Category Archives: Don River

Flynntown – Ghost Towns of Toronto

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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Ghost Towns Of Toronto – Oriole

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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Beechwood Wetlands

Sunday, April 23, 2017

In 1826 The Taylor Family moved to the property that today we know as Crother’s Woods. Beechwood Drive is the road that led to the homestead they built and for decades was one of only a few places where you could travel across the Don Valley. Parshall Terry owned the property that became known as Terry’s Field and was the next property north of the Taylor property.  To check out this 11-hectare area I took advantage of free parking on Beechwood Drive just off of O’Connor Drive.

Around 1900 the Taylor family purchased Terry’s Field to make bricks from the clay that had been located there.  They already had an extensive industrial empire to which they kept adding.  The colony was offering a bounty for the first industrialist to open a paper mill and the mill at Todmorden had opened although it did not win the title.  That went to the paper mill in Crook’s Hollow.  The Taylor Paper Mills were a success and they eventually operated three of them.  The one at The Forks of The Don was the most northerly of the trio with Todmorden being at the south.  The Taylors opened Sun Valley Bricks which operated in the valley into the 1930’s.  This was in addition to the Don Valley Brick Works which they managed just south of Todmorden.  Later Domtar opened facilities here that left the land contaminated when it closed in the 1980’s.  After removing truckloads of soil and most of the buildings the land was deemed safe for use again.  Toronto Police Services is using the only remaining facility to train their canine units.

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Near the site of the old Taylor house stands the crumbling remains of an old kiln.  This likely predates anything else remaining on the site.  The cover photo shows the kiln from a little different angle.  As can be seen from the picture below the kiln is crumbling on one corner and it is surprising that the city isn’t taking steps to keep people off of the kiln.  There is also a couple of trees growing on top of the structure.  I believe that it should be restored and given a proper interpretive sign as it may be the best example of an old kiln in the city.

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The river shows many signs of its past usage including a narrow pond which is likely the remains of a 19th-century mill raceway.  Outfalls line the river including two that come directly from the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant which was opened on August 1, 1929.  There is also evidence in the river of a past dam, the crib can be seen below the water in this picture.

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Beechwood Avenue is now closed to through traffic but formerly curved to meet the CNR tracks just before it reaches the river.  The Lower Don Recreational Trail runs parallel to this section of roadway.  Directly in front lies the Beechwood Wetlands and to the right, Cottonwood Flats where the city dumped snow until 2004.  Sun Valley, former home to Sun Brick Company and the Sun Valley Land Fill lies beyond in Crothers Woods.

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Beechwood wetlands was built in 2002 and 2003 in a joint effort by the Task Force To Bring Back The Don, Toronto Region Conservation Authority, Toronto City Parks and several others.  The used heavy equipment to recreate the landscape and eliminate the damage done by years of use as an industrial site.  Volunteers planted 6500 native trees, shrubs and wetland plants and maintained them twice a week for the following year to ensure they got off to a good start.  The wetlands are now home to frogs, snapping turtles and various wetland birds and are considered one of Toronto’s most successful restoration projects.

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The Red Admiral butterfly makes a migration north each spring to recolonize most of North America.  It will have two cycles per year, one in March which spends the summer in Ontario.  A second brood is hatched in October that flies south to spend the winter months in south Texas.  Red Admirals have a red/orange band that encircles both wings and prominent white spots on the front of each forewing.

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The Lower Don River has cut through layers of shale that can be seen near the waterline and perhaps this is what was being burned down in the kiln.

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After the buildings were demolished piles of construction rubble were dumped along the side of the river.  These piles in many places have become habitat for the various species of wildlife that inhabits the parkland.  Throughout the concrete slabs can be seen the wrought iron reinforcing bars that were used prior to tied rebar used today.

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The Canadian National Railway line cuts through the property and the winding nature of the Don River required the railway to build two bridges.  The bridges are nearly identical in construction and the railway is still active.  The former Beechwood Road crossing has signals and caution should be exercised when making your way from the Cottonwood Flats into Crother’s Woods on the other side.

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The other side of the Don River can be accessed via a footbridge just beyond the train bridge.  Therefore, there is no excuse for crossing the river on the rail bridge like I observed several people doing.  There’s a sign by the rail bridge that gives a number to call if you are feeling suicidal.  I wonder if they too saw someone taking their bike across?  A mountain bike park has been set up along the trail near the rail bridge. There’s even a small place where you can step out of the weather for a moment.

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Sun Valley and Crothers Woods still have areas that I haven’t explored.  Perhaps one day…

Google Maps Link: Beechwood Drive

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Abandoned Don Mills Road

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Don Mills Road, or part of it, played an important role in early York (Toronto)  and has been under constant change ever since.  The decision to make Don Mills Road a major thoroughfare led to a new alignment and the abandonment of a section in the heart of the city making it one of only a very few pieces of abandoned roadway in Toronto.  Links to the others ones that we’ve investigated will be provided at the end.  As you drive north on Don Mills Road, just north of the interchange for the Don Valley Boulevard (DVP) an unmarked road exits to the right.  This is the old alignment of Don Mills Road.  Follow it over the bridge to where there is free parking.  An old sign, just off the new Don Mills Road suggests we slow down and see what’s around us.

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The mills at Todmorden on the Don River were the second to open in York after The Old Mill had opened on the Humber River.  In the 1820’s a paper mill was built at Todmorden and in 1846 the Taylor Brothers added a paper mill to the saw and grist mills they owned at the Forks of The Don.  This was the third paper mill along the river that belonged to the Taylors and was known as the upper mill.  The Mill Road was built to join the mills and provide access for the public and workers.  For a long time, the road only served the mills but the farmers to the north got together and extended the road to York Mills and south to the St. Lawrence Market.  The road then became known as the Don Independent Road because it was built on land that was given by the property owners.  In 1954 it was decided that Don Mills Road would become one of the major arteries in the city and it was widened to 4 lanes.  It was given a new alignment through the Forks of the Don so that a new bridge could be built.  The picture below shows the berm that the old road used to climb from the river valley to the tablelands above.

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The elevated wetlands are a familiar site to people who use the DVP to get in or out of downtown Toronto as they have stood on either side of the highway since 1998.  The three elephantine sculptures were created by Canadian Artist Noel Harding who works on large scale public art that has an environmental component. Harding, working in conjunction with the city and the Canadian Plastics Industry, created the wetlands.  They are made from recycled plastics and serve to purify the water that flows through them.  A solar panel on the rear sculpture pumps water from the river.  That water flows into the next planter and finally into the third one before falling into a natural wetland in front. The cover photo shows another view of the elevated wetlands.

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The rainbow arch bridge over the West Don River was built in 1921 to replace an earlier bridge.  Toronto has several of these concrete bowstring bridges but this one is in particularly good condition with little or no restoration.

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There are a couple of architectural features that make this bridge unique among the local bowstring bridges.  First, each end of the bridge has extended parapets on it that are decorated with diamond patterns.  Also, the last two panels on each end of the bridge are filled in to create a solid wall from the arch to the deck of the bridge.  Concrete railings provide protection for pedestrians on either side of the bridge.

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From the arch bridge looking north, the old roadway has been well maintained and is in use as a walking trail.  There is a small parking lot on the side of the roadway, just south of where this picture was taken.  The bridge over the Canadian Pacific tracks can be seen in the distance.

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When the road was closed in 1961 the original bridge over the railway was removed. A new pedestrian bridge was installed in 1972 when the Lower Don Recreational Trail system was set up.  The picture below shows the railway crossed by the pedestrian bridge with the new Don Mills Road bridge in the background.  An elevated boardwalk joins the trails in ET Seton Park with the bridge over the rail line and the Lower Don Recreational Trail.  This trail connects to a series of trails that will take you all the way to Lake Ontario.

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Just north of the bridge is the old railing that was installed for safety when the road was closed.

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Looking back you can see that the new bridge is not in the same alignment as the earlier one.  It ends at the same location on the southern abutment but starts slightly west of the original and runs on a different angle.

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The section of the roadway north of the bridge has been overgrown in places by 50%. Grass, moss and sizeable trees sprout through the pavement on both sides of the road.

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This large tree has burst through the asphalt pushing pieces of pavement up all around the tree.

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The view looking south from near Gateway Boulevard.  Behind here the traces of the old road have been obliterated by an apartment building.

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Google Maps Link: Don Mills Road

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Crothers Woods

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Crothers Woods has at least three access points, each with parking.  There is one parking lot at the Don Valley Mountain Bike Trailhead on Pottery Road (map link at end) just before the bow-string bridge over the Don River.  This parking lot sits on the old road allowance for Pottery Road, a section of which was abandoned when the Bayview Extension was built in 1959.  From the trailhead, the path leads north following the side of Bayview Avenue until it reaches the northern tip of the park where there are a couple of parking spots.  To the right along this trail is an area known as Sun Valley.  It was home to a small brick making company called The Sun Brick Company which operated until the late 1930’s.  The property had been home to the Taylor Family who built their homestead here in 1826.  The family owned the Don Valley Brick Works and Todmorden Mills where they ran one of their three paper mills. When the clay for the bricks was nearly exhausted the town of Leaside purchased the pit for a landfill.  Over the next few decades, they dumped garbage up to 25 metres deep in the pit.  It has now been capped with clean fill and is being restored as a meadow at this time.  The Terry Family home has been moved to Todmorden Mills where it is being preserved.  The picture below shows the home, that once stood in today’s Crothers Woods, as it appeared in the summer of 2014.

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Following the trail into the woods leads to a slight diversion, the abandoned CPR tracks. The first train to roll across the tracks here was a freight train in 1891.  That train continued south along the Don Valley and into downtown Toronto.  Along the way, it passed over the Half-Mile bridge.   The first good snowfall of the season sits largely undisturbed on the tracks in the picture below. Due to the fact that the snow had fallen without much drifting the rails and ties can be clearly seen in spite of the fact that there is about a foot of fresh snow.  This is one of the few local abandoned railways that still has the rails and ties intact.  It is likely that Metrolinx, who owns the railway corridor, will incorporate it into some future passenger line.

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An active set of tracks belonging to Canadian National Railway runs parallel to the abandoned CPR ones as the Don Valley made a suitable access to the city.  Two freight trains passed along the other tracks while the lower ones were being briefly explored.

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Crothers Woods is one of the most bike friendly parks in the city.  Bikers are encouraged to use the trails although pedestrians still have the right-of-way. Winter biking has its challenges and a bike is normally fitted out especially for the season.  Fat tires and wider frames are matched with enclosed gears that prevent freeze up.  The tires may be inflated to as low as 5 pounds pressure.  A group of winter bike enthusiasts was using the park to get some exercise and enjoy their custom cycles.    It is always nice to see others who find a way to enjoy the winter weather.

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Crothers Caterpillar had a manufacturing plant in Crothers Woods until 1979.  Built by George W. Crothers it produced heavy equipment, primarily for the mining industry.  The plant backed onto the railway and the factory buildings on the site were removed by 1991. The site has recently been partially repurposed as a Loblaws store and parking lot.  There is a trail head here as well that was the starting site of the group of fatbikes we had seen earlier.  There is also lots of parking available in the back of the parking lot near the trailhead.

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The loading ramp from the former Crothers Caterpillar plant still stands along the abandoned railway track.

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A lone hydro pole stands in the woods where it once was part of the Crothers Caterpillar plant.  What was an open field 30 years ago has grown back in quite well!

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In 1929 the city built the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant on the edge of Crothers Woods.  It processes the effluent from North Toronto and Leaside.  Personal experience indicated that the sewage system covers in North Toronto are mainly dated 1928 with a few from 1929.  The cover photo shows another view of the treatment plant.

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Crothers Woods was a farm for about 100 years before it spent the next century as an industrial site.  Today it still retains some areas of Carolinian Forest consisting of beech, maple and oak.  There are also a few butternut trees which are locally rare.  Crothers Woods has been designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) because it is a home to some rare undergrowth plants.  It is also a good place to see common spring flowers like trout lilies and trilliums.  The east ravine wall contains some climax forest which is the historical normal vegetation that exists in a stable condition in this part of the country.  New growth forest has taken over much of the rest of the 52-hectare park.

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An extensive set of stairs leads from the corner of Redwood Road and Millway Road down to the sewage plant.

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There are plenty of remnants from old land usage in the ravine.  A lengthy penstock runs down the hill behind the treatment plant while these concrete structures stand a little farther along.  They say that old relics from the Crothers Caterpillar plant are still dug up on occasion in the woods.

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Crothers Woods also includes the Beechgrove Wetland which is a successful restoration project.  The wetlands, Sun Valley and an abandoned road await a visit in the spring when the wetlands will be teeming with life.

 

Google Maps link: Crothers Woods

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Terraview & Willowfield Gardens Parks

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The headwaters of Taylor-Massey Creek were originally found in the area of Sheppard and Victoria Park Avenues. The area of the headwaters was approximately 150 hectares until the construction of the Toronto Bypass (401) was completed in 1964.  In order to reduce complications with the widening of the highway in the 1980’s, it was decided to divert the headwaters into Highland Creek.  As a consequence, the creek developed a new smaller source.  Now 18 hectares of natural springs mix with the polluted runoff of the sixteen lanes of highway that passes overhead.

When this area of Scarborough, known as Maryvale, was developed in the early-1950’s it was common to take the watersheds and re-route them through concrete channels. Taylor-Massey Creek begins in a collection of pipes and emerges from a headwall in the top of Terraview Park.  From there it used to proceed south in a curved concrete channel all the way to Ellesmere Road and beyond.  The parkland around these concrete channels was underused and the water in the channel often ran with ten times the city’s allowable levels of E-coli.  The picture below shows the concrete channel that the creek still flows through in the Warden Power Corridor south of the two parks.

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In 1992 the Metropolitan Toronto and Regional Conservation Authority created the Don Watershed Task Force to develop an ecosystem approach to managing the entire watershed.  At the time The Don River was one of the most polluted in Canada.  When 40 Steps To A New Don was published in 1994 it identified Terraview and Willowfield Parks as a concept site to prove the plan for regeneration.  Any benefits to water quality that could be made at this end of the watershed would benefit the entire system. The  aerial photo below shows the concrete channel as it passes through Terraview Park and under Penworth Road where it continues through Willowfields Gardens Park.  This picture was taken from the 40 Steps To A New Don final report.

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The plan called for the removal of the channel and renaturalization of the creek bed. Wetlands were developed because they act as a natural filter for suspended particles and contaminants.

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The soccer field at Terraview Park has an underground filtration system designed into it. Now that it has been in operation for nearly 20 years there is some data and a cost/benefit analysis is being conducted to see if other such systems should be constructed.  Oil and water separators and sediment pools are used along with French drains and storm water retention facilities are all part of the design.  Today, the water is still not as clean as the city bylaws require and a sediment pool at the headwall where the water enters the park needs to be expanded or replaced.

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When a concrete channel passed through the mowed lawns of the former parks there was little wildlife to be seen.  Today the two contiguous parks provide a welcome habitat in this part of the city.

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Tamarack is a species of Larch tree that is native to Canada.  Although they have needles and cones like an evergreen they lose their needles every fall.  The needles take on a beautiful shade of yellow before they fall off the tree.

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Along with the usual sets of swings and slides, the park also has a splash pad.  Water from the pad is filtered before it is let into the pond on its way out towards Warden Woods.

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After leaving Terraview Pond the creek flows through a section of new growth as it heads south.  The sides of the new creek channel have armour stone on them in places where erosion is likely but there has been no attempt to keep the new shrubs and trees from growing in the channel.

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South of Penworth Road Taylor-Massey Creek flows through a natural channel and into the newly created Willowfield Pond.  Where a lifeless concrete channel once existed a new aquatic habitat has been created.  Herons can be seen here in the summer hunting for lunch while ducks and geese find food among the marshes on the shore.  Muskrats have also been seen in the pond.

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Northern Red Oak, along with thousands of other trees and shrubs, have been planted in the two parks.

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Willowfield Pond has been designed with the local schools in mind.  There are observation stations where outdoor lessons are taught.  Students also monitor the water quality and help with planting programs.

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Water flows from Willowfield pond into a peat bog which also acts as a final filter to remove contaminants before the water makes it’s way toward the Don River.

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Water is still discharged directly into the creek but the local residents have removed their downspouts from the collection system.  By allowing the water to flow onto the lawn more of it is absorbed and slowly released into the creek which reduces flash flooding.

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There is plenty of work left to be done at these two parks.  Sections of the parks that were intended to be planted with Carolinian Forest have yet to be started.  Phase III of the project was never implemented.  It called for the hydro corridor to be naturalized as well. The concrete channel was to be removed and the area around the new stream was set to be densely planted.

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The renaturalization of these two parks won an award in 2002 from the Canadian Society of Landscaping Architects.

Google Maps link: Terraview Park and Willowfield Gardens Park

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Beltline Railway – Moore Park

Sunday March 13, 2016

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 Mooore 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The trail leads to the Don Valley Brick Works buildings which have been transformed into a farmer’s market, heritage museum and parkland.

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Beyond the Brick Works the trail connects to Milkman’s Lane.

Google Maps link: Belt Line Trail

Getting there by transit: From Davisville Station walk two blocks south past Merton to the trail.  The south end is accessible via route 28 which also runs from Davisville Station.

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