Category Archives: Historic Site

McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Sunday, July 31, 2022

On May 7, 1920 a new movement in Canadian art was launched at the Art Museum of Toronto (Art Gallery of Ontario). The seven men who came to be known as The Group of Seven were all friends and had worked together for several years. They had been influenced by the work of Tom Thomson who passed away before the group got started. The concept for the group had been in place in 1913-1914 when Thomson was still alive but was put on hold by the First World War. Four of the members, Harris, Jackson, Lismer and Varley were directly involved and a fifth, Carmichael had his studies in Antwerp interrupted by the war. Lawren Harris had the drive, energy and wealth to make the group happen and became the de facto leader. It was at his home at 63 Queen’s Park in Toronto that the group had its founding meeting in March of 1920. Between 1920 and 1932 the group held eight art exhibitions before they disbanded. MacDonald passed away in 1932 but the others went on to lengthy careers after the group was finished. In this post we’ll look at each of the seven as well as some other Canadian art that is housed in the collection.

Lawren S. Harris lived from 1885 until 1970 and was one of the heirs to the fortune created by the Massey- Harris farm machinery manufacturing company of Toronto. His fortune allowed him to pursue a career as an artist and he was ultimately the driving force behind the Group of Seven. His early work was mostly urban scenes but inspired by Tom Thomson he started to travel to Algoma in 1908 to paint and later to the north shores of Lake Superior. He developed a style of landscapes painted in flat colours but later developed a style of abstract formalized shapes. By the end of his career he had drifted to painting pure abstract art.

Mount Robson 1929 (oil on canvas)

Sand Lake Algoma 1922 (oil on canvas)

Tom Thomson was born in 1877 and died in July 1917 when he drowned in Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. Tom made his first journey to Algonquin in 1912 and began sharing a studio with A.Y. Jackson in 1914. Thomson began producing hundreds of oil sketches and a handful of large-scale paintings. Tom was reputed to be an avid outdoorsman, canoeist and Algonquin guide but in July 1917 he drowned in Canoe Lake in circumstances that are still not understood.

In Algonquin Park 1914 (oil on canvas)

Snow In The Woods 1916 (oil on wood panel)

J.E.H. MacDonald lived between 1873 and 1932 and like several others in the group was a commercial artist for the Toronto firm Grip Ltd. In 1911 he left the firm to organize an exhibit of his own art works. He created various styles of landscape paintings until his trips to Algoma led him to take inspiration in the style of Tom Thomson. Beginning in 1924 he started taking trips to the Rockies to paint but he was sidelined by a stroke in 1931. A second one in 1932 was fatal and his loss led to the disbanding of the Group of Seven in January 1933.

Algoma Waterfall 1920 (oil on canvas)

Cathedral Peak and Lake O’Hara 1927 (oil on paperboard)

A.Y. Jackson was born in 1882 and lived until 1974. Jackson was a friend of Thomson and travelled to Algonquin with him in 1914. He enlisted for the First World War but was injured in the battle of Sanctuary Wood and spent the rest of the war as an official army artist. In 1927 he joined an RCMP ship to explore and paint the Arctic. When he went back to the Arctic in 1930 he took Harris with him.

Radium Mine 1938 (oil on canvas)

Bent Pine 1948 (oil on canvas)

Arthur Lismer 1885-1969 was born in England and came to Canada in 1911 and joined Grip Ltd. as a commercial artist along side other future members of the Group of Seven. Lismer was also a successful art teacher who took a teaching job in Halifax in 1916. He was a witness to the Halifax Harbour Explosion in 1917. When he died in 1969 he was living in Montreal but was brought to the Artists Cemetery on the McMichael grounds to be buried with five other members of the group.

Self Portrait 1924 (oil on board)

Canadian Jungle 1946 (oil on canvas)

Frank Johnston was born in 1888 and lived until 1949. He was a very prolific painter who only participated in one of the eight exhibits with the Group of Seven. The first exhibit in 1920 wasn’t a financial success and in fact was highly criticized. Johnston put together his own show later that year in which he showed 200 paintings that sold quite well. In 1924 he resigned from the group under the belief that he could do better on his own. His painting Winter Beauty from 1935 was done with oil on board and has been used as the cover photo for this article.

Dark Waters undated (oil on board)

Frederick Horsman Varley 1881-1969 is another of the group who worked at Grip Ltd. before joining the First World War as an artist. After returning from the trenches he became prone to depression and drinking and often got involved with the sitters for his portraits. He moved to Vancouver in 1926 where he stayed until 1935. When he passed away in 1969 he was buried in the cemetery at the McMichael gallery.

Night Ferry To Vancouver 1937 (oil on canvas)

Girl in Gold 1963-1966 (oil on canvas)

Alfred Joseph Casson 1898-1992 was asked to join the group in 1926 to replace Johnston.

White Pine 1957 (oil on canvas)

The art gallery also features paintings from Edwin Holgate 1882-1977 who joined the Group of Seven in 1929 and Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald 1890-1956 who joined briefly in 1932. Several other Canadian artists are also represented in the collection but we will highlight only a couple of them in the remainder of this lengthy post.

Gathie Falk was born in 1928 and is famous for her work with everyday items including fruit, Paper Mache dresses and picnics. One of the interesting displays at the gallery is her work with ceramics in creating shoes.

Single Men’s Shoes (ceramics)

Elisapee Ishulutaq 1925-2018 documented Inuit life in her art during her 50 year career. Starting in 1970 she created colourful drawings and prints that recreated traditional life and stories of her culture.

The McMichael property is also an interesting place to go for a walk along the trails and the beautiful grounds which joins to the Humber River Trail and connects to Bindertwine Park.

Related stories: Bindertwine Park

Google Maps Link: McMichael Canadian Art Collection

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Shouldice Hospital Estate

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Over that past 70 years the Shouldice Hospital in Thornhill has performed over 400,000 hernia operations. The hospital is located in a beautiful estate setting, for now. The property is currently the site of a five-tower development proposal that will retain the historic buildings but allow the countryside around them to be lost.

The history of the site goes back to the earliest days of Thornhill and is located on part of lots 30 and 31 in the first concession east of Yonge Street. The full 190 acre lot was first granted to Thompson Maxwell in 1803 but it appears he failed to complete his settlement requirements and forfeited the land grant. Stillwell Wilson was able to secure the patent on the property in 1808. In the 1790’s William Berczy had built John Street through the property from Yonge Street to gain access to his settlement of German Mills. The County Atlas image below shows the area in 1877 and John Street is coloured brown. The site of the Shouldice Hospital has been outlined in green. Lot 32 to the north is the site of Heintzman House which we featured last week.

The east half of the property was bought by Allan McNab in 1817 so that he could build the grist mill that is shown on the County Atlas as “G.M.”. McNab is best known for building Dundurn Castle in Hamilton. The grist mill was completed in 1820 and McNab operated it until 1844 but the town he envisioned never developed around it. He decided to sell the property to John Brunskill in 1844 and it was renamed Pomona Mills. This is now commemorated by Pomona Mills Park. Matthew Dean bought 91 acres on the east end of the lot, north of John Street and it served as a family farm until 1937 when it was bought by Clement George McCullagh who wanted to use the property to build a country estate. The picture below shows the oval driveway and stone gates that were constructed for the estate.

Clement made his money in the press and in mining. He started his career selling subscriptions to The Toronto Globe newspaper and then branched into mining operations. In 1936 he bought The Toronto Globe and the Mail & Empire and merged the two papers into the Globe and Mail. He was also a part owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. During the Great Depression he advocated for an all-party federal government to run the country based on sound business principles. The picture below shows the front of the estate mansion that he had built for himself, his wife Phyllis C. Laidlaw and their three children Robert, George and Ann.

The two and a half story house featured seven bays and which looked out over formal gardens and orchards. It was built by Donald MacKenzie Waters who had designed several other prominent buildings in Toronto including Maple Leaf Gardens. Several fruit trees are still found in front of the house.

Formal gardens and tennis courts surrounded the house and a greenhouse was also built although it has been removed in anticipation of the new development.

The house was built into the side of a hill so that the rear showed off the basement. Aluminum siding has been added which imitates the original wooden clapboard construction.

The rear of the house looked out over the pond which is held in place by a stone retaining wall dated 1937. The pond is now obscured by trees in the summer months.

A painted turtle was sunning itself on the overflow to the pond at the time of my visit. These are the most common native turtles in North America and can be found from Canada to Mexico. They continue to grow until they reach sexual maturity and have been known to live for over 50 years in the wild.

McCullagh was a founding member of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and was instrumental in the restoration of Fort York. It is therefore fitting that his estate should be preserved. He was fond of horses and the property still features a “U” shaped stable that sits adjacent to Bayview Avenue. It is located in a zone which has been reserved for future expansion of the roadway and may need to be relocated at some time in the future to avoid being demolished.

A gatehouse is located on the north end of the stables and is also on the road allowance for an expanded Bayview Avenue.

In 1953 the property was sold to Dr. Edward Earl Shouldice who perfected an operation to repair hernias during the Second World War. He converted the main estate residence into a private hospital and later added another wing to accommodate more patients. The other estate building that remains on the property is the gardener’s cottage. It also sits beside Bayview Avenue but like the other buildings featured here is protected by an heritage designation.

The artists concept below shows the new development with the Shouldice Hospital in the background.

The property is under a new development proposal but the historic buildings are to be retained among the new towers. A formal trail network is expected to connect to Ponoma Mills Park to the west of the property.

Related posts: Heintzman House, Dundurn Castle, Fort York

Google maps link: Shouldice Hospital

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Heintzman House

July 3, 2022

Heintzman and Company was founded in 1866 to produce pianos in a facility located in The Junction area of Toronto. It was started by Theodore Heintzman who was a German immigrant while his nephew started a rival company called Gerhard Heintzman Piano Company. When Theodore died in 1899 his son George took over running the business. The piano manufacturing business was moved to Hanover, Ontario in 1962. The company changed its name to Heintzman Limited in 1978 and then was sold to Sklar Peppler in 1981. This ownership only lasted until 1987 when it was sold to The Music Stand Company of Ontario who started to apply the name Heintzman to various pianos manufactured in the United States. The Heintzman name is still used by a Chinese and Canadian company called Heintzman Distributors and they supplied the grand piano that was used in the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The archive photo below shows the Heintzman and Company piano factory when it was located in The Junction area in the west part of Toronto near Keele and Dundas Street.

Lot 32 in Markham township fronted onto Yonge Street and covered the 190 acres between there and today’s Bayview Avenue. It was originally allocated to Anthony Hollingshead in 1798. Anthony had been a United Empire Loyalist having served in the American Revolutionary War as an officer. One of the conditions of earning the patent, or deed, for a property was the construction of a home that was a minimum of 16 feet by 20 feet in size. Hollingshead built a small story and a half home of adobe, or mudbrick and received the patent in 1802. This home was recorded as the first adobe home built in Upper Canada. The map below is from the 1877 county atlas and shows the property in the hands of the Lemon family and the house is circled in green.

The property changed hands many times and the house has had several additions and renovations over the past 200 years. Anthony Hollingshead died in 1817 and the property was sold to George Crookshank. Anthony’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Soules, was married to Samuel Lount who was one of two people executed following the failed Rebellion of 1837. Samuel Lount is buried in The Necropolis in Toronto.

George Crookshank was a close friend of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe and was a wealthy businessman and member of the early government of Upper Canada. During the War of 1812 he was in charge of supplies to Fort York and after the war he bought several properties in the area. He married Susan Lambert in 1821 and then built a 13-room mansion on the site of Holligshead’s farmhouse. It was at this time that the property began to be called Sunnyside Farm.

In 1881 the farm was sold to John Francis Newtonbrook. His family farmed the land for almost 50 years including the period that their son Samuel owned Sunnyside Manor.

Charles and Marion Heintzman, owners of the piano company, bought the house in 1930. They made extensive renovations to it including adding a conservatory. A small greenhouse was added to the north end of the building.

The house was the scene of many social gatherings over the years that the Heintzmans owned it. They continued to operate it as a farm where they raised prized Jersey cattle. When Charles died in 1959 the property was sold to developers who started to build the homes that enclose the house on every side. The Town of Markham was persuaded by local residents to preserve the manor and it was renamed Heintzman House in honour of the last private family that owned it.

A unique planter stands on the front lawn and pays tribute to the piano manufacturers who completed the last set of expansions and renovations on the home.

The fields surrounding Heintzman House may have been developed for housing but the home is now used as an event venue.

Related stories: West Toronto Railpath, Rebellion of 1837, The Necropolis, Fort York

Google Maps Link: Heintzman House

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Buildings of York Prior to Toronto

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Town of York officially became a city in 1834 and changed its name to Toronto. There are still quite a few buildings that have survived from this era in spite of the ongoing redevelopment and construction that is occurring all over the city. We’ve visited many of these places over the years and the following post brings some of them together along with links to the original larger posts and the Google Maps links to find them for yourself.

The oldest surviving building from York is known as Scadding Cabin. York was founded in 1793 and this small home was built in 1794 on the east side of the Don River. In 1879 it was moved to the grounds of The Canadian National Exhibition in time for the grand opening of the Ex.

The house that we know as Elm Bank was also known as Lavinia Cottage. It was built of stone around 1802 and is one of two old stone cottages on the property. The stone was taken from the Humber River and the home was built in the former community of Thistletown.

Gibraltar Lighthouse on Toronto Islands was built in 1809 and originally stood just a few metres from the water’s edge but now is isolated in a wooded area on the island. It is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes.

Several of the oldest buildings in the city are contained in Fort York. Following the War of 1812 in which Fort York was partially destroyed many of the buildings were rebuilt. In 1815 the blockhouses, barracks and the powder magazine were all replaced. At that time the fort stood near the edge of Lake Ontario and the city hadn’t been built up around it as it has today.

Black Creek Pioneer Village is also home to several of the earliest buildings from the time of York. The first one built there was the log cabin of Daniel and Elizabeth Stong which was erected in 1816. A couple of further buildings from the Stong farm have been preserved as well as a few other structures that date back to the town of York which have been moved there.

The original Gray Grist Mill dates back to 1819 and has been preserved on Donalda Farm, now part of the Donalda Golf Club.

John Bales built a log cabin in 1822 that was later expanded and covered with cement and pebbles. The balance of his farm has been converted into Earl Bales Park.

In 1822 there was a race to open the first paper mill in Upper Canada and one was built at Todmorden Mills but it came in second. Located at the same site are a couple of older houses and a brewery that date to the town of York.

In 1827 The Bank of Upper Canada opened their second building in the original ten-block part of York. The building has seen a couple of expansions and the addition of a portico over the years.

In the early years of York all the streets were muddy and the town was often called Muddy York. Eventually the roads were covered with planks and a toll was charged for using them. This cottage is where one of the Tollkeepers lived and it was built around 1827.

Montgomery’s Inn was built in 1830 by Thomas and Margaret Montgomery near the village of Islington. It sat abandoned for more than a decade but has now been restored and is operating as a museum.

On Thursday March 6, 1834 the town of York ceased to exist and was incorporated as the City of Toronto. One of the last buildings to be completed before this change took place was the fourth post office in the community. This would become Toronto’s First Post Office.

The Town of York has been gone for nearly 200 years but there’s still quite a number of the old buildings still in existence. There’s many others that are not featured in this post that might come up in future explorations.

For a listing of our top 50 posts check out Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails.

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Casa Loma

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Casa Loma stands as a testament to the lavish lifestyles of some of the wealthiest people in Toronto’s history. As the city of Toronto grew the wealthy classes looked for a place to establish their garden estates and one of the primary areas was on top of the Davenport Escarpment. Here, they built large homes amongst lavish gardens with views out over the city and Lake Ontario to the south of them. The earliest estate built here was known as Davenport and was constructed in 1797. It was followed by Spadina and Russell Hill in 1818. These homes are long gone but several others still remain to remind us of the former glory of the area. For example, Lenwill the home of prominent Toronto architect E. J. Lennox was built in 1914 and still stands just to the west of Casa Loma. An early picture of Casa Loma from the Toronto Archives is featured below.

In 1903 Sir Henry Pellatt purchased 40 acres from the Austin Estate so that he could build his mansion which he called Casa Loma. The name Casa Loma means Hill House and reflects the fact that it was built on top of the escarpment that was the shoreline of Lake Ontario after the last ice age. Henry Pellatt was born in 1859 in Kingston and was instrumental in bringing hydro-electric power to the city of Toronto. Henry was a soldier in The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada as well as a financier having worked in his fathers firm of Pellatt and Pellatt.

Casa Loma was built between 1911 and 1914 and is the largest private residence ever built in Canada. It has 98 rooms and covers 64,700 square feet of floor space. A team of 299 workers spent three years building it until construction was stopped by the start of World War 1. The home contains secret passages and a swimming pool. There were plans to put three bowling alleys in the basement but only one of them was ever completed. The bowling alley is now used as a gift shop.

Casa Loma is currently hosting a collection of photographs that were taken by Princess Diana’s personal photographers. These larger than life photos and the stories behind them reveal a side of Diana that hasn’t been seen by the public before now. The exhibit is open until June 26, 2022 and has an additional ticket price on top of the regular cost of exploring the castle. The car that is parked outside to advertise the exhibit is a replica of Diana’s car.

Casa Loma cost $3.5 million dollars which would be over $100 million dollars today. When the government decided to remove the private ownership of electricity and make it public, Henry Pellatt started to have financial troubles. After World War 1 the economy suffered a downturn and Pellatt found himself owing the bank about $20 million dollars. This, combined with the huge property tax bill, caused him to have to auction off the castle and his assets. In 1924 he moved to his country estate in King Township and today Casa Loma has become a tourist attraction. His country home was also lost to him and has been turned into Marylake, a religious retreat.

The grounds contain extensive gardens and fountains in both the front and back yards.

A private gate leads from Casa Loma to the neighbouring property where Spadina house is located. This is one of the other estates that have survived the construction of newer residences in the area.

Casa Loma has an extensive stables that were built in 1906 just a short distance north of the main castle. They were designed to look like Casa Loma and compliment the main structure.

The Hunting Lodge is also known as the Coach House and is a two story building with 4,380 feet of living space that was eventually used as servants quarters. Pellatt and his wife lived here while the main castle was being built. The stables are now used to house a classic car collection.

An underground tunnel connects the stables to the castle and it was used during World War 2 as a secret factory for the assembly of ASDIC. This was a type of sonar that was critical for the Allies to help them in the battles that were fought in the Atlantic Ocean.

This story features some of the history of Casa Loma but there are tours available which will allow you to see the inside of Toronto’s most famous castle.

Also see our feature on Spadina House and also Marylake

For a listing of our top 50 stories please check out our post Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails

Google Maps Link: Casa Loma

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Ontario Powder

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The town of Tweed is situated on the shores of Stoco Lake and business takes me there every two months. On my visit of April 24th, 2022 I had the opportunity to spend some time walking the Trans Canada Trail while I had my lunch. As I made my way along the trail I crossed the old CPR bridge, and stopped to admire the lake which was in a condition of high water.

A little further along the trail you come to a series of old ruins on the woods along the shore of the lake. They date back to 1883 when Ontario Powder was founded in town to produce dynamite.

Just two years later there was a tragic explosion when two workers were in the process of transporting dynamite from the factory to Burleigh Falls. No one is sure what happened but James Simmon and George Morton both lost their lives when a crater 70 feet across and 10 feet deep was blown in the ground. The blast could be heard as far away as Peterborough and only a few pieces of the men, their horses and the cart were recovered. It wasn’t until 2006 that a memorial plaque was placed at the site of the blast. The image below shows the remains of the water tower from the factory and is the largest remaining artifact from Ontario Powder.

By August 22, 1903 the factory was producing 750 pounds of dynamite per day but then an explosion occurred at the facility. It happened so suddenly that three workers lost their lives and others were injured because they couldn’t get away in time. Barrels of nitroglycerin were being stored on the site and they exploded causing a concussion that could be heard for 50 miles around.

The factory was rebuilt and this time additional precautions were taken. Ontario Powder purchased several neighbouring properties as well as five of the local islands in the lake. After building a tall fence around the property to contain shrapnel they planted the property with a heavy forest to help stop the effects of any future blasts.

The explosion of 1903 was expensive for the company because it cost $25,000 to rebuild and they paid $1000 in damages to the community. The rebuilt factory went back into production and in fact got even busier. Within 5 years they were producing 1500 pounds of dynamite every day. This wasn’t to last and disaster came again on the morning of February 4, 1908. Early that day the vats of nitroglycerine began to overflow onto the floor and a fire broke out. Workers in the mixing room ran out into the -35 degree weather and shouted for everyone to run for their lives. By the time they had reached the CPR bridge just down the tracks the factory blew up for a second time sending pieces of the building across the lake. The bottom of the lake is still littered with artifacts from the explosion.

All the buildings within 5 miles were rattled and windows were broken. You would think this should have been the end of Ontario Powder but they set out to rebuild the factory again. This time it was only used for storage of dynamite but public outcry meant that the trust was gone and local residents were happy when the business was bought out by a competitor. Most of the buildings were dismantled but a few were saved and relocated. The employee change house was moved to Louisa Street and converted into a residence. The office was dragged across the ice the following winter and put on an island in the middle of the lake to serve as a summer home.

The Tweed Heritage Centre has one picture of part of the Ontario Powder factory and along with the ruins featured above is all that remains of this industry in town.

Although its been gone for over a century, Ontario Powder has left its mark on the town of Tweed in the form of these crumbling ruins. Many of the older buildings in town still have structural bracing that was installed after the two explosions at the factory.

Also from Tweed is our feature on Tweed’s Tiny Jailhouse

For a list of our top 50 stories check out Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails

Google Maps Link: Tweed

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Old City Hall

May 29, 2022

When Toronto was incorporated as a city in 1834 it changed its name from York and it started a city hall in a temporary accommodation in the market buildings. They stayed there from 1834 until 1844 as the city continued to grow. By 1845 they were looking for a new larger space for the city council to meet. They found it in what is now St. Lawrence Market but as the city continued to expand it soon needed even more space. Toronto city architect Edward James Lennox was commissioned to design a new city hall. The building was intended to house both the Toronto City Hall and York County Court House. The design work was begun in 1883 but not completed until 1886. Construction began in 1889 and there is a date stone on the west side of the building to commemorate it.

Construction would last for ten years and along with delays there were many cost over-runs. The building of the foundations was particularly slow and delayed completion. When it opened on September 18, 1899 it was the largest municipal building in North America. The cost ran up to 2.5 million dollars which is the equivalent of 53 million dollars in 2022.

The building was constructed in the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style which was popular for large public buildings in that era. The dominant feature of the building is the 104 metre tall clock tower. It was placed off centre so that it would be seen as central by those looking up Bay Street.

The east side of the building was identified as City Hall and the lettering can be seen among the finely carved sandstone above the doorway.

York County Court House was entered from the west side of the building and the words can be seen in the sandstone carvings above that entrance.

The building features sandstone from the Credit Valley as well as near Orangeville and as far away as New Brunswick. There’s plenty of towers and round arched openings and delicate carvings all around the façade.

The building is four storys tall and includes an attic and basement. The steeply pitched hipped roof is cut by gable dormers and the windows are often set in pairs or arcaded bands with colonettes and stone mullions.

Clock tower still has a working clock and and is set with medieval motifs.

The original gargoyles on the clock tower were in poor shape by 1938 and so they were removed to eliminate the risk that they would fall and injure someone. New ones were fashioned out of bronze in 2002 and installed on the tower bringing back some of its former glory.

The details that can be seen around all four sides include an image of the sun as well as butterflies and caricatures of some of the city councilors who gave Lennox a hard time about the delays and price increases.

It was only a few decades before the building was becoming too small for the size of city council and the courthouse. When Metropolitan Toronto was formed in 1953 the courthouse was moved to Newmarket and City Hall occupied the entire building. In spite of this, the building was destined to be replaced with a new city hall in 1965.

The building shape is known as a quadrangle and it has an inner courtyard. In its present use as a courthouse this is where the police vehicles enter with the people who are being charged with a crime and are facing the judge for trial or a bail hearing. The courtyard can be accessed from the inside of the building but is not open to casual pedestrians who merely wish to look around.

The original plan for the Eaton Centre included the demolition of the Old City Hall but a group of concerned citizens managed to save it. It became a courthouse once again and was designated as a National Historic Site in 1984. The city has built a new courthouse and the plans for the old city hall are once again up for discussion. One plan would see it used as a new city museum. There are over 150,000 historic artifacts in the city archives which are rarely put on display and this could make an excellent home for them.

Old City Hall is just as elaborate inside as it is on the outside and you used to be able to get in on any day that court was in session.

See also our post on Queens Park, another of the historic government buildings in downtown Toronto.

To see a list of our top 50 stories check out our post Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails.

Google Maps Link: Old City Hall

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Defacing History

May 8, 2022

Many of the historic places we visit have been the victim of graffiti, most often in the form of spray painted tags and images. The cover photo shows the Hyde Mill in Streetsville which was built in 1840. When we visited there in September of 2014 there was very little graffiti on the building. The photo shows what the mill looks like less than 8 years later. Similar activity is happening everywhere including active buildings in the city of Toronto. In the past 50 years the amount of graffiti has increased greatly in most of the western world, much to the delight of spray paint manufacturers everywhere.

Graffiti isn’t a new invention, it’s been around since at least ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. In early days it was often carved into the stonework of buildings. It was popular in the Roman Empire and many examples of it have been found in Pompei, which was buried in 79 AD after the volcano in Mount Vesuvius erupted. Examples of Latin curses and declarations of love have been uncovered on the walls of the buildings during recent excavations. There were also magic spells and insults, many of which had to do with defecation, written on the walls.

A lot of early graffiti was erotic in nature and this continues to be a theme in modern times. In Pompei there were advertisements for various prostitutes describing their talents in great detail as well as descriptions of activities that could be had a the local brothels.

During World War Two, graffiti appeared wherever the allied soldiers were stationed in the form of a bald head with a big nose peering over the top of a wall. The inscription “Kilroy Was Here” was included and became famous. There were even reports that it had been found already on the beaches where the allies landed. It is generally accepted that modern graffiti got started in the subways of New York City with a particular person who identified himself as Taki 183. Around the same time in Philadelphia it began with a young juvenile offender who went my the moniker of Cornbread. Graffiti quickly spread and has gone through several stylistic changes over recent years.

In Ontario it has shown up on all sorts of buildings including a lot of our historically designated structures. The Merritton Tunnel is an abandoned railway tunnel underneath the third Welland Canal. It has been the subject of graffiti on the boards that close the north end of the tunnel as well as inside on the limestone blocks.

Graffiti is considered vandalism in Canada and can lead to a charge of mischief over or under $5,000 depending on the location and size of the markings. Toronto and several other large cities have laws to control this type of vandalism but they place the responsibility for cleaning it up on the property owner. So, it’s not bad enough that your property has been defaced but you have to pay for the removal. In some locations the property owners have had to clean their buildings multiple times, resulting in financial hardships. If they don’t clean it up they can be fined, so there’s no winning either way.

In Milton, the former Robertson Screw factory sits abandoned and has been the subject of multiple tags. A tag is usually a quick, one colour graffiti that identifies a person or a gang. These are often put up in many different places to mark their territory.

Aside from gang activity and personal tags there’s a third type of graffiti which is used by people to declare their love for the sweetheart in their life. This can be a simple phrase painted on a building such as “Jack loves Jill”. Unfortunately, graffiti can also include vandalism against trees in which a heart is sometimes cut into the bark with the couple’s initials inscribed within it. This can’t be removed so easily, and if it is too extensive it can kill the tree.

The century old Long Branch Rifle Range in Mississauga has been the target of multiple, overlapping examples of graffiti.

Some graffiti can be hate motivated! This has included painting Nazi symbols and racist comments on buildings and national monuments. Oakville briefly had a park dedicated to Taras Shevchenko, who was a Ukrainian author from the early 1800s. It was vandalized several times including the painting of graffiti on the monuments and now has been removed and the property developed for a subdivision.

The former office for the Weston Plank Road Company was built in 1846 and is the last remnant of that former wooden road. This building is described in greater detail in our story Elm Bank.

Railway cars and bridges seem to be favourite targets for graffiti. In fact, when it was just getting started in New York City the primary target was subway cars and lines. The bridge below on the lower Don River has been painted over a few times since this picture was taken in April 2015. It is from our feature story on The Don Narrows.

Toronto has an alley where graffiti is encouraged as a local tourist attraction. Some of the artwork in Graffiti Alley is really quite well done and there’s murals that take up the entire sides of buildings. We have a feature story on this location that can be found by following the link to Graffiti Alley.

In our humble opinion, there may be a place for graffiti but it isn’t on the remnants of our historic buildings.

Related stories: Graffiti Alley, Hyde Mill Streetsvile, Merritton Tunnel, Long Branch Rifle Range, Taras Shevchenko, Elm Bank, The Don Narrows

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Bowmanville Valley Trail

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Bowmanville Valley Trail roughly follows the winding course of Bowmanville Creek through the floodplain on the west side of the creek. To explore the section between King Street and Baseline Road I found free parking in the lot on Baseline Road. Beware because it is full of deep holes, so be careful as you drive in. There’s a second parking lot off of King Street which is paved and might make a better choice next time. I hadn’t got out of the parking lot when an American Goldfinch landed in a tree near me. The male is bright yellow in the spring when it is in the mating season. The females are duller in colour, as are the males in the winter.

Bowmanville Creek has its headwaters in the Oak Ridges Moraine and drains about 170 square kilometers in its watershed. The creek was clear and low on this visit but the erosion that brought this tree down suggests that it can be pretty wild at times.

The main trail is paved and fully accessible as it runs for 1.8 kilometers between the Baseline Road and King Street parking lots.

The first tent caterpillars are starting to make their nests in some of the trees along the trail. They start with a small nest and as they grow they will expand it. Tent caterpillars tend to come in cycles with every 9-16 years seeing a larger amount of them. Although they can strip a tree of its leaves they seldom do any permanent damage to the trees. Where they cause significant damage is with pregnant horses. When a horse ingests too many of them while feeding on grass they can spontaneously abort their fetuses. in the year 2001 there was a large infestation in Kentucky and horse owners reported that about one third of all foal fetuses were lost to mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS).

Side trails can be found throughout the area and tend to provide glimpses of wildlife that stays clear of the busier main trail.

There was a large Belted Kingfisher, or perhaps two of them, which refused to sit still long enough to get his picture taken. Great Blue Herons are also attracted to the creek as are sports fishermen. There is a fishing ban within 120 metres of the old dam but they’ve also provided a place where people in wheel chairs can access a good fishing hole allowing them to enjoy the sport as well.

The woods along the trail were full of Trout Lilies. These plants actually have three common names which also include Dogtooth Violet and Adder’s Tongue. The name trout lily is given because the mottled colouring on the leaves is said to resemble to speckles on a brook trout. They bloom in the spring and are one of the first green plants to form a carpet on the forest floor. When they first come up, before the leaves uncurl the bulbs can be eaten raw. They have a sweet flavour but after the leaves form the bulbs lose most of their nutrients to the growing leaves which can also be eaten raw.

In the 1920s a dam was built across Bowmanville Creek by the Goodyear plant to provide water for cooling their equipment as well as for fire suppression. The dam remains in place in spite of the plant closure in 2016 because it provides a barrier to keep lamprey eels from getting upstream. The original fish ladder provided a way for trout to get upstream to spawn but when salmon were reintroduced into the Great Lakes it proved to be restrictive to them and many of them died at the dam. The solution was to build a new fish ladder but while this was going through three levels of bureaucracy volunteers lifted fish over the dam. Finally, on December 16, 2013 the 36-metre Fish By-Pass channel was opened to allow the fish to get past the dam and reach their spawning grounds. It can be seen on the left side of the dam in the picture below.

The Goodyear plant operated form 1910 until it closed and now stands idle on the east bank of the creek. We’ve featured the plant in our recent post called Goodyear Plant Bowmanville.

An old pumphouse stands just to the north of the plant and after being vacant for a few years it has recently been turned into a private residence.

This trail is very popular in the spring and fall when the trout and salmon are going upstream to spawn because the fish ladder makes a great place for viewing them.

Related Stories: Goodyear Bowmanville

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Google Maps Link: Bowmanville Creek Southern Parking Lot

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Goodyear Plant Bowmanville

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Bowmanville Creek has a long history of industrial use but has lately been converted into an area full of walking trails. I parked in a small parking lot on the north side of Baseline Road West near Hunt Street to check out the newly opened Bowmanville Valley Trail Extension. While the main trail heads north along Bowmanville Creek, I took the one that follows the creek south toward the 401. I wanted to check out the new section as well as the old railway bridge from the former Goodyear Plant that carried a spur line to the Canadian National line below the highway.

Charles Goodyear discovered the process for vulcanization of rubber in 1839. This process uses sulfur to harden natural rubber into various products. As the automotive age was dawning, a company was founded in Akron, Ohio in 1898 which was called The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. By 1907 they had a contract with Henry Ford to provide tires for the Model T. In 1910 they bought a rubber company in Bowmanville and expanded their manufacturing outside of the United States for the first time. The old postcard image below shows the plant in its early days.

Goodyear built a spur line down Hunt Street to connect to the CN railway into Toronto. The line was still in use in 1982 when the abutments were replaced but by 2000 it was abandoned. The tracks were soon removed and the portion of Hunt Street where the rail lines ran has been repaved, hiding all evidence of its route. The steel bridge remained in place until the Bowmanville Valley Trail Extension was developed at which time it was removed.

Returning to Baseline Road I crossed the creek and followed the former right of way for the spur line until I came to the foundations for the bridge.

There’s not much to see from this end and looking across the creek there’s no indication of the location of the other abutment as it was removed to put the trail through. Graffiti artists have been at work on the remaining concrete and it has been painted on almost every surface.

The Bowmanville Rubber Company had started on King Street in 1898 and after changing names to the Durham Rubber Company they moved beside Bowmanville Creek in 1905. The location was chosen because it provided access to the creek to dispose of their process wastes! In those days it was believed that the solution to waste was to dilute it with running water. No wonder every water source in the area was polluted in the 19th and early 20th century.

Goodyear built additional buildings on the site and greatly expanded the business by connecting it to markets with the rail line.

The plant operated under several names over its year history of over 100 years. After Goodyear, it became Veyance Technologies and later ContiTech Continental. Under the latest name it produced conveyor belts for the mining, tar sands and coal sectors. With the downturn of operations for many of its customers, the plant closed in 2016. Today the building sits empty awaiting its destiny, most likely demolition for the construction of a subdivision.

There’s lots more to explore along Bowmanville Creek and another trip will likely happen in the near future to see what lies along the trail to the north.

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Google Maps link: Bowmanville Goodyear Plant

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