Category Archives: Historic Site

Mackenzie House

Sunday, October 22, 2017

William Lyon Mackenzie was a politician, publisher and rebel who became the first mayor of Toronto when the city was incorporated in 1834.  He had already been publishing his controversial Reform newspaper, The Colonial Advocate, for ten years at this time.  Frustrated, he concluded that the political process had failed him and so in December 1837, he led a rebellion to overthrow Upper Canada’s colonial rule, locally known as the Family Compact.  The rebellion failed and Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head placed a one thousand pound price on Mackenzie’s head.  William took his family and fled to the United States where he lived in exile until 1850.  Mackenzie was re-elected to the Legislature in 1851 where he served until 1858 when he retired from politics, but not from controversy or publishing.  His paper was then known as Mackenzie’s Toronto Weekly Message.  The picture below shows the July 16, 1859, issue.


The picture below shows a carving of Mackenzie delivering his famous Seventh Report on Grievances to the Assembly.  This was his manifesto of all the changes he was demanding of the government.  It included three levels of government, all elected by the people, the abolishing of a state church and clergy reserves as well as giving the vote to women.


Mackenzie House, seen in the cover photo was built in 1858 as the middle of three such townhomes.  It was given to Mackenzie in 1859 and he lived here until he died in 1861. The house has been serving as a museum since 1950 and has been decorated in the time period of the 1850’s to reflect what it would have been like when Mackenzie lived here.  Adults pay an entrance fee of $7.00 and more information can be found on their website.  The irons below are typical laundry tools of the period.  They were heated in the fire and then used to press the clothes after they had been hung to dry.


In the winter the family would have spent much of its time in the basement as this was the warmest part of the house.  Both the kitchen and the dayroom had fireplaces in them and, naturally, only the rooms in use would have been heated.


The master bedroom faces Bond Street and, unlike Colborne Lodge (built in the rebellion year of 1837), it had its own fireplace in the bedrooms.  Colborne Lodge, on the other hand, had an indoor washroom and so there was no need for the chamber pot under the bed, seen below.  There would have been an outhouse in the backyard of the Mackenzie house, likely about where the printing shop is located now.


The house was built in an era when insulation was unheard of, with the possible exception of old newspapers stuffed in the walls.  Winter nights would have been very cold and the bed was heated up before you dared to slip into it.  The copper coloured pan on the long handle was warmed in the fire and slid between the sheets just before you crawled into bed.


The second floor has two bedrooms and a box room which would have been used to store hat boxes and boxes of William’s printed materials and newspaper clippings.  This room had no fireplace but was likely used as a bedroom when their son George was living here.  The girls shared the bedroom at the back of the house, pictured below.  One of their daughters, Isabel, lived in this room until she married into the King family.  Her son William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister.  His actions during World War Two helped move Canada out of the shadow of Great Britain, something his grandfather was trying to do with his rebellion.


One of the antiques in the print shop is known to have belonged to William and that is this case of printing type.  On June 8th, 1826 a group of young men who represented the Family Compact broke into Mackenzie’s print shop and smashed his printing press.  They took his cases of type and carted them down to the bay where they summarily deposited them.  This attempt to silence the constant criticism of the government that was printed in The Colonial Advocate became known as the Type Riots.  Mackenzie used this incident as a focal point to create anger over the abuses of those in power as he gathered support for his rebellion.


Mackenzie didn’t usually set his own type, one of his apprentices would have done that.  The type that was used on his early newspapers was made from lead and print journeymen tended to have a very short lifespan due to lead poisoning.  The letters were laid out in the case so that letters that occur frequently beside each other are placed together in the tray.  Originally, capital letters were stored in the upper case and small letters were kept in the lower case.  From this practice, we derive the terms upper and lower case letters.  A good typesetter would be capable of 22 words per minute.


This press is similar to the one that Mackenzie would have used during the later years of publishing.


Mackenzie House is open 7 days a week as a museum and if you take the print shop tour you can operate the printing press yourself.

Google Maps Link: Mackenzie House

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The Necropolis

Sunday, March 19, 2017

In the early years of the Town of York there were only a few places to bury the dead.  The Military Burying Grounds or your local church cemetery.  If you weren’t affiliated with one of these, were insane or a criminal, you would have a problem.  The need for a common public cemetery became an issue that reformers took up. William Lyon Mackenzie used his newspaper, the Colonial Advocate in Dec. 1825 to call for the creation of a city cemetery for York.  $300 was raised through public donation with no donation over $1 being accepted.  The first burial in the new cemetery took place on July 18, 1826.  The cemetery took on the name of the Potter’s Field and within 25 years it was getting full with 6,700 burials having taken place.  The problem became that the location on the north-west corner of Yonge and Bloor was no longer in the bushes outside of town. The land was now prime space for development and the cemetery was closed with the intention of moving all the remains to either Mount Hope Cemetery or the newly opened Toronto Necropolis. The word Necropolis is Greek for “city of the dead”.

The Necropolis opened in 1850 on 18.25 acres of land beside Riverdale Farm where there is free parking on Winchester Street.  It became a new public cemetery and to date has taken in over 50,000 bodies.  The buildings were designed in 1872 in the Gothic Revival style. When the crematorium was added in 1933 it was the first one in Ontario.  Many of Toronto’s prominent citizens are interred at the Necropolis and together their stories bring life to the place.


When the Rebellion of 1837 was over, several people were arrested and charged with treason.  Samuel Lount was a blacksmith who had served a term on the council for the Province of Canada.  When his friend William Lyon Mackenzie was putting together followers for his rebellion against the Family Compact he recruited Samuel Lount to help. Peter Matthews had served in the war of 1812 under Sir Isaac Brock and he too was enticed to join the rebellion.  With the failure of the rebellion, the authorities decided to make an example out of Lount and Matthews.  They were both convicted of treason and in spite of 35,000 signatures requesting clemency, they were hanged on April 12, 1838.  Having died as criminals they were denied burial in Christian cemeteries and were placed in the Potter’s Field with a common marker.  Theirs were two of the bodies that were moved to the necropolis.


William Lyon Mackenzie was born in 1795 and was a Canadian politician and journalist known for his leadership in the reform movement in Canada.  Aside from his Colonial Advocate, Mackenzie also got involved in politics becoming Toronto’s first Mayor in 1834. By 1837 Mackenzie was getting anxious for reform and started an open rebellion.  Starting from Montgomery’s Tavern near Yonge and Eglinton on Dec. 5th he planned to march into Toronto and take over the Bank of Canada.  The rebels failed and many were arrested. Mackenzie went into exile in the United States until 1849 when he came back to Canada. He died in 1861 and was buried in the public cemetery that he had advocated for.


Following the War of 1812, there was an ongoing fear that another conflict with the United States was possible.  A series of cross-border raids by Fenian supporters thinking to conquer Canada and hold it ransom in exchange for a free Ireland led to a movement to unify the British North American Colonies for their common defence.  Buried in the Necropolis is William Tempest who died in 1866 in the Battle of Ridegway.


George Brown was born in 1818 and moved to Toronto in 1843.  The next year he began to publish his reform newspaper The Globe.  It became the Globe and Mail in 1936 and today is one of the city’s largest newspapers.  Brown was also a prominent politician who was instrumental in Canadian Confederation.  He participated in both The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences in 1864 and in 1867 was one of the Father’s of Confederation.  He ran in the first general election in Canada but lost to Sir. John A. Macdonald.  Brown retired to his publishing industry until his death in 1880.  A dismissed employee came into his office and during a struggle, shot Brown in the leg.  He later died from an associated infection.


Edward (Ned) Hanlan was raised on Toronto Island and as a schoolboy, he would row himself across the harbour each day to and from school.  Hanlan became a professional sculler in 1874 and by 1877 had won the Canadian Championship.  He took the American and English titles in 1878 and 1879 respectively.  These victories led Ned to try for the world championship in 1880 which he won easily.  This made Ned Hanlan the first Canadian athlete to win a world championship and gain international attention.  Ned held the world championship for five years between 1880 and 1885.


The Hanlan family had arrived on the island in 1862 as one of the first permanent residents.  When a violent storm hit in 1865 their house was washed into the water where it floated to Gibraltar Point.  The family just re-established themselves and began to put together an amusement park.  In 1878 John Hanlan built a large hotel on the west tip of the island looking north toward the city.  This end of the island soon came to be known as Hanlan’s Point.

Hanlan Hotel

When the World Trade Centre was destroyed and The Pentagon attacked on September 11, 2001, the President Of The United States declared war on terror. As early as October 2001 military personnel were secretly deployed in Afghanistan.  Canada deployed more troops on an official mission in January 2002.  On the night of April 17, 2002, the Canadian forces were conducting exercises on Tarnak Farm near Kandahar when an American bomber mistook their practices for an attack and dropped a laser-guided 500-pound bomb on the Canadians.  Four men were killed including Ainsworth Dyer.  They were the first Canadians killed in combat since the Korean War.


The cemetery is still taking new burials and one of the more recent is of Canadian medal and coin designer Dora de Pedery Hunt.  Dora was born in Budapest in 1913 and completed her studies in sculpture in 1943.  Arriving in Canada she took a job as a housekeeper to support herself.  After getting a job teaching sculpture she was able to devote her time and talents to designing medals and coins.  Her designs for some of the 1976 Olympic Coins brought her to international fame.


Beginning in 1990 Dora de Pedery Hunt’s design for the Queen began to be used on Canadian Coins.  She was the first Canadian to design an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II for a coin in Canada.


The Necropolis contains the remains of those who are remembered for a legacy that is recorded in the history books.  Among them lie the remains of those whose stories are only remembered by their families, or perhaps not at all.  The stones tell a story of infant mortality and death in childbirth.  Cholera and Spanish Flu epidemics have also taken their victims.  The stone below is an example of tragedy striking a family.  Hannah Horsman passed away 6 days after giving birth to a son named Albert.  The unfortunate little boy didn’t survive his first year.


50,000 people are laid to rest in the Necropolis and each one of them has their own story to tell.  These are just a few of them.

Google Maps Link: The Necropolis

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Ball’s Falls

Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016

Ball’s Falls is a quick drive down the QEW toward St. Catherines.  In the mid-1800’s it was a major industrial centre and a hub for the region.  By the late 1800’s most of it was gone and the commercial activity had moved off the escarpment and closer to the lake.

George and John Ball were living near Albany New York in the 1770’s with their families operating a potash business.  Many settlers in that area produced potash by burning the wood on their property and then running water through the ashes repeatedly.  This ash was then boiled down in a pot until a potassium rich fertilizer was created.  When the American War of Independence broke out the Ball brothers fought on the side of the British.  At the end of the war in 1783 they fled to Niagara and took up land as United Empire Loyalists.  Their land on the Niagara Escarpment was an easy source of limestone and they operated several kilns on the property to produce lime.  One of the kilns closest to the house is being preserved.  A roof has been erected over the top of this draw kiln where at one time the chunks of limestone were poured into the top of the kiln.  The fire was kept hot from below until the rock was broken down.  The entrance to the oven is also being supported and inside the kiln the brick lining is starting to cave in.


The first job of a settler was to secure a place to spend the winter.  Clearing the forest provided the logs to build the first family home.  Having a permanent dwelling was also a requirement for gaining the full patent on the land.  A house similar to the original Ball home is now being used to display the typical lifestyle of a settler and a spinning wheel can be seen through the window.


By 1809 a grist mill had been set up to grind flour for the local farmers.  The building had four floors and George Ball was listed as the miller.  During the War of 1812, the American forces made several advances into Upper Canada but had to keep retreating.  When they did they would try to burn the mills along the way, as was done with John Burch’s mill at Niagara Falls.  To protect the food supplies of the British Military, and the local population, the army decided to station troops at Ball’s mill to ensure that it wouldn’t be destroyed.  As a result, the mill played a critical role in supporting the war effort.


The mill was expanded in the 1840’s to include another run of stones.  Twenty Mile Creek was dammed above the lower falls to create a steady flow of water to operate the mill. Water was brought to the mill, in the background of the picture below, via the raceway which ran through the opening in the rock wall.  The large water wheel is still in place in the mill. After turning the wheel the water poured out through the back of the mill and dropped down the ravine face to the creek below.


In 1816 they built a sawmill close the lower falls.  There was plenty of timber in the area and many local bridges were made with lumber sawn at the Ball’s sawmill.  In the early 1900’s the local supply of timber was exhausted and the sawmill closed.  The lower falls can be seen in the cover photo and they are classified as a classic waterfall because the width and height are about equal at 27 metres.  In the picture below, taken at the crest of the falls, you can see the walls of the gorge that the falls have cut over the years.  This waterfall exposes the upper layers of the Niagara Escarpment.  The top, darker layer, is the capstone of the escarpment known as the Lockport Formation.  Below that is the softer shale layers of the grey and red sandstone known as Thorold and Grimsby respectively.


In 1824 they further expanded by adding a wool mill to their holdings.  Built onto a 60 foot bluff overlooking the creek it was placed 1/4 mile upstream near the Upper Falls.  The mill housed 8 looms that produced cloth and yarn.  It was run by water diverted from above the falls.  Due to the gradient of the land no dam was required to keep the mill operating. The archive photo below shows what the mill looked like during its years of operation.


The mill is long gone but there is still one wall and a window frame nestled into a crevice overlooking the ravine.


The upper falls are classified as a curtain falls because the width is greater than the height. The falls are 11 metres high.


To the left of the falls in the picture above is a section of rock where the water is pouring out between layers of harder dolostone and softer limestone.  This is a type of karst activity that results from carbon dioxide mixing with rainwater.  This creates a weak form of carbonic acid which can erode the limestone.  Over time, the water has cut channels between the layers of rock where it flows out near the falls.


As the Balls became more established they built the home which still stands close to the grist mill and adjacent to the lower falls.


In the 1840’s there were several homes added to the community as well as a boarding house for the mill workers.  All communities needed a place of worship and a little church was added for the spiritual welfare of the residents.


As the population grew it started to attract other tradesmen including a butcher, a cooper, a tailor, a bookmaker and a blacksmith.  In 1849 George P. M. Ball, the son, had a plan drawn up for a subdivision for a community to be called Glen Elgin. However, the community had already reached its peak and the plan was never implemented.  Two main factors led to the demise of Ball’s Falls.  The opening of the Welland Canal helped to prosper the communities closest to it.  Roads and railways ran along the strip of land between the escarpment and the lake and the area declined in importance.  By 1883 when George Sr. passed away only the grist mill remained in operation.  Within 5 years most of the buildings had been dismantled and sold for materials.  In 1910 the grist mill closed and the town was gone.  The blacksmith shop is seen below.


In 1962 The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority purchased the property and it is currently managed as Ball’s Falls Conservation Area.  Some of the buildings at Ball’s Falls have been moved there from other locations to recreate the scene of the typical community.  There are three marked trails in the park as well as The Bruce Trail which runs beside the lower falls.  Twenty Mile Creek is prone to drying up in the summer so plan to visit in spring or after a good rain storm or snow melt.

Google Maps Link: Ball’s Falls Conservation Area

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Mimico Branch Asylum

December 27, 2016

In the beginning there was the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at 999 Queen Street.  Built in 1850, it was designed by John George Howard who built Colborne Lodge and donated High Park to the city.  When it was decided to expand the government looked for space outside the city so that they could build a hospital with natural surroundings to help calm the patients.  They found Lot 5 and 6 in Etobicoke which were originally deeded to Daniel Stuart and Samuel Smith respectively.  The government bought lot 5 in 1888 for use as an extension of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in a style known as Moral Treatment.  Lot 6 was bought in 1901 and used by the asylum for a farm that helped supply the kitchen at the hospital.

In the 1880’s it was thought that building a new facility with several cottage style buildings rather than a centralized hospital structure would provide better therapy for the mental patients it housed.  Construction began in 1888 using patients from the 999 Queen Street asylum as labour, all of which was supervised by local tradesmen.  When the asylum opened on January 21, 1889, it was known as the Mimico Branch Asylum.  It had several other names over the years and when it became independent of the Queen Street Asylum in 1894 it took on the name Mimico Insane Asylum.  In 1920 it became The Ontario Hospital, Mimico and in 1934 The Ontario Hospital, New Toronto.  In 1964 the final name was Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, a name it carried until it closed on September 1, 1979. The picture below shows several of the hospital cottages facing the lake.


Cottages were built to house 50 patients each.  Including the extensions on the either end, each cottage was 40 by 80 feet.  The cottages were all connected by underground tunnels which are still in use.  One of these tunnels contains the morgue and over the years thousands of patients died here.  There is an ongoing suggestion that some of the buildings may be haunted.  The picture below shows one of five the cottages on the south end which would have housed female patients.  The male patients were housed in the buildings on the north side of the campus.  This particular cottage, and the male counterpart, were not part of the original concept.  They were added in 1892 as maximum-security wards for the criminally insane and those who were deemed to be incurable. Rooms here were single occupancy.


A power station was constructed that could burn coal for energy and provide heat for the cottages.  In the early 1930’s a campaign by the Department of Public Works to eliminate fire hazards led to the closing of the congested boiler rooms in the centre building.  The powerhouse originally stood beside the lake.


The building below was originally part of the earliest construction and was designated as cottage 1 and 2.  It housed women and in 1931 it was expanded due to an increased need for space.  An extension was put on each end and the centre between the two cottages was filled in.  A similar treatment was given to cottages A and B for the men.  Notice the flat grey section between the second and third story windows which only shows on the three sections that were not part of the original construction.  Cottage number 2 on the south end had the inside destroyed by fire in 1905 but was quickly refurbished using patient labour.


By decreeing that the work was part of the patient’s therapy it was possible to justify not paying them.  Patients worked at building and maintaining the hospital and in planting the grounds.  With the addition of a farm, also operated with free patient labour, the hospital was self-sufficient.  All that remains of the farm is part of the orchard which can still be found across the road from the hospital.


The Administration building was constructed in 1889 to house the resident physician and his attendants.  Starting in 1910 the attic space was used as a nurse’s residence and this continued until 1932 when the Nurse’s Residence was built.  As originally constructed, the administration building had an additional floor and a turret.  These were removed during renovations in the early 1930’s to avoid the cost of maintaining them.


The superintendant’s house was built in 1894 in the Queen Anne style that was popular between 1880 and 1910.  The late victorian era was a time of change and innovation and homes had asymmetrical towers and bays and windows of all shapes and sizes.  Dr. Thomas Daily Cumberland was in charge of administration between 1936 and 1959 and was the last superintendent to live here.  The house took on the name Cumberland House in the 1950’s and now serves as the Jean Tweed Centre, a place for women to get help with addictions.


The Assembly Hall was built in 1898 as a place of worship and entertainment for the patients.  The second floor served as a meeting room with a church on one end and a stage on the other.  The main floor held space for a storehouse, boiler room and coal storage. Today it has been renovated into the Assembly Hall Community Cultural Centre.


An oval field was created by the patients for playing cricket.  Today it remains as a depression surrounded by mature pine trees.  It is between the Assembly Hall and the Gatehouse.


The Gatehouse was built in 1893 and was originally known as the Entrance Lodge.  Prior to its renovation in 1998 it was in very bad condition inside with most of the walls and ceilings crumbling.


Over the years many people died while they were living at the psychiatric hospital.  People who had no relatives or other means of providing for their burial were taken a short distance north and buried in a graveyard that was exclusive to the hospital.  Originally a road divided the graveyard down the middle.  Catholics were buried on the west side and Protestants on the east.  Until 1957 the graves were not marked except by a numbered row on the east side and lettered row on the west.  Each row contained 25 burial plots. Between 1890 and 1974 there were 1511 burials in the cemetery with only the last 154 getting grave markers bearing their names and the year they were born and died.  This graveyard can be seen as an open field on the south side of the Gardiner Expressway, just east of Kipling. The cover photo shows the sign that marks this old graveyard


In 1979 the hospital was closed because it was believed that a more community-based treatment program would be more effective.  The buildings were in need of repair and the funding wasn’t made available.  Over its 90-year operation, the hospital had many nameless individuals who lived, worked and died hidden away from the community.  In 1991, after a dozen years of neglect Humber College signed a 99-year lease on the property and began to renovate the bildings.  Colonel Samuel Smith Park will be the subject of a future post.

Google Maps link:  Mimico Branch Asylum (Humber College Lakeshore Campus)

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Passmore Forest

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

Passmore Forest is in the neighbourhood of L’Amoreaux in Scarborough.  It is named after Josue L’Amoreaux who lived between 1738 and 1834.  He was one of the first settlers in the area, arriving in 1808.  Josue was a loyalist, of French Huguenot beliefs, who fled to Canada after the American Revolution.  By the 1840’s there were two churches and in 1847 L’Amoreaux was given the designation of School Section #1 for Scarborough Township.  A post office was opened in 1854 but it wasn’t until 100 years later that the community was transformed into suburbia.  West Highland Creek is a tributary of Highland Creek which forms the eastern end of the Scarborough Bluffs.  The creek feeds L’Amoreaux Pond in a park known as L’Amoreaux North Park.


Passmore Forest is named after Frederick Fortescue Passmore who was born in England in 1824 and emigrated to Canada in 1845.  He served his apprenticeship under Sandford Flemming and was the draftsman on the St. Catharines Town Hall (1849).  In the 1850’s he listed himself as an architect, surveyor, and civil engineer.  Passmore is known for his survey of Scarborough township in 1850 and again in 1862.  There were 15 saw mills operating in the area by the early 1860’s and the amount of forest cover had dropped by 40 percent between the two surveys.  The cover photo shows one of the large pine trees that stand in the woodlot.

Along the side of L’Amoreaux lake, the trail passes this large wasp nest.  Nests grow in proportion to the size of the colony.  Nests will only be used for one season as only the fertilised female will survive the winter.  She will start a new nest in the spring in which to lay her eggs.  When the sterile females are born they become workers who tend the nest and see to its expansion as the colony grows.  Later in the year, the queen will produce some male wasps to fertilize the new generation of queen wasps.  These females will then seek shelter to survive the winter and start the cycle over again.


Near L’Amoreaux Pond there are two interpretive signs which tell a brief story about a native village that was found here in 2000.  When contractors were preparing to build a subdivision on the property near the pond they found native artefacts just below the top soil.  Experts were called in and before long a 2.6-hectare village belonging to the Huron-Wendat people was uncovered.  Eventually, 17 longhouses were uncovered as well as over 19,000 pieces of stone tools, copper beads, pottery and pipes.  Shells that likely originated on the east coast were found indicating that a vast trading network existed at the time. Estimates are that up to 1,000 people may have lived here for about 50 years.  No signs of fortification were found as there were no fence posts surrounding the village, one of about 25 villages on the north side of the Great Lakes that belonged to the Huron-Wendat.  The name of the village has been lost, but the dig site was named “Alexandra”.  This village was roughly the same size as the one uncovered at Crawford Lake.  There were no burials on the site and after the archaeological dig was completed the developers were allowed to go ahead and build single-family houses on the property.


A small footbridge crosses the West Highland Creek above a concrete catch basin.  The basin was full of plastic water bottles and other assorted garbage.  The trail leads from the water up a slight incline to Passmore Forest.


Thunderclouds contain small particles of ice that collide and cause an electrical charge to build up.  Trees and other objects on the ground can also build up an electrical charge and when the charge coming down from the clouds meets that of the tree an exchange of current takes place in what we call a lightning bolt.  This bolt of electricity is very hot, up to 54,000 degrees F.  This is about six times hotter than the surface of the sun and can burn the inside of a tree.  Many forest fires are started by lightning strikes.  The picture below shows the inside of a tree that has been struck by lightning.


River grapes have taken over a large part of the forest.  Their vines can climb to the tops of some of the tallest trees, reaching up to 115 feet in length.  These longer vines tend to have reduced fruit production with the younger, lower, vines having more grapes.


Another view across the pond in L’Amoreaux North Park.  The edge of the pond has a paved trail running around it with benches set at intervals for quiet enjoyment.  Ducks, geese and gulls were here on this day but herons are also common.


Passmore Forest isn’t large, as forests go, but it is a significant percentage of the old growth forest in this area.  F. F. Passmore lives on in the name of this forest as well as Passmore Avenue which has been abandoned in several places.

Google Maps link: Passmore Forest

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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