Category Archives: Uncategorized

E. T. Seton Park

Saturday, December, 8, 2018

E. T. Seton Park is named after Ernest Thomson Seton who was born in England but moved to Canada with his parents in 1866 at the age of 6.  His father was abusive and he spent much of his time in the Don Valley near the park.  He became famous as an author, painter and a founding member of The Boy Scouts of America.  The park that was named after him follows the West Don River south and features an archery range, disc golf and extensive trails.  We parked for free in the lot that is south of Eglinton accessed off of Leslie Street.  We roughly followed the orange trail on the Google Earth capture below as far as the Forks of the Don.

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The north part of the park has a couple of ponds that sit in the valley below the Ontario Science Centre.  Originally the Science Centre was planned in 1961 with an opening in 1967 for the Canadian Centennial celebrations.  The three pods were designed to match the contours of the Don Valley that it was built along.  Opening was delayed until September 2, 1969.  The ice may be thin on the pond but this was no obstacle to the local coyote.

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The fresh snow always looks so nice sitting on the tree branches.  As the morning progressed the brief periods of sunshine caused the snow to slide of the branches and created the occasional brief snow shower and even a nice dump of snow down the back of the neck just for laughs.

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E. T. Seton Disc Golf Course is 18 holes long, each one a par 3.  The course winds along the river in both directions so that yo get to walk the length of the park as you play.  There are disc golf associations that play here but the course is open to everyone who wants to try.  Local rules require a spotter on holes 9 (two-way pedestrian traffic) and 10 (near the archery range) to avoid hitting someone from a tee shot.  The first disc golf course was built 1975 in California.  Today there are over 4,000 courses around the world with there being three free ones in Toronto.  The E. T. Seton Park course opened in 2001 but there is also a course on Toronto Islands and at Centennial Park.

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An old bridge crosses the Don River near where the Upper Mill was in the Taylor Paper making empire.  The Lower Mill was located at Todmorden.  The large parking area just north of the bridge was the site of the paper mill for over 100 years.  The main trial is paved and continues along the east side of the river while a smaller bicycle trail follows the west side of the river.  It passes under the railway tracks.

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Each of the major rivers in the GTA have a split or fork in them.  The West Don River flows through the heart of the park until it reaches the point where east meets west.  The East Don River was formerly known as the Middle Don.  At that time, Taylor-Massey Creek was known as the East Don.  The Forks of the Don can be explored from either side of the river but access to the middle of the forks is only possible by trespassing on the short but active railway bridge above and so we don’t suggest that you do this.

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From the tracks you can see the bridge where Don Mills Road crosses the ravine with the railway in it.  Behind the road is the bridge that carried an old section of Don Mills Road that has been abandoned when the new section opened.

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Two trails make their way up the west side of the West Don River.  The upper trail is known as Catalyst while Beaver Flats is the name of the lower one.  These trails appear to be primarily used by bicyclists and the sharp turns and sudden rises in the trail will require a sharp eye to avoid getting run over.

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I’m not sure if this is intended to be a piece of artwork but we do get tired of seeing tires in our parks and ravines.  They are great places for still water to sit in the summer and create breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

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The Canadian National Railway bridge spans the West Don River ravine in the distance.  This bridge sits on an old set of cut stone piers as well as a newer set that was made of poured concrete.

 

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The CPR bridge is seen in this 1955 photo.  Of note is the system of wires that along the poles beside the trestle.  Today there are only one or two wires and all the accessible glass insulators have been removed.

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The park continues to the south and links up with the Lower Don Trail as well as Taylor Creek Park.  There is plenty more to explore another day.

Google Maps Link: E. T. Seton Park

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Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Lake Ontario has been in a constant state of change since the end of the last ice age.  When the ice was melting about 12,000 years ago the lake was much larger than it is today.  That lake had a shoreline that was farther inland that today’s.  The larger lake has been named Lake Iroquois.  The Scarborough Bluffs are part of the old shoreline as is the rise in land on Spadina near Casa Loma.  At the west end of the lake, the old shoreline is visible in places like Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park in Oakville.  There is a small parking lot and forest access on Joshua Creek Drive but it is gated at this time of the year.  There are also several places where you can park on the street and access the park, including Edgeware Road.

The old Iroquois shoreline is one of the major geological land forms in the GTA.  When Lake Iroquois covered the lower part of the park, the lake was at the largest it has been in recent history.  Suddenly, the lake drained away through the Hudson River leaving a much smaller lake known as Lake Admiralty.  This lake sat in the basin of modern Lake Ontario.  Over time the lake has slowly been filling back up so that it has reached the shoreline we know today.  Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park was one of the last large undisturbed Carolinian forests in the area.  Carolinian forests are climax forests and consist of red oak, white oak, various maple, hickory and beech trees.  The picture below shows the rise in land that marks the old shoreline.

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Several staircases provide access to the park and these all seem to be in a good state of repair.  The park had been shut down due to the condition of the forest but efforts to restore it have been successful and there are five sites where significant new plantings have taken place.

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Joshua Creek sometimes forms the border between Oakville and Mississauga and has headwaters just north of the 407.  The forest around the creek has been thinned out considerably by the removal of ash trees to deal with the problem of emerald ash borers which have killed almost all ash trees in the GTA.  Controlled burns in the park have also left a scattering of burnt tree stumps.  All the stumps and downed trees have been left because they form part of the ecosystem in the forest.

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Witches’ Butter is a golden jelly type of mushroom that can grow all year.  It appears on warmer days in the middle of winter but in the summer is found in cool places, usually at higher elevations.  It is considered edible and is sometimes added to soups but in my opinion it looks better on the stump than it would on my plate.

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Along the way we noticed the family in one house has added indoor rock climbing hand and foot holds on the back of their shed.

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Sheridan Valley Park connects the upper and lower sections of Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park and contains this extensive stairway that allows access to the park from the subdivision.

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Puffball mushrooms are named for the way in which they spread their spores.  These purple spored puffballs have developed a small hole on the top where the spores are released when the ball is hit by heavy rain drops.

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The short video below shows the spores being released from the opening on the top of each puffball.  Hitting the balls with a small stick created a cloud of spores which may serve to start another small colony of puffballs next year.

 

Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park is large enough, and has plenty of trails, making it an ideal place to visit multiple times.

Google Maps Link: Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park

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Abandoned Baby Buggy

Sunday, November 25, 2018

E T Seton Park runs all the way from Eglinton Avenue to the Lower Donlands and the Ontario Science Centre backs onto the park at the north end.  Near here I came across an old baby buggy that has become ingrown in a small tree.

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For as long as mothers have been having babies they have needed a method of carrying them around.  The first modern stroller was invented in 1733 in Devonshire and was intended to be pulled by a goat or donkey.  By the 1840’s preambulators, or prams, were becoming popular in England and production was beginning in America.

The buggy may have been placed in the tree or the tree may have grown up under the buggy.  It does appear that at some point someone decided to bend the front axle around the tree.  It has been a few years since this happened as the tree is enclosing the steel.

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Part of the mounting bracket can be seen where the baby seat was once attached.  Newer versions had a detachable carrycot while modern ones become a car seat when removed.

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The main frame of the carriage has been in this tree for many years as the tree has fully grown around it.  This may have already been well enclosed when the front axle was wrapped around the tree.

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A childhood rhyme was used to tease each other about liking someone.

“Jack and Jill sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, First comes love, then comes marriage, Then comes Jill with a baby carriage.”  Someone forgot to tell them not to leave the carriage in the tree.

The carriage had a simple braking system.  By pressing the wire pedals under the carriage the end of the wire was pressed into the rubber of the wheel.

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Only one of the wheels still has the white rubber but it has split in several places and may not last another season of freezing water expanding in the gaps.

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E T Seton Park is a significant green strip along the Don River and will quite likely have a full length post one day.

Google Maps Link: Ontario Science Centre

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Old Finch Avenue

 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Until 1954 Old Finch Avenue crossed The Rouge River on a steel truss bridge.  Hurricane Hazel demolished the bridge on October 15, 1954 and shifted the cut stone abutments to the point where they were no longer usable.  The quick solution was to install a temporary bailey bridge which we decided to visit.

The river has cut steep embankments through this area of sand and gravel that can be seen from Google Earth.  The capture below is taken from there.  The blue line roughly shows the areas we hiked.  There is parking for The Meander Trail at the turnaround on Old Finch Avenue beside the bailey bridge.

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The bailey bridge is 130 feet long and was constructed by the 2nd Field Engineer Regiment in just 3 days.  The Field Engineer Regiment dates back to January 14, 1876 when the unit was created.  They are based in Toronto and continue to parade at the Denison Armoury at Downsview Park every Friday night.  Following the hurricane, which claimed 81 lives, there was a need to rapidly repair infrastructure to keep people from being isolated from food and medical needs.

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After crossing the bridge we made our way into the bush on a worn trail that turned toward the river pretty quickly.  The picture below shows the river looking upstream toward the only suspension bridge in Toronto which is around the next bend on Sewell’s Road.

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It was a day for finding dead animals and we were surprised to find a dead deer that looked like it had been well scavenged.  It turns out that even small birds that eat suet at your feeder will pick at a deer carcass.  Within a couple of feet of each other we also found a dead crayfish and a dead salmon.  The salmon must have been one of the last of the fall spawning run.  It too has been well scavenged as nature feeds nature and nothing is left to waste.

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At the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago, all of Toronto’s ravines were full of rushing melt water from the retreating glacier.  Ice had been a kilometre thick over the area and our extensive system of ravines was created as it melted.  Ravines and embankments were eroded that are way out of scale for the size of rivers that currently flow through them.  Where The Rouge River turned corners around this hogs back it carved the large embankments that can be seen in the Google Earth capture above.

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After we  had followed the river around we arrived back at the bailey bridge.

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It is an odd feeling standing below the bridge as a car rattles past overhead.  The bridge decking is in good condition and looks like it has been replaced at some point.

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This picture, as well as the cover photo, show the extent that the abutments were thrown out of alignment by the hurricane.  Bridges over the rivers in Ontario have gone through several phases with the early wooden ones lasting for only an average of ten years.  Later steel truss bridges were built on cut stone abutments which were themselves often replaced with concrete abutments and new bridges early in the twentieth century.  Old Finch Road wasn’t so old when the cut stone abutments were placed here but traffic and maintenance costs never mandated a new bridge prior to 1954.

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Looking from the inside of the abutment you can see why the military decided the abandon the stonework and install a temporary bailey bridge.  The field engineers who built it likely never expected it to last more than about 20 years, let alone nearly 65.

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Before returning to the car we made the quick walk around a short trail that is part of Rouge National Urban Park.  The Finch Meander Trail runs for 250 metres and lets you have a closer look at the river near the bailey bridge.  From here we went to the site of  Hillside Church and cemetery on Old Finch Road.  The church opened on November 18, 1877 as a part of the Scarborough circuit of the Methodist Church.  This meant that it didn’t have a permanent minister at that time and one would come for Sunday services.  The property was donated in trust to several local men for the purpose of the church and cemetery.  Among them was John Sewell (Sewells Road with the suspension bridge), Peter Reesor (Reesor’s Road) and George and James Pearse (Toronto Zoo property).  In 1925 they became part of the Mount Zion United Church and today the building is still the same inside and out as when it was first opened.

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The church cemetery is the final resting place for many of the early settlers from the community.  This includes members of the Pearse family who owned the house that is now the nearby visitor centre at Rouge National Urban Park.  You can read more about them and see the house by clicking here.

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The community of Hillside has become a vanished village where a few homes and the school remain along with the church.  Perhaps we’ll return one day for a Ghost Towns of the GTA feature.

Google Maps Link: Old Finch Avenue

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Rouge National Urban Park – Vista Trail

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Rouge National Urban Park continues to grow with new properties being added to the park this fall. The park is currently about 63 square kilometres but will expand to include over 79 square kilometres when it is complete.  There are over 12 kilometres of trails at the moment but this too is set to increase.  The Vista Trail is a 1.0 kilometre loop with a 0.6 kilomtre tail that takes you out to Twyn Rivers Road near The Mast Trail and Maxwell’s Mill.  We accessed the trail from Zoo Road where we were able to park.  The historical atlas below has been rotated 90 degrees to make it easier to read and to fit better.  The Vista Trail has been drawn in black between the Little Rouge and Big Rouge.  The original location of the Pearse House has also been circled for reference.

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In the 1830’s three Pearse brothers names James, John and George left England and moved to Toronto.  James Pearse bought 200 acres at the intersection of today’s Meadowvale Road and Old Finch Avenue.  The family grew and the 1869 farm house was enlarged until in 1893 it was rebuilt around them as they continued to live in the house.  The brick veneer was decorated with ornate patterns and the picture below shows the date above the upstairs window.  When the property was purchased for use as a new zoo in the early 1970’s The house was moved to the present location and restored for use as the visitor centre for Rouge Park.  The coating of plain white paint that had been added over the years was removed to reveal the brickwork below.

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Ontario Power Generation has been in partnership with the park since 2010 and was responsible for building a viewing platform along the trail.  Rouge National Urban Park has over 1700 different species of plants, animals and fungi including all eight native species of bats.

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From the top of the viewing platform you have a great view down to the Little Rouge.  The vista from here would have been quite different a couple of weeks ago when the fall colours were still out.  Today, you can pick out the oak trees easily due to the brown leaves that still cling to the trees.

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The Vista Trail is well named because you get a view as you make your way along the ever narrowing strip of land.  The slope on the right drops away toward the Rouge River while the one on the left leads to the Little Rouge.

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Ferns growing along the side of the trail provide a splash of green among the dead leaves and snow.  Christmas Ferns are evergreen and for that reason are often grown in winter gardens.

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Having reached Twyn Rivers Road we made our way back up the hill to the point where the loop splits.  This time we took the trail to the left keeping closer to the Rouge River.  We find some odd things in the woods most weeks but one of the more unusual ones is the skeleton of a transport truck.

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It would appear that there are many more explorations to be made in Rouge National Urban Park.  Here again are the links to the Mast Trail and Maxwell’s Mill.

Google Maps Link: Vista Trail

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Downsview Park

 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

One of the GTA’s newer parks, Downsview Park is 291 acres of the former Royal Canadian Air Force Station Downsview.  Last weekend we had investigated William Baker Park where a housing community had been built by the military.  The woodlot has been preserved and can be seen as a rare original woodlot on the county atlas map below where it is circled in green.  A detailed history of the military operations at the site can be found in a link at the end of this post.  Many of the properties seen on the 1877 map were taken over for the air base including the property  which is shown as Edward Boake (spelled Roake on the atlas).  His homestead is circled in brown and shows the headwaters for the small creek that was used to form the lake in the new park.  The atlas also shows two tollgates on what would become Dufferin Road.  These tolls were levied on users of the plank road that had been built along this concession.  More on the plank road can be found in this post.  Beginning in 1995 plans were developed to turn the former air force base into a series of new residential communities and a new urban park to be called Downsview Park.

Downsview Map

Several generations of the Boakes family farmed the family homestead before having it expropriated by the military for the air force base.  The home stood until around 1962 when it was demolished.  A few lines of mature trees in the new urban forest mark the outline of the front yard of the home.

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Forty-five acres are planned for urban forest in the park.  The heart of this is the Boakes Grove which contains many mature trees but is not a mature forest.  Most of the area around the Boakes home was open fields with just a few trees along the lane and fence lines.  Silver Maples, Walnut and Black Locust are common here but most of the trees are very small and will mature into a nice forest over the next couple of decades.

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The soil in the park was heavily compacted and full of pollutants and needed remediation before planting could begin.  The soil was churned-up to a depth of 60 centimetres to loosen it up and provide aeration.  Then, a 10-centimetre layer of composted leaves was spread on top to provide nutrients for growing the urban forest.  Volunteers and community groups have planted thousands of trees in the park.   There are 45 acres of parkland set aside for the urban forest which will mature over the next 40 years becoming a dynamic biosystem.

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At the very heart of Downsview Park is a 9-acre lake that has been built as an integral part of the water system in the park.  The lake is the final step in a water purification system to ensure the water is clean before it is discharged into Black Creek.  The park has been graded to direct the flow of storm water and slow it down so the ground has time to naturally filter the water.  It passes through a series of bioswales and filtration ponds.  Finally it flows into the pond which is normally about 3-metres deep but which can rise and additional metre during storm events.  The lake has a circuit path that allows you to stroll around the edge as you watch for the multitude of birds that call the park home.  The lake sits on the headwaters of a tributary of Black Creek and can be seen marked in blue on the county atlas above.

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A row of mature maple trees in the middle of a field has a story to tell.  The lake is brand new and most of the other trees are very young.  When this was an active farm run by generations of Boakes trees didn’t grow in the middle of crop fields.  Fence lines always provided a few feet of growing room and trees that got started there were left to grow.  This particular line of trees marked the southern property line of the Boakes farm.

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The orchard in Downsview Park is rather recent compared to the one that is shown on the property in the county atlas.  Many of the original settlers planted orchards to help feed their families.  Many of these early orchards still exist, at least in part.  One of the better preserved ones can be found in Erindale.  The original orchard on the Boakes property was, as usual, close to the house.  The community orchard in Downsview Park was started in 2012 when 200 fruit trees were planted.  A second major planting in 2017 has brought the total to over 400 trees.  Apples, plums, apricots and pears now grow here to educate the community.  Other gardens are scattered around the pavilion including a patch of blueberries that are not very common in the GTA.

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The land was originally chosen by de Havilland because it was flat and therefore suitable for aircraft manufacture because it could support a runway.  Flying aircraft from the facility to their new owners is the most practical way to deliver the product to the end user.  A large mound has been made, partially with soil excavated in the construction of the lake.  An unofficial path leads up the side of the mound.

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Climbing the mound gives you a panoramic view of the park and the city.  Lake Ontario can be seen in the distance as you look south.  The picture below looks toward Keele Street and the man-made lake.

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There is plenty of wildlife in Downsview Park.  This red-tailed hawk was seen along with a Cooper’s Hawk and a dozen smaller birds as we made our way around the park.  Deer, coyote and a host of smaller mammals can be found throughout the woods and grasslands.  This picture was taken the day before and shows the industrial buildings in the south of the park.

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A gaggle of geese has gathered on the open field near the old central heating plant.  Most of these geese will fly south for the winter but in this era of milder winters we are seeing more birds remain behind.  Sometime they have a real struggle for food in the winter however, please don’t feed ducks and geese with bread.  They don’t digest it and it bloats in their stomachs.  This fills them up and prevents them from eating food which they can get nutrition from.

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For the smaller children a new playground has been added with several aviation themed toys including a small airplane.  The concrete pad around the playground has been painted to simulate a runway.  Windsocks are commonly used at airports to provide visual clues to pilots concerning wind direction and strength.  According to Transport Canada regulations the design of a windsock should cause it to perform consistently.  A wind speed of 15-knots should fully extend a windsock.  At 10-knots the sock should be about 5 degrees below horizontal, as the ones pictured below are.  If the sock is 30 degrees below horizontal it means the wind speed is 6-knots.

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This concludes our current series on Downsview Park.  Click on the link for the story of the officer’s housing and the William Baker Woodlot.  For the history of RCAF Downsview before the creation of the park you can click on the link above.

Google Maps Link: Downsview Park

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RCAF Station Downsview

Sunday, November 4, 2018

This blog looks at the former military base in Downsview and is part one of a two part story which included an exploration of our new urban park.  The site of Downsview Park has a long history including being home of the first aircraft manufacturing plant in Canada.  In April of 1929 de Haviland Aircraft of Canada purchased 70 acres of land along Sheppard Avenue and moved their operations from Mount Dennis.  The property was chosen because it was flat and sat at a high elevation. de Havilland erected a 20,000 square foot building and hired a staff of 35 to start production of airplanes.  The original building still stands at 65 Carl Hall Road.  The section of old Sheppard Avenue that runs through the base is now known as Carl Hall Road.  Many of the roads on the base were named after World War One heroes and Carl Hall served and died at the river Seine on October 10, 1916.   The original manufacturing plant is one of a collection of twelve properties on the site that are collectively being considered for historic designation.

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Between 1936 and 1938 de Havilland added a new main building (75 Carl Hall), paint shop and hanger.

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Additional land along Sheppard was purchased and production facilities were expanded during the Second World War when the facility began producing war planes.  Their staff grew to 2,400 and in 1942 they produced 550 Tiger Moths and another 362 Ansons.  That year they also developed the Mosquito fighter bomber at their Downsview plant.  When the war was over de Havilland went back to making commercial airplanes.  The Canadian Military maintained an interest in the runway at de Havilland and in 1947 bought up 270 of the surrounding properties to form RCAF Station Downsview.  The expanded runway is still in use to the east of the hanger where a small plane readies for take-off.

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After the war the air force moved the 400 Squadron to Downsview and reformed the 401 Squadron there.  These two Auxiliary Squadrons became the heart of a new Air Material Base.  In 1952 the Department of National Defense was given control of the lands and they granted de Havilland a long term lease on some land to the south of the base.  With de Havilland moved out, the air force soon built maintenance buildings, headquarters and housing.  They expanded the runways and in 1962 expropriated the section of Sheppard Avenue that crossed the base.  In exchange, the military granted 86 feet of land along the north end of the runway for the construction of a new Sheppard Avenue.  It is good to see that several of the maintenance buildings at 60 Carl Hall have been re-purposed and Wildlife Rescue occupies at least one of them.  The portion with the curved roof was built in 1928 as a hangar at de Havilland’s airstrip at Mount Dennis.  It features a rare wooden bow truss structure and is the oldest building on the grounds.

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In 1954 the RCAF built No. 1 Supply Depot.  This massive building covers 18.5 acres and was designed to survive the largest non-nuclear bomb of 1951.  It was also built with a one-million gallon storage tank beneath it.  Storm water was collected here for use as fire suppression.  It was also pumped onto the roof at times to reflect the sunshine and control the temperature inside.  Today it is 40 Carl Hall Road and among may other uses it houses a weekend flea market where one can buy some amazing shortbread cookies.

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Plant Complex Number 3 was built by de Havilland at 35 Carl Hall in 1952 and consists of three buildings.  The rear of the complex includes two sets of concrete ventilation towers and chambers.  These were used in the development and testing of advancements in the testing and repair of jet engines.  The building was still rented by de Havilland after they moved into their new home later in 1952.

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A central heating plant was used to supply heat to over 2 million square feet of buildings on the site.  The concrete construction uses fireproof cladding on the outside.  Four chimneys on the south side of the building mark the huge boilers inside.

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Most of the historic buildings on site have been put into service with new tenants.  A notable exception is the old fire hall at 10 Carl Hall Road.  There are several older fire halls in the city that display fine architecture and ornate styles but by the 1950’s a more utilitarian style took over and buildings became purely functional.  The 1953 fire hall at Downsview had two bays on the east side, one of which could be driven straight through and out the west end.  As a result of the style few fire halls from this period survive once they are decommissioned as it is hard to find new tenants.  This shuttered fire hall is one of the very few that remain from this era that are not still in active service.

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On the base the housing was divided into two sections.  At the north end of the base the Officers lived in William Baker Park where 81 detached and semi-detached houses were constructed.  The historic county atlas shows the area of William Baker as virgin trees in 1877, one of the rare spots on the map.  Today those houses have been removed and William Baker Park stands as a ghost town where the streetlights preside over empty streets and the houses have been demolished.  In the south end of the base a grouping of  barracks known as Stanley Greene were constructed for the enlisted men.  These were damaged in the Sunrise Propane Explosion on Aug. 10, 2008 and were demolished in 2009.  They have since been replaced by a great number of stacked townhouses.

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Although the base closed in April 1996 the military has not completely moved out.  Defense Research Development Canada operates DRDC Toronto along Sheppard Avenue near Dufferin Street.  They have a display of military equipment in front of their building including the CF-5 Freedom Fighter jet seen on the cover and in this picture.  An M113 APC is on display adjacent to the jet.  The display also incorporates two Sherman Firefly tanks, a floating pontoon bridge and several other pieces of military equipment.

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The pictures and story of our exploration of Downsview Park will be featured in an upcoming post.

Google Maps Link: Downsview Airforce Base

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