Category Archives: Uncategorized

Goldie Mill Guelph

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Goldie’s Mill ruins in Guelph are part of a legacy that goes back to 1827 when David Gilkison built a sawmill on this site beside the Speed River.  Two doctors built a grist mill named Wellington Mills in 1845 but W. Clark and H. Orton lost their mill to a fire just five years later.  The mill was rebuilt in stone and given a new name, The People’s Mills.  After this new building burned in 1864 the land was bought by James Goldie.  He expanded the mill and completed a new stone building in 1866.  The Wellington Archives post card below shows the mill as it appeared in the early 1890’s.


The Goldie family continued to operate and expand the mills until 1918 when they sold the operation.  It continued as a mill until the spring of 1929 when a flood washed out the dam.  The building was once again destroyed by fire in 1953 and has been left as a ruin ever since.  The picture below shows part of one wall.  The limestone that was used in the construction was all quarried and dressed on the site.  The masonry around the windows is quite impressive.


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Over the years the site added a cooperage to make barrels to ship the ground flour in as Goldie’s Mill became one of the primary producers in the area.  James Goldie was well respected and even served as the President of the Canadian Millers’ Association.  A foundry, tannery, piggery and distillery were all part of Goldie’s operations over the years.


Industrial uses over the years have left the soils on the site with contamination and the work of the weather and the Speed River have created several sink holes.  For this reason the city decided to fence the site to keep the public out while they did further assessments.  It was found the most of the chemical waste on the mill site was about 0.75 metres below the surface but was somewhat less in some places.  The remediation plan includes adding a membrane where the soil is thin and then new soil and mulch.  This will fix the sink holes and eliminate any human impacts from the chemicals in the soil.  It is expected that the soil and sink hole repairs will cost $450,000.


The building is also being stabilized and repaired so that it will be safe to use by the public.  The site has become popular for weddings which are expected to resume in the park in 2021 if the work is completed by then and there are no other delays.


There are ruins on both sides of the Speed River and large sections of foundations are buried along the north and northwest sides of the building.


The brick chimney sits on a foundation of cut limestone blocks.

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The 90-foot tall chimney is part of the heritage designation and has already been restored.  There is a plan to relocate a pair of Chimney Swifts to take up residence on Goldie Mill chimney.


The remnants of the mill dam are in the river just upstream from the mill ruins.  The previous dam and mill pond were much larger than those left today.


Across the street from the mill is the only other piece of architecture on Cardigan Street to survive from the 1850’s.  It was built in 1853 as a tavern and home for Bernard Kelly.  It was the common drinking hole for workers from the mills that operated along the river.  When Kelly died on 1882 James Goldie bought the place and rented it out as accommodations for some of his workers.  In 1911 the old inn was once again up for sale and this time it was purchased by the Stewart family who lived there until 1988.  It was eventually restored in 1996 to the original splendor.


The picture below shows Kelly’s Tavern as it appeared in 1977, prior to restoration.  Notice that the door on the right has been closed and bricked in and all of the window shutters have been removed.  It has since been renovated and turned into four little apartment units.


It will certainly be interesting to see how the restorations turn out and what has been done to preserve the building for future generations to enjoy.

The Rockwood Woolen Mill in Rockwood Park are also well worth a read and a visit.

Google Maps Link: Goldie Mill Georgetown

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William T. Foster Woods

Saturday, July 18, 2020

William T. Foster Woods is located on Islington Avenue, just north of Major Mackenzie Drive.  The parking lot is easily overlooked and like the trails, completely underutilized.  This little nature preserve is named after a man who spent 36 years working in forestry, including a stint as Deputy Minister of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.  At the time of William’s passing in 1989 he had been chairman of the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority for the previous 4 years.  William T. Foster Woods is located on the eastern part of the original homestead of Joseph Capner.  When Capner and his wife Charlotte arrived from England in 1830 they settled on lot 21, just outside of Kleinburg.  The 1880 county atlas below has their property outlined in green while Islington Avenue is shaded brown.


In order to claim the title for their lot early farmers had to clear at least 5 acres of land and fence it. The logs from the trees they removed were used to make the original log home and rail fencing.  The Capners raised 10 children in their first home.  In 1862 they got around to building the present house to replace the log cabin.  The bricks for the home were made on the property as were some used in the Kleinberg train station when it was built in 1870.


I always think that people who take the time to put a date stone on their homes are showing their pride of workmanship.  Their expectation must be that it’s going to last long enough for people to appreciate the passage of time.  This one is approaching 160 years and looking fine for the age.


From the parking lot there are several trails that you can follow, the first one being a circle around a large stone that bears a plaque in honour of William T. Foster (1925-1989).  This pathway is getting overgrown but it may just be that the strange times were living in causes a lack of maintenance.


Many of the trees near the parking lot have been marked with little plaques that have been placed in memory of individuals.   Dog Strangling Vines and other weeds have filled the spaces between the trees and obscured the memorials.


Wild parsnip has invaded the park and has taken over the fields under the hydro corridor.  This part of the trail needs to be hiked with caution because these yellow plants can cause severe burns if you get the sap on you.  Some people will still collect them because, like other members of the parsnip family, the roots are edible.


The male black swallowtail has a series of pronounced yellow spots on the upper side of the wings.  They spend much of their lives on members of the carrot family such as parsley and Queen Anne’s Lace.  In their caterpillar stage they are bright green with bands and yellow/orange dots.  These butterflies are great pollinators and this pair was working its way through a patch of teasels looking for nectar.


The picture below shows the female black swallowtail with her smaller yellow spots on the upper wing.  While the yellow spots may be smaller, the blue band between the yellow rows is much brighter on the female.  The cover photo shows the female under wing with its black dot in a red circle.  The picture also features a bumble bee that was just cruising in to check out the pollen on the teasel.


Clavoroid Fungi is the name given to a group of ground forming fruit bodies that are also known as coral fungus.  These are considered choice edibles but the examples that we saw in the forest were a couple of days past their prime.


Monarch butterflies were out in full force and there is plenty of milkweed in the area to support them.  Caterpillars should be out now but we didn’t see any.


We didn’t explore the full extent of William T Foster Woods because it was simply too hot in the open areas.  After wandering through the wooded ravine we made our way back to the car expecting to return on a cooler day to investigate the rest of the area.  There are many trails some of which form connections to Boyd Conservation Area.

Google Maps Link: William T Foster Woods

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The Distillery District.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The story of the Distillery District starts in 1832 with the idea for a grist mill on the east end of York (Toronto) harbour.  James Worts had been a miller in Suffolk, England before moving to York.  He built a 70-foot tall windmill that was a prominent feature on the York skyline and started a milling business with his brother-in-law William Gooderham.  Together they started a business that led to the largest distilling operation in Canada.  However, disaster struck in 1834 when James Worts lost his wife in childbirth.  Distraught, he jumped in the well at the mill and drowned himself just two weeks later.  Gooderham adopted his children and raised them along with his own thirteen.  Among the adopted was James Gooderham Worts who would become his partner in the business.

Their position on the waterfront provided easy access to large quantities of grain and so Gooderham decided to use some of it to make whiskey.  The distillery began in 1837 and being an entrepreneur, Gooderham began selling the spent grain wash to local farmers as feed.  Over the next four years he set up 9 acres of cattle sheds on the east side of Trinity Street and started a dairy operation as well.  The company kept fantastic records and appreciated their own history and so they retained the original millstone that was shipped from England in 1832 and used at the windmill.


The Toronto Archives photo below shows the distillery as it appeared in the 1890’s on a post card.  It gives an idea of the scope of the enterprise that developed from that humble beginning with a windmill and a millstone.

Captions/Presentation slides. - 1903-1982, predominant 1978-1982

 In April of 1859 work started on the first wave of expansion for the company.  They began to build the most ambitious industrial building in the city, up to that time.  Built of Kingston limestone it is 80 feet wide and 300 feet long.  One half is five stories high to contain the mill while the west end is a story and a half and contained the distillery.  Working with lanterns in a dusty environment creates a serious fire hazard and many grist mills burned down because of it.  Gooderham has his constructed to be fire proof and when it burned in 1869 only the interior was lost.  This was quickly rebuilt and it is said that the grain that fell from the upper floors protected the milling equipment below and saved it from burning.  The cover photo shows the south side of the building which originally faced the Grand Trunk Railroad Tracks.


The Boiler House is known as building number two and it is attached to the north side of the mill.  It was originally a single story limestone building but it has been radically altered overt the years.  When the boilers were upgraded in the 1880’s the limestone wall was removed to accommodate the equipment and was replaced with the present brick structure.  Just behind the smoke stack is building number four which was part of a major expansion in 1863.  The boiler house was using 30 tons of coal per day to fire the 100 horsepower engine in the mill.  The ashes from all this coal were taken and spread around the neighbourhood streets leading to some of the best packed streets in the young city.


Several buildings were added to the north of the mill and west of Trinity Street in 1863 including new offices, cooperage buildings and the four story rectifying house for the purification of alcohol.   The modest offices pictured below served the growing business until they were replaced with a new office building on Wellington Street in 1892 known as the Flatiron Building.


David Roberts Sr. was the architect for most of the early buildings in the compound while his son oversaw the construction of the later ones.  They were also responsible for designing several Gooderham family homes as well as the Flatiron Building.  Although the buildings served a utilitarian manufacturing function, Roberts made sure to include some purely aesthetic features.  Most of the brick buildings were set on limestone foundations so they would tie in visually with the stone mill.  The Rectifying House still has its decorative cupola and patterned brickwork.  This design is known as “arcaded corbelling” with a saw-tooth surmount.


In the 1870’s another round of expansion took place.  The cattle sheds on the east side of Trinity Street were torn down and replaced with new ones on the east side of The Don River.  The Pure Spirits building, tank houses and store houses were built on their former site.  The Still Houses featured in the picture below were used to adjust the proof level of the spirits to ensure a consistent 40% alcohol.


A dozen Tank Houses were added throughout the 1880’s for the storage of copper tanks of whiskey and later some were converted to hold up to 5,000 barrels per building.  


Tankhouse Lane runs from Cherry Street to Trinity Street and is lined on both sides by these storage buildings.


A shipping building was added in 1883 to store cases and barrels of whiskey that were ready for distribution to the markets.


Meanwhile, the cattle sheds continued to function across the river and fifty years of disposing of the manure into Ashbridges Bay had contaminated it to the point where it was decided to fill it in and it was turned into The Port Lands.  During the First World War the company converted to producing acetone for the military under the name British Acetone.  The picture below is from the Toronto Archives and is dated November 30, 1916.


After the war was finished the temperance movement succeeded in implementing Prohibition.  The company survived by distilling whiskey for export, although much of it passed through Quebec where it was legal and back into Ontario.  In 1927 the business was sold to Hiram Walker and continued to operate in a lesser fashion until the complex was closed in 1990.  


The entrance to the Rectifying House was deliberately made grand to allow light into the interior of the building but it also has some awesome woodwork.  Two wooden arches support a circular oculi.  The original windmill was removed after the factory was converted to steam power and the site partially built over with the Rectifying House.  The semicircle of brighter red bricks in the lower corner of this picture marks the site of the windmill that started the enterprise.


Rather than being turned into a museum like Black Creek Pioneer Village the site has been developed into The Distillery District which preserves the heritage in a unique way.  The factory buildings are full of interesting shops and activities that bring new life to one of the most complete Victorian Industrial Complexes in Canada.  The map below provides some insight into what awaits visitors to the area.


The view below looks east along Gristmill Lane with the Stone Mill on the right and the chimney for the boiler room in the background.  The Coopers Shops and Rectifying House are on the left.


This is one historic site that definitely needs another visit when I can go into the buildings and look around.

Just across Cherry Street stands the Palace Street School which was built in 1859 and served the children of many distillery workers.

Google Maps Link: Distillery District

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Saturday, July 4, 2020

Schomberg sits on the northern edge of the GTA in King Township.  The community got its start around 1830 when John R Brown emigrated from Pennsylvania to the area and settled on lot 26 in the 9th concession.  Three of his brothers also arrived in the area over the next couple of years, taking up adjacent farms.  The earliest name for the town was Brownsville but residents had to go to nearby Lloydtown for their mail so they applied for a post office of their own.  That was 1861 and the application was denied because there was already a Brownsville post office in York County.  The following year the name was changed to Schomberg, after The Duke of Schomberg, and the post office was finally opened.

An orange grain elevator stands on the side of Highway 9 close to Highway 27 that used to have the Shur-Gain symbol on the side.  Shur-Gain was introduced in 1937 as a brand name by Canada Packers.  They provided feed for animals and livestock.  Today there appears to be renovations going on at the old feed mill.


Schomberg developed a little west of the road that we call Highway 27 today on a small given road.  The town retains many of its historical buildings and so I parked and went for a walk.  Although the Shur-Gain feed mill on Highway 9 might be better known to people who pass by on the highway there is an older feed mill in town.  In 1884 Anderson Tegart built the Schomberg Feed Mill on Main Street where it had direct access to the railway.  It operated until 1927 before it shut down.  Since that time it has housed a variety of businesses including The Scruffy Duck Restaurant which is still in business.  The cover photo shows the feed mill from the south view in contrast to the view from the north presented below.


Beside the old feed mill is a small house built in the year of Confederation that belonged to one of the town doctors.  Harry E. Vaux would have served the community out of his home rather than some office in a clinic when he wasn’t visiting the homes of those who were too sick to come to him.


Schomberg has done a great job of identifying their historic buildings.  Most of the buildings on Main Street and along Church Street have little plaques attached giving the date and historical uses.


In 1905 you would have been able to walk into this building with the false front and purchase your family meat from Adam J. Smart who was the butcher at that time.


The first commercial bank in Schomberg didn’t arrive until 1902.  That was the year that the Trader’s Bank of Canada opened a branch in town.  The bank was headquartered on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto and would later become part of the Royal Bank of Canada.  The Traders bank opened in the left half of the building featured below.  The right side of the building had a grocer and general merchant in it, Wm. Leeson McGowan was proprietor of the store in 1924.


The Schomberg Agricultural Society had been meeting since 1851 and was very active in the lives of the local farmers who were served by the town.  Schomberg was well known for its produce and drew people from miles around for its farmers market.  In 1907 the Market Association was formed and they built a community hall which was used as a market.  In 1922 they added a second story to serve as a full time community hall.  The hall is currently being upgraded to make the second floor accessible and restore some of the worn out infrastructure in the building.


At one time Schomberg had its own railway line, the Schomberg and Aurora Railway which was intended to open the successful produce markets up to a larger customer base from Toronto.  It connected to the Toronto & York Radial Railway with construction beginning in 1899 at Bond Lake.  The railway operated from 1902 to 1927 bringing people to town who would have visited the markets in the community hall.   A little pathway beside the community hall building leads into the fair grounds where I found a clever use for a repurposed shipping container.  By taking the ends out it has quickly become a covered bridge over a small waterway.


It’s hard to say what will happen to the fall fairs across Ontario in 2020 with the threat of an ongoing pandemic but it might be fun to visit the one in Schomberg sometime.  The fairgrounds were pretty deserted on this hot morning.


The Baptist church in Schomberg had stopped using their building and left it vacant on Main Street.  Meanwhile, about three and a half miles away a Presbyterian congregation had been meeting since 1891 without a building of their own.  In 1907 it was decided to purchase the old church and dedicate it for their use.  They held their first services in June 1907 and continue to meet there at the present.


The archive picture below shows the old Baptist Church (now Presbyterian) and the community hall at the time before the second floor was added to the hall.  This is apparently from a postcard from the 1910’s.

Schomberg Community Hall Bill Foran_Super_Portrait

Fred and Emma Sparling ran a bakery and confectionery on Main Street in the 1890’s in this building with the cute little quarter round gable windows.

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Levi Denis was the town miller in 1875 and lived in this two story home.  The ground floor has five bays while the second story has only three sets of windows.  This lack of symmetry suggests that the second floor may have been added at a later date.


Just around the corner on Church Street is the old home of one of the town blacksmiths. This story and a half house was built in 1891 for James A. Kitchen and has some interesting patterns in the brickwork.  James and Elmira had a son named Percy who served in the First World War and then returned to live with his parents in Schomberg where he also took up the blacksmith trade.


Garrett Brown was one of the four founding brothers who started Brownsville and he built this house on Church Street in 1871.  He owned several businesses and opened the first bank on Main Street in 1885.  His bank didn’t face competition from the larger chartered banks until 1907 when the Traders Bank arrived.

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Church street continues out of Schomberg and into Lloydtown which is another interesting little rural community with a unique heritage.

Here’s the link to our story on the Toronto & York Radial Railway. and the one about Bond Lake.

Google Maps Link: Schomberg

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The Mansions of Jarvis Street

Sunday, June 28, 2020


William Jarvis was granted 100 acres of land just east of Yonge Street and running between Queen Street and Bloor Street.  Jarvis was the first Secretary and Registrar for Upper Canada.  When the property passed to his son Samuel, he began to clear the southern 50 acres and built himself an estate which he called “Hazel Burn”.  When Samuel got into financial trouble with the government he was forced to divide the property into lots and sell them off to pay his debts.  He laid out a new street which he called Jarvis Street and sold smaller, working class lots closer to Queen Street and larger lots to the wealthy farther north.  The drawing below shows the original Jarvis estate.

Jarvis estate hazel Burn

Many of the original homes have been lost to fires or redevelopment.  Several of the ones that remain are involved in development proposals at this time.  I decided to get some pictures and record the state of this once grand street as it exists today.  In the future there will likely be even less of the original glory remaining.  I found a parking place on the side of Jarvis Street, they’re free on Sunday mornings, and walked up and down both sides of the street.  The mansions are presented from the north end of the street walking south.

Arthur MacMaster was a dry goods magnate in Toronto and he built a Gothic style house in 1868.  MacMaster envisioned a type of medieval castle and completed his home with a crenellated tower.  Hart Massey, of the Massey-Harris Company, bought the home for $12,500 in 1882 when MacMaster passed away.  Massey renamed it Euclid Hall and enjoyed the fully landscaped grounds.  In 1947 the trees along the boulevard were cut down so that Jarvis Street could be widened and soon the trees and flowerbeds at the corner were removed in favour of a gas station.  Most recently the estate has been used as The Keg Mansion.


Chester D Massey (1850-1926) built his house in 1887 on the corner of the Euclid Hall property.  The concrete porte-cochere was added in 1910 as it had become fashionable to have a covered porch for vehicles to take on or discharge passengers under.


William R Johnston made his fortune as a clothing merchant.  In 1875 he added his mansion to the growing list of mansions on Jarvis Street.  It remained in the family until 1941 when it became the national headquarters for the YWCA.  Today the building is home to Casey House which was the first independent AIDS/HIV hospice in Canada.  A matching home was built by Johnston’s business partner but like so many of the grand mansions on Jarvis Street it has been demolished.


Thomas B Taylor had the house at 510 Jarvis built in 1888.  Taylor had been involved in three paper mills along the Don River including the one at Todmorden.


The house at 471 Jarvis Street was built for Thomas Thompson in 1874.  The house goes by the name Elderslie and was owned at one time by Alexander Morris who served as a Conservative for Toronto East.  He was in opposition to the government of Oliver Mowat who lived at 372 Jarvis Street.


Oliver Mowat bought a lot at 372 Jarvis Street in 1856 to build a home for himself.  Mowat was one of the Fathers of Confederation and later served as the Premier of Ontario.  His six consecutive majority governments sets a record of 24 years in power and speaks of how well loved he was.  This Georgian style house was only his for six years before he sold it.  Over the years it has belonged to several people as well as being headquarters for CBC for awhile.  It currently serves the National Ballet of Canada.  There are further pictures and details in our blog celebrating Sir Oliver Mowat and his contributions to Canada.


Beside the Jarvis Street Baptist Church, at 337, stands a house that was built in 1849 for Samuel Platt.  Samuel had made his fortune as a brewer until he went into politics in 1845 as a city councilor.  In 1872 he became involved in planning the young city waterworks before being elected as an independent MP for Toronto East, a position he held until 1882.  His house now serves as the Toronto Baptist Seminary, also known as Church House to the pastors who visit there.


The house at 314 Jarvis Street was built in 1865 and is known as the Sheard House.  The house was in the family for decades with some prominent members of the community living here.  Joseph Sheard was the mayor of Toronto from 1871 to 1872.  In 1901 his son Dr. Charles Sheard renovated the house.  Dr. Sheard was Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and was an MP from 1917-1925.  During WW2 the home was divided into apartments and eventually it was sold to developers.  The original proposal for a 43-story condo was rejected by the city.  The home was gutted by a fire in January 2016 and now the redevelopment of the site is going ahead.  It looks like the new proposal is going to incorporate part of a wall.


The building at 290 Jarvis was built in 1890 and is a style known as Richardsonian Romanesque.  It appeared for only about 20 years and is attributed to an architect named Henry Richardson.  It is known as the William Carlyle House and there is a mirror image home at 280 Jarvis Street from 1891 that is also sitting empty and boarded up.  The two of them have historical designations and are intended to be incorporated into a new 25 story condo development.


My personal favourite Jarvis Street mansion is found at number 504 and so it is presented out of sequence and as the cover photo.  This Richardsonian Romanesque house was built in 1889 for George H. Gooderham.  The Gooderham family owned the Gooderham and Worts distillery that dominated the waterfront and today is known as the Distillery District.  At least half a dozen family members owned mansions within a few minutes walk of George’s new mansion.  The conical tower on one side is paired with a bald gable on the other end.  Accents are cut from Credit Valley stone that could have come from the Willoughby Property.


There are several other interesting old homes along this stretch of Jarvis Street which are worth checking out if you’re passing through this part of town.

Google Maps Link: Jarvis Street

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Altona Forest 2020

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Altona Forest in Pickering is known to have a wide variety of wildlife but when we visited in August of 2018 we found the park to be deteriorating badly.  Garbage abounded in the parking lot, the trails were overgrown and most of the boardwalks had become broken and dangerous.  Laceys Pond was impassable because the water level was up from beaver activity and the boardwalk was broken in several places.  I sent the Toronto Region Conservation Authority a link to the blog we published with the pictures of the park’s conditions.  The TRCA responded that they had already purchased materials to repair the boardwalk through Lacey’s Pond but that some sections of the trail in the north woods might be closed permanently.  Nearly two years later we decided to return to see how things had developed.

It’s a good sign when you see interesting wildlife the moment you park the car.  A pileated woodpecker was making its way around the telephone pole a few feet away.  The easiest distinction between the male and females of this, the largest woodpecker native to Ontario, is the red stripe on the cheek.  It looks like a red mustache on the males, which identifies this bird as a female.


The mushroom shown below was one of a couple dozen that were growing in a rough circle around the base of a large tree.  There are several varieties of mushrooms that have scales on them and most of these are poisonous.  Any time the exact identification of a specific mushroom can’t be made it is best to leave it alone and not even touch it.


When we came to the trail that leads toward the pond in the forest we found the newly repaired section of boardwalk.  They’ve done a nice job of weaving the trail among the trees.


Lacey’s Pond refers to a pond that used to exist on the property when it was a farm belonging to the Lacey family.  At that time it was much larger than today and encompassed some of the area where nearby houses stand today.  When developers bought the land they drained the pond and built houses where they could.  Part of the land was still unsuitable for houses and was left fallow until the TRCA bought it in 1995.  They made efforts to re-establish the pond by building a retaining berm.  The pond refilled to about one third the original size.  Further flooding has been caused by beaver who moved into the new pond.  There is no evidence of recent beaver activity as all the stumps appear to have been chewed some time ago.  There is still a series of trails that have been made through the wetlands and some of them had the mud recently stirred up in them.


Lacey’s Pond has an observation deck where you can watch the pond during some seasons.  At the moment the bull rushes are growing tall enough to obscure most of the water in the pond.

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On both sides of Lacey’s Pond the forest is full of cedar trees.  The area was likely a cedar forest when the land was cleared for farming,  One of the advantages of having a lot of cedar on the property is the availability of cedar rails to make fences from.  The Lacey family has used slit rails to make zig-zag fences that now have forest growing up along both sides of the fence and in every corner.

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When we returned to Lacey’s Pond we found that a flock of Cedar Waxwings had arrived.  These are majestic looking birds with yellow breasts and a black mask on a peach coloured head.  They have a crest which sometimes lies flat against the neck.  The tips of the wings are red and their tails are squared off with a bright yellow tip.  Males tend to have a larger dark area under the chin and unless seen in a larger group it can be hard to identify the sexes.


After making our way back north from the pond we set out looking for post number 33 that would lead us to the northern parts of the forest.  The map at the gate shows this part of the forest as being open and the posts are numbered to help guide you through the trails.  The maps haven’t been updated yet but the northern part of the forest is intended to be closed permanently.  The blockade at this end isn’t obvious anymore.


When you come to the section of boardwalk it becomes plain that this section was not repaired.  It has some loose boards and places where it rocks underfoot.  There are also sections where the rebar that holds it in place stands above the surface of the boardwalk presenting a real trip hazard.  When we reached the other end we found that the trail had been closed off and marked as dangerous.  Please don’t use this section of the trail and allow it to become fully overgrown.


Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies were seen a couple of times before one paused long enough to get photographed.  The eggs are laid in bunches between 100 and 700 on the underside of leaves.  The caterpillars go through four stages during which time a high percentage is lost to wasps that lay eggs in them.  The ones that survive to the fourth stage over-winter in leaves on the ground.  In the spring the caterpillars molt and a single fly of Baltimore Checkerspots grace the landscape.


Altona Forest looks like it could be very interesting in every season and we look forward to enjoying a fall day and perhaps a winter day here in the near future.

Our previous feature on Altona Forest can be found at this link: Altona Forest

Google Maps Link: Altona Forest

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Sir Oliver Mowat

July 1, 2020


Sir Oliver Mowat was born in Kingston, Upper Canada in 1820. Mowat was called to the bar in 1841 but had joined the law firm of John A Macdonald in 1835. Macdonald would be an ally of Mowat in forming Confederation but an adversary in determining what powers the federal government would have compared to the provinces.



Mowat attended the Quebec Conference on Confederation in 1864 where he took charge of forming the committees decisions into a legal format.  He is credited with helping to write the Articles of Confederation.  In 1856 Oliver Mowat purchased one of the estate lots on Jarvis Street from Samuel Jarvis and built this two story, 3 bay house in a Georgian Style.


Mowat was elected as the Premier of Ontario on October 25th 1872, a position which he held for the next 24 years.  Oliver was the longest serving Premier in the history of the province winning six majority governments in a row.

The house that he built before going into politics reflects the simplicity and symmetry of design that is typical of Georgian architecture.  They style always tends to put the most emphasis on the entrance and this house is no exception.  Today it bears a name related to the National Ballet School which occupies it.


While serving as the Premier Oliver Mowat had to face a fellow Father of Confederation and business partner in John A Macdonald.  Mowat was responsible for challenging the federal government and securing powers for the provinces.  When Mowat left provincial politics he went on to a position as Leader of the Government in the Senate for 2 years.  Then on November 18, 1897 he became the 8th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

The picture below shows the detailed carvings on the columns that support the entrance porch as well as below the transom window.


Oliver died on April 19, 1903 at the age of 82 while still in office as the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.  Mowat was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.


Oliver Mowat was a significant figure in the founding of Canada and the Province of Ontario but is somehow less known than his political rival Sir John A Macdonald.

Google Maps Link: Oliver Mowat House

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Armadale – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Armadale sat on the border between Scarborough and Markham at the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Markham Road.  Originally named Magdala, the community was a typical crossroads hamlet.  It had a couple of general stores on the west side of Markham Road just south of Steeles Avenue.  There was also a blacksmith shop and brick yards as well as a post office.  When the post office opened in 1869 the name was changed to Armadale.  Oddly enough the small community had two buildings seemingly in competition, a tavern and a temperance hall.  The county atlas below was drawn in 1877 and shows three of the homes featured below as well as the location of the church and parsonage on Passmore Avenue that would be built three years later.


James Weir was born in Scotland in 1814 and came to Canada in 1833, arriving in Scarborough.  During the Rebellion of 1937 he sided with the Loyalists and helped to put down William Lyon MacKenzie.  He arrived in the area of Armadale in 1840 and settled down to raise a family of 13 children.  As his wealth grew he built a three bedroom home so his boys could have a room as could the girls.  James and his wife kept their own room, hence the thirteen children.


The walls are made of sixty centimeters of field stone while the lintels and quoins are made of Limestone shipped from quarries in Kingston.  The house was built in 1861 and James took the unusual step of having his name included on the date stone above the door.


The house has three chimneys, including the one on the kitchen at the rear, which was a sign of wealth.  The house was in danger of being demolished but was saved by the land developer in 1975 and moved closer to the road.  The inside is currently in the midst of some kind of restoration.


Just west of Markham Road stands the oldest continually serving Free Methodist Church in Canada.  The church was built in 1880 on land bought from Francis Underwood for $1.00.  The church denomination started a year before the American Civil War and was part of an organized movement to abolish slavery that helped people to freedom through the underground railroad.  There is a separate story with more details about the Armadale Free Methodist Church.


The church cemetery lies to the east of the sanctuary.  Among the people interred here are William Stonehouse and Fancis Underhill.  William is laid to rest under one of the flat limestone grave markers in the centre of the cemetery.  Francis is remembered by the single example of the tall round monuments that became popular in the late Victorian period.


Just to the west of the church stands the former parsonage where the pastor and his family lived.  Daryl Holton confirmed that his father was the pastor of the church between 1959 and 1962 or 1963.


Francis Underwood bought lot 19 in 1875 and lived in the earlier farmhouse until he died in 1890.  His son, Richard, then owned the property until 1907.  He replaced the original house with a story and a half home built in an L shape.  The west elevation has a central door between two windows.  The north side has another entrance and the chimney while a rear entrance is found on the south elevation.

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The house is marked “No Trespassing” but that hasn’t kept people from breaking into it and throwing everything around.  Hopefully the developers will keep their commitment to restore this house and feature it as part of the mall that is being developed on the property.

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William Stonehouse lived on the farm to the east of the Underhills.  His house is a regency cottage style house which is one of the early form of architecture in Ontario.  I found that there is some conflicting information on the internet that shows this house as belonging to Francis Underhill.  This is in conflict with the city bylaw 107-2007 which describes the Underhill house for its historic designation.  Unfortunately, the confusion about the Stonehouse home has been  increased when the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario picked up the mislabeled picture and republished it.


This is the historical photograph that is causing the confusion.


William Stonehouse lived from 1817 to 1886 and passed the small home on to his son William  Stonehouse.  The home originally stood slightly farther to the east but was in the way of redevelopment.  The developers originally wanted to demolish it along with the Underhill home but they are both listed on the historical register for Toronto.  In the end they decided to save them both for future restoration.  The Stonehouse home was lifted and moved.  It still sits on a series of yellow steel beams and could be relocated again quite easily.


Unfortunately, the home has been compromised and trashed inside.  Smoke stains on the underside of the eaves in a few placed suggests that there was a fire in there at some point.  I hope it hasn’t been destroyed beyond the point of restoration.


James Daniels was one of the earliest settlers in the Markham area and appears in William Bercy’s 1803 census.  In 1818 he bought the farm at the north west corner of Steeles and Markham Road in what would become “downtown” Armadale.  They lived in a small brick home that had been built in the 1830’s and raised their children there.  In 1840 they sold the farm to their son John who build a new home in 1851 in the Georgian Style.  His home is one of the few remaining in the community that is in livable condition.


Armadale wasn’t served by the railroad when one was constructed nearby and this caused it to decline in relative importance.  The post office closed in 1917 when rural mail delivery began and eventually most of the buildings in the original core of the town were demolished.  The archive photo below shows the post office and general store as it once appeared.


The town of Armadale was an important local community that has been all but forgotten.  Don’t forget to check out our story on the Free Methodist Church for more details.  Also, large portions of Passmore Avenue have been abandoned.  Follow the link to read about Abandoned Passmore Avenue or Passmore Forest.

Google Maps Link: Armadale Methodist Church

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Armadale Free Methodist Church

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The former community of Armadale has the oldest continuously serving Free Methodist Church in Canada. The local Free Methodist congregation was founded in 1874 in the nearby hamlet of Ellesmere. They originally met in a Meeting House provided by a former Primitive Methodist pastor named Robert Loveless. A second congregation was soon formed at Armadale in the home of Silas Phoenix. The congregation grew until 1880 when they purchased land and built this simple board and batten church. It has since served the combined congregation of Ellesmere-Armadale.

Benjamin Titus Roberts was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church and as early as 1852 started to have conflict with his church elders over the system of charging fees for the pews.  This meant that the wealthy could get the best seats and the impoverished might not be able to afford to come at all.  He advocated for a goodwill offering in place of pew fees.  Eventually the church got annoyed and stripped him of his membership.  In 1860 he formed the Free Methodists, a movement that quickly spread.  Roberts was a staunch abolitionist and to him the word free also meant freedom from slavery.  The Free Methodists were very active in the underground railroad and it is possible that this church or its members helped some people to gain their freedom.

Above the front door is a sign that simply says “Free Methodist Church”. Perhaps the lettering was originally black but at some time the church was given a fresh coat of white paint and the writing was covered over.

On the west side of the church stands a house that appears to be from the same time as the church. Neither the home or the church appear on the county atlas from three years earlier. It’s possible that this house was built as a parsonage for the pastor to live in.

The cemetery stands to the east of the church and contains relatively few of the flat limestone markers because these were largely replaced with granite markers after 1880.  There are two in the cemetery and both belong to the people who owned the next farm to the west.  The two Stonehouse markers are dated 1886 and 1889.

Francis Underhill sold the church a small parcel on the rear of his property with an entrance off Passmore Avenue. Francis himself was buried in the church cemetery along with his wife, several children and even some grandchildren. Many of them are commemorated on a single marker.

I came across the reference to the Free Methodist Church being anti-slavery while doing research for a forthcoming addition to our collection of Ghost Towns of the GTA. Look for “Armadale” coming on June 28th.

Passmore Avenue has been abandoned in several sections near here.  The story can be found at this link:  Abandoned Passmore Avenue

Google Maps Link: Armadale Free Methodist Church

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Britton Tract – Halton Region Forest

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Halton Regional Forests have saved over 1,700 acres of land in the past 75 years that are split into fourteen separate tracts that create a green corridor for wildlife.  The tracts consist of a wide variety of habitats that includes forests, wetlands and meadows.  Five of these tracts make up the Britton Complex and preserve land along the north and west sides of Hilton Falls Conservation Area.  The Britton Tract has parking in two places on the Six Line Nassagaweya.  We parked in the first lot north of Campbellville Road where there is only room for about 8 vehicles in official spots with maybe four more squeezed along the entrance.  Parking on the road will likely result in a ticket.  We set out to follow the trail north toward the second parking lot before heading west.  Our intention was to follow the outside loop of trails and explore side trails as the urge hit us.  We suggest you take a picture of the trail map as you begin your hike.

The Britton Tract sits on a section of the escarpment where there is a lot of hard dolomite near the surface.  Karst action has left many places where water collects leaving a lot of surface water and wetlands.  This is also displayed in areas where the water at surface level supports considerable moss growth.


It was one of those hikes where there was an abundance of insects but fortunately not many of the biting kind.  Butterflies, moths, dragonflies and damselflies were everywhere, a small selection  of the variety is represented in this post.  The Tawny Crescent butterfly is fairly small and has black and white knobs on the antennae.  They are partial to asters which provide shelter for the eggs, food for caterpillars and nectar for the adults.


There were several Red Admiral butterflies along the trail, some of them brightly coloured and some more subdued.  They are one of the butterflies in Ontario that migrates for the winter.  They are often found around stinging nettle, a plant that I avoid because it lives up to its name.  This Red Admiral was making the rounds of the local wildflowers.


The Silver Spotted Skipper are a type of butterfly known as a nectar thief because they feed on the plant without pollinating it.  They tend to probe the innermost parts of the flower which are male without contacting the outermost florets which are the female portions.  Therefore they don’t transfer the pollen and fertilize the plant.


The trail is 3 meters wide in many places but the side trails are smaller and can be muddy in some seasons.  The trail we were following came to a place where there is a stream to cross.  Passage was easy on this day but there will be times when there is no way across here.


The Ebony Jewelwing is a damselfly that likes to rest in sunny places on leaves.  Damselflies rest with their wings closed and the female Ebony Jewelwing can be identified by the large white spot on the end of the wings.  The male pictured below has an all-black wing.


The Britton Tract has a wide variety of forest types including evergreens, birch thickets and mature stands of hardwoods.  In areas where the water is retained close to the surface some trees have a hard time breathing and tend to fall over and die before they reach the normal size for their species giving the forest a perpetual young look.

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Asters are a part of a large family that includes daisy, asters and sunflowers.  The family contains over 32,000 species, many of which are native to North America.  They attract a large selection of pollinators including butterflies and bees.

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Common Whitetail dragonflies are highly territorial and the males will lift their abdomens in a display of power.  Dragonflies sit with their wings open when at rest.


The Britton Tract is full of trails and we kept mainly to the ones that circled the outside of the tract.  There comes a point where you will have to make a choice to turn and head back to the parking lot or to carry on into the Robertson Tract.  This option will take you out to the fourth line and add another hour or more to your hike.


As we were following the trail we disturbed a toad and possibly saved its life.  When it jumped the garter snake that was hunting it moved quickly and caught our attention.  Unfortunately we didn’t see that unfolding or we might have been able to capture some interesting shots of a snake having dinner.


Dryad’s Saddle is one of the edible mushrooms that is often seen but seldom picked.  When it is young and fresh it can be quite good and apparently has a slight lemon flavour.  When they get larger, up to 30 centimeters, they become very woody and are only good for boiling into a broth.


The eight spotted Forester is a moth that is seen between April and June.  The larvae feed on the leaves of Virginia Creepers and River Grapes which are found in the tract.  They are distinctive for the coloured spots on their wings.  The fore wing has two large cream coloured patches while the hind wing has two white patches.  They have tufts of orange on the front and middle legs.  This moth is often mistaken for a butterfly because it visits flowers during the daytime.


Halton Regional Forests have lots of trails and the potential for many interesting hikes.

Google Maps Link: Britton Tract

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