Category Archives: Waterfalls

Berry and Bruce to Borer’s

July 9, 2016

The Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) obtained permission from King George V in 1930 to use “Royal” in their name.  Thomas Baker McQuesten who was an early environmentalist  created the gardens during the Great Depression as a make work project to provide work for unemployed men.  Since then the RGB has grown to include a series of properties that connect the Niagara Escarpment to Lake Ontario in a continuous greenbelt that includes the historic Cootes Paradise.  They have 2300 acres of environmentally sensitive lands that are home to two of Canada’s most endangered tree species, one of which is found only in the park. In 1941 they received a provincial mandate to develop a program that would focus on conservation, education, horticulture and science.  The RBG is a National Historic Site which encompasses much of the map below.

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One of the properties owned by the RGB is known as the Berry Tract.  After parking on Valley Road the Berry Tract is on the east side of the road.  In the 1877 County Atlas shown below the properties are owned by John Hayes and William Simpson.  These former pioneer land grants have been abandoned as farms and left to return to a more natural condition.  Notice that the land owners in the lower right corner are the Raspberry families.  They owned the properties adjacent to Cootes Paradise.

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Black Raspberries grow in abundance on the Berry Tract.  The ones in the picture below are starting to ripen and are only slightly smaller than usual.  Most of the berries seen on other bushes are small and dry.  A little rain at the right time might have made a big difference.

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The Thornapple Trail is a 3.4 kilometer loop that runs through the Berry Tract.  Near the start of the trail the boardwalk is being over run by wetland grasses.  The trail runs through a small orchard which was planted in the 1930’s.  Apple and pear trees were cultivated here until the 1960’s when the land was bought for conservation purposes.  The apples and pears attract white tailed deer in the fall who come to enjoy a piece of fresh fruit.

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The wild grapes are doing quite well as the picture below shows.  Canada Moonseed looks similar to wild grapes but has poisonous fruit.  Moonseed does not have the tendrils that grape vines use to climb.  Grape tendrils often grow opposite to a leaf and have a forked end.  Moonseed fruit has a moon shaped seed and leaves that attach to the stem just in from the edge unlike grape leaves that attach at the edge.  Another distinguishing feature of grapes is that the leaves taste like grapes.

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The Bruce Trail runs for 890 kilometers from Queenston to Tobermory but the idea originated with Raymond Lowes of Saskatchewan.  Ray moved to Hamilton where he became interested in the Hamilton Naturalists Club.  In the winter of 1959 he began to dream of a trail winding along the escarpment.  He proposed to the idea to famous artist Robert Bateman suggesting a trail from one end of the escarpment to the other.  On Sept. 23, 1960 the first Bruce Trail Committee meeting was held and by 1963 the trail was established with regional clubs obtaining landowner permission and building various sections.  The trail is named after Bruce County which it runs through as well as the Bruce Peninsula where it terminates.  Bruce County was named after James Bruce who was Governor General of the Province of Canada between 1847 and 1854.  Today the trail has annual visits numbering 400,000 and the Bruce Trail Association stewards over 5,000 acres of escarpment protecting it from development.  There are also over 400 kilometers of side trails marked with blue slashes.  Crossing Valley Road the Bruce Trail leads past several of the 100 waterfalls in the Hamilton Area.  There is a little cluster of five waterfalls near the trail.  Unfortunately Patterson East and West Cascade, Valley Falls and Upper and Lower Hopkins Cascade are all dry on this day.

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Another dry waterfall.  A trip in the spring when the meltwater has swollen the streams would show these waterfalls off at their best.

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On hot summer days the shade of the Bruce Trail can be a welcome relief to the direct sunlight.  The cover photo shows a set of stairs along the trail to Borer’s Falls.

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On April 9th we visited Borer’s Falls and at that time we climbed up from the bottom to see the Lower Borer’s falls as well.  John Borer owned the property with the falls on it at the time of the county atlas above.  The falls drop 15 meters over the side of the escarpment where it powered the Borer family sawmill for almost 100 years.  This sawmill supported the community of Rock Chapel.

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Goldenrod Gall Fly eggs were laid into the stems of the young plants during the two weeks that the adult fly lived.  Although called a fly it really doesn’t fly that well and mostly just walks up and down the stems of goldenrod plants.  In about 10 days the lava will hatch and begin to feast on the inside of the plant’s stock.  It’s saliva causes the plant to grow a large ball, or gall, in which the insect lives.  The gall fly can’t live without goldenrod and there are two species of wasps that rely on the goldenrod gall fly for their survival.  They seek out the galls and deposit their eggs into the gall.  When the wasp larva hatch they eat the gall fly larva which means that in effect there are three species fully reliant on the goldenrod for survival.

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This male white tailed deer, known as a buck, was standing along the trail near the little community of Rock Chapel.  In 1822 a small frame church was built there by the Episcopal Methodists. Later the Wesleyan Methodists took over and they built a new church in 1876 on Rock Chapel Road which is shown on the county atlas.

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Google Maps link: Berry Tract

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Terra Cotta Conservation Trails

Saturday Feb. 6, 2016

The Terra Cotta Conservation Area has gone through many transformations over the years and has now been converted from a campground and picnic area into a naturalized park full of hiking trails.  We parked on the 10th line where the Bruce Trail crosses and a side trail known as the Walking Fern Trail leads to a rare species of ferns.  The main trail follows the road for a short distance before passing along the edge of a series of fish ponds.  This property is legally known as lot 29 10th concession in Halton.  The home was built around 1910 and is known as Edwardian architecture because King Edward was on the throne (1901-1910).  This style of building is generally less ornate than the Victorian style that preceded it.  The home is made of field stone with cut stone quoins on the corners and around the windows.  An enclosed stone porch surrounds three sides of the building.  A small stone bridge leads to a circular island in the pond.

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There is a small footbridge at the bottom of the ponds to allow access to the Bruce Trail. Concrete from a former dam structure remains in the bottom of the creek creating a small waterfall.  The current bridge is built on wooden beams set in metal drums which stand on the old dam structure.

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Queenston Shale can be seen along the sides of the trail.  The distinctive red and grey shale was formed in the Queenston Delta during the Silurian period when the sediments of the Niagara Escarpment were being laid down.  These shale formations have almost no fossils in them and are the lower layers of the escarpment.  They can be seen here as well as at the Devil’s Punchbowl and Cheltenham Badlands.

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In the 1940’s Clancy’s Ranch opened and it soon turned into a popular swimming spot. Soon it would pass to Leo Wolf and Gord Ward who developed a weekend recreation park which they called Terra Cotta Playground.  It became a popular place for dances and picnics.  In 1958 the Credit Valley Conservation Area of Terra Cotta was opened.  In the 1980’s we used to camp here in one of the 137 campsites that the park featured.  These have since been replanted as have the 650 parking spaces that used to serve the 10 acre day use park.  Mini golf, a concession stand and a 1 acre swimming pool used to round out the facilities.  The pool had replaced the swimming hole on Clancy’s Ranch.  A more environmentally friendly approach has since been taken with the pool being torn out and replaced with naturalized wetlands.  These wetlands are now used as an educational tool. Wolf Lake is named after Leo Wolf and has a thin coating of ice on it at this time.

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One of the side trail loops in the park is known as Maple Hills Loop.  Near where this trail joins  the Terra Cotta Lane trail there is a series of tubes fixed in the trees for the collection of maple sap.  This will then be boiled down to make maple syrup.

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When we entered the woods we had heard the hard tapping of a large woodpecker as it searched for it’s food.  From the sound we guessed that it was a pileated woodpecker and we found plenty of evidence of their presence in the area.  The pine tree pictured below has a fresh pileated woodpecker hole dug in it.

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Terra Cotta Conservation Area has a wide variety of hiking trails that are mapped out in eight colour coded trails.  The post below has an orange tag to mark the Vaughn Trail, a red tag for the Bruce Trail and a purple one for the Terra Cotta Lane trail.  After wandering around parts of each of these trails we took the Bruce Trail in search of the Terra Cotta Waterfalls.

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We took the purple trail named Terra Cotta Lane.  This trail follows an old roadway along the western shoreline of Wolf Lake.

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Terra Cotta waterfall is a 12 metre plunge waterfall on Roger’s Creek.  It is visible from the main Bruce Trail just north of the conservation area.  The waterfall has a deep plunge pool and the shale is deeply undercut below the harder dolomite that it flows over.  It is possible to reach the bottom of the waterfall in the summer but ice makes it impossible at this time of the year without proper gear and ropes.  This waterfall is also seen in our cover photo.

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A coyote has passed along the side of Rogers Creek leaving a set of distinctive footprints. The front prints are larger than the rear with the average size being about 2.5 inches long by 2 inches wide.  They have an oval shape and are more oblong than a dog’s prints.  The claws are less prominent than a dogs and the two front claw marks will be close together.

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The earliest versions of the horse drawn sickle mower began to appear around 1845 but they didn’t become popular until the 1860’s.  By the second world war there was a push from the government to replace work animals with tractors.  This example of a late 18oo’s farm implement sits on display in the front lawn of the Terra Cotta Inn.

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Across the street from The Forge Park stands this old building.  Typical of wagon maker shops this building has a doorway on the second floor where painted parts would be left to dry.  The date stone on the front of the building is badly worn but appears to say 1900.

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On the edge of town stands this gorgeous five bay Georgian Revivalist home which is very similar to the Cawthra Estate house we visited last weekend.

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There is plenty left to visit in Terra Cotta including the historic brickworks and kilns. These will have to wait for another time.

Google maps link: Terra Cotta

GPS coordinates for Terra Cotta Waterfalls:  N 43° 43.165 W 079° 58.165

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Slacking In Smokey Hollow

Saturday Jan. 23, 2016

Grindstone Creek flows through Waterdown where it drops over the Great Falls, runs past the former mills of Smokey Hollow then descends the lengthy Grindstone Cascade.  In the 1800’s it provided water power for a selection of mills and industries in the valley below the falls.  Alexander Brown held the original land grant and he built a saw mill at the top of the falls near the current parking lot.  Ebenezer Griffin bought half of Brown’s land and built a mill in the valley below.  in 1830 he had his property surveyed for building lots and the town was born.   Soon other mills were built along the creek to create Waterdown’s industrial hub.   Saw, grist, flour and woolen mills, tanneries and foundries along with factories for rakes, staves, cradles and baskets all arrived.  With the mills came smoke and soon the nick-name Smokey Hollow was being applied to the area. Steam replaced water wheels to turn the machines in the mills and by the early 1900’s electricity was the common form of power.  Competition, shifting markets and fires led to the loss of all industry in the valley and today there are few traces of the milling community left.

Great Falls, also known as Grindstone Falls, Boundary Falls and Waterdown Falls is 10 metres high and 5 metres wide.  The softer Rochester Shale has eroded away below the harder dolostone of the Lockport Formation on top leaving an overhang that will eventually break away as the falls moves slowly upstream.  It is possible to see the rock strata behind the curtain of ice should one climb behind it.

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On the west side of the creek are the remains of an oval structure.  The poured concrete on top suggests a construction date in the 1900’s.

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Grindstone Creek makes it’s way down the escarpment in two lengthy cascades.  Here the waterway is jumbled with chucks of dolomite that have had the shale eroded out from under them.

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Beavers have dammed Grindstone Creek to create a pond for their habitat.  The pond and the little waterfall created by the dam have frozen over and we didn’t see any beaver foot prints in the snow around the dam.  Beavers do not hibernate in the winter but live off of bark they strip from trees.  They keep a stash of branches in the ponds but we also saw several places where they had been feeding.

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We see less wildlife in the winter but there is always evidence of their presence.  Distinct footprints in the snow as well as unique feces allow one to identify the creatures that are not hibernating.  We found a set of squirrel footprints that led between food stashes. Squirrels stash many more nuts than they actually need to survive the winter and they forget most of them.  Grey squirrels bury their stashes and the ones they forget often sprout, meaning that the squirrels are beneficial in the spread of nut bearing trees. Unfortunately, the red squirrel piles it’s stashes of nuts on top of the ground where they dry out which means they have a negative impact on the spread of nut trees.  The picture below shows two places where the snow has been dug up and the leaves turned over in search of caches of food.

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Water seeps out of the shale along the sides of the Grindstone Creek ravine and forms ice sculptures.

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When we returned to the falls we found a group of slackliners enjoying an outing at the gorge.  Slackline is different from tightrope walking in the way the wire is tensioned. For a traditional tightrope the wire is tightly tensioned and the walker maintains their centre of balance above the wire.  A slackwire is made of nylon webbing and is left to stretch and bounce like a trampoline.  The walker moves the wire to keep it under their centre of balance while making the crossing. The start of Slacklining dates to 1976 and is credited to Adam Growsowsky.  Gerald Situ of Toronto Slackliners is seen in the photo below as he makes his way across the falls. Notice that in spite of the freezing temperatures the crossing is made barefoot. The term highlining can be applied when the line is strung above a waterfall like the group was doing over Grindstone Falls.  We witnessed one walker leap off the cliff face with just his harness attached to the line and go sailing out into open air above the rocks below.  The cover photo shows this crossing in context.

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Waterdown became a source of cut stone which was used extensively in the early construction of the town.  Stone quarried here was taken to Toronto for use in the construction of King’s College.  A set of cut stone abutments stand at the top of the waterfall.

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As you walk along Mill Street you find that there are still remnants of the industrial past of the community.  Typical of mill worker’s cottages from the mid 1800’s the ones pictured below have survived. Originally three homes, this building has been renovated to have just two active doorways. The central unit retains it’s original arched window, unlike the end units.

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At the corner of Mill Street and Dundas Road stands a cut stone hotel built in 1824.  It occupies the site of the original log school house.  One of the oldest stone structures in Southern Ontario it is called the American House and the building has had at least one notable modification. The third window from the end on the ground floor has a stone arch set above it.  This arch likely led to the stables in the rear of the hotel similar to the Exchange Hotel in Hillsburgh.  The stone mason that filled the arch in did an excellent job of matching the original stone work.

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East Flamborough’s township hall was built in 1857 and served as the local government seat until 1974.  The Waterdown public library is now housed in the iconic building.

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Google maps link: https: Smokey Hollow

Toronto Slackline: torontoslackline.ca  On FaceBook: Toronto Slackline

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The Spencer Gorge – Webster’s and Tews Falls

Sat. Jan. 2, 2016

The Spencer Gorge is a Y-shaped cut in the escarpment that contains Tews Falls, a waterfall that may have rivaled Niagara Falls a few thousand years ago.  Webster’s Falls, seen in the cover photo, is found on the other arm of the Y.  To investigate the two of them we parked in Webster’s Falls Conservation Area.

Webster’s Falls is what is known as a classical plunge falls.  It drops 22 metres off of the Niagara Escarpment and has a width at the crest of 30 metres.  A plunge waterfall is one where the water loses contact with the surface of the bedrock due to it’s speed as it drops over the edge. They typically have deep pools at the bottom known as plunge pools.  A plunge waterfall where the water spreads out into a wider pool at the bottom is known as a punch bowl.  A local example of this is The Devil’s Punch Bowl.

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Joseph and Maria Webster emigrated from England in 1819 and bought the 78 acres of land surrounding what was then known as Dr. Hamilton’s Falls.  A small distillery and grist mill were operated by Joseph Jr., who expanded them in 1830 and again in 1842.  New owners George Harper and W.S. Merrill took over in 1891 and the mills were expanded for the last time.  Milling operations at the falls ended with a fire in 1898 which destroyed the buildings.

After the fire to the mills a new business venture was started.  George Harper turned to the idea of generating electricity.  It is said that he built one of Ontario’s first electrical generating plants at the base of the falls.  Harper’s power plant was able to turn on the street lights for January 27, 1899 and kept them supplied with power until the plant burned down in February 1901.  In actual fact The Barrie Light Company had predated Harper by over 10 years in providing light to Barrie in 1888. The picture below shows part of the old foundations at the base of the falls.

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The remaining structures were sold to the Cataract Power Company of Hamilton around this time.  An archive photo of the power plant as seen in 1910 is presented below.  The metal penstock that delivered water to the dynamo can be seen to the left of the falls.  It was removed before a subsequent shot of the falls was taken in 1920 by which time power was being delivered to the area from Niagara Falls.

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Some of the interesting features of the escarpment are the places where part of the geological column is exposed.  The escarpment was formed of sediment during a period of the earth’s history known as the Paleozoic era which included the Ordovician and Silurian periods.  At the escarpment top is the hard dolostone of the Lockport formation which formed along with the Rochester shale below it during the Silurian period more than 420 million years ago.  The Rochester shale is grey in colour and is a prime source of early marine fossils.  At Webster’s Falls this band is 2.5 metres thick and because of it’s relatively soft nature it erodes quickly leaving the dolostone on top undercut and ready to break away.  This can be clearly seen to the right of the falls where the shale is set back well below the dolomite.  The talus slopes below the Rochester shale are coated with ice from the mist of the falls.

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When Webster’s falls was was sold next in 1917 it became property of Dundas Public Utilities Commission who used it as part of their waterworks.  Originally known as Webster’s Falls Park the area was landscaped in the 1930’s and a cobblestone bridge constructed across Spencer Creek.  The bridge was restored in 2000 and the property became part of the Spencer Gorge Wilderness Area.

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The Webster family was buried on the property overlooking the Spencer Gorge and the creek below. Broken headstones have been collected into a small family plot where the pioneers are remembered.  Joseph Webster’s memorial stone is seen below.

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From Webster’s Falls a trail leads to Tews Falls and around to Dundas Peak.  We followed the trail to where we could see Logies Creek joining with Spencer Creek down in valley below. Dundas Peak can be seen in the distance in this picture and it became the turning around point of our hike.  From this vantage point the city can be seen in the background and Tews Falls is in the gorge on the left while Webster’s is on the right.

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Tews Falls is known as a ribbon falls because the water flow is narrow compared to the rock face exposed around it.  Both Webster’s Falls and Tews Falls were formed at the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago when Spencer Gorge was forming.  Tews falls flows over a distinct bowl shaped gorge that is actually the smallest of several bowls in the Spencer gorge. These get larger as one travels down the gorge until the final bowl is nearly as large as the one at Niagara Falls.  The height of Tews Falls is 41 metres while the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara is 52 metres.  Tews Falls is the highest waterfall in the Haliton Area.  There is a Lower Tews Falls, just 3.7 metres high, which is just downstream from this one.

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In 1906 the falls were known as Hopkins Ravine after the family that owned the property at the time.  When the Tews bought it the falls took on their name.  The layers of shale and dolostone can be seen quite clearly at the falls where several lower formations are exposed that are hidden at Webster’s Falls.  The Rochester shale layer at Tews Falls is only 1.5 metres thick and can be seen just below the crest of the falls.

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From Dundas Peak it is possible to see into Hamilton and Dundas.  There is also a spectacular view back up the Spencer Gorge with Spencer Creek flowing through the valley.  As we made our way along the edge of the gorge we were able to see many vistas that would be obscured by foliage during the summer months.

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On the way back from the peak we took the Glen Ferguson Side Trail which loops back to join with the Webster’s Falls Trail.  Along the way we surprised five white tailed deer.  They ran away as soon as they saw us revealing the original meaning behind the phrase “high-tailing it out of here”.

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Websters Falls is located at: 43.2764N 79.981W

Tews Falls is located at: 43.2815N 79.978W

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