Category Archives: Hiking GTA

Scarlett Mills

Sat. May 31, 2014

We parked off of Emmett Road and crossed the bridge to hike south along the west side of the river.  The morning was warm at 20 C and sunny.  We descended to the river bank alongside of the Eglinton bridge.  Suddenly we were being eaten alive by mosquitoes which was the first time this year.  What a difference a week makes.  A coating of bug spray and we were on our way.  From the bridge we had seen that the water was low and that there was a good chance of making our way right along the edge of the river.  If you chose to do this, be very careful as some of the rocks move or may be slippery.

The section of the Humber which lies north of Lambton Mills and below Eglinton was owned primarily by John Scarlett.  Arriving in 1809 to purchase a mill site and 33 acres of land, John was able to accumulate 1000 acres, or about 10 land grants, by 1815.  In 1820 he bought the road that ran through his property and renamed it Scarlett Road and so it continues to be known today.

John ran mill sites on both sides of the river where Scarlett road crosses the Humber.  Around the mill sites there grew up a community where John also operated a distillery. Today a small waterfall running in a straight line across the river, a little downstream, shows the site of the old mill dam.  Much of the former Scarlett property was deemed high risk for flooding following the disaster of Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and the land was bought up and turned into Scarlett Mills Park.

The old Scarlett Mills dam as seen from Google Earth.

Scarlett Mills Dam

Following the river it wasn’t long before we came across this item that looked like it had been buried for a long time.  Perhaps it was uncovered in last summer’s flash flooding of July 8, 2013.  It appears to be quite old but it’s function has not been determined.  There are 4 sets of bolts holding something made of wood together.


A little further along we found this old brick storm drain.  There is a newer drain just above it on the hillside which dates to after 1954 because it reads “Metropolitan Toronto” which was formed in that year.


By walking the riverbed we discovered this Crinoid fossil.  Claimed ages for  these marine animals range back to 350 million years ago, but they still exist in today’s oceans.


Keeping to the river’s edge we saw four families of Canada Geese herding about 25 of this spring’s little ones along the river.


We found an early example of a Fanta bottle.  Fanta soft drinks were developed in Germany during  the second world war because the Coca-Cola factory there was under embargo from the USA and needed a product for the home market that could be made with local ingredients.  After the war, Coke retained control of the rights and brought the product to North America.  This bottle from 1952 has the logo on the main body of the bottle as well as the neck.  Most bottles I could find on line only have the logo on the neck.


Along the way we found a vintage 1950’s school desk sitting in the woods.  This gives getting kicked out of class a whole new meaning.


On the east side of the river there are two golf courses on former Scarlett property making hiking on that side of the river impossible.  Just north of Dundas is the Lambton Golf Course which was started in 1902.  This site was the former location of the Simcoe Chase Course which was one of the City of York’s earliest horse race tracks.  It lasted until around 1842.  Between there and Eglinton is the Scarlett Woods Golf Course which opened July 1, 1974.

We had hoped to reach Dundas street and close the loop to Lambton Mills but time ran out and we shall have to save that part of the journey for another day.


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Humber Bay to Bloor Street

Saturday May 24, 2014

It was a gorgeous sunny morning with temperatures soon rising into the 20’s C.  We parked in the parking lot near the Petro Canada on the South Kingsway.  This area was home to Jean Baptisite Rousseau who had a fur trading post at the mouth of the Humber River into the 1790’s.  He greeted Governor Simcoe when he arrived in 1793 to start Fort York, later to become Toronto.  We crossed the Humber on the Queensway and followed the river to the pedestrian bridge at the mouth of the river.

This 1860 bridge abutment for the Grand Trunk Railway stands just to the north side of the rail crossing near the mouth of the river.


The Palace Pier was conceived in the early 1920’s as an 1800 foot long entertainment facility sticking out into the lake.  It was designed by the same company that had opened Brighton Pier in the UK in 1899.   The depression delayed construction and in 1941 the Dance Hall was opened.  The Pier was destroyed by an arson in Jan. 1963.  A footing is all that has been preserved.


Shown in this 1957 aerial photo of the mouth of the river, the Palace Pier juts into the lake on the west side of the river.  Just above the Lakeshore bridge, construction is underway for the bridge for the new Gardiner Expressway.  The darker bridge is the railway tracks and the old bridge abutments can be seen just above, on either side of the river.

Humber mouth

This view is from the footbridge across the Humber looking east to the downtown.  The shore line to the east was extended about 100 yards into the bay by extensive land fill projects in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s.


This monument to the east of the river mouth was dedicated on June 7, 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the QEW highway.  This was also the occasion of the first visit to Canada by a reigning monarch.


In 1908 the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario contracted to purchase electricity from Niagara Falls and began construction on a set of power lines that ran along the lake shore into Toronto.  The towers crossed the Humber just north of the current Petro Canada station from 1910 until 1940. The footings remain on the eastern embankment.


The photo below shows the hydro towers being dismantled at Sunnyside Beach just to the east of here in 1940.

Dismantling Pole

We attempted to follow the river’s edge north from there but found that it quickly became inaccessible.  We did find the bottom of a 1952 soda bottle along here but not much else as it is very overgrown.  We were forced to follow the path of the old Toronto Carrying Place trail which roughly follows Riverside Drive. The scent of lilacs and other garden trees made the walk along the streets a little more enjoyable.


Unable to access the river again we crossed the bridge on Bloor street and started back down along the western river bank.  The main trail takes you behind the boat club and up onto Humber Valley Road.  If you stay with the river you will eventually be forced back up the hillside near this relic sitting in the trees.



It’s possible to climb back down to the river bank at the end of Stephen Dr. but you will only be forced back up again very soon.  Following the Discovery Walks markings along Stephen Dr. will lead you back into the park a short way later.  This wooded area as well as the site of the water treatment plant a little farther along used to be the Humber Valley Golf Course.  Damaged extensively by Huricane Hazel this golf course was taken over by the city as part of it’s plan to control watershed floodplains.

This structure, known as The Pavilion or The Oculus,  was built in 1959 as a public washroom.  It’s location makes security and maintenance difficult and it has been closed for several years.


The leaf coverage is nearly full this week giving the river a secluded and peaceful feeling.


Old Mill to Lambton Mills

Saturday May 17, 2014

The morning was overcast and cool at only 7 Celcius.  We parked again in the lower parking lot at the foot of the Old Mill bridge on Catherine street.  Here we met two guys preparing to go treasure hunting with metal detectors.  They told us that last year they had found a musket ball in this area.  French forts at this site date to 1720 when Magasin Royal stood near present day Baby Point.  The Toronto Carrying-Place trail, a main route to the upper great lakes, also ran up this side of the Humber River making this an ideal location for treasure hunting.

Keeping to the main trail we rounded Baby Point (home to last week’s stone ovens) before entering the woods on the north side of the point in an area known as Magwood Park.  There are several places along here where someone has taken the time to balance a lot of flat stones on top of each other.  This set is just below the third of six little waterfalls between Bloor street and Dundas street.


This person obviously had a lot of spare time and a very steady hand.


Along the top of the hill are several more impressive stone walls and decks looking out over the edge of what is often a hundred foot drop down to the river below.


Along here we found an old utilities pole standing alone in the woods at the top of the hill.  It still had wooded steps at the bottom and metal rungs near the top from when someone used to climb it.  Those a little older than me might think of Eva Gabor climbing the pole to answer the phone in the late 60’s tv show Green Acres.


Following the river you will come to the old town of Lambton Mills at Dundas street.  William Cooper opened a mill here in 1807 and the hamlet of Cooper’s mills was started.  In 1851 the name was changed to Lambton mills.  Soon a town of 500 people stood on either side of the Humber where the Dundas street bridge crossed.  The bridge in the photo below was destroyed in 1954 by Hurricane Hazel.

Humber River flood, Lambton Mills. - 1913

Lambton House was operated as a hotel from 1847 until it closed in 1988.  At one time it was surrounded by mills and a general store.  A fire in 1915 destroyed all the wooden structures on the east side of the river leaving the brick hotel standing by itself.  Today it is tucked in among a bunch of apartment buildings.  Along with the old bridge abutments this is all that’s left of the historic village of Lambton Mills.


This week the trees are much greener than last week and visibility in the woods is becoming limited which makes it easy to walk right past a point of interest and not even see it.  The woods is an ever changing pallet of colour and this week Ontario’s Provincial Flower, the Trillium, appeared for the first time this season.


Ovens Above Old Mill

Sat. May 10, 2014

This was the nicest day we’ve had so far this year for hiking.  It was sunny and 17 degrees C, warm enough to hike in a t-shirt but early enough in the season to be free from mosquitoes.  We parked in the lower parking lot beside the Old Mill bridge on the Humber river.  This magnificent stone bridge was built in 1916 as a replacement for the previous one which was washed out during the spring ice break-up that year.  In the photo below, from March 29, 1916, The Old Mill is abandoned and the earlier bridge is a twist of steel in the middle of the ice flow.

Old Mill Mar. 29 1916

The mill in this photo was built in 1849 and destroyed by fire in 1881. It is actually the fourth mill on this site and is the foundation for the restored inn and restaurant that currently form a local tourist attraction.  The first mill was constructed in 1793 at the request of Governor Simcoe and was the first industrial site in Toronto.

As is our habit we decided to stay away from the paved path going north along the east side of the river.  At this time of the year the ground along the base of the hill is marshy and we had to keep going up to avoid getting wet feet.  We climbed about half way up the forested embankment and made our way along the side of the hill.  There is an animal trail here which includes prints from the local deer.

From our position part way up the hill, we were able to see old stone walls further up the hillside.  Climbing up, my brother found an old stairway and railing in hiding in the trees.  In places, the trees have grown around the old railings.  In others, the railings and stairs go down the hill and suddenly end where the slope increases dramatically.


The tree has grown completely around the fence rail.


Old stairways in the woods always require investigation and this time it was well worth the climb.  We found a series of abandoned terraced gardens with at least 4 old ovens sitting at the top of the hill looking out over the old mill.  Some of these contain ornate stonework likely built with rock hauled up from the river below.


James Baby served in the war of 1812 and when his property was damaged, and he was taken as prisoner, he was awarded land in the area of York (Toronto).  In 1815 he acquired the point of land that overlooked the Humber River and the Kings Mill (The Old Mill).  The land had been a Seneca village and Baby used it to build his estate.  Baby and his family lived on there until 1910 when the government purchased the land with the idea of building a military fortress and barracks.  When this idea was abandoned the land was sold to a developer named Home Smith.  He developed an enclave for the rich and many of these homes had grand views over the ravine.


A set of stone pillars on Jane Street mark the entrance to this early version of a gated community.  Homes started developing the subdivision in 1912 and it is easy to envision Great Gatsby type of garden parties here in the 1920’s.


We found a lot of broken bottles on the hillside as well with dates on them from 1938 to 1947.  Two of the more interesting ones were a Lavoris Chemical Co. bottle which would have contained mouth wash and a City Dairy milk bottle.  City Dairy opened in 1900 and operated until 1930 when it was bought up by Borden’s Dairy.  It was famous for it’s safe drinking milk, which was preferred by the city’s doctors for their own use.  City Dairy was started by Walter Massey, who’s father ran Massey-Harris, because at the time Toronto’s milk wasn’t safe and it was estimated that 400 children a year died from drinking it.


It was a good day for enjoying the spring wild flowers.  Yellow, purple and white flowers carpet the woods.  This dog-toothed violet was one of the first to open itself to the morning sunshine.  A few days from now they will be out in the thousands.


It’s amazing to see how much the leaves have opened on the trees in just one week.


Google Maps link: Baby Point

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Humber Marshes – Urban Oasis

Saturday May 3, 2014

It was a cloudy morning around 7 degrees.  We entered the trail on the east side of the Humber River, south of Bloor St.  This is Etienne Brule park and it is undeveloped.  It is named after the first European to see the Toronto area and who arrived at the mouth of the Humber River in 1615.  Once down in here among the trees and the ample wild life it’s easy to imagine that you’re not in the heart of Canada’s largest city or perhaps its 1615 all over again.  The little trail quickly descends to the marshes and runs along the river bank.  We were surprised to find deer tracks, thinking they weren’t this far down the river.  We stayed along the river until the first pond was passed.  Here the trail climbs the hill and then drops back down.  If you follow the river you will soon come to a stretch of water you can’t get across.  There is a second pond in here which has a permanent opening to the river.  The two ponds on the right hand side of the river show up as green in the shot below because it was taken in late summer and they’re covered in algae.  At this time of year the ponds clear and are home to many wetland bird species.

Etienne Brule Park

We had seen that the deer tacks went into the woods so we followed and it wasn’t long before we saw a female deer.  It’s standing at the edge of the grass with its head hiding behind the tree that’s in the middle of this picture.


We had already determined that you couldn’t get through around the back side of this pond because the hillside is steep and runs right down to the water’s edge.  However, we’d seen the deer come from that way and guessed it knew something we didn’t.  It turns out that the deer had made it’s way along the edge of the water and we could too.  We eventually came out at the river’s edge having got around the point we couldn’t cross.  Somewhere along the way we re-graded this hike from “advanced” to “daring”.  This part of the hike should not be tried.  For our efforts, we got to watch an Egret making it’s way along the opposite shore as it was fishing.



There was a small strip that contained hundreds of freshwater clam shells.


This is an excellent hike if you like bird watching as we identified  more than 30 different species.  Among them were many waterbirds, including Egrets, King Fishers, Swans, Cormorants and Terns.



It was also nice to see the willows turning green and everything else coming into bud.  It seems late this year, maybe that makes it a little more beautiful to see.



Old Eglinton Road

Sunday April 27th, 2014

It was a bright sunny afternoon around 10 degrees.  I entered the woods at the east end of the Eglinton Ave. bridge over the East Don River.  As you go into the south east you come quickly to the first storm drain.  Cross above the drain and make your way through the cedar woods towards the bottom of the hill and the CPR tracks.

After skirting the edge of the hill for a short while you will come across a ramp coming down the hillside.  This is the end of Old Eglinton Road when it used to come down the hill and out to the railroad tracks as recently as the 1970’s.  There is some garbage along the north side of the roadway but nothing to specifically date the rubbish.  Lots of Ketchup bottles but unfortunately Heinz never took to dating their bottles.

Following the trail a little further brings you to a small stream that disappears under the railroad tracks and runs under the golf course to the East Don River.  If you take the trail away from the tracks and midway along the side of the hill you will come to a place to cross the stream where it flows out of a large culvert.  Crossing the culvert and turning to your right you will find a set of five footings from an old bridge.  The footings on the north side have been broken up, but still remain.  I disturbed a pair of cardinals who likely have a nest here.  As usual they’re a little camera shy and don’t sit still long enough to get their picture taken.

Old Eglinton Road as seen in this 1971 aerial photo.  The road can be seen cutting through the trees in the lower right hand corner.  The new Eglinton Ave is marked where it runs a couple hundred meters north of the old road.


Eglinton 1971

The north side of the bottom end of Old Eglinton Road as it descends the hill.



Looking up the hill on Old Eglinton road the trees are well established.



Hiking by myself, I decided not to try this bridge.  There is a little trail that will lead you up and around.



Hiding in the trees and leading straight up the hill into the side of a building are five concrete supports for a bridge.  As of this writing I can’t find anything on them.



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Humber River at Finch and Islington

Saturday, April 20, 2014

Islington Avenue and Finch Avenue.

It was a sunny morning around 3 degrees C.  The first part of the hike was in the south-west corner of the intersection.  This is a small area where there is fairly recent growth with lots of underbrush.  We found an old culvert set in shale rocks in the brush.  The roadway that passed over it would have run north-south parallel to Islington.   Aside from the culvert, we saw plenty of deer tracks in the woods.

Crossing Finch, we hiked in the north-west corner of the intersection.  Here there is an old roadway which has been closed off from its connection with Finch Ave.   Research from the Toronto Archive aerial photographs shows this area was closed off between 1983 and 1992, likely when Finch was extended across the river.

A large deer, likely a buck was seen climbing the hill to the west of the old road.  We didn’t see it again but there are lots of trails littered with piles of deer poop.  We also saw the carcass of a dead animal, perhaps a beaver.  Lots of birds were seen including woodpeckers, robins, ducks and geese.  High up in the trees we could see that the buds were out but at ground level, there was still no sign of new growth.

1983 Aerial photo of Islington and Finch.

Finch 1983

1992 Aerial photo of Islington and Finch

Finch 1992

It has now been closed for about 25 years but it appears to be maintained at least enough that the broken trees from the Dec. 23, 2013 ice storm have been cleared away.  On the south side of Finch all traces are lost except the culvert.


A little further along was found an older foot bridge across a side stream that runs through the ditch.  This bridge is made of poured concrete with a layer of river rocks on the top which gives it its aged look.


An older pathway down from a school ground to the roadway has been totally overgrown.  The lamp posts are all that mark the pathway.


(A return visit in October 2016, told the story of this site as the Country Hospital For Sick Children)

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