Glen Rouge Campground

Sunday, April 12, 2020

In the midst of a global pandemic we are looking through thousands of photographs for opportunities to bring you previously unpublished stories.  This feature story presents  a series of pictures we took in Rouge National Urban Park on December 21, 2019.

Starting in 1923 Jack Graham developed Graham Park on the Rouge River near Kingston Road.  There was space for about 10 campers who paid $40 for the entire season.  There was no electricity and so the park was lit at night by Coleman lanterns.  Water was carried from a natural spring nearby.  Campers were allowed to collect wood for their cooking fires and were even permitted to cut down cedar trees for fire wood.  By 1950 a large pool had been added by damming the river.  The children would sit below the dam and allow the water to cascade over them, pretending it was Niagara Falls.

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In 1952 a new office and Graham Park Restaurant was built where a full meal could be had for $2.90.  Following Hurricane Hazel in 1954 the park was bought by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority who continue to operate the campground.  We decided to visit during the off season to check it out.

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The campground has the advantage of being only about 35 kilometres from downtown Toronto and is easily accessed from the 401.  There isn’t a lot of activities for the children but there are plenty of trails to enjoy.

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The camp sites at Glen Rouge campground have water and electricity provided.  You don’t have to carry water from the spring any more although lighting the campsite with Coleman lanterns may still be the preferred way to relax in the evening.  There are also some sites that are not serviced for those who want a more traditional camping experience.

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A small bag of fire wood has been left in one of the campsites.  No longer are the guests allowed to collect wood from the park.  Today we recognize that the fallen branches and dead trees provide habitat for many insects and small animals.  It is also possible for the larger crowds who can camp here to strip the woods clean in no time.

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Parks Canada operates a few cabin/tent lodgings called oTENTiks in the park.  These 19 x 24 foot tents provide a comfortable camping experience for families and others who don’t want to rough-it in a traditional tent.

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The Rouge River was just starting to freeze over with slush forming and floating downstream.  There is an interesting pattern in the ice in the middle of the river where the slush has piled up.

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With a thin layer of fresh snow it makes it possible to see where the local wild life has been running around.  This set of tracks looks like a small rodent such as a mole or a vole.

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It was four days before Christmas and the park was quiet.  Most of the birds had left for the season and although we saw plenty of deer tracks we didn’t get to watch any of them.

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The campground was scheduled to be closed for the 2020 season to allow underground improvements to water and sewage management.  This is perhaps the first time it has had a period of rest for almost 100 years.  I think the wild life is going to be very happy this spring.

Other hikes in Rouge National Urban Park include:

The Mast Trail

Beare Hill Park

Vista Trail

Maxwell’s Mill

Google Maps Link: Glen Rouge Campground

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Hurricane Hazel – Raymore Drive

Sunday, April 5, 2020

With restrictions in place that are intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Hiking the GTA is looking into our collection of unpublished pictures to see what new stories we can bring you.  We hope to keep ourselves entertained, and perhaps you as well, while we wait for the parks and trails to be opened up for us again. 

These pictures were taken on September 19, 2019 with the idea of a possible post about the destruction caused by Hurricane Hazel in the area of Raymore Drive.  We had previously featured some information in our post Raymore Drive and so we won’t cover all that material again.  As we walked along the Humber River on a beautiful Saturday in September we stopped to watch the ducks and admire one that was a little different.  It may be just a variegated mallard as it doesn’t seem to match any duck in the National Geographic bird book.

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The picture below shows Raymore Drive in Etobicoke in 1953, about a year before Hurricane Hazel struck.  When the hurricane paused over the GTA on October 15, 1954 it dumped so much rain that the rivers all flooded their banks and 81 people were killed.  Notice the pedestrian bridge that crossed the Humber River and the two streets of houses that were tucked into the curve of the river.

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When the water levels rose on the river the bridge was swept off of the west abutment and began to deflect the flow of the river into the housing development.  With the full flow of the river rising by 20 feet there were 14 homes washed away and 35 people lost their lives in this small enclave.  In the 1956 picture the bridge is gone and so are the houses on the two streets closest to the river.

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The east bank of the river still has the remains of the bridge abutment and, as a memorial, it has been plastered with replicas of the news papers that came out following the storm.

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There is a set of concrete walls that surrounded the old bridge abutments.  Just for fun I walked through the grasses and shrubs that surrounded the old structure.  That was a big mistake because I ended up with hundreds of little seed pods stuck to my clothes that had to be picked off one-by-one.

The whole structure has been overgrown during the past 65 years and it is difficult to imagine exactly what it may have looked like when it was in use.

This willow tree will eventually push over this section of the wall as nature slowly reclaims its own space.

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Some parts of the old bridge foundations have been washed into the river where they now provide some shelter and habitat for the blacknose dace that live in the river.

A new pedestrian bridge has been built across the river to link two sections of the Humber River Trail.

A large section of the west abutment can be seen in the river where pieces of wood and tree branches have been washed onto the top by high water and then left stranded there.

The former residential streets have been retained and are now in use as the main hiking trails through Raymore Park.  Many of the homes in the various flood plains around the city were washed away or damaged beyond repair.  In the aftermath of the hurricane it was decided that no homes would be allowed on the flood plains of any watercourse in the GTA.  Homes that survived Hazel were bought up by local conservation authorities and soon demolished.  This led to the creation of many of the ravine trails and parkland that we enjoy in the city today.

The Old Albion Road bridge across the Humber River was destroyed on the night of October 15, 1954 along with another 40 bridges in the GTA.  A short piece of the former road allowance and the old cut stone blocks of the east bank abutment mark one side of the old road alignment.  On the west bank of the river all traces of the former road have been removed.

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Over on The Rouge River the storm washed the Old Finch Avenue bridge away and shifted the abutment so that the new bridge appears to be on a new alignment.

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It’s tragic to think of the destruction that nature can cause but there have been several steps take to reduce the risk in the future.  Flood control dams were built on each of the three main rivers.  Milne Dam on the Rouge River, G. Ross Lord Dam on the Don River and Claireville Dam on the Humber River.

Google Maps Link: Raymore Drive

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Rivermede – Marian Shrine Of Gratitude

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The world was changing rapidly every day with the ongoing spread of COVID-19. Almost everything was closed to the public except for parks and hiking trails.  We decided to take the hike along the Humber River from Pine Point Park north to an old estate named Rivermede.  Along the way we noticed a few extra people but there wasn’t an unusually large number of park users and we were able to have the trail pretty much to ourselves.

The trail follows the Humber River which it eventually crosses on a pedestrian bridge.  After crossing under Albion Road we saw plenty of deer and coyote tracks but the animals were in hiding.  Presently we came to the plot of land in old Emery Village which we had been seeking.  From the trail we could see the old lane way that once led to the river as well as the pump house and the main cottage on the hill top.

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Percy Gardiner made his fortune manufacturing brass and later as a principal in the Toronto Stock Exchange.  In 1957 he bought 57 ares of land where he built a summer cottage for himself and his wife Gertrude.  They named their lavish cottage Rivermede and hosted parties for Toronto’s elite.  The house included tennis courts and a $75,000 swimming pool.  One of the first structures you see on the property is the old pump house for the swimming pool.  Even a simple building like this has been created with great attention to detail.

From the side of the hill you can look down into the former swimming pool area.  The pool was filled in but the rectangular outline can still be seen and the pool area has the only grass in the prayer garden.

in 1961 the Basillian Fathers bought the property and turned it into the Marian Shrine Of Gratitude.  They converted the property into a monastery and the swimming pool into a prayer garden.  Originally there were several Fathers who lived in the house and maintained the property.  They took turns praying over the faithful who visited the prayer gardens.  Today the house is kept by a single Father who has been practicing social distancing since long before it became mandatory.

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The cottage had a barn attached to the side which looks like a second cottage.

A stone arch separates the barn from the house and after passing through it you come to a set of stairs which leads down to the prayer gardens.  Crang’s Pond can be seen in the background.  In the 1950’s a large gravel quarry was operated on the property which supplied gravel for construction of the local section of the 401 when it was under construction.  The pit eventually filled with water to create the pond.

The lower walls of the prayer garden feature a series of carvings that depict the stations of the cross.  Most years at Easter the gardens are full of people but this year they will likely be silent for the first time in decades.

The prayer garden with all of its religious symbols has taken on an air of spirituality that I could feel as I walked slowly around the grounds.

When the swimming pool was in use bathers would have two sets of ladders to enter the water with.  One on the deep and and a second set of steps on the shallow end.  Today, the hand rails for the steps stand in memory of swimmers soaking up the sun at a summer cottage party.

The trail along the river provides opportunities to see the local wildlife.  We were lucky enough to spot an American Mink swimming in the river.  All the mink that we see in the rivers around the GTA are related to a group that was released from captivity by animal rights activists.  Several of whom have been convicted of terrorism.

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As we close this blog we have no idea when the trails will be open to allow new blogs to be photographed.  We have several places that were photographed in the last few months that were not published.  Perhaps there may be a few new blogs with original content yet.  In an era where things change by the day, we’ll see what comes next when we get there.

Google Maps Link: Pine Point Park

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Emmanuel Harrison – Pioneers of the GTA

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The County of Chinguacousy was surveyed in 1818 and the land grants were quickly given out to Loyalists from the War of 1812-1814 as well as emigrants from the British Isles.  Emmanuel Harrison arrived in December of 1820 and bought part of Lot 9 in the 5th Concession.  Here he built a log cabin and encouraged the local Wesleyan Methodists to meet on his property.

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On May 20th, 1840 he ceded an acre of land for the use of the church.  They established a burial ground and built a frame church which was 40 X 60 feet.  During the early years the men sat on one side of the church with the women and children on the other.  Newly married couples were allowed the pleasure of sitting together for the first three weeks.  It was used until 1876 and then converted into a dance hall for the next few years.  It was demolished in 1880.

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A project was begun in 1875 to build a new church and a site was chosen on the opposite side of the road.  By 1876 the new brick structure was opened with the original vestibule having a flat roof.  The two front corners were adorned with small steeple shaped towers.  In 1925 the Methodist Church joined with some of the Presbyterian Churches to form the United Church of Canada.

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Renovations in 1947 raised the structure by 35 inches and dug the basement down an additional 3 feet.  The walls were originally buttressed with pale coloured bricks.  The dichromatic pattern was continued at ground level with four rows of bricks for trim.  The new foundation can be seen below this row in the form of new flagstones.  The church continued to serve the community until 1983 when it was sold.

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The building was bought by the Jewish Reform congregation Har Tikvah.  They modified it by installing new windows on the east wall and a custom built Ark of the Covenant to house the scrolls of the Torah.  A close up of the east wall wall window reveals a plain plate glass.  The earlier stained glass depicting a Christian motif is long gone.

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The original date stone is hidden behind a new flag but when the wind moves it the right way you can still read Wesleyan Church and the date 1876.  I fully support the re-purposing of historic buildings.  It is much more desirable than the demolition of them to build expressionless replacements.  This one has the unique privilege of having served three different faiths.  It’s just unfortunate that the full history of the structure isn’t being celebrated as one faith superimposes its symbols over the earlier one.  Perhaps they could have been expressed side-by-side rather than in competition.

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Emmanuel Harrison Sr. was buried along with his wife Rachel in the cemetery that he founded.  Rachel passed away on June 14, 1871 at the age of 81 years and 10 months.  Emmanuel followed her just five months later on December 11, 1871.  He was also 81 years old at the time.

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Emmanuel and Rachel had one of their children in 1828 and decided to name him after his father.  Emmanuel Harrison Jr. lived until 1920 and was married twice.  Both of his wives and two of his children are commemorated on his family stone.  His first wife was Everilda Hagyard and she died on May 28, 1885.  The couple had lost a daughter on July 25, 1875 named Mary Beatrice who was only 4 months old.  In 1883 their first son, Frederick C. Harrison died at the age of 12.

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Emmanuel Harrison is remembered along with his wife, at least one son, two daughter-in-laws and two grandchildren in the cemetery he founded and the church that he started is remembered by a building that was completed five years after his passing.

Google Maps Link: Harrison’s United Wesleyan Methodist Cemetery

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Milne Dam Bridge

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Following Hurricane Hazel in 1954 a plan was developed that called for several dams to be constructed to provide flood control on the major waterways throughout the GTA.  Only three were actually built, including the one at G. Ross Lord Park on The Don River, the one at Claireville on The Humber River and Milne Dam on The Rouge River.  Until recently there was no access across The Rouge River in Milne Dam Conservation Area but a new set of bridges has changed that.  Our excursion to check out these new bridges began with a visit to Milne Dam Conservation Area.

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Closer to the dam the ice on the lake was much thinner.  Canada Geese are known for the “V” formation in which they fly which demonstrates a high level of social organization by providing support for the weaker birds in the tail of the formation.  The birds had cleared a winding path through the ice that they kept open simply by being organized enough to all use the same route.  It’s always interesting to observe the behaviour of the wildlife around us.

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Male red-winged blackbirds can be easily identified by the red epaulets on their shoulders.  The spring migration of these birds begins in mid-February and continues through to mid-May.  The males and females migrate separately with the males returning first in the spring and leaving last in the fall.

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Before you reach the dam you come to the newly constructed Milne Creek Bridge.  It is 42 metres long and helps connect the Markham Rouge Valley Trail which begins in Unionville at Toogood Pond.  The new bridges in the Milne Dam Conservation Area were officially opened on September 21, 2019.  The first three phases of the 15 kilometre trail are completed with the final phase currently under construction.

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The bridge is a multi span, cable-stayed design with a fanned-cable system.  From the middle of each of the main pylons the cables extend to three anchor points along the bridge decking.  Cable stayed bridges have several advantages over suspension bridges.  The cables allow the horizontal forces to balance which reduces the need for large ground anchorage points.    The cables provide a much stiffer structure to the bridge so that deformations of the deck under live loads are reduced.  The cables also work during construction of the bridge to allow spans to be cantilevered out from the pylon, providing both temporary and permanent support.

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The bridge is 143 metres long with the main section over the river being 45 metres.  It was built in sections off site and brought into the environmentally sensitive area ready to be installed.  The precast concrete decking was detailed to match the curvilinear approach on the west end of the bridge.

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The sunshine was sparkling on the waters of The Rouge River as they flowed over the Milne Dam.  The smaller concrete piers below the dam act to dissipate the energy the water gains as it drops over the falls.

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From below the bridge the view up to the little observation platforms is actually more breathtaking than the view from the platforms themselves.

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From the bridge you get a nice view of the dam in one direction and the Rouge River in the other one.  The bridge passes over the river at a height of 20 metres.

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This bridge provides the link to a much longer hike along the newly connected trail system, and a reason for a potential return visit.

Check out this link for our previous post on Milne Dam Conservation Area.

Google Maps Link: Milne Dam Conservation Area

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Crawford Lake Trails

Saturday, February 29, 2020

February 29th falls on a Saturday once every 28 years with the next one coming in 2048.  To mark this rare occasion we decided to explore the area around Crawford Lake.  We had been here about 5 years ago to explore the longhouses and the meromictic lake that helped modern scholars locate the site.  It isn’t possible to see everything in one trip because the park is 232 acres in size and full of trails.

Having recently heard about stone foundations on the property, we set out to have a look for them.  There is plenty of parking near the re-created Indigenous Village but you have to pay using an envelope and drop-box so no change can be expected.

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Crawford Lake has more than 15 kilometres of trails, including the Bruce Trail.  After parking near the longhouses we followed the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail until we came to The Bruce Trail.  This allowed us to connect with the Escarpment Trail and make our way over to the lookout across the canyon.  From there we used The Woodland Trail to reach The Crawford Lake Trail.  Like most parks, we recommend that you take a picture of the trail map in the parking lot.  This will help you keep track of where you are  in the park and which turns to take at each trail connection.

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After passing several trees with very large woodpecker holes in them it wasn’t surprising to see a Pileated Woodpecker.  We saw one land on a nearby tree while a second one could be heard hammering away on a tree in the distance.  A nesting pair will take turns incubating 3 – 5 eggs until they hatch in about two weeks.  The young may take about a month to fledge after which time they can live for up to 12 years.

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As you follow the trail you will see several large walls of stone that have been put up by the farmers as they cleared the land in an attempt to farm it.

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When the settlers arrived they tried to become self dependent as quickly as possible.  They would raise animals during the summer when feeding them was easy and then slaughter them for food before the winter set in.  The livestock would be kept in a barn to protect it from the worst of the weather.  As we neared the escarpment edge we came to the stone foundations of an old barn.  The barn that was originally built on this property was small with an overhanging porch along the east side.  Wagons didn’t fit in the barn so they were likely stored under the overhang.  A few feet to the east of the barn stands the remains of another one of the stone walls that run across the property.  It provides some shelter to the items stored on this side of the barn.  Close examination reveals a single man-door and a larger animal-door.  These days the barn is used as a shortcut by white tailed deer that shelter among the rows of evergreens near the barn foundations.

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A few metres away from the barn are the foundations of the small house the family lived in.  When settlers cleared the land they used the materials at hand to build their homes and the barns where they kept their livestock.  The house was built on a foundation of field stones collected when the land was cleared.  The trees that were cut down became the logs that were used for the house and barn.  The log house would often have three rooms inside, two of which were bedrooms.  By the middle of the 1800’s the log house would be often be outgrown and the family would build a new home out of bricks.

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Crawford Lake Conservation Area covers several former land grants including that of Mrs. Allan White.  The log house built by her husband can be seen on the county atlas map marked with a green circle.  At the time the county atlas was drawn in 1877 the house was already reaching the end of its normal lifespan.

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Crawford Lake Conservation Area and The Bruce Trail Association are working on removing Ash Trees from the park, especially along the Bruce Trail section in the park.  Emerald Ash Borers have decimated the forests around the GTA with estimates reaching as high as 99% of all ash trees being infected with the beetles.

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Emerald Ash Borers live in the layer between the bark and the core of the tree.  The phloem is the layer directly below the bark and it is responsible for passing nutrients and hormones between the ground and the leaves of the tree.  The larvae of the beetle eats extensive pathways under the bark and leaves the tree without the ability to feed itself.  The places where the bark has fallen off the stumps below reveal the extend of damage on these trees and the reason for their destruction.

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The trail leads to a lookout where there are several information plaques about the history and wildlife of the area.  The canyon below is known as the Nassagaweya Canyon and it separates the Niagara Escarpment from a small section known as the Milton Outlier.  Rattlesnake Point is at the southern end of the outlier and it can be reached by following the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail which is paired with the Bruce Trail through this section.

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Limestone Creek flows through the bottom of Nassagaweya Canyon but it took a much larger force of water to cut the canyon through the limestone and dolomite layers of the escarpment.  Melting ice sheets at the end of the last ice age were able to move large amounts of stone and till.  Much of this material was deposited at the mouth of the canyon and is currently being mined by aggregate companies.  In a couple of months, when they return from warmer climates, Turkey Vultures will fill the skies above the canyon.

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Near Crawford Lake is the Hide and Seek trail which features wood carvings of several of the nearly 200 species that are at risk in Ontario.  The wood carvings were made by Robins Amazing Art.

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Originally the lake was known as Little Lake but when George Crawford bought it in 1883 he started a business called the Crawford Lake Company which ran a mill at the end of the lake.

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A cottage and boathouse were included in the sale of the property to the conservation area in 1969.  The house has since been demolished with only the front porch remaining.

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Crawford Lake is an interesting place to explore and we’ll likely be back.  We have previously posted about the longhouses in the conservation area as well as the Bruce Trail south of the park in the Crawford Forestry Tract.

Google Maps Link: Crawford Lake

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Claireville – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Claireville was a community that started in 1850 on the estate of Jean du Petit Pont de la Haye at the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Indian Line.  He named the town after his daughter Claire and it grew until by 1870 there were 175 people living there.  The town grew up to service the local farmers and soon had two general stores and two hotels.  It attracted a butcher, a cabinet maker, blacksmith, tailor and flour mill.  Today it has been isolated by the construction of Highway 50 and Highway 427.  Most of the historic buildings in town were removed for the reconfiguration of roads in the area.

The first building in the area belonged to John Stark in 1832 and it was a halfway house on the south west corner of the intersection.  It was demolished long ago.  One of the former homes in Claireville now serves as the Bhagwan Valmiki Temple serving the nearby Hindu population.

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De La Haye was a very generous man and he gave land to three different congregations to build churches in town.  In 1842 the Congregationalists were the first to build a permanent church building in Claireville.  The Primitive Methodists were next in 1846 and the Roman Catholics didn’t build until 1860.  All three of those churches have since been demolished.  The house pictured below was likely built in the 1860s or 1870s and is one of the few that is still lived in.

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This house sits on early 1900s precast blocks but is missing the front steps.  Like many others along Albion Road (now Codlin Crescent) it is likely waiting for a demolition permit because it has no heritage protection.

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Edwardian Classicism is a style of house that emerged around 1910 and lasted for about 20 years.  It was very simple in style, a reaction to the more fanciful Victorian Styles that had prevailed for the previous few decades.  The presence of this style of house in Claireville suggests that the town was still serving the rural community at that time.

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A similar house was built directly across the street quite possibly by the same contractor.  Today both of these houses stand beside large buildings with  industrial or transportation and shipping uses.  The farmlands around Claireville were designated for Industrial/Employment uses by the 1980s and the end of the town followed quickly.

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The “Albion Plank Road Company” was formed in 1846.  Their mission was to build a plank road from Thistletown to Bolton, passing right through Claireville.  To maintain the road a series of toll houses were established to collect money from users of the road.  Typical tolls at this time were 1/2 pence for the passage of a horse and rider or 1/2 pence for each 20 hogs or sheep.  The toll house in Claireville was built in 1851 and was located at 2095 Albion Road.  The house is now sitting in the parking lot of a tractor trailer storage company and is also featured as the cover photo.  It is the oldest remaining building in Claireville and the only one with a heritage designation.  For more on plank roads see our post The Gore And Vaughan Plank Road.

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Of the 14 original homes that remain in Claireville, only a couple a still being used for residential purposes.  The former plank road had eventually been replaced with a more modern road as transportation was changed to the automobile.  The main street became a busting centre for the local rural community.  On a Saturday morning in February it is almost as abandoned as nearby Indian Line.

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Indian Line started off as an Indian trail along the shore of the Humber river.  When the land survey was made it was part of the border between Peel County and York County. When Highway 427 was extended north it became part of an off and on ramp to the highway. In 1992 when the highway was further extended it was closed off and abandoned.

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It is believed that there are at least 150 pair of coyotes living in the parks and ravines of the GTA.  Each of these breeding pair will have a litter of about 5 pups each spring.  This will raise the population from around 300 to closer to 1000.  Many of the young coyotes will not survive but the remainder do very well living in the city.  We saw a coyote come out onto Indian Line and walk in front of us for a short distance before returning to the woods.

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The Humber River has frozen over multiple times this winter but we’ve never had a long enough deep freeze to allow the ice to be safe for crossing.  Ice needs to be at least four inches thick in order to safely support a person on foot.  Since the ice thickness is rarely the same across an entire body of water, especially one which is flowing beneath, it needs to be more than that to tempt us to cross.  Sometimes in the spring we see the ice flows pushed up on the shore and realize the ice was much thicker than we thought.  Still, it’s better to be safe than on the evening news.  There are still open places on the river as can be seen in the picture below.

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We made our way back into Claireville Conservation Area where we had found free parking earlier.  The conservation area includes 848 acres and the historic Wiley Bridge.

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Silver Maples are one of the first trees to bud in the spring.  Their tiny red flowers are often hidden by the scales on the buds.  They react to the increased hours of daylight towards the end of February and early into March rather than to the increase of temperature which will follow a few weeks later.

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Claireville and the surrounding area has plenty to explore, you can read more in our Claireville post.

Google Maps Link: Claireville

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