Category Archives: Historic Site

Gore and Vaughan Plank Road

Jan. 14, 2016 featuring pictures from May 13, 2015.

The early roads in York County were laid out in a grid by the original survey with five 200 acre lots in each box. Augustus Jones surveyed York Township in 1796 and he made Yonge Street (grey) the north-south marker.  Going west (left on the map below) were 1st line west, second line west, etc.  Today we call them Bathurst (purple), Dufferin (red), Keele (white), Jane (black) and so on.  Eglinton was the east-west marker and known as Base Line.  The side roads going north were the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th named after the lot number they ran along.  The lot numbers are shown on the map below along side of Jane St.  Today we call these roads Lawrence, York Mills (yellow), Sheppard (green), Finch (blue) and Steeles (orange). This grid of roads connected all the little farming and milling communities in the township and is still imprinted on the city today.  The 1877 county atlas section below has been coloured to illustrate this.

plank road

Settlers were granted 200 acres which came with several conditions. One of the mandatory tasks a pioneer faced was the clearing and maintaining of the road allowance along the edge of their property. They had to clear an area which amounted to 1 acre of land for public road allowance. They were also responsible to spend a certain amount of time working on road maintenance each year. This would include pulling stumps and filling in holes and swampy areas. The settlers had a full day’s work on the homestead and often the road repair was overlooked and people would be fined for not complying. The system led to some very messy roads where people got stuck 3 seasons of the year and bounced over ruts the other one.

The solution was to cover some of the roads in cut boards or planks. The Gore and Vaughan Plank Road Company was established in 1855 to build a plank road along Dufferin Street. The road was to be built of local wood and various saw mills were engaged along the route to cut and prepare the planks. The picture below shows one exposed end of the plank road along with one of the steel spikes that held it together.  The same spike is shown in relation to my shoe in the cover photo.


Where Dufferin street, shown in red on the map above, crossed the ravine for Dufferin Creek the descent was very steep.  The solution for the pioneers was to run the road on a curve down the side of the ravine.  This shows on the map just below the blue line of Finch Ave.  The planks for the Gore and Vaughan Plank road were sixteen inches wide by 8 inches thick and sixteen feet long.  The picture below shows the length of one of the boards.


For durability the planks were laid up and nailed through to create a roadbed that was sixteen inches thick.  Planks were held together with four foot long spikes that were driven in two feet apart in opposing directions.  The picture below shows the head of the spike on the left and the point of the spike on the right.  The tape measure is laying on the seam between two planks.


In this spot there is almost 2 feet of spike sticking out of the plank where the exposed boards have rotted away.


The spikes used in the plank road construction have a 3 inch diameter head on them and were over 4 feet in length.


The body of the spike is 1 inch in diameter.


The picture below shows the business end of the spike.


The plank road was expensive to maintain as new wood was continually replacing worn and rotten boards.  The solution was to assess a toll for the use of the road.  Toll stations were set up at various places along the plank road.  On the map above there are two.  One is at Finch (yellow) and the other at Sheppard (green).  They are marked on the map and underlined in blue.  Yonge Street was also planked with a toll station at Hoggs Hollow.  The picture below was taken on Dundas Street near Lambton Mills and shows a representative toll charged for using a maintained road.


Times changed and crushed gravel and asphalt replaced plank roads.  Dufferin was paved and where it crossed Dufferin Creek on a long curve it was straightened out.  The curved section in the ravine was left to rot or to be buried by flooding.  When the trunk sewer along Dufferin Creek required repair work in 2014 a portion of the plank road was exposed again. Hiking the GTA found these remains and gave a brief description in Dufferin Creek in May 2015. This post allows for  greater detail and more pictures to be presented of this 160 year old part of our transportation heritage.  The archive photo below from 1954 shows the old roadbed as seen from the modern Dufferin Street.

Dufferin 1

Google maps link:,-79.4749897,14z

Like us at

Toronto Islands

January 9, 2016

The Toronto Islands were a peninsula in 1793 when Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe and his wife Elizabeth  hiked there.  It was the year that York (Toronto) was founded and Elizabeth had named the Scarborough Bluffs after the chalk cliffs in England that they reminded her of. She never knew the connection between the two.  The force of water entering Lake Ontario after flowing over Niagara Falls gives the lake a rotation that carries eroded sand and gravel from the Bluffs and deposits it at the outer edge of the Toronto harbour.  The shape of the peninsula has been evolving over time and by 1815 when the map below was drawn it was nine kilometres long. The marsh on the right is Ashbridges Bay and has been filled in to form the Toronto Port Lands. To get to the islands we took the ferry from the Jack Layton terminal.


The eastern end of the peninsula had been opened up during storms a couple of times but the damage done by a storm in 1858 wasn’t repaired. The Eastern Gap has been open ever since. Since then, dredging of the Lower Don River and the harbour has resulted in the islands more than doubling in size.  Today there are 15 islands that form an archipelago about 1.6 kilometres from the downtown core. The islands are no longer eroding due to hard shore lines and erosion controls.  On the Port Lands side of the gap the pier is lined with old tires and ships still tie off while they wait to be off-loaded or for their turn to enter the ship channel.  On the Ward’s island side of the gap the old port facilities lay abandoned.


The main roadway across the island is Lakeshore Avenue and it runs the full length of the island along the lake coastline.  Today a boardwalk has been built along part of the old roadway.


In 1862 the Hanlan family were one of the first to settle on the island but following confederation in 1867 the federal government transferred ownership of the island to the city and the land was divided for cottages and an amusement park.  John Hanlan built the hotel shown in the archive photo below on the west end of the island in 1878.


By the early 1950’s there were 8,000 people living on the islands in 630 cottages and homes. They were pretty much self-sufficient with their own stores along with theatres, dance halls and a bowling alley for entertainment.  When the city built the Gardiner Expressway they destroyed a lot of lakefront parkland and they decided to replace it with new parkland on the islands. They began to demolish homes as the leases expired and other residents were encouraged to give up their leases. Today there are about 600 people on the island in what is considered to be North America’s largest urban car-free zone.  The picture below is from a 1953 aerial photograph in the city archives.  It shows the density of homes along Centre Island with Lakeshore Avenue running along the shore of the lake.

Toronto Island2

Today the boardwalk is lined with low walls and sets of foundations.  Stairs lead up and over walls into grass and shrubbery.


Dogwoods come in several varieties and the berries of some of them are used to make jam.  There has also been medicinal use of the plant over the years with the bark being infused in a tea to treat pain and fever. The morning light caught the dogwood berries and made them glow neon orange.


The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was completed in 1808 and is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the great lakes and the oldest stone building in the city.  Originally just 8 metres from the water it now stands isolated in a wooded area. In 1832 the tower was raised by 30 feet to bring it to a total height of 82 feet.  Legend suggests that the first lighthouse keeper, J. P. Rademuller, was murdered in 1815 and that his ghost still haunts the lighthouse.


The two lighthouse keeper’s cottages are seen in this 1910 photo.  The original cottage on the left was built in 1809 and stood until about 1950.


A whale oil lamp burned in the lighthouse and was tended by various keepers over the years.  After 1878 the mechanism that rotated the light was installed and it needed to be wound every 48 hours. The Gibraltar point lighthouse was closed at the end of the shipping season in 1957 when it was replaced with a new, fully automated, steel tower.


Hanlan’s point beach was created in 1862 but in 1999 it became the site of a pilot project for a nude beach.  In 2002 it was officially recognized by an act of city council and has been Toronto’s only nude beach since then.  If there was ever a good day to see the beach this was it because no one was hanging out there.


In 1894 the Toronto Ferry Company created land through infilling to make space for an amusement park on the west end of the island.  That same year a baseball stadium was built on Hanlan’s point for the Toronto Maple Leafs Baseball Team and this is where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in 1914.  The stadium was demolished and more land created in 1937 for the construction of an airport.  The local cottages had to be relocated and 31 were moved by barge to Algonquin Island.  The picture below shows Billy Bishop airport with the city in the background.


Built in 1912, the Manitou Road bridge replaced an older wooden structure. Manitou Road was the former main business section of the island and now runs from Centreville amusement park to the Centre Island pier.


Centreville was opened in 1967 and features over 30 children’s rides and attractions.  They are all packed up for the season but Far Enough Farm, which was established in 1959, is open all year around.


There are plenty of places to sit and relax as you wait for the ferry back to the mainland.


An article of this length can only hope to touch on the highlights of the Toronto Islands.  I think several visits would be required to really get the full scope of this little oasis in the city.

Google Maps Link,-79.3840533,14z

Like us at


The Longhouse People of Crawford Lake

Saturday Nov. 21, 2015

Crawford Lake is one of a handful of meromictic lakes in Ontario and this fact led to the discovery of a pre-contact native village.  It was snowing off and on as I parked in the Crawford Lake conservation area where having correct change would have saved me including a small donation in the envelope.

In the late 1960’s a University of Toronto professor became convinced that Crawford Lake had the characteristics to be a meromictic lake.  Most lakes have the water turn over at least once per year.  As the water cools it becomes denser causing it to sink.  The water at the top mixes with the water at the bottom providing a more even temperature and oxygenation.  In meromictic lakes the surface area is less than the depth and the water doesn’t mix.  In Crawford Lake there are three sections of lake and only the top 15 metres mixes annually.  The middle depth of the lake acts as a buffer while the bottom 9 metres or more never gets disturbed.  This part of the lake is always cold and has no oxygen.  Life doesn’t exist down here and the layers of sediments tell the history of things falling in the lake. Samples taken from the lake bottom revealed 1,000 years of history.  Sediment layers representing the period between 1300 and 1600  have high levels of corn pollen trapped in them in varying concentrations.  This led to the conclusion that an agricultural society had existed near the lake, closer to the shore when the concentrations were higher.  When settlers arrived, cut down the trees and created fields ragweed spread and the upper layers of sediment reflect this.  Crawford Lake is calm in the picture below.


Local land owners confirmed that they had found artifacts on their properties and when Thomas Howard sold to the conservation authority in 1971 he donated an ungrooved ax or celt he had found here.  It is part of a 10,000 artifact collection that has been uncovered between 1973 and 1989.  The post holes for the frames of 11 longhouses have been discovered and three of these have been reconstructed. Two others have been partially formed including the frame outline seen below.  The positions of the fire pits have been exposed.


Completed longhouses would have looked like the ones at Crawford Lake except that experts agree there were no ‘panic bars’ on the doors and no little electrical outlets on the outsides.


It is unknown exactly which peoples lived here.  It may have been the Wendat (Huron) or Attawandaron (Neutral) but either way they were part of the Iroquoian speaking nations and are referred here as Iroquoian for simplicity.  Inside each of the longhouses an individual clan lived. Smaller longhouses may have had 30 people while larger ones up to 100 .  Individual families lived across from each other and shared a common fire.  The lower levels were used to sleep on because they were close to the fire and below the constant smoke.  Upper levels were used for storage with food being hung in the rafters where smoke kept both insect and rodent away.  It is common to find the carbonized remains of food around the fire pits or in the dump sites and these frequently include corn, beans and squash.  For some reason there was no squash found at the Crawford Lake village.


The art of making stone tools is known as knapping.  It took a great deal of skill to master it but then a piece of chert could be turned into a razor sharp projectile in just 15 minutes.  Along with arrowheads, spear tips, knives and drills were knapped.  Among the findings at the site was a tip known as a turkey-tail arrowhead.  It is out of place by up to 3,000 years suggesting that the idea of collecting antiques may have extended to this culture as well.  The turkey-tail point is displayed along with other arrowheads and is on the tallest shaft in the middle of the picture below.


Pottery was made by the women and the vessels could be as large as 15 litres.  Each family decorated their pottery in a unique manner that was passed on from mother to daughter. Specific markings on pottery have been used to trace the movements of families and clans over time.  The pottery fragments recovered in the village have been carefully put back together including the 47 pieces of this jug.


This tract of land was eventually sold to the British Crown to be granted to European settlers and the natives who had lived here for centuries would never return.

Along the Crawford Lake Trail is a series of wood carvings known as the Hide and Seek Trail. Ontario has almost 200 species that are considered to be at risk, seven of which are represented with larger than life wood carvings.  The Eastern Wolf in the carving below is pictured howling, as they commonly do, to communicate within their packs and alert other packs to stay away. They are found in Ontario and Quebec but are now predominantly in Algonquin Park.  They are unable to survive in the small patches of forest left in the more urban parts of the province.


In 1883 George Crawford bought the lake and 100 acres of land which he transferred it to his son Murray a couple years later.  They operated a saw mill on the south end of the lake to take advantage of the ample timber on the surrounding lands.  In 1898 the name of the lake was changed from Little Lake to Crawford Lake when they opened the Crawford Lake Company. When times were tough during the depression the Crawford family ran a resort on the lake. They also built themselves a cottage and boathouse.  In 1969 the lake and property was sold to the conservation authority and the cottage has since been destroyed.  All that remains is the concrete from the front porch and a set of steps leading down to where the boathouse once stood.


This cedar tree stands along the side of the trail and is unique in that all three stems are twisted from top to bottom.


Crawford Lake was formed at the end of the last ice age and has been collecting it’s local history lesson ever since.  Steam was rising off of Crawford Lake even as the snow was falling onto it.


Crawford Lake Trail and the interpretive reconstruction of the Iroquoian village has been made wheelchair accessible so no one has to miss out.


I only investigated the village and Crawford Lake Trail but the conservation area contains 7 hiking trails including part of the Bruce Trail.  It looks like you can spend a whole day here and still miss things.

Like us at

Follow us at

Camp Calydor – Gravenhurst German POW Camp

Sunday August 2, 2015

A summer long weekend and a trip to Gravenhurst on a whim to see my parents.  This post is, therefore, refering to Hiking the GTA (Gravenhurst Tourist Area).  In the Greater Toronto Area we have a constant battle with developers who don’t see the heritage value in some of our historic buildings. Lacking room for expansion they often get demolished in the name of progress.  Even in cottage country a piece of land can have had multiple uses as the history of the site at the end of Lorne Street will attest to.

In the late Victorian era it became fashionable to spend time at a summer resort in Muskoka. Tourists would arrive by train to ports like Gravenhurst to be whisked away by steam ships to resorts with grand names and lavish appointments.  One such place was right on the edge of Gravenhurst and could be reached by coach from the railway station.  Opened on May 24, 1897 the Minnewaska Tourist Hotel celebrated with a grand ball to commemorate Queen Victoria’s birthday and the 60th year of her rule.  Due to intense competition it would survive as a tourist hotel for only 11 years.

Assembled 10 years earlier in Gravenhust the R.M.S. Segwun was built in Glasgow, Scotland. Originally named Nipissing II the side paddlewheel steamer transported mail and passengers from Gravenhurst to resorts and cottages around the lake.  In 1914 it was taken out of service until 1925 when it was re-launched as R. M. S. Segwun (Ojibwa for Springtime).  It served Canada Post as a Royal Mail Ship until 1958 when land delivery made it obsolete.  After serving as a floating museum between 1962 and 1973 it was again converted to a steam ship. Launched in 1974 by Pierre Elliot Trudeau it now hosts cruises around the lake.  The picture below shows the Segwun as it leaves for a voyage.


Tuberculosis was increasing in 1908 and the normal prescription was lots of fresh air.  Patients were shipped to sanatoriums in the countryside.  The Muskoka Free Hospital and the Muskoka Cottage Sanitorium were soon full and more space was needed.  In 1909 the Minnewaska Hotel was converted into the Minnewaska Hospital.  This too was overcrowded very quickly and so a plan was developed to build a new facility adjacent to the existing one.  Construction began in July 1915 with the new Calydor Sanatorium opening on April 15, 1916.  The building featured large, open air balconies and was nestled in 25 acres of woods on a rocky promontory overlooking the lake.  By 1923 the TB epidemic was increasing and more space was needed. The old Minnewaska Hotel had stood empty since 1917 and it was now demolished to make room for a large expansion.  Medical advances led to a decline of TB cases by the 1930’s and the deepening depression prevented many people from seeking private care.  This led to the closure of Calydor Sanatorium in 1935.

On Sept. 10, 1939 Canada declared war on Germany in support of the United Kingdom.  With the German bombing campaign and a possible invasion of England the British began to worry about the thousands of POW’s it was holding in various camps.  The fear was the they could get set free by an invading army and return to the battle.  Canada agreed to house prisoners and secure internment camps had to be located.  Calydor Sanatorium was identified as a suitable place and was leased by the Government in 1940.  It was designated as Internment Camp 20 or Camp Calydor.  German Prisoners were marched up the steps in the picture below and through the only gate into the secured compound.


Sunday, June 30th 1940 was the date of the first arrival of prisoners to Camp Calydor.  476 prisoners and 109 guards made up the initial inhabitants of the new POW camp.  The concrete base for the fence surrounding the barracks and other secured buildings can still be traced through much of the property.


This picture was taken in 1993 when there were a lot more artifacts remaining on site.  At that time the area was heavily overgrown with trees.  This is part of the former water control system.


This picture, also taken in 1993 shows one of four water pumps hiding in the woods.


Those four pumps are now left on display in the middle of a grassy field.


Sewage disposal systems for the POW camp were designed to prevent escape.  Pipes were used that were too small for a person to crawl through.  The filtration system in this picture still contains three of the original mesh screens.  Cleaning them must have been a chore on a hot summer day.


With the war over all the German prisoners were returned to Germany and Camp Calydor officially closed on June 29th, 1946.  The inmates had been able to swim in the lake in the summer and a barbed wire fence was set up in the lake to keep them from escaping.  The prisoners built themselves a large fish tank and stocked it with fish they caught while swimming.  The tank has been preserved and is on display in the park on the end of Lorne Street.


On July 1st, 1949 the property was opened as a resort called Gateway Hotel.  At the time it was the largest Jewish resort in Ontario.  Slowly the tourists declined and the hotel was again abandoned.  In 1965 the property was bought and a plan was put forward to demolish the buildings and develop the site for single family housing.  The main buildings were destroyed by fire on Nov. 22, 1967 and other fires in 1968 finished off the rest of the structures.  It is now 50 years since the plan was put forward for the subdivision and homes are currently being built. The foundations to the main building are seen running through the woods in this 1993 picture as well as in the cover photo.  The cover photo also features a large oil storage drum used for heating.  A new home stands in this location now.


Check out the top 15 most popular treks in this special feature.

Google Maps Link: Lorne Street Gravenhurst

Like us at

Follow us at