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Humber Grove – Ghost Towns of Caledon

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The remains of a ghost town lie along the Humber River on Duffy’s Lane just north of Bolton.  The property of George Elliot on the county atlas below was in the Elliot family from 1855 until 1929.  During this time a few homes were built along Duffy’s Lane with views of the river.  Only two are shown at the time the atlas was drawn in 1877.  By 1909 there were half a dozen homes with a small community forming around the bridge over the river.  In 1929 the 100-acre half lot was sold to Bertram Realty Company who planned to capitalize on the quiet setting along the river.  They divided the land into small parcels and started selling them for cottages.  People began to buy the lots and build on them and by the early 1950’s there were enough children support the construction of a new school at the corner of King Road and Duffy’s Lane.

In October 1954 Hurricane Hazel hit the GTA killing 81 people and changing the way we managed our floodplains.  Local conservation authorities across the GTA began to buy properties and remove houses that were considered at risk.  They also developed a plan that called for the construction of 15 major flood control dams and reservoirs including one on the Humber River just north of Bolton.  Of these dams only Claireville, G Ross Lord and Milne Dam were constructed.  The Glasgow dam would have been 29 metres high and Humber Grove would have been under the new flood control lake.  Slowly the houses were moved or demolished until by 1977 there were no buildings remaining.

humber Grove (2)

Duffy’s Lane is exactly that, their original laneway.  This is what is known as a “given road” because it is not part of the original grid of the township survey.  It is a privately constructed road, on private land, that was given for the use of the public.  For reference, Duffy’s Lane has been coloured brown on the map above.  The Duffy house was built in the 1840’s and has been given a historical designation by the township of Caledon.  It is seen in the picture below and marked with a red arrow on the map above.


Duffy’s Lane has had many alignments in the area where Humber Grove was and there have been at least four bridges over the river.  The county atlas above shows a bridge over the west branch of the Humber River that predated the use of poured concrete for bridge construction by 20 to 30 years.  Therefore, the abandoned bridge in the cover photo has to be at least the second bridge at this location.  The picture below shows the abutment for the old bridge in the lower right corner.  This bridge was likely built at the time that a subdivision plan was put forward in the 1920’s.  A new bridge would have been helpful in persuading people to buy a lot this far outside of Bolton. On the left in this picture are two newer bridges, the lower one from 1985.  In 2013 work began on the Emil Kolb Parkway as a bypass to keep the increasing flow of traffic from going through downtown Bolton.  The new multi-lane bridge was built in 2014 and the older one converted to a pedestrian trail.  It is likely that some of the original Humber Grove foundations were lost during the construction of these various bridges.


Milkweed pods have started to break open exposing their seeds to the wind.  Each tiny, flat seed is carried on the breeze by hundreds of tiny filaments attached to it.



Milkweed is essential in the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly.  There were many of these orange beauties flying around and it seems like it is late in the year for them.  This is the fourth generation of monarch born in Ontario this year and it is programmed to fly to Mexico to spend the winter.  The example in the picture below is a female because it lacks the two little black dots on the hind wings that mark the male scent glands.

IMG_0071 (1)

Throughout the woods, there are several obvious laneways, most often marked with a double row of trees that lined either side of the old roads.  In a couple of places, there are old hydro poles in the woods that have the wires cut from them because the homes they once served no longer exist.


At the end of the laneway above is an obvious clearing where a house once stood.  The back end of the property has been reinforced with a concrete wall.


A garter snake was sitting on a fallen branch taking in the late October sunshine.  These snakes don’t actually hibernate unless they are in a climate where it goes below -40 Celcius.  In reptiles, hibernation is normally referred to as brumation.  In most cases, the garter snake is awake through the winter with a 77% reduced heart rate and minimal oxygen intake.


The original alignment of Duffy’s Lane can still be found running north from the earlier bridge abutments at the river.  Former laneways extend into the woods along the sides of the road.  We found an old concrete foundation a few feet into the first of these laneways.  The woods have been regenerating for 40 years and most of the former entrances can only be made out due to the parallel rows of mature trees that line either side.


Old fence lines mark the edges of the various properties that used to line both sides of old Duffy’s Lane.


The boletus family of mushrooms includes over 100 varieties, many of which are edible.  They can be distinguished by the tubes that carry the spores under the cap rather than the gills that can be found on many other types of mushrooms.  Make sure that you never touch or eat any mushroom that you cannot positively identify.  There are often similar looking species where some are edible and some are poisonous and can kill you.


There is a lot of tall grass, dog-strangling vines and undergrowth throughout the area. There are plenty of foundations remaining to be found, perhaps when there is less foliage.  Humber Grove can be accessed from the Humber Valley Heritage Trail.  We explored part of this trail in a previous post called Humber Heritage Trail Bolton.

The Toronto Region Conservation Authority has an informative article on Humber Grove with historic maps that can be found here.

Google Maps Link: Humber Grove

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Bronte Creek at the QEW


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Legends of Devil’s Cave abound, including one that claims that William Lyon MacKenzie hid in the cave when his rebellion fell apart in 1837.  The cave is said to have an artesian well inside that creates a pool known as the Devil’s Pool.  It is located along Bronte Creek just north of the QEW.  The QEW and Bronte Road is the site of the former community of Merton  The last of the buildings for the town, including the 1857 school were removed to make way for the highway.  The Devil’s Cave has been closed and is not easily accessible but we decided to try and find it along with having a general exploration of the area looking for any evidence of the former community.  To start, we decided to try and make our way along Bronte Creek from a free parking lot in Petro Canada Park.

Mike “Prime Time” Post was an Oakville native and lightweight boxer.  Mike had a promising career when, tragically, he was found dead at the age of 28.  A memorial was erected in 2009 on the one-year anniversary of his untimely death.  It stands at the entrance to Petro Canada Park where Mike used to practice by running up and down the hill.


The Green Heron is one of the least common of all the heron species we have in Southern Ontario as we are near the northern extreme of its habitat.  It is small and stands at just 17 inches.  The neck is short and usually held tight against the body.


Black walnuts grow along the trail and are starting to drop off the trees.  These walnuts can be eaten and are grown for food.  The hull can be used for medicine to treat such ailments as syphilis and diphtheria.


We crossed the tracks to see if there was a better way access to the bottom but found that the best place was right beside the bridge abutment where large boulders had been placed and we were able to climb down.  Notice how the bridge has been expanded with the original section being made of cut limestone blocks while the newer part is made of poured concrete.  The original line was known as the Hamilton and Toronto Branch of the Great Western Railway and was opened to traffic on December 3, 1855.


Once at the bottom, we had to skirt around a small section of shale cliff but there is lots of room along the bottom with the water level in the creek being low.  You can make your way along the creek for some distance and today there was several dead salmon that had been left on the edge of the stream.  It is impossible to make it past this cliff of red shale and so continuing upstream at water level is not an option.  Notice the fisherman in the distance as it gives the photo a means of perspective.  This is a very long, high shale cliff.


We circled back and made our way to the top of the shale cliff and from there back out to Bronte Road which we followed back to the car.


We moved the car to the Car Pool parking near the QEW bridge.  From here we began to make our way upstream again.  This section of the creek flows through Bronte Creek Provincial Park with its very own haunted house.


There is a long section where there is a manmade berm running parallel to the embankment.  This very likely was a raceway leading to a mill in Merton.  The berm can be seen in the photo below where an animal trail runs along the top.  Trees grow on the top and sides of the berm where the ground is less marshy.


Bronte Creek was full of fishermen and we saw one person take a nice size salmon home.  It was hard to find occasions when you could get a picture without people knee deep in the river.


We followed animal trails along the side of the ravine trying to stay above the parts where water is seeping out of the side of the embankment.  The lower floodplain is a swamp throughout this area.  The side of the hill has a lot of loose leaves and topsoil on it and is very unstable.  Eventually, we determined that we needed to make our way to the top of the hill.  This landed us in someone’s backyard and so it was time to make a quick exit to Bronte Road before we found ourselves face to face with the owner.  Along the pathway, we came across this carving of an owl.


Returning to the car we followed the old Bronte Road that runs under the highway.  Prior to 2008 this was a 3 lane road, it now serves as a pedestrian and cyclist path that leads back to the Carpool parking lot.


Near the bridge, a small patch of milkweed stands with the seed pods almost ready to burst open and spread their seeds to the wind.  The pods are known as follicie and the seeds each have white filaments on them called coma.  These are hollow and make good insulation.  Due to this, milkweeds are also grown commercially for use as stuffing in hypoallergenic pillows.


We didn’t find the cave and discovered that this is not a hike that safe for everyone.  Also, you may eventually be forced out onto private property so beware.  The cave is out there, waiting for us to come and find is some other day.

Google Maps Link: Petro Canada Park

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Abandoned DVP Ramp

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The most popular new post so far in 2017 has been a collection entitled “Toronto’s Abandoned Roads“.  It contains links to a dozen posts about sections of road in Toronto that have been closed for various lengths of time but can still be identified and explored.  There is a closed ramp to the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) that has been on my “to do” list for a long time.  You can’t park on York Mills but it is only a short walk from Lochinvar, where you can park for free.  The Google Maps picture below shows the remains of the ramp as it appeared in 2016.

DVP ramp

When the DVP was built the 1960’s the ramp was opened in a partial cloverleaf that did not include the northeast corner.  As the highway got busier the ramp in the northwest quadrant became the site of an increasing number of accidents.  Westbound traffic on York Mills entered the highway into the southbound lanes in close proximity to the exit ramp for southbound motorists who wanted to get off the DVP.  Cars slowing down right where others were trying to get up to highway speed proved to be a bad combination.  In 2005 it was decided to close the ramp and the section along the side of York Mills Road was removed and replaced with landscaping that hides the fact that there is an old ramp just out of sight.


The old road surface is already showing the signs of neglect.   The picture below shows the end of the pavement near York Mills.  There are trees growing through cracks in the pavement.


When the ramp was in use a ring of maple trees circled the inside of the ramp.  Today the area inside the ramp has been taken over by first-generation regrowth.  There has been some planting of white oak trees and other native trees and shrubs and now the open grass field has been transformed into a little oasis just metres away from the rush of the DVP.


The afternoon had turned warm at 19 degrees with only a slight breeze and I was pleasantly surprised to hear the call of cicadas in the trees.  I saw this large cottontail rabbit that paused to get his picture taken.  Cottontail rabbits are seldom seen on windy days because the wind interferes with their hearing which is their primary defence against predators.


An old sign prohibiting stopping can be seen beside what once served as a pedestrian walkway alongside the ramp.


A little farther along the old road, I came to a small trail leading into the trees along the side of the ramp.  The entrance to the trail was marked with a large amount of coyote scat which gave me a pretty good idea of what the rabbit had been listening for.


In the days before this sound barrier was constructed cars entered the DVP at this point.


This Google Earth shot was captured in 2002 at which time the ramp was still in use.  A car can be seen as it approaches the curve at the top of the ramp.

DVP ramp

We have investigated several other closed sections of road, some of which have been out of service for many years.  It was good to see how much had been reclaimed in just twelve years to get a perspective on how fast nature moves back in.

Google Maps Link:  DVP and York Mills

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Kariya Gardens Mississauga

Sunday, August 7, 2017

Kariya Garden Park was officially opened in July 1992 in honour of Mississauga’s twin city, Kariya Japan.  The idea of sister cities, or twin cities, arose following the Second World War as a way of creating respect and commerce between former foes.  The city of Mississauga was twinned with Kariya on July 7, 1981.  To share a small bit of their culture with their twin city, there is a Mississauga Park in Kariya, Japan to match the Kariya Park in Mississauga, Ontario.  The Japanese city of Kariya has a population of about 150,000.   There are a few paid parking spots on Elm Street just east of Kariya Drive.

Japanese Gardens are designed with shrubs and rocks that are meant to have several layers of meaning.  The Japanese have developed their gardens over a 1,500 year period and the idea is to delight the senses and challenge the soul.  Kariya Gardens has worked hard to capture this sense of balance and aesthetics.  As you enter the park through the front gatehouse you see a small cascading water fall with a Red Japanese Maple standing beside it.  Every rock placed in the garden has a meaning and the city has provided a detailed tour guide explaining everything.


The south end of the park is being developed into a more deeply wooded section.  This area also includes several colourful gardens to compliment the Japanese Cherry Trees which bloom in May.


The south pond has a large rock in it which is known as turtle rock.  It is meant to represent a turtle coming out of the water.  On this day, there was a turtle sunning itself on the rock.  Turtles are said to be the oldest group of reptiles and are claimed to be unchanged in 250 million years.  Unlike many shelled creatures, the turtle cannot crawl out of its shell as it is attached to the spine and shoulders.  Turtles don’t breathe like most creatures which expand the ribs to make room for the lungs to take in the air.  Turtle shells prevent this and so the animal has an extra set of muscles to pull the other organs out of the way while it takes in air and then pushes on the lungs to expel it.


The gardens were designed in 1989 by Mississauga City landscape architects and then reviewed with their counterparts in Japan. Stones have been set up to represent a dry stream bed.  The stones are placed closer together to represent the faster moving water and smaller stones imitate slow moving eddies in the stream.


Outside the park, on the north end, is a Zen garden which can be seen from the bridge across the north pond.   There is a pavilion which separates the north pond from the Zen garden.  The pavilion is made of two main sections which each represent one of the twin cities.  The two sections of the pavilion are joined in the middle where a friendship bell hangs.


The friendship bell was cast in Japan and represents the friendship that the two cities have forged together.  It was installed for the opening ceremonies of Phase 2 of the park on July 7, 2001, and is just one of many sculptures that have been donated to the park by the City of Kariya, Japan.  The inscription on the bell reads “By welcoming the new century this bell is produced as a symbol of everlasting friendship between the City of Mississauga and the City of Kariya”.  The bronze bell is rung on ceremonial occasions.


Kariya Gardens is a unique park in the city as it provides an interesting and relaxing look into the culture of a Japanese Garden.

Google Maps Link: Kariya Gardens

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Road Trip – Camp Calydor and Marchmont Grist Mill

Sunday, August 27, 2017

People who live in the GTA and enjoy exploring our local history are often looking for excursions for when they’re away from home.  This road trip is for those headed up the 400 and Highway 11 with a destination in Gravenhurst and one just outside of Orillia. This post combines the WW2 Prisoner of War camp in Gravenhurst and the historic mill in Marchmont, starting with the former.

When the Germans began to bomb Britain the allies became concerned that the island might fall into Nazi hands.  If this were to happen thousands of POWs that were interred in England would be released and allowed to return to combat.  It was decided to move them to places such as Canada, for safe keeping.  An old tuberculosis hospital in Gravenhurst was selected as the home for Camp 20, also known as Camp Calydor.  June 30, 1940, was the opening day of the prison camp and there were 476 prisoners and 109 guards on hand to mark the occasion.  The picture below shows modifications made to the sewage system to prevent prisoners from being able to fit through the pipes.


The camp was fenced in on all sides, including a fence that enclosed part of the lake so the inmates could swim in the summer.  When they arrived in town they were marched from the train station, down Lorne Street, and into the compound.  The sole entrance and exit for inmates was up this set of stairs.


Most of the old concrete foundations have been removed in the name of progress so that a new subdivision can be created.  The picture below shows some of the foundations for the main building and a boiler as they existed in the late 1980’s.


The POWs built an aquarium and stocked it with fish they caught in the lake.  This little reminder of the lives of the residents of Camp Calydor has been rescued and put on display in the little parkette at the end of Lorne Street.


On either the northbound or southbound trip you may want to take a ten-minute detour to see the old mill in Marchmont.  Coldwater Road heading out of Orillia will lead you to the town of Marchmont.  The mill pond is still in place as is the old metal penstock that began to draw water from the pond in 1910 when it replaced the original wooden one. Since the mill is no longer in service the flume is no lo longer repaired and has several large holes rusted through it.


The grist mill in Marchmont was built in 1834 and was initially intended to provide work for local natives.  It operated until 1884 when it was destroyed by a fire.  The town went without a grist mill for three years until a new one was built in 1887.  For the next 60 years, it ground flour and then it was converted into a feed mill in 1947.  In 1987, for its 100th anniversary, it was closed and converted into a private residence.


Parts of the old turbine are laying on the corner of the property.  The spiral casing is also nearby.


Marchmont has several historic buildings as it still retains much of the old Victorian era charm.  As for Gravenhurst, it has many stories left to tell.

Google Maps links: Marchmont Grist Mill and Camp Calydor

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River and Ruin Side Trail

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The River and Ruin Side Trail explores the property that formerly belonged to James Cleaver.  James built the mill in Lowville and a stone house for his family.  The mill still exists as a private residence but the house has been ruined for many years.  There are four or five official parking places along the side of Britannia Road at the intersection with the Blind Line.  The Bruce Trail follows the right of way for the Blind Line and it descends to the level of Twelve Mile Creek.  Just before you reach the creek you will come to the River and Ruins Side Trail which is marked with blue blazes on the trees.  It is a 2.5 km trail that wanders through some heavy patches of Wild Parsnip, a poisonous plant.

Lowville RnR

James Cleaver was born in Pennsylvania on January 30, 1800, and was 5 when his family moved to Upper Canada.  In 1813 James went with the family horses when they were conscripted for use in the War of 1812.  It is said that James and his team were at the Battle of Stoney Creek.  It was around this time that he took an interest in becoming a Public Land Surveyor and started to attend school to qualify for this occupation.  He was 20 years old and teaching in the Lowville one room school house when he completed his studies.  The County Atlas pictured above shows the land as belonging to Cleaver PLS or Public Land Surveyor.  It was uncommon for a land owner’s occupation to appear on the map and perhaps James put this here himself.

The house was added onto at least once and it appears that there was certainly a need for it.  James married Angeline DeMond on November 3, 1827, and they had 7 children before she died in 1841.  James took Jane Watson as a second wife and had 11 more children with her.  Cleaver died March 30, 1890, leaving his land holdings to his sons. Instructions were given for the leasing of the Cleaver Grist Mill in Lowville with the money being divided among the seven living daughters.


The stone that James used to build his house was taken from the property.  Larger pieces of dolomite were used for the front walls as an expression of the status and importance of the occupants.  The rear and side walls were made of smaller pieces of limestone.  The front walls had dolomite window sills and lintels while the back of the house had rough-hewn logs for the window framing.  The cover photo shows the front side of the house and the second story can be seen in the form of window sills along the top of the wall. The walls are about 20 inches thick with wood strips set into the inside of them to allow for the application of the inner wall coverings.  These can be seen in the picture above which looks at the front wall from the inside.  The door easily accommodated James’ six-foot two height.  The story circulates on the internet that the house burned down in the 1920’s but there appears to be no physical evidence of this. All of the wood framings are free of char marks that would indicate a fire.  The limestone pieces that have fallen down contain many interesting fossils including the crinoids in the sample pictured below.


Following the trail will eventually bring you to Twelve Mile Creek, otherwise known as Bronte Creek near an old concrete and steel beam bridge.  The opposite side of the creek is clearly marked as no trespassing and the bridge claims to be under video surveillance. Both ends of the bridge are closed with steel gates.  Notice the large concrete culvert in the creek, just behind the bridge.


The Cleaver Mill Pond has been drained but a concrete dam still remains in place, close to Guelph Line in Lowville.  The approach along the river follows a well-used trail that likely represents the old Clever laneway.  Once you cross over the dam you will find that you are on the wrong side of a no trespassing sign that blocks access from the road.


The river portion of the River and Ruin Side Trail splits at one point to provide a winter and early spring trail called the High Water Trail that keeps you out of the mud and water along the side of the creek.  The Low Water Trail is more scenic and is the one to follow in the summer and autumn months.  When you get back to the point where the side trail connects with the main Bruce Trail you will find an elevated bridge that carries the Bruce Trail across Bronte Creek.


There are several historic buildings in Lowville including the old grist mill, churches, and the pioneer cemetery.  Lowville Park stands just beside the old school house built in 1889 and pictured below.  This is a replacement for the school that Cleaver once taught in.


The Bruce Trail and its side trails around Lowville make for an interesting outing and are close to several other great hikes including the following:

The Longhouse People Of Crawford Lake

Nassagaweya Canyon

Rattlesnake Point 

Mount Nemo

Kelso’s Kilns

Google Maps Link: Lowville

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Lakeside Park

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Lakeside Park in Mississauga isn’t the one made famous by the Rush song of the same name, but it does have its own claim to fame.  Lakeside Park has a unique red shingle beach.  The area was originally known as Marigold’s Point and was settled beginning in 1808 by United Empire Loyalists, many of whom came from New Brunswick. The properties slowly switched from agricultural uses to industrial as Toronto Township was developed.  Early industry in the area included an oil refinery, cement company and a sewer pipe company.


The Hamilton and Toronto Sewer Pipe Company built a factory in Clarkson in 1955 with the idea of operating a state of the art facility.  The press release claimed that the new building would accommodate every new advance in pipe technology, manufacturing and installation.  For the next 25 years, the facility would produce various sizes of baked clay pipes.  As with any manufacturing, there were often pieces that didn’t meet the company’s quality standards.  These pipes were piled up at the edge of the property along the shore of Lake Ontario.


The pipes were buried and forgotten.  Slowly, the embankment has been eroding and the pipes are being exposed to the weather and water.  As they break up and fall into the lake they get tumbled by the waves until they become small rounded shingles.  They mix with shale from the lake bottom to form a shingle beach.  The tiles on the east end of the site are the least broken up and as you walk west along the shore they become smaller and more rounded.  This is due to the natural counter clockwise east to west rotation of the lake.  Water that flows over Niagara Falls supplies most of the water to Lake Ontario and it causes the currents in the lake.  The pipes that have been in the lake the longest end up slowly being pushed west along the beach and tumbled into smaller, more rounded pieces.  The former industrial uses for the land have manifested themselves as a unique beach with some unusual opportunities for wildlife habitat.  The pipe section shown below was likely made in 1979 and is slowly making its way toward to crashing of the waves.


The shores of Lake Ontario are lined with shingle beaches that are formed when the lake throws broken shale onto the shoreline during times of heavy waves.  Just east of Lakeside Park is Rattray Marsh. This marsh only exists because a shingle beach keeps the land behind from draining completely.  Between Lakeside Park and Rattray Marsh is Bradley House Museum which makes an interesting place to visit because it showcases four historic buildings, three of which are designated as Heritage Houses.  One of these is a regency style cottage called The Anchorage, which is pictured below.  It stood near Lakeside Park from the 1830’s where it was home to a Commander John Skynner who had retired from the Royal Navy. It is said that when John retired to the home he wrote in his journal that he was now retired and the home would become his anchorage.  The Anchorage was moved to Bradley Museum in 1978.


Lakeside Park boasts one of the most unique beaches in the GTA and is an interesting example of nature making something beautiful out of an industrial garbage dump.

Google Maps Link: Lakeside Park

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