Author Archives: hikingthegta

John Robinson House – 1877

Sunday, July 7, 2019


My brother had observed a house on Derry Road in Mississauga that he believes should be included in our post of surviving homes from the town of Mount Charles – Ghost Towns of The GTA.  Having been in the area checking out the historic town of Malton, it seemed like a good idea to visit this home as well.

Below is the county atlas for 1877 which shows the house as belonging to John Robinson, one lot east of the community of Mount Charles.  Formally known as lot 10, Con 4 East Half Side it was a 100 acre lot.  The dots between the house and Derry Road indicate the orchard that once grew there.


The house was built in 1877 and replaced an earlier log structure on the property.  It stayed in the Robinson family until 1902 when the farm was sold to Fred Clarke.  The Clarke family continued to farm here until the 1960’s.


The house is listed on the heritage register as Victorian Gothic Revival.  The north side of the home has the pointed arch window in the upper floor that is traditional for the gothic revival.  The three windows on the first floor have more of a rounded arch typical of the Italianate style that had been popular since the 1840’s.  Victorian homes often mix styles and pay little attention to symmetry.  Notice the three windows on the lower floor are not spaced equally.


The gingerbread is falling off but at one time the house was decorously trimmed.  Each of the windows has a small row of brick cut in opposing angles running across the top and extending a couple of inches beyond the face of the wall.


Someone has taken the time to paint the window boarding black with white trim to simulate the windows behind and make the house look a little more appealing.  The windows at the rear of the house have not been painted in the same manner.


The front of the house had two doors, one facing east and one facing north.  The wall above the east facing door has cracked and shifted considerably.  The bricks were laid in a stretcher bond where the long side of each brick is exposed.  The outer layer is starting to fall away revealing the inner one beside the top of the door.  A large front porch was removed from the house but its outline is still clearly visible.


The rear of the house had an addition at some point in which a kitchen was added as well as a drive shed.  The rear opening would have allowed the tack to be brought into the building.  Above the door the theme of extended stonework above the lintel is continued but it has not been done above the drive shed opening.  The mix of architectural styles is interesting.


There is a single window at the back of the drive shed portion of the house.


The north elevation of the house shows a door into the kitchen area of the extension.  A metal post is bolted to the wall on both sides of the building.  This looks to be beside the section of the extension that represents the drive shed.  These type of metal plates suggest that the structure had to be supported and strengthened.  It makes me wonder if the house was moved from a location deeper on the property.


The difference in construction between the original house and the extension can be seen in the brickwork above the windows.  While the original windows were quite ornate and the quoins on the corners were made of lighter bricks.  The dichromate brick colouring appears to have been abandoned for the extension except for the east side in which it was carried on.


The house was built on a foundation of field stones collected on the farm.  The county atlas appears to show it farther from the road but that may just be a reflection of the fact that the road was only two lanes as wide back in 1877 instead of the six lanes it carries today.


The picture below was taken in 1989 before the two large warehouses were erected on either side of the house.  Even 30 years ago this house was abandoned and the roof was starting to cave in.  Notice that there is a bell cote on the top of the drive shed that is missing the bell.  The bell cote has been removed from the house and a few minor repairs have been made to the roof to keep the house from deteriorating further.

Robinson House 1989

The house is listed on the heritage register for Mississauga but it is unclear what the future holds for this historic house from the community of Mount Charles.

Google Maps Link: Mount Charles

Like us at

Follow us at



Corktown Common

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Located at the foot of Bayview Avenue, Corktown Common is an 18 acre park that sits on reclaimed industrial lands.  These former brownfields were once home to the William Davis hog abattoir which later became Canada Packers.  The large number of pigs that passed through this downtown facility were partially responsible for the nickname “Hogtown” that Toronto took on.  By the 1990’s all the buildings on the site had been demolished.  Corktown Common was built in 2013 as part of the West Don Lands developments.  In order to protect the new Canary District developments from flooding from the Don River a large berm was built to retain a the river during a 1-in-100-year flooding event.  When you enter the Commons off of Front Street it brings you into the large central lawn.


Native plants have been cultivated in groupings to create as many habitat features as possible to attract wildlife to the park.  A pair of painted turtles can be seen in the cover photo.  They live in one of the wetland ponds.


Nearly all of the water used on the site in splash pads, irrigation and storm water collection systems is fed into the urban marsh.  There is an irrigation cistern that can hold 150,000 gallons of water.  This is enough to irrigate the park for a week.


This baby mallard duck was feeding in one of the wetland ponds.  It has a life expectancy of 5-10 years in the wild but should have no lack of food if it remains in the wetlands.


Trails wind through the park as they make their way up the hill towards a large playground for children.  There is a splash pad as well as a fire pit and permanent bbq pits.


A pair of northern rough-winged swallows sit on the same branch in a tree where they were trying hard to keep their balance against a steady wind that was blowing in from the lake.


From the top of the hill in the Commons you can see the Lower Don River with several of the abandoned bridges including these ones from the old alignment of Eastern Avenue.


Corktown Commons has already become home to many species of birds and this Yellow Warbler was busy enjoying a worm for lunch.  The trails in the Commons also connect to the Lower Don Trail via the Bala underpass beneath the railway tracks.  This allows you to extend your walk in either direction up or down the river.


I decided to follow Cherry Street into the Port Lands to see what is happening with the work on refurbishing this 290 hectare former industrial site.  The Port Authority is conducting some large scale lake filling operations to create some new park land at the future mouth of the Don River.


Work has begun on digging a new channel for the Don River.  Over 120 years ago the river wound through the marshes that formed Ashbridges Bay and entered the lake through a course that is about to be restored.  The new river bed will be up to 100 metres wide and 1 kilometre long.


After crossing the Cherry Street bridge you can see the Cherry Street Interlocking Tower.  It is one of three towers that were built as part of the Union Station line in 1931.  Together they controlled the track switching that keeps trains from crashing in the busy rail corridor where over 235 trains pass each weekday.


Once you pass the Cherry Street tower you come to the entrance to the famous Distillery District.  This is an area that will need to be investigated sometime.

Google Maps Link: Corktown Common

Like us at

Follow us at




Toronto Historic Places

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Every year we are encouraged to get out and visit one of the historic places in our area to appreciate the fact that every place has a story to tell.  They are often our opportunity to travel back in time to see how previous generations in lived in our city.  This year Historic Places Day falls on Saturday, July 6, 2019.  We have been to many of the ones in the GTA and present the review below to give an overview of some of the places we have available to us.  Each one contains a link to an extended article with additional pictures and a Google Maps link for the location.  We hope you enjoy the presentation and will be motivated to check out one or more of the sites.

Fort York is the oldest historic site in Toronto as it stems from the original settlement of York in 1793.  The fort was partially destroyed in the War of 1812.  Link: Fort York


Spadina House and Casa Loma are adjacent to each other and provide an opportunity to see what life was like in the 1920s.  Spadina House is featured in the cover photo while Casa Loma is seen below.  Link: Spadina


Colborne Lodge was built in 1837 and is open to the public in High Park.  It features original furniture as well as many of John Howards’ original paintings.  Link: Colborne Lodge


The Scarborough Museum is located in Thomson Memorial Park and houses a wide range of pioneer exhibits from the area.  Admission is free.  Link: Scarborough Museum


Black Creek Pioneer Village lets you step back to the log-house beginnings of the Stong Family in North York.  Link: Black Creek Pioneer Village


Mackenzie House was the home of William Lyon Mackenzie who was the leader of the Rebellion of 1837 in Toronto.  The home provides the opportunity to see a 19th century print shop in action.  Link: Mackenzie House


Also related to the Rebellion of 1837 is Gibson House in North York.  The original Gibson property was burned and this home was built in 1851 when David returned from exile in the USA.  Link: Gibson House


Todmorden Mills reflects a milling community of the 19th century and boasts the second oldest mill building and the first of three paper mills in the area.  Link: Todmorden Mills


The Evergreen Brickworks is housed in the buildings where the bricks for many early Toronto buildings were made.  Link: Don Valley Brick Works


Our early railway history is preserved at Roundhouse Park near the base of the CN Tower.  The John Street Roundhouse was built in 1929 and had 32 bays.  Link: Roundhouse Park


When the people of the town of York changed their name to Toronto in 1834 this building was the post office.  It now serves as a postal museum where you can see the way the post office looked nearly 200 years ago.  Link: Toronto’s First Post Office


The Legislative Buildings at Queens Park represent the history of the Government of Ontario.  There are many historic statues on the ground of the park.  Link: Queens Park


Right on the waterfront is a small park which commemorates one chapter in the history of immigration to the city.  Ireland Park has several statues that depict the plight of the Irish who landed near there.  Link: Ireland Park


There are hundreds of historic places across Canada that you could visit.  You can look for one near you at this link.

Like us at

Follow us at

Western Counties Occupational Centre

Friday, June 14, 2019

This post is part two of a road trip out of the GTA and down the 401 to London.  While in the city we took the time to visit the abandoned London Asylum for the Insane.  From there we went to investigate the trails and abandoned buildings around the kettle lakes known as Westminster Ponds.

There are five kettle ponds, a beaver pond and several smaller ponds in the conservation area that were formed when the last ice age retreated about 12,000 years ago.  They were formed when chunks of ice broke off of the glacier and were buried in till.  When they melted it left the holes that have filled up to become Westminster Ponds.  Several archaeological digs have been held around the ponds where evidence of first nations camp sites date back over 4,500 years.  European settlers arrived in 1815 and started to clear the land for agriculture.  In 1910 the first section of the park was acquired for conservation and it has been added to several times since.  In 1920 Westminster Hospital was established nearby for the treatment of mental and nervous casualties of the First World War.  In 1940 the federal government purchased an additional 418 acres of land to expand the hospital.

The capture below is from Google Earth in 2004 and shows the relative locations of the various buildings at the Western Counties Occupational Centre.  The ones circled in blue are still on site while the ones in yellow have been demolished.  The yellow circle with the slash through it indicates the site of the one building that had already been removed in the late 1990’s.

Westminster 2004

In 1946 the Department of Veterans Affairs opened a rehab facility for soldiers returning from the Second World War.  Originally the centre was home to 6 patients but quickly reached the maximum of 196.  The Western Counties Occupational Centre had eleven buildings, each named after one of the counties in South Western Ontario.  Of these, four were demolished by the City of London and three others by the Westminster Hospital.  The Wellington Pavilion is seen in the cover photo and is currently vacant.  Running west from there you have the Perth, Huron and Bruce Pavilions.  The Huron Pavilion is shown below.  It has been re-purposed into The Secrets of Radar Museum.


The Wellington Pavilion can be seen in the cover photo and is the only non-dormitory building that is left in the compound.  It was built as the administration building and has two floors and a basement.  The two wings are set at an angle to the building and single story construction.  The cupola is still in the middle of the roof but the columns have been removed from the front door and placed into storage.  In 1984 funding was secured for a new Veterans Wing and this marked the end of the facility.  Within five years all the patients were transferred away and the first demolition began.


The four pavilions on city land were demolished and the basements filled in with soil.  The ground inside the concrete outline of the building was then seeded with clover.  The chimney was removed from one of the buildings but the other three were reduced to 8 feet tall and capped off.  Steel grates were installed in the front of the fireplace for safety.  One of the demolished buildings that was on the hospital property had an indoor swimming pool and another housed a print shop for training purposes.  These have been removed without a trace being left behind.  Another of the buildings had a bowling lane in the basement but this has been filled in.


This picture shows the back of one of the remaining pavilions and you can see the comparison with the previous photo showing just the outline of the building on the ground.


Most of the trails in the park are packed earth but there are several places where boardwalks carry the trail through a wetland.  There are over ten kilometres of walking trails in the park but they are all marked with yellow slashes.  They intersect with other yellow trails and it is quite easy to become disoriented.


Several trees along the trails have been tagged as heritage trees and are protected.


Saunders Pond has become overgrown with algae and water lilies.  The water lilies on the pond are primarily white with a few pink flowers scattered throughout.


The Wellington Pavilion can be seen from across Saunders Pond.  Before the trees were allowed to grow each one of the pavilions had a clear view of the pond.  This was to be part of the therapy that was being provided to the recovering soldiers.


The Rotary Club of London West has taken an interest in the ESA and has initiated several stewardship programs.  One of these programs included the building of several boardwalks with the donor’s names engraved on the boards.  Some of these boards have a memorial to a person’s life and record the dates of their birth and passing.


There are several kilometres of trails and at least three kettle lakes yet to be explored in this park.  For those who live in the area this is quite a neat little park in the middle of the city.  Be sure to check out our other London post at this link.  London Asylum for the Insane.

Google Maps Link: Westminster Ponds

Like us at

Follow us at

London Asylum for the Insane

Friday, June 14, 2019

The 160-acre property that houses the former London Psychiatric hospital has been sold to a local developer for 17 million dollars.  Most of the buildings will likely be demolished with the exception of three historically designated ones.  So, with a Friday off work I decided to go on a road trip outside the GTA and see what is there and get some pictures while they can still be taken.

The original name for the facility was The London Asylum for the Insane when it opened in November of 1870.  The original building had 500 beds and these were filled almost immediately.  In 1928 it was renamed the Ontario Hospital for the Mentally Ill.  It became The London Psychiatric Hospital in 1968.  The Western Archives photo below shows the main building before it was demolished to make way for more modern buildings that stand at the front of the lot today.  The remaining historical buildings are all at the rear of the property.


The original idea for the asylum included various types of therapy.  Natural surroundings were considered ideal to medical recovery in the late Victorian Era.  The hospital also applied various work programs to the patients to help prepare them to be integrated back into society when they were well.  Men worked at farming and gardening while the women were taught sewing.  The wings of the replacement facility extend from a round central hub.  This building was opened in 1968.


Insanity was a simple diagnosis that could be applied to any socially unacceptable behaviour including masturbation, depression or senility.  Patients were not always treated in ways that we would find acceptable today.  Some of the treatments were considered too much, even in those days.  Between 1895 and 1898 one doctor performed over 200 surgeries on women’s reproductive systems to help try and cure hysteria.  Apparently an hysterectomy would be a suitable cure.  The buildings on the site are a mix of the mid-20th century replacement structures and the original buildings from the 1870’s and 1880’s.


This building will need to be removed as it appears to have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of self-demolition.


The redevelopment plan calls for the preservation of the old recreation hall.  Also known as the assembly hall, this building was erected in 1920.


The infirmary for the asylum is still standing and is also featured in the cover photo.  It was built in 1902.  There is a central administration block and two wards on either side.


Patients sit on the lawn in front of the infirmary in this historical photo from the Western Archives.


The non-denominational chapel on the hospital grounds was built partly using labour from the patients.  It was constructed in 1884 in the Gothic Revival style that was popular for churches in that era.


The church was known as the Chapel of Hope and was used for thousands of weddings in recent years.  The last wedding was held here on September 30th, 2014.  With the land sold for development it is unclear what the future of the chapel is but is is protected under a heritage designation.


The modern buildings will likely all be removed in the name of progress and residential, office space and a large component of  park land will replace them.  Several of the older buildings may be incorporated into the development due to their designation as historic structures.


There are several of these unremarkable building on the site that were built during the 1964 renovation of the property.


Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the stables so it is a good thing that they will be preserved in the redevelopment.  It will be interesting to see what becomes of this piece of property.  In the GTA we had a similar hospital at the Mimico Branch Asylum

Google Maps Link: London Psychiatric Hospital

Like us at

Follow us at


Queen’s Park

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The land that we know as Queen’s Park actually belongs the The University of Toronto and the name is often used to mean the Ontario Legislative Buildings which occupy the centre of the park.  The City of Toronto has leased the land from the university for 999 years at the rate of $1.00 per year.  The grounds to the north and south of the buildings contain many statues and other historic artifacts as well as providing green space for local residents to enjoy.  The park grounds have also served as a place for peaceful protesting over the years,  I decided to walk around the park and enjoy the statues and information plaques as well as the interesting architecture of the legislative buildings.

King Edward VII ruled from the time of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 until he died in 1910.  The statue of Edward on his horse was originally located in India but when the Indian Government decided to get rid of symbols of British rule they elected to give it to Toronto.  Edward had visited Toronto in 1860 as the Prince of Wales and had officially opened Queen’s Park.  In 1969 it was installed in the north end of Queen’s Park.  Due to restorations the north end of the park is currently closed except for the major pathways.  It isn’t possible to get close enough to the statue to read the inscriptions.


The picture below is from the Toronto Archives and shows the building as it looked in 1903.  The three front arches over the main entrance would be featured on the front cover of the album Moving Pictures by Rush.

Parliament Buildings, Queen's Park

When the legislative assembly buildings were designed there was intended to be a clock in the tower on the left side of the main entrance.  The clock turned out to be more expensive than planned and the funding was withdrawn.  The end result was a pair of ornate round windows.


Sitting on the south lawn of Queen’s Park is a pair of cannons that were captured during the Crimean War.  The war was fought over the rights of the Christian minority in the Holy Lands which was under the control of the Ottoman Empire.  The war lasted from 1853 to 1856 with the British and French supporting the Ottoman Empire against Russia.  The two cannons were sent to Toronto in 1859 as a gift from Queen Victoria.  Many of the captured cannons were melted down to make Victoria Cross medals for heroic soldiers.


Oliver Mowat was the third premier of Ontario, a position that he held for nearly 24 years.  Mowat was the premier from 1872 until 1896 which included the period of time that the legislative assembly buildings were under construction.  He was the first person to sit as premier in this building.  Mowat was also one of the Fathers of Confederation and as a Liberal was a political rival of Sir John A MacDonald.  This monument has stood near the front entrance since 1905.


Carvings adorn the building and all sorts of fanciful gargoyles can be found as you walk around the structures.  Some of them are funny, some are lifelike while others are a little on the macabre side of things.  This image shows how painful it can be to have your head eaten by a demon.


In other cases the faces are very lifelike.  It is speculated that since the stone masons were not allowed to sign their work they may have decided to include an image of themselves.  If this is true then the four faces near the front entrance may reveal the identity of some of the men who spent countless hours carving the tons of stones that make up the building.


There is also a suggestion that the face on the east side of the building may be a parody of Queen Victoria.


Carvings of dragons and lions are found all around the exterior of the building.


On the east lawn of the legislature is a maple tree that was planted on November 14, 1968.  It represents the one billionth forest tree seedling that was distributed from the Ontario Government Nurseries since the program had begun in 1909.  Ontario has provided incentives to farmers to turn their unused lands back into forest.  This is one of the main reasons that you will find fences running through the forest.  They mark previous field divisions.   In 2008 the Ontario Government began a program they called 50 Million Trees which has seen over 27 million trees planted to date.  In reversal of a 110 year history of planting trees, the Ontario Government recently cancelled the 50 Million Tree program.


Queen’s Park has been used for the provincial seat of government for the Province of Ontario where a beautiful building stands in the middle of a beautiful park in downtown Toronto.  It is certainly an interesting place to wander around.

Google Maps Link: Queen’s Park

Check out our reader selected top 20 stories from the first five years of blogs at this link:

Back Tracks: The First 5 Years

Like us at

Follow us at

The Bruce Trail – Waterdown

Saturday, June 1, 2019

We had previously visited the falls in Waterdown in the winter and decided to return to see what the summer was like on the local trails.  There is free parking right beside the waterfalls which have gone by several names over the years including The Great Falls, and Grindstone Falls.  Our earlier story featured slackliners walking across the gorge above the falls and we called it Slacking in Smokey Hollow.  We followed Grindstone Creek downstream until we came to the Norman Pearson Side Trail.  This connects to the McNally Side Trail and returns you to the main trail.  There is an additional little side trail called the Upper Grindstone Side Trail that was part of the package.

Image-1 (6)

The Smokey Hollow Side Trail is only 50 metres long and connects the main trail to a viewing platform for Grindstone Falls.  The platform can be seen in the picture below and it provides an interesting view of the crest of the falls.  The Bruce Trail follows Grindstone Creek and has a set of stairs built into the side of the ravine to allow easier descent.  From the bottom a short trail leads back toward the bottom of the falls but be careful, we witnessed a guy showing off for his girlfriend who fell into the creek and got completely soaked.  If he would have been injured he’d have required a complicated rescue.


From there we followed the main trail along side Grindstone Creek.  This trail gives plenty of great views of the creek as it cascades over the large chunks of dolomite that have been eroded over the past 12,000 years since the last ice age retreated.


When you reach more level ground you can depart from the main trail onto the Norman Pearson Side Trail.  This 1.4 kilometre blue trail will bring you out to Waterdown Road where you can connect with the McNally Side Trail.  Both of these side trails are marked with blue blazes on the trees.  There’s also a couple of places where the trail is ablaze with blue from forget-me-nots.


Lily of the valley is a highly poisonous plant that is native to Asia and Europe and has been introduced to North America as a garden plant.  It does well and can grow into large clusters under the right conditions.  The scent of the flower has been imitated for perfume and Kate Middleton carried lily of the valley in her bridal bouquet when she married Prince William.


The Mayapples are finally in bloom with a single flower on each fertile plant.  These flowers will close up in a few days and begin to develop into the fruit.  The fruit will turn yellow when it ripens later in the summer.


Near Waterdown there is a Bitternut Hickory tree that is estimated to be 128 years old and has a lifespan of 200 years.  It produces a large amount of very bitter tasting nuts that even the squirrels will only eat during food shortages.  There are 16 Bruce Trail heritage trees that have been identified along the route.  Their GPS locations can be found at this link.


The properties that the trail runs through are mostly private farms and access is allowed by the good graces of the land owner.  Some of the land grants were poor farming land and have been allowed to return to forest.  Other areas are still operated as family farms, some of them into the fourth and fifth generations.  Many of these farmers still have old farm implements from their father or grandfather.  Somehow the seat on the old plow below doesn’t look very comfortable nor do the steel studded wheels look like they absorb much shock.


The McNally Side Trail is only 0.48 kilometres long and brings you back to the main trail above Waterdown.  The Upper Grindstone Side Trail follows a lightly used path through a grassy field and back into the forest.  When you come to the little loop you can go left and down to the creek or you can go to the right and climb higher onto the ridge before descending to creek level.  It will then return you to the main trail very near to the parking lot.  Evidence of a former dam at the top of the falls is a reminder of the industrial past of this site.  Hidden among the trees on both sides of the creek are other traces of previous buildings, just waiting to be discovered and explored.


This set of side trails along with the accompanying main trail make for an interesting loop which has the equivalent of 41 flights of stairs as it goes up and down the sides of the ravine.

Google Maps Link:  Great Falls Smokey Hollow

Check out the top 20, reader selected stories from our first five years: Back Tracks: 5 Years of Trails.

Like us at

Follow us at