Author Archives: hikingthegta

Claireville – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Claireville was a community that started in 1850 on the estate of Jean du Petit Pont de la Haye at the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Indian Line.  He named the town after his daughter Claire and it grew until by 1870 there were 175 people living there.  The town grew up to service the local farmers and soon had two general stores and two hotels.  It attracted a butcher, a cabinet maker, blacksmith, tailor and flour mill.  Today it has been isolated by the construction of Highway 50 and Highway 427.  Most of the historic buildings in town were removed for the reconfiguration of roads in the area.

The first building in the area belonged to John Stark in 1832 and it was a halfway house on the south west corner of the intersection.  It was demolished long ago.  One of the former homes in Claireville now serves as the Bhagwan Valmiki Temple serving the nearby Hindu population.

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De La Haye was a very generous man and he gave land to three different congregations to build churches in town.  In 1842 the Congregationalists were the first to build a permanent church building in Claireville.  The Primitive Methodists were next in 1846 and the Roman Catholics didn’t build until 1860.  All three of those churches have since been demolished.  The house pictured below was likely built in the 1860s or 1870s and is one of the few that is still lived in.

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This house sits on early 1900s precast blocks but is missing the front steps.  Like many others along Albion Road (now Codlin Crescent) it is likely waiting for a demolition permit because it has no heritage protection.

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Edwardian Classicism is a style of house that emerged around 1910 and lasted for about 20 years.  It was very simple in style, a reaction to the more fanciful Victorian Styles that had prevailed for the previous few decades.  The presence of this style of house in Claireville suggests that the town was still serving the rural community at that time.

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A similar house was built directly across the street quite possibly by the same contractor.  Today both of these houses stand beside large buildings with  industrial or transportation and shipping uses.  The farmlands around Claireville were designated for Industrial/Employment uses by the 1980s and the end of the town followed quickly.

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The “Albion Plank Road Company” was formed in 1846.  Their mission was to build a plank road from Thistletown to Bolton, passing right through Claireville.  To maintain the road a series of toll houses were established to collect money from users of the road.  Typical tolls at this time were 1/2 pence for the passage of a horse and rider or 1/2 pence for each 20 hogs or sheep.  The toll house in Claireville was built in 1851 and was located at 2095 Albion Road.  The house is now sitting in the parking lot of a tractor trailer storage company and is also featured as the cover photo.  It is the oldest remaining building in Claireville and the only one with a heritage designation.  For more on plank roads see our post The Gore And Vaughan Plank Road.

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Of the 14 original homes that remain in Claireville, only a couple a still being used for residential purposes.  The former plank road had eventually been replaced with a more modern road as transportation was changed to the automobile.  The main street became a busting centre for the local rural community.  On a Saturday morning in February it is almost as abandoned as nearby Indian Line.

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Indian Line started off as an Indian trail along the shore of the Humber river.  When the land survey was made it was part of the border between Peel County and York County. When Highway 427 was extended north it became part of an off and on ramp to the highway. In 1992 when the highway was further extended it was closed off and abandoned.

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It is believed that there are at least 150 pair of coyotes living in the parks and ravines of the GTA.  Each of these breeding pair will have a litter of about 5 pups each spring.  This will raise the population from around 300 to closer to 1000.  Many of the young coyotes will not survive but the remainder do very well living in the city.  We saw a coyote come out onto Indian Line and walk in front of us for a short distance before returning to the woods.

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The Humber River has frozen over multiple times this winter but we’ve never had a long enough deep freeze to allow the ice to be safe for crossing.  Ice needs to be at least four inches thick in order to safely support a person on foot.  Since the ice thickness is rarely the same across an entire body of water, especially one which is flowing beneath, it needs to be more than that to tempt us to cross.  Sometimes in the spring we see the ice flows pushed up on the shore and realize the ice was much thicker than we thought.  Still, it’s better to be safe than on the evening news.  There are still open places on the river as can be seen in the picture below.

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We made our way back into Claireville Conservation Area where we had found free parking earlier.  The conservation area includes 848 acres and the historic Wiley Bridge.

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Silver Maples are one of the first trees to bud in the spring.  Their tiny red flowers are often hidden by the scales on the buds.  They react to the increased hours of daylight towards the end of February and early into March rather than to the increase of temperature which will follow a few weeks later.

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Claireville and the surrounding area has plenty to explore, you can read more in our Claireville post.

Google Maps Link: Claireville

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Humberwood Park Bird Flyway

Saturday, February 15, 2020

It was one of the first really nice Saturdays in some time, although a little colder than most this winter, with the sun shining brightly.  We parked for free at Humberwoods Arena and hiked north along the Humber River.

January 10, 2020 saw record amounts of rainfall as a storm delivered an entire months worth of rain in 24 hours.  Flooding was widespread and we saw signs of debris stuck high up in the trees along the sides of the Humber River.  The picture below shows how high the water was relative to the pedestrian bridge across the river.  Grasses and small branches are stuck along the side of the road deck of the bridge.

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The Humber River along with the Don and Rouge Rivers provide nearly continuous green strips from Lake Ontario into the less developed areas north of the city.  These natural corridors provide space for wild life to move through the GTA.  A pair of cardinals was passing through and the female sat still long enough to pose for the photo below.

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Someone has hung a number of small birdhouses in the trees in Humberwood Park.  They are probably a good idea but I’m not so sure about all the string that was used to tie cones up as well.

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The male Northern Flicker can be identified by the red patch on the back of the head and the speckled pattern on the belly.  They are the only member of the woodpecker family that migrates in the winter.  Toronto is in the northern portion of their year-round range and birds north of here will migrate south during the winter.

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We had the pleasure of watching a seagull pecking at the neck and wings of a red-tailed hawk while in flight.  This behaviour is known as mobbing and is done by smaller birds attempting to drive predators out of their territory.

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Anne Schneider an artist from Owen Sound, created 10 giant nests that replicate the types of nests used by birds that are common to Toronto parks.  The nests were originally displayed at City Hall in May of 2006 before being permanently installed in Humberwoods Parklands.  Several of the nests no longer exist and others are in poor condition.

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The piece of artwork that simulates bank swallow nests is still in pretty good condition.

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In the northern section of the park the nests are replaced with a series of metal sculptures that represent wildlife that is common to the local ravines.

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Some of the metal sculptures are rusting badly but I like this one where the baby bird is waiting for food to be dropped into its mouth.  The pole that it has been mounted on has a couple of fresh holes from what appears to be a pileated woodpecker.

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Several pieces of the artwork can be seen in this picture but there are also a few posts that are now empty.  Some of the mounting places have rotted allowing the steel pieces to fall and then be removed from the area.  When we visited the area in 2014 there was one steel sculpture that looked like a bird nest but made with many sharp pieces of steel.  At the time there was a dead red-tailed hawk that had been skewered when attempting to land in what appeared to be a nest.  That piece, along with the dead bird, has thankfully been removed.

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Just below the Claireville Dam the Humber River was full of Canada Geese that have decided to stay around for the winter.  This year we have seen more geese and robins than usual.  Perhaps they knew that the winter was going to be milder than average.  The goose in the lower left of the picture appears to have only one leg which it angles underneath itself for balance.

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We followed the road north from the top of the dam to look at the closed portion of Indian Line.  The story of the Claireville Dam and Indian Line can be found in our post Claireville.

Google Maps Link: Humberwood Park

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Hole In The Wall

Saturday, February 6, 2020

Saturday proved to be one of the coldest hike days of the year so far and we determined not to set ourselves up for too long of an excursion.  Arriving with two cars, we parked one beside the town hall in Limehouse.  The second car we moved to the point where the Bruce Trail crosses the 4th Line.  With fresh snow on the ground, it is always interesting to see the tracks of the animals we share the trails with.  This small set of tracks includes drag marks from the tail of the mouse that made them.

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The Bruce Trail is a resource that many people seem to ignore in the winter months but each season has its own special beauty.  We saw very few other people until we reached the Limehouse Conservation Area, where dog walkers were taking advantage of the sunny day.

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The first school in Limehouse was one room made of log construction.  It was replaced in 1862 with a one room stone building.  When the lime industry was prosperous the town grew fast so that by 1876 there were three hotels and three general stores.  That year, 4,130 tons of lime and lumber was shipped from the railway station in town.  A second floor was added to the school in 1875 but it was only used until 1890 when it was closed.  The room was opened again in 1954 and remained in use until 1962 when the school was replaced with a new one.  Today the building serves as a private residence.

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Eastern gray squirrels can move quickly when they are caught by surprise and are capable of clearing surprisingly large distances with each leap.

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Acidic water breaks down carbonate rocks such as limestone by dissolving them.  This process is known as karst and is common throughout the Niagara Escarpment.  For more detailed information and pictures of this please visit our post on Eramosa Karst.  At Limehouse the Bruce Trail passes through a section of karst known as The Hole In The Wall.  Stairs allow you to access the bottom of these cracks in the limestone.

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The cover photo shows the depth of the karst at Limehouse.  Small caves throughout the area are some of the most accessible caves in Southern Ontario.

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In 1917 the Toronto Suburban Electric Railway arrived in Limehouse with a stop on the 5th line at the foot of what is locally known as Gibraltar Hill.  The stop was convenient because it was located between the school and the heart of town.  The old line can still be traced from Georgetown through to Guelph by looking at Google Earth.  The rail line passed through the middle of the mill pond on a trestle.  Three rows of pilings for the trestle can still be seen crossing the drained pond.

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The lime mill was built by John Newton who took the burnt lumps of limestone and ground them into powder.  This was then “slaked” with water and mixed with sand and cow hair.  The resulting mixture was used as mortar in construction.  The mill ruins and the remains of the stone arch from the tail race are all that is left.  These have been deteriorating from people climbing on them and the arch has lost several rows of stones.  They have now been protected behind a recently installed fence.

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The big innovation in lime kilns came with the creation of the draw kiln.  The draw kiln at Limehouse was 16 metres high when it was completed in the 1860s.  It has since collapsed considerably in spite of restoration efforts.  Several of these kilns can be found scattered across the Ontario landscape, including two near complete ones at Kelso.

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The earliest kilns were set kilns where the limestone was placed in the kiln and packed in with wood.  Burning would take days and then it would be allowed to cool down before being unloaded.  There is a strip of seven set kilns that were built in the 1840s.

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The powder house was added in the 1850’s to provide storage for the blasting powder that was used to break up the larger chunks of limestone.  Blasting was discontinued around 1917 as the quarry had expanded to the point where the local residents feared the explosions would damage their homes.

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Limehouse is one of our favourite places to explore because there is so much history that has been retained.  Fortunately, the local historical society is actively working on preservation of the kilns.

Read our other Limehouse blogs: Limehouse and The Bruce Trial – Limehouse

Google Maps Link: Limehouse

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Pioneer Heartbreak

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Having recently been exploring in the area of Keele Street near Maple, I had noticed a pioneer cemetery at Langstaff and Keele Street,   I decided to stop after work and have a look at the restored markers in the old St. Stephen’s Anglican Church graveyard.  The graveyard is not marked on the 1877 county atlas and so I’ve added it in, circled in orange.  The two White families that we will focus on had their land just to the south of the grave site.  In 1965 the grave markers were collected up and placed in a central display to prevent further deterioration of the stones.  Many of them were over 100 years old at the time of the restoration.

While looking at the names and dates on the markers I noticed that there were a lot of tombstones marking the graves of people who lived less than a year.  From the days of the first settlers in North America until the mid-1800s about 30% of infants did not survive their first year.

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Pioneer women would have a child an average of every 26 months and 60% of them would have six or more.  The average family would lose at least one child under the age of 1 year old.

Henry and Elizabeth White may have occupied the land shown as Hiram White in the county atlas.  Eleanor was born to the White family in 1845 but she lived for only 3 years and 3 months before she passed away.  She was buried in the St. Stephen’s Anglican Church cemetery after her passing on May 3, 1848.

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Henry and Elizabeth White went on to have other children, including Anthony who was born in January of 1856.  In pioneer days the common practice was to record the length of time a person lived rather than the birth and death date for them.  Anthony passed away on Mar. 28, 1856 when he was only 2 months and 28 days old.

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In July of 1857 the White family welcomed little William into the world.  Unfortunately, William only lived for 2 months and 4 days and passed away on September 17, 1857.

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Albert was born in January of 1859 and he lived for 10 months and 25 days before passing away.

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Elizabeth became pregnant again, almost right away and she gave birth to Joseph about 10 months later in September of 1860.  Sadly, Joseph would live for only 9 months before passing away in June of 1861.

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Isaac and Elizabeth White were likely related to Henry and Elizabeth.  They also buried young children in the graveyard at St. Stephen’s church.  Mary C. was born in February of 1854 and passed away on July 3rd, just 5 months later.

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A couple of months after this Elizabeth became pregnant again and Elizabeth Ann was born in May of 1855. Two months later she passed away on the first anniversary of the death of her sister.

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An Anglican Church was built in 1838 on a plot of land donated by one of the Keffer brothers of Sherwood.  The property was owned by a member of the Zion Lutheran Church, honouring a longstanding history of cooperation between the two denominations.  In 1895 they built a new church on Keele Street on the north end of Maple.  The prominent feature, apart from the bell tower, is the large gable on the front with a beautiful glass rosette.  The church continues to serve the needs of the congregation in 2020.

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Many pioneer cemeteries are filled with the small remains of infants who never had the opportunity to grow up and experience life to the fullest.

Explore the two local ghost towns: Sherwood and Maple

Google Maps Link: Langstaff Pioneer Cemetery

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Maple – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The town of Maple is one of the fastest growing communities in Ontario but it wasn’t always this way.  From the founding days in the early 1800s the town was overshadowed by the nearby communities of Teston and Sherwood.  When the railway arrived in 1853 and located the Richmond Hill station on the edge of town things began to change rapidly.  The other local communities began to fade away while Maple became a thriving town with a saw mill, hotels and general stores.  It remained a rural village until the urban sprawl of the GTA caught up to it in the 1950s.  Today the area is home to Canada’s Wonderland, lots of housing and some industry.  However, the original town of Maple sits like a ghost hiding among the new development.  Those older buildings form the nucleus of the Maple Cultural Heritage District that seeks to protect the local history.

The County Atlas below shows what the town looked like in 1877 when it was drawn.

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The Frank Robson log house sits in a fenced woodlot on the west side of Keele Street.  The house has had a couple of additions but the original home was built out of logs cut from the virgin forest on the lot.  The logs of the main structure are notable for their size and the detailing of the dove-tail that links the corners.  The house was bought and restored around 1929 by Sam Sobara when it was sitting in an undeveloped rural area on the edge of Maple.

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The Presbyterian Church was built in 1862 in a style known as Carpenter Gothic.  This design applies the pointed arches and other Gothic features to wooden buildings.  There are very few of these types of buildings in Vaughan.  The Presbyterians had been meeting in town since 1829 and their first building was consecrated in 1832.

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The church purchased a lot across the street to be used for their cemetery and several of the early settlers are buried there.

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Thomas Noble died on March 25, 1857 and lies buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery.  His family were part of the early founders of Maple and the original name for the community was Nobles Corner after Joseph Noble who was the first postmaster.

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There is only one example of Georgian Revival architecture in town.  It was built in 1870 and occupies what is now a prominent corner lot on main street.  The hand-pressed red bricks are accented with buff quoins and window heads.  The house is two stories with three bays on the front.  An historical plaque in front of the house commemorates Lord Beaverbrook who was born in Maple.  William Maxwell Aiken was the son of the Presbyterian Minister in town and went on to become a British Cabinet Minister after moving to the U.K.  He was the largest publisher of mass-circulation news papers in Britain before the Second World War and served on the War Cabinet during it.  He was in charge of the production of fighter aircraft which were instrumental in winning the Battle of Britain.

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The Weslyan Methodist congregation in Maple was formed in 1833 and replaced their original frame building with a larger brick structure in 1870.  The building incorporates gothic architecture which was very common on church buildings in the mid to late 1800s.  The congregation joined the United Church of Canada in 1925 and continues to serve the community today as New Hope United.

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The doorway is impressive with its dichromatic bricks and round window with decorative muntins.  The pioneers would likely be surprised to find a security camera above the date stone.

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The railway arrived in Maple in 1853 with the construction of a line that would change names several times, originally chartered as the Toronto, Simcoe and Huron Railroad.  It would later be known as the Northern Railway, Grand Trunk Railway and finally was taken over by the Canadian National Railway.  The station appears on the county atlas above as the Richmond Hill Station as it was originally known.  The name was changed to the Maple Station when it was acquired by the Canadian National Railway.  The station was replaced by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1903 when it was busy upgrading many of the older stations with grander designs.

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There are dozens of other historical buildings in the Cultural Heritage District of Maple and you can read about them at this link.

Also see our recent story of the nearby ghost town of Sherwood.

Google Maps Link: Maple

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Sherwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The township of York was settled in the early 1800’s and the intersection of modern Keele Street and Major Mackenzie Drive became known as Sherwood.  It prospered for a only a short time and then was overtaken by nearby Maple and faded from prominence.  Sherwood is still indicated as a neighbourhood on most maps but it is now predominantly industrial with a large area taken up by the Canadian National Railway Macmillan Yards.

The early settlers were from Somerset County in Pennsylvania and were of German heritage.  They arrived bringing their Evangelical Lutheran faith with them.  Jacob Keffer answered the need for a parish in 1806 when he volunteered to serve as a lay pastor to the emerging congregation.  When the meetings outgrew his home he donated land in 1811 for use as a cemetery and the construction of a frame church.  The Keffer family would continue to dominate the community and retained title to several land grants in the area.  In 1837 when William Lyon Mackenzie was stirring up his rebellion the family was divided in their loyalties.  Those supporting the rebellion locked the government supporters out of the church in protest.  Later everyone would make up and things went back to normal,

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Zion Evangelical Church grew and in 1859 plans were made to replace the original building with the brick structure that still serves the congregation today.  The building cost $1,485.90 which included 80,000 red bricks and 1,000 white ones.  The date stone above the entrance shows the dedication as Zion Evangelical Lutheran A.D. 1860.

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The cemetery was laid out with the older interments taking place at the back of the plot.  With the snow on the ground all these pioneer stones made of limestone make the place look ancient.  Later marble headstones can be found closer to Keele Street.

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Cemetery records show that the first burial occurred in 1817 but there is reason to believe that interments may have happened earlier.  With the fresh snow on the ground I wasn’t able to see all the stones but I did notice the memorial for Ann Keffer who was the wife of Peter Keffer.  She passed away October 12, 1830.

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On July 19, 1936 the church celebrated the 130th anniversary of its founding.  They also celebrated the efforts of Adam Keffer who had walked to Pennsylvania in both 1849 and 1850 to plead for a pastor for the parish.  After the first visit promised a Lutheran Pastor that never arrived, he returned the following year where his tenacity was rewarded with a pastor being assigned to the church.

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The church built a log house for the pastor to live in.  In January of 1887 Peter Keffer donated more land to the church for the construction of a new manse for the pastor.  The house was completed by October 29th that year and was occupied by the various clergy who served the church.  With the manse fund and donations the house was finished with only $800 still owing for materials and labour.

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In 1950 the parsonage was sold because the church had become a two-point parish sharing a pastor with Unionville.  The pastor had relocated to the manse in Unionville and the house was no longer occupied.  Today it is home to a nursery garden.

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The church and graveyard are located on Concession 3, Lot 13 West Half which was owned by George Keffer in 1877 when the county atlas was published.  County atlases had a reputation for spelling errors with people’s names.  This appears to be an omission of the church and cemetery from the atlas.  Just a little farther north on Keele Street on the map below you will notice an “*” marked WM and another marked PRES.  These indicate the locations of the Wesleyan Methodist and Presbyterian cemeteries.

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The bulk of the former Keffer property has been turned over to industrial purposes with small green belts remaining along the watercourses.  The trail through this little greenbelt is known as the Bartley Smith Greenway but it is still under construction and some sections are closed.   The trail brings you out to Planchet Road where it detours down Keele Street to Rivermede.  When completed the Bartley Smith Greenway will run 15 kilometres along the West Don River.

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The trail climbs over the small rise of one of the city of Vaughan’s storm water management ponds.  Basaltic Pond is known as a dry pond because there is normally no water present.  During a major storm event the berm and dam serve to retain water.  The pond can reach the level of the top of the dam before it spills over.  Should the water level exceed the storage capacity of the pond there is a series of concrete posts known as a dissipation weir that the water must flow through.  This allows the energy that the water gained by falling from the top of the dam to be released before it can cause significant erosion downstream.

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The water level this far up the West Don River is pretty small today and there’s lots of room for increase before the dam will even start to retain water.  When the flow exceeds the capacity of the round cut-out in the dam it will start to fill the pond.

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From a distance you can see the basic height of the berm and dam which suggests that about five feet of water can be retained in the ravine.

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As usual, I wonder what the original farmer would think if he could return today.  The farm he worked hard to clear and maintain has become a series of factories.  I think it would please him to see that the church he founded is still open and serving the faithful.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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