Category Archives: Waterfront Trail

Ajax Waterfront Park

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The busiest highway in North America runs parallel to the shore of Lake Ontario and the strip in between is mostly developed through the entire GTA.  However, the lake shore itself is a small oasis that is too often broken by private property.  The Waterfront Trail stays off road as much as possible but usually has to take side streets to go around these little enclaves.  Ajax has a lengthy section of beach that can be followed, as I did from Duffins Marsh on Duffins Creek, Rotary Park, through Ajax Waterfront Park and beyond. To begin, I parked in Rotary Park off of Lake Driveway West.  The marsh was calm and several egret and a heron were seeking their breakfast along the water’s edge.  Where Duffins Creek empties into Lake Ontario a foot bridge carries the trail west toward Alex Robertson Park and Frenchman’s Bay.  The picture below shows Duffins Marsh just north of the lake.

I decided to follow the shore line east with the idea that I could return using the paved trail.  It wasn’t long before I attracted the attention of this Trumpeter Swan who swam along beside me for awhile before deciding that I hadn’t noticed it there, supposedly starving.  It came out of the water and started to follow me along the beach.  I noticed that it was tagged and numbered “T61”.  These swans were nearly extinct along the shores of Lake Ontario until about 30 years ago when they were reintroduced with eggs taken from other places in Canada.  The tagged birds are monitored for their movements based on where they are reported.  It also serves to indicate how many swans are being born in the wild as the percentage of tagged swans continues to decrease over the years.  Researchers are monitoring this closely and now estimate the local population in the GTHA to exceed 1000 birds.

There seems to be a lot of apple trees growing along the top of the embankment.  Slowly the ground is being washed away from under these trees and some are in danger of falling over the edge.  Then I came across an apple tree that was growing on the beach.  That seemed a little puzzling as to how it came to be there.  The most likely explanation for the tree on the beach is that an apple fell there and grew.  It’s surprising that it survived the waves that must have beaten upon it as it grew.

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Like the Scarborough Bluffs, the sand along the shore of the lake is eroding away.  Large eratic boulders left behind during the last ice age are slowly being exposed and will eventually end up on the beach.  The rock in the picture below looks like it is about to fall but it is hard to tell how much of the stone may yet remain in the sand bank.

September 15th was the date for The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.  The good people of Ajax were cleaning the shore as I made my way past.  This year there were 1714 different teams across Canada that cleaned 2,679 kilometres of shoreline and removed 58,226 kilograms of trash.  We salute all these people.

Zebra Mussels were first seen in North America in 1988 in Lake St. Clair.  The are believed to have come in the ballast water of a ship from Europe and have since spread into all of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River and many smaller lakes.  One female Zebra Mussel can produce up to a million eggs per year and they can live up to five years.  They are spread from lake to lake on boats and trailers of people who don’t take the time to clean them off their equipment after a day in the water.  Their shells have washed ashore and in some places lay in drifts a foot deep.

There are several metres of sand bank along the shore in most places.  I found it interesting that the swallows seemed to place their nests in just the lighter layer of sand.  The nests are naturally not to close to the top or too close to the bottom so that they provide safety from predators.

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There is a great section of beach along here that hasn’t been artificially protected from erosion.  No armour stone and no break walls have been added to keep the waves from doing what comes naturally.  Some sections have shingle beach features with stone washed in from the lake or eroded out of the embankments along the shore.  Other sections have sand and could make suitable spots to spend an afternoon with the kids.

One rock on the shore was not like the others and appears to be rusting like a giant chunk of iron ore.  This single rock looks so out of place that it makes me wonder how it got there.  Was it ship’s ballast that was later dumped?  Ore headed for Hamilton for smelting, perhaps.  Or was it left there by ancient aliens as a clue that we’d been visited?

The shore line eventually came to a point of land that made access to the top of the embankment quite easy so it seemed like a good place to turn around.  Having walked the shore on the way east, I returned along the paved trail that follows the edge of the lake from a few metres above.  This path provides many great views out across the lake.

I hadn’t seen very many Monarch Butterflies but at one point I came across a patch of goldenrod that had several on it.  I snapped a few pictures and every one had at least two of the colourful insects in it.

Various pleasure craft were seen making their way up and down the lake.  Sometimes one or two larger tankers could be seen off in the distance against the skyline.  The boat in the picture below stopped and executed a turn in front of us as if someone was taking practice on doing so.

The tracker I use indicated that the total loop I made was about 7.4 kilometres.  It was a hot day and there was little shade anywhere along the trail.  I wish I had brought more cold water with me.

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The Waterfront Trail continues in both directions from where I was today so it’s safe to say that there will be more trips to this area.

Google Maps Link: Waterfront Trail Ajax

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Frenchman’s Bay

August 18, 2018

The original inhabitants of the Pickering area were the Senecas who had a settlement named Gandatsetiagon.  Frenchman’s Bay in Pickering was so named because of Francois de Salignac de Fenlon who arrived in Montreal in 1667 and came to Gandatsetiagon in 1669 to work as a missionary with the native people.  After 1791 when the British opened Upper Canada for colonization the area soon became home to settlers who started the settlement of Pickering.  We parked on West Shore Boulevard beside the Rotary Frenchman’s Bay West Park for our exploration of that park.   The county atlas picture below shows the area as it appeared in 1877.

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Very shortly after we entered the trail we came across a rose bush that is very well covered in rose hips.  These seed pods often require a winter season of freezing, known as stratification, before they can germinate.  Some species require two seasons of freezing.  The rose hips are frequently used in jams and teas because of their relatively high levels of vitamin c.

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Several types of bee structures have been placed in the park to help encourage the bees that pollinate the wildflowers growing in the park.

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Several trails cut their way through the park leading to the Beachfront Promenade as well as the bay.

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Cucumber beetles come in two groups, striped and spotted.  The striped one has three rows of black stripes on the abdomen while the spotted one, seen below, has 12 black spots.  The striped one feeds exclusively on cucurbits like cucumber, pumpkin or squash while the spotted on is less picky and will feed on other plants too.  Aside from often killing the host plant when the larvae feed on the roots these beetles carry bacterial and fungal diseases from one plant to another.

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This year there appears to be a lot of monarch butterflies.  The section of the Waterfront Trail that surrounds Frenchman’s Bay is known as the Monarch Trail.  This 4.7 kilometre trail section commemorates the monarch butterfly and the annual stop they make at the bay on their return flight from the south.

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We saw the following sign and wondered who defines what constitutes an offence.

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The park is home to the Pickering Rouge Canoe Club.  Canoes, kayaks and dragon boats all belong to the club.  Sculling is also done on the bay with the main difference between sculling and rowing being the use of two oars by a sculler and only one per rower.

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Frenchman’s Bay has a protected harbour with lengthy breakwalls protruding into the lake.  A small green lighthouse guards the west point while a red one is positioned on the east side.  The original channel into the harbour was dredged in 1843 and wooden piers were built to protect the entrance to the bay.  Looking to the east of the harbour you can see the towers of Pickering Nuclear Generating Plant.  The plant was built starting in 1966 and it is one of the oldest nuclear generating stations in the world.  Ontario has committed to continued use of the facility until 2024.

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In 1843 a set of piers was constructed at the north end of the bay with a wharf extending into the middle of the bay.  The wharf was built of hand hewn timbers that were dovetailed and connected much the same way as a log cabin.  The sections were built in shallow water and then towed to their individual locations.  Using stone they were sunk to the bottom, which had been leveled already, and then filled with more stone.  The decking was placed on top and a hand rail was attached completing the structure.  The picture below shows a replica built to the dimensions of the original as measured from sections the archaeological society had recovered.

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During the Second World War the production facilities of Cadillac were used for the manufacture of warplanes.  After the war they incorporated the concept of the wings into tail fins.  If I had an option to buy a classic car it would be a late 50’s Cadillac.  As we were returning from our hike we shared the highway with a string of antique cars.  Many of them had the words “RIP Paul Fernley” written in the rear window.  By having the person driving attain a similar speed to these cars I was able to get several great pictures of each car.

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There are three trails that wrap around Frenchman’s Bay and we will need to return to visit the others.  On the east side of the bay is Alex Robertson Park with a unique set of carvings on the trees, including Merlin, that give the park an enchanted feeling.

Google Maps Link: Frenchman’s Bay

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Ireland Park

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Between 1845 and 1849 the Irish Potato Famine claimed 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 lives and caused a mass emigration from the country.  Many of the refugees came to Montreal and Toronto seeking free land and a chance to provide for their families.  Arriving in Toronto the ships docked at The Queen’s Pier (also known as Queen’s Wharf and today Bathurst Quay).  This was the third wharf in the city built by the military and it stood near the mouth of Garrison Creek at Fort York.  The wharf was buried in 1917 as part of a large in-filling project and is today remembered by Queen’s Wharf Road which runs where it used to extend into the lake.  The 1842 map below shows the wharf at the foot of Bathurst Street with the Garrison Hospital and the military cemetery, Victoria Square both circled.  This is what the city would have looked like when the refugees arrived.

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The idea for Ireland Park started when 7 statues were placed near the dockside in Dublin, Ireland in 1997. This was the 150th anniversary of the famine.  The Toronto park opened ten years later on June 21, 2007 with the president of Ireland doing the honours.  The Irish sculpture is known as Departure while the Toronto one is called Arrival.  The seven statues in Ireland have been reduced to five in Toronto signifying the horrible loss of life that occurred.  The first statue is a triumphant man who stands with his arms raised in thankfulness as he surveys the city of Toronto across the water.  In 1847 there were only 20,000 people in Toronto but they will handle 38,560 refugees, many of whom will pass through the hospital to the graveyard.

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A second statue is of a pregnant lady who stands looking up and clutching her belly.  She faces a new life in a new land with a new life inside her.  Like the others, she looks like she has worn the same clothes for the entire journey and that they may not have been the best to start.

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The little boy that stands to the rear of the woman appears to be unsure of what the future holds as he timidly clutches his hands before himself.  He may represent those children who arrive alone, having lost their family either on the journey or shortly after arriving.

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This individual is known as Pius Mulvey and was inspired by a character in the book Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor.

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The fifth sculpture depicts a woman lying on the ground.  She is in the last moments of life and represents the hope that was never realized for so many.  Seven departed, five arrived and only four survived to become part of the fabric of the city.

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The emigrants that fled from Ireland in 1847 were packed into crowded ships with poor hygiene for weeks during the passage.  The result was an outbreak of typhus on the ships with so many dying on board that they became known as coffin ships.  Upon arrival, the sick were taken to the Garrison Hospital.  When this facility was full they were put into fever sheds.  Within weeks of arriving 1186 of them had died and some were taken to the burial grounds at Victoria Square.  The limestone for the wall pictured below was quarried in Kilkenny, Ireland and stands in the park as a tribute to the people who perished after they arrived in Toronto.

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So far, the names of 675 of the people who died upon arrival have been recovered and engraved on the walls.  The names can be found in the narrow slots between the stones.

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The tower of glass bricks represents hope and is lit up at night.  The spaces between the sections of limestone wall where the names are carved are also lit at night to illuminate the names.  After dark, spotlights on the statues cast eerie shadows onto the abandoned silos behind. The silos represent storage facilities for grain during abundant times and stand in contrast to the poverty that the refugees were fleeing from.

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The Canada Malting Company located a set of concrete silos at the foot of Bathurst Street in 1928.  The waterfront had been used for heavy industry for decades and at one time Polson’s Shipbuilding Yards were located here.  Polson’s Pier in The Port Lands is named after this enterprise.  Storage silos had disappeared from the city because they were made of wood and had a lifespan of about ten years due to the fact that they were severe fire hazards.  The Canada Malting Company used concrete silos to store barley in before it was turned into malt.  The original silos near the lake were 120 feet tall and more storage was added in 1944 in the form of 150-foot tall silos.

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The malt was sold for beer and other uses and the operation continued until 1987 when it was closed.  The city has spent the last 25 years looking for a good way to re-purpose the silos as they have a heritage designation being one of the last two remaining on the waterfront.  Some of the silos have been demolished and the remaining ones are crumbling badly but suggestions for their preservation include turning them into a luxury hotel.  It has also been suggested that they may make a good hotel for the dead in a mausoleum with room for 6,500 coffins and niches for an additional 5,000 urns.

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This immigrant statue surveys the skyline of Toronto and raises his arms at the prospects before him.  It would have looked considerably different in 1847 without the towers crowding out the shoreline.

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Ireland Park is a very small location with a very big story to tell and because it is hidden there was no one here during my visit making it perfect for contemplation of this chapter in our history.  It also looks like an interesting place for an evening visit to see the lighting.

Google maps link: Ireland Park

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Humber Bay Park – East and West

Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017

Humber Bay Park is split in two by Mimico Creek with the two sides being cleverly named East and West.  They sit at the west end of the Humber Bay shoreline.  Both sides of the park have parking lots accessible off of Lakeshore Boulevard.  In 1970 the Lakeshore bridge over Mimico Creek was right at the mouth of the creek.

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All of Humber Bay Park has been created by lake fill since that time. It was developed by the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and is operated under the authority of Metropolitan Toronto Parks.  We parked in the west side of the park and the picture below was taken along the shore. It shows that the park is made of what is considered clean fill. This is mostly bricks and concrete from demolition projects which supposedly does not contain any environmental hazards.

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51 million cubic metres of landfill was used by the time the park opened on June 11, 1984.  The debris slowly erodes out of the shoreline and gets tumbled and rounded in the lake. As the years go by they will return to the sand from which they were created. A similar process is going on in Lakeside Park a little west of here.  Many of the bricks in this section of the park were made by Hamilton Brickworks.

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Some wildlife is quite adaptable to living in close proximity to humans.  Although the park is made of landfill, beaver have moved in and made the shoreline home.  Instead of building a lodge to hide from predators in, this large specimen has a home in among the armour stone that lines the shore near the boat launch on the west side of the park.  The west park is also home to the Humber Bay Boating Federation and hosts two yacht clubs. The Etobicoke Yacht Club and Mimico Cruising Club provide docking facilities and the Humber College Sailing School is also operated from the west park.  Two red and white lighthouses are located in the yacht basin that were built in 1895 to mark the eastern gap in Toronto Harbour.  They were moved to the park after being taken out of service in 1973 and relocated in 1981.

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Canada Geese can actually be herded quite easily when they don’t have their young chicks to defend.  Parental instincts can make them much more aggressive than they are under normal circumstances.

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The mud along the side of Mimico Creek reveals the wildlife that lives in this little greenbelt.  White-tailed deer prints are mixed with those of racoons and Canada Geese.  Coyote prints can be found here as well.  They are easily identifiable by the fact that the front claws curl inward.  Domestic dogs have their nails worn down from walking on hard floors and concrete sidewalks.  The front two claws of the coyote print below cut a pair of deep grooves into the mud.  They would do a deadly job on a small animal, should it be caught unawares.

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In 1997 the first single rib inclined arch bridge in North America was built across the Mimico creek near the mouth.  The creek is 90 metres wide at this point but was reduced to 44 metres to keep construction costs down.  The bridge deck was also reduced to just 2.5 metres to keep the project on it’s $650,000 budget.  The narrowing of the creek provided wetlands around the bridge attracting wildlife to the area.

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The east park contains several ponds, the largest of which is traversed by a boardwalk.  Several restoration projects are underway in the park with the trail being diverted onto the boardwalk while the main trail is being repaired.  New habitats are being created along the shore by the addition of some random sunken logs, rock piles, log cribs and sunken vertical trees.

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From the park, you can look back the shore and see the many towers that have sprung up over the years.  On the right-hand side, you can see the white arch of the bridge over the Humber River.  When it was built in 1994 many of these towers didn’t exist.  To the west of here at the mouth of Mimico Creek, the towers get taller with the tallest tower, 62 floors,  in Canada outside of the downtown core currently under construction.

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The park contains Toronto’s memorial to the victims of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985.  The flight originated in Montreal and was bound for Dehli and Bombay but it was lost over the Atlantic near Ireland. The sundial memorial in Humber Pay Park East was revealed on June 23, 2007, to commemorate the 329 lives that were lost to the bombing on that day. The stones in the sundial podium were donated from every province and territory in Canada as well as the countries of India, Ireland, Japan, and the USA. All of whom were touched by the tragedy.

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This fall we photographed two pieces of artwork in along the east trail between Mimico Creek and the mouth of the Humber River.  They were created by local artists out of driftwood and represent a bather looking out toward Toronto’s skyline as well as the word Toronto.  The Toronto sign was badly damaged and had been repaired a few times but was finally removed on Dec. 9th, 2017.

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The Waterfront Trail runs for 740 kilometres and part of it passes through the East and West Humber Bay Park area where it can be accessed by the residents of all the new towers going up along the shoreline.

Google Maps Link: Humber Bay Park

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