Category Archives: Uncategorized

Peterborough Lift Lock

October 9, 2022

On a business trip to Peterborough in July I had a few minutes to stop and watch the operation of Lock 21 on the Trent-Severn Waterway. The waterway is 386 kilometres long and was first travelled by a European in 1615 when Jacques Cartier explored the region using long standing indigenous routes.

The canal was originally surveyed as a military route with the first lock being built in 1833 as part of a commercial venture. Three more locks were under construction in 1837 when the Rebellion broke out. It was determined that the canal would have too many locks to be used for rapid troop movements and so the three locks were completed, and progress was suspended. With the canal incomplete and no outlet to a major lake it was connected to other travel routes by toll roads, plank roads and eventually by railways. The image below shows the side view of the lift lock in Peterborough,

It was restarted in the late 1880s by the government of Sir John A. Macdonald, but little progress was made, and it was generally used as a political tool to get votes from the communities along the route. In the late 1890s it was undertaken with a new commitment, and it reached Peterborough and Lake Simcoe in 1904. The First World War slowed progress again and it didn’t reach Trenton until 1918 and Georgian Bay in 1920. By this time the ships had grown too big for the canal system and railways were carrying most of the commercial traffic. It became a pleasure route and eventually would be declared a National Historic Site of Canada and be used as a linear park. The image below shows the lift lock with the left hand side elevated and the right side being loaded for the next lift.

When it was completed in 1904 it was the highest hydraulic boat lift in the world and the largest concrete structure in the world. The vertical lift was 65 feet (20 metres) while most conventional locks had a lift of 7 feet (2.3 metres). The system consists of two identical caissons that sit at the level of the river at their lowest point. They each sit on a 7.5 metre diameter ram. In the picture below the lift is half completed and the two caissons can be seen beside each other.

When the lift reaches the top, it stops 12 inches below the water level in the upper reach. The gate is opened and water flows in to equalize with the level of the river in the upper reach. This causes the upper caisson to increase in weight so that it is 1844 short tons compared to the lower one which has 1700 tons of water in it. When the system is ready to reverse the valve between the two rams is opened and the extra weight in the upper caisson pushed the ram of the lower caisson up until the positions are reversed. The system requires no external power as the weight of the water is enough to operate the system.

Just below the lock is a swing bridge that allows the Canadian Pacific Railway to cross the river. When not in use by the railway it is moved out of the way of boat traffic on the river.

The Peterborough Lift lock was declared a National Historical Site in 1979.

Related stories: Newmarket Ghost Canal, The First Three Welland Canals.

Google Maps Link: Peterborough Lift Lock

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Milne Dam Conservation Area 2022

Milne Dam Conservation Area is a 305 acre park in Markham which we have visited a few times. There are two previous blogs which talk about the park and the new bridges that were added across the Rouge River near the dam. We won’t be repeating very much of the information from those two stories and links to them can be found at the end of this blog.

The east end of the lake has become overgrown with lily pads this summer. Although the pads appear to float on the surface they are actually on long stems that grow from the bottom of the lake. The top side is flat but on the bottom of the leaves they have a series of tubes that are connected to openings on the top of the pad called stomas. Up to two litres of air are transported each day from the top of the pad to the root system using these tubes. Lily pads provide protection for small fish and also a safe place for frogs to sit and hide from underwater predators and catch flies and other insects.

Before you reach the dam you come to the newly constructed Milne Creek Bridge.  It is 42 metres long and helps connect the Markham Rouge Valley Trail which begins in Unionville at Toogood Pond.  The new bridges in the Milne Dam Conservation Area were officially opened on September 21, 2019.  The first three phases of the 15 kilometre trail are completed with the final phase currently under construction.

The first concrete and steel dam in Canada was built by Archie Milne on the Rouge River in 1911. It replaced a mill dam that had been located on the site since 1820. In the 1950s the dam and surrounding lands were bought by the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority who created Milne Dam Conservation Area using the dam to help with flood control on the Rouge River.

Canada Thistle is also known as Creeping Thistle and in spite of its name is not native to Canada. It was likely imported from the Mediterranean area by early settlers. Residents of New England blamed the emergence of the thistle on French Canadian traders and therefore gave it the name Canada Thistle. It grows both by seeds that are carried on the wind and by horizontal roots that spread below ground. It grows in open areas and likes lots of direct sunlight and can be found growing amongst crops such as canola, wheat and barley where it reduces the cash value of the crops. It tends to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies so therefore it has some benefits as well.

There is a small trail at the west end of the lake that leads down to the river where a floating walkway allows you to cross to the other side and into Camp Chimo. There is no entry fee for people who walk in to Camp Chimo and it can also be accessed from McCowan Road.

For a small fee families and youth can take basic canoe training and safety lessons at the camp.

Camp Chimo is a day camp for children that operates on the south side of the lake. They have archery, a climbing wall, a large bonfire pit and plenty of activities for the children to participate in.

Surprisingly, the children’s day camp is full of dense stands of wild parsnip. This toxic plant isn’t native to North America and was likely brough in by people who grew it for its edible root. Unfortunately, it has spread in the wild and can choke out native plants. The stems, leaves and flowers contain chemicals that make the skin more sensitive to sunlight and can cause burns and severe dermatitis. While the City of Markham cannot possibly eradicate the weed, they should try to control it in a day camp for children.

There is a nature trail on the south side of the lake which is a 5.3 kilometer loop that will bring you back to the summer camp. It is an easy trail and is suitable for all skill levels of hikers but is not accessible for handicapped people. It can also be followed to the far end of the lake and then, using the bridge by the dam, it can be turned into a longer loop back through Milne Dam Park.

Milne Dam Conservation Area has a nominal entrance fee of $4.50 per person on the weekends and holidays but is free during the week. It is well worth the entry fee because it is usually not crowded and there’s lots of picnic tables and several kilometers of trails to walk on.

Related stories: Milne Dam Conservation Area, Milne Dam Bridge

Google Maps Link: Milne Dam Park

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Old City Hall

May 29, 2022

When Toronto was incorporated as a city in 1834 it changed its name from York and it started a city hall in a temporary accommodation in the market buildings. They stayed there from 1834 until 1844 as the city continued to grow. By 1845 they were looking for a new larger space for the city council to meet. They found it in what is now St. Lawrence Market but as the city continued to expand it soon needed even more space. Toronto city architect Edward James Lennox was commissioned to design a new city hall. The building was intended to house both the Toronto City Hall and York County Court House. The design work was begun in 1883 but not completed until 1886. Construction began in 1889 and there is a date stone on the west side of the building to commemorate it.

Construction would last for ten years and along with delays there were many cost over-runs. The building of the foundations was particularly slow and delayed completion. When it opened on September 18, 1899 it was the largest municipal building in North America. The cost ran up to 2.5 million dollars which is the equivalent of 53 million dollars in 2022.

The building was constructed in the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style which was popular for large public buildings in that era. The dominant feature of the building is the 104 metre tall clock tower. It was placed off centre so that it would be seen as central by those looking up Bay Street.

The east side of the building was identified as City Hall and the lettering can be seen among the finely carved sandstone above the doorway.

York County Court House was entered from the west side of the building and the words can be seen in the sandstone carvings above that entrance.

The building features sandstone from the Credit Valley as well as near Orangeville and as far away as New Brunswick. There’s plenty of towers and round arched openings and delicate carvings all around the façade.

The building is four storys tall and includes an attic and basement. The steeply pitched hipped roof is cut by gable dormers and the windows are often set in pairs or arcaded bands with colonettes and stone mullions.

Clock tower still has a working clock and and is set with medieval motifs.

The original gargoyles on the clock tower were in poor shape by 1938 and so they were removed to eliminate the risk that they would fall and injure someone. New ones were fashioned out of bronze in 2002 and installed on the tower bringing back some of its former glory.

The details that can be seen around all four sides include an image of the sun as well as butterflies and caricatures of some of the city councilors who gave Lennox a hard time about the delays and price increases.

It was only a few decades before the building was becoming too small for the size of city council and the courthouse. When Metropolitan Toronto was formed in 1953 the courthouse was moved to Newmarket and City Hall occupied the entire building. In spite of this, the building was destined to be replaced with a new city hall in 1965.

The building shape is known as a quadrangle and it has an inner courtyard. In its present use as a courthouse this is where the police vehicles enter with the people who are being charged with a crime and are facing the judge for trial or a bail hearing. The courtyard can be accessed from the inside of the building but is not open to casual pedestrians who merely wish to look around.

The original plan for the Eaton Centre included the demolition of the Old City Hall but a group of concerned citizens managed to save it. It became a courthouse once again and was designated as a National Historic Site in 1984. The city has built a new courthouse and the plans for the old city hall are once again up for discussion. One plan would see it used as a new city museum. There are over 150,000 historic artifacts in the city archives which are rarely put on display and this could make an excellent home for them.

Old City Hall is just as elaborate inside as it is on the outside and you used to be able to get in on any day that court was in session.

See also our post on Queens Park, another of the historic government buildings in downtown Toronto.

To see a list of our top 50 stories check out our post Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails.

Google Maps Link: Old City Hall

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Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails

Sunday April 24, 2022

Hiking the GTA was founded in April 2014 and this post marks our eighth anniversary and our 553rd post. To celebrate, we’re presenting our top 50 posts as determined by the number of times the story has been read. You can click on either the post title or the picture caption to be taken to the original post, each of which is about a five minute read with 10-12 pictures. Each one also has a Google Maps link so that you can find it for your own exploration. How many have you been to and how many are going on your “places to visit” list? Have a look and see.

50 – The Bloor Viaduct (Published June 23, 2018)

The story behind one of Toronto’s most iconic bridges.

49 – Coopers Falls – Ghost Towns of Ontario (Published Dec. 12, 2020)

A famous cottage country ghost town with multiple empty buildings.

48 – Culham Trail Mississauga (Published May 23, 2016)

This trail along the Credit River links a lot of historic places.

47 – Adamson Estate (Published Jan. 25, 2015)

An historic estate linked to the Cawthra family and built in 1920.

46 – La Grande Hermine (Published Sep. 19, 2016)

This ship has become a landmark along the QEW but recently had its masts removed.

45 – The Alexandria (Published Jan. 12, 2019)

The story of a steamer that sank off the Scarborough Bluffs in 1915.

44 – Ontario Place (Published Jul. 21, 2018)

The creation and abandonment of a downtown Toronto theme park.

43 – Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster (Published Jun. 14, 2016)

Seven people were killed and 114 injured in the worst rail disaster in this part of the province.

42 – Barber Paper Mills Georgetown (Published Jun. 9, 2015)

The story of the famous paper mill ruins in Georgetown.

41 – Cache Lake Trestle – Algonquin Park (Published Jul. 18, 2016)

The story of a railway through Algonquin Park and the decaying trestle left behind.

40 – Kerosene Castle – Oakville (Published Aug. 18, 2015)

A home and an empire built on refining kerosene in Oakville.

39 – Joshua Creek (Published Mar. 29, 2017)

A journey from upstream to the mouth of the creek.

38 – Glenorchy – Ghost Towns of the GTA (Published Dec. 17, 2017)

A ghost town in Halton with a famous bridge collapse.

37 – Taber Hill Ossuary (Published Apr. 16, 2017)

An indigenous burial site disturbed by construction in Scarborough.

36 – David Watson House – 1859 (Published Nov. 26, 201)

This house near Orangeville recently had the rear wall collapse and may soon disappear.

35 – Milkman’s Lane (Published Jan. 7, 2016)

The story of an old roadway near downtown Toronto that is now a walking trail.

34 – Hog’s Back Park – Oakville (Published Feb. 1, 2017)

A park on Sixteen Mile Creek with interesting ruins.

33 – The Devil’s Well (Published Nov. 30, 2015)

A giant glacial pothole near Rockwood Conservation Area.

32 – The Devil’s Punch Bowl (Published Dec. 29, 2015)

One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Hamilton area.

31 – The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (Published Apr. 6, 2019)

Actor Billy Van once owned this house which is falling over the Scarborough Bluffs.

30 – Cedarena (Published Feb. 2, 2019)

A once famous skating rink in now abandoned near Rouge Park.

29 – Spadina (Published Dec. 27, 2014)

A famous mansion beside Casa Loma.

28 – The Ridgetown – Port Credit (Published May 25, 2015)

The story of the ship at the end of the break wall in Port Credit.

27 – Raymore Drive (Published Jun. 15, 2014)

This community was washed away by hurricane Hazel.

26 – The Devil’s Pulpit (Published Jun. 12, 2015)

One of the most scenic hikes in the Caledon area.

25 – London Asylum For The Insane (Published Jun. 22, 2019)

The London Asylum for the Insane opened in November of 1870. 

24 – Mullet Creek’s Secret Waterfalls (Published Oct. 18, 2015)

This beautiful little spot in Mississauga has lately been posted as No Trespassing, a real shame.

23 – Half-Mile Bridge (Published Aug. 17, 2014)

The Don River and DVP both pass under this unused rail corridor which was opened in 1891.

22 – Cedarvale Park (Published Jul. 27, 2019)

Three people were killed and thirty taken to the hospital in 1995 in Toronto’s worst subway accident with rescue operations being conducted in this city park.

21 – The Vandalized Memorial – Taras Shevchenko Museum (Published Dec. 15, 2015)

This memorial to Ukrainian hero Taras Shevchenko was vandalized several times and now is a housing development.

20 – Palermo – Ghost Towns of the GTA (Published Nov. 29, 2017)

Palermo still has several original structures but is threatened with urban sprawl.

19 – River and Ruin Side Trail (Published Aug. 19, 2017)

Unfortunately, someone decided to knock this old stone house over and ruined the famous ruins.

18 – Country Hospital For Sick Children (Published Oct. 27, 2016)

In 1928 the Hospital For Sick Children opened a building in the country for the care of children and the building still stands amongst the abandoned grounds.

17 – Scarborough’s Most Eccentric Home (Published Nov. 13, 2021)

One man’s collection of architectural styles all mixed together makes this a very unique home.

16 – Lotten – Cawthra Estate Mississauga (Published Feb. 4, 2016)

This beautiful house stands in the forests surrounding the old Cawthra estate.

15 – Omagh – Ghost Towns of the GTA (Published Jan. 23, 2021)

Omagh is outside of Milton and seems to have escaped urban spawl up to now.

14 – Graydon Hall (Published Jan. 12, 2015)

Apartment buildings surround the mansion and its gardens.

13 – Camp 20 – Bowmanville (Published Apr. 7, 2018)

These buildings have been a school as well as a POW camp for German prisoners during WW2.

12 – The Longhouse People of Crawford Lake (Published Nov. 24, 2015)

Several longhouses have been reconstructed at Crawford lake where an indigenous village once stood.

11 – Gates Gully – Scarborough (Published May 8, 2016)

Gates Gully cuts through the Scarborough Bluffs and holds tales of hidden treasure and sunken ships.

10 – Ringwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA (Published Feb 3, 2018)

Ringwood is near Markham but still has much of its small town architecture intact.

9 – Camp Calydor – Gravenhurst German POW Camp Published Aug. 6, 2015)

Little remains of the German POW camp in Gravenhurst as most of it lies under a subdivision now.

8 – Mimico Branch Asylum (Published Jan. 2, 2017)

Many of Toronto’s mental patients were housed here between 1890 and 1979.

7 – Toronto’s Abandoned Roads Published Apr. 9, 2017)

There are several abandoned roads within Toronto and this post shows you where to find them.

6 – Moccasin Trail Park (Published May 7, 2018)

This park features the famous Rainbow Tunnel that can be seen from the Don Valley Parkway.

5 – Merriton Tunnel (Blue Ghost Tunnel) (Published Feb. 28, 2018)

This abandoned railway tunnel was built under the third Welland Canal.

4 – Bond Lake (Published Sep. 13, 2016)

Bond lake once hosted a theme park and an electric railway station.

3 – The Gap (Published Nov. 16, 2016)

A gap in the escarpment is crossed by the Bruce Tail.

2 – Rice Lake’s Sunken Railway (Published Jul 26, 2016)

A railway used to run straight across Rice Lake and is still just below the surface.

1 – Newmarket Ghost Canal (Published Jun. 25, 2015)

The remains of a failed attempt to build a canal from Lake Simcoe to New Market

So, which one is first on you list now? Have fun and stay safe.

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Mongolia – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Mongolia was a community that grew around the modern intersection of Elgin Mills Road and Reesor Road. Peter De Guere arrived in 1801 and took the north west corner on lot 26. The adjoining lots were soon taken up as people cleared land for farming. As the community grew it got a tavern in 1841 and took on the name California Corners. It was never more than a farming community with a school, Methodist Church, and a Temperance Hall beside the blacksmiths shop. The rural atmosphere was lost in 1972 when the federal government decided that the flat land north of Pickering would make a good site for a future airport. They expropriated the entire town and then never built the airport. Studies show it won’t ever be needed and slowly the government is giving sections of the airport lands to help create Rouge National Urban Park. This is a far better use for the land, although it could still be productive farm land again. To explore and record what remains before it is lost we parked at the trail parking lot on the south east corner of the intersection. From there you can walk up or down Reesor Road to view the old homes or follow the trail to the historic Boyles Pioneer Cemetery. We did both. The 1877 county atlas section below shows many of the homes that still remain as well as the trail to the cemetery, which is marked with a star.

It was in 1853 that James Holden bought the corner of David Nightswanders property and the following year he opened a general store which he operated until 1861. When Nightswander got a post office for the town in 1864 he was told the name California Corners could not be used and so Mongolia was chosen from a list of approved names. A house was added beside the store in about 1870 but the store and post office burned down in 1920, leaving just the house behind. It is now being used as an information centre for Rouge National Urban Park and is one of the few homes from Mongolia that is still in great condition.

Martin Noble built this farm house in1840 and like several other older homes in the community it has been covered in white siding. I wonder if it was built of field stone like so many of the local homes were in the mid 1800s. I think we’ll be able to find out soon as the roof is caving in on this home in spite of it being on the heritage listing for Markham. Mongolia appears to be falling victim to neglect like so many of the heritage properties in the Pickering Airport Lands. It’s interesting that a designated home can’t have unapproved alterations because they can detract from the heritage properties that set it aside for preservation. However, there’s no provision in the listing to require a property to be maintained even though lack of maintenance is seriously detracting from the heritage value of these buildings.

The fields and forests around Mongolia are littered with the neglected dreams of the former inhabitants. Many out buildings, barns and drive sheds remain as well as several abandoned cars and at least a couple of boats. Now that this section of the former airport lands has been designated as part of Rouge National Urban Park it may be that some of this will be demolished while the rest is left to vanish into the new forest as it regrows across the farm fields.

The James Collins house was built in 1850 and was also subjected to white siding which likely hides a lovely brick or stone home on its stone foundation. The entire back side of this house is missing the roof and it won’t be long before this heritage designated home is lost forever.

The drive shed on the property is still in very good condition even though it may have been 50 years since the farm was active.

Another heritage property is the David Burke house from 1850. This home still looks pretty solid but has had all the interior walls stripped down to just the framing. One noticeable alteration to the home is the ground floor windows which have been replaced with smaller ones. Buff coloured bricks have been used to fill in the openings around the smaller windows which hides the alteration from a casual glance.

The Adam Betz house stands on the south west corner lot as it has done since 1851. Another one of the white siding victims in town, it stands an a thick stone foundation that may indicate another beautiful stone house.

Henry Barkey took over the North East corner of the intersection from Jacob Barkey in 1832 and lived near the centre of the lot. In 1860 a blacksmith shop was built near the corner of the intersection and was rented by George Calvert who appears in the 1861 census and the following couple as well.

The tenant in the house next door was usually the blacksmith although after the blacksmith shop closed it was rented to various people until it was taken over for the airport. It still appears to be lived in under a rental arrangement with the government.

School section #22 originally occupied a frame building on the east side of Reesor Road but in 1882 a new brick school house was opened across the street. When the school was closed the building was renovated and continues to serve as a residence.

There is a new trail that leads west from the parking lot and then turns south. It currently runs for only a little more than a kilometre but will eventually connect to a new parking lot on Major Mackenzie Drive. If you keep your eyes open you will find a 1965 Plymouth Fury which has obviously been parked here for quite some time. The Fury model was first released for the 1956 model year and was updated to its fourth generation for 1965.

The Methodist church stood north of the main intersection but its burial grounds were on the property of John Boyles. Located on a small plateau overlooking the river, it stands about 400 meters from the road. The stones have been gathered up and placed into an unusual ground level cairn with the stones lying flat. They may be more subject to the weather than they would be in a more common vertical presentation. There are at least 47 burials commemorated in this cairn and one additional one from 2002 that has a grave marker beside it. Please note that the trail ends before the cemetery and it is not part of the trail. If you choose to visit, please do so respectfully.

The gravestones in this cairn mark the lives of many of the early families in the area. John Boyles was the property owner and he died June 23, 1885 at the age of 91 and is buried here. Catherine Kester died on Sept. 12, 1816 in her 60th year and her headstone is one of the earliest that I’ve photographed anywhere in the GTA.

We previously looked at Brougham, which is another one of the Pickering Airport Lands ghost towns, which has also been left to rot and be demolished. Mongolia has a lot of heritage designated buildings that won’t be around in another ten years because they’re already becoming structurally unsound.

Related stories: For more information about the Pickering Airport check out our post Brougham – Ghost Towns of the GTA.

Google Maps Link: Mongolia

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Boynton House – Richmond Green

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Richmond Green is the largest park in Richmond Hill and is located at the modern intersection of Elgin Mills Road and Leslie Street. When the land was surveyed for a farm lot it was numbered 26 and extended from East York Line (Bayview Avenue) to Leslie and comprised 200 acres of forest. The original land grant was given to Peter Gotfried Phillipson in 1816 but as soon as he had gained ownership he sold it to John Doner. It was sold several times and finally in the 1840’s the east half and the west half were each sold as separate 100 acre lots. Thomas Fenby Boynton bought the east half lot in 1874 and he is shown as the owner in the section of the 1877 County Altas map shown below.

The original log home on the property was replaced the following year with the present brick home. It was a typical three-bay, storey and a half house in red brick. The trim work was done in buff brick giving the home a distinctive look. In the early 1900s Thomas Edward Boynton added the front porch in the Edwardian Classical style that was popular after 1910.

A small amount of gingerbread adorns the front gable over the gothic window which is accented by the use of buff coloured bricks. The window has fine pattern of glazing which creates additional gothic arches in the glass.

The Town of Richmond Hill bought the Boynton farm in 1974 to create a new park and fairgrounds. Initially, the area around the barn was used for a recycling depot for the town. The Spring Fair had been a tradition in Richmond Hill since 1849 and in 1985 the new park was ready to welcome its first Spring Fair. However, as Richmond Hill expanded over the agricultural lands around it the Spring Fair became obsolete and the last one was held in 1996. In 1985 Richmond Green also became home to the first indoor soccer fields in Canada. The picture below shows how the house has been expanded on the back where the patterned brickwork wasn’t continued.

The barn is long gone but the silo remains. The use of concrete blocks identifies it as having been built in the early 20th century when it would have been used to store feed for the farm animals. There is still a barn and paddock on site as well as a host of other features including an in-line skate trail that is turned into a skating trail in the winter. There are also soccer fields, ball diamonds, bocce courts, outdoor basketball courts and two ice rinks as well as trails throughout the grounds.

The Canadian Northern Railway (CNO) arrived in Richmond Hill in 1906 and built a station, freight shed and water tower. The line linked Toronto with Northern Ontario and was one of the railway lines amalgamated to form the Canadian National Railway (CNR) in 1918. The standard design for CNO stations involved having a waiting room on one end and a freight area on the other. The station master had the section in the middle. The post card below shows the station in 1906 and was taken from The Richmond Hill Archives.

As diesel replaced steam in the 1950s, so personal automobiles replaced trains as a means of transportation. The water tower became obsolete and was removed and by 1968 there wasn’t enough passenger traffic to keep the station open.

In 1979 the station was moved to the soccer fields at Richmond Green and is now used as a clubhouse by The Richmond Hill Soccer Club.

The park hosts several seasonal events including Canada Day, a ribfest and antique shows making it a place worth visiting several times.

Related Stories: Victoria Square

Google Maps Link: Richmond Green

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John Burk – Pioneers of the GTA

March 13, 2022

The Burk family were among the very first group of European people to arrive in Darlington and settle down to open up farms. John Burk had been born in Orange County, New York in 1754 and in 1778 he married Sara Williams who was just 18 at the time. After founding York (Toronto) in 1793, lieutenant-governor John Graves Simcoe started offering 200 acres of land to anyone willing to meet the land patent requirements and open up a farm. The next year John and Sara set off with two other families and their children to take up this offer. A bateau was loaded with their possessions and they set off to make their way from the Susquehannah River around the lake to York. The Burks owned two cows and a three-year old horse which some of the teenagers had to walk around the lake.

On October 2, 1794 the Burks, John W. Trill, Roger Conat and their families arrived in Darlington Township about 1 mile west of Barber’s Creek. Lot 24 is outlined in green on the 1877 County Atlas below and was the first homestead of the Burk family. The little green star north of the Grand Trunk Railway represents their little family graveyard. The property was in the hands of Robert Everson by the time of this map and the family had relocated closer to the creek.

The families arrived in their new home just as winter was starting to come on. Their first job was to make log shanties for shelter which they plastered on the inside with mud and covered with bark shingles for roofing. That first winter was a hard one but wolves and bear were plentiful and they had meat to eat and fur for their beds. A second, overlapping section of the map from the County Atlas shows how much land between lot 24 and the town of Bowmanville was still owned by members of the Burk clan. At one time most of the land that is now Bowmanville belonged to John Burk.

There were no mills in the area and so in 1805 John built a saw mill and grist mill near the mouth of Barber’s Creek and the community took on the name Darlington Mills. In 1823 the name of the town was changed to Bowmanville and the creek took on the same name. When John died in 1827 his son, John junior took over the family farm. The younger John was referred to as John Burk Esquire and served his community as a teacher and later as a Justice of the Peace. He had been just 9 when the family made their journey to their new home in Port Darlington. John junior died on November 8, 1832 in his 46th year.

John junior married Jane Brisbin who had been born in Whitby in 1790. They were wed on December 28, 1807 and they went on to have 11 children, their first having arrived earlier that year. Jane passed away in 1866 at the age of 75 having outlived her husband by 34 years. She also survived the loss of six of her children. Many of the earlier grave markers in the cemetery are gone including both of the senior Burks and Jane’s headstone has been broken and was fortunately part of a 1984 cemetery restoration.

Ezra was the fourth born child of John and Jane and arrived on June 18, 1812. He died at the young age of 27 on November 2, 1839 and was buried in the family cemetery.

Sarah was the 7th child and she arrived in 1822. She passed away at only 22 years of age after marrying into the Huffman family. While her cause of death isn’t known to me it is reasonable to think she may have died in childbirth as so many young women did in that era. Although I’ve focused on the Burk family there are a few others buried in this small cemetery but only a couple of their grave markers have been preserved.

The Burk family farms have changed hands many times and several of them have been taken over for the construction of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. Construction of its four reactors began in 1981 and they came on line between 1990 and 1993. As part of the site preparation, the old Burk family cemetery was restored in 1984. The grave stones that hadn’t been damaged by weather, neglect or vandalism were collected into a cairn to protect them. The land surrounding the cemetery, and perhaps on top of part of it, has been turned into a set of soccer fields.

I walked a short distance on the Waterfront Trail around Darlington but time was limited and so another visit in the warmer weather, when the birds and butterflies have returned, would appear to be in order.

The Burk Pioneer Cemetery sits in the shadow of one of Canada’s biggest nuclear generating stations and contains the nuclear family of John Burk, his wife and children.

Google Maps Link: Burk Pioneer Cemetery

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Doube’s Trestle Bridge

Sunday, December 19, 2021

On June 1, 2021 The Great Trail reverted back to its origial name of The Trans Canada Trail, which better defines this 28,000 kilometre long national trail. There’s a 53.8 kilometre section of the trail that is known as The Kawartha Trans Canada Trail. I set out to cover a small section in the middle that contains the famous Doube’s Trestle Bridge. There are a few parking spots on Orange Corner Road where you can enjoy this location which is just a short drive north of the GTA.

Starting in the 1850s, several railway lines were run north from communities along Lake Ontario including Whitby, Port Hope, Cobourg, Trenton and Belleville. These lines were intended to draw business from the larger towns to the north to their harbours and access to Toronto and Hamilton markets. Eventually these lines were connected by east west lines running between these northern towns. Peterborough and Lindsay were not connected and part of the solution was to run a line between the two. This line had to cross Buttermilk Valley and they built a 1500 foot (457 metres) wooden trestle to carry the rail line. It stood about 100 feet (29 metres) above the valley floor on the Omemee-Peterborough Line which was locally known as The Missing Link. The line was taken over by The Canadian National Railway in 1921 and track and trestle improvements were completed to accommodate heavier trains. The trestle was filled in from both ends and the centre span over the creek was converted to a steel trestle 500 feet long (150 metres). By the end of 1988 the line was abandoned and the rails lifted. Although the line was purchased in 2000 as a potential rail trail corridor it was the construction of the Trans Canada Trail that really got things moving as this was identified as a major link. By the end of 2010, 53 kilometers of the Kawarthas Trans Canada Trail was 95% complete and it would be finished in 2014. The railings below identify the steel bridge structure.

The view looking south from the bridge shows the small size of Buttermilk Creek compared to the wide ravine that stretches out on either side. About 12,000 years ago the last ice age was retreating and there was a large sheet of ice up to a kilometer thick covering this area. A large river of meltwater was flowing under the ice creating the valley below and depositing the large drumlins made of sand and gravel that dot the local countryside.

The view looking north is equally impressive with the tops of the cedars far below.

The south west end of the trestle has a park bench where you can sit and rest and look out over the valley. There’s a small trail here that will allow you to get a view of the side of the trestle. Going very far down this trail would be unadvisable because it would be easy to slip and require a rescue.

The photo below was taken from the book The Last Trains From Lindsay by Keith Hansen and shows the trestle and berm in May 1974. It gives a good idea of the height of the trestle and the size of the berm created when the ends were filled in. Also notice how the trees have been kept cleared off of the berm.

Just beyond the trestle there was a herd of cattle wandering around in the trees on the side of the hill. When they saw that I had a camera they all came down closer to the fence. They started to “Moo” at me as if I was supposed to open the gate and let them out. That wasn’t happening, there was already enough horse poo on the trail without letting 50 cows have a go at it.

There are two old trestle overpasses between Orange Corner Road and Highway 7. They allowed farmers to move livestock and equipment from one side of the tracks to the other as the rail lines often cut through the centre of a farmer’s property. This is the second of the two as you walk west and this one shows the depth of cut that the line made when it emerged from the Buttermilk Creek Valley and back onto the local topography. This part of the province is dominated by some pretty impressive glacial formations including large drumlins on the farmlands on both sides of the trail.

One of the least likely things to see on top of a tall berm is a stranded canoe. It’s obviously not going to be paddled too far in its current condition. It looks like it should have some wildflowers planted in it so that at least the local polinators can enjoy it.

Fire was always a threat in the days of steam engines because of sparks and cinders that would blow out of the smoke stack. To reduce the potential to start a fire the railway would keep the trees cleared away from the tracks for 50 feet on either side. That would have left the berm along this railway exposed to the sun and the wind and it would not have been a very nice hike on days with extreme weather conditions. Fortunately the slopes of the berm have been allowed to grow into a nice little strip of woodland.

Highway 7 passes over the old rail line on a high level concrete bridge and this is the point at which I turned around. According to the trail map at the trestle bridge, this is 3.5 kilometres from the parking spots on Orange Corner Road.

You really get to appreciate the height of the trestle above the surrounding farmland on the eastbound part of the trail. The filled-in section of the former wooden trestle runs well above the roof of the barn and the farm house just beyond it.

The views from the trestle will change with the seasons making this a year-round trail but we wonder how great it would be on a cold windy day in the middle of winter.

Google Maps Link: Doube’s Trestle Bridge

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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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