Bowmanville Creek has a long history of industrial use but has lately been converted into an area full of walking trails. I parked in a small parking lot on the north side of Baseline Road West near Hunt Street to check out the newly opened Bowmanville Valley Trail Extension. While the main trail heads north along Bowmanville Creek, I took the one that follows the creek south toward the 401. I wanted to check out the new section as well as the old railway bridge from the former Goodyear Plant that carried a spur line to the Canadian National line below the highway.
Charles Goodyear discovered the process for vulcanization of rubber in 1839. This process uses sulfur to harden natural rubber into various products. As the automotive age was dawning, a company was founded in Akron, Ohio in 1898 which was called The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. By 1907 they had a contract with Henry Ford to provide tires for the Model T. In 1910 they bought a rubber company in Bowmanville and expanded their manufacturing outside of the United States for the first time. The old postcard image below shows the plant in its early days.
Goodyear built a spur line down Hunt Street to connect to the CN railway into Toronto. The line was still in use in 1982 when the abutments were replaced but by 2000 it was abandoned. The tracks were soon removed and the portion of Hunt Street where the rail lines ran has been repaved, hiding all evidence of its route. The steel bridge remained in place until the Bowmanville Valley Trail Extension was developed at which time it was removed.
Returning to Baseline Road I crossed the creek and followed the former right of way for the spur line until I came to the foundations for the bridge.
There’s not much to see from this end and looking across the creek there’s no indication of the location of the other abutment as it was removed to put the trail through. Graffiti artists have been at work on the remaining concrete and it has been painted on almost every surface.
The Bowmanville Rubber Company had started on King Street in 1898 and after changing names to the Durham Rubber Company they moved beside Bowmanville Creek in 1905. The location was chosen because it provided access to the creek to dispose of their process wastes! In those days it was believed that the solution to waste was to dilute it with running water. No wonder every water source in the area was polluted in the 19th and early 20th century.
Goodyear built additional buildings on the site and greatly expanded the business by connecting it to markets with the rail line.
The plant operated under several names over its year history of over 100 years. After Goodyear, it became Veyance Technologies and later ContiTech Continental. Under the latest name it produced conveyor belts for the mining, tar sands and coal sectors. With the downturn of operations for many of its customers, the plant closed in 2016. Today the building sits empty awaiting its destiny, most likely demolition for the construction of a subdivision.
There’s lots more to explore along Bowmanville Creek and another trip will likely happen in the near future to see what lies along the trail to the north.
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The West Toronto Railpath is currently 2.1 kilometers long and runs along the former right of way of the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway. The County Atlas below shows the area as it looked around 1877. Several railways have already been built through The Junction and more would follow over the next decade. On the map I’ve coloured the Toronto Grey & Bruce in blue with the section on the rail path being green. The Grand Trunk Railway is yellow while the Credit Valley Railway is orange. To the right, The Northern Railway is red.
Before mergers began, there were five railways that intersected in West Toronto, or The Junction. These would eventually become three lines of Canadian Pacific Railway and two of the Canadian National Railway. The crossed each other on a complicated set of tracks known as the West Toronto Diamond Crossings. The archive picture below shows crews working on the diamond in 1924 and is part of an information plaque at the northern end of the rail path.
When the crossings were rebuilt with grade separations, which were much safer, the diamonds were no longer required. The last one was relocated to the trailhead and preserved as part of the information installation.
The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was incorporated on March 4, 1868 with the official sod turning ceremony being held in Weston in October of the following year. To save money, the railway was built to a narrow gauge of 3’6″ instead of the standard (or Provincial) gauge of 5’6″. This allowed construction to proceed for $5,100 per mile instead of the $8,100 required for the standard gauge. It formally opened on November 3, 1871 with the first train making it to Owen Sound in 1873. The picture below shows a nearly deserted railpath early on a Sunday morning but it filled up quickly with a variety of dog walkers, cyclists and joggers.
There are several works of art along the railpath including murals on a few buildings. One building has been painted in blue and green with the shapes of the vegetation along the building being left white. This allows for a visual growth indicator as the trees and vines continue to grow onto the painted sections. Four steel sculptures have also been erected along with various places to sit and pause as you walk the trail. Other buildings have extensive murals on them.
Railway sidings ran along the track side of most of the industrial buildings in the Junction Triangle. Although the rails are gone the sidings can be spotted by looking for doors that open a couple of feet off the ground. These would have been at the right level to load and unload the rail cars.
The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was converted to standard gauge in 1881 to make the interchange between its freight trains and those of other lines easier because the cars could just be moved from one line to the other. In 1883 it was leased to the Ontario & Quebec Railway and was taken over by the CPR the following year. By the 1950s the line was known locally as the Old Bruce and when it stopped serving the local industry it was closed for good. The line was dismantled in 1996 and the right of way was purchased by the city for a railpath which opened in 2009.
Catalpa Bignonioides is a flowering tree that is native to the southern states but has adapted to northern climates including parts of Canada. There are some of them in flower along the side of the trail and they produce a powerful scent. The flowers will turn into long beans that hang from the branches. This is just one of the many flowering plants that line both sides of the trail making it a great place to see butterflies and other pollinators.
The Junction hydro substation is tucked in along the rail corridor and has a date stone that reads 1920. For some reason several on line resources, including the Toronto Architectural Conservancy, list the building as having been completed in 1911. Perhaps the 1920 date above the large door refers to an expansion.
By 1883 there were five railways passing through the area and getting around them safely was starting to become a problem for the communities that surrounded the tracks. Workers had to cross the busy rail lines to get to the various industries where they worked. In 1907 a temporary pedestrian bridge was built as the first project designed by the Ontario Bridge Company. It is one of only a few multi-span steel Warren pony truss bridges in the province. It connects Wallace Street with Dundas Street West and was only intended to be in use until two underpasses were created on Dupont and Bloor Street. The bridges that were built over those underpasses are dated 1925 and one of them is featured in the cover photo.
The picture below is looking south from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge in July 1985 and was taken from “Old Time Trains” web page. The tracks would be removed in April 1996.
Milkweed grows in great numbers along the sides of the pathway however I didn’t see any Monarch Butterflies nor any caterpillars. Both seem to be a little scarce so far this season but this will be a great place to see them when they are in full flight.
“Ghost sign” is a term that is sometimes applied to faded lettering or images on the sides of old buildings. Also known as brickads, they were common between 1890 and 1960 with most of them being from the 1920s and earlier. Advertising for Coke was often painted on the sides of convenience stores and for industry it was common practice to paint your company name and perhaps a list of products or services right on your building. Canadian Hanson & Van Winkle erected their building in 1917 on the west side of the rail corridor where they produced equipment for the electroplating, polishing and buffing industries.
Scythes and Company Limited opened their company in the Junction in 1910. Aside from cloth and canvas products the building was also home to the manufacture of pickles, sauces and catsup. Ghost signs adorn all four sides of the building but the side facing the railpath has been freshly painted to restore the original brickads on the building.
The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway passed through the city and headed north through Cardwell Junction which is now only marked by a set of bridge abutments where two former rail lines once crossed. From there it went a short distance north to where it climbed the escarpment on a long horseshoe shaped curve. This was the location of a tragic derailment on September 3, 1907 known as the Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster.
Approval has been made to extend the trail another 2 kilometers with an agreement between Metrolinx and the city to complete it in 2022. A third phase could see the trail extended to Strachan Avenue.
This is a convenient trail because of all the places where there is access and it’ll be interesting to come back and check out the extension when completed.
The Chedoke Radial Trail is 2.7 kilometres long, it was opened in 1995 and follows the former right of way for the Brantford and Hamilton Electric Railway. The word “Chedoke” sounds like a native word but is actually a mispronunciation of the words Seven Oaks and refers to a patch of trees that originally stood in the area. Several waterfalls can be seen from the trail and so we set off to view the ones between the parking lot on Scenic Drive near Chateau Court and Sanatorium Falls.
Two attempts were made to build a railway up the escarpment from Hamilton to Ancaster beginning in 1896 before an actual line was built ten years later. The sod turning ceremony for the railway took place on August 6, 1906 but construction didn’t begin until late in the year. Service was opened to Ancaster on December 21, 1907 and to Brantford on May 23, 1908. The rail line runs up the escarpment at 2.5% to 5% incline. By June 30, 1931 the line was underused and service was discontinued. The final trip was made using the same cars as the first run up the escarpment. Hamilton Parks Board was given the former right of way in 1938 but it would take nearly 60 years to become the Chedoke Radial Trail. The post card below was post marked on October 16, 1909 and shows a bridge over a railway cut along the line.
The bridge is long gone, as are the electric poles that powered the railway cars.
The first set of falls you come to is known as Upper Princess Falls. They are set back in a little limestone cavern and carry Lang’s Creek over a 6.7 metre drop into a deep plunge pool.
After flowing over Upper Princess Falls this tributary of Chedoke Creek is intended to pass under the trail in a culvert in the bottom of the plunge pool. Instead, it often flows over the trail and through a fence before dropping 39.5 metres to the level of the 403. Lower Princess Falls is quite spectacular when viewed from below.
There are a few weeks in the year when Christmas ornaments look pretty on the trees in our parks. However, after January they start to look like litter hanging in the trees. Perhaps the people who hang them could come back and retrieve them later.
This rock formation can be seen from the trail and is included here as an example of why one must be careful how close they walk to the edge of the escarpment. This chunk of rock is well undercut and has a large crack along the back of it. Walking out to the edge could lead to a sudden dislodging of the rock and a nasty tumble.
The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry were established in 1862 and used to have a rifle range in West Hamilton. When the Brantford and Hamilton Electric Railway was built they extended the rock cut with a lengthy stone wall to protect the riders from stray bullets. Rifle Range Road in Hamilton commemorates the Light Infantry and runs beside Alexander Park which can be seen from the rail line.
When the Bruce Trail was opened there were three culverts installed and covered with concrete to allow pedestrians to cross Chedoke Creek. The escarpment face was covered with patterned concrete to create a spillway for the water to flow down before entering the three culverts. Over the years the concrete has become cracked and the water flows under it and around the culverts. A bridge was installed in 2007 over the culverts at a cost of $60,000. Five years later the bridge needed to be replaced and extended due to heavy erosion. The new bridge ended up with a price tag of $950,000.
Mountainview Falls is a classical complex cascade that drops 10 metres and has a width of 6 metres. For a century this waterfall was known simply as the water fall on the mountain. When a comprehensive listing of the Hamilton Waterfalls was made in 2002 it was given the name Mountainview after a small community that once existed here. The entire side of the hill was given erosion control below the waterfall but this concrete is broken and being washed away.
Mountainview Falls are actually quite nice when you get up close and eliminate all the man made concrete below them.
Construction of Hamilton’s first reservoir began with land acquisition in 1856 and soon the hand dug reservoir had a capacity of 9 million gallons. Some time in the 1980’s the reservoir was covered over with a concrete shell and grass was planted on top. After becoming overgrown with hawthorn bushes it was barely discernible. Recently the shrubs have been cleared away but the sides of the reservoir have become a target for grafitti.
At the base of Sanatorium Falls is a old hub where a water wheel once rotated. The main shaft for the wheel would have been made from a single piece of seasoned white oak.
Sanatorium Falls marks the connecting point to a previous exploration of the Mountain Sanatorium. At one time a set of stairs connected the railway with the Sanatorium so that workers could use the rail line to get to the hospital. Every day they would have enjoyed a view of the falls as they started and finished their shift.
There are several more falls that can be seen along the trail, but these will be saved for a future expedition.
Bond Lake is a 55 acre, spring fed lake, just north of Richmond Hill on Yonge Street. Perhaps it’s location has been the key to the various uses the lake and surrounding lands have had over the years. I decided to explore the lake and surrounding trails and so I parked at the end of Trish Drive where a pathway leads to the Oak Ridges Trail. This trail extends the length of the moraine and is listed at 260 kilometers long. The 1877 county atlas below has been marked in brown to show approximately where Old Colony Road and Trish Drive are today. The route of the hike around the lake is shown in red.
Before I had walked very far along the trail I came to a large stand of sumac trees. Experience has shown that these often hide signs of habitation and this was no exception. The foundations for a barn can be found in this bush. This is likely the barn from the Walker Estate seen on the map above although the Whitney & Morton barn should also be in the same area.
From the earliest days Bond Lake was used for recreational purposes and the first settlers in the area used the lake for fishing, swimming and boating in the summer and curling in the winter. The Metropolitan Railway extended north from Richmond Hill in 1899 and built an electric generating station at Bond Lake to supply the line north of there with power. The fact that the lake was already in use for leisure activities led the Metropolitan Street Railway to buy the 200 acre farm around the lake from William Bell. Along with landscaping the grounds they also set about building the railway sidings and platforms for the tourists they hoped to carry to the lake. The picture below from the Toronto Reference Library shows people arriving at stop 35, Bond Lake, on June 20, 1924.
The park proved to be a real money maker for the railway when 60,000 people went through the gates in 1901 alone. The vast majority of these also paid fare on the railway to get there. It was a popular spot for couples to go for romantic dates and more than once an engagement would take place at the pavilion in the park. Church and company groups as well as families flocked to the park for it’s clean water. The railway advertised the health benefits of the lake, claiming that it was cleaner than Lake Ontario because it was 720 feet above the level of the larger lake. No doubt at the start of the 20th century Lake Ontario around Toronto was pretty dirty with raw sewage. Another odd claim in the railway literature is that the lake’s cool breezes meant that guests didn’t need to worry about mosquitoes. The trail continues for about 2 kilometers until it reaches Yonge Street. The fields throughout here have been replanted with rows of young trees. Before too long this area will all be a new forest. Signs of the fall are in the fields and trees where the bright greens of summer are giving way to yellows and reds of fall. Rows of newly planted trees can be seen in the background of the picture below.
After the success of the 1901 season the company invested in a concert pavilion and baseball fields. They kept a boat called The Gypsy to carry passengers around the lake, delivering them to various wharves. Row boats could be rented for those who wanted to casually explore the lake. The remains of the electric power generating station are close to Yonge Street and both the substation and the foundations for the generating building have been presented in two previous posts. The Toronto & York Radial Railway and the Electric Railway Generating Plant describe this site in greater detail and with many pictures. The foundations for the power house remain but the building itself has been removed. The archive photo below shows how the power house looked. Today, just the cut stone blocks of the foundation remain and they are being taken over by the forest.
A car repair barn was constructed near the generating facility but not much remains other than the corner of two walls.
Sticking to the side of the lake the trail becomes little more than a footpath after leaving the formal trail. Along this little pathway, not far from the substation, is an old pump house.
The park was the first “electric park” in Ontario meaning that it was the first one to have electric lighting and later a merry-go-round. The foundations for the gatehouse and station can still be seen along the trail.
Hopefully you won’t be needing the washrooms as they look like they need a serious cleaning.
In 1936 Robert Clifford and Edith Gamble built a cottage on the lake. It has been abandoned and is starting to decay. There was a front porch but it has since collapsed. It is just one of many buildings that were along the lake shore. Bond Lake Inn and Stables are also now long gone. The first pavilion, wading pool and merry go round have also all disappeared. The second pavilion has been moved and is now in use as a three-car garage.
The construction of this log cabin illustrates a skill in dovetailing. This woodworking technique likely predates recorded history as examples have been found in First Dynasty Egyptian tombs (around 3000 B.C.) and in ancient Chinese Emperor’s tombs. A series of trapezoid pins on one part match with tails cut on the mating part. Once set, a dovetail joint has a very high tensile strength, or resistance to being pulled apart, and requires no mechanical fasteners. Pioneers created log homes with dovetail corners that are still standing 200 years later.
Another sure sign of the coming of autumn is the yellow of goldenrod in the meadows. There are about 120 species of this plant and they are often blamed for hay fever. In reality the pollen is very heavy and sticky and isn’t windblown. Ragweed, which blooms at the same time, is the normal problem for most people. The young leaves can be eaten and goldenrod is used in herbal tea. The plant is a prime source of nectar for bees, flies, wasps and butterflies.
There are many other foundations and ruins at Bond Lake but it appears that more time should be spent when there are no leaves on the trees. This is a very interesting place to explore.
The Metropolitan Street Railway Company of Toronto was incorporated on March 2, 1877 and began service with animals pulling railcars up Yonge Street in 1885. On Sep. 1, 1890 electrical power was used for the first time, however, this didn’t last. Animal power was re-instituted within a few weeks and left in use until May 1891 when the electric service was resumed. In 1893 the name was simplified to Metropolitan Street Railway Company and then in 1897 to simply Metropolitan Railway Company. On October 26, 1896 the contract to build the 16 kilometer line from Hoggs Hollow to Richmond Hill was given to a Pittsburgh company who had only 24 days to complete the task. Three hundred men worked in 3 crews and finished with three hours to spare. The first train rolled into Richmond Hill on November 19th with the official opening coming on January 27, 1897. Service was extended to Aurora and Newmarket by 1899 and the Metropolitan continued until Nov. 1, 1904.
On Nov. 1, 1904 the Toronto Railway Company acquired the line and it became the Toronto & York Radial Railway. The City of Toronto bought the line in August 1922 and between January 1927 and March 16, 1930 it was operated by the TTC. When service was suspended the municipalities got involved and contracted the TTC to run it for them. On October 9, 1948 they were finally forced to admit that the service had been made obsolete by the personal automobile.
To accommodate passengers and freight the railway created a series of stops and constructed a variety of waiting rooms and stations. The picture below shows one of the simple waiting rooms, this one originally on the west side of Yonge Street at Royal Orchard Boulevard in Thornhill. It has been restored and moved just south to Cricklewood Park. Other, more substantial stations survive, having been converted to other uses. Queensville and Willow Beach Stations are now private residences. Keswick is a law office while Sutton has been converted to use as a real estate office.
The railway expanded north from Richmond Hill and in 1899 it built a generating station at Bond Lake. The stonework for the boilers and furnaces remains on site but they are getting overgrown and there are well established trees in the rows between the furnaces. The substation was built from brick but by the mid 1950’s it had been covered over with aluminum siding and was in use as a private residence. It has since been abandoned and has two large holes in the roof. Unlike other artifacts from the rail line there appears to be no interest in preserving this one. There are many more pictures of this site that were presented in a pictorial called Electric Railway Generating Plant.
A former bridge abutment in Aurora marks the original route of the railway into town. It is located just east of Yonge Street off of Industrial Parkway. It was built in 1899 to support a trestle across the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR). The 9 foot column of limestone blocks was abandoned in 1922 when the trestle was removed. The radial line was relocated next to the Yonge Street underpass for the GTR.
Newmarket was becoming the economic centre for a large area and in 1883 they decided to build a new town hall. The Italianate Style building housed a successful farmer’s market on the first floor and the town offices on the upper one. The train entered Newmarket along the side of the town hall and had it’s station and freight sheds where the parking lot is across the street.
The railway made it’s way north toward Queen Street via Raglan but it’s not possible to walk through there anymore. You can go to Church Street where you will see the house pictured below. The Newmarket Historical Society has done a great job of identifying homes in the old town core and placing a plaque showing the original owner, their occupation and the date of the home. This Late Victorian home was built in 1894 for a painter named Ernest E. Groome.
The tracks followed Queen Street across Main Street to the GTR tracks where it departed from the street on it’s own trestle. The abutment still remains on the side of the tracks along with a smaller one that can be seen through the arch.
In 1909 the railway built the parabolic arch bridge that still spans the Holland River. It was one of the first concrete arches built in Canada and supported the trestle that crossed the river here and the GTR tracks above. It spans the river at 15 meters wide and rises 7 meters above it. Newmarket also has the very unique remains of an abandoned canal that proposed to connect the city with Lake Simcoe using the Holland River. When this portion of the railway was abandoned in 1930 the trestle was demolished. The arch has been recognized for it’s historic value and is being preserved by the city and the South Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority giving the city a second unique piece of transportation history. The arch is also featured in the cover photo.
By 1850 there were over 9,000 miles of railway track in the United States and only 60 in Canada. On October 15, 1851 a sod turning ceremony was held in Toronto to mark the start of the city’s railway era. The Ontario, Simcoe and Lake Huron Union Company made it’s first business run on May 16, 1853 going as far as Machell’s Corners (Aurora), 30 miles north of the city. Construction continued north in 1853 reaching Allendale later that year. After a series of mergers the GTR acquired this line in 1888. By 1900 passenger and freight traffic was still increasing and so a new station was built. It is a simple one story wood frame structure with wood cladding. The style is Queen Anne Revival that was popular between 1880 and 1910.
The North York Registry Office was built in Newmarket in 1884 to replace an 1863 building that sat on the lot to the immediate south. The building was designed to house the records of land titles, births, deaths and marriages in the County of York, except for the Toronto jurisdiction. It was intended to hold the county records for a period of 50 years. In the end it served until 1980, just shy of a century. It was built in a style that was mandated by the Ontario Department of Public Works in 1868. Today it houses a museum.
Feb. 14, 2017
A fire at Yonge and St. Clair destroyed the Badminton and Racquet Club building in one of the biggest fires in recent history. Until 1920 this had been the site of the car barns for the railway. The TTC was consolidating assets and the building was found to be redundant. There were seven courts laid out in the old car barns and it is said that tracks could still be seen buried in the floor of the racquet club.
October 14, 2021
Another generating station was located at the corner of Kennedy Road and Metro Road. It has since been converted into a private residence.
The Toronto & York Radial Railway built its terminus in Sutton in 1908. The station master and his family lived on the upper floor while the lower one served as the station. Radial service began in Sutton on January 1, 1909 and continued until March 16, 1930. The building was then purchased by the Hydro Electric Power Commission who used it as an office until 1970. It currently serves as home to a real estate brokerage. The beautiful brickwork has been covered over with bland siding but otherwise it remains in good shape with a bay window that no longer looks out over railway tracks.
There are still a couple of artifacts from the railway line that have not been documented. These include the Queensville Station which survives as a private residence.
An electric railway extended up Yonge Street all the way to Lake Simcoe and then on to Sutton. Electric railways had to have a continuous supply of electricity and so they built generating stations along their route. The Toronto & York Radial Railway reached Aurora and Newmarket by 1899 and they built a power generating station at Bond Lake just north of Richmond Hill. The railway was abandoned in 1930 but soon resurrected until October 1948 when it was finally closed for good. The need to generate power had ended years before and the facility was no longer needed for it’s original purpose. The Toronto Public Library has the following picture from April 13, 1955 which shows the substation in relation to the foundations of the steam generating plant in the foreground. The foundations include the furnace section to the right. A transmission pole stands near the foundations. Bond Lake can be seen in the background. This picture was likely taken from Yonge Street. The substation is in use as a private residence at this time.
The front of the substation as it exits in 2016. The siding is peeling off showing the original brickwork. The front porch is missing as are all the add on sections to the right in the picture above. It has been some time since this building served as a home.
From the rear the old steel substation roof can be seen under the shingles that were not present in 1955. Two gaping holes in the roof suggest that there isn’t much time left for the historic structure if no one intervenes.
Notice in the archive picture how the entire area was sparsely treed in 1955. Now the forest has regenerated around the substation.
This photo shows Bond Lake as seen from behind the generating station. A pipe still extends out into the lake.
The foundations of the steam generating station are seen in this second 1955 photo from the library.
A similar picture today shows the advance of nature on the station over the past 60 years. Trees are growing between each of the chambers and it is only a matter of time before they will begin to slowly topple the remaining structures.
The entrance to one of the furnaces in the steam generating plant can be seen in the following photo.
The structure is mostly made from cut blocks of limestone as was common for the railway just before the turn of the last century.
The foundations to the left in the picture of the full site were clear of any trees. Today there is a young forest around them and they are overgrown with vines.
This set of wires and poles lays beside the generating plant.
In 1912 the town of Richmond Hill made a contract with the Toronto & York Radial Railway to buy excess power that they were generating at their Bond Lake plant. On December 30, 1912 the electric streetlights came on in Richmond Hill for the first time. Commercial use in stores and homes began at the same time. A lone transmission pole stands near the generating station.
In 1899 The Metropolitain Railway purchased the property of William Bell to create a park on the shores of the lake. It was Ontario’s first electric park with the power being supplied by the railway generating station. Later, Eldorado Park would build upon the same model.
More pictures and details of the Toronto & York Radial Railway as well as Bond Lake will be featured in upcoming posts.
When the train left Markdale on Sep. 3, 1907 making a special run to the Exhibition in Toronto everyone anticipated a day of fun and not the horror that would leave 7 dead and 114 injured.
Railway construction in Canada in the 1850’s was expensive due to grand stone bridges and stations built to elegant standards. However, traffic was light and many early railways struggled to stay in business. A recession and the American Civil War meant that there was almost no railway construction in the 1860’s. After Confederation in 1867 a desire to open up the northern counties led to a plan to build cheap railways into the interior of the province of Ontario. The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was chartered in 1868 to build a line from Toronto to Grey and Bruce counties. To keep costs down a narrow gauge track was built. It was opened to Orangeville in 1871 and ran 3 trains daily. When extended to Owen Sound it would run only 2 that far each day. Construction required 3 major bridges over the Humber River, the Grand River and the Saugeen River. Another major obstacle was the ascent of the Niagara Escarpment near Caledon. This was accomplished by means of an 11 and 12 degree curve with a 462 foot radius known as The Horseshoe Curve just north of Cardwell. Unfortunately, the choice of a narrow gauge made freight transport uneconomical because cars couldn’t be switched between tracks and had to be off loaded and reloaded onto other cars for further transport. The line was in trouble from the beginning being unable to cope with the freight load. The Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) bought them in 1881 and converted the track to a standard gauge. The GTR couldn’t finance the gauge conversion and lost control to the Ontario & Quebec Railway (CPR) in 1883.
The Toronto Industrial Exhibition opened in 1879 as an annual fair to showcase industry and agriculture. The fair changed it’s name to the Canadian National Exhibition in 1912 to reflect the national scale of the exhibition. Railways were always looking for new ways to generate revenue and providing transportation to entertainment sites such as Eldorado Park was part of their marketing strategy. Five different rail lines offered special rates and added services to bring people to the Exhibition. One of these excursions left Markdale at 7:34 am on Tuesday September 3, 1907 with a return fare of just $1.55. Engine 555 had spent the night in Owen Sound where the crew had gone to use the turntable to turn the train around for the return trip to Toronto. The big Ten-Wheeler (4-6-0) left Owen Sound at 3:20 am arriving in Shelburne at 8:25, nearly an hour and a half behind schedule. The crew appear to have been trying to make up time because when they reached Orangeville 2 men got off saying they worried the train would be wrecked because of the speed it was going.
It was standing room only in the five coaches and so two more were added in Orangeville before it left there at 9:00 am with about 600 people on board. South of Caledon the train started it’s descent of the escarpment, known locally as Caledon Mountain, where it passed a Slow Board with a speed limit of 25 mph posted for the upcoming curve. Twenty-three year old George Hodge was at the helm and he claimed he never saw the sign. Perhaps that is because he was driving at up to 60 mph and the sign was a blur to him. The rail line can be seen on the map above as it leaves the town of Caledon. The rail line runs along the west side of modern Heart Lake Road. In the picture below it can be seen as a berm in the field. I’ve marked it with red arrows for clarity.
This is the view of the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway line looking north from Escarpment Sideroad.
The 1950 archive photo below shows the same vantage point 66 years ago. Steam railways kept the trees and vegetation trimmed for the full width of the right-of-way to help prevent sparks from starting fires.
The wooden crib that supports the embankment has been almost lost behind a new growth of vegetation.
The rail line has been abandoned since 1932 and the rails were removed for use during World War 2. The ravine where the tracks crossed Escarpment Sideroad has been filled in to reduce the grade for cars on the road but the rail corridor continues on the south side. Most of the ties have also been removed but there are still some where the line curved to head east toward the Horseshoe Curve.
The Horseshoe was designed to allow the locomotives to climb or descend the escarpment. Between mile 38 and mile 37 on the line the elevation drops from 1050 feet to 965 feet in a grade of 2%. That morning as the passenger train entered the curve on the horseshoe, which can be seen in the cover photo, it left the tracks. Five of the seven coaches ended up in the ditch and four of them were destroyed. Seven people were killed and 114 injured in the worst rail disaster in this part of the province. The picture below shows the wreckage with Horseshoe Hill Road in the background.
The passengers never completed their excursion to the Exhibition that day because they didn’t make it safely down off of the Niagara Escarpment. The view from beside the Horseshoe Curve allows you to see the CN Tower on a clear day. The Exhibition is located near the base of the CN Tower.
Helmsman George Hodge and Conductor Matthew Grimes were arrested and charged with criminal negligence. At the trial Hodge claimed to have been doing only 15 miles per hour. It turned out that Hodge had driven his first passenger train the day before when he left Parkdale in Toronto with this very train. Speculation included hungover or sleeping crew members but in the end they were found not guilty. The CPR was found guilty of not providing competent crew members and they ended up paying off the survivors for years afterward. Canada Hawkweed, pictured below, has flowers which are similar to common dandelion. The leaves have toothed margins and can almost appear to be hooked over.
The Horseshoe Curve is still visible in this Google Maps image.
The former Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway can be seen from the Bruce Trail where the Bruce follows Escarpment Sideroad.
Long before the discussion of subway vs LRT Toronto had it’s first commuter railway in service in 1892. The Belt Line Railway was intended to take advantage of the building boom the city had been experiencing in the 1880’s. The Belt Land Corporation was formed in 1890 and new communities named Moore Park, Forest Hill, Fairbank and Fairbank Junction were planned. They purchased large tracts of land and subdivided them into lots and then built a commuter rail system with 44 stops to service them. Many of these stations were little more than a wooden shack similar to a bus shelter. These were known as whistle stops and the train only stopped if requested. The grand masterpiece of all the stations was the one at Moore Park. It is seen in the cover photo and was intended to service the richest community on the line. With four towers surmounted with conical roofs, often called “witches hats”, it was intended to speak of the elegance of the neighbourhood. The fact that the station was really still on the edge of town can be seen in the presence of a chicken standing at the door waiting to get in.
The building boom came to a crashing end when a recession set in. The lots stood empty and the speculators had their capital tied up without return. The ridership never showed up and the company was unable to support the failing railway. At 5 cents per station ($1.00 in today’s economy) it was too expensive and there was no way to continue beyond the first 28 months of passenger service. Service was discontinued and the station was abandoned. We started our exploration of this part of the old railway at the site of the Moore Park station on Moore Avenue where I parked on Brendan Road. Today the former site can be seen clearly again because of the removal of ash trees in the wake of the Emerald Ash Borer’s devastation. Notice also the steep slope of the rail line which was too much to haul freight up. After passenger service ended this section of tracks was abandoned. The rails were removed from this section of railway and shipped to France during World War 1. After the war the station was demolished.
The old map below shows the route of the railway with Moore Park being on the right hand side at the northern edge of the city as it existed in 1890. The CPR bridge and the Belt Line station are also shown on the map. The ravine with Yellow Creek that forms the western boundary is marked as Vale of Avoca.
Moore Park was a land speculation concept of John Thomas Moore who envisioned an exclusive enclave for the very rich on the edge of Toronto. Mud Creek and Yellow Creek each have a deep ravine and the table land between them remained undeveloped. Moore built the original bridge east of Yonge Street on St. Clair (3rd Concession) over Yellow Creek to allow access to his subdivision. He named that bridge the Vale of Avoca and the replacement one bears the same name. To support his community he attracted the Belt Line Railway to the eastern ravine where Mud Creek flowed. With the housing crash, most of the lots in Moore Park remained undeveloped until decades after the demise of the railway that was intended to serve it. The railway lands lay abandoned until the city purchased them in 1990 with the intention of creating a linear park 4.5 kilometers long. In 2000 the Beltline Park was renamed Kay Gardner Beltline Park after a local city councilor.
The Belt Line pond formed when the rail line was built and has been the site of recent restoration efforts. The water level is low right now but ducks have begun to pair up in preparation for mating season and there were two pairs in the pond.
As you progress south along the old rail bed there are seven circular stone formations along the east side of the trail. They may have been old wells but if so, they have been filled in almost to ground level. Their construction suggests that they may have been contemporary with the construction of the rail line and therefore could have been ash pits. Regardless of their historic use the abundance of plant pots and fertilizer products suggests that they may have gained a whole new purpose for some urban agriculturalist.
Many of Toronto’s ravines have been altered over the years until they would hardly be recognized by the original land owners. They have been used for landfill sites and many of them contain several feet of buried garbage in the bottom. Along one area of Mud Creek the sides of the hill are covered with broken concrete from a building demolition.
When the railway released its promotional schedules it began to refer to Mud Creek as Spring Creek because it sounded better. In places where the creek has been left natural it it still a beautiful place in spite of its unflattering name.
The North Toronto subdivision of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was the main line between Toronto and Montreal. It passes over both the Vale of Avoca and the Belt Line railway and prior to construction of the Half Mile Bridge, trains had to back from Toronto Junction into downtown. When the North Toronto Station was built at Yonge Street passenger traffic increased greatly and it was decided to double track the line. In 1918 old steel trestles were replaced over both of these ravines with concrete ones which were built of similar construction. The bridge over Mud Creek is 386 feet long and 80 feet high.
Gabion is a word we borrowed from the Italian language and it means cage. We use it as a term to describe a civil engineering feature that is used to control erosion. A wire cage is filled with stones and placed along the banks of a stream. In this case along Mud Creek the gabion on the right hand side of the picture is already drooping into the stream because the dirt has eroded away below it.
Mud Creek was redirected from it’s natural course to flow through the Don Valley Brick Works to provide a source of water for use in the brick making industry. Many of the bricks used in historic Toronto were manufactured at this site with clay that was dug out of the rear of the property. When the clay was exhausted the factory was closed and left abandoned. Recent efforts to rehabilitate the property have resulted in the partial filling in of the huge hole left from the open pit clay mine. It has been turned into a park with ponds where people can walk and enjoy the wildlife that has made itself home here.
The trail leads to the Don Valley Brick Works buildings which have been transformed into a farmer’s market, heritage museum and parkland.
It was a beautiful morning at 16 degrees with just a trace of clouds in the sky. We set out for the village of Limehouse which is situated on the Black Creek, a tributary of the Credit River.
The village of Limehouse started off known as Fountain Green. Limestone was easily accessed near the surface and was needed for mortar for construction materials. By 1840 there were two separate lime manufacturing sites in the village. When the Grand Trunk Railway came to town in 1856 the means of distribution came as well, and the industry expanded quickly. Soon it was employing over 100 men in a 24 hour business. The following year the town got a post office and took the name Limehouse.
The first mill in Limehouse was a saw mill built in 1820 and operated by Adam Stull. The mill was owned by several people over it’s 120 year history before finally closing in the 1940’s. The steel flume that carried water to the saw mill turbines is a later addition, likely sometime after 1900.
The earliest lime kilns were the set kilns of the 1840’s which could burn 6 to 30 tons of rock in a 7 day cycle. Lime would be added in along with wood and burned. Wood had to be added through the sides for three or four days to keep the heat up. The oven then needed a cool down period before the lime could be removed. Set kilns were often built in rows or clusters. The one pictured below is part of a row which has two larger kilns on either end and five smaller ones in between.
Blasting powder was used to break large chunks of rock out of the quarry. Around 1850 a powder house was built in a slight depression on the quarry floor. It was located here to limit the damage it would cause if there was ever an accident. The walls are made out of limestone with a plaster coating on the outside. Inside it would have had wooden shelves to store the dry powder on. The powder house had deteriorated to half it’s height but was restored in 2004.
Along the trail from the Powder House to the mill ruins grow woodland strawberries. Strawberries are members of the rose family and as such are not true berries. Wild strawberry plants have been cultivated to grow the large plants with large juicy berries that we see commercially. Wild strawberries seldom grow larger than 1 cm but they pack a lot of taste in a little bite.
In the 1860’s a new style of kiln called a draw kiln was developed that could burn 6-18 tons of limestone per day. The example in the picture below was 16 metres high and has four fireplaces on either side. It was constructed of limestone masonry with a double layer of fire brick inside. It took a day to heat the kiln up but after the interior was hot it could be run continually. Limestone was fed in from the top, which was level with the edge of the quarry. The burnt lime was removed from the bottom of the kiln. In 2009-2010 the fireplaces, where the fuel was burned, were restored but the fire brick lining from the stack of the kiln has since collapsed into them. The rest of the kiln is braced to prevent further collapse until it can also be restored.
Extensive ruins of the Lime-Mill cross the Black Creek just below the old mill pond. The lime mill ground lime in much the same way a grist mill ground grain. This arch is an original feature of the mill race. Older photos show at least two more rows on the top. The Halton Hills Branch of the Architectural Conservancy Ontario asks that people please keep clear of the arch to assist in it’s preservation.
The Widow Skimmer is a species of dragonfly found in Ontario. The adult female has a yellow striped body and both sexes have black bands on the wings. A dragonfly can be distinguished from a damselfly because it sits at rest with it’s wings spread open.
In 1917 the Toronto Suburban Railway (TSR) came through Limehouse on the way to Guelph. It passed over the mill pond and crossed the 5th line where there was a small station. The railway was closed in 1931 and the railway pilings remaining in the former mill pond are about all that remains.
Limehouse has a series of caves and cracks that have become known as the Hole In The Wall. We climbed in and out of them in several places.
An upper mill stone, also known as a runner stone lays face down along the trail just beyond the mill ruins. This stone was turned using the iron hook in the middle.
The coach house behind the church likely dates to 1876 like the church building it served. Parking has always been a problem and is made even worse when your vehicle is a horse.
The Methodist Episcopal Church in front of the coach house was built in 1876. I can find no explanation for the word Horeb on the front of the church. The Methodist congregation had been meeting in the Limehouse Presbyterian church which also housed the Episcopalian congregation before they moved into their own building. The Presbyterian church was frequently referred to as the Limehouse Union Church, much like the chapel in Dixie. We didn’t stop to photograph the 1861 Presbyterian church on the edge of town because of a two car crash in front of it’s cemetery. I was in less of a hurry to get in than they were, or so it seemed.
Limehouse had three hotels in it’s heyday. The one in the picture below belonged to Miles Mcdonald who was a local carpenter. He also built the Prebyterian church just up the street, helping it to open debt free in October 1861.
The fire of 1893 that destroyed the woolen mill and blanket factory as well as a paint factory gave the town a major setback. Lack of insurance led to the industries never being rebuilt. The quarry was getting closer to the homes in town and so by 1915 the lime industry was closed down. A major industrial hub was left to quietly decay. The Credit Valley Conservation Authority purchased the area in 1967. Since then they have begun raising funding for restoration with some projects already complete. Interpretive signs are being added as well.
Minus 7 but sunny and calm. A beautiful day for late fall. I parked on Danesbury Ave. just west of the Allen Expressway.
By the 1890’s Toronto had filled most of the vacant land inside it’s existing borders. Access to areas to the north was not easy as many of today’s bridges didn’t yet exist. A lengthy trip up and down steep ravines left the areas undesirable and eliminated any chance of commuting downtown for work. Sir James David Edgar developed a plan. He started to accumulate large tracts of land for new development. The plan was complete with a commuter railway to service the population. In 1889 he set about building the Beltline Railway that was to become a 40 km loop around the edges of the city. The Toronto Belt Land Corporation was set up to sell lots to home buyers. By 1892 the loop had been completed including 44 stations. Some of these were built on a grand scale like the Moore Park station while other stops would have been a whistle stop, more like an early version of a bus shelter. Of these stations only the Don Station survives having been moved to Roundhouse Park at the foot of the C.N. Tower. Unfortunately for Edgar a recession hit and the housing market crashed. The lands sat undeveloped and the passengers he envisioned never showed up. At 5 cents per station the fare was equal to $1.00 per station today. This also contributed to the early demise of the railway. After only 28 months passenger service had ended. Following the collapse of his railway and land speculation scheme James Edgar was undaunted. He went on to serve as a railway critic for the Liberal government. Elected in 1884 he became the 7th speaker of the house in 1896.
The map below is from 1892 and shows the belt line railway and the land outlined in red near the top where Edgar planned his subdivisions.
The rail line was used in various ways over the next 100 years. The section through the area of land speculation has become industrial along the rail corridor and it served the factories into the late 1980’s. A large part of the former rail line has now been converted into a 9 km trail system that exists in 3 separate sections. The Ravine Beltline Trail, which runs through Mud Creek Ravine south of Mount Pleasant Cemetery and past the Don Valley Brick Works, is the most southerly portion. The section from Mount Pleasant through to Allen road is the longest and is known as the Kay Gardner Beltline Park. When Allen road was built the rail line right of way was expropriated. The section west of here is known as the York Beltline Trail. This was the target of this shorter walk and the area of land speculation. As you enter the trail off of Roselawn Ave. at Geograd Gardens the trail is maintained to the right but not to the left. Here it runs down to the back of the apartment buildings toward Allen road.
Someone has built a cat colony behind the factories down here. I saw three of the locals but there is room for a half a dozen or more. The white and grey cat in the cover photo is on the ground here behind the green cat condo.
This black and white kitty was enjoying a sunny afternoon and keeping a close eye on me. Either I had food, could be ignored or needed to be ran away from. In typical cat fashion, I was ignored.
Two original bridges remain from the railway. The trail crosses Dufferin Street on the rail line’s original bridge. This bridge, along with the Yonge street bridge, are a lasting reminder of the rail industry in the last part of the 19th century. Here we see a steel bridge on concrete abutments. Based on the construction of the Yonge street bridge it is likely that the abutments were originally cut blocks of stone. The concrete may have been added for restoration purposes.
Near Fairbank Road a couple of the industrial buildings have been the canvas for a painter. This appears to be too good to have been done by a random graffiti artist. Perhaps this is the way to deter them.
Metro Sportswear Limited was founded in 1957 by a Polish immigrant named Sam Tick. In 1985 it started calling it’s down filled jackets by the name Snow Goose. When they expanded into Europe in the early 1990’s that name was taken and so Canada Goose was born. The smoke stack on the left of the power transmission tower is at Canada Goose’s factory on Bowie street. Here the trail ends. The Beltline track ran up beside the Grand Trunk Railway and joined it for the trip back to Union Station..
The Grand Trunk went bankrupt and was absorbed by the government into the Canadian National Railway in Jan. 1923. CN railways operated this section up until 1988. Today the junction of the CN’s track to Union Station is in the early stages of being reclaimed by plant life.
Another time we will explore the other two sections of the Beltline Railway trail system.