Category Archives: Uncategorized

Scarborough’s Most Eccentric Home

Sunday, November 14, 2021

One of the strangest homes in Toronto stands amidst an average-looking Scarborough subdivision. Prior to 1970, the home at 110 Maybourne was just a single-story bungalow, unremarkable among its neighbours. Since then the small home on a 50 X 100-foot lot has been repeatedly expanded to become a sprawling 3,400 square foot monstrosity. In spite of the fact that it is falling down, it recently sold for $760,000 which is basically just the purchase of the property. It will be demolished and replaced with a new home so we thought it would be good to capture its eccentricity before it is gone forever.

The home is the creation of Max Heiduczec who spent years slowly adding to the house. He picked up inspiration from many different architectural styles and ended up with a most unusual-looking result.

On the roof is a small dome that looks like it came off of a small Russian Orthodox church.

Inside the house sprawls over three and a half floors including an indoor swimming pool in the basement.

There’s a round tower that resembles a minaret on an Islamic Mosque. Lion statues line the entrance like those in an Egyptian temple.

Some of the statues could easily be re-used on the site when the owner gets around to redeveloping it. There’s a female carrying a water jug on her shoulder that appears to have weathered pretty well.

Max continued to maintain the building but with less and less ability as he got older. By 2014 he was only able to work for short sessions painting or replastering before he would retreat into the house for a rest. Today there are large sections of the stucco that have dropped away and the male statue looks like he might have spent a little too much time out in the cold.

The little windows and embattlements on the round tower reveal themselves to have only been painted on.

The square tower actually has pointed arches in the Gothic Revival tradition used on many churches in the mid to late 1800s.

This is one of the oddest homes that has been allowed to be created in the city. Perhaps no one ever thought too much about all the continuous building permits that Max must have had issued to him.

Google Maps Link: 110 Maybourne Avenue

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Toronto Suburban Railway – Guelph

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Several electric railway lines radiated out of Toronto in the early 20th century but the longest was the one that ran from Toronto to Guelph. It covered 49 miles (79 kilometres) and passed through several towns where it conveyed passengers and provided an express service. The right of way was almost exclusively privately owned and included several major bridges that had to be constructed to carry the line across the ravines and waterways along the route. Among them was the 711 foot (213 meter) long steel trestle bridge that carried the train 86 feet (26 meter) above the Humber River. It is featured in the archive picture used as a cover photo for this article. Although the line was surveyed in 1911 and 41.5 miles (67 kilometres) of track was laid west of Islington in 1914 this bridge wouldn’t be ready until 1916 because they had problems setting the footings. The railway itself wouldn’t open to the public until April 14, 1917.

The 1925 schedule below for the suburban railway shows each of the major stops and the transit time between them.

The car sheds and maintenance shops were located just west of Scarlett Road and tucked in between the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Dundas Street. These remained in use by other companies after the failure of the rail line until the 1980s. They were then demolished to create room for a townhouse development. From the maintenance yards a 200 foot (61 meter) wooden trestle was built as an approach to the bridge over the Humber River. The trestle was filled in when the 1925 extension to the Junction was built. At this time the line was re-routed under the CPR tracks to follow the power corridor. The underpass has been filled in but can still be identified by the cut on either side of the CPR mainline. The picture below looks along the filled in trestle toward the Humber River.

The piers and abutments for the bridge (see cover photo) are all that remains as the steel bridge works were removed for salvage. The river level piers have been repurposed for the pedestrian bridge on the Humber River Trail. The original bridge brought the railway across the river at about the same level as the CPR tracks beside it.

The railway stayed on the south side of the CPR as it approached Mimico Creek where it crossed on an 80 foot (24 meter) long bridge. The walkway that leads from behind Central Arena down into Tom Riley Park follows the cut in the embankment that was made by the railway. Once across the creek, the right of way passed under the CPR tracks and then turned west again. Central Park Roadway now follows the old alignment.

Islington is a village which has paid tribute to its heritage with a series of murals depicting the towns past. A beautiful mural of a radial car has been painted on the side of the building which the train ran behind. Initially there were 6 cars but two were destroyed by fire before they were even delivered. The remaining four cars were 60 feet long and had centre doors on either side. Two more cars were added in the mid 1920s (these with the standard door at the front) and service was increased to every two hours between Guelph and Toronto. For more about Islington and pictures of their other murals check our our post Islington – Village of Murals.

The line roughly followed Dundas Street through Dixie and on toward Cooksville before cutting off on an angle toward Meadowvale. It ran roughly northwest until it reached Highway 7 and then followed it into Guelph. Meadowvale is the next stop along the line where there are still remains to be found.  The rail line crossed over the tail race for Silverthorne’s Grist Mill and the crumbling bridge abutments remain as reminders to a different era.

Meadowvale

Three substations were built to power the line. The Islington and Georgetown ones were put into service but the Guelph station never was. It was intended to power an extension to Kitchener but the partially built line was scrapped during World War 1. Although there were 100 official stops only three passenger stations were ever built, these being at Acton, Georgetown and Guelph. Some of the stops had small waiting shelters while others were simply a road crossing where one could wave at the train to get it to stop. From Meadowvale the line ran through Churchville and then on to Eldorado Park the most popular destination on the route on summer weekends. Eldorado Park was a 128 acre amusement park created by the railway in 1925 as an attraction that was intended to provide passenger business. Eventually it did this to the extent that multiple car picnic excursions ran to the park, being powered by the railways freight locomotive. The image below shows a rail car dropping passengers off at the park to enjoy a day of fun before jumping on a later car to return to the city.

You can locate the old line through the park by finding the swimming pool. It ran right past the edge of the place where the pool would be built.

Following the old right of way will lead you to the place where most of it has slipped down the embankment and into the river. So much for daily service along this line.

There were 16 sets of sidings constructed to allow trains to pass each other going in opposite directions. Three Wyes were built to allow the train to turn around using a three-point turn. Lambton, Georgetown and Guelph each had one but when the line was extended to The Junction no Wye was built there due to space limitations. In The Junction the car had to travel up a side street to an existing loop to turn before making the trip back to Guelph. Heading west the line passed through Huttonville and Norval before reaching Georgetown. From Georgetown the line carried on moving northwest until it passed through Limehouse. Here it had a wooden trestle over the mill pond in what has become the conservation area before crossing the Second Line where there was a small shelter on the west side of the road. The image below shows the railway trestle piers that remain in the now dry mill pond. You can read more about Limehouse and the kilns from the lime industry in our post entitled Limehouse.

East of Acton sections of the old right of way have been converted into the Guelph Radial Trail. This trail name is easily confused with the Guelph Radial Railway which operated within the city of Guelph. In many places the old railway berm is still clearly visible. For more on this section of the trail see our post Guelph Radial Trail – Action East.

The Guelph Radial trail lets people follow the old right of way from Limehouse to Guelph. The trail has been marked with orange blazes. More can be read about this section of the trail in our feature story Guelph Radial Trail – Acton Section.

The Halton County Radial Railway Museum is on Guelph Line and uses some of the original right of way for short tourist excursions. They provide a home to a lot of electric railway artifacts including the waiting shed for stop 47 along the route. This is the stop which was located at Meadowvale. At the roadside is this car from the London & Port Stanley railway.  It operated as an electric railway from 1913-1957.

The next stop was Eden Mills and then on to Guelph. The line was never a financial success and it had very little end-to-end traffic. The timing was poor as it had to compete with the growth of automobile traffic. By 1920 there were 150,000 cars in Ontario which gave people a greater range of freedom than riding the rails could provide. Within a year of opening, the line was turned over to the Canadian Northern Railway and then in 1923 it became part of the recently created Toronto Transportation Commission. The addition of an express department which charged 40 cents to move 100 pounds of goods from one end of the line to the other did little increase revenue. In 1925 it was operating with a loss of 45 cents on the dollar. By 1931 the line was serving only 300 passengers per day and it was closed for good on August 15, 1931.

Aside from the relics featured above there’s likely a few others to be discovered on future expeditions.

Associated Blogs: Islington – Village of Murals, Eldorado Park, Limehouse, Guelph Radial Trail – Acton East, Guelph Radial Trail – Acton Section,

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Marita Payne Pond

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Marita Payne Pond is in a small residential park that follows the Don River through the Dufferin Road and Steeles Avenue area. The pond, and the park it is located in are named after Marita Payne who is a Vaughan resident. She is remembered for winning two silver medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She is also currently a co-holder of the Canadian record for the 400-metre dash.

The park was developed on the grounds of the former Glen Shields Golf Course (1952-1979) where it ran along both sides of the Don River. The 1967 aerial photo below is from the Toronto Archives and shows the river and an earlier pond where Marita Payne Pond is today. The fairways and greens from the old golf course can still be seen in the picture. The table lands were developed for housing while the ravine areas were turned into Glen Shields Park and Marita Payne Park.

The pond serves as a flood control feature by holding heavy rainfall until it can be slowly released into the Don River. The pond is fairly small but has a surprising amount of wildlife.

Although the pond has been home to a Great Blue Heron for the past several summers it was a pleasant surprise to see a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron standing on the rocks at the storm water outfall into the pond. Juveniles have a brown colour with lighter streaks and a pale yellow beak. As they mature the belly turns a pale white and they develop a black crown and back. As their name suggests, they are nocturnal and do most of their feeding in the evenings. During the day they can be hard to spot because they sleep in trees or dense foliage. The average Black-crowned Night Heron can expect to live for about 20 years.

Great Blue Herons, on the other hand tend to live for around 17 years. With their wingspan of nearly two meters they are able to reach speeds of 55 kilometers per hour in flight. It’s common for them to nest in large colonies and then fly for up to an hour each day to reach their feeding places. There has been a Great Blue Heron at Marita Payne Pond for several years in a row and it’s likely the same one each year. Birds that have been banded for tracking purposes are known to migrate to the same place each winter and return to the same nesting grounds each spring. For some reason many of these birds moved farther north this spring and we seem to have a lot more of them in the GTA. The Great Blue Heron in the cover photo is a second one, the first time I have ever seen two at this little pond. It is flying with its neck stretched out straight unlike the normal retracted “S” curve we usually see when they’re in flight.

Painted Turtles usually live between 20 and 30 years but some have been known to survive for 50 years. When you see the feet of Painted Turtles you may notice that some of them have long nails while others have relatively short ones. The long-nailed ones are the males and they use them to stroke the female turtle on the head to indicate interest in mating. If she is tickled correctly she will dive to the bottom of the water and wait for him to come and mate. When I took the picture below I thought there was just one turtle in it but a second one decided to photobomb my picture. That was nice of it.

Call Ducks are domesticated and sometimes kept for pets. They were developed in the mid-19th century as hunting ducks. They were specifically bred to be smaller than average ducks so that they could lure other ducks into funnel traps and then escape through the small exit. They also have a distinct call that carries well and can lure wild ducks from great distances. With the advent of duck whistles and the decline in popularity of hunting, Call Ducks became relatively rare. In the mid-20th century they made a come-back as show ducks and as livestock on hobby farms where they are raised for eggs and food. The pair of Call Ducks at Marita Payne Pond were quite attached to each other and when they decided to sleep they snuggled up and dozed off.

I was surprised to see a Cormorant at Marita Payne Pond for the first time in nearly 20 years of visiting here. An adult Cormorant will eat about a pound of fish per day which is nearly 10,000 pounds in their 23 year lifetime. The pond is said to have Bass, Carp, Sunfish, Catfish and Black Crappie but I wonder if it isn’t being over-fished by the large predatory water birds.

Pleated Inkcap Mushrooms grow in short grass or on wood chips and can be found in the mornings, especially the day after a rain storm. These little mushrooms are also known as Little Japanese Umbrella and the caps are between 1 and 2 centimeters and stand atop a 6 centimeter stem which is only 4-5 millimeters in diameter.

These mushrooms are very frail and thin. The radial grooves that extend from the centre to the edge of the cap match the gills on the underside. They reach maturity around noon and after releasing their spores they bein to fade away. Twenty-four hours later there will be hardly a trace of their coming and going.

The Eastern Grey Squirrel comes in both grey and black colours. Both can be born in the same litter but some confuse them for two different species. The black ones are more common in the northern range of their habitats while they don’t exist at all in the southern United States. Some populations are also known to have a black body with a red tail and a few groups of albino squirrels have also been reported.

The trail through Marita Payne Park is part of the Bartley-Smith Greenway, a 15-kilometer trail that follows the West Don River. As you follow it north-west you pass under the Glen Shields Avenue bridge and the trail changes to fine gravel from pavement. The park also become a little less maintained between here and and where it passes under the bridge for Highway 407.

I was wondering if the second Heron at Marita Payne was possible the one that is usually at the old dam just past the 407 bridge. As it turns out, this bird is in its normal spot at the base of the abutment from the dam. There’s no shortage of Herons this year in any of our parks.

River Grapes or wild grapes are growing in abundance along the side of the river. From the looks of the fruit, it’s going to be a good year for a large crop. Cultivated grapes have been developed from wild grapes by choosing plants that are the hardiest and cross breeding them.

Destroying Angel is one of the poisonous mushrooms that grow in the region. They are often found growing solo and can be identified by their bright white colour and the large veil below the cap. A distinguishing feature is the sac-like cup at the bottom of the stem.

Highway 407 was originally proposed in 1959 but the first section wasn’t opened until 1997. When construction was completed through the Concord area it was decided to re-align Highway 7 where it crossed the West Don River. A small portion of the old highway was closed and the bridge was removed. There is still a small section of the old road allowance that can be found just before the present Highway 7 bridge.

We often look for loop trails so that we can experience more terrain without having to go back over sections we already explored. Trails along the rivers in the GTA tend to be “out and back” as the parks are normally only as wide as the floodplain of the waterway they surround. It’s amazing how often we see something on the way back that was missed on the outward part of the journey. This time it was a baby Snapping Turtle that was lying in a puddle on the edge of the path. It looked a lot like a leaf in the water and could have easily been stepped on or crushed by a bike tire. Snapping Turtles can live up to 45 years in the wild and this one will have a better chance after I moved him up onto the grass between the path and the river.

Returning to the pond, it’s possible to follow the trail to the corner Of Glen Shields Avenue and Dufferin Street where it cuts through the Ghost Town of Fisherville before ending at the entrance to G. Ross Lord Park.

Marita Payne Pond has a direct connection to the Don River and fish have an easy way into the pond. Perhaps this is why such a small pond can support four large fishing birds.

Relayed blogs: Fisherville – Ghost Towns of the GTA, G. Ross Lord Park

Google Maps Link: Marita Payne Pond

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The C.N.E.

Sunday May 2. 2021

The Canadian National Exhibition (C.N.E.) started as an agricultural fair in 1846. It rotated between cities in Upper Canada and was hosted by Toronto in 1846, 1852, 1858 and again in 1878. The city decided it needed its own showcase and so the Industrial Exhibition was opened for the first time in 1879. There’s still one building from that original exhibition and several other interesting structures and monuments and so I went for a walk around the 192 acre site. Many buildings have come and gone on the grounds of the C.N.E. but its development can be traced roughly from the west end toward the east.

The first European uses of this piece of property date back to 1750 when the French built Fort Toronto, which was called Fort Rouille after 1752. The fort only lasted until July 1759 when the British were defeating the French. As their hold in North America was lost they evacuated the fort and then burned it. An obelisk monument was erected in 1887 to mark the site of the old fort. Excavations in 1979, 1980 and 1982 revealed many details of the fort and now the outline is marked by a cement walkway that can be seen in the picture below.

Following the Battle of York and the Rebellion of 1837 it was decided to build a new fort at Toronto. New Fort York was built in 1840-1841 and was later renamed Stanley Barracks. It was used by the British until 1870 when it was turned over to the Canadian Military. Troops were trained here for several wars in which Canada participated concluding with the Second World War after which the fort was no longer used by the military.

The archive picture below shows the fort with the C.N.E. buildings in the background. This picture was taken in 1931 and by the 1950’s all the buildings except the Officers Barracks, in the foreground, were demolished to create parking lots for the Exhibition.

The first annual Industrial Exhibition opened in 1879 and was graced by the arrival of Scadding Cabin. The cabin had been built in 1794 on the east side of The Don River and was later disassembled and moved to the grounds of the fair. This early act of preservation allowed the cabin to survive and today it is the oldest building in the city.

Fifteen permanent buildings were erected on the western end of the site between 1903 and 1912 while the eastern end was still used primarily for military purposes. Over the years all but five of these have been lost to fires or the construction of the Gardiner Expressway. The oldest of these is the Press Building which was completed in the Beaux-Arts style in 1904. It was originally used as the Administration Offices for the Exhibition until it was moved into the new Queen Elizabeth Building in 1957. After that the building played host to the media and the name was changed to The Press Building.

The Music Building was originally constructed as the Railways Building in 1907 and employed the Beaux-Arts Style that G. W. Gouinlock used on all twelve buildings except the fire hall. The building is made up of three 40 foot tall domes each 54 feet in diameter. The Horticultural Building was also completed in 1907 but is surrounded by a fence and temporary structures making it difficult to get a worthwhile picture.

In 1911 The Government Building was added, also constructed in the Beaux-Arts Style. It was originally used for government displays at the exhibition and later became the Arts, Crafts and Hobbies Building. It later served as barracks for Canadian soldiers during World War One. Since 1993 it has hosted Medieval Times where you can enjoy dinner and a nice jousting match.

The Fire Hall and Police Station were built in 1912 and remain in service as active detachments to this day. This was the last of the 15 permanent buildings and marked the year that the name was changed to the Canadian National Exhibition. These five remaining buildings were added to the heritage list in 1988 collectively as an historic site.

The Government of Ontario building was added in 1926 to provide permanent exhibition space for the province. This was transferred to Ontario Place in the 1970s and the building was largely vacant for a number of years except during the C.N.E. when it hosted displays. Since 2001 it has been home to Liberty Entertainment which has several banquet and ballrooms in the building.

In the 1920’s the eastern end of the park was under redevelopment and a new set of gates was planned. Work began in April 1927 and was completed in August. The plan called for a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Confederation and the gates were to be called the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Gates. However, on August 30, 1927 they were officially opened by two princes. When Edward, Prince of Wales and Prince George, Duke of Kent presided over the opening it was suitably renamed Princes’ Gates. It is also featured in the cover photo where the inscription Canadian National Exhibition 1879 – 1927 can be read.

The Shriners Peace Fountain started in 1930 as a memorial to a century of peace between Canada and The United States of America. The surrounding gardens and fountain were developed in 1958 by the Toronto Parks Department.

By the time the Horse Palace was built in 1931 the architectural style had shifted to Art Deco with its crisp clean lines. Originally the Toronto Police kept a mounted unit here during the C.N.E. and again during the Agricultural Winter Fair. Since 1968 there has been a permanent unit stationed here and in 2000 all of the Toronto Police Mounted Units were housed in this building.

A wooden entrance was built in 1895 to greet visitors who entered the park off of Dufferin Street, the main entrance at the time. In 1910 it was demolished and a set of Beaux-Arts towers with a festive arch was constructed at the western entrance to the park to match the buildings. The archive picture below shows the gates during the First World War.

Unfortunately, it and several buildings were in the way of the Gardiner Expressway and so it was demolished in the 1950s. The parabolic arch that replaced it in 1956 will remind people of the more famous St. Louis Arch, however that one wasn’t built until 1963.

Between 1955 and 1985 the Shell Tower, later Bulova Tower, stood tall above the C.N.E. at 120 feet in height. It was closed in 1983 because of continued issues with the elevator and various other structural concerns. Two years later it was demolished to make way for the first Toronto Indy Course. Today we have a smaller clock tower which stands behind the cherry trees which are just starting to blossom.

I enjoyed a two hour exploration of the grounds of the C.N.E. but when the Ex is actually on, it takes much more than that to see everything it has to offer.

Related Blogs: Battle of York, Rebellion of 1837, Scadding Cabin, Ontario Place

Google Maps Link: C.N.E.

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The First Seven Years

April 25, 2021

Seven years ago this weekend we published our first story on WordPress using the website http://www.hikingthegta.com. On April 20th we had been exploring the area around Finch and Islington and the following week it was released to universal acclaim. Both readers loved it, lol. It hinted at the combination of nature and history that the blog would evolve into. During that first year we covered most of the Humber River from Lake Ontario north. Click here to see more of that initial story called Humber River at Finch and Islington. Hiking the GTA with the idea of presenting “Places to hike and things to see in and around the Greater Toronto Area” had been born.

We published 50 stories that first year and added a Facebook Page on November 13th, 2014. The most popular story of the year turned out to be our feature on the long bridge that crosses Bayview Avenue. The bridge is currently out of service and although not quite that long it goes by the name of the Half-Mile Bridge.

2015 was our first full year and saw the release of a record 85 new stories. We covered The Credit River and large areas of Mississauga and Oakville during the year. That summer we featured the remains of the canal that was being built from Lake Simcoe to Newmarket. The project had been cancelled over a hundred years earlier as it neared completion. The Newmarket Ghost Canal was the most popular story of the year and has gone on to retain the top spot in the all time read count.

In 2015 we got one of our best Heron photos in Rockwood.

Another 80 stories were published in 2016 and we visited the former estate of Joseph Cawthra in Mississauga. The house survives as an outstanding example of Georgian Revival architecture but the grounds also feature much of the old landscaping including a walled garden and an abandoned pool. The land grant was Lot 10 and so the property became known as Lotten – The Cawthra Estate.

Our love of local history has surfaced in the series of stories called Ghost Towns of the GTA. These feature the remains of historical places and former communities from all over the area. Of the 59 blogs published in 2017 Palermo – Ghost Towns of the GTA was the most popular of all. The final residents of the home below provided a video they took the day they moved out. Quite remarkable.

Of the 66 features in 2018 we again had a Ghost Town story finish as the most popular. This time it was from the other end of the GTA in Markham, the former community of Ringwood. Many people remembered passing through there or eating in the diner. Ringwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA features more intact buildings than most of the other former communities we’ve covered.

Cardinals have an elaborate mating ritual in which the male feeds the female.

Every year we feature a couple of stories from outside the GTA from as far away as Taiwan. In 2019, for the first time, one of these road trips finished as the most popular post of the year out of the 61 we published. The story of the London Asylum for the Insane features many buildings that won’t likely survive the redevelopment of the property.

In 2019 we had the experience of watching a hawk take a squirrel out of a tree for its dinner.

The Covid pandemic has a huge impact on Hiking the GTA during 2020 as we were restricted from travelling for most of the year. We still published 61 stories by looking for creative places to explore near home. A morning walk along Jarvis Street admiring the architecture in the old mansions of one of Toronto’s early wealthy districts produced the most popular story of the year. Gooderham House and The Keg Mansion are both examined in The Mansions of Jarvis Street.

In 2020 while we were visiting some secluded areas we were still able to photograph some interesting wildlife such as this mother mink carrying her kits across Etobicoke Creek.

That brings us to 2021 which is just a third of the way through and has seen 18 new stories published. Covid continues to restrict travel and we’ve been able to publish several stories that were photographed while restrictions were eased last year. The most popular story so far has been about a former community near Milton called Omagh – Ghost Towns of the GTA. Where it stands at the end of the year remains to be seen.

Thanks to everyone who has helped make Hiking the GTA a success over the past seven years and here’s to many future explorations.

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Log Cabins

April 18, 2021

When a pioneer arrived to start to farm on their new land grant they were faced with a few government requirements. In order to take possession (or hold patent on the land) they had to clear and fence five acres, build a dwelling of at least 16 feet by 20 feet and also open the road allowance that passed along the edge of their property. They had twelve months to complete all this in what was usually 200 acres of solid virgin forest. Fortunately, the means to build the home were gained through the clearing of the land. Therefore most of the first homes were log cabins. Families lived in these homes until they were able to build larger brick homes, sometimes many years and several children later.

The oldest building in Toronto is one of these original log cabins. It was built in 1794 by John Scadding who owned the land grant on the east side of the Don River between Danforth Road and Lake Ontario. He lived here until 1796 when he returned to England and eventually selling it in 1818. Until 1879 it served as a farm outbuilding and then it was offered to the York Pioneer and Historical Society. They moved the cabin to the site of the first Toronto Industrial Exhibition, now the C.N.E. Scadding Cabin is also featured in the cover photo of this story.

Over the years we’ve presented many other log homes in our stories. Below you’ll find pictures of 16 of them along with a brief description. More details about the homes and their locations can be found in the links presented with each house. The question is, which one is closest to you and when will you check it out?

Augustus Jones originally surveyed Yonge Street and then in 1795 he was commissioned to survey Scarborough township. Augustus Jones House is said to be the oldest house in Scarborough and the second oldest in Toronto dating from 1795.

George and Mary Lyon were married in England in 1868 and sailed for Canada that same summer.  They bought 50 acres of land on Trafalgar Road near the Oakville Townhall.  This cabin dates to about 1810 and was already standing on the property when they took possession. The George Lyon home was used to raise a family of 9 children.

Daniel and Elizabeth Stong took possession of their lot in 1816 and built a log cabin where they lived for 16 years and raised 7 children. The Stong Log Cabin stands in its original location where it forms the heart of Black Creek Pioneer Village.

John and Esther Leslie built this log home in 1824 and it was moved to its present location in 1994 to make way for development of the Leslie Farm in Mississauga. The Streetsville Historical Society are the current owners of the Leslie Log Home.

This log cabin was built in 1830 and occupied by a lifelong bachelor named William Porteus McCowan. His family were among the earliest settlers in Scarborough and the McCowan Log Cabin is now part of the collection at Thomson Memorial Park.

In 1835 George Ludlow and his wife Francis moved to Trafalgar and built this log cabin which stands at the end of Burnhamthorpe Road in Glenorchy. The Ludlow Log Home is certainly in the poorest condition of any in this collection.

The Bradley Museum Log House was built in 1850 near Mono Mills. It was moved to the mouth of The Credit River in 1967 where it again faced demolition. It has been a working building at Bradley House Museum since 2007.

The Erindale Log Home was built in 1855 and moved to its present location on Jarvis Street in the 1970’s where it continues to serve as a private residence.

There’s also a half-dozen log homes that we’ve visited that are not dated and many of them are no longer in their original locations.

The Halton Region Museum has an interesting log home because it has a front gable with a small window. This would have made this home much better lit inside than the average log cabin.

The Rotary Club of Don Mills moved this pioneer home to Sunnybrook Park and dedicated it on July 16, 1975 to the people of Toronto. The dedication plaque quotes John Milton from Paradise Lost “Accuse Not Nature, She Hath Done Her Part, Do Thou But Thine.”

The log cabin at Marylake has had some additions to each end as well as a small entry porch.

The Puterbaugh Log House has been moved from its original location in Maple and now is preserved in the Pickering Museum Village. It originally had a second floor as evidenced in the row of log ends that runs just above the door. These would have supported the floor for the upper level.

The Frank Robson Log House is noted for the large timbers used in construction. It was restored in 1929 when it was still a cabin in the woods outside of the town of Maple.

A house similar to the original Ball Log Cabin home is now being used to display the typical lifestyle of a settler and a spinning wheel can be seen through the window. This one is a little outside the GTA at Ball’s Falls.

Many log cabins were hidden behind a veneer of bricks, wood siding, shingles and later even insulbrick in an attempt to make them look more modern and help to insulate them against the winter. One feature of these homes which helps to identify them is the window structure. There will never be a window that passes between a main floor and an end gable. This is because the upper logs are required to be intact for building stability. The Philip Echkardt Log house in Unionville has been covered in siding. It is said to have been built around 1800 and is the oldest home in the Markham Heritage Inventory. In the 5 years since the picture below was taken, the siding and two roof dormers have been removed and the house restored.

There’s also a new group of log cabins that have nothing to do with pioneers or land clearing. They stem from a sense of nostalgia, perhaps mistakenly thinking they represent a simpler time . In 1936 Robert Clifford and Edith Gamble built a cottage on Bond Lake which is one of these.

Log cabins let us quickly imagine the lives of the pioneers and the harsh conditions they had to endure. In a society where developers are king and historical designations are almost meaningless we’re fortunate to still have several of these relics scattered throughout the GTA and surrounding areas.

Google Maps link: Scadding Cabin

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The Reesors – Pioneers of the GTA

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Christian Reesor was born in Pennsylvania in 1747 to Anabaptist Mennonite parents who had landed in the New World in 1739. The family had moved to Pennsylvania for the promise of free land to escape religious persecution. Their pacifist faith didn’t allow them to bear arms and so they were neutral during the American Revolution. A new type of persecution followed and soon Christian planned to move to York County. He sent his son Peter to evaluate the area for suitable farms. Then, he waited until his father had passed away at 91 before finally leaving the USA. In 1804 he settled on Lot 14, Concession 10 in Markham Township and by 1877 the family owned considerable land on the west side of the tenth line. The school, the Reynolds house and the Wesleyan Methodist Church are all circled.

Sadly, Christian was killed on March 26, 1806 when they were still chopping trees to clear the land. A tree fell on him and he died almost instantly. He was laid to rest in small section of the family farm. When his wife Fanny passed away on the 10th of October 1818 she was buried in the same small family plot. Please note that this cemetery is on private land and I approached with the utmost respect for the family and their preserved history. Please respect it as well and enjoy it through the cover photo and this picture and avoid the temptation to visit in person. The small plaque on the stone was placed there during a three day family reunion in 2004 to mark the 200th anniversary of their shared heritage in Canada.

The original crown patent on Lot 10 was granted in 1801 to Isaac Westbrook who sold it to Christian Reesor in 1804. When he passed away in 1806 it went to his eldest son Peter. When he prepared to move to Cedar Grove, Peter transferred the property to his younger brother Christian. This was the Christian Reesor who in 1840 built the stone house that still stands on the property. There are also a number barns and out buildings on the property including a sawmill and a carding mill.

I really admire the Reesor family and their dedication to preserving and enjoying their family history. They have gone to great lengths to trace their family tree and contact as many of them as possible. The bicentennial plaque that we saw near the original family cemetery isn’t the only one that has been placed in the area. At the corner of Highway 7 and Reesor Road is a cairn that was placed there in 1930 to honour Christian and Fanny and their children. This came two years after the first publication of the family genealogy. They have kept the genealogy going and updated it in 1934, 1950, 1980 and 2000 before going digital for the 2004 bicentennial family gathering.

William Reynolds originally owned Lot 10 in concession10 where he started the Methodist Church which was originally known as Reynolds Chapel. In the 1851 census they are recorded as living in the one story stone house on Lot 9. The house was likely built in 1846 by Henry Reynolds. Today it is an heritage property that sits vacant in an area that is entirely surrounded by land that is part of Rouge Park. Like Cedarena just down the road it is hard to envision what the TRCA will do with these properties, if anything, before they become lost to decay or vandalism.

Locust Hill was founded in 1832 and named after the Locust trees that grew on the farm belonging to William and Esther (Reesor) Armstrong. By the time of the County Atlas pictured above The Reesor family also owned the property in Locust Hill where the Methodist Church had been built in 1856. The original church was replaced with the present brick structure in 1890. It joined the United Church in 1925 and now shares the building with the Baptist Church. A large cemetery sits across the road from the church and Reesor is a prominent name on the headstones there.

The original school building for this area stood on the west side of Reesor Road on lot 15. In the early 1860s it was decided that a new building was required and William Reesor, William Button and John Pike were appointed as trustees to purchase land for the new school. A 1/2 acre site was found on the northwest corner of lot 13 and the new school was built in 1864,

The school was closed in the 1960’s and converted to residential use. A second floor was built inside the structure and the windows were radically altered to accommodate it. Today it belongs to the Toronto Region Conservation Authority who plan to restore it to it’s original beauty. All the two-toned brick work around the windows and on the quoins was painted over making the school quite drab.

The oldest son Peter Reesor had travelled to the area to look for land in 1796 and returned with his parents as a young married man. Along with his wife Ester, their two daughters, and infant son he took up land on Lot 4 in Concession 9 in what became Cedar Grove. The county Atlas shows extensive Reesor holdings on the west side of Cedar Grove. Peter’s lot is circled in green as are the two Mennonite Churches on Reesor properties.

Locust Hill used to have a string of heritage properties along the south side of the street west of the railway tracks. The 1885 Nightswander Hotel stood into the 2000s before being lost and this 1872 dwelling that was associated with the Nightswander family is all but lost as well.

Today the Reesor family continues the 200 year old operation of a farm just south of Steeles avenue in Toronto which is said to be the only operating farm within the city limits. So, the Reesors were some of the first farmers in the area and continue to be some of the last ones too. Kudos to the family for preserving their pioneer heritage so well.

Links to Cedar Grove and Cedarena

Google Maps link: School Section 21

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Bronte Bluffs Park

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Just west of the mouth of Bronte Creek is a geological feature that dates back 13,000 years to the end of the last ice age. At that time, the lake level was about 100 feet higher than today and that version of Lake Ontario is referred to as Glacial Lake Iroquois. It is responsible for various land formations all around the lake including the Scarborough Bluffs and Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park. We decided to go and see this feature and explore the area and we used free parking in one of the lots on West River Street.

The map below shows the area as it was in 1877 including the Sovereign property which originally stretched all the way to Bronte Creek. The Sovereign House featured below is one of the three at the end of the property by the lake, possibly the one circled. Also circled is the site of the Bronte Cemetery which was on land donated by the family.

Philip Sovereign was one of the first settlers on Twelve Mile Creek, now known as Bronte Creek, when he arrived in 1814. His property on the west side of the creek mouth would be the site of the first school house in the community when he had a small log building erected the following year. His son Charles would be the teacher in the school by the time he was 17. The Sovereign family was instrumental in the early development of Bronte and their house was built in 1825. After Charles passed away in 1885 the house had several tenants the most notable being in the years 1911-1914. During this time Mazo de la Roche lived here. She was the author of the “Jalna” series of books whose 16 novels were among the most popular of the era. The house was moved on Aug. 23, 1988 to Bronte Bluffs Park where it was restored and now houses the Bronte Historical Society. Several trails run east from the house along the bluffs and lead to stairs that provide access to the beach.

Hawks are one of the few animals with colour receptors in their eyes making them incredible hunters even at great distances. Their keen eyesight also allows them to be diurnal, hunting during both the day and night hours. They can take their prey from the air as well as off the ground and can dive at speeds up to 150 miles per hour to capture it. The one sitting in a large tree outside of Sovereign House allowed me to get pretty close before pooping in my general direction and flying off. Such attitude!

There were several swans on the lake and three of them were an obvious family unit. The cygnet, or baby swan, was still grey in colour and slightly smaller than its parents. Swans are not very graceful when they take off as they need about 30 yards just to become airborne and about that much again to achieve a safe height above the land or water. The picture below shows one just as it is landing.

There was a small flock of Bufflehead ducks on the lake. These birds dive for their food and at times the entire group would disappear at the same time. The males have the large white patch that wraps around the back of the head while the females have a smaller white patch on the cheek.

While we were watching from the top of the bluffs a young couple appeared on the beach below. They both dashed into the water but she only went about knee deep. He didn’t hesitate, diving in and getting completely wet. Except for those two people there was no one else enjoying the lake on this sunny day. Even so, the Halton Police were still out on patrol, perhaps looking for those people who froze while swimming.

Chris Vokes Memorial Park is named after Major General Christopher Vokes who served Canada during the Second World War. He was from Oakville and passed away there in 1985. The war memorial in the park is dedicated to the soldiers who died in two World Wars plus the Korean War. It is actually the second war memorial to be built in Bronte, the first one being placed in 1956 at 2457 Lakeshore Road West.

Bronte harbour was home to fishermen and stone hookers who provided much of the early industry in the town. Lake Trout, Whitefish and Herring were cleaned at the docks and packed into ice for shipping to the large city markets. Up to 22 fishing boats operated out of the harbour until the 1950’s by which time most of the fish stocks had been depleted. The stone hooking industry ended after 1910 when portland cement replaced stone as a primary building material for foundations. There are several information signs around Bronte describing the local history and there is one dedicated to the fishing industry as well.

The Methodist Church sent missionaries to Upper Canada as both Primitive Methodists and Episcopal Methodists, often competing to both start a church in a community. The Episcopal church formed in Bronte and built a white structure of wood on the south side of Lakeshore. The two Methodist groups united in 1884 and a period of growth followed. By 1912 the church had outgrown its building and the next year a new brick building was opened across the street. Since this building was a gift from the Walton Family in memory of their father the church became known as Walton Memorial church. It has been part of the United Church since 1925.

Bronte Cemetery is located on land that was owned by Philip Sovereign and both he and his son Charles are buried here. A large portion of the headstones in Bronte Cemetery commemorate those who drowned working in the fishing and stone hooking industries along the lakeshore. Ironically, some of those who drowned and were later recovered and buried may be among those whose remains have subsequently been lost to the lake. Over the years about 70 feet of the cemetery has been eroded into the lake as it relentlessly beats on the shore

Philip Sovereign died in 1833 and was laid to rest in the cemetery he donated to the community.

Bronte Bluffs Park made for an interesting visit and somehow you get the feeling that you may have just scratched the surface of all that is to be seen. Hmmm…

Related blogs: Scarborough Bluffs and Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park

Google Maps link: Bronte Bluffs Park

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Hendrie Valley – Royal Botanical Gardens

November 8, 2020

Hendrie Valley is a 100-hectare section of the Grindstone Creek Valley which has been part of the Royal Botanical Gardens since 1941. Sixty percent of the area is a wetland marsh that is considered to be the best marsh on the western end of Lake Ontario. This part of the larger Royal Botanical Gardens, which covers over 900 hectares and is home to over 750 plant species along with 277 species of migratory birds, 37 species of mammals plus amphibians and reptiles. To enjoy Hendrie Valley you can park where I did on Unsworth Avenue where there are several free spots. If these are all taken there are spots on Plains Road but these ones require a parking fee. William Hendrie came to East Flamborough from Scotland in the 1870’s to purchase land for a racehorse farm. The property was donated to Hamilton Parks Board in 1931 by his son George and then turned over to the Royal Botanical Gardens ten years later. His farm was located downstream from Smokey Hollow and can be seen outlined in green on the county atlas excerpt below.

The main trails in the park are well maintained and there are very few side trails. The Royal Botanical Gardens tries to keep large sections of the grounds free of trails and discourages off trail exploration so the local wildlife can enjoy the sanctuary. Bicycles and joggers are not allowed and all pets must be kept on a leash. It is also a rule that no one can feed the wildlife but as I found out, that one is not observed.

Grindstone Creek flows through the valley on its way to the lake and the trail winds its way along side of it.

There was still a large number of salmon trying to make their way upstream to spawn even though it was late in the season. In the early 1800’s Atlantic Salmon were so plentiful in the streams around Lake Ontario that they used to fish them using a shovel to throw them onto the shore. However by 1898 the last salmon was caught off the Scarborough Bluffs and no more would be seen until restocking programs brought Chinook and Coho into the lake several decades later. In 2011 Atlantic Salmon were reintroduced to the Humber River with 100,000 fry being released. These will grow up in the lake and then return to the Humber River to spawn when they are of age.

Male Cardinals can be quite bold in the spring when they are trying to steer you away from the female as she sits on her nest but the rest of the year they are a little less likely to get in your face. I had one particularly curious fellow who was perhaps used to taking food from people because he was having a close look at me as I went past.

There are several pedestrian bridges that cross Grindstone Creek and evidence that there were previous bridges as well, perhaps dating to the days of private use for horse farming.

The section of the trail that runs through the mashes and wetlands is supported by a couple of boardwalks, one of which runs for 350 meters.

The sunlight was shining on the seeds from the sea of cattails that have populated the marshlands. Considering that each one of these cattails can contain up to 25,000 seeds it is little wonder that they spread very quickly.

It appears that the visitors to Hendrie Valley routinely leave bird feed along the boardwalk and there was plenty there on this day. This has led to the local birds becoming overly comfortable with people and dependent on them for their primary food source. This isn’t really a good thing but it does lead the Black-capped Chickadees to be quite willing to land on your hand and take a seed. A small Downey Woodpecker came for one as well but didn’t stay to get his picture taken.

There were several dragonflies taking advantage of the unusually warm day and soaking up the sunshine along the boardwalk. The Half-banded Topper has become scarce as its habitat has been reduced through development. The marshes of Hendrie Valley provide a perfect place for them to breed. When the eggs are ready the mated pair will fly in tandem while she slowly flips her tail through the water to wash the individual eggs off.

The chipmunks also love the free food that has been left for the birds and so there are a lot more chipmunks here than I am used to seeing in one place. It is also reported that there is an increased number of chipmunks in 2020 because of an unusually large acorn crop last year, which allowed them to do better over the winter. There also seems to be a large crop (or mast) this year based on what we saw during our trip to The Credit River in Georgetown back in September.

You can cross Plains Road and carry on into other parts of the Royal Botanical Gardens or use this as a loop trail and return to the car depending on the length of hike you plan to enjoy.

Google Maps Link: Hendrie Valley

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Sir Casimir Gzowski Park

Sunday, November 1, 2020

It was cold and windy down by the lake but I had decided to check out Sir Casimir Gzowski Park because of its monument to the man who was instrumental in early transportation in Upper Canada. Gzowski was born in St. Petersburg in 1813 to Polish parents and after being exiled to the USA following the Russian November Uprisings he came to Canada in 1841. His first project was work on the Welland Canal. He also completed part of Yonge Street and was a railway builder as well. His work on both the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad and the Grand Trunk Railway helped link communities across Upper and Lower Canada. His design for the international bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo was made challenging by the wind and strong currents but he was successful. As the first chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission, Gzowski was responsible for planning the park system along the Canadian side of the Niagara River. This includes the observation areas for Niagara Falls.

There is a monument to Sir Casimir Gzowski in the park which is a concrete tripod with steel beams at the top and railway ties at ground level. It was built in 1968 and in addition to the bust shown in the cover photo has several panels with considerable detail about his life and accomplishments. He died on August 24, 1898 after being ill for several months. The park and monument celebrate his contribution as a member of the Polish community.

Mute Swans, like the ones pictured here, have mostly orange bills as opposed to the mainly black bills of Trumpeter Swans and Tundra Swans. Mute swans are not native to North America and were introduced in the 1870’s as garden and park ornaments. Today there are over 3,000 of them in Ontario’s Great Lake regions. They can each eat about 4 kilograms of vegetation a day which means that they damage plant systems and destroy the habitat of local creatures.

The view toward Mimico seems to change every time I look. it wasn’t so long ago the Palace Pier was a lone condo near the mouth of The Humber River and the mouth of Mimico Creek was home to a variety of aging motels. The last of the motels has now been demolished and the now tallest building outside the downtown core stands at 66 floors looking out over the lake.

The park features a beach as well as 9 pieces of exercise equipment along with an off leash area for dogs and two picnic shelters. A concession stand also operates during peak periods. The weather along with the weekend closure of three local parking lots along Lake Shore Boulevard meant that I had the park almost completely to myself.

In the 1930’s the era of personal automobiles was really getting underway and Joy Oil Company Limited was one of the late-comers in Toronto. Gas stations today are purely utilitarian in design but it wasn’t this way with the Joy gas stations. They were built with steep pitched roofs, spires and towers in a design known as Chateau Style. A total of sixteen of these stations were built in the GTA with 14 being in Toronto. All but one has been demolished including the one that stood on the other side of High Park at 429 Roncesvalles Avenue. In 1986 bylaw 837-86 designated that station as being of architectural significance. It wasn’t long before it was demolished and replaced with a unimaginative retail store.

During the 1937 Joy Oil built the station which stood at Windemere Road and Lake Shore Boulevard. It survived the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Way and later the Gardiner Expressway before closing. By 2007 it was badly dilapidated but the city chose to rescue it. They moved it across the road into Sir Casimir Gzowski Park and spent $400,000 to renovate it. Since then it has sat behind a chain link fence waiting for one of the many plans to come to fruition. Meanwhile, the paint is starting to peel again.

The east bound lanes of the Gardiner Expressway were closed which meant that I couldn’t get really close to park. Most of the time you can park almost right beside the old Joy Station. I had to park on Parkside Drive and walk along the waterfront trail to get to Sir Casimir Gzowski Park. Along the way I noticed the true reason for the closure of the busy expressway. It was to allow a flock of geese to cross the road.

My route took me past Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, one of the last remnants of the strip of attractions, including an amusement park, that used to line the shore of Lake Ontario. More details about Sunnyside can be found in our feature story Sunnyside Beach.

I recently read about a man named Khaleel Sievwright who is building small mobile shelters for the homeless. They are well insulated and reportedly should help people stay warm at -20 with just their own body heat. The city is opposed to the shelters because they say that they could pose a serious fire hazard to the occupants. For now Khaheel continues to make the shelters and give them away, getting the needed money through on-line fundraising platforms. I happened to find one of just two or three that he has distributed so far.

Sir Casimir Gzowski Park is just one of many parks along the 3,600 kilometer Waterfront Trail and is enjoyed by joggers, cyclists and dog walkers as well as the occasional local history buff.

Google Maps Link: Sir Casimir Gzowski Park

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