Category Archives: Bruce Trail

Nassagaweya Canyon

Saturday March 19, 2016

The cover photo shows a turkey vulture sitting in a tree looking out across the Nassagaweya Canyon.  This canyon is a deep cut in the Niagara Escarpment and it takes it’s name from an Indian word meaning “Meeting of two rivers”.  Sixteen Mile Creek and Bronte Creek both occupy the canyon.  When the escarpment was formed a large river cut through the bedrock and created an island of rock which is known as the Milton Outlier.  It has Rattlesnake Point on the southern end.  Four ice ages have further carved the river channel and widened it to the present size as glacial meltwaters flowed through the canyon.

When the county atlas was drawn in 1877 the 4th line was continuous and ran along the Nassagaweya Canyon floor next to Limestone Creek.  The portion of road through the canyon has since been closed.  The northern section is now known as Canyon Road and the part south of Rattlesnake Point is known as Walker’s line.  We parked on Canyon Road where it dead ends near the north end of Nassagaweya Canyon. The closed roadway is still open as a trail which leads toward a connection with the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail, The Bruce Trail and a Bruce side trail.  One possible factor in the closing of this road allowance is the wetlands that it passes through and it’s three crossings of Limestone Creek.  I’ve marked the road in red and the property of John Agnew with a red arrow.

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The early settlers who owned the land grants on either side of this road struggled with the maintenance and elected to create a corduroy road.  Logs were placed perpendicular to the roadway to make the road passable.  These roads were bumpy at best and a danger to horses because the logs often shifted.  They were not as refined as plank roads like the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road.  The picture below shows a section where the logs from the corduroy road are showing through the mud and grass.

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Along the old roadway there is clear evidence of human engineering in the form of drainage pipes, ditches and embankments.  At one point we noted a ridge on the west side of the road that didn’t look natural or man made.  Beavers build retaining walls for their ponds by scooping dirt up using their tails.  The trees around the pond don’t show any sign of recent chewing and so it looks like the beaver pond has been abandoned for a little while.

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The old road allowance connects with several other trails including the main Bruce Trail which is marked with a white slash.  The blue markers indicate Bruce Trail side trails and the orange is the 7.2 kilometer Nassagaweya Canyon Trail.  Following it to the right will bring you to Crawford Lake and the restored village of Longhouses there.  Following it, as we did, to the left takes you up the Milton Outlier where the trail follows the canyon edge to Rattlesnake Point.

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The blue side trail indicated above with two markers in a T formation is the Jack Leech Porter trail.  It is named after a member of the Iroquoia and had a boardwalk installed in the mid-1980’s.  In 2010 it was decided to replace the old 480-foot boardwalk with the new one which features a 16-foot bridge over Limestone Creek.  An 8-foot rest area is built into the boardwalk and can be seen in the picture below.

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The Nassagaweya Canyon provides a perfect habitat for Turkey Vultures.  They nest on the sides of the cliffs and in April or May produce up to three eggs.  The little ones are fed with regurgitated carrion which makes a smell that attracts predators.  The remote edges of the canyon cliffs provide protection for the nests from these threats.  The vultures spend the winter south of New Jersey and have recently returned to the canyon.  We were approaching Rattlesnake Point when we saw several pairs of vultures circling and resting in trees.  Making our way along the edge of the cliff allowed us to get some close-up shots of the birds.

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When we visited Rattlesnake Point last weekend we noted an old farm house near the mouth of the canyon.  From our vantage point, we had wondered if it might be abandoned and if we should investigate it some day.  We decided that climbing down the side of the cliff to reach the canyon floor was the only way to find out and so we set out to do so.  We are in no way suggesting that this is a good idea or that you do this.  This picture shows the limestone cliff face near Rattlesnake Point from part way down the side of the canyon. Traversing the valley would allow us to turn the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail into a loop instead of the usual two-way walk.

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Limestone Creek is a tributary of Bronte Creek and flows through the canyon.  We found a solid tree that had fallen across the creek to use as our bridge.  The forest through the canyon valley is quite young and most of the trees appear to be less than 40 years old.

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The mouth of the canyon at the south end is full of glacial deposits of sand and gravel. Farmers had to clear their fields of rocks every spring and they were lined up along the edge of fields in place of a fence.  This old stone fence marks the line where a field on the right has recently gone back to forest while the one the left was sold for the mining of aggregates. This property belonged to John Agnew in 1877 as shown on the county atlas above.

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The abandoned house we were seeking is on the edge of the old quarry.  This story and a half Georgian style home has a small dormer on the front which sits just slightly off centre.

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 The house hasn’t been abandoned for very long as there is little damage from weather or vandals.  The view from the upstairs hallway looks out over the extension at the rear of the house toward the site of the quarry.  The tree to the left of the house has an abandoned dog house beneath it.

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We had to ascend the canyon’s western wall to where we could see people on the Bruce Trail walking along the top of the cliff.

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This is the view from the top of the canyon looking back across to the Milton Outlier.  We had descended the 144 feet to the canyon floor at the left end of the white limestone cliffs on the far side.

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Scarlet Elf Cup is a type of fungus that grows in early winter through to early spring.  They are bright red on the inside and were used by the Oneida people to stop the bleeding on umbilical cords when an infant bled longer than usual.  We found large patches of them growing along the closed roadway.

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Along the old 4th line road allowance stand the remains of this old building, likely abandoned long before the road was.

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Google Maps link: Nassagaweya Canyon Trail

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Terra Cotta Conservation Trails

Saturday Feb. 6, 2016

The Terra Cotta Conservation Area has gone through many transformations over the years and has now been converted from a campground and picnic area into a naturalized park full of hiking trails.  We parked on the 10th line where the Bruce Trail crosses and a side trail known as the Walking Fern Trail leads to a rare species of ferns.  The main trail follows the road for a short distance before passing along the edge of a series of fish ponds.  This property is legally known as lot 29 10th concession in Halton.  The home was built around 1910 and is known as Edwardian architecture because King Edward was on the throne (1901-1910).  This style of building is generally less ornate than the Victorian style that preceded it.  The home is made of field stone with cut stone quoins on the corners and around the windows.  An enclosed stone porch surrounds three sides of the building.  A small stone bridge leads to a circular island in the pond.

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There is a small footbridge at the bottom of the ponds to allow access to the Bruce Trail. Concrete from a former dam structure remains in the bottom of the creek creating a small waterfall.  The current bridge is built on wooden beams set in metal drums which stand on the old dam structure.

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Queenston Shale can be seen along the sides of the trail.  The distinctive red and grey shale was formed in the Queenston Delta during the Silurian period when the sediments of the Niagara Escarpment were being laid down.  These shale formations have almost no fossils in them and are the lower layers of the escarpment.  They can be seen here as well as at the Devil’s Punchbowl and Cheltenham Badlands.

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In the 1940’s Clancy’s Ranch opened and it soon turned into a popular swimming spot. Soon it would pass to Leo Wolf and Gord Ward who developed a weekend recreation park which they called Terra Cotta Playground.  It became a popular place for dances and picnics.  In 1958 the Credit Valley Conservation Area of Terra Cotta was opened.  In the 1980’s we used to camp here in one of the 137 campsites that the park featured.  These have since been replanted as have the 650 parking spaces that used to serve the 10 acre day use park.  Mini golf, a concession stand and a 1 acre swimming pool used to round out the facilities.  The pool had replaced the swimming hole on Clancy’s Ranch.  A more environmentally friendly approach has since been taken with the pool being torn out and replaced with naturalized wetlands.  These wetlands are now used as an educational tool. Wolf Lake is named after Leo Wolf and has a thin coating of ice on it at this time.

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One of the side trail loops in the park is known as Maple Hills Loop.  Near where this trail joins  the Terra Cotta Lane trail there is a series of tubes fixed in the trees for the collection of maple sap.  This will then be boiled down to make maple syrup.

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When we entered the woods we had heard the hard tapping of a large woodpecker as it searched for it’s food.  From the sound we guessed that it was a pileated woodpecker and we found plenty of evidence of their presence in the area.  The pine tree pictured below has a fresh pileated woodpecker hole dug in it.

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Terra Cotta Conservation Area has a wide variety of hiking trails that are mapped out in eight colour coded trails.  The post below has an orange tag to mark the Vaughn Trail, a red tag for the Bruce Trail and a purple one for the Terra Cotta Lane trail.  After wandering around parts of each of these trails we took the Bruce Trail in search of the Terra Cotta Waterfalls.

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We took the purple trail named Terra Cotta Lane.  This trail follows an old roadway along the western shoreline of Wolf Lake.

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Terra Cotta waterfall is a 12 metre plunge waterfall on Roger’s Creek.  It is visible from the main Bruce Trail just north of the conservation area.  The waterfall has a deep plunge pool and the shale is deeply undercut below the harder dolomite that it flows over.  It is possible to reach the bottom of the waterfall in the summer but ice makes it impossible at this time of the year without proper gear and ropes.  This waterfall is also seen in our cover photo.

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A coyote has passed along the side of Rogers Creek leaving a set of distinctive footprints. The front prints are larger than the rear with the average size being about 2.5 inches long by 2 inches wide.  They have an oval shape and are more oblong than a dog’s prints.  The claws are less prominent than a dogs and the two front claw marks will be close together.

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The earliest versions of the horse drawn sickle mower began to appear around 1845 but they didn’t become popular until the 1860’s.  By the second world war there was a push from the government to replace work animals with tractors.  This example of a late 18oo’s farm implement sits on display in the front lawn of the Terra Cotta Inn.

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Across the street from The Forge Park stands this old building.  Typical of wagon maker shops this building has a doorway on the second floor where painted parts would be left to dry.  The date stone on the front of the building is badly worn but appears to say 1900.

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On the edge of town stands this gorgeous five bay Georgian Revivalist home which is very similar to the Cawthra Estate house we visited last weekend.

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There is plenty left to visit in Terra Cotta including the historic brickworks and kilns. These will have to wait for another time.

Google maps link: Terra Cotta

GPS coordinates for Terra Cotta Waterfalls:  N 43° 43.165 W 079° 58.165

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The Gap

Saturday Nov. 14, 2015

In 1962 a quarry blasted a huge gap in the Niagara Escarpment and set off a chain reaction that led to the escarpment being declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.  The gap in the escarpment can be seen from the 401 which is 3 km away.  We parked at the turn around loop on Dublin Line and made our way along a small trail that departs from the cul-de-sac.  It was 2 degrees but feeling like minus 2 as we started up the side of the escarpment.  We followed a trail that led between the moss covered boulders, seeking the Bruce Trail that runs along the top of the escarpment.

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The escarpment is over 700 km long and is full of valuable natural resources.  The area around Milton is important as a source of dolomitic limestone which is used in construction.  The location is critical because there is about 30 meters of good limestone very close to the surface. It is also close the the highway for transportation and the GTA which is the largest market in the country.  We needed to get to the top of the escarpment and found a natural gap in the rock where we were able to climb up.

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Even from before the creation of the gap there had been a movement to keep quarries under some tighter controls.  The Sixteen Mile Creek Conservation Authority was formed in 1956 and three years later they had acquired an 88 acre chunk of the escarpment to prevent quarry expansion. This would become Mount Nemo Conservation Area with Rattlesnake Point being created in 1961. Then, like a missing front tooth, came the visible scar of the gap.

From the top of the escarpment you can see the towers in the city.  The CN tower has been a landmark for 40 years but now, taking their place on the right of the tower, are the so called Marilyn Monroe towers in Mississauga.

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Concerned, Ontario Premier John Robarts commissioned a 1967 report on protecting the escarpment, the first of it’s kind.  In 1973 the government passed an act creating the Niagara Escarpment Commission which began to control development.  The Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE) was established in 1978 to make recommendations on preserving the escarpment.  Through their efforts the Niagara Escarpment Plan would be passed by the government in 1985.  In 1990 the Southern Ontario portion of the escarpment was designated a World Biosphere Reserve.

The processing plant can be seen from the highway, not only through the gap, but rising above the limestone cliffs to the east of it.  This processing plant was built in 1974 and the earlier one closed down.  It has since been removed and the site put into the rehabilitation plan.

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This large size cable spool had rolled down the side of the excavation berm and come to rest on the fence.  The steel fence post is about 2 feet shorter than the spool making it about 7 feet in diameter.  Made in Japan, this Canada Belt product contained 925 feet of cable on the spool. There were a lot of empty Texaco lubricant tin buckets, a Zenith washing machine, a lawnmower and other trash in the same area.

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In 1989 the Bruce Trail Association started a campaign to bridge the gap and connect their conservation lands on either side.  $150,000 was raised through donations to build the 40 metre bridge.  This allowed the trail to be relocated onto a better route.  The bridge was officially opened in May 1991.

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Over the years the quarry grew to take in larger and larger sections of the escarpment.  In 2006 they applied for and later received an extension to the licensed area of the quarry.

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Parts of the original quarry have now been put into a regeneration project.  There will be wetlands and wild life habitat created.  Every year since 1993 Scouts Canada has planted trees in the closed section of the quarry as part of their Earth Day celebrations.  In 2008 they planted their 100,000th tree.  Both forests and meadows are being created as well as lakes.  When we got back to the natural gap in the rock and had descended, we decided to make our way along the front face of the limestone cliff.  The large loose chunks hanging out over our heads and broken pieces under our feet were a constant reminder that they fall on a regular basis.

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We found this hardened lime at the bottom of the cliff in a couple of places.  It was drilled in several spots with little animal holes.

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Based on current mining rates it is expected that the Dufferin Quarry site will run out in about 25 years or less.  When the rehabilitation is complete over 400 ha of parkland will be handed over to the conservation authority creating one of the largest public land holdings in the entire GTA. The picture below was taken on November 1, 2015 during our Hilton Falls excursion.  It shows the quarry lake and the back of the processing plant.  The bridge across the gap is also seen in the distance in the centre of the picture.

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Part of the recent approval for expansion that was granted included the company dealing with the industrial scar of the gap.  In the short term they have planted as many trees as possible to screen the gap.  When the quarry closes they will implement a more permanent solution.  Filling the gap back in is one option but would restrict the animal traffic that now uses it. This could be overcome by creating a tunnel with fill on the top.  Building a new land form behind the gap to create the illusion of it being closed is yet another option being investigated.  A more creative idea includes building a terrace across the gap with trees planted on it.

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Many believe that it was the destruction of this small section of the escarpment that led directly to the creation of the NEC and ultimately to recognition by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Google Maps: The Gap

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