Category Archives: Waterfalls

Websters Falls 2023

Sunday, April 16, 2023

We went to Webster’s Falls for a visit on April 9th as it was a beautiful Spring day and this time of year is often the best for seeing the waterfalls. This is because the water levels are generally higher and there isn’t a lot of foliage to obscure the views. We previously visited Webster’s in January 2016 and wrote about the history of the falls and so we won’t cover all of that again in this post. That story can be found in our earlier blog The Spencer Gorge – Webster’s and Tews Falls. This post will focus mainly on information that wasn’t previously presented. Webster’s Falls has a nice long viewing area that provides plenty of space to see the falls and take pictures of it.

The crest of the waterfall is 24 metres wide and is the largest in the region. There are more antique postcards featuring this falls than any other in the area, which attests to the popularity of the falls a century ago when postcards were more popular than they are today. The historical image below shows Ashbourne Mills which were built in 1856 by Joseph Jr., the son of Joseph Webster. The flour mill operated until 1898 when it was destroyed in a fire.

Webster’s Falls has its own tragic legend in the style of Romeo and Juliet. The tale is told of a fair maiden who was the daughter of the local Ojibway Chief. Her name was Na-Go-She-Onong, which meant Evening Star. She was kind, gentle and fair and many of the local males dreamed of courting her. However, she fell for the charms of a white man much to the disappointment of her potential suitors. One overly jealous indigenous man decided to kill the white man to increase his chances of winning her. Instead, she was so distraught that she cradled the dead man to her chest and plunged into the waters above the falls.

After the fire in the mill, the owner who was George Harper at this time, formed a partnership and created the Dundas Electric Company to generate electricity at the base of the falls. The falls and surrounding lands were purchased in 1917 by The Public Utilities Commission of Dundas as part of the local waterworks system. When Dundas Mayor Colonel W.E.S. Knowles died in 1931, it was revealed in his will that he bequeathed Webster’s Falls and surrounding areas for a public park. Two years later the grounds were landscaped, an iron fence was installed along the viewing platform and a stone arch bridge was constructed a short distance above the falls.

This little group of cedars has a stone and concrete bench constructed around them. These trees may be well over 100 years old but there are much older ones clinging to the cliff along side of the falls. Those Eastern White Cedars are over 500 years old. They are the remnants of an ancient forest that covered the area before Europeans arrived and cut everything down to create farmland.

On a sunny day, the view of the falls from beside it will also give the opportunity to observe a rainbow in the mist below.

A second footbridge has been built across Spencer Creek just a short distance upstream from the stone one near the falls.

Growing alongside the trail is a patch of Lesser Periwinkle. This plant will grow in dense patches that choke out other types of plants that compete for sunlight.

A two-kilometre trail used to follow the Spencer Gorge from Webster’s Falls, past Tews Falls and on to Dundas Peak. Unfortunately, people wouldn’t stay on the trail and one of the land owners closed his property to hikers. You now have to park at Tews Falls to see this other waterfalls.

Parking is $16.00 at Webster’s Falls and reservations are required from May until November.

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Google Maps Link: Spencer Gorge – Websters Falls

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The Bruce Trail – Waterdown

Saturday, June 1, 2019

We had previously visited the falls in Waterdown in the winter and decided to return to see what the summer was like on the local trails.  There is free parking right beside the waterfalls which have gone by several names over the years including The Great Falls, and Grindstone Falls.  Our earlier story featured slackliners walking across the gorge above the falls and we called it Slacking in Smokey Hollow.  We followed Grindstone Creek downstream until we came to the Norman Pearson Side Trail.  This connects to the McNally Side Trail and returns you to the main trail.  There is an additional little side trail called the Upper Grindstone Side Trail that was part of the package.

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The Smokey Hollow Side Trail is only 50 metres long and connects the main trail to a viewing platform for Grindstone Falls.  The platform can be seen in the picture below and it provides an interesting view of the crest of the falls.  The Bruce Trail follows Grindstone Creek and has a set of stairs built into the side of the ravine to allow easier descent.  From the bottom a short trail leads back toward the bottom of the falls but be careful, we witnessed a guy showing off for his girlfriend who fell into the creek and got completely soaked.  If he would have been injured he’d have required a complicated rescue.


From there we followed the main trail along side Grindstone Creek.  This trail gives plenty of great views of the creek as it cascades over the large chunks of dolomite that have been eroded over the past 12,000 years since the last ice age retreated.


When you reach more level ground you can depart from the main trail onto the Norman Pearson Side Trail.  This 1.4 kilometre blue trail will bring you out to Waterdown Road where you can connect with the McNally Side Trail.  Both of these side trails are marked with blue blazes on the trees.  There’s also a couple of places where the trail is ablaze with blue from forget-me-nots.


Lily of the valley is a highly poisonous plant that is native to Asia and Europe and has been introduced to North America as a garden plant.  It does well and can grow into large clusters under the right conditions.  The scent of the flower has been imitated for perfume and Kate Middleton carried lily of the valley in her bridal bouquet when she married Prince William.


The Mayapples are finally in bloom with a single flower on each fertile plant.  These flowers will close up in a few days and begin to develop into the fruit.  The fruit will turn yellow when it ripens later in the summer.


Near Waterdown there is a Bitternut Hickory tree that is estimated to be 128 years old and has a lifespan of 200 years.  It produces a large amount of very bitter tasting nuts that even the squirrels will only eat during food shortages.  There are 16 Bruce Trail heritage trees that have been identified along the route.  Their GPS locations can be found at this link.


The properties that the trail runs through are mostly private farms and access is allowed by the good graces of the land owner.  Some of the land grants were poor farming land and have been allowed to return to forest.  Other areas are still operated as family farms, some of them into the fourth and fifth generations.  Many of these farmers still have old farm implements from their father or grandfather.  Somehow the seat on the old plow below doesn’t look very comfortable nor do the steel studded wheels look like they absorb much shock.


The McNally Side Trail is only 0.48 kilometres long and brings you back to the main trail above Waterdown.  The Upper Grindstone Side Trail follows a lightly used path through a grassy field and back into the forest.  When you come to the little loop you can go left and down to the creek or you can go to the right and climb higher onto the ridge before descending to creek level.  It will then return you to the main trail very near to the parking lot.  Evidence of a former dam at the top of the falls is a reminder of the industrial past of this site.  Hidden among the trees on both sides of the creek are other traces of previous buildings, just waiting to be discovered and explored.


This set of side trails along with the accompanying main trail make for an interesting loop which has the equivalent of 41 flights of stairs as it goes up and down the sides of the ravine.

Google Maps Link:  Great Falls Smokey Hollow

Check out the top 20, reader selected stories from our first five years: Back Tracks: 5 Years of Trails.

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Dofasco 2000 Trail

Saturday, March 16, 2019

When we previously visited The Devil’s Punchbowl we had noted the Dofasco 2000 trail that runs east from the falls.  With all the rain and melting snow it seemed like a good time to revisit the falls and hike a section of the Dofasco 2000 Trail.

For parking you have several options.  The Devil’s Punchbowl Conservation Area has parking for $5.00.  Alternately, there is parking for at least a couple of cars where the Dofasco 2000 Trail crosses each of the four roads east.  Depending on the length of walk you desire you can continue on Ridge Road as far as Tapleytown Road.  Second Road East has the most parking places.  We decided to walk the full four side roads to the Punchbowl and back.

Dofasco 2000 Trail

This was our final hike of winter and the day wanted to prove that the season wasn’t over yet.  The trail was hard packed with ice in a few places and open in others but the fresh snow made the walking challenging.  The trail follows an unopened road allowance and was pretty much ours alone with the exception of a couple of dog walkers.  While we’re on the subject of dog walkers, do people really think that dog poo will just melt away with the snow?  This trail was marked with several months of deposits as well as dozens of Tims cups.  Certainly one of the messier trails we have visited in recent times.


An old building stands in the woods along the side of the trail made out of prefabricated concrete blocks that were designed to look like cut stone.  There is a date of 1943 etched into the concrete in the doorway and inside it appears to have been used to house a generator.  More recently it housed someone who slept in one corner and kept a small fire in the other.


Sections of the forest have been tapped for maple syrup production and both new and old equipment is strung through the trees.  Nature has a way of adapting and has started to grow around this old metal sign on this tree.  We saw plenty of evidence of last year’s fungi which suggests a healthy forest as this is the natural way of breaking down the wood as it begins to decompose.


As we continued along we were treated to patches of blue sky and sunshine.  Spring is just around the corner and the weather was attempting to give us a preview of the new while reminding us of the old season.


Half a dozen old tires are rotting on the roadside with rusted rims and degrading rubber.  The rubber will take between 50 and 80 years to disappear but the metal rims are destined to be there for up to 200 years.


The path runs through a vineyard with rows of grape vines stretched out on either side of the trail.  Ridge Road is home to several wineries as is the entire southern portion of the Niagara Escarpment.  There are an average of 205 frost free days per year in the region allowing production of 71,000 9-litre cases of wine annually.


A small bridge carries you across Stoney Creek.  This is only a short distance above the waterfalls at The Devil’s Punch Bowl and the high water levels in the creek suggest that the falls might have a good flow of water going over.


The Devil’s Punch Powl Conservation Area provides the most scenic point on the trail.  Recent weather conditions suggested that the water flow might be near the peak level.  It turned out that there was quite a bit more water plus a bonus ice formation in the bottom of the cone.  The falls are interesting from a geological point of view because they expose all the layers that make up the Niagara Escarpment.  The geology of the falls along with plenty of other pictures, including the lower falls, can be found in our story The Devil’s Punch Bowl.


Given the 37 metre height of the falls, the ice cone at the bottom has to be about 20 metres tall.  This is truly spectacular to behold but is limited to late winter and early spring viewing, depending on the type of winter season that we get.


The Dofasco 2000 Trail continues east of the fourth road on pavement for one concession before entering a closed road allowance again for another five side roads.  It passes through the Vinemount South Swamp on a 1.7 kilometre boardwalk that likely needs to be explored before or after mosquito season.

Google Maps Link: Dofasco 2000 Trail

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Bruce Trail – Hilton Falls Side Trail

Saturday, February 2, 2019

When we previously visited Hilton Falls we followed the trail from the sixth line.  Today we decided to complete the other portion of the trail from the main parking lot north to the falls.  The history of the falls can be read in our previous post Hilton Falls.

Although the snow was deep making hiking a lot of heavy work, we decided to add the Philip Gosling Side Trail.  This short trail takes you to the main Bruce Trail, completing a partial loop around the reservoir by the time it connects with the Hilton Falls Side Trail.

Hilton Falls Conservation Area opened in 1967 and the dam and reservoir in 1973.  We followed the lower trail from the parking lot toward the Bruce Trail.


Philip R. Gosling was awarded the Order of Canada for his role in creating the Bruce Trail.  Gosling had a vision of a trail that could be passed down to future generations and worked tirelessly to make it happen.  A short section of side trail has been named in his honour.  We noticed that most of the trees on both sides of the trail have been marked for removal.  I’m not certain if this is for emerald ash borer or for trail maintenance and widening.


This side trail connects the parking lot with the main Bruce Trail and then carries on part way around the reservoir.  You can’t see the reservoir from this trail as it is hiding behind the ridge of land in the picture below.


Small rodents often dig holes in the snow to stay warm and avoid inclement weather.  Tunnels and open pockets of air form under the snow where they can remain for extended periods, feeding off the grasses and insects there.  This is known as the subnivean (Latin for “under snow”) zone and with 6 to 8 inches of snow it can remain around the freezing mark, regardless of the outside temperature.  Air holes will be dug as needed to provide ventilation and access from outside.


There are about 35 kilometres of trails in Hilton Falls Conservation Area.  In the summer half of these trails are for bicycles only but at this time of the year the trails are taken over by cross country skiers.  It also turned out to be perfect conditions for snow shoes.  In spite of the deep snow we saw several people walking their dogs while others were slowly walking along the trails.


When you reach to top of Hilton Falls there is a campfire burning there.  People can warm themselves or food and a general party mood prevailed.  A set of stairs leads down to a small viewing platform.  As can be seen, many people did not stay on the platform and the frozen falls was difficult to photograph without people in the shot.


However, close ups were still available.


On the opposite side of the creek stands the old wheel housing from the saw mill.  The arch allowed water to return to the creek after being used to turn the water wheel.


At one time a 40-foot wheel spun in this cut stone wheel housing.  The mill was abandoned in 1867 and the wheel housing has deteriorated in height since then.


After turning the wheel in the housing, the water joined Sixteen Mile Creek again and continued downstream.  The creek has cut a fairly narrow exit compared to the size of the bowl around the waterfall.


The return hike passes through a mature forest along the western side of the reservoir.  When we were within sight of the parking lot we had the option to turn and follow the roadway along the top of the reservoir dam.  From there you can see how the reservoir is set in the ravine and on the south side of the dam you can get a sense of the depth of water.  This is a favourite place for fishing.


There are still plenty of trails at Hilton Falls that we have yet to explore but along with our previous Hilton Falls hike we have covered off all of the Bruce Trail side trails.

Google Maps Link: Hilton Falls Conservation Area

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Tiffany Falls

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Tiffany Falls is named after Doctor Oliver Tiffany who was the first medical doctor in an area that included Hamilton, Burlington, Ancaster, Guelph, and Galt.  Oliver was born in Massachusetts in 1763 and graduated from Philadelphia Medical College.  He came to Upper Canada in the 1790’s and settled in Ancaster in 1796.  There is a small paid parking lot on Wilson Street East where you can access both Tiffany Falls Trail and the Bruce Trail.  The main trail leads to the falls while a second one will take you to the remains of an old kiln.


Doctor Tiffany was known to keep horses stabled around the countryside so that he could always have a fresh mount wherever he was in the case of an emergency.  For forty years he looked after the needs of the people in his vast community.  He kept a medical ledger where he recorded the services that he performed at each household. The doctor prescribed quinine for malaria and kept laudanum for pain.  The rest of his treatment tended to be naturopathic and compounded from things he grew in his herb garden.  His ledger records payment in the form of pumpkins or the mending of a pitchfork.  Four days worth of ploughing was given in exchange for the doctor’s services as well as whiskey, hay and oats.  Oliver Tiffany was so well loved that when he died on May 7th, 1835, the buggies of 600 people who attended the funeral made a historic traffic jam.  Tiffany Falls, as seen in the cover photo, is a ribbon falls 21 metres tall and 6 metres wide.  The various layers of the escarpment can be seen beside Tiffany Falls in the picture below.


Across Wilson Street, The Bruce Trail continues to make its way toward Sherman Falls. The parking situation is poor at this second attraction and will possibly leave you with a ticket. Therefore, we suggest parking at Tiffany Falls and hiking to Sherman Falls.  The area around Ancaster was one of the earliest settled in Upper Canada and the land shows signs of many different uses over the years.  A set of old stairs leads up the side of the escarpment.


Along the Bruce Trail between Tiffany Falls and Sherman Falls, there has been an extensive retaining wall installed.  The wall is made from local limestone blocks like many of the older buildings in Ancaster.


Sherman Falls is 17 metres high and is classified as a terraced ribbon waterfall.  A ribbon waterfall is much taller than it is wide, in this case, only 8 metres.  Sherman Falls was featured as one of seven falls we visited on the coldest day in February 2016 in a post called Frozen Waterfalls of Ancaster.  This tributary of Ancaster Creek is spring fed and so the falls have a much more consistent flow of water than some of the other local ones. Sometimes known as Angel Falls or Fairy Falls it takes its name from Clifton Sherman who once owned the property and was the founder of Dominion Foundry and Steel Company (Dofasco).


Google Maps Link:  Tiffany Falls

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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.


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 Rasberry  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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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 larva 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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 1800’s farm implement sits on display in the front lawn of the Terra Cotta Inn.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Google maps link: https: Smokey Hollow

Toronto Slackline:  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.


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.


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.


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.


When Webster’s Falls 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.


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.


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 the 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.


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 Hamilton Area.  There is a Lower Tews Falls, just 3.7 metres high, which is just downstream from this one.


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.


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.


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”.


Websters Falls is located at: 43.2764N 79.981W

Tews Falls is located at: 43.2815N 79.978W

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