Category Archives: Historic Site

St. Alban the Martyr Cathedral Toronto

Sunday, December 5, 2021

This is the story of a cathedral that was almost built, but not quite. Up until less than a hundred years ago, the spire on St. James Church was the tallest structure in early Toronto. It represented the Church of England in the early city. When John Strachan was made the First Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto in 1839 he was allowed to use the St. James Church but there was a problem. The parishioners had financed the church and were unwilling to turn it over to the Bishop for his use. The home church of the Bishop is known as a cathedral and is the most powerful church in the diocese. From the middle-ages, cathedrals have been grandly designed and were intended to reflect the majesty of God. In 1843 Strachan opened the cathedral establishment fund with the intention of giving Toronto one of these grand buildings.

Neither Strachan nor his successor would see the building started, it would have to wait until 1883. Arthur Sweatman was the third Bishop of Toronto and he oversaw the purchase of 4.5 acres of land in the newly developing Seaton Village area just west of the expanding city. The plot was made available by a syndicate that was developing a prestigious housing development in the area. They put up $5,244, half of the purchase price, and promised another $2,000 if the choir and chancel were completed by 1886. The archive picture below shows the construction of the east end of the cathedral during 1886.

The diagram below is from Wikipedia and shows the most common parts of Christian Cathedrals. The basic layout has been in place since Roman times and the intention is to create the most spectacular building in the region. When St Alban the Martyr Cathedral was planned it was intended that Toronto should have such a building.

Sod was turned on August 20, 1885, but the cornerstone wouldn’t be laid until the following year. Funding for the building wouldn’t be consistent and work was slow to progress. When Canada went into a depression in the 1890s money was diverted to building local parishes which were badly needed by the expanding city. The portion of the cathedral in the picture below, taken on July 14, 2021, was completed by 1891 and that was about as far as they got.

The archival sketch below shows the cathedral as it stood in 1898. By this time they had consecrated the choir and the crypt below it. They moved their worship services into the crypt while they waited a few years, or so they thought, for the rest of the cathedral to be completed. This turned out to be the end of the original design.

The synod of the diocese renewed its commitment to completing the cathedral in 1910. The new plans called for the elimination of the two western towers which were to be replaced with a single central tower. This would have been placed on the south side in the corner where the transept met the aisle. Twenty-five years after the cornerstone was laid the same trowel was used to initiate the new construction. Problems arose immediately when the tenders came back $200,000 over budget. World War 1 broke out before there was a resolution and the project was once again put on hold. Construction wouldn’t begin again until 1956 when the western end of the building was closed in with a short brick structure. The idea of a cathedral at St. Alban the Martyr had already been over since 1935.

The aerial photo below from Toronto Archives shows the choir end of the cathedral with the foundations of the transepts and the nave forming the outline of a cross. The Bishop’s house can be seen circled just above the cathedral and three of Toronto’s bishops would live here before 1935.

The original plans for the cathedral included a 135 foot (41 meters) tower on the southwest corner while a shorter one adorned the northwest corner. This image below was taken from The West Annex News and gives you a good idea of what the other three-quarters of the building would have looked like if completed as designed.

Starting in 1918 St. James Church downtown began to lobby to be the cathedral for the Toronto Diocese although it wouldn’t happen until the middle of the Great Depression. In 1935 St. James Church was confirmed as the cathedral and St. Alban was downgraded to a local parish. The bishop moved downtown and the church carried on until 1964. That’s when St. George College rented the property and they continue to occupy it today. They built their school buildings on the old foundations for the proposed cathedral.

Their rather typical educational building sits on top of some pretty impressive stone footings that were intended to support a much grander building.

The footings at the western end of the building haven’t been built on but it doesn’t look like there are any grand towers in their near future.

A lot has changed since the original conception with its two grand towers. These were downgraded to a single tower in 1910 and finally, in 1956 they settled for one of the most unimaginative spires in Christendom.

Between 1885 and 1886 the church also built a home for the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. The diocese went by the short name of “See” and this was the home of the bishop from 1885 until 1935.

We close with a view of the west end of the proposed cathedral. This is where the parishioners would have entered for the services.

Some of the grand cathedrals in Europe took centuries to be complete but in Toronto, we lost the will to finish our cathedral almost as soon as it was planned.

Google Maps Link: St. Alban the Martyr

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Time Travel in Toronto

November 28, 2021

Throughout the GTA there are several homes and historic sites that are open to the public, although usually with a small admission price to cover upkeep costs. They are typically decorated in the style of a different era. This means that if you chose to, you could visit each one in sequence and watch the changes over time. This post collects the various historic homes and sites and presents them in chronological order. A link will take you to the feature article on the site, if available, where a Google Maps link can help you locate them for yourself.

1814 Fort York

Fort York contains an amazing collection of buildings that date to the War of 1812, although many of them were replaced in 1814 after they were destroyed in the Battle of York on April 27, 1813. This is the first stop on our time journey as we start with our oldest museum.

As you go through the buildings notice how low the ceilings are. This is due to the fact that two hundred years ago people were generally shorter than today. (The track lighting and interpretive signs are obviously recent additions)

1820s Todmorden

If we move ahead a decade we come to Todmorden Mills, a reminder of the city’s early industrial era. Mills were operated by water power and the Don River provided power to a series of three paper mills belonging to the Taylors. Only the lower one, which was at Todmorden, still survives. There’s also an old brewery and a pair of early industrialists homes. During the 1820s Trade Unions were still illegal and people were apprenticed for 7 years to learn a trade. General labour required long hours worked six days per week for sustenance wages.

1830s Montgomery’s Inn

If we move ahead another decade we can get a glimpse of how people survived as they traveled in the 1830s. A journey had to be broken into smaller sections so that horses could be allowed to rest and passengers could rest their weary bones that had been shaken up on the poor roads. Inns and taverns were built at convenient distances along the main roadways. Montgomery’s Inn was built in 1830 by Thomas and Margaret Montgomery.  It served as a rest and watering place for travelers along Dundas Street as they passed through the town of Islington. It served food and beer to travelers while providing fodder and water for their horses. Rest could also be had for those who needed to break their journey into several days’ travel.

1835 TollKeeper’s Cottage

Those same travelers often made their way along snow-clogged roads in the winter with their sleds but in the spring and fall, these same roads could become almost impassable due to the mud and ruts. One solution was the creation of plank roads where cut boards were laid side by side to create a wooden road. These were expensive to build and required constant maintenance. A system of tolls was established and people were employed to collect them. This small cottage was built for the family whose job it was to collect tolls along Davenport Road at the intersection with modern Bathurst street. Inside it is furnished with the items that kept a family of 9 as comfortable as the times would allow.

Inside the cottage is the wood stove for heating and cooking that had to keep the family from freezing in the winter.

1845 McKenzie House

Our next two stops are related to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. William Lyon McKenzie was the prime instigator for the rebellion. He used his printing business to incite discontent with the ruling Family Compact which would lead to rebellion. This museum takes you into a typical printing shop of the era.

This museum even includes a set of MaKenie’s own printing types.

1850s Gibson House

David Gibson was a consistent supporter of Mackenzie and when the rebellion failed he was exiled and his house and barns were burned down in retaliation. When he returned in 1851 he built the next house on our museum tour. Here we get a glimpse into the life of a provincial land surveyor in the 1850s.

1855 Colborne Lodge

Colborne Lodge was built in 1837 but became a full-time home in 1855. This stop on our journey shows us how the wealthier people lived in the mid-1850s. The Howards built the first indoor flush toilet in the city and devised a method of delivering heated water to a showerhead.

When Jemima became ill, John Howard nursed her at their home. Her sick room shows the level of medical intervention that could be expected in this period.

1860s Black Creek Pioneer Village

The next stop on our time travel trip lands us in the 1860s on the farm of Daniel and Elizabeth Stong. Their early houses and farm buildings were so well preserved by the family that they became the basis for Black Creek Pioneer Village. Many other buildings have been moved here and a small town has been recreated. A blacksmith shop, printing shop, hotel, store, carriage works, church, and manse, among other buildings, can be explored. Christmas By Lamplight has been an annual favourite because it allows one to sample treats and decorations from the mid-1860s.

Women of the 1860’s would cook using the fireplace and the small oven on the side and could turn out quite impressive dinners with the means that they had at hand.

1870s Don Valley Brick Works

Although not specifically operated as a museum, the Don Valley Brick Works demonstrates this industry as it operated in the 1870s. It was owned by the Taylor brothers who also operated the mills at Todmorden.

1910 Zion School

Throughout the 19th-century and into the 20th-century it was common for children to go to school in a one-room schoolhouse. The teacher was responsible for teaching all grades and so you didn’t want to get on their bad side because you would have them again next year. This school was vacant for several decades before it was restored and opened as a museum showcasing school as it was around 1910.

1914 Thomson Park

Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough contains the Scarborough Historical Society and a few locally historical buildings that have been moved into a small cluster. This stop on our time trip lands us just prior to the start of the First World War.

WW 1 Benares House

Benares House is not in Toronto, it is in Mississauga, but we’ve included it here because it showcases life during The Great War (WW1) for the average farming family in the area. Keeping up with the chores around the farm was a constant challenge with so many of the men off fighting the war in Europe.

1920s Spadina House

Our final stop on our journey brings us to 100 years ago and the house of a wealthy Toronto politician and businessman. Spadina House and gardens have been furnished and decorated to reflect the 1920’s, a period of prosperity that followed The Great War and preceded the economic depression of the 1930s.

While time travel might not be possible, a structured tour through Toronto’s museums could be the next best thing. Where will you start?

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Benares House

Sunday, November 21, 2021

In 1835 Edgar Neave took possession of two lots just north of the hamlet of Clarkson. He built a house out of fieldstone that he named Benares and then in 1836, he sold the property to Captain James Beveridge Harris. His family had a long history of service in the British Military and James sold his commission and used the money to buy Benares and move his family there. His wife, Elizabeth Molony, gave birth to eight children although three of the boys died in their youth. Arthur Harris inherited the farm and eventually it was passed on to another two generations of the family. The map below is from the 1877 county atlas and shows the Harris farm occupying the northeast corner of the intersection where the Clarkson post office stands on the northwest corner. Benares House is circled in green.

There was a fire in 1857 and much of the original home was destroyed. The replacement was built in the Georgian Style and made of honey-coloured bricks. The two-story home has five bays with a central doorway adorned with sidelights. The open veranda presents a touch of Queen Anne styling and features no balustrade. Above it is a small balcony with turned balusters, lattice, and spool work. The fifth generatiom of the Harris family decided to donate the house and its contents to the city of Mississauga while the surrounding property was developed into subdivisions.

The inside of the house is filled with all the things that a family could collect over a four-generation period. Throughout the GTA there are several historic homes that have been turned into museums and each is furnished in the style of a specific era. Benares House recreates the typical family home during World War One. Included in the collection of personal belongings that the Harris family donated are many early family photographs. Some of these include pictures of the house over the decades. The one below includes a few of the cars that were at the home sometime in the 1930s.

The house has four unique chimneys, two on each end, that are internally bracketed, and double linked giving them eight outlets. The house still features its original shutters and the mysterious name that Edgar Neave gave the single-story stone home. In the early 1800s, it was common to name your house after some exotic place that you had traveled to. Varanji (also Benares or Banaras) is a city in northern Inda and is the holiest of seven cities that were important in the development of Hinduism and Jainism. They also feature in Buddhism.

At the rear of the house is the old family dairy. This is thought to be part of the original 1835 section of the house and is built of stone rather than bricks as was used on the main block of the house. In the mid-nineteenth century milk was not a drink of choice and farmers who had milk cattle would consume the milk almost immediately or turn it into butter or cheese as there was no effective way to store milk for extended periods. Prior to the invention of pasteurization and homogenization drinking milk was a risky business because of bacteria and “milk sickness”. Pasteurization heats the milk up and kills the bacteria that are present while homogenization takes milk from many sources and mixes it together. This reduces the risk of people getting sick from milk tainted by poisonous plants, such as white snakeroot, that the animal has eaten.

The family photo below shows a horse and sled in front of the old barn sometime in the early 1920s.

The barn is believed to date to the 1830s and has been kept well maintained over the better part of two centuries. The farm was mainly used for produce and so the Harris family didn’t keep a lot of livestock. The barn was used to house their carriage and the horses that pulled it. They adapted it for the family automobile as the years passed and their mode of travel changed dramatically.

Although the house has five bays on the front there are only three sets of openings per floor on the rear. The stone extension of the earlier house can be seen at the back of the newer block and stands out as being only a single story. It’s interesting that they chose a shade of bricks that matches the stonework so well.

The 1835 bake oven could still be used to turn out a loaf of bread or a fresh-baked apple pie. The county atlas above shows the house surrounded by two rectangles of little dots. This is the way orchards were represented and I can imagine a fair amount of that fruit was baked in this oven over the years.

At the rear of the outdoor oven is the old well pump. The modern convenience of hot and cold running water makes us tend to forget that at one-time water was pumped by hand from a well and carried into the house in buckets. Early pumps had a single-cylinder that brought a sudden gush of water when the lever was activated. When dual cylinder pumps were invented they doubled the amount of water delivered because as one cylinder was emptying into the bucket the other was refilling. Once as common as the kitchen faucet is today, there are still lots of examples on farms and around older buildings. Many of them are still in working order while others have been repurposed as lawn and garden decorations.

Benares House sits in a park-like setting and was opened as a museum in 1995. The original 190 acre site has been reduced to just 5.7 but the home still sits among lots of mature trees. It’s certainly worth checking out if you are in the area.

Google Maps link: Benares House

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UTM Nature Trail

Sunday, November 7, 2021

In the 1960s the University of Toronto decided to expand with an additional campus on each of the east and west ends of the city. Eventually Scarborough and Mississauga each got a new university campus. The University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) was develped on two adjacent pieces of land. The northern section was a millionaire’s estate while the southern section belonged to the Erindale Sand and Gravel Company. The old gravel pits have been redeveloped for the various buildings of the university while much of the old estate remains intact, forested and is home to the UTM Nature Trail. We set out to explore the nature trail and the local history. The 1961 aerial map below is from the Toronto Archives and shows the relative location of the mansion, the pond and the cottage going from the top of the image to the bottom.

Erindale Park was a lake when the dam was intact but is now a large park with plenty of free parking. It’s best to park there and then cross the Credit River on the footbridge. There’s a trail that goes to the right and follows the river upstream to where it climbs the ravine from the flood plain up to the table lands above.

The UTM Nature Trail begins at the top of the hill. The trail is a little less than 3.5 kilometres long and follows the edge of the ravine, providing some interesting views of the river below. Although the trail is a loop it isn’t all nature trail. Part of the loop passes through the University campus following a sidewalk route. We turned back when we got to that part.

The land that forms the northern section of the UTM property was granted to Peter Adamson in 1836 and he held it until 1854 when it was sold to Edward Shortliss. In 1869 Louise deLisle foreclosed on the mortgage and took the property away from Shortliss. Louise deLisle placed it in trust for the use of the Schreiber family. Weymouth Schreiber moved to Springdale (now Erindale) in the late 1870’s and lived there for awhile until a home was built on the northern portion of the property. Three houses were eventually built with Lislehurst being raised in 1885. The name likely pays respect to deLisle. Two other houses and a cottage were built but one of the homes was lost to a fire in 1913. The remaining home would be dismantled around 1930 and the materials used to enlarge Lislehurst when Reginald Watkins bought the property. He designed a false Tudor style home facing the river which features exposed beams and stucco. The University of Toronto acquired the 12,000 square foot home in 1968 when they bought the property to develop a western campus. Since then the home has usually been occupied by the Principal who has the luxury of 8 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. They also enjoy the short commute down the old laneway which is now known as Principal’s Road. The house is well posted as private property but as it is clearly visible from the UTM trail it has been decorated for Halloween.

Reginald Watkins bought the property in 1930 and began to renovate it into a grand estate. One of his most endearing creations was an artificial pond with a concrete bottom. He built a stone arch bridge across the pond which is still in use by pedestrians as well as almost everyone who passes by with a camera. You can reach the pond by following the old laneway away from Lislehurst. Between the house and the pond a set of laneway curbs runs to the edge of the new growth forest. Therein lies the foundations from another of the outbuildings from the estate.

Near the pond stands a large carving called Curiosity Knowledge Wisdom. It depicts an owl, pileated woodpecker, raccoon and a fawn on the front with a male cardinal on the back. It was donated to the campus on September 29, 2013 by two members of the class of “81 and their two children.

If you follow Principal’s Road past the maintenance buildings you will find a small story and a half cottage that was built in the 1870s by the Schreiber family. At various times it has served as a groundskeepers home, a guest cottage and the gardeners house. When the Schreibers moved around 1900 they left Stanley Plumb as caretaker and he moved into the cottage. Watkins rennovated the cottage when he updated Lislehurst. When UTM bought the property they first used the cottage for the Artist in Residence. It is currently used to stage mock crime scenes for the forensic students to try and solve. While Lislehurst has a heritage designation the cottage does not.

The car that was left parked behind the cottage has been stripped of everything that could be reused. The inside of the car shows signs of having been set on fire. I think it could have been a Chrysler Sebring based on the shape.

The trails on campus were lightly used on this Sunday afternoon with the exception of a few students. The upper trails were in pretty good shape but the lower trail along the river was quite muddy.

Chiggers, or Berry Bugs, look like tiny bright red dots. The one pictured below was on a log but they commonly hang around on the tips of tall grass waiting to crawl onto people and animals that pass by. They feed on animal skin and can leave a serious bite that causes an itchy rash known as Trombiculosis.

Orange Jelly Slime grows on dead softwood trees. It isn’t poisonous but appareantly it doesn’t hold together if cooked so it needs to be eaten raw. It’s also said to be basically tasteless so perhaps if I was lost and starving…

We saw evidence that there are plenty of deer on the UTM campus where they can avoid the crowds of people who are enjoying Erindale Park. You can read about when the park was Erindale Lake in our story Erindale Hydro Electric Dam.

Google Maps Link: UTM Nature Trail

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Parkdale Pumping Station

Sunday, October 31, 2021

As Toronto grew and its rivers and lakefront became increasingly polluted the city understood that it needed to ensure a good supply of clean water. In 1913 the newly appointed Commissioner of Public Works R. C. Harris presented his plan. It was called the “Report of the Commissioner of Works on Additions and Extensions to the Toronto Waterworks Pumping and Distribution Plant.” The plans were put on hold for the First World War and not revived until 1926 when the need was becoming increasingly urgent. The revised report called for the construction of a new water works at Victoria Park complete with filtration, reservoir and pumping facilities. We know it today as The R. C. Harris Filtration Plant. A large filtered water tunnel across the lakefront would link it to a pumphouse and surge tower at John Street and another set in Parkdale. A reservoir at St. Clair and Spadina with an overhead storage tank was proposed to serve the city as it expanded northward. Most of this work would be completed between 1930 and 1955 and although we’ve visited most of the infrastructure, and parkland that was created in the process, we’ve not looked at the Parkdale Pumping Station.

The dominant feature of the Parkdale Pumping Station is the Surge Tower. Thousands of people pass the tower on the Gardiner Expressway or Lake Shore Boulevard every day and at one time or another they’ve likely wondered about the Neo-Classical tower that stands just east of High Park. Two surge towers were built but only the Parkdale one survives. The one on John Street was octagonal in design but was demolished to make way for Skydome to be constructed in the 1980s. It has been replaced with an unimaginative structure which along with the Parkdale surge tower is used to maintain a constant pressure on the main water line. The round Parkdale tower is seen below and in the cover photo.

The pumphouse building in Parkdale is purely functional without a lot of ornamentation.It was completed in 1952 when city planners were driven by costs and public works were not seen as atristic statements.

A stylized TWW (Toronto Water Works) adorns the main entrance to the pump house.

The heart of the water system is the R. C. Harris Filtration Plant at the foot of Victoria Park Avenue. Four towers were designed on the network with the one here being known as the Alum Tower. Water passing under the tower has alum dropped into it which causes any contaminant to settle out in a process known as flocculation. More about the filtration plant and its architecture can be found at the link above and also at the end of this article.

Water is pumped to one of several reservoirs located around the city. The Spadina Reservoir was the first part of the Toronto Water Works Extension to be completed with work finishing in 1930. At the time, a water tower was planned so that water pressure could be maintained during a power outage. Cutbacks brought on by the Depression meant that the tower was never built, however the footings were constructed and now form a circle in the park land on the top of the reservoir.

The image below was drawn in CAD using the original design documents and shows what the tower would have looked like if constructed. It was taken from “Toronto’s Tower Of Pure Water” by Steven Mannell.

The Yorkville Water Works originally supplied water to the small community just to the north of Toronto. When Yorkville was amalgamated with the city, the water works were expanded and renamed the High Level Pumping Station. In 1952 it was expanded again, this time to become the control centre for the entire city network. It controls the water from 4 water treatment plants, 18 pumping stations, 10 underground reservoirs and 4 water towers.  These in turn supply water to over 3 million people. To read how a small town water supply became the organizational heart of the Toronto Water Works Expansion check out the link above.

The Parkdale Surge Tower is a visible reminder of the ambitious public works project that now supplies water to nearly 20% of the people in Ontario. The tower doesn’t have a large public park like other parts of the water delivery system, but High Park and Sir Casimir Gzowski Park are nearby.

Related Blogs: R. C. Harris Filtration Plant, Spadina Reservoir, Yorkville Water Works

Google Maps Link: Parkdale Pumping Station

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Toronto’s Oddest Architecture

October 24, 2021

Toronto has more than enough “cookie-cutter” houses but it also has some rather odd examples of private homes. This post collects some of them from various parts of the city and includes a Google Maps link to each one of them. Which one would you live in if you had the choice?

Leslieville is an area on the east side of the Don River which was formerly one of the industrial areas of the city. There are a lot of small side streets lined with working-class homes. The home at 37 Bertmount Avenue stands out from the rest because of the collection of toys, dolls, and collectibles that adorn the front lawn. The collection started as a hobby when the lady of the house lost her husband over 20 years ago. The collection is ever-changing as she adopts various holiday themes. Halloween items have taken prominent positions in the display.

The items on the front lawn appear to be mostly children’s toys and dolls leading to the nickname “The Doll House”. If you take the time to look carefully you just might see one that looks like something you used to own yourself.

The house at 157 Coxwell Avenue has had a makeover and what formerly looked like a mixed-up Rubik’s Cube is only slightly less out of place among its neighbours. The three-story tower was built in 2003 on four stilts that are sunk 48 feet into the ground. Designed by architect Rohan Walters the house takes full advantage of the 23-foot wide lot. Each floor is 16 feet wide and parking is provided under the house. There’s an open patio on the roof and the front door is reached across a private bridge. It was recently sold and the new owners have remodeled the outside to get rid of the blue, red, yellow, and green plywood panels that made it impossible to miss.

The house at 469 Broadview Avenue has the distinction of being the oldest, continually inhabited house in the city. The earliest section of the home was built prior to 1807 for John Cox who owned a store in the town of York. Alterations and additions over the years have hidden the original log structure. An electrician working in the home in 1995 discovered the original log home hiding inside the walls. This house now looks completely out of place surrounded by larger, more modern homes. There are a couple of log homes in the city that might be a few years older but this is the oldest one that still stands in its original location.

Just 8 feet wide, the house at 363 Shuter is the narrowest detached home in the city, although it isn’t the smallest. That honour goes to a home which is also featured in this article. The original home on this lot was built in 1880 and was just a single story. Renovations over the years have hidden the original home and added two more floors. The home is filled with light and has a finished basement and landscaped backyard. It was recently on the market for $750,000.

Bright Street is a small residential street in the old Corktown area of the city. This working-class Irish enclave was named after Thomas Bright who owned the land until his death in 1857. After that, it was sold off into building lots. The intersection of Bright Street and Queen Street was adjusted, leaving all the lots on the street with irregular shapes. In the 1860s the victorian Bay and Gable terraces on either side of number 32 Bright Street were built but the rights to the lot where the little bungalow stood weren’t secured for development. With the angle of the roadway changed the bungalow sits at a funny angle to the street and its neighbours.

Toronto also has a what appears to be half of a house. It is actually one sixth of a row of Victorian row houses each featuring the Toronto signature “Bay and Gable” design. They were built in the early 1890s and a land developer began buying them up in the 1950s. By the 1970s five of them had been bought up but the sixth one was owned by someone who refused to sell. five of them were demolished leaving 54 1/2 St. Patrick Street looking like half of a duplex.

Cube houses were developed in the Netherlands in the 1970s. It takes a cube shape and stands it on an angle atop a small podium. They were designed to optimize space and the first three were built in 1974. Forty were built in Rotterdam and another 39 in Helmond. It was a short-lived fad and no more would be built until 1996. That is when 3 were built at 1 Sumach St. in Toronto. These three homes are now in the way of a 35 story tower and their fate is unknown. It was originally thought that they could be moved somewhere but there are currently no plans. I guess we’ll see what happens to the only 3 cube houses in the world, outside of the Netherlands.

Known as the Herman Heintzman House it was built in 1891 with part of the Heintzman Piano fortune. Located at 166 High Park Avenue the home features a round tower that hides the staircase to the secod floor. The tower has an open air gallery at the top.

The Parashos family has turned their home at 1016 Shaw Street into a showpiece for their Greek heritage. Columns, urns, and sculptures all adorn this house whose red clay tile roof is lined with statues.

128 Day Avenue has the distinction of being the smallest house in the city at just 2.2 metres wide and 14.3 metres long. It has a living room, kitchen and small sleeping area on the main floor and a small basement. Originally the lot was intended to be a laneway but the city wouldn’t cut the curb for vehicle access. Therefore, in 1912 Mr. Weeden decided to build a small house there. He lived there with his wife for 26 years before selling it. It’s had several owners since then and sold for $180,000 in 2010.

From the smallest to one of the largest and best examples of a Gothic Revival home in the city. The house is known as Oaklands and was built in 1860 with the tower added in 1869. The home is now part of De La Salle college.

Toronto has a wide variety of different architectural styles but there’s plenty of places that have a style all their own. These are just a few of the better-known ones.

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Sugarbush Heritage Park

Sunday, October 10, 2021

When Jonathon Baker and his wife arrived on their new property in Vaughan in 1816 the land was covered with huge pine trees interspersed with smaller maple trees. They cut the pine trees for wood to build their home and barns and left the maple trees to mature in their place. From the beginning, they started tapping a few trees for maple sugar and maple syrup. These were the only sources of sugar that were readily available. They cleared half of their two hundred acre allotment and left 80 acres on the east end of the property and another 20 on the west end. In the year 2000, the City of Vaughan bought the eastern wood lot to preserve it because it was one of the largest remaining in the quickly expanding city. It was opened in 2011 and is now protected by heritage designations. There’s parking for several cars in a free parking lot at the park.

The two wood lots remain with the east one on Bathurst having been turned into the Sugarbush Heritage Park. The one at Dufferin and Langstaff is largely untouched except for flood control ponds that have been created on the edge of the forest. The 1877 county atlas below shows the Baker farm outlined in green. This farm had been in the family since 1816 when Jonathon Baker Sr. purchased it. By this time it was being operated by Jonathon Baker Jr.

After starting with a tapping a few trees for personal use, the wood lot was slowly turned into a profit centre. They continually added more trees to the collection process, going from 70 in 1870 to over 8000 by the year 1980.

The aerial photo below is from the 1975 survey and was taken from the Toronto Archives. It shows the Baker Sugar Bush outlined in green while the rest of the property is outlined in blue. The woodlot on the west end of the property was also used as a sugar bush and remains undeveloped until this time. It has been marked with an orange line. The Baker house is seen in its original position but it has since been moved near the entrance of the wood lot. In the upper left the Cober cemetery is circled in green and is the final resting place for many of the Baker family.

Before the sap started running the family had to go through the woodlot and blaze the trees. This involved inspecting each tree and selecting a new location for that years spiles. A small area of the outer bark was removed with a hatchet to make a smooth spot to bore the holes. This was important after the metal spiles were introduced because it allowed the spile to fit tightly and let the bucket hang straight. A brace and bit was used to bore the holes for 150 years until a tree tapper was bought in 1956. As you walk the trails you can step up to any one of the big old maple trees and look for the old bore holes. There’s lots of them between 5 and 6 feet off the ground. Some trees have dozens of visible holes because they were tapped for decades. It is reported that some of the trees from 1816 were still being tapped in the 1980s.

In the early days a 12″ long wooden spile was used to tap the trees. The wooden sap buckets sat on small benches near the base of each tree and the spile had to be long enough to reach out past the bottom of the tree which sloped outward. By around 1900 the spiles were replaced with tin ones that allowed the pail to be hooked on the spile. Then, around 1959 the spiles started to be replaced again with smaller plastic ones that worked with tubing instead of buckets. A careful eye might still identify a spile or two laying on the forest floor.

In 1959 forty trees were tapped using a new method of collecting the sap and transporting it using tubing that ran between the trees. Eventually this process would expand until almost every tree was connected with tubing. A few trees were still collected using the old tin buckets so that roadways could be left open to allow the tractor to pass through. There is still some tubing left lying around the forest floor in a few places.

Children will enjoy the Story Walk that has been set up along the trails. There are seventeen panels that tell the story of a panda and a parrot and what they learn about friendship and the joy of the world around them. Although there are 2.4 kilometers of trails in the park the Story Walk is set up on a shorter loop so the little ones don’t have to complete the entire thing.

A healthy forest will have several different types of fungi which serve to break down the wood of dead trees. One of the less common ones is Wolf’s-Milk Slime Mold which grows on large dead logs between June and November. When they’re young, if the tiny balls are popped a pinkish orange slime oozes out. Because this is about the consistency of toothpaste, this slime is also known as Toothpaste Slime. As they age the interior will harden and become ochre in colour. Wolf’s-Milk Slime Mold fruiting bodies are only a few millimeters across at the biggest and sometimes there could be only a single one which makes spotting them tricky. Several of the old maple logs lying on the forest floor are covered with this mold so it is a good place to look for it if you haven’t seen it before.

Turkey Tail Mushroom is also known as Tramentes Versicolor because of its multi-coloured appearance. It has been used for centuries in traditional medicines to relieve respiratory ailments. More recent studies show that it can improve the efficiency of chemotherapy in patients with colon or breast cancer.

The City of Vaughan operates several types of gardens where residents can grow their own fruits and vegetables. Allotment Gardens are ones in which people can rent a small plot on a yearly basis. There is only one in the city and it is located at Sugarbush Heritage Park where there are 20 plots available and a waiting list to get one.

The second house on the property replaced the original log home around 1863. As seen in the aerial photo above, it formerly stood central to the property with access from Langstaff Road. It was moved near the edge of the sugarbush so that it could be used for community purposes.

The other house on the property also belonged to the Baker family and was moved from its original location on Bathurst Street. It was repaired after years of vandalism and turned into the park washrooms.

In 1839 Peter Cober donated a small parcel of land on his property at Lot 12, Concession 2 in Vaughan Township for a cemetery.  Today it is known as the Baker-Cober Cemetery because the land was donated by the brothers-in-law Peter Cober and Michael Baker.

I’m looking forward to returning here in a couple weeks time to see the forest with its fall colours on full display but it makes a great place to go for a walk at any time of the year.

Google Maps Link: Sugarbush Heritage Park

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Georgina

August 29, 2021

The Town of Georgina is the northern most community in the Township of York. It’s made up of the three little towns of Keswick, Sutton and Jackson’s Point and several smaller communities. At the turn of the last century it was a tourist attraction and served as cottage country for people from Toronto. In the early 20th century it was serviced by the Toronto & York Radial Railway which ran as far as Sutton. One of the objectives of the grand tour presented below was the photographing of two more relics from the old railway.

As the Toronto & York Radial Railway expanded north in 1899 it built power stations at Bond Lake and Lake Simcoe. The Bond Lake power house has been left abandoned and now is in a poor state of repair. The one at Lake Simcoe was located at Kennedy Road and Metro Road and is now in use as a private residence.

The York Regional Forest covers 2,300 hectares of land that is protected and yet available for public use. It is comprised of 18 different forested properties that have a total of over 120 kilometers of trails. The Metro Road Tract is near Jackson’s Point and has a 2.6 kilometer trail in it, although most of the property is left without formal trails.

Jackson’s Point was a beach resort for those who arrived by the radial railway to escape the city for the day. However, when cars started to become more popular its importance started to fade because other places became accessible to the family. Today, most of the beach is private property and parking is restricted to a few parking lots. Even so, Lake Drive East has plenty of great views out over the lake.

Until 2018 the harbour at Jackson’s Point had a day marker to guide boaters away from the rocks at the harbour entrance. That year, the Town Council authorized a local resident to begin work on designing a lighthouse for the harbour that would celebrate Jackson’s Point as a destination on Lake Simcoe. Daryl Urquhart has put up the $160,000 for the lighthouse himself and construction was completed in 2019. It stands 30 feet tall and has an LED light that is programmable and can be seen for up to 5 nautical miles.

In the 1830s Jackson’s Point was a destination for steamships that visited for trade, and later, for tourism. Sometime between 1910 and 1920 the bandshell was built as a shelter on the end of the government wharf. In 1977 it was dismantled and moved to the present site at the Georgina Pioneer Village and Archives. Here it was fully restored and added to the collection of historic buildings. We’ll look at a few other buildings from Pioneer Village a little later in this post.

The Toronto & York Radial Railway built its terminus in Sutton in 1908. The station master and his family lived on the upper floor while the lower one served as the station. Radial service began in Sutton on January 1, 1909 and continued until March 16, 1930. The building was then purchased by the Hydro Electric Power Commission who used it as an office until 1970. It currently serves as home to a real estate brokerage. The beautiful brickwork has been covered over with bland siding but otherwise it remains in good shape with a bay window that no longer looks out over railway tracks.

In 1819 the first grist mill was opened on the Black River where Sutton would eventually be founded. By 1830 it had been converted to a board and batten construction which is now covered over with aluminum sheeting. The mill was operated under several different millers until the 1950’s when milling operations were shut down. For a period of time starting in the 1880s it also supplied surplus electrical power to the community. The mill dam still exists on the opposite side of High Street and the tail race where water was returned to the river is still open on the side of the building.

Georgina Pioneer Village & Archives were officially opened on Thanksgiving Day 1975 and the 10 acre site has become home to quite a few buildings that were constructed in the area between 1850 and 1920. One of these buildings is the Noble House which was built in the mid 1850s and moved from High Street in Sutton in 1986. During its prime it was home to three generations of doctors.

The first Sutton train station was built in 1871 for the Lake Simcoe Junction Railway. When it burned down in 1900 the railway was under the ownership of The Grand Trunk Railway who replaced it with one in their typical style of the era. This station was also lost to fire in 1920 and was replaced in 1924. When the station was no longer in service the Georgina Historical Society was able to purchase it for $2.00, moving it to the village in 1977.

The Smallwood Family built a log house in Elm Grove around 1866. After standing empty from 1966 until 1974 it was acquired by the Georgina Historical Society and relocated to the village.

Roche’s Point kept applying for a post office and was finally granted one in 1870. Most post offices were opened by the proprietors of the local general store. In Roche’s Point it is believed that the local boot and shoe retailer used his store as the post office until 1921. Following the death of the post master, the post office was moved to an alternate location in town. The former post office and shoe store was moved to the Pioneer Village in 1999.

Prior to 1884, there were several Methodist Denominations that competed for the same adherents. The Primitive, Wesleyan, Episcopalian, and New Connexion all united as simply The Methodist Church leaving only the Free Methodists as a separate denomination. The Methodist Church in the Pioneer Village is believed to have started life as a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Elm Grove around 1871. When it closed, the Free Methodists bought the building and moved it across the street. They met there from 1887 until 1925 when they joined with the newly created United Church of Canada. The oldest continually serving Free Methodist Church in Canada continues to hold services in Armadale. You can read about it in our feature Armadale Free Methodist Church.

Just north of the Pioneer Village on Civic Centre Drive is the Georgina Animal Shelter. As I was driving past the laneway I saw a very skinny fox which was likely suffering from mange. It was running along the side of the road and looked very ill and terribly skinny. Its eyes were almost crusted closed and it looked like it would have a hard time capturing food. I was able to alert the animal shelter of the fox and hopefully they were able to have it caught and treated.

There’s no doubt that this is just a teaser of all the things to be seen in the Town of Georgina. It’s well worth planning a day trip to enjoy the area for yourself.

Also see our post: Toronto & York Radial Railway and Armadale Free Methodist Church

Google Maps Link: Georgina Pioneer Village

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Little York Hotel, Stables and Coach House

Sunday, September 5, 2021

During the 19th century a horse and carriage was the primary mode of transportation and travelers had to have a place to keep them at the end of their journey. Hotels and inns were built at convenient distances apart for thirsty horses to get water and fodder and their owners to grab an ale. Almost every hotel had a stable and coach house and while many of the hotels remain there’s very few of the out buildings left standing. There’s only one coach house and stable left in the ten blocks that make up the historic Town of York (now Toronto). In spite of its uniqueness, a developer wants to tear the last one down to make way for a 17-story condominium.

This 1793 map shows the original plan for the Town of York. The Don River is shown on the right hand side of the map and Fort York is in the lower left corner. The fort is labelled as “C” and is nestled between Garrison Creek and the lake. The town plan is shown right on the harbour, which reveals how much infilling the lake has seen over the years. The site of the Little York Hotel is shown at the South-East corner of King Street and George Street and marked with a small red star.

The archive photo below is from 1885 and shows George Street looking north toward King Street, The Little York Hotel was just 5 years old at the time and is in the lower left corner of the picture. Just behind it you can make out the arch of the carriageway on the stables and coach house.

The site of the building is Lot 20 on the original town plan and it was patented to Richard Beasley in 1805. Beasley quickly sold it to Rev. George O’Kill Stuart who opened the Home District School there and operated it from 1807-1817. George Duggan bought the school in 1817 and turned it into a tavern. Over the next 62 years it was the site of taverns, hotels, a grocery store and even a furniture store. In 1879 Robert Waterhouse bought the property and put out a tender to build a new hotel. In May the local architectural firm of Langley, Langley & Burke began contracting the construction of the four story hotel in the Second Empire style that they were using on several other buildings around town at the time. Unfortunately, all those other buildings have been demolished already leaving this as the sole survivor. The three brick buildings to the east of the hotel on King Street were built by Waterhouse in 1882 to replace older wooden structures that had been condemned. The masonry and windows were designed to compliment those of the hotel. While the building beside the hotel sports a coat of pink paint, the hotel and stables were eventually covered in blue paint.

The building is clad in brick and has cast stone masonry over the doors and windows. Each of the windows in the hotel and carriage house has a key stone with intricate carvings on them.

In 1880 a coach house and stables were built on the south end of the property behind the hotel. Although just two stories in height, it was constructed with windows and brickwork to match the hotel. The hotel was sold to Robert Davies in 1885 and he rented it out to tenant operators who ran it as Little York Hotel and the York House. In 1900 it was renamed York Hotel which it operated as until 1925.

Like the hotel, the carriage house has decorative brickwork in the form of a string course above the windows, highlighted by a dentil course. The ground floor of the coach house had a place to store coaches and tackle for the night as well as stables for the horses. The second floor was used for storage of hay. Between 1892 and 1899 Dr. Alfred Asa Brown leased part of the stables for his veterinarian practice. In those days vets only really worked on horses and this was the perfect location. Starting in the 1920s a series of express and transport companies occupied the stables. Like the hotel they were also painted an ugly shade of blue, but that was stripped off in the 1980s. Today the stables are occupied by an art shop. The large entrance for carriages has been given a recessed glass doorway and the window on the left in the picture below has been extended to form a second doorway.

Looking from the south you can see the Little York Hotel Carriage House and Stables, the last remaining building of this type in the old Town of York. Very few remain in the city, but a stone carriage house still stands on the property of Sunnybrook Hospital and it is featured in our story Bayview Estates.

In 1973 the hotel was listed on the first Toronto Heritage Register while the stables and coach house would have to wait another eleven years to be listed. Then, on April 21, 2017 its very existence came under threat as a 17-story condo was proposed to replace the stables and coach house. To their credit, the city unanimously rejected the proposal. With the developer refusing to back down the city moved to designate the property under the Ontario Heritage Act. Designation, unlike the previous listing, allows the city to refuse demolition and limit alterations to the building. So, the developers have appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board who will pass a final judgement on the development proposal. The only question is whether or not the OMB will agree that the building merits the heritage designation. As recently as August 3, 2021 the city made its defense of the heritage designation to the OMB. That hearing was adjourned without making a judgement in this case. The building still proudly sports its 1984 heritage plaque while it waits to see if the city and the public win or if the last standing stable in the old town will give way to 16 condo units.

We’ll see what happens over the next few months but at least city council took a stand and defended this cultural link to our travel and transportation heritage.

Check out the stone carriage house at Bayview Estates

Google Maps Link: Little York Hotel

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Toronto Dry Dock Company Ltd.

August 22, 2021

When Toronto was founded (as York) it was located where it was because it had one of the best sheltered harbours on Lake Ontario. The ship building industry got started early and the nearly completed Sir Isaac Brock warship was a prime motivation for the Battle of York. When the Americans invaded on April 27, 1813 the British burned the ship rather than have it fall into enemy hands. Since that time there have been hundreds of boats and ships built by the dozens of companies that have come and gone. The straightening of the Lower Don in the 1880s followed by the transformation of Ashbridges Bay into The Port Lands after the turn of the century created further opportunities for industry. The Toronto Dry Dock Company Ltd. was one of those new enterprises.

The aerial photograph below is from 1957 and was taken from the Toronto Archives. It shows the straightened Don River making a hard 90 degree turn into the Keating Channel. The buildings of the Toronto Dry Dock Company Ltd and Toronto Ship Building line the south side of the channel with the existing buildings circled in green. At the edge of the channel a ship is currently sitting in dry dock (also circled).

One of the earliest and most successful manufacturers of steam engines and ships was Polson Iron Works. They produced around 150 vessels and were intended to occupy Polson’s Pier in the newly created Port Lands but didn’t move there because of the First World War and then they suffered bankruptcy in 1919. Meanwhile, The Toronto Dry Dock Company and its co-owned Toronto Ship Building Company established themselves along side the Keating Channel. Three of their former buildings can be seen in the picture below.

While Polson was busy pumping out minesweepers for the military, the newly founded Dry Dock and Ship Building enterprise got a contract to build cargo ships for the military. War Ontario and War Toronto were their first two ships. Their facilities faced the Keating Channel with access to Lake Ontario and the Great Lakes but they also faced Villiers Road where a railway spur gave them access to the rest of the province.

The building at 170 Villiers served as the front office of the business, greeting customers from the street side, rather than the rear which looked out over the work yard.

The side of the building facing Villiers Street was a lot more inviting in 1954 when this Toronto Public Library photo was taken.

The business would continue until 1964 when it would become part of Port Weller Dry Docks. Following their demise, the property was sold to the Toronto Port Authority. Today, the windows are all boarded over and the front of the building is grown over in ivy.

However, the front door is still there, secretly waiting for dry dock customers who never arrive.

When Toronto Dry Dock Company Ltd. received its charter in 1917 as a vessel repair yards, C.S. Boone was the first president. It was an off-shoot of C.S. Boone Dredging & Construction, of which he was also the president. They started business with a floating dry dock that was 160 feet long that was tethered to the concrete wall in front of the office building.

However, they soon found that it wasn’t large enough for many of the vessels they could have worked on. In 1920 they purchased another dry dock which was sitting in Montreal. It had been used during the war to re-assemble ships that had been taken apart and floated through various canals to the St. Lawrence River so that they could be added to the war effort. The dry dock was towed to Toronto where it was added to the existing one. This gave the yards the ability to work on the biggest ships on the Great Lakes. The building below was used to build and repair large boilers and steam engines. It has been the unfortunate victim of someone who doesn’t know how to spell “scarface” and chose to display it in ten foot letters.

When The Don Narrows were created by straightening the Lower Don River one of the objectives was to create shipping to service the industries along the river. Instead, the 90 degree turn into the Keating Channel led to serious silting problems and the larger ships were often unable to reach the dry docks for repairs. By the early 1940s Henry J. Dixon had become the principal owner and he started Toronto Towing and Salvage Ltd. and moved away from the dry dock business. Villiers Street was formerly serviced by a rail line that ran down the middle of the street and it provides the vantage point for the picture below.

Over the years the company had bought up scrap vessels and salvaged a large number of parts which they used in repair of other ships. When the company went into liquidation in January 1964 a lot of the left over items were sold for scrap metal. The buildings became part of the Toronto Harbour Commission properties but the dock facilities on the Keating Channel in front of the third building have been left to deteriorate.

Fortunately, not everything in the yard was sold for scrap. The Marine Museum of Upper Canada had been opened in Stanley Barracks on the CNE grounds in 1957 and a large number of local marine artifacts were donated to the museum. In 2000 the museum, now known as Toronto Maritime Museum, was relocated to Pier 4 in Queens Quay West. In 2008 the museum was closed and all the artifacts have been in storage ever since.

The first two ships built in the yards were sisters named War of Ontario and War of Toronto. Both were completed in 1918 in time for the last of the Great War in Europe. The picture below is part of the Bowling Green State University collection and shows the wooden hull of the War of Toronto as it was being launched into the Keating Channel.

The island Ferry “Sam McBride” was built in 1939 by Toronto Dry Dock Limited and remains in service to Toronto Islands today. Sam McBride was born in Toronto in 1866 and was mayor from 1928-1929 and again in 1936. He passed away before completing his second term. This image is taken from Wikipedia.

Toronto needs a new home for our Marine Museum and these few remaining buildings could be the perfect place for it. It would be a sort of homecoming for many of the artifacts and historic vessels could be tied up along the Keating Channel for museum guests to explore.

Related articles: The Battle of York, The Don Narrows, The Port Lands

Google Maps Link: 170 Villiers Road

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