Category Archives: Ghost Town

Hornby – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Beginning in the 1830s the area north of Oakville was opened for settlement and the community of Hornby found itself becoming an important stop on the trip into town.  Hotels were opened and in 1850 Trafalgar Road (7th Line) was planked as far north as Stewarttown with a toll station in Hornby.  However, by 1877 the railway had bypassed the town and Milton had been named as county seat.  Hornby began to decline back to a county village.  Today there isn’t much of the community that was named after Hornby Castle in Yorkshire but we went to see what could be found and photographed before it  disappears forever.

Hornby became stretched out along what is now Steeles Avenue to the point where it was referred to as Hornby and West Hornby.  Two cemeteries mark the eastern site of Hornby.  The Methodist church was originally located on Lot 1 Concession 8 on the corner of the William McKindsey lot.  On April 30, 1832 the land was sold to the Methodist Trustees.  The land actually belonged to Kings College until 1840 and so the indenture wasn’t registered until 1842.  The congregation built a small frame church and began a cemetery beside the church.  They soon outgrew the frame church and moved to a new location leaving the cemetery behind.  It has since been restored with the markers being gathered into a central location for preservation.

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in 1856 the Wesleyan Methodist congregation built a new brick building a little farther west.  This brick building was part of a preaching circuit that included Bowers, Munns, McCurdy’s, Omagh and Bethel.  In 1925 the Methodists and Presbyterians joined to become The United Church of Canada.  This building served the congregation until November 17, 1968 when it was closed and the parishioners joined with the Ashgrove United Church.  Since then the building has been used as the Hornby Townhall.  The spire with finial was built by Gordon Brigden at his machine shop in Hornby.

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The first church built by the Presbyterian Church in Hornby was a frame structure constructed in 1835 across the street from the Wesleyan Methodist Church on Lot 1 Concession 9.  Many of the founding settlers of Hornby are interred here and the cemetery remains active today.  The original frame church was replaced in 1878 with a brick structure.  The congregation did not choose to join the United Church and remained active until 1971 when it was amalgamated with Knox Presbyterian in Milton.  The church building was destroyed by fire in 1978 and arson was suspected but never proven.

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The first school building in Hornby was in a log cabin built in 1826.  It was replaced with a new brick building in 1870.  It operated as a school until 1963 when Pineview school was built on 5th sideroad.

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Samuel Brooks owned this one and a half story farm house in 1878.  The property changed hands several times until Frank Chisholm farmed the property through the middle of the twentieth century.  There have been multiple additions to the house over the years.  By the time it was assessed for cultural heritage in 2018 the structure was deteriorating and there was damage to the roof that had been covered over with plastic.

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There has been a fire at the home since then and there is little doubt that the structure will be demolished for safety reasons.  As of our visit the back door was open providing access to a very unsafe structure.  It will likely be removed for safety reasons.

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The drive shed on the property is in similar condition and the former farm will likely soon fall prey to the urban expansion that is spreading along Steeles Avenue.

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We had parked on Trafalgar Road where there is an entrance to the Halton County Forest.  After making our way through town and back up Hornby Road it was time to cut back through the forest to the car.  There is a cairn commemorating John Coulson who owned the property and bequeathed it to the county for reforestation.  The 89 acre tract was planted with white pine in 1959 and left to regenerate.

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A summers worth of growth goes into producing seed pods to carry on the family line.  The wild cucumbers have produced their edible seed pods, each one containing four seeds.  In the next few weeks the bottom of each seed pod will open up and drop the seeds to the ground below.

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River grapes have also come along nicely this year.  These wild grapes have been bred into our table grapes to help produce a strain that is resistant to our climate.  These grapes can be turned into a tasty grape jelly.

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We followed Trafalgar Creek part way through the Coulson Tract and came across a cluster of asparagus that has no leaves but there are still many seeds on it.

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There are still several early twentieth century homes and farms in the Hornby area. but the former community is in danger of being over run by urban sprawl.

Google Maps link: Hornby

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Wesleyville – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Friday, October 4, 2019

A Friday off work is a good excuse to go exploring.  With a plan in mind to visit Port Hope to look for the remains of the Midland Railway, I decided to stop off the highway one stop earlier and visit Wesleyville to photograph the old church I knew was there.  To my surprise I found an abandoned village as well.

In 1797 Jonathan Brown became the first settler in the town.  He was quickly joined by others and early church service were held in the home of the Barrowclough family.  Soon the family donated land for a church and cemetery and a frame building was constructed.   The present brick church was built in 1860 to replace the frame church.  The Wesleyan Methodist congregation became part of the United Church in 1925 and this church held services until the late 1960’s.

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Wesleyville was a growing community in the 1860’s when it had attracted various tradesmen including a blacksmith, a tavern owner and machine shop operator.   Like many early communities there were a few name changes before the coming of the post office.  When one was opened in the hotel the name was established as Wesleyville in honour of the Wesley Methodist Church.

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The cemetery records show 107 burials between 1860 and 1935.  Burials continued until the 1970’s when the town was abandoned.

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Thomas and Selinda Oughtred arrived in town around 1850 and lived as tenants until 1855 when Selinda was granted 65.5 acres of land.  It is unclear why she received the grant and not her husband.  The house was likely built in 1858 and has a unique design where the front door is set between two angled sections.  The main portion of the house extends to the rear giving it a unique Y shape.  The house was used as the local post office from 1911 until 1944.  The house was sold to Ontario Hydro in 1978 and has been empty for the past forty years.

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Ontario Hydro constructed a large oil-fired generator on the edge of town after purchasing nearly 2,000 acres of land in the 1970’s.  The generator was never finished and has never been put into service.  The OPEC energy crisis hit just in time to ensure the project never got off running.  It stands behind a tall fence topped with barbed-wire.  The Oughtred barn stands on a foundation of field stone behind the house.

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The first school was further west along Lakeshore Road and was a one room log school house.  In 1866 the old frame church building was relocated to the school site which had been purchased for $20.  This old church building served as the school until 1899 when it burned down.   It was replaced with the existing building that served as a focal point in the community until it was closed in 1967.

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John Barrowclough purchased 100 acres of land in town in 1847 and his family continued to farm here until 1992.  The property was then sold to Ontario Hydro and the house has sat empty since then.

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Several outbuildings remain behind the main house, one of which was used as a blacksmith shop.  The Barrowclough family lived here for several generations and was active in the church as well as occasionally serving as teachers in the school.  There was a period of time when the post office was located in the house but in 1911 it was moved to the Oughtred house.

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The Barrowclough barn is quietly rotting away and large sections of it have already collapsed.  It may be too late to save this structure.  The town of Wesleyville has been abandoned for so long that most of the buildings have disappeared.

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The Friends of Wesleyville have done a great job of preserving the few remaining buildings in the town.  The church has been restored and the school is under renovation as well.  It remains to be seen what will happen to the two houses.

Google Maps Link: Wesleyville

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Malton – Ghost Towns of The GTA

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The town of Malton had grown from humble beginnings to a community of over 900 before growth stalled and it began to decline.  The town developed around the classic four corners of a crossroads, in this case Airport Road and Derry Road.  It didn’t grow in all four directions however, only the 100 acres on the north west corner was laid out for a subdivision.  This happened a year after the Grand Trunk Railway came to town in 1854 and as a result the streets are laid out parallel to the railway and not to the four corners.  This leaves all the streets running at 45 degrees to Derry and Airport Roads.  Much of the original four corners was destroyed in a gas line explosion in 1969 and the rest was lost to road realignment and widening.  While not a true ghost town, the original community is now hidden in the original block of streets and surrounded by the airport and urban sprawl.

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In 1857 the Trinity Methodist Church was built as a wood frame structure.  Later it was given a veneer of bricks with some interesting details around the windows.  This church was used until 1953 when the congregation moved to a new church building and this one was converted into a residence.

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Compared to the beautiful brickwork in the picture above, the renovated building seen below is really awful.

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The house at 16 Burlington Street is a typical 3 bay farmhouse built in 1866 by John and Mary Bateman.  This house has a gothic arched window in the upstairs dormer.  The style is known as a story and a half because of the low headroom in the upstairs rooms.

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The house at 17 Scarboro Street is one of the oldest surviving ones in the community, having been built in 1870.  Richard and Harriet Ibson only owned the house for a few years before selling it to John Guardhouse in 1877.  It has had several additions to it over the years and is currently for sale.  The windows have been boarded over to keep vandals from destroying it and someone has taken the time to paint the boards black and put white trim on them.

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The house at 18 Scarboro Street belonged to David Tomlinson who served Toronto Gore as a councillor and a reeve in the 1860’s.  David built this house in 1884 at the same time that his brother built the house at 16 Scarboro Street.

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Joseph Tomlinson was a carpenter and the original owner of 16 Scarboro Street.  The two houses were built at the same time and likely both by Joseph.  The one at 16 Scarboro has much more interesting brickwork as illustrated in the quoins on the corners of the house.  The house also sports considerable gingerbread, unlike the house beside it.  The one thing the two houses have in common that suggests a common builder is the brickwork above the windows.

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In 1901 Queen Victoria passed away and King Edward VII took the throne.  Victorian architecture tended to involve odd shapes and many different sized windows.  Edwardian architecture moved away from the extravagant and more into the utilitarian.  Buildings tended to become more like blocks as is illustrated by this 1901 home.  I find it interesting that the upper story window has only one shutter because the wall is next to the window.

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The first school in Malton was built in 1828 and was a one room log structure.  This was replaced in 1858 with a larger brick building.  As the town grew the new school also needed to be replaced and the earlier log structure was finally torn down in 1923 and replaced with a two story school building.

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This school was in use until 1952 when a new school was built and this one was converted into apartments.

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In 1939 the neighbourhood was selected for the construction of an international airport for Toronto.  Malton Airport attracted more than just the airplanes that flew from there and before long aviation related industries were starting up.  During the Second World War a company called Victory Aircraft operated here but after the war they merged with A.V. Roe Canada.  They developed the CF-100 Canuck and the the CF-105 Avro Arrow.  A CF-100 is on display at Paul Coffey Park.

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The town of Malton has been absorbed into the urban sprawl that surrounds the airport but if you look you can still find traces of the original community.  Just west of Malton you can also visit another ghost town and read about it here: Mount Charles – Ghost Towns of the GTA. Just beyond that on the map at the start of this story is Palestine – Ghost Towns of the GTA for further exploration.

Google Maps Link: Malton

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Downsview – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The intersection of Keele Street and Wilson Avenue was home to the community of Downsview although most of the original settlement has been erased through road widening and urban sprawl.  The name has become attached to the de Havilland Aircraft plant and later the Downsview Air Force Base that came to the northern edge of town in 1928.  The 1878 county atlas below shows the five remaining points that we set out to visit. Starting at the bottom with John Perkins Bull who named his home Downs View because it was on the high point of some flat land, leading to the name of the community.  The local flat land would attract the aircraft industry to the area.

Downsview 1878 map revised

John Perkins Bull was born in Toronto on April 30, 1822 and when he turned twenty he received Lot 8, Concession 4 from his father as a coming of age gift.  He immediately started clearing some of his 200 acres and in 1844 built the house that he named Downs View.  Bull took on the nick name Squire after he served as Justice of the Peace, served as Deputy-Reeve, was prominent in promoting the agricultural welfare of the area.  He was also an active and influential member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church which originally met in his home.  Squire Bull didn’t like the commute on those early roads which were either a muddy disaster or were plank roads with tolls on them.  See the upper right corner of the map for the Dufferin and Sheppard toll gate and click on this link for more information.  Squire Bull decided to work from home and often had to lock up the guilty in the basement of the house.  He married twice and was father to three boys and three girls who grew up in this house.

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This picture of the house is from the Toronto Library and is dated 1955.  This is before rapid development took the house out of the country and planted it in the middle of a subdivision.  Before long it would become a retirement home as it remains today.

Perkins Bull House 1955

The Downsview United Church began as a Wesleyan Methodist Church around 1830.  By 1844 services were being held in the home above where they continued until the first frame church was constructed around 1850.  It was replaced with the current brick Gothic Revival church in 1870.  A small addition was made on the chancel in 1882.  From the side you can see the other major additions.  A Sunday School was added in 1937 where you can see the section with the lower roof.  A Christian Education Wing was added at the back in 1955 and the original spire was replaced after it was damaged in a storm.  The building has just completed a restoration and is the most recognizable building in the former community.

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The George Jackson House was built some time after 1885 when he inherited the property from his father.  The Jackson family owned the property from 1830 until 1967.  The house was briefly used as a nursing home before being converted to professional offices in 1981.

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This is one of only three heritage buildings left from the community with the other two presented above.   The Jackson house was designated, in part, because of the basket weave brickwork pattern under the steep gables.  This mixing of Queen Anne with Romanesque styles was popular in the late 1880’s.

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This 1976 aerial photograph of Downsview Airforce Base shows the Edward Boake House before it was demolished.  It was built in 1860 by Edward and Sarah Boakes who called it Locust Lodge.  It remained in the family for generations until it was expropriated by the Air Force who already owned the family farm surrounding it.  On the left side of the picture you can also see the officer’s housing known as William Baker Park.  It has also been demolished.  In front of the Boake house is a double row of trees which are the only mature trees in the immediate area.

Boake House

These are the trees that the Boake family looked out upon from their windows.  Today they stand in an area known as Boakes Grove where no grove has stood for 150 years.

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Downsview Park has done a great job of planting trees that will one day form a mature forest in this part of the park.  This trail runs roughly along the former fence line that separated the house from the fields of the family farm.  The park has also installed a new multi panel interpretive centre near this site to explain the history of the area.  Unfortunately they chose to etch the information into stainless steel plates that were quite hard to read with the sun on them.  They do contain a wealth of information that is worth the time to read on a cloudy day.

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In 1954 a local group decided that a synagogue and Jewish school were needed in the area and before long had a potential congregation of 200 families signed up.  The property that belonged to Fred Mowatt at the time of the county atlas had now become the Ness Estate and it was purchased for $35,000 to serve as their synagogue.  The picture below shows the home in 1956 as the Conservative Beth Am Synagogue.

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The farmhouse was integrated into a new building and the congregation made several further expansions including the large front building in 1965.  By the mid-1970’s the congregation was shrinking as the area of Bathurst Street became a larger Jewish community.  In 1977 the last 228 families decided to close the synagogue and merge with the Beth David B’nai Israel congregation on Bathurst.  The ceremonial transfer of the Torah from Beth Am Synagogue took place on January 28, 1978.  The Rameses Shriners used the building next and it appears that during 1984 or so the original house was either demolished or reduced to a single floor.  Today the building serves as a sales centre for a 12-story condo development called The Keeley that will soon replace it.  There was a brief attempt to designate the building as an example of modernist architecture, mainly because of the front entrance to the 1965 addition.  A 45-foot mural had remained across the front of the building that was specifically created for the synagogue but this was moved to the Beth David Synagogue in 2013.

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That effort failed and this week a sod turning ceremony was held in front of the building.  Which means that as soon as the developers get the demolition permit the building will be gone.  What I’d like to know, based on reviewing a couple dozen annual aerial photos of the site is this.  What lies behind this door and is it a Shiner addition or was it put on the original house by the synagogue?  Is there still part of the original farmhouse inside the building?  As I work close by, I hope to see for myself if I can.

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The former town of Downsview still has a few traces left in spite of the rapid development of the area in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Google Maps Link: Downsview

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Richview – Ghost Towns of the GTA

 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The farming community of Richview got a formal start in 1852 when a post office with that name was opened.  After several post masters it was closed in 1887 and moved 2 miles east to the home of David Watt.   His house stood on the corner just north of the Union Chapel and cemetery.  With the post office and chapel in place, a town soon grew which came to include two shoe makers, two wagon makers, two churches,  two cemeteries as well as a blacksmith shop, a school and a green house complex.  However, without rail service the community became isolated and by the turn of the century it had begun to shrink.  The image below is from the Toronto Archives and shows Richview as it appeared in 1953 when it was still a rural community but greatly diminished from the former glory days.

 

Richview 1953

William Knaggs owned the south west corner of the intersection and in 1853 he sold a small piece for the purposes of a non-denominational church and cemetery.  The church became known as Union Chapel because it eventually housed three different congregations.  For a time the community was referred to as Union, prior to the arrival of the Richview Post Office.  The community of Dixie is another example of a very early Union Chapel, this one still stands alongside the oldest graveyard in Mississauga.  Knaggs’ son William donated additional land south of the cemetery in 1888 for the construction of a Primitive Methodist Church.  It can be seen along with the driving shed for the horses in the picture above.  William Knaggs died in 1853 and was buried as the first official interment in the cemetery, although not the first in actuality.  That had occurred in 1846.

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The county atlas below shows the Union Chapel and marks the cemetery as Primitive Methodist instead of non-denominational.  In 1877 the church had not yet been built but a town hall stood just south of the future location.  The school can be seen just east of the community almost on the Fourth Line (Martin Grove).  This had been the site of the first log school house in 1838.  When it was replaced in 1846 the school was moved to the east side of the fourth line.  In 1874 the school on the map below was opened and it remained in service until 1915 when a fourth school was built.

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The 1906 sketch below shows the south west corner with the post office in the house of Will Watt on the right.  The blacksmith shop of David Watt is in the middle of the picture while the family barns are on the left.  The gentleman plowing in the foreground is on the property that would later host a turkey farm and Bert’s Turkey Palace.  The Turkey Palace was demolished for the building of a ramp for the 427.

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Richview Cemetery has the remains of about 300 early settlers from Etobicoke, many of them lacking markers.  Many of the other markers are damaged and there is no money in reserve for repairs.  The remains of two other small community cemeteries have also been moved here.  The Willow Grove Burying Ground and The McFarlane Family Cemetery were relocated in the 1970’s.

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Andrew Coulter lived from 1793 until 1857 and owned a sawmill on Mimico Creek where West Deane Park is located today.  His farm was run by his four sons after his death.  More information about Coulter as well as historic and modern pictures of the house he built in 1852 can be found in the post for West Deane Park.  A second surviving house from Richview is that of Robert Coulter and it can be seen in the same post.

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Although the farm was passed on to the four boys as an inheritance not everyone was fortunate to survive in those harsh times.  Elizabeth Coulter died in 1852, the same year that the family upgraded from their first home to the grander brick home.  Young women often perished in childbirth but there is nothing on the stone to indicate that she was married.  Pregnancy outside of marriage was less common 150 years ago and so it is more likely that poor Elizabeth got sick and had inadequate medical treatment.  She only lived to 22.

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Starting with the construction of the 401 and later the 427 the farms around Richview were taken over for highway use.  The community of Richview was in the way and everything except the cemetery was removed.  The United Church that had begun as Primitive Methodist was closed and demolished in 1959.  The capture below is from Google earth and shows Richview today as a mass of highway interchanges.  The cemetery is circled in red and can be accessed from Eglinton Avenue.

Richview 2018

This small section of road on the east side of the cemetery is a remnant of the third line which later became highway 427, seen on the right.

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There is still an option to be buried at Richview Cemetery if you have relatives buried there.  Victor Kimber took care of the grounds for several decades until his death in 2005 and he is the most recent interment.  His first wife and then his parents are buried in the graves to the south of his.  His second wife, Ethel, will be buried on the north side of him when she passes on.  Victor will be surrounded by his two wives for eternity but hopefully the sound of the highway will drown them out, should they get to fighting over him.

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Richview cemetery provides a small reminder that the bustle of the city hides a very different the rural past.

Google Maps Link: Richview Cemetery

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Palestine – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The town of Palestine was founded in 1823 by Thomas Grafton.  He took the name Palestine from the Holy Land but his community never gained influence beyond a few local farms.  The town built a log school house in 1842 and replaced it with a brick structure in 1863.  Until 1870 church services were held in the school but a separate church building was constructed adjacent to it that year.  The church was closed in 1962 and torn down in 1965.  The general store was small and the town never had a post office of their own.  Today the main intersection has been taken over by city sprawl and only a couple of early farm houses remain.  We decided to hike along Etobicoke Creek through the farms that would have been the northern edge of Palestine but today are overrun by two multi-lane highways.  Kennedy Road is brown on the map below while Heart Lake Road is yellow and Dixie Road is green.  The houses featured in the story are circled and the larger circle indicates the site of the former waste water treatment plant.

Palestine Map

Toadflax, or butter and eggs, is not native to North America but has become naturalized.  Unlike an invasive plant, this one does not take over and crowd out native plants but is found in limited clusters.  Along the trail we found a comparatively large patch growing.  The plant has been used in natural remedies for centuries and is proven to have diuretic properties and is effective in reducing fevers.

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The Etobicoke Creek was full of life with salmon spawning in it every year when the European settlers first arrived.  It wasn’t long before dams prevented fish from getting upstream and mills dumped their waste directly into the creek disturbing the local habitat.  With the growth of Brampton the creek took on a new function with raw sewage being dumped into it.  It became so polluted that something had to be done and so Brampton became home to the first municipal waste water treatment plant in Canada.  Trunk sewer lines were built down the Credit River to the Clarkson Waste Water Treatment Plant and down Etobicoke Creek to the Lakeview Waste Water Treatment Plant making the municipal plant obsolete.  It was decommissioned and removed in the early 2000’s.  Today there is just a series of roads and the outline of the plant to mark the site.

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Before the opening of the 410 in 1978, Heart Lake Road was a continuous road that provided access to the water treatment plant through the driveway on the left in the picture below.  Construction of the 407 in 1997 further divided the road and left it with several names.  This section is now known as Westcreek Boulevard.  Current Etobicoke Creek Trail improvements through the valley include the development of parking lot at the end of this piece of road to allow trail users easy access.  Sketches suggest parking for about 40 vehicles.

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The trail passes under the 407 as it follows the creek south.

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The Etobicoke Creek Trail has entered into a Missing Links program which aims to build four sections of trail to link existing sections and complete the trail.  The Sherway, North and Valleywood Links each have their own timelines but the Kennedy Valley Link is currently under construction.

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The Etobicoke Creek winds through the area revealing evidence of much greater water flow at times in the past.  The ravine cliffs get taller as the creek approaches the lake with some shale banks of 30 metres being revealed downstream.  This far upstream the embankments are much more modest but they have cut as deep as the shale foundations below the topsoil and sand.

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The top of an old windmill stands above the treeline, obscured to those who are following the path to the south by a cluster of trees.  Looking north from the site of the new bridge the crumbling farm relic is easily seen.  Closer investigation reveals an open well with water inside that has no fence around it.  The pump is still down there and the tower is surprisingly solid considering the crumbling condition of the vein on the top.  I wonder how many children in the GTA are learning about alternate energy sources and could benefit from a working example in their local park.  Why not restore it and make it safe rather than demolish it to make it safe?  The story of pioneer windmills is told in greater detail in our post on The Shand Dam.

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The one house remaining in Palestine is that of William Reed.  His original house was replaced with this Edwardian style house around 1910.   The windmill above is on the back of this property.

Palestine

The Royal Grafton property was the original homestead in the community of Palestine.  By 1877 John Wedgewood had bought the west half of the lot and built the house featured below.  John was instrumental in the development of Palestine being involved in the erection of the shcool, temperance hall and church.  Recently the Poweraide Centre has been built on the lot and the future of the house is unknown although attempts to protect the roof are a hopeful sign.

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Japanese Beetles are native to Japan and appear to have found their way to North America in the early 1900’s, likely aboard ships.  They have since spread throughout the eastern parts of The United States and Canada.

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Our hike is outlined in yellow on this Google Earth capture.  The remnants of the wastewater treatment plant are circled in red.

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In the next few years the Etobicoke Creek Trail will be completed and hopefully they will put up interpretive signs for both Palestine and Mt. Charles, two of the ghost towns it will pass along the way.

Google Maps Link: Palestine.

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