Pioneer Heartbreak

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Having recently been exploring in the area of Keele Street near Maple, I had noticed a pioneer cemetery at Langstaff and Keele Street,   I decided to stop after work and have a look at the restored markers in the old St. Stephen’s Anglican Church graveyard.  The graveyard is not marked on the 1877 county atlas and so I’ve added it in, circled in orange.  The two White families that we will focus on had their land just to the south of the grave site.  In 1965 the grave markers were collected up and placed in a central display to prevent further deterioration of the stones.  Many of them were over 100 years old at the time of the restoration.

While looking at the names and dates on the markers I noticed that there were a lot of tombstones marking the graves of people who lived less than a year.  From the days of the first settlers in North America until the mid-1800s about 30% of infants did not survive their first year.

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Pioneer women would have a child an average of every 26 months and 60% of them would have six or more.  The average family would lose at least one child under the age of 1 year old.

Henry and Elizabeth White may have occupied the land shown as Hiram White in the county atlas.  Eleanor was born to the White family in 1845 but she lived for only 3 years and 3 months before she passed away.  She was buried in the St. Stephen’s Anglican Church cemetery after her passing on May 3, 1848.


Henry and Elizabeth White went on to have other children, including Anthony who was born in January of 1856.  In pioneer days the common practice was to record the length of time a person lived rather than the birth and death date for them.  Anthony passed away on Mar. 28, 1856 when he was only 2 months and 28 days old.


In July of 1857 the White family welcomed little William into the world.  Unfortunately, William only lived for 2 months and 4 days and passed away on September 17, 1857.


Albert was born in January of 1859 and he lived for 10 months and 25 days before passing away.


Elizabeth became pregnant again, almost right away and she gave birth to Joseph about 10 months later in September of 1860.  Sadly, Joseph would live for only 9 months before passing away in June of 1861.


Isaac and Elizabeth White were likely related to Henry and Elizabeth.  They also buried young children in the graveyard at St. Stephen’s church.  Mary C. was born in February of 1854 and passed away on July 3rd, just 5 months later.


A couple of months after this Elizabeth became pregnant again and Elizabeth Ann was born in May of 1855. Two months later she passed away on the first anniversary of the death of her sister.


An Anglican Church was built in 1838 on a plot of land donated by one of the Keffer brothers of Sherwood.  The property was owned by a member of the Zion Lutheran Church, honouring a longstanding history of cooperation between the two denominations.  In 1895 they built a new church on Keele Street on the north end of Maple.  The prominent feature, apart from the bell tower, is the large gable on the front with a beautiful glass rosette.  The church continues to serve the needs of the congregation in 2020.

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Many pioneer cemeteries are filled with the small remains of infants who never had the opportunity to grow up and experience life to the fullest.

Explore the two local ghost towns: Sherwood and Maple

Google Maps Link: Langstaff Pioneer Cemetery

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Maple – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The town of Maple is one of the fastest growing communities in Ontario but it wasn’t always this way.  From the founding days in the early 1800s the town was overshadowed by the nearby communities of Teston and Sherwood.  When the railway arrived in 1853 and located the Richmond Hill station on the edge of town things began to change rapidly.  The other local communities began to fade away while Maple became a thriving town with a saw mill, hotels and general stores.  It remained a rural village until the urban sprawl of the GTA caught up to it in the 1950s.  Today the area is home to Canada’s Wonderland, lots of housing and some industry.  However, the original town of Maple sits like a ghost hiding among the new development.  Those older buildings for the nucleus of the Maple Cultural Heritage District that seeks to protect the local history.

The County Atlas below shows what the town looked like in 1877 when it was drawn.

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The Frank Robson log house sits in a fenced woodlot on the west side of Keele Street.  The house has had a couple of additions but the original home was built out of logs cut from the virgin forest on the lot.  The logs of the main structure are notable for their size and the detailing of the dove-tail that links the corners.  The house was bought and restored around 1929 by Sam Sobara when it was sitting in an undeveloped rural area on the edge of Maple.


The Presbyterian Church was built in 1862 in a style known as Carpenter Gothic.  This design applies the pointed arches and other Gothic features to wooden buildings.  There are very few of these types of buildings in Vaughan.  The Presbyterians had been meeting in town since 1829 and their first building was consecrated in 1832.


The church purchased a lot across the street to be used for their cemetery and several of the early settlers are buried there.


Thomas Noble died on March 25, 1857 and lies buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery.  His family were part of the early founders of Maple and the original name for the community was Nobles Corner after Joseph Noble who was the first postmaster.


There is only one example of Georgian Revival architecture in town.  It was built in 1870 and occupies what is now a prominent corner lot on main street.  The hand-pressed red bricks are accented with buff quoins and window heads.  The house is two stories with three bays on the front.  An historical plaque in front of the house commemorates Lord Beaverbrook who was born in Maple.  William Maxwell Aiken was the son of the Presbyterian Minister in town and went on to become a British Cabinet Minister after moving to the U.K.  He was the largest publisher of mass-circulation news papers in Britain before the Second World War and served on the War Cabinet during it.  He was in charge of the production of fighter aircraft which were instrumental in winning the Battle of Britain.

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The Weslyan Methodist congregation in Maple was formed in 1833 and replaced their original frame building with a larger brick structure in 1870.  The building incorporates gothic architecture which was very common on church buildings in the mid to late 1800s.  The congregation joined the United Church of Canada in 1925 and continues to serve the community today as New Hope United.


The doorway is impressive with its dichromatic bricks and round window with decorative muntins.  The pioneers would likely be surprised to find a security camera above the date stone.


The railway arrived in Maple in 1853 with the construction of a line that would change names several times, originally chartered as the Toronto, Simcoe and Huron Railroad.  It would later be known as the Northern Railway, Grand Trunk Railway and finally was taken over by the Canadian National Railway.  The station appears one county atlas above as the Richmond Hill Station as it was originally known.  The name was changed to the Maple Station when it was acquired by the Canadian National Railway.  The station was replaced by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1903 when it was busy upgrading many of the older stations with grander designs.


There are dozens of other historical buildings in the Cultural Heritage District of Maple and you can read about them at this link.

Also see our recent story of the nearby ghost town of Sherwood.

Google Maps Link: Maple

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Sherwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The township of York was settled in the early 1800’s and the intersection of modern Keele Street and Major Mackenzie Drive became known as Sherwood.  It prospered for a only a short time and then was overtaken by nearby Maple and faded from prominence.  Sherwood is still indicated as a neighbourhood on most maps but it is now predominantly industrial with a large area taken up by the Canadian National Railway Macmillan Yards.

The early settlers were from Somerset County in Pennsylvania and were of German heritage.  They arrived bringing their Evangelical Lutheran faith with them.  Jacob Keffer answered the need for a parish in 1806 when he volunteered to serve as a lay pastor to the emerging congregation.  When the meetings outgrew his home he donated land in 1811 for use as a cemetery and the construction of a frame church.  The Keffer family would continue to dominate the community and retained title to several land grants in the area.  In 1837 when William Lyon Mackenzie was stirring up his rebellion the family was divided in their loyalties.  Those supporting the rebellion locked the government supporters out of the church in protest.  Later everyone would make up and things went back to normal,


Zion Evangelical Church grew and in 1859 plans were made to replace the original building with the brick structure that still serves the congregation today.  The building cost $1,485.90 which included 80,000 red bricks and 1,000 white ones.  The date stone above the entrance shows the dedication as Zion Evangelical Lutheran A.D. 1860.


The cemetery was laid out with the older interments taking place at the back of the plot.  With the snow on the ground all these pioneer stones made of limestone make the place look ancient.  Later marble headstones can be found closer to Keele Street.


Cemetery records show that the first burial occurred in 1817 but there is reason to believe that interments may have happened earlier.  With the fresh snow on the ground I wasn’t able to see all the stones but I did notice the memorial for Ann Keffer who was the wife of Peter Keffer.  She passed away October 12, 1830.


On July 19, 1936 the church celebrated the 130th anniversary of its founding.  They also celebrated the efforts of Adam Keffer who had walked to Pennsylvania in both 1849 and 1850 to plead for a pastor for the parish.  After the first visit promised a Lutheran Pastor that never arrived, he returned the following year where his tenacity was rewarded with a pastor being assigned to the church.


The church built a log house for the pastor to live in.  In January of 1887 Peter Keffer donated more land to the church for the construction of a new manse for the pastor.  The house was completed by October 29th that year and was occupied by the various clergy who served the church.  With the manse fund and donations the house was finished with only $800 still owing for materials and labour.


In 1950 the parsonage was sold because the church had become a two-point parish sharing a pastor with Unionville.  The pastor had relocated to the manse in Unionville and the house was no longer occupied.  Today it is home to a nursery garden.


The church and graveyard are located on Concession 3, Lot 13 West Half which was owned by George Keffer in 1877 when the county atlas was published.  County atlases had a reputation for spelling errors with people’s names.  This appears to be an omission of the church and cemetery from the atlas.  Just a little farther north on Keele Street on the map below you will notice an “*” marked WM and another marked PRES.  These indicate the locations of the Wesleyan Methodist and Presbyterian cemeteries.

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The bulk of the former Keffer property has been turned over to industrial purposes with small green belts remaining along the watercourses.  The trail through this little greenbelt is known as the Bartley Smith Greenway but it is still under construction and some sections are closed.   The trail brings you out to Planchet Road where it detours down Keele Street to Rivermede.  When completed the Bartley Smith Greenway will run 15 kilometres along the West Don River.


The trail climbs over the small rise of one of the city of Vaughan’s storm water management ponds.  Basaltic Pond is known as a dry pond because there is normally no water present.  During a major storm event the berm and dam serve to retain water.  The pond can reach the level of the top of the dam before it spills over.  Should the water level exceed the storage capacity of the pond there is a series of concrete posts known as a dissipation weir that the water must flow through.  This allows the energy that the water gained by falling from the top of the dam to be released before it can cause significant erosion downstream.


The water level this far up the West Don River is pretty small today and there’s lots of room for increase before the dam will even start to retain water.  When the flow exceeds the capacity of the round cut-out in the dam it will start to fill the pond.


From a distance you can see the basic height of the berm and dam which suggests that about five feet of water can be retained in the ravine.


As usual, I wonder what the original farmer would think if he could return today.  The farm he worked hard to clear and maintain has become a series of factories.  I think it would please him to see that the church he founded is still open and serving the faithful.

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Prospect Cemetery

Sunday, January 12, 2020

With the rapid expansion of the city during the 19th century there was a need for additional cemetery grounds.  In 1887 the city purchased 100 acres of land from William Shields for this purpose.  The plans were laid out to allow maximum views which originally included Lake Ontario and the Humber River Valley.  Two ravines passed through the plot of land leading to it being named Prospect Cemetery.


Over 170,000 people have been buried in Prospect Cemetery since it opened in 1890.


Many local veterans of the First World War returned home with injuries that would soon claim their lives.  The first few were buried in various cemeteries around the city.  The Great War Veterans Association and The Toronto General Burying Grounds selected a 5 acre oval section near the St. Clair Avenue entrance to the cemetery as the site of a dedicated veterans section.  Capt. James Henderson of the Royal Army Medical Corps served in Mesopotamia and returned home on leave suffering a cold that turned into pneumonia which killed him on July 16, 1917.  He became the first interment in the cemetery having lived 39 years.  He is buried near the Cross of Sacrifice which is the centre piece of the plot.  It can be seen in the background of the cover shot.  Today there are over 3,500 veterans buried in the cemetery, many of them in neat rows in the veterans plot.


Private Griffith Evans served in Europe and returned home in the summer of 1917 suffering from fatal battle wounds.  He passed away a month before the first burial in the veterans plot and was relocated here in honour of his service.


Lance Corporal Thomas Wilson came home from the war and died on October 2, 1918.  He perished a month too soon to learn that his service was part of the victory that came on November 11, 1918.


There are many soldiers buried in the cemetery in places outside of the veterans plot.  Some of them are in graves with markers that bear no mention of their service.  Others have been commemorated with a standard design maker like the one issued to Corporal William Fraser Stagg who died on the final day of 1918.  His service record indicates that the cause of death was unknown.  The Canadian Great War Project is a searchable database that contains information on the men and women who served their country during World War 1.


Some parts of the cemetery have particularly colourful displays that people have set up to commemorate their loved ones.


Prospect Cemetery is the full 105 acre lot that ran between Eglinton Avenue and St. Clair Avenue.  It is split in a couple of places by through streets, including Rogers Road where this set of gates is found.


Inside the St. Clair Avenue gates the cemetery has built a large mausoleum known as the Mausoleum of the Last Supper.  Along with white marble-fronted crypts the mausoleum features several beautiful statues including one of The Risen Christ.  There’s also a full wall dedicated to The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.  The original painting covers an entire wall in the dining hall of a monastery in Milan.


The cemetery was chosen for the veterans interment in part because the local community had made a large contribution to the war effort.  During the course of the war around 2,500 people from the neighbourhood of Earlscourt enlisted in the military.  This made them the highest per capita district in Canada and 320 of them lost their lives in the conflict.  To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war the cemetery installed a series of 9 plaques that describe Canada’s role in the war.  Another describes the service of Earlscourt and a final one shows the locations of key battles Canadians fought in the war.  Prospect Cemetery (part of the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries) has an electronic version of the memorial on their website.  The virtual war memorial can be found by following the link.  Here you can read all 11 of the plaques that were installed.


This is an interesting stone because it appears to mark the grave of a man who married twice.  Both wives were named Margaret.  William Alfred Francis appears to have survived his first wife, Margaret Armstrong by 22 years.  His second wife, Margaret Anderson survived him by another 20 years.  Both women who bore the name Mrs. Margaret Francis appear to be laid to rest with the husband they both loved.


Every cemetery is full of the stories of the lives it commemorates, if we only had the ability to read them.  Prospect cemetery tells the stories of thousands of people who defended our liberty, especially in World War 1.

Other cemeteries we’ve written about include Mount Pleasant Cemetery, The Necropolis and St. John’s Cemetery on the Humber.

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Thackeray Landfill Park

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Kipling Avenue comes to a dead end just north of Steeles Avenue where Thakeray Park Cricket Grounds are.  The large hill on the property is a mound of household waste that was placed here when Thakeray Landfill was in operation.  The site is 45 hectares and contains 2.2 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste.  After closing in 1978 it was turned over to the city in 1979 to be managed as a park.  However, ongoing methane gas leakage has caused the site to be under utilized until now.  A proposal has been put forward to convert the methane into electricity as is currently done at Beare Road Landfill site in Rouge National Urban Park.  The city earns $2 million each year selling electricity back into the grid.  To check out this park we used the free parking for the cricket grounds.

A fresh coating of snow was on all the trees as we set out for our walk, reminding us of how beautiful winter can be.


As we made our way along the north side of the former landfill we began seeing sets of coyote tracks.  Their footprints tend to run is a single line unlike a dog which shows left and right side as distinctly separate tracks.  We could hear two coyote howling nearby and wondered if they may have entered mating season a little early.  The season doesn’t usually start until late January but we found a site where a coyote had urinated and left considerable amount of blood as well.  This could indicate a female in heat.


The sides of the former landfill have been planted with trees to promote an eventual forest cover for the site.


The Canadian National York Subdivision was built to connect the new MacMillan Yard with various lines on the east end of Toronto.  The line was started in 1959 and completed in 1965 through what was open farm land at the time.  The bridge over the Humber River was built in 1962 and has been added to the list of Humber River Heritage Bridges.  It features rare A-Frame reinforced concrete piers that carry a single line over the river.  The line expands into double track just west of this bridge.


The railway approaches the river on a high berm that affords great photos of the frequent trains.  The early morning snow fall had already melted away by the time we had walked north to the Vaughan Sports Complex and back.


Taking the trail to the left we climbed the hill that represents the former land fill.  A grove of trees stands at the top of the hill.  Another trail beside these trees leads back down the hill toward Steeles Avenue.  The Trail continues under the road and eventually leads to the site of the former Country Hospital For Sick Children.  We followed the trail for a short distance before returning to look at the mini airfield on the top of the land fill.


Radio controlled aircraft became popular in the late 1960’s and for several years people met at the Keele Street Reservoir south of Steeles to fly their aircraft.  Fear of fuel leaking into the water supply led to the banning of flying there in 1972.  The club moved around looking for a home until 1982 when they located the Thackeray Park site that became their new home.


Initially the landing strip was made of dirt and as the landfill started to settle it became very uneven.  Water would pond in the field in the spring time.  In 2000 about ten truck loads of soil were brought in to level the ground again.  The sun shelter was added in 2002 and a solar power charging station installed in 2012.  By 2014 there were a lot of smaller airplanes using the field and they were having a hard time taking off and landing on the grass runway.  It was decided to install a Geo Textile runway along with six pilot stations to meet the needs of the club for the near future.  Sixty feet of grass landing strip is maintained for those who prefer this option.


The Humber Valley Radio Control Flyers have a membership of over 100 who work together to maintain the field, keep the litter picked up and cut the grass on the landing strip.


It will be interesting to see what Toronto Parks does with the old landfill site when it is declared safe for use as a park.

Another story of a park located on a former landfill site can be found at this link: Beare Road

Google Maps Link: Thackeray Park

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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Utopia is a few minutes west of Highway 400 near Barrie and on a recent trip to see the family in Gravenhurst to celebrate Christmas I made the side trip to see the old grist mill that stands in the local conservation area.  Eugene Smith was the first settler in the hamlet of Utopia and he arrived with his family in 1845.  By the 1870s there was a hotel, blacksmith shop, general store with post office a school and two churches along with a saw mill and grist mill.  The town served the local farmers in Essa Township.

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Church was often the focal point for early communities.  The rural farmers would often see each other once a week when they got together for worship services.  Sunday shopping hadn’t been invented yet and so Sunday was a day of rest when people would hang around after church to discuss the crops or catch up on the news.  In Utopia the faithful started meeting in homes and the school with services being held under a large tree at the corner of the 5th concession and 25 side road.  In 1873 John Jennet donated a parcel of land to build a permanent church for the Anglican parish in Utopia.  Reverend W. Bates was the first to hold services in the new church building.  It was originally known as All Saints but changed its name to St. George’s in 1874.


I parked at the entrance to the Utopia Conservation Area and went for a walk.  The road to the old mill has been blocked by several truck loads of fine gravel which has been dumped there.  This will likely be spread out on the trails in the spring.  Beyond this a gate across the road bears a sign indicating that the area is closed to the general public.  I carried on in the interest of photographing and reporting the current condition of the old building.   The original mill lane runs between rows of cedar trees.


At the bottom of the lane the mill pokes out from behind the trees.  James Pink had built the original mill on this site in 1864 and soon added a saw mill down stream soon after.  The water flow in Bear Creek was insufficient to run both mills at the same time so the saw mill was operated during the day and the grist mill at night.  Richard Bell had worked at the mill for three years when he bought it in 1879.  His brothers John and Manuel operated it until it burned to the ground on May 29, 1903.


The mill was rebuilt and opened again on January 1, 1904.  The mill sits on a foundation made of stones that is four and a half feet thick.  It is claimed that quicksand forced the foundation to be set 30 feet deep.


The mill had its own brand of flour including Gold Coin which was intended for baking bread.  Snowflake was milled with pastry in mind.  They also chopped grain for feed for the local farmers and by the 1940s this was the sole business of the mill.


On October 14, 1954 Hurricane Hazel caused Bear Creek to rise to the point where the front porch of the mill was washed away.  The water ran through the building and out again without causing any structural damage.  The mill dam was destroyed and rather than replacing it Harold Bell decided to install a diesel generator.  The mill operated like this until it closed in 1965.


The Nottawasaga Conservation Authority obtained the property soon after this and have been slowly restoring the mill as funds have become available.  New windows have been installed and the front porch replaced.  Although the siding is coming off in a few places it still looks like the building is being protected from excessive deterioration.  Inside, many of the old shafts, pulleys and belts that operated the mill remain in anticipation of possible future use as a working mill.


The dam was replaced with a new concrete on in 1969 to help control the flow of water in times of flooding conditions.


Grain was shipped to the mill from the prairies via a grain shed on the Canadian National Railway Line just north of the mill.  The rail line is abandoned today and clearly marked as no trespassing.


It will certainly be interesting to see if the mill will continue to be restored to a fully functional grist mill.

For our earlier story on The Barrie Light Company click on the link.

Google Maps Link: Utopia Conservation Area

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QEW’s Heritage Bridge

Saturday, December 21, 2019

When the completed Queen Elizabeth Way opened in 1939 it had the distinction of being the first super-highway in Canada and the also first one to be fully illuminated at night.  (Although that was delayed until war-time electricity restrictions were lifted in 1945.)  Several bridges were built over the major ravines and the one over the Credit River in Mississauga has been given an historic designation. In April 2019 the Provincial Government announced funding to rehabilitate the bridge and build a second one directly to the north to allow for increased traffic flow.  By November they had decided to demolish the bridge and build two new ones in a modern box design.  Public outcry has resulted in the recent announcement that the government will only seek tenders that include the preservation and restoration of the historic bridge.


I decided to stop by and see what the bridge looked like and get some pictures in case the ongoing flip-flop continues and we end up without this structure.  It can be most easily seen from Stavebank Road north.  The bridge was built in 1934 and was partially financed under the New Deal that was a government spending program intended to spur the economy during the Great Depression.  The bridge is 840 feet long with seven spans and is historic for its Art Deco design.  Also significant is the fact that the highway was commissioned by the king and queen during the first ever visit to Canada by a reigning monarch.


The bridge, along with the highway, was officially opened on June 7, 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.  Initially conceived in 1931, the highway was simple and intended to relieve congestion on Dundas Street and Lakeshore Road.  The new road would run between the two and be known as Middle Road for that reason.  This early version of the highway contains the historically significant Middle Road Bridge.  With the election of Mitch Hepburn’s Liberals in 1934 the plans were altered significantly in favour of a superhighway like the autobahns being built in Germany.  This resulted in the first cloverleaf in Canada being built for the interchange with Hurontario (Highway 10).  The Middle Road section of the highway opened in 1937 and was the 39 kilometres between Highway 27 and Burlington which included this bridge.  This picture features the view downstream.


The view looking north up The Credit River from under the bridge.  Much of the eastern side of the river is wetland and marsh through this reach.


There is a steel structure that has been installed between the main arches of the bridge and dates to the 1960 addition of two extra lanes in the middle of the bridge.  This allowed the highway to expand from four lanes to six.


The bridge has been maintained several times including 1977, 1987 and 2014 but the weather and road salt is getting at it in several places again.  This looks like another opportunity for some patching of the decay.  There’s  few cavities but no root canal or extraction appears to be warranted.


Part of the restoration will include replacing the road deck which is starting to rust in a few places.


This Ministry of Transportation image shows the twin box design bridges that we almost got at this site.  It would seem that the new bridge on the north side of the existing one may use this design as it is a current favourite with the government.

QEW Bridges

The architecture of the bridge is interesting in that the supports for the arches have their own arches included.  No such Art Deco design elements would be included in a replacement bridge.


The bridge features some interesting lamp posts with the letters “ER” in the iron work.  This is Latin for Elizabeth Regina, or Queen Elizabeth.  It would be easy to conclude that this refers to Queen Elizabeth II, our current monarch.  However, she was only a 13-year old princess when and it was opened.  It was actually named for King George VI’s wife whose name was Elizabeth.  She was later known as the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II is her daughter.  The government plan for the demolition of the bridge would have seen the ornate lamp posts preserved and re-installed somehow in the new structure.  Fortunately they can be preserved in their current position on the rehabilitated bridge.


Each day over 165,000 vehicles pass over this bridge but apart from the lamp posts most of them will never see the architecture of the bridge.  So, why care about a design that only a few fishermen and local residents will ever see?  The issue has far reaching implications because once heritage structures start to be demolished for economic reasons the entire designation system will become powerless to protect our remaining history.

Google Maps Link:  QEW Bridge

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