Category Archives: Don River

West Don Parkland

August 31, 2019

It was a perfect temperature for hiking and also for mosquitoes.  We decided to visit the West Don Parklands to explore the west side of the river and found parking on Maxwell Street where there is access under the power corridor.  We followed the West Don River north until we came to private property and were forced to turn back.  The picture below is a capture from the Toronto Archives of a 1960 aerial photograph of the area we explored.  Our trail has been roughly traced in green while the river is coloured in blue.

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Japanese Beetles were plentiful in the field under the meadow that runs under the hydro corridor.  They are native to the islands of Japan and were first found in the United States in 1916 and in Canada in 1939.  Since then they have spread throughout North America.  The adults eat large amounts of foliage and severely damage over 250 different host plants that they feed on.  Although there are treatment programs designed to reduce the impact of these beetles the picture below gives a good indication of why they continue to thrive.

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At the bottom of the hill the West Don River flows over a small concrete dam and through a dissipator.  It is interesting to see the water that flows over the top of the dam and onto the concrete piers hitting them with considerable force and yet arriving at the bottom in a calm pool having dissipated all of the energy it gained through the drop.  The top of this dam has become clogged with branches and logs that have floated down stream and become caught up in the first row of piers.  Some of it has been there so long that it is silted up and vegetation is growing on the top.

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The valley floor has become overgrown with dog strangling vines and wild cucumber vines.  The wild cucumber is native to Africa but has become naturalized in the New World.  Unlike the dog strangling vine, the wild cucumber does not choke out and kill the vegetation that it grows along with.  The fruit are cultivated and eaten in many places such as Brazil where it is used in a meat and vegetable stew.

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The West Don River was running slow and at a very low level.  Just to the north of here G. Ross Lord Dam and Reservoir are used to collect storm water and release it slowly to prevent flooding in the lower reaches of the river.  Therefore, even after a heavy rainfall this section of the river will see a minimal rise in water levels.

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The chicory appears to have had a very good year and the plants and flowers were plentiful.  Chicory has been used for years as an alternative or additive to coffee.  Chicory is used during times of shortage such as The Depression and Second World War by mixing it up to 60% with 40% coffee.  It gives the coffee a slightly woody flavour.  Tender leaves can also be collected and added directly to salads.

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We came to a sign that said that if you find the log bridge to be impassable you should return and take an alternate side trail.  This naturally prompted us to go and have a look to see if the bridge was impassable.  It wasn’t in very good shape but we did manage to cross carefully.

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Once you clear the bridge there is an extended boardwalk that is not in perfect shape but is safe if you watch for the occasional broken board.

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The trail follows the river and leads to the Forest Valley Outdoor Education Centre which is operated by the Toronto District School Board.  The centre plays host to over 17,000 students each year from 170 different schools who come here to learn about and develop an appreciation for nature.  After you pass the buildings on this site you can follow the trail along the river which leads to a place where a pedestrian bridge once crossed the river.

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Orange Jewelweed has been used in traditional medicine for years as a remedy for poison ivy exposure.  The juice from the flower and leaves can be applied to skin that has been exposed to poison ivy and it has been proven effective at preventing a rash from forming.  The one caution is that some people are known to be allergic to jewelweed and can have an even more severe reaction to this plant than the one they may have had to the poison ivy.

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In the 1877 county atlas the property at the south east corner of modern Dufferin and Finch is shown as belonging to Mrs. E Reggett.  To the west of her property Dufferin street ran north on the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road of which there are still remnants in the valley where Dufferin is shown making its curve.  They can be seen at this link.  Interpretive signage in the park indicates that a grist mill was operated in this location but it wasn’t shown on the county atlas, indicating it was a later construction.

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A little farther along the river we came to the location of the former Reggett grist mill.    The ruins themselves appear to be on a fairly small scale for an actual grist mill.  They are also made out of poured concrete which shows that they were built some time after 1900.  The mill has been gone for a long time but the ruins on the river can be seen in photographs that predate the construction of the outdoor education centre.  This suggests that they were not built as part of an educational display but were the actual Reggett mill ruins.

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Two steel brackets extend out of the concrete to mount the water wheel on.  The recess for the wheel is only a couple of feet in diameter which suggests that this was a very small wheel and was not used to generate significant power.

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The water was directed over the wheel or off to the side by moving a board from one channel to another in the head race.  Today the whole system is crumbling and a tree is starting to grow at the fork in the channel.

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We chose to follow the driveway from the education centre back to the road where we could make our way back to the car.  This is an interesting park and it would be cool to see what lies on the east side of the river.  Perhaps one day…

Google Maps Link: West Don Parklands

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Betty Sutherland Trail

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Betty Sutherland Trail runs for 1.83 kilometres from Leslie Street and Sheppard Avenue to Duncan Mills Road and Don Mills Road.  The park is named after a long time city councilor who was active in supporting Toronto’s recreational areas and trails.  She was also a member of Toronto Region Conservation Authority.  The park runs through an area known as Henry Farm.  The farm was settled in 1806 by Henry Mulholland and was later owned by George Stewart Henry who was the 10th Premier of Ontario.  To explore the trail we parked near the corner of Duncan Mills Road.  The formal trail runs on the west side of the river at this point but we chose the less traveled east side of the river.

The cover photo shows one of the stone buildings associated with Duncan Mills which used to operate at this site.  In 1935 a pump house was built to bring water from the river to Graydon Hall at the top of the ravine.  This water flowed through terraced gardens as it returned to the river.  These two old buildings greet you as you enter the trail and their story can be read in more detail in our story Graydon Hall.

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The East Don River runs along side of the trail.  The river was frozen over in many places but still had open water where the ice hadn’t formed.

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The trail passes under the 401 where the steel girders are marked Bridge & Tank.  This company has its roots in Hamilton in 1872 as the Hamilton Tool Works.  It went under several names until the Second World War when it began manufacturing tanks for the military.  In 1954 they became the Bridge and Tank company and continued operations until 1984.

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A series of side trails form a loop extending the trail and providing access to a couple of ravines

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The Betty Sutherland Trail is well known to bird watchers as a place to see a multitude of species.  This late in the winter there are relatively few but that is about to change very soon.  We saw several cardinals standing pretty in the trees and singing to their females.

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On the west side of the river stands the North York General Hospital.   The idea for this hospital began in 1960 when a group of local citizens met to explore the possibility of building a 70-bed community hospital.  On March 15, 1968 the new hospital was dedicated by the Premier of Ontario.  The present building includes a major expansion that was completed in 2003.

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The trail ends at Sheppard and Leslie which was the former community of Oriole.  We crossed the road to have another look at the old dam that marks the site.  Click on the link to read the story of Oriole – Ghost Towns of the GTA.

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The trail is wide and had three clear paths running along it.  Ideally the walkers would take the middle path while skiers would go single file in the two outside lanes.  If the outside paths were once ski trails they have been over-run with footprints of pedestrians.  With a little luck pedestrians will be sharing the path with cyclists instead of skiers in the next couple of weeks.

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Pine Grosbeaks are normally a northern bird and are uncommon in Southern Ontario and we were lucky to see this female in the top of a tree along the trail.  Pine Grosbeaks move south in the winter looking for food at which time they will feed on buds in maple trees.  They are a member of the finch family but are one of the larger, plumper species.

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The Betty Sutherland Trail is just part of the extensive trails that follow the East Don River.  At this time they are not continuous but each section is well worth the visit.

Google Maps Link: Betty Sutherland Trail

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E. T. Seton Park

Saturday, December, 8, 2018

E. T. Seton Park is named after Ernest Thomson Seton who was born in England but moved to Canada with his parents in 1866 at the age of 6.  His father was abusive and he spent much of his time in the Don Valley near the park.  He became famous as an author, painter and a founding member of The Boy Scouts of America.  The park that was named after him follows the West Don River south and features an archery range, disc golf and extensive trails.  We parked for free in the lot that is south of Eglinton accessed off of Leslie Street.  We roughly followed the orange trail on the Google Earth capture below as far as the Forks of the Don.

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The north part of the park has a couple of ponds that sit in the valley below the Ontario Science Centre.  Originally the Science Centre was planned in 1961 with an opening in 1967 for the Canadian Centennial celebrations.  The three pods were designed to match the contours of the Don Valley that it was built along.  Opening was delayed until September 2, 1969.  The ice may be thin on the pond but this was no obstacle to the local coyote.

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The fresh snow always looks so nice sitting on the tree branches.  As the morning progressed the brief periods of sunshine caused the snow to slide of the branches and created the occasional brief snow shower and even a nice dump of snow down the back of the neck just for laughs.

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E. T. Seton Disc Golf Course is 18 holes long, each one a par 3.  The course winds along the river in both directions so that yo get to walk the length of the park as you play.  There are disc golf associations that play here but the course is open to everyone who wants to try.  Local rules require a spotter on holes 9 (two-way pedestrian traffic) and 10 (near the archery range) to avoid hitting someone from a tee shot.  The first disc golf course was built 1975 in California.  Today there are over 4,000 courses around the world with there being three free ones in Toronto.  The E. T. Seton Park course opened in 2001 but there is also a course on Toronto Islands and at Centennial Park.

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An old bridge crosses the Don River near where the Upper Mill was in the Taylor Paper making empire.  The Lower Mill was located at Todmorden.  The large parking area just north of the bridge was the site of the paper mill for over 100 years.  The main trial is paved and continues along the east side of the river while a smaller bicycle trail follows the west side of the river.  It passes under the railway tracks.

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Each of the major rivers in the GTA have a split or fork in them.  The West Don River flows through the heart of the park until it reaches the point where east meets west.  The East Don River was formerly known as the Middle Don.  At that time, Taylor-Massey Creek was known as the East Don.  The Forks of the Don can be explored from either side of the river but access to the middle of the forks is only possible by trespassing on the short but active railway bridge above and so we don’t suggest that you do this.

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From the tracks you can see the bridge where Don Mills Road crosses the ravine with the railway in it.  Behind the road is the bridge that carried an old section of Don Mills Road that has been abandoned when the new section opened.

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Two trails make their way up the west side of the West Don River.  The upper trail is known as Catalyst while Beaver Flats is the name of the lower one.  These trails appear to be primarily used by bicyclists and the sharp turns and sudden rises in the trail will require a sharp eye to avoid getting run over.

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I’m not sure if this is intended to be a piece of artwork but we do get tired of seeing tires in our parks and ravines.  They are great places for still water to sit in the summer and create breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

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The Canadian National Railway bridge spans the West Don River ravine in the distance.  This bridge sits on an old set of cut stone piers as well as a newer set that was made of poured concrete.

 

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The CPR bridge is seen in this 1955 photo.  Of note is the system of wires that along the poles beside the trestle.  Today there are only one or two wires and all the accessible glass insulators have been removed.

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The park continues to the south and links up with the Lower Don Trail as well as Taylor Creek Park.  There is plenty more to explore another day.

Google Maps Link: E. T. Seton Park

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Riverdale Park

Sunday, August 6, 2018

One of the first settlers in York (Toronto) was John Scadding.  He worked as secretary to Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe.  In 1794 he built a log cabin on his estate as a first home.  In 1856 the city purchased the Scadding homestead for use as a park and to give the city a place to build a new jail.  Thankfully, the early settlers of Toronto preserved some history for us and his home was moved to the CNE in 1879 to make way for the park.  I parked on Carlton Street near Riverdale Farm and went down the stairs into Riverdale Park West.  On my return trip I walked through Riverdale Farm which is also a great place to visit.

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Originally, Riverdale Park was 120 acres but it was later expanded to 162 acres.  When the Don Valley Parkway was built it split the park in two and reduced the size to the current 104 acres.  The two halves of the park are joined by a pedestrian bridge that gives access to the Lower Don Trail which leads north toward The Bloor Viaduct.  The eastern part of the park is smaller and retains the distinct shape of the old riverbed as can be seen in the picture below.

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In the 1880’s the lower portion of The Don River, the Don Narrows, was straightened out and a couple of sections were cut off from the river.  These sections of the former river now form the ponds in Riverdale Farm.

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The east half of Riverale Park was used as a landfill in the 1920’s and exhaust pipes still line the sides of the park where methane gas is allowed to escape from below.  Along with a sports track there is a swimming pool on the east side of the park.  The north end has been naturalized again and there are many mature trees along the various hiking trails.

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The Task Force To Bring Back The Don has been working on various projects in the park including several tree planting sessions.  The first one on the eastern slopes was actually the first action in the 40 Steps to a New Don River program.  They have also created a small wetland at the base of the ravine where the runoff from the embankment is collected and bulrushes now grow.  Maximilian Sunflowers are growing in a large cluster at an intersection of trails in the woodlot.  They are not native plants and this cluster was likely planted here.  They are often found in the wild as escaped garden plants.

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At the north end of the park a set of accessible ramps leads to a bridge that allows you to cross one of the on-ramps for the DVP.  This bridge makes a great place to get a look at the top end of the park.

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Purple Loosestrife was once considered to be a real threat as an invasive species with fears that it would choke out native wetland plants.  There appears to be a balance now where the plant co-exists with native plants and it may eventually be considered naturalized.  Monarch butterflies were taking advantage of the flowers and the sunshine.

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In 1881 five cannons were brought to Riverdale Park for decorations.  The one that stands near the old jail was cast in 1806 and bears the insignia of King George III who ruled from 1760 until 1820 making him the third longest serving monarch in British history.

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Riverdale Park was once the garden for the Don Jail.  Prisoners were used to tend the gardens as well as look after the buildings and animals at Riverale Zoo.  The Don Jail was built in 1864 as the third jail in the city.  It was considered to be a modern facility at the time with better accommodations than other jails of the era.  It wasn’t too long before overcrowding led to it becoming a dreadful place to spend any time.  There was an addition built in the 1950’s and the original jail was closed in 1977.  The addition has since been closed and demolished.  The remaining jail building is one of the oldest pre-confederation buildings in the city.

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The front entrance to the jail was very ornate with Father Time looking down on all the inmates as they entered the building that would be their new home for the duration of their sentence.  The cover photo shows the front of the building with all of the artwork that decorates it.  The Latin phrase meaning Abandon Hope All Who Enter used to adorn the lintle above the door.  With the old jail now serving as part of a rehab hospital it was considered inappropriate and has been removed.  The inside of the old jail has been renovated but it used to be similar to the Owen Sound Jail we featured earlier this year.  Seventy people were executed at the jail, the last two in 1962.  Unclaimed bodies were buried on the property under what would become a parking lot.  Recent demolition and construction on the site revealed several skeletons.

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Starting in the 1860’s the south corner of Riverdale Park was used for healthcare facilities, originally known as the House of Refuge.  A small pox epidemic in 1875 saw the facility changed into the Riverdale Isolation Hospital.  Patients with contagious diseases were treated here until the late 1950’s.  By 1957 the threat of contagion was greatly reduced and the facility was given a new mandate.  They began taking care of chronic illnesses and rehabilitation.  In 1959 a new building was designed for the Riverdale Hospital.  Mushroom shaped canopies were designed for the entrance to the new facility.  With the construction of the new 10-story Bridgepoint building the mushroom canopies have been preserved as part of the architectural heritage of the site.

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The new healthcare facility also has become a place of public artwork.  The Max Tanenbaum Sculpture Garden contains twenty life-sized sculptures made of metal strips.  They celebrate life through a display of dance and sport themes.

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Riverdale Park has a long history and has seen many changes over the years but remains an interesting place to explore.

Google Maps Link: Riverdale Park

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Taylor Creek Park

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Taylor-Massey Creek is one of the most significant tributaries of The Don River.  It joins the river near the Forks of the Don and was at one time known as the East Don River and today’s East Don was then known as Middle Don.  The county atlas below shows the extent that the Taylor family controlled the lands around the Don River and Taylor-Massey Creek.  They had a huge share in the early paper industry in York (Toronto) as they had opened the first paper mill in the city at Todmorden.  They eventually owned three paper mills with the upper mill being at the Forks of the Don.  The Taylors also formed the Don Valley Brick Works and were among the leading early 19th century industrialists in the city.  By 1877 most of the original forest cover had been removed but Warden Woods (circled in green) remained with Taylor-Massey Creek flowing through it.  As a point of interest, looking at the property owners on the left side of the map reveals the origin of the name “Leaside”.

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Taylor-Massey Creek joins the Don River just west of the old Don Mills Road.  This morning the ice was just forming on the confluence of the creek and river.  There is free parking in the Taylor Creek parking lot.  From the lot, we made the short trek back to the mouth of the creek before setting out to explore the unmaintained trail on the west side of the creek.  The Taylor Creek Trail forms a maintained path that runs for 3.5 kilometres along the creek.

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Old Don Mills Road is still used as a recreational trail and cars still cross the concrete bowstring bridge which was built in 1921.  The county atlas above shows the road in brown and a previous bridge to this one.  By 1877 it is possible the road was already using a second bridge to facilitate the traffic the paper mill brought.  The road was also the only concession that had been opened and all north-south traffic had to use this crossing.

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Also, near the parking lot are the elevated wetlands.  From this angle the structures look like they are walking along, following each other.  These sculptures turn art into habitat as they each contain a wetland, complete with all the wildlife they support, mostly birds and flying insects.  The water from the Don River is pumped into the wetlands by solar pumps and filtered through the wetland to be returned to the river cleaner than it began.  Each wetland features small ponds, a couple of small trees and wetland grasses.

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In 1994 the creek was assessed as the most degraded of the main tributaries in the Don Watershed.  The Underwriter’s Reach still shows many of the concrete channels that the creek was forced into when surrounding lands were developed for housing.  The Task Force To Bring Back The Don and other groups have put together a 40 step plan that includes restoring this watershed.  Some of this is discussed in our feature on Terraview and Willowfield Gardens Parks which showcase some impressive restoration projects.  In the picture below you can see the roadway that passes through the creek in the park.

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Stairways jig-jag up and down the sides of the ravine to provide access to the park from the communities on the tablelands.  The sets of steps tend to be 100-120 in length and provide good cardio workouts for those so inclined.

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The Musqueam people lived near the mouth of the Frazer River in British Columbia.  They were very accomplished weavers and their cultural heritage has been incorporated into paintings of five benches in Taylor Creek Park.  The benches were designed and painted by members of STEPS who as an organization attempt to revitalize public spaces and connect communities.  The final designs on the five benches incorporate elements from Musquean, Ojibwa from Southern Ontario, Northern Oaxacan (Southern Mexican), and South Asian culture.  There is other artwork in the park that includes a spiral mural in the parking lot that we couldn’t see due to snow cover.

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The benches were painted as part of the celebrations for the Pan Am games that were held in Toronto in July of 2015.  Also created for those games was the Pan Am Path which runs for over 80 kilometres through the city.  On one end it connects Clairville Dam and on the other Rouge Beach Park.  There is a second branch that runs to Centennial Park in Etobicoke.  The Alder Stairs are one of the connection points on the Path and the bench featured above is found at the top of these stairs.

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The ravine formed by Taylor-Massey Creek is cut through the side by another ravine that is separated from the trail by a wetland.  The ravine in the centre of the picture runs up the north side of Glenwood Crescent.

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The bridge on O’Connor Drive was built in 1932 as an extension of Woodbine Avenue and has the formal name Woodbine Bridge.  Later, O’Connor Drive was formed by piecing sections of unconnected road together, mostly under the guidance of Frank O’Connor, founder of Laura Secord Chocolates and the O’Connor Estate.

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Having made our way up the less travelled side of the creek we crossed back to the paved trail.

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Taylor Creek Trail continues past this point but we left it for another day.  That part of the trail continues onto a property owned by the Massey family hat operated a huge farm equipment manufacturing plant in Toronto and lends their name to the creek along with the Taylor family.  There is an old mansion waiting at the other end of the trail.

Google Maps Link: Taylor Massey Creek

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Flynntown – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Last week we visited the former community of Oriole at Sheppard Avenue and Leslie Street and made a short excursion north that only made it as far as Newtonbrook Creek.  To pick up where that hike left off, we took advantage of free street parking on Alamosa Drive and Gatehead Road where there is an entrance to the park.  The next community north along the river was known as Flynntown and was located around the intersection of Leslie and Finch.  Like Oriole, it formed around the mill sites that were prominent along the Don River in the first half of the 19th century.  It too was a name applied to a postal district in much the same way that we use postal codes today.

The 1877 county atlas below shows the area of the hike with the section of the East Don River that we covered being outlined in blue.  A small tip of German Mills Creek is coloured leading to the right near the top of the map.  We started at the former property of William Dunton where we looked for the remains of the saw mill built by Phillip Phillips. Old Cummer Road has been coloured in black and we followed the short piece that runs on an angle from the stream up to where it meets the grey line marking the new section of Cummer Road.  Cooper’s grist mill is shown where the new road meets the older section.

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Near the bottom of the hill when you enter the park off Alamosa Drive you will find a set of tennis courts.  Near the courts, beside the river, is a pole with life saving equipment on it.  That marks the spot where Philip Phillips built his saw mill in the early 1800’s.  The wood for the mill was rough hewn by hand indicating that it was prepared before the mill went into operation.  After the saw mill was up and running the wood produced displayed the obvious signs of being cut with a blade or wheel.  The houses and barns closest to the mill would have been constructed with wood that had been prepared at the saw mill.  The picture below shows the remains of what is most likely part of the wooden crib for the old mill dam.  The only other place we have seen the wooden crib preserved is at the Barber Dynamo.  One of the mill mapping sites reports that these are actual timers to the saw mill.

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Tree Swallows are highly social birds and can form flocks of thousands around their nesting sites.  They breed in Canada and the United States but spend the winter in Mexico, the Carribean and throughout Central America.  Their genus name is tachycineta bicolor which comes from the ancient Greek for “moving quickly” and the bicolor from their two coloured markings.  The males have much brighter blue-green upperparts while the females tend to have duller colours.  The female needs to hide on the nest for two weeks before the eggs hatch and another three before the young ones are ready to leave the nest.  The brighter male likes to be obvious as he dive bombs intruders to protect the nest.

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Following the trail north of Finch Avenue brings you to the intersection of Old Cummer Road and the century-old bridge across the river.  The single-lane bridge was replaced when the surrounding farms were developed for housing.  In 1968 the new portion of Cummer Road (grey on the map above) was opened and this became Old Cummer Road and was closed to through traffic.

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The road north of the closed bridge has been largely overgrown and the former pavement has all but vanished.  Cummer operated a saw mill and a woollen mill on the river near his home but it closed in 1857 and all traces are now lost.

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Crossing under the new Cummer Road bridge, the trail quickly follows a pedestrian bridge to the east side of the Don River.  We chose a small path that led along the west side but after crossing a drainage ditch the trail quickly vanished.  Our intention was to find any evidence of the mill site or dam that was shown on the county atlas.  The mill appears to have been somewhere near the new bridge and no trace exists.  The concrete dam we found on Cooper’s property would have been built here long after the mill had closed and would have replaced a wood crib dam.  The mill pond shown on the map has been drained.  The cover photo shows the dam from the downstream side while the picture below shows the upstream side.

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This dam looks more like an electrical generating dam than one used to store water for mill operations.  A large building stood  near the end of the dam but all traces of it have vanished today.  What remains is an old utility pole that has a large transformer attached to the top along with several old light sockets.  A second electrical pole is leaning into the trees a little farther upstream.

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Returning to the main trail, we crossed the Don River and went up the east side to explore the dam from that vantage point.  Near this place, German Mills Creek empties into The Don.  German Mills Creek flows for about 10 kilometres as a left tributary of the East Don River.  It gets its name from the community of German settlers who, in 1796, became the first pioneers in Markham Township.  The settlement of German Mills fell apart after only a few years but the name has been preserved via this creek.  The bridge across the creek has been here for a long time and formerly provided access to the mills and other establishments in the valley.  Today this little bridge supports the traffic along the hiking trail that follows the former roadway.

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The picture below shows German Mills Creek and the confluence with the East Don River as seen from the old bridge over the creek.

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The Don River is interwoven with the early history of Toronto and York County and there will always be more to explore another day.

Google Maps Link: Flynntown

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Oriole – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The East Don Parklands are a much different place today than they were 200 years ago. The corner of Sheppard and Leslie was originally known as the postal village of Oriole and was home to a thriving industrial community.  Seven mills and a brickyard lined the valley along the East Don River as it passed through this intersection.  The remainder of the valley was used by the various landowners for farming.

Over time the saw mills, grist mill and woollen mills all disappeared along with the dams that retained their mill ponds.  Beginning in 1984 the Toronto Region Conservation Authority began a long-term rehabilitation program aimed at improving the wetlands and restoring the forest cover to the parklands.  All of the original mill dams have been removed except for one right at the corner of Sheppard and Leslie beside the parking lot. The river has cut a new path around the east end of the dam as can be seen in the cover photo.  Decades of neglect have taken their toll on the dam and large chunks have been removed at water level.  An extensive amount of tree branches has gathered behind the old sluice gate on the left.  A fence has been installed to keep people from getting on the top of the sluice as it is becoming unsafe.  This dam is likely to be removed in the not too distant future if erosion controls are implemented along the watercourse.

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By 1877 when the county atlas below was drawn most of the mills were already gone. I’ve coloured Leslie Street (2nd line east) green and Sheppard (15 Concession) red while a mill access road has been coloured yellow.  I wandered along the west side of the East Don River, across the first little tributary and then as far along Newtonbrook Creek as I could.  This trek I’ve coloured blue.  The south-east corner shows a mill pond in the atlas where North York General Hospital stands today.  The sawmill in the curve of the yellow road belonged to Hunter and Sons and was destroyed in the flood of 1878.  The first sawmill on this site was Stillwell Wilson’s but it was washed away in a breach of the dam in 1828.  Thomas Sheppard then operated a grist mill here until it was lost to a fire in 1869.  The concrete dam featured above was on the property that belonged to Mrs. Lee at the time of the atlas.  South of here the Duncan Mill is shown with an arrow and it still exists on the property of the Donalda Club Golf Course.  Further north, likely on the Gould property, are reportedly the remains of the Philip Phillips sawmill waiting for another day.

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River grapes have become a real problem in the valley.  This invasive species has the ability to climb the biggest trees and ultimately can choke the life out of it by covering the canopy.  Their twisted vines grow up to two inches thick where they’re well established.

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A couple of foot bridges allow you to cross between the two sides of the river but there is a maintained trail on one side of the river only.  In addition to the usual families with strollers and dogs, the joggers and cyclists are joined on this Sunday by a marathon running the length of the trail.  This makes the trail rather crowded and scares any wildlife away.  Most of the waterways in the GTA have a maintained path on one side and a dirt footpath on the other.  In a busy park like the East Don Parklands the birds, coyote and any deer will be found on the side with the dirt trail.  Therefore, this is the trail I chose.

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Erosion is a major problem and the river bank has been washed away several feet from the previous shoreline.  The natural gas pipeline in this section has been exposed and will now need to be buried again to prevent possible damage to the pipe.  This is going to require heavy equipment and likely some of the trees will be removed along the sides of the pathway.  In will come the armour stone and at the same time the dam downstream will likely be removed for “safety” reasons.

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People always find places to hang out and have a cold beer, relax and enjoy the feeling of being in the country, even if you’re not too far from high rises and the subway.  In some places, people sit in relative comfort in the little forts they build.  This little rest stop is beside the first little tributary and at this time it was easy to cross on the stones that had been provided by the local explorers.

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Sections of the trail along the west side of the river have been very wet at times in the past.  There are several places where there are logs that have been put down similar to a corduroy road.  Recent rain has left the trail pretty muddy in some places.  I’m sure this will turn into a mosquito haven in the coming weeks.

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More signs of erosion can be seen along the East Don river with large trees bring washed into the river in several places.  The Conservation Authority will have to come along and remove them so that they don’t form dams in the river and lead to flooding.

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The green frog has large, distinctive, tympani or ear drums that can be seen behind their eyes.  They also have two folds of skin that run down either side of the back that are known as dorsolateral folds.  They typically have a distinctive green patch on their upper lips.  Tadpoles overwinter and transform into frogs the following spring.

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Having taken the trail on the west side of the river I was forced to turn back when I came to Newtonbrook Creek because I couldn’t get across.  This leaves a large section of the park between here and Old Cummer Road that still needs to be explored, including the Stillwell mill site.

Google Maps Link: East Don Parklands

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