Category Archives: Scarborough Bluffs

Beachcombers – Scarborough Bluffs

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The beach along the Scarborough Bluffs is an ever changing environment.  It is eroded by wind, rain and waves.  Objects are washed ashore, washed down the bluffs or dumped here.  As such it is a great place to look for treasures, each of which has a story to tell or a little bit of history to reveal.

This hike set out to investigate the Scarborough Bluffs, specifically the section from The Guild Inn through to East Point Park. There is a small parking lot for The Guild Inn at the end of Galloway Road and Guildwood Inn Parkway that will provide access to the beach via an old construction road which was used to harden the shore west of here in an attempt to prevent erosion.  The picture below shows the view from the top of The Bluffs looking west.

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The morning was bright and sunny but the beach was virtually deserted.

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East Point Park is one of the places that is known for its Monarch Butterfly migrations. Milkweed is essential to the lifecycle of this species of butterflies and it is encouraging to see milkweed seeds scattered along the bluffs.  The flat brown oval seeds are attached to the white fluff that helps them to be spread by the wind.

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The vegetation on the top of the bluffs slows erosion down but doesn’t stop it.  The roots are holding a thin layer of soil above where the sand has vanished below.  Walking along the top of the bluffs it is, therefore, necessary to stay back from the edge so that you don’t have the ground disappear below your feet.  The cover photo shows a fence that was installed to keep people away from the edge.  The fence is now falling over the edge itself.

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The area of Leslieville was situated on clay deposits that were excellent for brick making. As a result, Greenwood Avenue in 1914 had seven brickyards including that of Albert Wagstaff.  When Wastaff died in 1931 he left the brickyards to his drinking buddy Albert Harper who operated the brickyards while the family contested the will.  When the will was found to be valid he closed the yards down and the pit was turned into the town dump. The name Harper on the brick below was his way of stating his claim to the company while the will was being reviewed.

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The ravine at Greyabbey Park is one of the places where there is a flow of water from the top of the bluffs to the bottom.  Tall invasive phragmites grow in wetlands all along the sides of the bluffs, sometimes as much as half way up.  These ravines provide homes for the white-tailed deer, coyotes and other animals that call the bluffs home.

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As we walked along the beach we met a local couple who walk there daily.  We noted that they were combing the beach looking for interesting objects, as were we.  They collect antique bottles and glass and display them on an Instagram account.  Their treasures can be seen at this location.  The picture below shows several pieces of glass, including a couple of Coke bottle bottoms, that have been tumbled by the water and sand until they are well rounded.

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The Toronto Brick Company was stamped onto bricks produced at The Don Valley Brick Works, one of Toronto’s largest manufacturers.  Their bricks may also read TPB Co for Toronto Pressed Brick Company.  Much of the early Toronto skyline was made of buildings constructed using bricks from this brickyard.  Much of the beach along The Bluffs is also made up of bricks from this brickyard now that old construction debris has been used for fill and for hardening the shoreline.

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Rose hips provide a splash of colour in the winter and can also be eaten if you avoid the seeds.  It is said that they help to reduce inflammation and they contain 50% more vitamin C than oranges do.

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It’s hard to say where this plastic elephant got tossed away at because the lake may have carried it a long distance before depositing it here.  It may also have come from the top of the bluffs.  Unlike some of the glass on the beach, plastic has little chance of being taken home.

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The rusting remains of a milk chum, or milk can, lie behind a log on the beach.  Starting in the 1850’s metal cans were introduced for milk collection so it could be taken to the dairy.  By the 1970’s collection was converted to tanker trucks and the cans became collected for their antique value.

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There is a movement to pave a trail along this section of the bluffs and add armour stone to the shore to slow down the erosion of the bluffs.  Nature will continue to have its way and the bluffs will continue to recede.  The vegetation that is growing along the shoreline and up the sides of the bluffs will go a long way toward slowing the process down.

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This post brings the total along the Scarborough Bluffs to 8 which cover much of the distance between Bluffer’s Park and Highland Creek.  From the west to the east the adventure began with Sand Castles in Bluffer’s Park.  That story looks at the geology of the bluffs.  Erosion investigates the effect of the lake, the wind and rain on the bluffs.  Gates Gully is the most famous ravine along the bluffs with a sunken ship and stories of buried treasure.  South Marine Park Drive follows the lakeshore between the sunken Alexandria and The Guild Inn.  The Inn is a former artist guild and preserves some of Toronto’s early architecture.  This post fills the gap between the Inn and East Point Park where there is a Monarch Butterfly migration point.  Highland Creek is the eastern most point of The Bluffs.

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There’s still Greyabbey Park on the top of the Bluffs to be explored at some time in the future.

Google Maps link: The Bluffs

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South Marine Drive Park

Sunday August 21, 2016

The Scarborough Bluffs run for fifteen kilometers from Victoria Avenue east to Highland Creek.  At their highest point they rise ninety meters above the water and have been described as a geological wonder. They are the only bluffs of their kind in North America.

Hiking the GTA has made several visits to the bluffs starting with Guidwood Park in April 2015.  At that time the historic inn sat closed and in need of repairs.  The Guild Inn is currently undergoing restoration along with the addition of a multi-purpose event hall.  It was time to go and see how that was coming along as well as explore the construction roadway that leads down to the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs.  The $20 million dollar restoration will include a 40,000 square foot addition to the original inn.  The Guild was the only Depression Era artist colony in Canada.  Over the years the Guild had been expanded with several additions, including a hotel tower.  After the inn closed in 2001 the tower was removed.  The current restoration strips the inn back to it’s original building and adds new structures to both ends.

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The restoration is scheduled for completion in December 2016.  The city is paying for the removal of mold and asbestos while the developer will pay to renovate the inn to it’s 1932 appearance.  A banquet hall is being built on the one end while an outdoor pavilion is going on the other end.  The developer has signed a 40 year agreement with the city.

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Parking is currently restricted to a lot on the east side of the old construction roadway.  The road was littered with old leaves and this Northern Crescent butterfly was quite well disguised among them.  I only caught sight of it when it moved.  It feeds on many species of the aster family of which we have many in Ontario.  The Northern Crescent has only recently been recognized as a separate species from the Pearl Crescent.  The latter of which has black lines in the large orange patches on the hind wings.

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There are only a couple of places where a vehicle can get to the bottom of the bluffs.  Bluffer’s Park is one of them and it sits near the western end of the bluffs.  This roadway is not open to public vehicles and is currently in use for heavy construction equipment.  One of the ways in which the city is trying to slow down the erosion of the bluffs is to create hard shorelines and South Marine Drive was created for that purpose.  Old construction material, demolished buildings and slabs of pavement are known as rip rap when dumped along the shoreline as seen below.  There is a project currently in process on the shoreline in front of The Guild.

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This roadway has been turned into a linear park known as South Marine Drive Park.  It runs for several kilometers along the south edge of the bluffs and was largely abandoned this morning except for a couple of hikers and a few cyclists.  With the views of the bluffs, and the breeze off the lake, I was surprised to see so few people.  Access is very limited though as you must come in from one end or the other.

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The sand in the bluffs was laid down in a river delta prior to the last ice age.  The melting ice sheet created a larger lake where Lake Ontario is today and this was known as Lake Iroquois.  It cut through the old river delta and exposed the bluffs.  This lake suddenly drained into a smaller lake known as Lake Admiralty which has since become Lake Ontario.  The exposed sand face has been eroding quickly ever since and in spite of all our efforts, continues to do so.  The roots of the trees and grasses hold the top layer together but when the sand below disappears it is only a matter of time before the tree crashes down the hill side.  The sand will make its way into the lake and eventually come to rest on one of Toronto’s many beaches, all of which are west of the bluffs.  The lake has a slow rotation that means that water takes six years to make its way around the lake and out into the St. Lawrence River.

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Jack-in-the-Pulpit can live up to 100 years.  The corm, similar to an onion,  grows underground and it will produce one flower if it is male or two if it is female.  The plant has the ability to change sex over it’s lifetime with only the female plant producing berries.  These berries will turn bright red and provide food for wild turkeys and wood thrushes.  The berries are listed as toxic to humans most likely because of the raphides of calcium oxalate that are present in the plant.  The sap of the plant makes an instant pain reliever when applied to a wound.  The natives used the plant in this way as well as making a red dye from the berries.  The picture below shows the unripe green berries in their cluster.

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The trees along this section of the bluffs are hanging over the edge as they start their journey to the bottom.

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Milkweed provides the only home for monarch butterfly larvae and the park has quite a large number of the plants growing along the side of the roadway.  The seed pods are getting ripe.  They will soon pop open sending the little white seeds floating on the wind.

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Following the trail will bring you to Gates Gully where the Doris McCarthy Trail leads back up to the Kingston Road.  Just before you reach the gully one section of a sunken ship can be seen sticking out of the lake.  On August 3, 1915 the steamship Alexandria was wrecked near the entrance to the gully. The Alexandria was built in 1866 and served both as a passenger ship and a cargo ship.  On this night it was bringing 300 tons of beans and tomatoes when it was blown too close to the shore and was grounded.  The ship broke into sections and was completely destroyed.  The locals made short work of stripping everything of value above the water line.  They say that many cellars were well stocked with sugar, vinegar and canned goods for the coming winter.  In maritime tradition Captain William Bloomfield was the last man off the ship at about 2:00 am the following morning.  All passengers were brought to safety and led up the bluffs through Gates Gully. The steam remains in the lake 100 years later, just to the east of the gully.  The picture below shows the wrecked ship as seen from the shore.  The cover photo shows the ship in close up.  There is a place rusted through the rectangular part of the hull right at the waterline.  A rounded piece of hull on the left of this is briefly exposed with each rolling wave.

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There are plenty of places where the slopes of the bluffs are covered with shrubs and trees.  This helps to stabilize the slopes and you will notice on the return trip that this section has some well vegetated areas.

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Having reached this point it is about a 45 minute walk back to the parking lot at the Guild.

Other posts in our Scarborough Bluffs Series:  Guildwood Park, Sand Castles (Bluffer’s Park), Erosion(Cathedral Bluffs), Gates Gully, East Point Park

Google Maps link: South Marine Drive Park

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