Author Archives: hikingthegta

Prospect Cemetery

Sunday, January 12, 2020

With the rapid expansion of the city during the 19th century there was a need for additional cemetery grounds.  In 1887 the city purchased 100 acres of land from William Shields for this purpose.  The plans were laid out to allow maximum views which originally included Lake Ontario and the Humber River Valley.  Two ravines passed through the plot of land leading to it being named Prospect Cemetery.


Over 170,000 people have been buried in Prospect Cemetery since it opened in 1890.


Many local veterans of the First World War returned home with injuries that would soon claim their lives.  The first few were buried in various cemeteries around the city.  The Great War Veterans Association and The Toronto General Burying Grounds selected a 5 acre oval section near the St. Clair Avenue entrance to the cemetery as the site of a dedicated veterans section.  Capt. James Henderson of the Royal Army Medical Corps served in Mesopotamia and returned home on leave suffering a cold that turned into pneumonia which killed him on July 16, 1917.  He became the first interment in the cemetery having lived 39 years.  He is buried near the Cross of Sacrifice which is the centre piece of the plot.  It can be seen in the background of the cover shot.  Today there are over 3,500 veterans buried in the cemetery, many of them in neat rows in the veterans plot.


Private Griffith Evans served in Europe and returned home in the summer of 1917 suffering from fatal battle wounds.  He passed away a month before the first burial in the veterans plot and was relocated here in honour of his service.


Lance Corporal Thomas Wilson came home from the war and died on October 2, 1918.  He perished a month too soon to learn that his service was part of the victory that came on November 11, 1918.


There are many soldiers buried in the cemetery in places outside of the veterans plot.  Some of them are in graves with markers that bear no mention of their service.  Others have been commemorated with a standard design maker like the one issued to Corporal William Fraser Stagg who died on the final day of 1918.  His service record indicates that the cause of death was unknown.  The Canadian Great War Project is a searchable database that contains information on the men and women who served their country during World War 1.


Some parts of the cemetery have particularly colourful displays that people have set up to commemorate their loved ones.


Prospect Cemetery is the full 105 acre lot that ran between Eglinton Avenue and St. Clair Avenue.  It is split in a couple of places by through streets, including Rogers Road where this set of gates is found.


Inside the St. Clair Avenue gates the cemetery has built a large mausoleum known as the Mausoleum of the Last Supper.  Along with white marble-fronted crypts the mausoleum features several beautiful statues including one of The Risen Christ.  There’s also a full wall dedicated to The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.  The original painting covers an entire wall in the dining hall of a monastery in Milan.


The cemetery was chosen for the veterans interment in part because the local community had made a large contribution to the war effort.  During the course of the war around 2,500 people from the neighbourhood of Earlscourt enlisted in the military.  This made them the highest per capita district in Canada and 320 of them lost their lives in the conflict.  To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war the cemetery installed a series of 9 plaques that describe Canada’s role in the war.  Another describes the service of Earlscourt and a final one shows the locations of key battles Canadians fought in the war.  Prospect Cemetery (part of the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries) has an electronic version of the memorial on their website.  The virtual war memorial can be found by following the link.  Here you can read all 11 of the plaques that were installed.


This is an interesting stone because it appears to mark the grave of a man who married twice.  Both wives were named Margaret.  William Alfred Francis appears to have survived his first wife, Margaret Armstrong by 22 years.  His second wife, Margaret Anderson survived him by another 20 years.  Both women who bore the name Mrs. Margaret Francis appear to be laid to rest with the husband they both loved.


Every cemetery is full of the stories of the lives it commemorates, if we only had the ability to read them.  Prospect cemetery tells the stories of thousands of people who defended our liberty, especially in World War 1.

Other cemeteries we’ve written about include Mount Pleasant Cemetery, The Necropolis and St. John’s Cemetery on the Humber.

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Thackeray Landfill Park

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Kipling Avenue comes to a dead end just north of Steeles Avenue where Thakeray Park Cricket Grounds are.  The large hill on the property is a mound of household waste that was placed here when Thakeray Landfill was in operation.  The site is 45 hectares and contains 2.2 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste.  After closing in 1978 it was turned over to the city in 1979 to be managed as a park.  However, ongoing methane gas leakage has caused the site to be under utilized until now.  A proposal has been put forward to convert the methane into electricity as is currently done at Beare Road Landfill site in Rouge National Urban Park.  The city earns $2 million each year selling electricity back into the grid.  To check out this park we used the free parking for the cricket grounds.

A fresh coating of snow was on all the trees as we set out for our walk, reminding us of how beautiful winter can be.


As we made our way along the north side of the former landfill we began seeing sets of coyote tracks.  Their footprints tend to run is a single line unlike a dog which shows left and right side as distinctly separate tracks.  We could hear two coyote howling nearby and wondered if they may have entered mating season a little early.  The season doesn’t usually start until late January but we found a site where a coyote had urinated and left considerable amount of blood as well.  This could indicate a female in heat.


The sides of the former landfill have been planted with trees to promote an eventual forest cover for the site.


The Canadian National York Subdivision was built to connect the new MacMillan Yard with various lines on the east end of Toronto.  The line was started in 1959 and completed in 1965 through what was open farm land at the time.  The bridge over the Humber River was built in 1962 and has been added to the list of Humber River Heritage Bridges.  It features rare A-Frame reinforced concrete piers that carry a single line over the river.  The line expands into double track just west of this bridge.


The railway approaches the river on a high berm that affords great photos of the frequent trains.  The early morning snow fall had already melted away by the time we had walked north to the Vaughan Sports Complex and back.


Taking the trail to the left we climbed the hill that represents the former land fill.  A grove of trees stands at the top of the hill.  Another trail beside these trees leads back down the hill toward Steeles Avenue.  The Trail continues under the road and eventually leads to the site of the former Country Hospital For Sick Children.  We followed the trail for a short distance before returning to look at the mini airfield on the top of the land fill.


Radio controlled aircraft became popular in the late 1960’s and for several years people met at the Keele Street Reservoir south of Steeles to fly their aircraft.  Fear of fuel leaking into the water supply led to the banning of flying there in 1972.  The club moved around looking for a home until 1982 when they located the Thackeray Park site that became their new home.


Initially the landing strip was made of dirt and as the landfill started to settle it became very uneven.  Water would pond in the field in the spring time.  In 2000 about ten truck loads of soil were brought in to level the ground again.  The sun shelter was added in 2002 and a solar power charging station installed in 2012.  By 2014 there were a lot of smaller airplanes using the field and they were having a hard time taking off and landing on the grass runway.  It was decided to install a Geo Textile runway along with six pilot stations to meet the needs of the club for the near future.  Sixty feet of grass landing strip is maintained for those who prefer this option.


The Humber Valley Radio Control Flyers have a membership of over 100 who work together to maintain the field, keep the litter picked up and cut the grass on the landing strip.


It will be interesting to see what Toronto Parks does with the old landfill site when it is declared safe for use as a park.

Another story of a park located on a former landfill site can be found at this link: Beare Road

Google Maps Link: Thackeray Park

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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Utopia is a few minutes west of Highway 400 near Barrie and on a recent trip to see the family in Gravenhurst to celebrate Christmas I made the side trip to see the old grist mill that stands in the local conservation area.  Eugene Smith was the first settler in the hamlet of Utopia and he arrived with his family in 1845.  By the 1870s there was a hotel, blacksmith shop, general store with post office a school and two churches along with a saw mill and grist mill.  The town served the local farmers in Essa Township.

Utopia (2)

Church was often the focal point for early communities.  The rural farmers would often see each other once a week when they got together for worship services.  Sunday shopping hadn’t been invented yet and so Sunday was a day of rest when people would hang around after church to discuss the crops or catch up on the news.  In Utopia the faithful started meeting in homes and the school with services being held under a large tree at the corner of the 5th concession and 25 side road.  In 1873 John Jennet donated a parcel of land to build a permanent church for the Anglican parish in Utopia.  Reverend W. Bates was the first to hold services in the new church building.  It was originally known as All Saints but changed its name to St. George’s in 1874.


I parked at the entrance to the Utopia Conservation Area and went for a walk.  The road to the old mill has been blocked by several truck loads of fine gravel which has been dumped there.  This will likely be spread out on the trails in the spring.  Beyond this a gate across the road bears a sign indicating that the area is closed to the general public.  I carried on in the interest of photographing and reporting the current condition of the old building.   The original mill lane runs between rows of cedar trees.


At the bottom of the lane the mill pokes out from behind the trees.  James Pink had built the original mill on this site in 1864 and soon added a saw mill down stream soon after.  The water flow in Bear Creek was insufficient to run both mills at the same time so the saw mill was operated during the day and the grist mill at night.  Richard Bell had worked at the mill for three years when he bought it in 1879.  His brothers John and Manuel operated it until it burned to the ground on May 29, 1903.


The mill was rebuilt and opened again on January 1, 1904.  The mill sits on a foundation made of stones that is four and a half feet thick.  It is claimed that quicksand forced the foundation to be set 30 feet deep.


The mill had its own brand of flour including Gold Coin which was intended for baking bread.  Snowflake was milled with pastry in mind.  They also chopped grain for feed for the local farmers and by the 1940s this was the sole business of the mill.


On October 14, 1954 Hurricane Hazel caused Bear Creek to rise to the point where the front porch of the mill was washed away.  The water ran through the building and out again without causing any structural damage.  The mill dam was destroyed and rather than replacing it Harold Bell decided to install a diesel generator.  The mill operated like this until it closed in 1965.


The Nottawasaga Conservation Authority obtained the property soon after this and have been slowly restoring the mill as funds have become available.  New windows have been installed and the front porch replaced.  Although the siding is coming off in a few places it still looks like the building is being protected from excessive deterioration.  Inside, many of the old shafts, pulleys and belts that operated the mill remain in anticipation of possible future use as a working mill.


The dam was replaced with a new concrete on in 1969 to help control the flow of water in times of flooding conditions.


Grain was shipped to the mill from the prairies via a grain shed on the Canadian National Railway Line just north of the mill.  The rail line is abandoned today and clearly marked as no trespassing.


It will certainly be interesting to see if the mill will continue to be restored to a fully functional grist mill.

For our earlier story on The Barrie Light Company click on the link.

Google Maps Link: Utopia Conservation Area

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QEW’s Heritage Bridge

Saturday, December 21, 2019

When the completed Queen Elizabeth Way opened in 1939 it had the distinction of being the first super-highway in Canada and the also first one to be fully illuminated at night.  (Although that was delayed until war-time electricity restrictions were lifted in 1945.)  Several bridges were built over the major ravines and the one over the Credit River in Mississauga has been given an historic designation. In April 2019 the Provincial Government announced funding to rehabilitate the bridge and build a second one directly to the north to allow for increased traffic flow.  By November they had decided to demolish the bridge and build two new ones in a modern box design.  Public outcry has resulted in the recent announcement that the government will only seek tenders that include the preservation and restoration of the historic bridge.


I decided to stop by and see what the bridge looked like and get some pictures in case the ongoing flip-flop continues and we end up without this structure.  It can be most easily seen from Stavebank Road north.  The bridge was built in 1934 and was partially financed under the New Deal that was a government spending program intended to spur the economy during the Great Depression.  The bridge is 840 feet long with seven spans and is historic for its Art Deco design.  Also significant is the fact that the highway was commissioned by the king and queen during the first ever visit to Canada by a reigning monarch.


The bridge, along with the highway, was officially opened on June 7, 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.  Initially conceived in 1931, the highway was simple and intended to relieve congestion on Dundas Street and Lakeshore Road.  The new road would run between the two and be known as Middle Road for that reason.  This early version of the highway contains the historically significant Middle Road Bridge.  With the election of Mitch Hepburn’s Liberals in 1934 the plans were altered significantly in favour of a superhighway like the autobahns being built in Germany.  This resulted in the first cloverleaf in Canada being built for the interchange with Hurontario (Highway 10).  The Middle Road section of the highway opened in 1937 and was the 39 kilometres between Highway 27 and Burlington which included this bridge.  This picture features the view downstream.


The view looking north up The Credit River from under the bridge.  Much of the eastern side of the river is wetland and marsh through this reach.


There is a steel structure that has been installed between the main arches of the bridge and dates to the 1960 addition of two extra lanes in the middle of the bridge.  This allowed the highway to expand from four lanes to six.


The bridge has been maintained several times including 1977, 1987 and 2014 but the weather and road salt is getting at it in several places again.  This looks like another opportunity for some patching of the decay.  There’s  few cavities but no root canal or extraction appears to be warranted.


Part of the restoration will include replacing the road deck which is starting to rust in a few places.


This Ministry of Transportation image shows the twin box design bridges that we almost got at this site.  It would seem that the new bridge on the north side of the existing one may use this design as it is a current favourite with the government.

QEW Bridges

The architecture of the bridge is interesting in that the supports for the arches have their own arches included.  No such Art Deco design elements would be included in a replacement bridge.


The bridge features some interesting lamp posts with the letters “ER” in the iron work.  This is Latin for Elizabeth Regina, or Queen Elizabeth.  It would be easy to conclude that this refers to Queen Elizabeth II, our current monarch.  However, she was only a 13-year old princess when and it was opened.  It was actually named for King George VI’s wife whose name was Elizabeth.  She was later known as the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II is her daughter.  The government plan for the demolition of the bridge would have seen the ornate lamp posts preserved and re-installed somehow in the new structure.  Fortunately they can be preserved in their current position on the rehabilitated bridge.


Each day over 165,000 vehicles pass over this bridge but apart from the lamp posts most of them will never see the architecture of the bridge.  So, why care about a design that only a few fishermen and local residents will ever see?  The issue has far reaching implications because once heritage structures start to be demolished for economic reasons the entire designation system will become powerless to protect our remaining history.

Google Maps Link:  QEW Bridge

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Streetsville – Timothy Street

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The founder of Streetsville was born in New York in 1777 and emigrated to Upper Canada in 1801 after marrying Abigail Smith.  They lived near Niagara for twenty years and in 1818-1819 Timothy financed the survey of Toronto Township and was compensated with 4500 acres of land that would become the town of Streetville.  We decided to go and explore some of the legacy he left behind.  We parked on Mill Street beside his historic home.  The county atlas below shows how large Streetsville had become by 1877 when it was released.

Streetsville (2)

Timothy founded a milling empire and in 1825 built the house that still stands at the end of Mill Street near his mills.  He first built a grist mill around 1822 and soon added a lumber and saw mill.  He continued to expand by adding a tannery, distillery and clothing mill.  The brick house he constructed is considered to be the first brick house to be built in Peel County and remains the oldest one.  It is a story and a half and has been added to at least twice partly to accommodate the 12 children he raised along with Abigail.


Timothy needed water to power his mills and so he built a dam across the Credit River just north of the mills.  He found a narrow place where an earthen berm could be built to retain the mill pond.  Originally the dam would have consisted of a wooden crib across the river that was filled with stones.  This type of dam required constant repairs, some of which could be quite dangerous.  Many millers lost their lives trying to save their mill dams from being washed away in the raging spring waters.


In 1824 Timothy Street deeded an acre of his land to the Presbyterian Church for the purposes of establishing a Protestant cemetery.  Five of his own children would die in their youth and be buried in this cemetery.


Timothy Street died an January 31, 1848 and was buried in the cemetery where his children were interred.


From the pioneer cemetery the silos of the Barbertown mills can be seen.  The milling community of Barbertown was located at the Credit River and Eglinton Avenue.  It included what was the largest woolen mill in Ontario during the middle of the 1800’s.


The trails along the sides of the Credit River through Streetsville form part of the Culham Trail and will eventually be part of the Credit Valley Trail.


By 1890 the pioneer cemetery was reaching capacity and land for a new cemetery was donated to the town by Timothy Street’s daughter.


A new study has found that squirrels use the local birds to help them determine if it is safe to go outside their nests.  Squirrels will listen to the tweets of birds in the area to help them understand if there could be red-tailed hawks near by.  When the birds are chattering away in normal fashion the squirrels go about their usual business of gathering nuts.  When the birds go silent the squirrels interpret this to mean danger and they take cover.


The first high school in Peel county as built in Streetsville in 1851.  It was enlarged in 1877 when the two rooms in the front were added along with the Italianate tower.  It served as the school for 115 years before being converted to the town hall in 1966.  By 1974 it had been converted to be the local police station before its present tenant, the Kinsmen Senior Citizens Centre.


Streetsville is one of the truly unique places where the city has surrounded a small town but failed to absorb it.  As a result Streetsville still has a lot of its small town charm and we have visited several times.

Further reading about Streetsville: Alpha Mills, Streetsville’s Forgotten Foundations, Hyde Mill, Barbertown

Google Maps Link: Mill Street Streetsville

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Donalda Farm

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The property of the current Donalda Golf Club contains some of the oldest farm buildings remaining in the city of Toronto as well as one of the earliest surviving grist mills.  The property was deeded to William and Alexander Gray in 1825.  They quickly built a small milling empire along the sides of the Don River.  The County Atlas from 1877 shows the grist mill on one side of the river and the saw mill on the other.  The saw mill vanished when the timber industry ran out of local wood to use.  The grist mill was incorporated into later structures and the old lane way to the grist mill survives today as an access road.


The lane way has been recognized for its historical significance and is now protected under the heritage act.  It served as an access road to allow farmers to bring their grain to the mill to sell it or have it ground for flour.  It served as a given road between the modern day Don Mills Road and Victoria Park Avenue.  The eastern half of this given road has been closed and serves the golf course.


Around 1840 the two brothers built brick homes that stood side by side and just across the lane way from the grist mill.  These two houses still survive on the property and unfortunately it looks like the front of one of them has been painted red.  This hides the patterned brick work that is still evident on the side.  This house has a Georgian Style, a design that was popular between 1790 and 1875.


The second house lacks the patterned brick but has a more Gothic design, popular from 1830-1890.  Based on the architectural styles it would appear that this house was constructed some time after the first one.


The grist mill was built in the 1830s and operated until the farm was sold in 1916.  The Grays ground their own brand of flour which they called Wee MacGregor.  It is the oldest surviving grist mill in the city that stands on the original site.  The grain elevator shaft can still be found at the rear of the old mill.


One of the doors on the top floor of the old grist mill appears to have shifted in its track.


In 1916 David A Dunlap and Jesse Donalda Dunlap bought the farm from the Grays with the intention of building a model farm.  They had some ideas for sanitary husbandry that were ahead of their time and they wanted to showcase them to the world.  They hired the architects Wickson & Gregg to design and build their new barn, incorporating the old barn into the structure.  The cattle enjoyed soft radio music in the barn that featured fresh air ventilation.  In the winter they had steam heating to keep them warm and comfortable.  The pigs were bathed in olive oil and washed with toilet soap.  The front side of the old grist mill can be seen in this picture on the left of the new barn.


The farm expanded to include 1800 acres of land with over 40 farm buildings and 30 employees .  A lot of attention to detail and fine workmanship went into everything including something as functional as the silo where the animal feed was kept.  No boring old poured concrete for this granary but rather some rather beautiful tiles have been used.


This picture shows the farm buildings and the old grist mill from the side of the river where the saw mill once stood.


David Dunlap made his fortune by founding the world’s greatest silver mine followed by founding the second greatest gold mine.  Although they never lived there permanently in 1920 the Dunlaps decided to build a new home that would be used as their country retreat.  The house was given doric columns and wrought iron was used to create a classical design.  When David died in 1924 he left a 5 million dollar estate farm that his wife operated with their son until it was sold in 1952.  By 1960 it had become the Donalda Golf Club and the home was renovated to become the club house.


David Dunlap left a quarter million dollars each to several schools, hospitals and churches.  His donation to Toronto General Hospital funded the Dunlap Radiological Science Department.

Google Maps Link: Donalda Golf Course

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Chedoke Ski Hill

Saturday, November 30, 2019

On January 7, 1964 Chedoke Winter Sports Park was officially opened.  Mayor Vic Copps and  head of the parks board Thomas Newlands cut the ribbon that opened the first run with its 900 foot tow rope.  Over time two more tow ropes and a chair lift would be added along with sled runs.  The park operated until 2002 when poor snow conditions caused the city of Hamilton to decide not to open it that year.  The following year it was closed permanently with the city citing an annual loss of $250,000.  The cost of upgrading the snow making equipment to be able to perform in warmer temperatures along with lift upgrades would have cost an additional $3,000,000.  Over the next few years most of the poles and lift equipment was removed guaranteeing that it would never open again.  The picture below was taken from The Hamilton Spectator and shows the ribbon cutting ceremony that opened the park.

Chedoke opening

The winter sports park added additional ski runs over the years as well as more tow lifts.  Eventually, a run would be opened from the top of the escarpment and it would be served by a chair lift.  Sled runs were also added and the park served as a winter destination for the next four decades.  Attendance declined over the years and the cost of operating the hill continued to increase until the city decided to close it permanently.

The Chedoke Rail Trail runs along the bottom of the escarpment near the Chedoke Golf Course and it has one unusual tunnel just north of the parking lot.  This tunnel allowed pedestrians to pass under the tow rope that carried skiers back to the top of the hill.  The tunnel is flanked on both sides by abandoned lamps that lit the former ski hill.


This tow rope supported one of the shorter runs and ended just a few metres above the  Bruce Trail.  The concrete pads where the upper wheel was located have been left behind.  Near this spot is an open pit that contained snow making pipes and equipment so watch where you step if you explore this area.


Each of the ski runs was lit for night skiing.  Although the lift mechanisms have been removed, the light fixtures were left behind.  They will slowly be overtaken by the new forest growth and will seem somewhat out of place to future explorers after the ski hills have been forgotten.


Between 2003 and 2009 most of the lift equipment was removed from the site.  All of the lift poles and tow ropes were disassembled and carted away except for the main drive unit for the chair lift.  It still stands at the bottom of the longest run, hiding in a green shed.


Inside the shed the main wheel and drive assembly still stands although the lift cable has been removed.  The wheel assembly is mounted on a pit in the floor that allowed the mechanism to be pulled backward by means of a hand crank and a series of cables.  This was used to keep the tension on the main lift cable.


From outside of the lift shed the view up the hill reveals how quickly the trees are creeping back onto the ski slope.  The lift towers and chairs have been removed so we had to climb to the top.  The Bruce Trail crosses the slope about half way up the picture.


Three rows of PVC pipe run down the length of the longest run.  These were used for the snow making equipment.  Expensive upgrades to this system  to allow snow making in warmer temperatures were cited as part of the reason for closing the site down.  The lift poles were removed that ran along beside these pipes and yet they were left behind.  It wouldn’t have taken much more effort to cut these up and cart them away while they were at it.  Estimates suggest that these pipes will still be laying here in the year 2500 if no one collects them.


From the top of the escarpment you get a nice view out across Burlington Bay.  The first part of this run is pretty steep and was the adrenaline rush that the more experienced skiers were looking for.


From this location on the top of the hill you are close to the old Mountain Sanatorium where they used to treat people with tuberculosis.  The sanatorium is now abandoned and most of the buildings have been torn down.  The Cross of Lorraine still stands at the top of the escarpment to mark the old hospital and it is visible from the trail below.  The gray squirrel has an average lifespan of 6 years if they make it past heir youth.  Records show lives of up to 20 years in captivity.


We followed the Robert MacLaren Side Trail along the top of the escarpment with the plan of taking the Chedoke Stairs back down to the Chedoke Rail Trail and from there to investigate a couple of local waterfalls.  From the trail you can see the top of Westcliffe Falls but the actual waterfall is hidden from view.  A little farther along you come to a spectacular view of Cliffview Falls.  The view from the top suggested that it would be worth the effort to follow the creek from the bottom of the escarpment back up to the bottom of the waterfall.


The waterfalls are located at the bottom of the Chedoke Stairs.   There are two waterfalls that meet near the bottom of the ravine and share a lower falls.  The Lower Cliffview Falls are on the left and Lower Westcliffe Falls on the right.


Westcliffe Falls is a 15-metre complex ribbon falls that is mostly hidden from the regular trails in the area.  However, you can climb past the lower falls and from there it is a short, easy climb to the main falls.  It is located in the ravine on the right above the combined lower falls.


Cliffview Falls is 15 metres tall and is a terraced ribbon falls.  Both of these waterfalls are nice in spite of the low flow of water.  In the spring when the water is at its peak flow they are both likely to be quite spectacular, with Westcliffe being the more interesting of the two.


Having climbed up the ravine to view the two sets of falls we returned to the car having fully enjoyed the day.

Further reading about local attractions near Chedoke Ski Hill:

Escarpment Stairs, Mountain Sanatorium, Chedoke Rail Trail

Google Maps Link: Chedoke Stairs 

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