buildings have been demolished already leaving this as the sole survivor. The three brick buildings to the east of the hotel on King Street were built by Waterhouse in 1882 to replace older wooden structures that had been condemned. The masonry and windows were designed to compliment those of the hotel. While the building beside the hotel sports a coat of pink paint, the hotel and stables were eventually covered in blue paint.
The building is clad in brick and has cast stone masonry over the doors and windows. Each of the windows in the hotel and carriage house has a key stone with intricate carvings on them.
In 1880 a coach house and stables were built on the south end of the property behind the hotel. Although just two stories in height, it was constructed with windows and brickwork to match the hotel. The hotel was sold to Robert Davies in 1885 and he rented it out to tenant operators who ran it as Little York Hotel and the York House. In 1900 it was renamed York Hotel which it operated as until 1925.
Like the hotel, the carriage house has decorative brickwork in the form of a string course above the windows, highlighted by a dentil course. The ground floor of the coach house had a place to store coaches and tackle for the night as well as stables for the horses. The second floor was used for storage of hay. Between 1892 and 1899 Dr. Alfred Asa Brown leased part of the stables for his veterinarian practice. In those days vets only really worked on horses and this was the perfect location. Starting in the 1920s a series of express and transport companies occupied the stables. Like the hotel they were also painted an ugly shade of blue, but that was stripped off in the 1980s. Today the stables are occupied by an art shop. The large entrance for carriages has been given a recessed glass doorway and the window on the left in the picture below has been extended to form a second doorway.
Looking from the south you can see the Little York Hotel Carriage House and Stables, the last remaining building of this type in the old Town of York. Very few remain in the city, but a stone carriage house still stands on the property of Sunnybrook Hospital and it is featured in our story Bayview Estates.
In 1973 the hotel was listed on the first Toronto Heritage Register while the stables and coach house would have to wait another eleven years to be listed. Then, on April 21, 2017 its very existence came under threat as a 17-story condo was proposed to replace the stables and coach house. To their credit, the city unanimously rejected the proposal. With the developer refusing to back down the city moved to designate the property under the Ontario Heritage Act. Designation, unlike the previous listing, allows the city to refuse demolition and limit alterations to the building. So, the developers have appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board who will pass a final judgement on the development proposal. The only question is whether or not the OMB will agree that the building merits the heritage designation. As recently as August 3, 2021 the city made its defense of the heritage designation to the OMB. That hearing was adjourned without making a judgement in this case. The building still proudly sports its 1984 heritage plaque while it waits to see if the city and the public win or if the last standing stable in the old town will give way to 16 condo units.
We’ll see what happens over the next few months but at least city council took a stand and defended this cultural link to our travel and transportation heritage.
Suburbia spread over the farms of Scarborough following World War 2 moving from Ellesmere Road to Sheppard Avenue and then Finch Avenue. By the 1980s the farms between Finch Avenue and Steeles Avenue were under development. As part of a development proposal it is common for the city to request the creation of parks in exchange for increased density. Milliken Park was created in one of these deals. Milliken was a farming community that formed on both sides of Steeles Avenue in the Kennedy Road area, beginning in 1798. South of Steeles was part of Scarborough while the north side was in Markham. Since the two townships had been surveyed separately there was a misalignment between McCowan Road on either side of Steeles and the city wanted to take advantage of the developers to have them realign the intersection.
The former farm of Alfred Myles occupied Lot 22 in Concession 5 and had a tributary of Highland Creek flowing through it. Modern flood control techniques include the creation of ponds to collect run-off from spring melting and heavy rainstorms. These ponds are usually engineered to help purify the water before allowing it to flow into the local watershed. The Toronto Archives aerial image below shows the Myles farm in 1983. The blue line is Steeles Avenue and the brown one is McCowan Road. The green line on the left will become the current alignment of McCowan Road so that it meets with its Markham counterpart. The green oval encloses the newly created pond and the existing woodlot beside it. Subdivisions are just starting to encroach from the south.
The picture above shows the property under development as a park but it wouldn’t have its official opening until ten years later in 1993. During this time the pond would be dug and the earth they removed would be piled up in little hills around the pond. To the south of the pond a larger hill would be raised. Trees and grass were planted and in the north west part of the park extensive gardens were laid out. These have become the backdrop for many wedding pictures.
The larger plants in the middle of some flower gardens in the park are a type of flowering tobacco. Known as Jasmine Tobacco or Sweet Tobacco it is grown as an ornamental plant and isn’t cultivated for smoking purposes.
Throughout the park various trees have been identified with name plates to help people learn the types of trees that surround us everyday. The tree in the picture below is a White Oak which gets its name from the pale colour of the wood.
There’s a splash pad and an extensive set of playground slides and swings to keep the little ones entertained. Picnic and bbq areas can also be found scattered around the park and fireworks are displayed every July 1 for Canada Day when there isn’t a pandemic going on.
The pond is the central piece of the park. A paved pathway makes its way around the pond and there’s a short boardwalk and viewing platform. The pond also serves to hold storm water while pollutants from the surrounding subdivisions settle. The water is then released into Highland Creek without carrying these chemicals into Lake Ontario.
Several Red-eared Sliders are living in the pond. These turtles are native to Florida and the Lower Mississippi River but have become the most common turtle to be sold as an aquarium pet. Red-eared Sliders that live past the first couple of years can be expected to survive for 30 years and this is longer than some people are prepared to keep them. So, thinking it doesn’t matter, they release them into local ponds like the one at Milliken Park. They then outcompete the native turtles for food and nesting sites. Often the native Painted Turtles become exterminated in the process.
Goldfish that are released into the wild can grow to very large size because they adapt to the size of their environment. The Toronto Region Conservation Authority reports catching ones that weigh a kilogram when they’re doing their fish surveys. A few goldfish released into a pond like Milliken Pond can increase to the thousands in just a few years because they are very prolific. There’s certainly thousands of them in Milliken Pond.
The pond is ringed with cattails which are a natural way to purify water. Since the pond is designed to remove contaminants from the surrounding drain water, these plants have been allowed to grow all the way around the pond. They naturally absorb chemicals, including phosphorus, out of the water and store it in the plant fiber. This allows the water released from the pond to have less of these chemicals in it. The willow tree, with the long light green hanging branches, in the picture below has a Great Blue Heron standing on the top branch.
Great Blue Herons are quite common in Ontario and their numbers are increasing. There were over 1,600 colonies throughout Ontario in 1976 and this had almost doubled by 1991 with a 55% increase in the number of nesting pairs over that same period. Their numbers continued to climb over the past three decades and now you can find one or more on almost every river and pond in the GTA. This one was casually preening its feathers and has a couple stuck in its mouth in the picture below.
There’s at least one large white Japanese Koi Carp in the pond. These fish can live for 35 years, grow to 35 inches in length and reach 35 pounds in weight. This one was likely about 18 inches long.
Land grants in Scarborough were 200 acres, usually completely covered with ancient forests. To earn patent, or ownership, of the land 5 acres had to be cleared and fenced. When that was done the surrounding forest be cut and the land prepared for farming. Over the years farmers would clear most of the property but almost everyone left a stand of trees from which they could cut firewood, fence posts and perhaps collect some maple sap for making syrup in the spring. The wood lot on Alfred Myles property is on the west side of the pond and has a series of trails that provide some much needed shade on hot summer days.
The park is home to many small mammals including black and red squirrels, chipmunks, and of course Eastern Cottontail Rabbits. These are perhaps the most common of the five rabbit and hare species that are native to Southern Ontario.
Monarch butterfly numbers are estimated based on the size of area in Mexico where they spend the winter. To have a sustainable population an overwinter area of 6 hectares is considered necessary. This past winter the butterflies only occupied slightly more than 2 hectares of the site. This means that there will likely be a lot fewer Monarchs to view this year. The one below appears to be still sleeping on this early Sunday morning.
As for the community of Milliken after which the park is named, there isn’t much left. The most visible reminder is Ebenezer United Church at the corner of Brimley Road. The 1877 county atlas for Scarborough Township shows a Methodist Church on the south side of Steeles while the one for Markham Township places it on the north side of the road as it is today. This happened because 1878 was the year the congregation decided to replace their original building with with this brick one constructed in the gothic revival style. They worshiped in the first church while they erected the new one across the road.
Benjamin Milliken II was the son of the founder of Milliken and he built this home in 1855. However, it’s technically in the ghost town of Haggerman’s Corners. And that, as they say, is a different story. One that we haven’t written yet.
Milliken Park has extensive paved trails, interesting wildlife and is the perfect place for friends and family to spend a relaxing afternoon.
When Toronto was founded (as York) it was located where it was because it had one of the best sheltered harbours on Lake Ontario. The ship building industry got started early and the nearly completed Sir Isaac Brock warship was a prime motivation for the Battle of York. When the Americans invaded on April 27, 1813 the British burned the ship rather than have it fall into enemy hands. Since that time there have been hundreds of boats and ships built by the dozens of companies that have come and gone. The straightening of the Lower Don in the 1880s followed by the transformation of Ashbridges Bay into The Port Lands after the turn of the century created further opportunities for industry. The Toronto Dry Dock Company Ltd. was one of those new enterprises.
The aerial photograph below is from 1957 and was taken from the Toronto Archives. It shows the straightened Don River making a hard 90 degree turn into the Keating Channel. The buildings of the Toronto Dry Dock Company Ltd and Toronto Ship Building line the south side of the channel with the existing buildings circled in green. At the edge of the channel a ship is currently sitting in dry dock (also circled).
One of the earliest and most successful manufacturers of steam engines and ships was Polson Iron Works. They produced around 150 vessels and were intended to occupy Polson’s Pier in the newly created Port Lands but didn’t move there because of the First World War and then they suffered bankruptcy in 1919. Meanwhile, The Toronto Dry Dock Company and its co-owned Toronto Ship Building Company established themselves along side the Keating Channel. Three of their former buildings can be seen in the picture below.
While Polson was busy pumping out minesweepers for the military, the newly founded Dry Dock and Ship Building enterprise got a contract to build cargo ships for the military. War Ontario and War Toronto were their first two ships. Their facilities faced the Keating Channel with access to Lake Ontario and the Great Lakes but they also faced Villiers Road where a railway spur gave them access to the rest of the province.
The building at 170 Villiers served as the front office of the business, greeting customers from the street side, rather than the rear which looked out over the work yard.
The side of the building facing Villiers Street was a lot more inviting in 1954 when this Toronto Public Library photo was taken.
The business would continue until 1964 when it would become part of Port Weller Dry Docks. Following their demise, the property was sold to the Toronto Port Authority. Today, the windows are all boarded over and the front of the building is grown over in ivy.
However, the front door is still there, secretly waiting for dry dock customers who never arrive.
When Toronto Dry Dock Company Ltd. received its charter in 1917 as a vessel repair yards, C.S. Boone was the first president. It was an off-shoot of C.S. Boone Dredging & Construction, of which he was also the president. They started business with a floating dry dock that was 160 feet long that was tethered to the concrete wall in front of the office building.
However, they soon found that it wasn’t large enough for many of the vessels they could have worked on. In 1920 they purchased another dry dock which was sitting in Montreal. It had been used during the war to re-assemble ships that had been taken apart and floated through various canals to the St. Lawrence River so that they could be added to the war effort. The dry dock was towed to Toronto where it was added to the existing one. This gave the yards the ability to work on the biggest ships on the Great Lakes. The building below was used to build and repair large boilers and steam engines. It has been the unfortunate victim of someone who doesn’t know how to spell “scarface” and chose to display it in ten foot letters.
When The Don Narrows were created by straightening the Lower Don River one of the objectives was to create shipping to service the industries along the river. Instead, the 90 degree turn into the Keating Channel led to serious silting problems and the larger ships were often unable to reach the dry docks for repairs. By the early 1940s Henry J. Dixon had become the principal owner and he started Toronto Towing and Salvage Ltd. and moved away from the dry dock business. Villiers Street was formerly serviced by a rail line that ran down the middle of the street and it provides the vantage point for the picture below.
Over the years the company had bought up scrap vessels and salvaged a large number of parts which they used in repair of other ships. When the company went into liquidation in January 1964 a lot of the left over items were sold for scrap metal. The buildings became part of the Toronto Harbour Commission properties but the dock facilities on the Keating Channel in front of the third building have been left to deteriorate.
Fortunately, not everything in the yard was sold for scrap. The Marine Museum of Upper Canada had been opened in Stanley Barracks on the CNE grounds in 1957 and a large number of local marine artifacts were donated to the museum. In 2000 the museum, now known as Toronto Maritime Museum, was relocated to Pier 4 in Queens Quay West. In 2008 the museum was closed and all the artifacts have been in storage ever since.
The first two ships built in the yards were sisters named War of Ontario and War of Toronto. Both were completed in 1918 in time for the last of the Great War in Europe. The picture below is part of the Bowling Green State University collection and shows the wooden hull of the War of Toronto as it was being launched into the Keating Channel.
The island Ferry “Sam McBride” was built in 1939 by Toronto Dry Dock Limited and remains in service to Toronto Islands today. Sam McBride was born in Toronto in 1866 and was mayor from 1928-1929 and again in 1936. He passed away before completing his second term. This image is taken from Wikipedia.
Toronto needs a new home for our Marine Museum and these few remaining buildings could be the perfect place for it. It would be a sort of homecoming for many of the artifacts and historic vessels could be tied up along the Keating Channel for museum guests to explore.
Agincourt remained a small community until 1858 when John Hill was finally successful in getting a post office for his general store at the crossroads of todays Brimley Road and Sheppard Avenue East. The name Agincourt was taken from a town in northern France where a decisive battle was fought in 1415 during The Hundred Years War between Britain and France. The earlier name for the community had been “Hero Town” and that didn’t seem appropriate for the new post office name. The town grew slowly with Hill’s General Store and Post Office being accompanied by Milnes Sawmill and a temperance hall along with a growing number of homes.
Thomas Paterson was one of the founders of Agincourt and started to raise a family in a small log cabin on the east side of todays Kennedy Road. As the family grew, three of his sons built nearly identical homes each taking up a section of the family farm. Thomas Jr. had the middle plot and his home is the lone survivor today. The house was built prior to 1850 and is one of the oldest brick houses remaining in Scarborough. The pictures in this article were taken in December 2020 which is why there are no leaves on the trees.
Hugh Elliot built this house around 1848 and it was expanded with a second floor around 1860. The new roofline is second empire and is the best surviving example of a style that was once quite popular in Scarborough. This house has been given an historical designation and is located on McCowan Road on a property that has been owned by developers since 1981. It has been kept in good maintenance and will be incorporated into a future development.
The house at 33 Murray was built in 1888 by the Kennedy Family who lived there until 1912 when the farm was sold to John Harris. The most interesting family to own the house was perhaps the most recent. Bill White bought the home in 1951 and became known as the first black man to run as a federal election candidate. His years of service led to him being designated as an Officer of the Order of Canada.
2656 Midland was built in 1863 and was originally the manse for the Knox Presbyterian Church. The church was founded in 1848 but this was the first home that they built for the use of the minister. Stylistically, the home reflects elements of the Regency Cottage design with the side porch likely being added at a later date.
The house at 20 Lockie Avenue was the latest farm house in the family of Thomas Archibald Paterson. Thomas Paterson had settled on the farm in 1820 and four generations of men with the same name occupied the farm until the 1950s. This Edwardian style home was built after 1900 and has a rare 3-bay configuration on the traditional four-square design.
School Section 14 was created in 1913 to serve the growing population around Agincourt. Three acres of land were donated by the Paterson Family and the school was constructed at a cost of $12,000. When it opened in 1914 it had 48 students and 2 teachers. By 1921 there were 107 students and still only 2 teachers.
Knox Free Presbyterian Church was founded in 1848 and quickly outgrew its original wood frame building. Forty members attended the first service on June 25 of that year. By 1872 a new sanctuary was required and as the picture below shows, an addition was made to the back as the church continued to grow. They have served the community as Knox United Church since 1925.
The original pioneer cemetery has grown into the Knox United Cemetery. The earliest burial was recorded in 1836, a dozen years before the founding of the church. The next oldest is 1848 perhaps one of the earliest services held in the new church.
Across the street from the church on the south west corner is a large lot that has been proposed as a site for townhomes and a new park. It was formerly a Lumber King Home Centre and then a flea market. The gas station that once occupied the corner of the property has been removed.
14 Allanford Road is a Second Empire home known as Lynn Bank and is designated as a heritage property. Built into the side of a small rise of land it has three floors with the mansard roof providing extra headroom to the bedrooms on the upper floor.
The community of Agincourt has become swallowed up in Scarborough’s ever expanding urban sprawl but the remnants of the early community still survive.
G Ross Lord Park is one of our favourite places as followers of our Facebook page will know. We post wildlife and nature photos from there almost every week and the variety of creatures is outstanding. This post focusses on the flood control pond and the surrounding woods and grasslands and pays particular attention to the wide variety of birds that can be found there. The County Atlas from 1877 shows that there were two dams on the West Don River in the area that is now G Ross Lord Park. The lower pond supplied water to a saw mill and it is this flood plain that was used to create the flood control pond in G Ross Lord Park.
Following Hurricane Hazel in 1954 it was decided that flood control measures would be implemented to control the release of water to downstream areas. A dam was built on the West Don River near Dufferin and Finch that would be capable of holding five and a half million cubic metres of water. The G Ross Lord Dam was completed in 1973 and the flood control pond can rise by as much as five metres following a major rain event or during spring thaws.
It has been common over recent summers to see a pair of Herons and an Egret at the pond. This year there has been up to 14 Egret and 4 Heron at the same time. There’s five Egrets and one Heron in the picture below.
This aerial photo comes from the Toronto Archives and shows the site in 1971 before the flood control pond was created. The blue shows where the West Don River used to flow around a wide ridge of land and reveals that the hydro towers were originally located on land.
The dam flooded a large area of land that expands dramatically after every heavy rain event. A soon as the rain has stopped the dam is opened to allow the water to slowly drain away to create room for the next rain storm.
Although this is a man made pond it was formed around a river and has become home to a wide range of wildlife. The baby Painted Turtle featured below is native to the area but the Red-eared Slider I saw last year is a domestic pet that has been dumped in the pond. Over the years I have often seen a large Snapping Turtle just up-stream from the pond.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to see a pair of Peregrine Falcons land on the mud flats when the pond was at a low point. There are a few nesting pairs around Toronto but most of them are in the area of Lake Superior.
There are often people fishing in the pond where they catch Brown Bullhead, Carp, Pumpkinseed and White Suckers. The Herons, Egrets and Cormorants live here in large numbers because of the easy fishing when the water level is lower. The Heron in the picture below has just speared a young sucker.
Cedar Waxwings live in the forests surrounding the flood control pond. They like to sit on branches and fly out over the water to snatch insects out of the air. There are several different types of damselflies and dragonflies that hover over the pond and make great snacks for the birds.
It’s common to see both Red-tailed Hawks and Copper’s Hawks in the area around the pond. The Cooper’s Hawk in the picture below is one of a pair that is nesting in the trees on the north side of the pond.
The image below shows the pond looking toward the east when the water is at it’s lowest level. When flooded, it can rise well into the trees on the other side as well as covering the place where this picture was taken.
Woodpeckers are very common in the park and there are at least three different species that feed off the bugs in the trees that have died from being flooded around the pond’s edge. The large Pileated Woodpecker is less common than the Downey and Hairy ones that can be found on almost every visit. The picture below shows a male Downey Woodpecker.
Spotted Sandpipers are shore birds that can be found all around the edges of the pond where they compete with Killdeer for the small insects and minnows that live there.
Over the years I have watched a pair of Belted Kingfishers working the river just upstream from the flood control pond. This year, they appear to have moved downstream to the pond where they can be heard before they are seen. Kingfishers are one of the chattiest birds and seldom fly without filling the air with their loud rattling scolding noises. They will sit on a branch until they see a fish under the water and they will dive at great speeds into the water to come up with their lunch. Both the male and female can be seen in the picture below.
The grasslands and new growth forests along the edge of the flood control pond have become home to a wide variety of songbirds. Various warblers share the trees with American Goldfinch and make for a nice splash of colour.
It’s alost certain that every visit to the flood control pond will be rewarded with the sight of Cardinals. These beautiful birds mate for life and can be seen and heard all year around.
When people think of bird watching in the Toronto area they often think of Tommy Thompson Park which is known for the wide variety of birds that can be seen there. If you live in the northern part of the city you may find that G. Ross Lord Park is more convenient and also has an amazing variety of birds.
William Thomas was one of the pioneer architects in Toronto and his work in the 1840s and 1850s has had a lasting effect on the city with several of his buildings still standing. William was born in Suffolk, England, in 1799 and developed his skills designing several buildings in Gloucestershire, Birmingham and Leamington. When a depression came to the building industry in 1843 he packed up and moved to Toronto. William Thomas designed many buildings which have been demolished but the ones that remain represent a fabulous cross section of society. From the rich to the poor and from saints to sinners, everyone enjoyed the benefit of William’s work.
1844 – St. George’s Church 4600 Dundas Street in Etobicoke. This was one of Thomas’ first projects after arriving in Canada and this Anglican church is still serving the community, although currently restricted to on-line services. The brickwork above the vestibule states that the building was erected in 1844 and restored 1894.
1845 – The Commercial Bank of Midland, Toronto now in BCE Place. This building was started in 1843 shortly after Thomas arrived in Canada and was completed two years later. It was intended to be the bank’s prestigious entry into the Toronto market but it didn’t survive more than 25 years before the bank closed down. The building was used by various other businesses until 1969 when it was vacated. It was taken apart and reassembled in the concourse of BCE place. The picture below is from 1880 and taken from the Toronto Archives.
1848 – St. Michael’s Church 65 Bond Street. This was the second Catholic Church in the community after St. Paul’s, which had been built in 1822. Excavation of the cathedral had begun in 1845 and it was consecrated in September 1848. The congregation made its mark by being instrumental in the founding of St. Michael’s Hospital.
1848 – House of Industry 87 Elm Street. This building was Toronto’s answer to the poor house. In an era before social services people who were destitute often had nowhere to turn. After moving into this building designed by Thomas, the House of Industry began providing food, shelter and fuel to the needy. In 1947 it was converted into a senior’s residence because this population sector were now the ones most often in need.
1848 – Oakham House 63 Gould Street William Thomas designed this house as his own residence and used part of it as an office as well. The gothic revival house in yellow brick at the left was his home. Thomas had the red brick addition completed as an office for his architecture firm. The house is now part of Ryerson University and is used by students as a pub and cafe.
1850 – St. Lawrence Hall 157 King Street was built in 1850 as part of St. Lawrence Market. Inside, it is divided into three main rooms and was the first major event space in the city. The hall was used for concerts, balls, receptions and lectures featuring many prominent Canadians including George Brown and Thomas D’Arcy McGee. It had been in decline for a number of years until it was declared a national historic site in 1967 and then restored as a Centennial project.
1853 – Brock’s Monument Queeston Heights. Thomas was commissioned to build a second monument to War of 1812 hero Isaac Brock who died at the Battle of Queenston Heights. The original monument had been destroyed in 1840 in a bomb attack and it was replaced with the present 56 metre tall one which opened to the public in 1859.
1856 – Don Jail 550 Gerrard Street East. The Don Jail was the 4th jail to be built since the founding of York and the original portion of the jail served until 1977. An east wing was built in 1958 and closed in 2013 and then demolished the following year. This is Thomas’ most infamous building as it has been the site of 26 hangings and countless murders and suicides over the years. It has recently been rehabilitated and incorporated into Bridgepoint Hospital.
William Thomas passed away in 1860 after only a decade and a half in Toronto but he has left a lasting legacy in his architecture.
Early railways connected small communities with larger centres and allowed for the easy transfer of goods and people. Pioneer towns that had railway service often flourished while those without it ended up featured in our Ghost Towns series. For the first century of Canadian railway history, trains were powered by steam locomotives. These required two fuel sources, water and coal (or occasionally wood). Coal would be manually shoveled into the the firebox by the fireman, heating the water to boiling and creating the steam and pressure to move the huge pistons. It is said that about a pound of coal per second was required to keep a train moving at 60 miles per hour. The major stops along the railways became places to refuel with water and coal, both of which were stored in towers so they could be gravity fed into the waiting trains. All of the early coal towers were built of wood and required continual maintenance and replacement. The picture below shows the coal tower in Georgetown in 1955 and was taken from Trainweb.org.
With my mother living in Gravenhurst there’s plenty of opportunity to visit historic sites that exist along the route. The Washago coaling tower had been in my sites for a couple of decades and it finally came time to check it out. I parked in Centennial Park where you can see the coaling tower across the river.
The concrete coaling tower in Washago was built in 1936 to replace an earlier wooden one. This picture from Ian Wilson’s book Steam at Allandale shows the coaling tower as it looked in the 1950’s.
As railways converted to diesel locomotives the old coaling towers became obsolete and many of them were demolished. The Washago tower was left standing beside the rail line and it has been slowly deteriorating ever since. Today, there are small sections of concrete that are breaking away but it appears to be structurally sound all the same.
The steel top is showing some signs of rust but is otherwise still in good shape. I can’t find any heritage designation for the Washago coaling tower but there’s very few of them remaining. There’s a three-bay concrete coaling tower preserved in downtown Toronto at Roundhouse Park along with several other railway era artifacts including a water tower and train station.
If you are thinking about visiting the coal tower, be aware that it is on a very active rail line and that you would be trespassing on private property.
When the Washago water tower was no longer needed for railway purposes it was repainted and put into service as the town water tower.
The current railway station was built in 1906 for the Canadian Norther Railway and was located about 200 metres from its present location. It was originally behind the Washago Hotel but the Grand Trunk Station was destroyed around 1913 and it was relocated in 1922 to serve both rail lines in town.
To accommodate the rail lines that passed on either side of the station a bay window was constructed on the back side of the station. Today, the building serves as maintenance space for CN employees.
The Washago Hotel is a well kept secret. There’s very little information available on line to tell the story of this old structure.
The Methodist congregation built a church in town in 1874 which has operated under the banner of the United Church since 1925.
A small building stands on Grist Mill Lane which looks to have been a coopers shop at one time. Many grist mills had a barrel maker in the immediate area to provide the barrels to ship flour to market in.
The grist mill in Washago was built in 1872 and operated until about 1970. Since then it has been used as a private residence.
There’s a lot of history in Washago that needs to be investigated when I have more time. The old railway line going north out of town once had a swing bridge over the Severn River and now the abutments and piers are all that remain.