Author Archives: hikingthegta

John Lawrie Heritage House

Saturday, April 21, 2018

While on a visit to Boyd Conservation Area we took a short side trip to photograph the historic John Lawrie house.  John Lawrie built his Georgian style house in 1855 at Lot 12, Concession 9 in Vaughan Township (outlined in green on the county atlas below).  The county atlases were notorious for spelling names incorrectly and changing them from edition to edition.  This map shows the spelling as Lowry.  It’s also possible that Gavin Lourie on lot 11 could be a son, with yet another spelling.


The original tree lined lane is part of the contextual heritage of the property and the home is set back from Highway 27 and originally had a workable field in the front.  The remains of corn stocks still stand on the sides of the house.  It has been  designated under Part IV section 27 of the Ontario Heritage Act and scored 85 of a possible 100 points on the heritage survey.  This defines it as having very significant heritage value.


John Lawrie was the first of four generations who worked this farm and it was in the family for over 120 years.  John was instrumental in the construction of a community church and sat on the first Vaughan Township Council when rural municipal governments were established in 1849.  The house was constructed by a local stone mason named Henry Burton out of field stone collected on the property.  Burton built many local homes and was also responsible for one of the additions to Osgood Hall in Toronto.


The stonework on the front of the home is squared and dressed while the sides and back are made of random sized stone.  The house is one and a half stories, the upper floor being partially restricted by the slope of the roof.  Two chimneys indicate a pair of fire places and finely tooled limestone quoins adorn the corners of the house.  There is a rear extension that was added around 1870, as the family grew.  A little side entrance to the cellar has a gabled roof and was designed to protect the cellar entrance.


The house was still occupied as recently as 2005 but since being closed for a few years has suffered a bit of vandalism.  The street address is 8682 Highway 27 and now home to a new Costco distribution centre.  Costco paid $50,000,000 for the 95 acre property in 2015.  The house will be moved slightly to accommodate a flood control pond on the property and new landscaping done to model the historical setting.  I don’t suppose Lawrie ever thought his property would be worth 50 million dollars when he took possession and started making improvements such as clearing fields and building the house.


Watch for the forthcoming story Boyd Conservation Area.

Google Maps Link: 8682 Highway 27

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Buttermilk Falls

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The origin of the name Buttermilk Falls is one of speculation.  At the time of the county atlas in 1875 it was known as Inglis Falls after the landowner at the time.  David Inglis called his homestead “Burning Springs” but his primary occupation was as a Presbyterian pastor.  McNab Presbyterian Church lists Inglis as their first pastor, having served from 1855 – 1872.  It has been suggested that the farm had been used for dairy at one point and the falls were named after this.  Another idea is that the falls appear to resemble buttermilk at some times.  David Inglis owned Lot 1, Concession 6 in Barton Township.  James Cook owned Lot 1 in Concession 7 where Albion Falls is located.  The plan was to visit both falls by approaching from creek level.  There is free parking on Mountain Brow Boulevard near the crest of Buttermilk Falls at Oak Knoll Park.

Buttermilk 1875

Also shown on the county atlas above is the Hamilton & Lake Erie Railway as it passes near the top of the two water falls.  Built in 1869 and absorbed into the Hamilton & North Western Railway in 1875 this is the final year the railway would appear on the atlas under the original name.  The line eventually came into the Canadian National Railway fold and was eventually abandoned.  It was converted into the 32-kilometre Escarpment Rail Trail in 1993.

Although there was a small flow today it runs dry sometimes so this falls is best viewed in the spring or after a heavy rainfall. The size of the bowl that is cut in the limestone reveals a much larger volume of water at the end of the last ice age, 12,000 years ago.


Mountain Brow Side Trail connects Buttermilk Falls to Albion Falls and provides some good views of the falls and the gorge it has cut.


We followed the trail until there appeared to be a suitable place to descend the escarpment.  There are no trails and few places that are safe for anyone except an experienced hiker.


Finding the bottom of the ravine we turned and made our way back up the creek toward Buttermilk Falls.  This creek has several little cascades between the falls and it’s confluence with Red Hill Creek.


Buttermilk Falls is a 23-metre high plunge waterfall.  The escarpment face reveals the upper layers of the Niagara Escarpment.  The red Queenston Shale for which Red Hill Creek and Parkway are named is the bottom layer of the escarpment.  Harder layers of dolostone are interspersed with softer layers of limestone.  This has created an opportunity to walk completely behind the falls and out the other side.


Red Hill Creek runs for 7 kilometres from Albion Falls to Hamilton Harbour.  Along with Albion Falls, two tributaries of Red Hill Creek carry waterfalls over the escarpment during that distance.  Having visited Buttermilk Falls we have yet to venture to nearby Felker’s Falls.


We followed Red Hill Creek toward Albion Falls until we came to this sign.  It is said that they are actively passing out tickets, which aren’t on our list of priorities.


This forced a retracing of our route until we were back at the top of the ravine.  From there you can follow the trail to Albion Falls.  This is one of the most beautiful falls in the area and well worth the visit.  On our previous hike to Albion Falls you could still access the bottom and there were dozens of people down there.  That story can be found at this link.


Scarlet Elf Cap (or Cup), like many cup fungi grow in the late winter or early spring.  The fruit bodies are usually hidden under leaves and are not known for being edible.  The natives used the plant for medicinal purposes, applying the ground fruit bodies to the ends of umbilical chords that did not appear to be healing normally.  This example was growing in the ravine below Buttermilk Falls.


The need to visit The Escarpment Rail Trail and Felker’s Falls will likely draw us back to this area at least a couple more times.

Google Maps Link: Buttermilk Falls

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Wonscotonach Parklands

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

On Tuesday, Toronto’s Parks and Environment Committee decided to recommend the various parklands of the Lower Don River be renamed as the Wonscotonach Parklands.  This initiates a process that will allow public consultation on the plan.  The Don River was known as Wonscontonach before the arrival of John Graves Simcoe in 1793.  Simcoe didn’t like native names and routinely changed them (Toronto was changed to York).  If approved the newly named mega-park would be part of a gesture of reconciliation to aboriginal people.  The combined parklands would feature a significant number of points of interest.  Here are a few that Hiking the GTA has visited.

The Don Narrows

From Corktown Common to Riverdale the park will stretch along the river where numerous bridges, new and abandoned, can be investigated.


Riverdale Park

Riverdale Park is on both sides of the Don River but the west side also features Riverdale Farm.


Half-Mile Bridge

The park will pass under the now abandoned Half-Mile Bridge.


The Don Valley Brick Works

Several historic buildings and a reclaimed pit were the site of a complex that produced bricks for many of Toronto’s early buildings.


Todmorden Mills

Just north of the Brick Works was one of three paper mills that also belonged to the Taylor Brothers.


The Beechwood Wetlands

The Taylor house was moved from the family homestead to Todmorden but a kiln remains near a restored wetlands.

Taylor kiln

Crother’s Woods

Crother’s Woods has been reclaimed after a period of heavy industrial use and now has multiple trails along the ravine and through Sun Valley.


Taylor Creek Park

Taylor Creek Park follows Taylor Massey Creek east from the confluence with the Don River and features several examples of public art.


Abandoned Don Mills Road

The top end of the proposed park will feature an excellent example of a concrete bowstring bridge where the abandoned portion of Don Mills Road passed over the Don River.


If the name change takes place Toronto will have a mega-park that it can be proud of that will reflect the people who lived here long before the first condo was built.

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Abandoned Kirby Road

Saturday, March 31, 2018

We had planned a visit to the Nashville Conservation Area near Kleinberg and found free parking near the intersection of Huntington Road and Kirby Road.  The Humber Valley Heritage Trail follows the old right of way for Kirby Road east from the intersection.  After a short walk you come to an abandoned bridge.  Kirby Road formerly crossed The Humber River on a bridge named after the landowner.  Lorne McEwen had owned the land since 1916.  This reinforced concrete bowstring arch bridge was built in 1923 and was designed by Frank Barber.  Barber had designed several bridges over the Humber River including the Old Mill Bridge.


Kirby Road was closed in the 1970’s when sections were deemed unsafe due to excessive erosion. This left the bridge with no formal use until the Humber Valley Heritage Trail Association was founded in 1995 and began work on their trail.  The reinforced concrete bridge has never had any major restoration and is crumbling badly.  There are many places where the steel reinforcement is exposed.  The side of the bridge in the picture below has chipped away leaving all four rows of re-bar rusting.  The road deck is also in bad shape and was most recently patched with steel plates that sit uneven on the surface.


From the bridge the trail leaves the old right of way so we decided to follow the road instead of the trail. The old road bed can be seen by the shape of the landscape.


The section of Kirby Road that led to the closure of the bridge has since disappeared into the river below.  The two ends of the roadbed are marked with arrows on either side of the landslide.

Kirby Road

This is the view from the edge of the roadway down to the river below.  Obviously, closing the road to vehicles was a wise decision.  The only other option would have been the creation of a new road alignment roughly where today’s Humber Valley Heritage Trail runs above the former roadway.


A recent study on the Humber River watershed identified 1250 crossings of some nature.  Wood, cut stone, steel and concrete have all been employed as construction materials over the years and each relates to a period in the development of Ontario.  McEwen Bridge is one of 33 that were identified as having heritage significance but not one of the five that have been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.  It is, however, one of four others that have at least been listed.   Being designated provides legal protection to a heritage property while being listed does not.  A listed property can be demolished by the owner if they give 60 days notice.  The local council would then have time to designate the property if they wished to protect it.  This means that the old bridge on Kirby Road is actually in danger of being demolished.  A study is being undertaken to review the costs of preservation.  The bridge is marked on the map below, taken from Google Earth, as well as the site of the erosion and landslide that closed the road.  The road allowance is marked in yellow.

Kirby Road

The Nashville Conservation Area takes its name from the nearby community of Nashville.  Originally the community was known as East’s Corners after Matthew East, who became the first postmaster in 1881.  Later, Johnathan Scott came from Nashville, Tennessee and changed the name.  Nashville grew because of the railway station that was built there by the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway.  The railway station was for Kleinberg but was located a short distance outside of Kleinberg and it became the nucleus for community of Nashville.  Early settlers in Nashville were Presbyterian and services were held in local homes until a church could be constructed.  The brick Presbyterian Church in Nashville was built in 1909.


Nashville grew as a railway town centered on the railway station.  Soon a saw mill and a grain elevator stood near the railway.  Milling grain creates a lot of dust which becomes a fire hazard.  Many grist mills and grain elevators were destroyed by fire and this was the fate of the original grain elevator in Nashville.  The first elevator burned on July 15, 1919 while a second one was destroyed in 1927.  That second fire is pictured in the archive photo below.


A new grain elevator was built in Nashville in 1930 and still stands beside the tracks.  The siding on the right has been removed as the train no longer runs on that side of the building.

IMG_3614 (1)

Having been sidetracked from our visit to the Nashville Conservation area we shall have to leave that for another time.

Google Maps Link: Kirby Road

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Camp 30 – Bowmanville POW Camp

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Until 1922 John H H Jury had owned a 300 acre farm north of Bowmanville which he called the Darch Farm.  He decided to donate it to the Ministry of Education for a school to house boys who were getting into trouble and considered to be “unadjusted”.  The school was to be known as the Ontario Training School for Boys.  Several buildings were constructed between then and 1927 when the site was completed and opened. Classes were started and continued at the school until April 1941 when the government announced that it was taking over the school for use as a Prisoner Of War camp.

Hitler’s bombing campaign in England had raised the possibility that England could be invaded by the Nazis and the prisoners there set free to return to the battle.  The boys from the school were then sent to various homes throughout Bowmanville so that the camp could be converted.  Two rows of fences were constructed around the perimeter with 15 feet of grass in between to deter escape attempts.  Nine guard towers were built along with a set of barracks for the Canadian soldiers who would be the guards at the POW camp.  The Google Earth capture below shows the various buildings that survive today.  Several others have been demolished over the past few years.

Camp 30

I parked up the road and walked back with the idea of scanning the property and taking pictures from the road.  There were several sports fields at the south end of the compound that were used by the school and the POW camp.  The gymnasium building also housed an indoor swimming pool but the POW’s were allowed to leave the camp for exercise.  As long as they promised not to try and escape they were allowed to go down to the lake in the summer to go swimming and for cross country ski trips in the winter.  Life in the camp was pretty good and relations with the guards were generally amicable.


The first buildings you come to along the road are the two story dorms which were used as barracks for the POW’s.  Like all the buildings remaining on site, all the windows were broken before they were boarded up.  Graffiti covers the walls and the drywall inside is smashed up.  Most of the buildings have suffered some fire damage as people have started fires on the wooden floors during parties on the grounds.


The hospital building is one of two with a peaked roof, along with the barracks above.


The hospital in relation to the mess hall.


The historic photo below was taken from Wikipedia and shows the cafeteria building as it looked around 1930.

CAmp 30 cafeteria

The cafeteria building became the mess hall when the POW camp was created here.  The building became the site of the infamous Battle of Bowmanville in October 1942.  In Europe, Hitler had ordered that Canadian POW’s be placed in shackles and in retaliation German POW’s were to be shackled too.  100 officers from Camp 30 were supposed to volunteer but instead barricaded themselves in the mess hall.  They gained access to hockey sticks as weapons and so the 100 soldiers brought in from Kingston stormed the hall armed with baseball bats.  We had to keep it fair!  The most serious injury was to a Canadian soldier who was hit in the head with a jar of jam.  Later, German soldiers who were holed up in the basement of the barracks were flushed out using high pressure water hoses.  After the stand off was over, the Germans were placed in shackles until December 11, 1942.  The mess hall is one of the buildings that remains on the site.


Two other buildings can be seen below, including the gymnasium in the background.


After the war was over the property was given back to the Ministry of Education and put back into use as the Pine Ridge Training School.  It operated in this capacity until 1979 when it was closed as a boys school.  It was used for various other educational uses until 2008 when it was finally closed for good.  Since that time it has deteriorated badly and been to subject of much vandalism.  Several buildings have been lost to fire and a few were demolished in the past few months.  In 2013 the property was listed as one of the most endangered historical sites and was finally given a historical designation to attempt to preserve it.  Six buildings are to be restored and in the fall of 2017 there were boarded up again to keep the winter weather out.  Security cameras and foot patrols are in place to give trespassing tickets to those who are curious enough to enter the property.


I was hoping, perhaps for the first time ever, that a security guard would show up.  I had planned to ask them if I could walk around the property with them if I didn’t leave the paved walkways.  Alas, no security guard when you really want one.  Many people have posted online about getting tickets for trespassing so beware.  There are several of these cameras set up on the site and they apparently alert the police when motion is detected.


A further abandoned building can be found across Lambs Road from the camp.


The original 300 acre site is planned for housing developments except for 66 acres that will form a park.  The theory is that the buildings will be restored for their historical value but the cost to repair the recent damage may be prohibitive.  We will have to wait and see what the final outcome will be.  Camp 20, known as Camp Calydor was located in Gravenhurst and a story on it can be found at this link.

Google Maps Link: Camp 30

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Maple Syrup Festival At Kortright

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Kortright Centre for Conservation opened in 1979 as a 325 hectare park and education centre.  The conservation area is named after Dr. Francis Kortright who lived from 1887-1972.  He was an avid conservationist who was a member of the Toronto Sportsman’s Association and served as the president in 1948.  It was at this time that he initiated the Toronto Sportsman’s Show which raises money for conservation activities.

We parked in the free parking lot on Rutherford Road just west of Pine Valley Drive near the Humber River.  It is possible to hike on minor trails and arrive at Kortright Centre but you will still need to pay for entrance to the sugar festival.  Our TRCA and CVC parks pass includes entrance to the park and festival.  We roughly followed the orange trail marked on this capture from Google Earth.


As we approached the park from the west we passed through an area that appears to have had a campground at one time.  There are several of these hook-ups for water and electricity hiding in the trees.


Three concrete pads are set up with the remains of a series of metal animal houses.  We followed the trail from here toward Pine Valley Drive.  Along the way you may hear the call of an owl


The Earth Rangers are a Canadian group aimed at teaching conservation practices to youth.  They were founded in 2004 in Woodbridge to teach students in the GTA.  They have since expanded to a nation wide operation.  Their LEED gold certified building at Kortright Centre is home to Animal Ambassadors.  They now house over 40 animals including red foxes and ring-tailed lemurs.  Their collection of birds includes bald eagles and kestrels.


The main attraction at Kortright in March is their Maple Syrup Festival, one of several in TRCA parks across the GTA.  The park has two main forested areas with pine trees forming the north and east portions while maple trees are found in the south and west parts.  Wagon rides are available for those who would like to see the park in relative luxury.


The trail from the visitor centre to the ravine floor follows an old trail that was used by the native people who had an encampment along the East Humber River.  Many artifacts have been recovered from a village that has been excavated.  The river valley provided an access route for goods travelling north and south on The Carrying Place Trail.  Today, the park has provided signage along the trail to teach the basics of maple syrup production to visitors.  The two litre tin for syrup that is attached to this tree indicates the amount of finished product that a tree this size can produce.


Maple syrup was being produced by the natives when the Europeans arrived in North America.  By the 1680’s collecting maple sap and boiling it into maple syrup had become a spring industry.  It was very labour intensive collecting the buckets of sap and carrying them to the sugar shack for processing.  Families would pull their children out of school for the month of March to help on the farm.


Trees would be tapped when they were around 30 to 40 years old and would continue to produce for the next 60 or 70 years.  Holes in the tree are quickly healed and can be seen for years after.


At the sugar shack wood was stock piled to keep the kettles of sap boiling.  The shacks also provided some small shelter from the weather and a place to rest during the cooking process.


Prior to the 1850’s a series of three kettles were used.  The larger kettle contained the raw sap and it was left to boil for 8 hours.  The condensing sap was then transferred to the middle kettle for another 8 hours.  It would be finished in the third kettle after another 8 hours.  Innovations began after this time starting with larger, flat bottomed pans that increased the surface area available for evaporation.


In the 1970’s a system of collecting sap using plastic tubes was developed.  It allows individual trees to  be tapped in one or more places and the slow drip of sap is fed into increasing diameter pipes until it reaches the sugar shack.  In the shack it is stored in a large vat while it waits to be evaporated into maple syrup.


Today’s evaporators have flues in the bottom which increase the surface area of the pan that is used for boiling.  This further reduces the processing time which can be as little as 3 to 5 hours.


Kortright Centre has many trails and there will need to be another expedition one day to investigate them.

Google Maps Link: Kortight Centre For Conservation

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Cemetery Bridge

Sunday, March 18, 2018

When Mount Pleasant Cemetery opened in 1876 it was comprised of the entire 200 acres of lot 19, just north of present day St. Clair Avenue.  The cemetery developed westward from Yonge Street and we examined the history and some of the monuments and mausoleums in the earliest sections.  They can be found in our post entitled Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  The undeveloped end of the cemetery would be cut twice for transportation routes.  In 1915 The government bought the rights to a strip that would cut the cemetery in two halves.  To commemorate this, the new extension to Jarvis Street was named Mount Pleasant Road.  It had previously been severed for the right of way for a commuter railway line.  The 1877 County Atlas below does not show either the new road or railway.  Yellow Creek has been drawn in the atlas as being in a ravine as it passes through the cemetery, which is outlined in green.  Mud Creek rises out of a steep ravine and flows across the cemetery on a much shallower one.  I’ve marked the railway line in orange.  As a side note, the Davisville Post Office shown on the map still exists as a Starbucks on the corner of Yonge and Davisville.

Cemetery Map (2)


With an economic boom going on in Toronto a plan was developed to sell lands north of the developed city and service them with a commuter railway to be known as the Belt Line Railway.  When it was revealed that the proposed railway would follow Mud Creek and then pass through the cemetery the plan was opposed by the The Toronto General Burying Grounds Trustees.  Moore Park Station was proposed for just south of the cemetery at the top of the ravine and it was designed as the grand masterpiece of the railway.  The Trustees were eventually convinced that the proposal would help establish the cemetery as a Victorian country garden destination and it would gain in the end.

The housing boom didn’t happen due to an economic crash and the railway only operated for a little over two years.  The first passenger train ran on July 30, 1892 and by November 17, 1894 the service was shut down.  The former right of way for the Belt Line Railway was a prime piece of real estate and Toronto City Planning Commissioner Tracy Lemay had a plan for a high speed expressway that would link the Lakeshore with Mount Pleasant Road.  This was part of a larger plan of roadways that was never fully implemented.  Fearing that they would be cut off from the east end of their property the trustees commissioned a bridge over the railway right of way.


The expressway was never built and the cemetery ended up with a bridge over a shallow depression.  The bridge stood from 1929 until the early 1970’s when it was demolished because it had deteriorated.  Like everything else in the cemetery, the former bridge also has become a monument.  The west abutment has been left as a reminder of the bridge. In a way, it is a testament to a failed railway enterprise and an expressway that was never more than a dream. The concrete is adorned with a symbol of vines and grapes.  The vines represent continuity while the grapes are a Christian emblem that remembers The Last Supper.


The top of the abutment has been turned into an area for quiet reflection behind the cemetery offices.


The insides of the bridge are adorned with painted images of the cross.  The cemetery was started as a secular one and it seems interesting that the symbolism is Christian within about 50 years of the opening.


The original guard rails on the approach to the bridge have been removed.


This areal photo taken in 1947 and found on The Toronto Archives shows the bridge.


A plaque on the inside of the bridge pays respect to those who were involved in the plan to stay ahead of the city planners.


Google Maps Link: Mount Pleasant Cemetery

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