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The C.N.E.

Sunday May 2. 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Maps Link: C.N.E.

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The First Seven Years

April 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Log Cabins

April 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Maps link: Scadding Cabin

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The Reesors – Pioneers of the GTA

Sunday, April 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links to Cedar Grove and Cedarena

Google Maps link: School Section 21

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Bronte Bluffs Park

Saturday, November 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related blogs: Scarborough Bluffs and Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park

Google Maps link: Bronte Bluffs Park

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Hendrie Valley – Royal Botanical Gardens

November 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Maps Link: Hendrie Valley

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Sir Casimir Gzowski Park

Sunday, November 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Maps Link: Sir Casimir Gzowski Park

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Cook Woodlot

Saturday, October 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Maps Link: Cook Woodlot

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Elder’s Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday,October 3, 2020

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

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

Elder’s Mills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Maps Link: Elder Mills Nature Reserve

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Pioneer Cemetery Cairns

Sunday, September 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cairn

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

Cairn

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

Cairn

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

Cairn

St. Paul’s 1889 church building.

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

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

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