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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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Cook Woodlot

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Cook Woodlot was once part of the property belonging to Thomas Cook who played an important role in the community of Carrville in Vaughan Township. The county atlas below shows his property outlined in green while the woodlot comprised the section closest to the Northern Railway line. Settlers would often clear most of their lot but left a woodlot that served them as a source of lumber and firewood. There is limited parking on Halo Court and residents would likely prefer people to park on Peter Rupert Avenue if they plan to visit. Notice that Peter Rupert owned the land below the woodlot and he lends his name to the avenue. His property extended west to Keele Street and was the site of Rupert’s Chapel in the former community of Sherwood, a Ghost Town of the GTA.

Cook woodlot is large enough to be home to a variety of animals. The oak trees seem to support a large number of squirrels. These in turn support a number of predators including red-tailed hawks and coyotes. The coyote in the picture below was sitting in the trees when I spotted it. It allowed me to get three successively closer pictures before it got up and took off.

I took two more pictures as it retreated. Although it took its eyes off of me it made sure I wasn’t following it. They have keen hearing and can detect the squeak of a mouse from 100 yards away.

Pear-shaped Puffballs grow on decaying logs and stumps. These ones were still fresh and had a white mass in the centre that hasn’t gone to spores yet. Some of these have been partially eaten by insects and they are considered choice edibles. Although, again, we promote a no picking type of hiking adventure.

An earlier crop of puffballs have reached the stage where they have released most of their spores. They have a small opening near the top of each of the small balls. When they are poked with a stick they still have enough spores to release a small green/brown cloud. Between the effects of wind and rain these spores will be released in an effort to spread the fungus to new hosts.

At the edge of the forest the trail turns and runs along the former pasture on Peter Rupert’s property. At the far end it comes to a paved trail that leads south to Rutherford Road and a large storm water pond. To the north it runs along the western edge of the wood lot and passes a couple more storm management ponds.

Cardinals have a curved beak and powerful set of jaws that allow them to crack hard seeds and nuts. Cardinals have one of the greatest varieties of seeds and nuts in their diet of any species in the local bird population. They eat about 40 different types of grass and sunflower seeds and during summer supplement 30% of their diet with various insects. This allows them to survive quite well in the winter as most of their food sources stay above the snow level.

There appeared to be a large population of juvenile DeKays Brownsnakes. One feature of the young snakes is their small patch at the back of the head. While we saw four different snakes there was one that stood out from the others. This specimen was more red than brown in colour.

On the lighter side, we found several places along the paved path where someone has written messages on the trail. It would appear that they made at least a second trip as I venture that very few people carry a piece of chalk in their pocket when they walk. The part that caught me funny was the fact that most of the feces on the trail wasn’t from a dog. Some contained a lot of seeds and was likely from racoons while other piles had a lot of fur in them suggesting that the local coyote was using the trail in more ways than one. It makes me think that someone should write on there: “You don’t know sh*t, this is coyote”, etc.

Thomas Cook left us a little more than a woodlot. You can’t fully tell his tale without touching on the community of Carrville. This was a mill town in support of a flour mill that was built by Michael Fisher in 1816. Thomas Cook and his brother William emigrated from England in 1831 and Thomas bought the mills from Fisher. He added other mills and built a store in 1856 which contained the post office from 1865 to 1923, of which he was the first post master. The Carrville Mill Dam was originally built in 1816 and must have been repaired many times. It still exists, but on private property, and is designated under the Ontario Heritage Trust. This dam served Cooks mills and it is said that his name is carved in the structure. The picture below was taken from the August 26, 1987 Town of Vaughan council act designating the dam.

The Primitive Methodists began meeting at Cook’s Mills as early as 1848 and in 1850 at the urging of Thomas they erected a white frame church near Bathurst Street. The land belonged to The Evangelical Association and they shared the building until 1857 when it was vacated by the Methodists in favour of their new church building. This church has been moved about a kilometer east on Rutherford Road and can be found in Wood Park.

Thomas Cook wanted the church to have its own land and so he donated it in 1857. He also provided the clay for the bricks which were made nearby on the property. To keep costs down he provided housing for the work crew while they erected the church building. He was known to provide the minister who served the church with lodging and a horse for his personal use. It was known as Cook’s Mills Primitive Methodist Church until it became Carrville Methodist in 1884. They joined the United Church in 1925 and continued to serve the community until the congregation could no longer support themselves and merged with the United Church in Maple. The building now serves as a community centre for the Jewish group Maon Noam.

Thomas Cook also donated land for a cemetery beside the church. Burials date back to 1860 and the cemetery is still active with interments in the past few years. A single tall white grave marker stands near the centre of the cemetery marking the resting places of Thomas Cook, his wife and two children.

Thomas was born in 1801 and after coming to Canada contributed greatly to his new home. He died on Christmas Day in 1877 and although there is a woodlot named after him there is no information plaque there to tell the story of his legacy.

Perhaps one day we’ll return with a feature story on Carrville as a feature story in our Ghost Towns of the GTA series.

Google Maps Link: Cook Woodlot

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Elder’s Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday,October 3, 2020

Elder Mills began life as a farming community that centred around a set of mills where the Humber River crosses Rutherford Road at Highway 27. To investigate we started at Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve which can be accessed off of Napa Valley Road. The 1877 County Atlas section featured below shows the town and the location of the saw mill (SM) and grist mill (GM) on the Elder property as well as the Presbyterian Church (and cemetery (*PC). The school house (SCH) is across the road from the church. It also shows three properties that still contain the Robert Agar House (1855), John Lawrie House (1855) and James Sommerville House (1856) that form part of the legacy of Elder’s Mills.

In 1850 James Gibb Thompson started milling in the area by building a saw mill, grist mill and carding mill along the Humber River. He sold the business to David Elder in 1869 and in 1874 when the post office was opened on the corner of his property the town took the name Elder’s Mills. His children continued to run the grist mill and comb wool in the carding mill until 1919. The Vaughan Archives photo below shows one of the mill buildings but is unfortunately undated.

Elder’s Mills

At the foot of the ravine are a couple of flood control ponds which were showing steam fog this crisp morning. Water cools down slower than the surrounding land and cooler air will flow over the water. The warmth of the pond causes a thin layer of air above it to warm up and moisture evaporates into it. When this air mixes with more colder air coming in off the land a fog condenses out of the moist warmer air that looks like steam rising off the water.

A White Breasted Nuthatch was bobbing its way around the branches of a tree, often standing upside down. Walking straight down the branch of a tree is a quick indication that the bird you are watching could be a type of nuthatch. The back of the neck and cap of the head on the white breasted nuthatch is dark and make it appear to be wearing a hood. Nuthatches probe into cracks in the bark with their long straight bills and unlike woodpeckers they don’t lean against their tails when probing a tree.

There are two small storm water control ponds near the bottom of the hill that were originally separated by a row of about twenty small trees. All but four of these have recently been chewed off and dragged into the water to serve as food supplies. The picture below shows how ambitious the local beaver is as it is working on a much larger tree than it can possibly move after it fells it. It will then work on removing smaller branches and bringing them closer to the underwater entrance to their home.

The former Elder property has seen a few changes over the years. It spent 70 years as an industrial hub when the mills arrived and then it was later turned into a golf course. More recently it has been restored with new plantings and water management systems that allow meadows and wetlands to flourish all year. The noise of Elder’s Mills has been replaced with the tranquility of Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve.

American Goldfinch shed their bright yellow plumage after the mating season and it becomes harder to tell the male from the female. They are better set to blend in with their surroundings for the winter months. Some goldfinches will migrate south into the northern states while a few in eastern Ontario will move north into boreal forests for the winter.

There is a lookout two-thirds of the way up the side of the ravine that provides a nice view out across the nature reserve. The forests on the far side of Highway 27 are a bright red and orange that would really look nice on a sunny day.

The congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church had been meeting from as early 1841 in local homes. After the school building was erected they moved into it until they built their first frame church building in 1845. The church quickly grew to 175 members and by 1883 they had completed the construction of a new brick building on the same site. When the United Church was formed in 1925 nearly half of the congregation left to join the new denomination and the church never recovered its former size. In 1961 it closed and, sadly, the building was destroyed by fire in 1974. Older or damaged stones were gathered into a cemetery cairn in 1983. You can read about other Pioneer Cemetery Cairns in our feature presentation.

Across the road from the church stood the town school. The original frame structure was built in 1843 and then replaced with the structure that still stands behind a new front section. The bell appears to be missing from the small cupola but the date stone is still clearly legible. It reads “School Section No 15 Erected 1872”.

Robert Agar had his house built in 1845 and it is made of bricks manufactured on his farm. The use of light coloured bricks to form the quoins and add a pattern below the eaves makes this a very attractive home. There’s a rear entrance with a porch decorated with gingerbread.

James Sommerville built his story and a half house of split field stone collected on his farm. It was completed in 1856 and cut stone was used for the quoins as well as the window and door frames. It is a simple 5 bay Georgian style house and has recently been renovated and incorporated into the Arlington Estate Event Centre.

John Lawrie built his Georgian style house in 1855 at Lot 12, Concession 9 in Vaughan Township. Four generations of Lawrie family farmed on this lot over the next 120 years. John would have gone into Elder’s Mills to visit the post office for his mail and to get things for his farm. You can read more in our feature post John Lawrie Heritage House.

There were four other homes on Huntington Road that were listed on the Vaughan Heritage Register but only the Agar and Sommerville ones were designated. Developers have apparently demolished the others as the farms around them are being stripped for development.

Google Maps Link: Elder Mills Nature Reserve

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Pioneer Cemetery Cairns

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Vaughan has embraced a program of repairing and maintaining their pioneer cemeteries. Many of these are still associated with places of worship and are being maintained by the congregation. Others mark the location of a previous church building that no longer exists. These are being restored in the form of commemorative cairns.

Presbyterian Free Church Purpleville. The Presbyterian church in this area was started in 1846 in the kitchen of Jane Lucas’ log cabin. A church was built around 1860 and the last person to be buried in the cemetery was in 1879. The church building was disassembled and used in local farm buildings and the cemetery deteriorated badly. It was the first of the Vaughan restorations having been completed in 1962.

Hope Primitive Methodist Church. Hope or Nixon’s Chapel was built around 1840 as a Primitive Methodist Church. In 1884 the various Methodist congregations joined together into the Methodist Church of Canada. When the United Church was created in 1925 Hope joined and became the Hope United Church. By 1966 the congregation had dwindled to the point where they decided to join the Maple United Church and the building was sold and dismantled. The cemetery was restored in 1963 while the church was still active on the site.

Kleinberg Wesleyan Methodist Church. Methodist congregations were formed in many small towns in Ontario with the Kleinberg one being founded in 1856. The church building was erected in 1859 but by 1869 was too small for the congregation. The Kleinberg Evangelical Lutheran Church was unable to maintain their building and so they sold it to the Methodists along with the burial grounds behind it. In 1925 when they joined the United Church a new building was constructed in town and the old one demolished. The cemetery contains members of both congregations and was restored in 1964 in the shape of a cross with a flower garden in the middle.

Old St. Stephen’s Langstaff. An Anglican Church was built in 1838 on a plot of land donated by one of the Keffer brothers of Sherwood.  The property was owned by a member of the Zion Lutheran Church, honouring a longstanding history of cooperation between the two denominations.  In 1895 they built a new church on Keele Street on the north end of Maple. While looking at the names and dates on the markers I noticed that there were a lot of tombstones marking the graves of people who lived less than a year.  From the days of the first settlers in North America until the mid-1800s about 30% of infants did not survive their first year. The cairn was constructed in 1965. More can be read about this church and cemetery in our feature post Pioneer Heartbreak.

Rupert’s Chapel in Sherwood. In the early 1880’s Adam and Ann Rupert lived on Lot 16 Concession 3 of Vaughan.  On April 23, 1939 Peter Rupert deeded an acre of land for the construction of a Wesleyan Methodist church.  The Methodists worshiped here from 1840 until 1870 when they opened a new building in Maple.  The church building was purchased in 1885 by the Sherwood Church of Christ (Disciples) which had been meeting in homes prior to that.  They used the building until 1925 after which it sat empty until it was dismantled in 1944. The tombstones were collected into a cairn in 1966. More about the town of Sherwood can be found in our feature Sherwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA.

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Fisherville Presbyterian Church. The only surviving building from Fisherville is the Presbyterian church which was built in 1856.  It was located near the north east corner of Dufferin and Steeles but moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1960. The remaining tombstones were collected into a cairn in 1967. The story of Fisherville can be read in our feature Fisherville – Ghost Towns of the GTA.

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Pinegrove Congregational Church. This church was established in 1840 in a large frame structure that served the community of Pine Grove until 1864 at which time it was decided to build a new church on Islington Avenue. The old frame building was eventually demolished and the cemetery left until it was restored in 1968.

Cairn

Purpleville Wesleyan Church. Founded in 1840 this congregation met in homes until their church building was finally completed around 1850. The congregation remained small and by 1900 most of the remaining Methodists has either moved away or started attending church in Teston. The building stood vacant until being demolished in 1915 and the cemetery was restored in 1969.

Cairn

Edgeley Meeting House. The oldest existing church structure erected in Vaughan is the Edgeley Meeting House which was built in 1824. When the Mennonite congregation split in 1889 weekly meetings were discontinued. At first they were held monthly but by 1923 were discontinued. In 1976 the building was moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village while the cemetery was restored in 1985.

Cairn

St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. This is the only cairn presented here that is attached to a site with an active church congregation. The Upper Corner church was established in 1837 but erected its first building in 1844. A beautiful brick building was constructed in 1889 to replace the original and it remains in use at this time, although the congregation is meeting on-line due to Covid-19. Something the founders could never have imagined. The pioneer stones were restored in 1990.

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St. Paul’s 1889 church building.

Teston Wesleyan Church is an exception to this process of restoration. The congregation began in 1811 meeting in various homes. in 1845 they built a log church on the side of Teston Road. When it burned down in the late 1860’s the church was replaced with a new one at the main intersection in town. The early pioneers now lay in unmarked graves with no tombstones at all. Perhaps they are in storage for some later restoration project.

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There are several other restored cairns around Vaughan which will eventually be photographed and added to this collection.

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Lambton Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Lambton Mills has changed considerably since the days when it was a mill town on the Humber River, half in Toronto and half in Etobicoke.  It isn’t a ghost town in the classic sense because so many people still live there but the ghost of the pioneer community is still evident.  To explore we parked in the small lot on the west side of the Humber River at the end of Old Dundas Street.

Lambton

Dundas Street used to cross the Humber River on an iron bridge set on stone abutments.  When the new high level bridge was built Dundas Street was realigned and Old Dundas Street lost its bridge.  The old stone abutments have have been collapsing and there isn’t much left on the west side of the river.

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Lambton Mills grew up around several mills and soon became home to blacksmiths, inn keepers and many mill workers.  North of Old Dundas Street you can still find the remains of the earthen berm that was part of the early mill dam in town.

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The archive photo below shows the large mill that William Pearce Howland built on the south side of Dundas Street.  Howland went on to be one of the Fathers of Confederation and then served as the second Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

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A short walk south along the river brings you to the remains of an earlier dam.  This helps to mark the site of another mill.

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Millwood Mills was built by Thomas Fisher on the west side of the river and south of Dundas Street.  It is shown on the historical atlas as G.M. for grist mill on the Fisher Estate.  The two story mill burned down in 1847 and was replaced with a five story building.  After Fisher’s death in 1874 the mill passed to his son who operated it for four more years before passing away himself.  In 1880 the mill was converted to steam and became eventually became a rope manufacturer named Canada Woolen Mills.  After a fire in 1901 it was permanently abandoned and now exists as a set of stone foundations in the trees.

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Lambton House was operated as a hotel on the Dundas Road beginning in 1848 as a rest stop and watering hole for travelers and horses alike.  It served as a hotel for 140 years until closing in 1988.  The property has changed a lot over the years and high rise apartments now stand all around the hotel and on the former site of the mill.  The building itself has also changed over the years.  Looking above the rear door on the east end of the building you can see where there is a set of lines that form an upside down V below the roof line.  Lines like this can often be seen on older homes where a former porch has been removed.  In the case of Lambton House, the pioneer equivalent of a garage was attached at the back of the hotel.

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The photo below from the Etobicoke Historical Society shows the hotel as it appeared a century ago.  The rear entrance on the side led directly to the drive shed where the horses sheltered.  It certainly is a more attractive hotel without the apartment buildings in the background.

Lambton House

Thomas Colton owned one of the two blacksmith shops on Dundas on the west side of the river.  It was here that he built his story and a half family home complete with a rounded window in the front gable.

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The Methodist congregation in Lambton Mills needed a new church building and local architect Meade Creech designed and built one for them in 1877.  The first services being held on March 3, 1878 in the new brick building with Gothic architecture and a large rose petal window above the main entrance.  The congregation joined the United Church in 1925 and soon needed a new building.  The old one was sold and a new retail addition was put on the front and it was turned into a store.  The city of Toronto has over 4,500 properties on their heritage register.  This means that they cannot be altered without city council approval.  There’s another 11,700 properties that are heritage listed which means that although they have been recognized as having heritage value they are basically unprotected.  Developers must give the city 60 days notice of their intention to demolish a listed building.   From the vacant lot that now exists where the church used to be it seems those 60 days have passed already.

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The house at 30 Government Road was built in 1870 for Harry Phillips who was the postmaster for the town.  This little house has a rounded arch window in the upper gable that is typical of Lambton Mills and a feature of Italinate architecture.  The four leaf clover motif in the bargeboard on the gable is also typical of the era.

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John Berry took over running Millwood Mills in 1890 and two years later he built his house at 125 Kingsway.  The mill failed and in 1894 he moved to Quebec to run a textile mill there.  He returned to Lambton Mills in 1914 and became treasurer of Etobicoke in 1918.  He served as treasurer for twenty years, walking to Islington every day because he never owned a car.

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A pair of historic homes stand at 7 and 9 Government Road where mill workers lived during the mid-1800’s.

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Another historic home stands at 23 Government Road.  This simple one and a half story house has the Lambton Mills vernacular gable window with a rounded arch.

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Lambton Mills has been totally surrounded with development but there’s still a large number of historic buildings on the west side of the Humber River.  A walk through the area reveals many old gems complete with beautiful gardens.

Also see our feature Old Mill to Lambton Mills as well as the story of Millwood Mills

Google Maps Link: Lambton Mills

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Marylake

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Sir Henry Pellatt was instrumental in bringing electricity to Toronto from Niagara Falls and invested in railways to accumulate his fortune.  He started to build Casa Loma in Toronto in 1911 and also purchased a large tract of land in King Township where he built his country retreat at the same time.  He honoured his wife Mary Pellatt by naming the property Lake Marie.

Pellatt built in stone and worked to match the feel of Casa Loma and that included having a set of stone gates right at the corner of Keele Street and 15th Sideroad.  This was the original driveway into the estate but since the lane was moved a few meters west a statue of  Mary has been installed in front of the gates.

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The gatekeepers house was also built of stone and this little story and a half home was designed to compliment the mansion that was being built near the lake.

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Henry Pellatt built an elegant estate home where he could relax with his wife and enjoy the country lifestyle.  He entertained the Eaton family and hosted riding and hunting parties for high profile guests including Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

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The estate house features towers and a turret like his main home at Casa Loma.

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Pellatt build a large barn out of bricks rather than the typical wooden structure found on most farms.  Everything about the barn was done on a grand scale including the two large silos which were topped with wooden cones.  Many windows have been broken and the cones have caved in but the long term plan is to restore the barn and possibly use it for events.  The front door to the barn is set in an alcove with a recessed pattern in the bricks above it.

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Pellatt operated a dairy farm while he lived on the property but in 1935 he was forced to give up his estate.  In 1942 the Augustinians acquired the property for their monastery and they continued the farm operations.  They changed the name to Marylake.

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The maintenance sheds are extensive but appear to be lacking in maintenance themselves.  The far end of the sheds has a small former office in it as well as being used for the current maintenance of the grounds.

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The gift shop is located in a log cabin that has an extension on each end and a small entrance porch.  This section of the property was listed as belonging to T. H. Ince in 1877 and the central part of this cabin was likely built from the trees that were cut when the land was cleared.  Although the corners are tightly dovetailed, the logs themselves show the marks of being hand-hewn.

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In 1945 the Augustinians held their first mass at Marylake and since then have continually upgraded the property to make it a site of pilgrimage for thousands of people.  The Shrine of Our Lady Grace at Marylake has three levels and is built of field stone collected on the property.  The building was completed in 1964 and features a 100 foot tower with a wall of stained glass windows.

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The Great Crucifix at the start of the Rosary Path is one of the newest features of the site having been completed in 2016.

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The Rosary Path was developed in 2014 with the ground breaking ceremony being held on September 6th.  The Rosary Path is 1.5 kilometres long making it the largest rosary in  the world.  A rosary generally has sets of ten beads known as a decade.  There is an additional large bead for each decade and including the beads that attach the crucifix there is a total of 59 beads on a five decade rosary.  The 59 beads along the Rosary Path have each been donated.

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The beads are designed so that you can kneel in each one as you pray your way along the rosary.

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Along the Rosary Path is also a display of the fourteen stations of the cross beginning with Jesus being condemned and finishing with laying Him in the tomb.

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Marylake has become a place of pilgrimage for Catholics from all around the world and will continue to draw the faithful for years to come.

Google Maps link: Marylake

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Nashville Conservation Reserve

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Nashville Conservation Reserve is made up of over 900 hectares of land that was bought up by the Conservation Authority in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel there were plans to create several large flood control reservoirs.  The lands in this conservation reserve would have been developed into a large pond created by damming the Humber River.  Funding wasn’t made available and the property was left to passive recreational uses.

On a previous visit to the Conservation Reserve we had followed the old road allowance for Kirby Road and had not ventured too far into the actual park.  We returned to do a further exploration, once again parking at Kirby Road and Huntington Road.

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Structurally the bridge is in bad shape.  The steel reinforcement is exposed everywhere and large chunks of concrete have already fallen away.  The TRCA Management Plan for Nashville Conservation Reserve included a clean-up of the bridge in 2015 that removed a lot of the deteriorating concrete.  A similar bridge over the Humber River on Old Major Mackenzie Drive serves a single house on the one side of the bridge.  The City of Vaughan is legally responsible to maintain the bridge for the family that lives there.  It is estimated that it will cost about $800,000 dollars to repair that structure.

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As we saw on our previous visit to the reserve the bridge no longer serves anything but pedestrian traffic on the Humber Valley Heritage Trail.  Kirby Road through this section was abandoned in the 1970’s and the bridge closed to vehicular traffic.  With the cost of repairs likely to be similar to the Old Major Mackenzie bridge it looks like the days of this bridge are numbered.  The official plan is to permanently close the trail on both sides of the bridge sometime in the next few years.  The view from below the bridge supports the idea that it should be removed before it collapses into the river and creates a flooding obstacle.

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With the spread of dog-strangling vines and the subsequent decline in common milkweed it was feared that monarch butterfly populations could suffer decline.  It appears from personal observation that this year has been good to the butterfly population and there are plenty of examples to be seen every time we go out hiking.

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Just past the bridge and near the top of the hill we made a left turn to enter the northern loop trail through the woods.  Trails are marked with blue slashes and were all but deserted as we made our way along.

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Northern Tooth fungus is typically found on Maple Trees where it grows in densely packed shelves from wounds in the tree.  Over time it kills the heart of the tree leaving it hollow and susceptible to being blown over in strong wind storms.  One of the trees along the trail has several large patches growing out of it but it appears that it is the only tree in the area to be suffering from this fungus.  Undoubtedly this tree has already been destroyed, it just hasn’t fallen over yet.

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The carrots we enjoy at dinner time are cultivars of wild carrots, also known as Queen Anne’s Lace.  A cultivar is a plant that has been selected because it has a desirable trait that it will continue to pass along.  The trait that has been cultivated from the wild carrot is our domesticated carrot.  The flowers on Queen Anne’s Lace are white and clustered in dense umbels.  Among all the white flowers was a single plant which had all four or five umbels that were pink coloured.

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Artist Bracket or Artist Conk is a bracket fungus that grows on trees where it decays the heart of the tree.  When they are young they are white but quickly turn darker as they age.  When the spore bearing surface below is scratched it forms dark lines that become permanent when the conk dries. Artists use these to create permanent pictures.

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There were several small mushrooms growing in a cluster at the base of a rotting log.  Orange Mycena produces an orange pigment known as leinafulvene.  It has been shown to have antibiotic properties as well as being toxic to certain tumor cells.

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Nashville Conservation Reserve is still largely unexplored and we’ll have to come back sometime to see what is happening with the old bridge.

Google Maps Link: Nashville Conservation Reserve

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The Cober Dunkard Church

Friday, August 7, 2020

Jacob Engle was one of the founders of the Dunkard sect of Mennonites in Pennsylvania and in 1808 was organizing settlers in York County.  Meetings were held in homes for the first 80 years even though a large Meeting House was built at Heise Hill in 1877.  Gormley was about 10 miles away and people in the area west of Yonge Street continued to meet in homes for the next 11 years.  Sixteen families hosted the church including that of Peter Cober (green on the map below) and several different Baker, Boyer, Doner and Heise homes.  Mennonties and other Anabaptist denominations were known for their belief that anyone baptized as a child needed to be re-baptized as an adult.  The Dunkards were named because of their belief in “dunking” people through immersion.

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In 1839 Peter Cober donated a small parcel of land on his property at Lot 12, Concession 2 in Vaughan Township for a cemetery.  Today it is known as the Baker-Cober Cemetery because the land was donated by the brothers-in-law Peter Cober and Michael Baker. Although it contains the remains of some of the first settlers in the area the cemetery is still active with the most recent burial being in 2010.  One of the truly unusual aspects of this cemetery is the pioneer styling of some of the recent burials.  They seek to keep the simplicity of the earliest buries including the tradition of reporting how long a person lived.  Today we tend to record birth and death dates.

In 1888 the congregation decided that it was time to build a permanent place of worship.  By this time the property had passed into the hands of George Cober.  He donated land south of the cemetery for the construction of a church.  Nicholas Cober constructed the building of white pine with no adornment.

The floor remains the way it was built without even the adornment of a coat of paint.  The benches and the stove provided a minimum of comfort and in the winter the congregants would sometimes sit closer to the stove.  On October 21, 1888 the first service was held in the new church but records from George Cober indicate that house meetings continued into 1896.

Peter Cober attained the position of Bishop in the church and conducted services in homes for many years.  It was Bishop Cober who introduced services in English in 1860.  Even as the German services were being replaced, the custom continued until 1916 of closing the service with a hymn sung in German.

The pioneers had to travel across roads that were often muddy or snow packed by horse and carriage.  A drive shed was added to give a place to shelter the animals during the service.  The Cober Dunkard church shed is the only surviving church shed in Vaughan Township.

They don’t park horse and buggy here as much anymore and so the space is in use for washrooms which are not provided in the little structure.  The cubicle that can be seen at this end of the shed is the ladies washroom while the outhouse for the men is at the other end.

George Cober was likely born at home on this piece of property in 1826, as was the custom at that time.  He continued to farm the property when his father passed on and in 1916 he passed on.  His burial service was conducted in the church that he donated the land for and then he was buried in the graveyard that bears his name.  I imagine that George saw relatively little of the world outside his community.

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In 1935 services were switched from every two weeks to just monthly and now the church can be used by appointment only.

Google Maps Link: Cober Dunkard Church

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