Long Branch Rifle Range

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The story of the long abandoned Long Branch Rifle Range begins with Confederation in 1867. As soon as the British North America Act came into effect on July 1st, the new Dominion of Canada was charged with taking a lead role in its own defence. The following year the Militia District of Ontario established the Ontario Rifle Association. With the Garrison Common Rifle Ranges in operation in 1869 citizens were practicing at Fort York but this soon proved to be dangerous. The Industrial Exhibition (Later the C.N.E.) was bringing more people into the area and a new passenger wharf at the foot of Dufferin Street led the city to ask the militia to move. In 1891 the Federal Government bought land on the west side of Etobicoke Creek and established the Long Branch Rifle Ranges. The site was immediately important, training volunteer militiamen between 1899 and 1902 for service in the Boer War. The range was operated from 1893 to 1910 by the Ontario Rifle Association when it was bought by the Department of Militia and Defence (Renamed Department of National Defence in 1922). In 1910 they constructed thirty wooden baffles on the firing range, two of which can be seen in the picture below. The are the oldest surviving military baffles in the province.

The rifle range can be seen in this 1962 aerial photograph from the Toronto Archives. Sixty years ago the grass was still kept short and there were no trees anywhere on the rifle range. Much has changed in the intervening years.

Baffles were built to dampen the sound and also to stop stray bullets from doing any damage. They varied in size from 4 to 6 feet high and were between 4 and 10 feet long.

The baffles were built with a wooden frame covered with tongue and groove boards. The tops were left open until they could be filled with sand and small stones taken from the shore of the lake.

Only sixteen of the baffles remain and some of them are in poor shape.

In 1925 two concrete backstops were built, each 15 feet high and 35 feet long. An archery or shooting target range is known as a butt and these two were built at 300 yards and 600 yards from the shooting gallery. The end of the 300 yard butt can be seen below as well as the concrete overhang that kept bullets from ricocheting wildly.

The 300 yard butt is pock marked with hundreds of bullet holes across the entire face. The vast majority of the Lee & Enfields 303 munitions that were fired at the butt were aimed at targets below the protective overhang. The concrete here is chewed away to expose the rebar inside and the wooden roof has also been blasted away.

Applewood Creek flows behind the butt and separated the rifle range from Canada’s first aerodrome which was opened by the Curtis Company in 1915. The eastern section of the lot was used to train pilots until 1919 when the Royal Flying Corp discontinued using it and the buildings were demolished.

The rifle ranges were used to train soldiers for the Boer War, the Great War and the Second World War. The A-25 Small Arms School (later S-3 Canadian Small Arms School) held shooting matches here with up to 300 participants from across the country. Between 1939 and 1945 the Long Branches Rifle Ranges were used by the Department of National Defence to train infantry prior to deployment overseas. With its proud history of serving Canadas military its sad to see the baffles warped, broken and overgrown.

The proliferation of vegetation at the site has the benefit of providing habitat for birds, insects and various mammals. Seen below, Banded Hairstreak is one of the more common hairstreak butterflies in Ontario. They can have a fair range of variation in the pattern of the orange and silver spots on the underside of the wing but the brown bands with white borders are a defining feature. They lay their eggs on host branches where they overwinter, hatching in the spring. Banded Hairstreaks have one flight per year in late June or early July.

There are two baffles in the picture below but the river grapes and dog-strangling vines have run wild, engulfing everything.

Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies were darting everywhere and a male is pictured below. He has a green body and plain black wings. They eat mosquitoes, fleas and small insects and are a welcome sight. In turn, they provide meals for turtles, frogs and fish who like to snap them out of the air.

Female Ebony Jewelwings have a brownish body and smoky coloured wings. Their wings also have a small white patch at the tips. The female will mate in the early summer and lays her eggs in aquatic plants. When the naiads are hatched they eat small aquatic insects until they become fully grown. Then they crawl out of the water and molt into their adult form.

The water tower in the distance was built in 1941 to supply water for the Small Arms Manufacturing plant. At the time, it stood in the middle of the manufacturing compound and there were no trees between it and the firing range.

From closer up, the water tower can be seen to also be in a state of deterioration. When we visited here in 2016 the central water pipe was still surrounded by a wooden crib but all of this is now gone. The pipe has also become disconnected a short distance below the platform under the water tank.

This 1957 aerial photo from the Toronto Archives shows the site when all the buildings were still intact. All that remains of the manufacturing complex is the water tower which stands alone in a field of rubble and overgrown roadways. The G. E. Booth Water Treatment plant had not yet been built and the 600 yard backstop was still in place. It was demolished in 1972 to make way for the water treatment plant. All of the original baffles are also still standing at this time.

Two small flood control ponds have been created on the old arsenal lands and the larger of them has become home to painted turtles. On this morning we found 7 of them sunning themselves on various rocks and logs. All of them were small, perhaps a few years old at most. Painted turtles can live 20 to 30 years but some have been known to reach 50 years of age.

Every time I visit this site I always leave with the feeling that something should be done to bring awareness to this bit of local history and I’m even more certain now. Mississauga carried out a Cultural Heritage Assessment in September 2013 but the site has continued to deteriorate in the 8 years since then. It remains to be seen what the future holds for this overlooked bit of our military heritage.

Also see our related blogs; The Arsenal Lands, Small Arms Testing Site and Marie Curtis Park

Google Maps Link: Arsenal Lands

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West Toronto Railpath

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The West Toronto Railpath is currently 2.1 kilometers long and runs along the former right of way of the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway. The County Atlas below shows the area as it looked around 1877. Several railways have already been built through The Junction and more would follow over the next decade. On the map I’ve coloured the Toronto Grey & Bruce in blue with the section on the rail path being green. The Grand Trunk Railway is yellow while the Credit Valley Railway is orange. To the right, The Northern Railway is red.

Before mergers began, there were five railways that intersected in West Toronto, or The Junction. These would eventually become three lines of Canadian Pacific Railway and two of the Canadian National Railway. The crossed each other on a complicated set of tracks known as the West Toronto Diamond Crossings. The archive picture below shows crews working on the diamond in 1924 and is part of an information plaque at the northern end of the rail path.

When the crossings were rebuilt with grade separations, which were much safer, the diamonds were no longer required. The last one was relocated to the trailhead and preserved as part of the information installation.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was incorporated on March 4, 1868 with the official sod turning ceremony being held in Weston in October of the following year. To save money, the railway was built to a narrow gauge of 3’6″ instead of the standard (or Provincial) gauge of 5’6″. This allowed construction to proceed for $5,100 per mile instead of the $8,100 required for the standard gauge. It formally opened on November 3, 1871 with the first train making it to Owen Sound in 1873. The picture below shows a nearly deserted railpath early on a Sunday morning but it filled up quickly with a variety of dog walkers, cyclists and joggers.

There are several works of art along the railpath including murals on a few buildings. One building has been painted in blue and green with the shapes of the vegetation along the building being left white. This allows for a visual growth indicator as the trees and vines continue to grow onto the painted sections. Four steel sculptures have also been erected along with various places to sit and pause as you walk the trail. Other buildings have extensive murals on them.

Railway sidings ran along the track side of most of the industrial buildings in the Junction Triangle. Although the rails are gone the sidings can be spotted by looking for doors that open a couple of feet off the ground. These would have been at the right level to load and unload the rail cars.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was converted to standard gauge in 1881 to make the interchange between its freight trains and those of other lines easier because the cars could just be moved from one line to the other. In 1883 it was leased to the Ontario & Quebec Railway and was taken over by the CPR the following year. By the 1950s the line was known locally as the Old Bruce and when it stopped serving the local industry it was closed for good. The line was dismantled in 1996 and the right of way was purchased by the city for a railpath which opened in 2009.

Catalpa Bignonioides is a flowering tree that is native to the southern states but has adapted to northern climates including parts of Canada. There are some of them in flower along the side of the trail and they produce a powerful scent. The flowers will turn into long beans that hang from the branches. This is just one of the many flowering plants that line both sides of the trail making it a great place to see butterflies and other pollinators.

The Junction hydro substation is tucked in along the rail corridor and has a date stone that reads 1920. For some reason several on line resources, including the Toronto Architectural Conservancy, list the building as having been completed in 1911. Perhaps the 1920 date above the large door refers to an expansion.

By 1883 there were five railways passing through the area and getting around them safely was starting to become a problem for the communities that surrounded the tracks. Workers had to cross the busy rail lines to get to the various industries where they worked. In 1907 a temporary pedestrian bridge was built as the first project designed by the Ontario Bridge Company. It is one of only a few multi-span steel Warren pony truss bridges in the province. It connects Wallace Street with Dundas Street West and was only intended to be in use until two underpasses were created on Dupont and Bloor Street. The bridges that were built over those underpasses are dated 1925 and one of them is featured in the cover photo.

The picture below is looking south from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge in July 1985 and was taken from “Old Time Trains” web page. The tracks would be removed in April 1996.

Milkweed grows in great numbers along the sides of the pathway however I didn’t see any Monarch Butterflies nor any caterpillars. Both seem to be a little scarce so far this season but this will be a great place to see them when they are in full flight.

“Ghost sign” is a term that is sometimes applied to faded lettering or images on the sides of old buildings. Also known as brickads, they were common between 1890 and 1960 with most of them being from the 1920s and earlier. Advertising for Coke was often painted on the sides of convenience stores and for industry it was common practice to paint your company name and perhaps a list of products or services right on your building. Canadian Hanson & Van Winkle erected their building in 1917 on the west side of the rail corridor where they produced equipment for the electroplating, polishing and buffing industries.

Scythes and Company Limited opened their company in the Junction in 1910. Aside from cloth and canvas products the building was also home to the manufacture of pickles, sauces and catsup. Ghost signs adorn all four sides of the building but the side facing the railpath has been freshly painted to restore the original brickads on the building.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway passed through the city and headed north through Cardwell Junction which is now only marked by a set of bridge abutments where two former rail lines once crossed. From there it went a short distance north to where it climbed the escarpment on a long horseshoe shaped curve. This was the location of a tragic derailment on September 3, 1907 known as the Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster.

Approval has been made to extend the trail another 2 kilometers with an agreement between Metrolinx and the city to complete it in 2022. A third phase could see the trail extended to Strachan Avenue.

This is a convenient trail because of all the places where there is access and it’ll be interesting to come back and check out the extension when completed.

Other Rail Trails in Toronto: Leaside Spur Trail, the Beltline Railway is described in three parts: Kay Gardner Beltline, Moore Park Beltline and York Beltline Trail.

Other Toronto Grey & Bruce Blogs: Cardwell Junction, Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster

Google Maps Link; West Toronto Rail Path

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The Whitney Block – Toronto’s Empty Tower

June 27, 2021

In Toronto, almost any building that has been vacant since last Thursday has a sign on it for redevelopment as a condo project. So how is it that we have one right downtown that was last used in 1968? Its roots lie in the Ontario Legislature building at Queens Park which was completed in 1892 when the province had a population of just over 2.1 million people. Over the next two decades the population grew by 40 percent and the government quickly outgrew a couple of expansions. Rather than adding a couple of more floors to Queens Park it was decided in 1923 to purchase the land on the east side of Queens Park Crescent. Francis R. Heakes was the Chief Architect for Public Works Ontario and was given the task of designing the new office space that would occupy the site. Envisioning the ongoing growth of the province he designed a facility that could be expanded easily. Plans called for 3 east-west wings, joined by a central north south hallway. Three identical wings could be added, one at a time as required to the south of them. During design and construction it was known as the East Block and the corner stone was laid on July 30, 1925. Each wing was 6 floors except the centre one which had a 7th floor at the front. The first three wings opened on March 26, 1928. The Google Earth capture below shows the site today with the original three wings to the north, the central tower and a fourth wing to the south of it. The land purchased for the fifth and sixth wings is now a park. The MacDonald Block is comprised of the taller buildings to the east.

With the Depression less than a year old, the government approved the next expansion partially as a make work program. The first three wings had cost $2.5 million, of which only $2,000 had not been spent on Canadian materials and labour. The second phase would be similar with all local materials and a hand dug foundation. Francis Heakes died in September 1930 and George White was brought in to complete the works. He added a 16 story tower that had not been in the original plans.

Art Deco architecture became popular around 1915 and had run its course by 1940. One way to recognize Art Deco is the artwork that the buildings are decorated with. These government buildings are no exceptions and display quatrefoils everywhere. A quatrefoil is made of four overlapping circles and in the original Latin context it applied a four-leaf clover. The Canadian Imperial Bank tower is another great example of Art Deco in the city.

The doorways have a nice Gothic arch which gives each of the buildings an interesting entranceway.

Twelve carvings by Toronto sculptor Charles Adamson adorn the buildings with one each on the four upper corners and two on each side a couple of floors lower.

The four carvings on the upper floor are all female and represent Justice, Tolerance, Wisdom and Power (seen below).

Each side of the building has two male figures set in the following pairs: Farming and Forestry, Law and Education, Labour and Mining and finally Finance and Health with the latter being shown below. The tower had a bowling alley in the basement and an entire floor for animals being kept by the Department of Health. It also still has a hand-cranked elevator, perhaps the last one remaining in the city. Unfortunately, one of the problems with the building was poor ventilation and the only way to get fresh air was to open the windows. Government employees were never happy with the slow elevator and the single stairwell. This lack of egress in case of emergency situations led the building to be deemed a fire hazard. All but the first few floors have now stood empty for over 50 years. The tower was featured in the movie “Chicago” and many claim that the spirit of Francis Heakes still haunts its hallways.

Even before the East Block was completed it was being called The Whitney Block although it would have to wait until 1966 to get the name officially. James P. Whitney was elected to his first term in 1905 as the first Conservative Premier in 33 years. Whitney was elected to four consecutive majority governments winning at least 70% of the seats each time. He died in 1914 shortly after the fourth victory making him the only premier to die while in office. His legacy includes bringing power to Ontario through the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario as well as passing the Workers Compensation Act. The image below shows the carving “Agriculture”.

This Toronto Archives aerial photo is from 1956 and shows the houses and buildings that used to stand on the south end of the site. These were cleared away in 1958 in preparation for the construction of the fifth and sixth wings.

However, even as they were planning the next phase of construction it was becoming obvious that two more 6-story wings would not be enough to meet the needs of the ever expanding provincial government. The idea was scrapped and instead the Macdonald Block was built to the east of the site. It consist of four towers of 24, 14, 14, and 10 stories and like the Whitney Block is currently undergoing a massive renovation project which includes new windows and energy efficiency upgrades. A park was developed on the site and now is home to the Ontario Police Memorial. Below the statues of a male and female police officer are the names of those who died in service.

This drawing shows what the Whitney Block would have looked like when it was fully built out. It was taken from the Archives of Ontario and is dated to around 1930.

It’s hard to say what the future holds for this building but the exterior has been kept well restored and perhaps one day a plan will be made to do something with the interior. A proposed exterior staircase on the east side of the building (hidden from Queens Park) and ventilation upgrades might put the tower back into service. However, the single stairway might be adequate if the building was opened for tours and to allow people to get a closer look at the carvings. Time will tell.

Further reading from a little different perspective can be found in these recent articles by Now Magazine and Blog TO

Also see our post on Queens Park

Google Maps Link: Whitney Block

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The Battle Of Beaver Dams – June 24, 1813

June 24, 2021

As the War of 1812 entered its second year the Americans had opened the campaign with two quick victories. On April 27th 1813 they had won The Battle of York, capturing the town as well, but had retreated on May 8th to focus their resources on capturing the Niagara Peninsula. On May 27th they landed near Fort George and succeeded in capturing it. Rather than chase the retreating British, the Americans took their time and only reached Stoney Creek on the 5th of June. A daring attack under cover of night led to the British winning The Battle of Stoney Creek and the Americans retreating back to Fort George. We pick up the story a couple weeks later with the key players located as indicated on the Google Earth capture below. The Americans under Brigadier General John Parker Boyd were in Fort George and the British advance guard were at Decew (DeCou) House. Laura Secord was at her family homestead in Queenston.

The Americans were anxious to break out of Fort George and engage the British forces in an attempt to regain momentum. They decided to send 600 soldiers under the command of Colonel Charles Boestler to capture the 50 British troops that were positioned at Beaver Dams.

Meanwhile, Laura Secord was living at this little one story Georgian Cottage since 1803 and would continue to do so until 1835. Her home had already been invaded and ransacked by the American army during the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. Following the victory at Fort George, several officers had been billeted at the Secord home. When Laura overheard plans to make an attack on the British advanced post at Decew House she decided she needed to alert them to the danger. She set out on a 32 kilometer journey on June 22, 1813. One story has her bringing a cow along in case she was questioned and needed an alibi about doing farm work. On a side note, her house was in poor shape by 1971 when the Laura Secord Chocolate Company renovated it in her honour and later donated it to the Niagara Parks Commission.

James FitzGibbon was stationed at John Decew’s stone house near Beaver Dams with one company of the 49th Foot soldiers. After passing through woods and swamps Secord was able to reach him with the aid of some Natives that she encountered. She was able to warn him of the impending attack. The Decew house would have looked much as it did in 1925 in this photo from Wikipedia.

The Decew house was damaged by a fire in 1938 and sat boarded up until 1950 when it was destroyed by another fire. It then was declared as a National Historic Site, somewhat belatedly. The walls were reduced to the height of the window sills and given a concrete topping to hold them together. The basement was filled in with rubble and flag stones laid down for a floor. There’s a plaque installed to describe the history of the house.

Early in the morning of June 24th the Americans set out from Fort George and after passing St. David’s they found a trail to the top of the escarpment. About 300 Khanawakhe (Christianized Mohawks) and another other 100 Mohawks began to close in on the American troops and began to set an ambush. When the Natives opened fire and wounded the American Colonel they sent the troops into a panic for fear of being scalped. This is when FitzGibbons rode onto the battlefield under a white flag of truce. He convinced the wounded Boestler that if he didn’t surrender the Natives would run wild and slaughter the entire American contingent. Based on this claim a surrender was negotiated even though the American troops could have probably carried the day if they had called the bluff. The cairn pictured below was erected in Battle of Beaverdams Park to commemorate the events.

After the battle the Mowhawks claimed 5 dead and 20 wounded while there were 25 Americans killed and 50 of the 489 prisoners taken were wounded. An obelisk was erected in 1874 to mark the graves of 16 unidentified American soldiers that were buried on the battlefield. It was moved to the new Battle of Beaverdams Park in 1976.

Following this battle the Americans would be demoralized and confined to Fort George. For the Americans, the Niagara Peninsula campaign was over for the year. They continued to send out small scouting parties to keep an eye on the British but when they encountered a large reconnaissance force on December 10th they feared an attack was being planned. Brigadier-General George McClure decided to abandon the fort and ordered a retreat across the Niagara River.

First Nations People don’t celebrate wars or victories the way that white people do. They don’t want to relive the battle and usually won’t participate in re-enactments. Their idea is to celebrate the peace that follows the struggle. The Peace Monument at Decew House Heritage Park is intended to help generate an deeper understanding of First Nations People and their culture as well as their contributions to the founding of Canada. The memorial has a couple of children’s stuffed toys in memorial to the recent finding of 215 children buried in a Residential School in B.C.

The Bruce Trail leads directly to Decew House and then to Decew Falls. Decew House is one end of the Laura Secord Legacy Trail with the other end being at her home in Queenston. The trail is 32 kilometers long (20 miles) and is a close approximation of the very route she took as she walked into history. It can be walked in its entirety but has been broken up into five convenient sections for trail users.

The Laura Secord Legacy Trail is described in detail on the Friends Of Laura Secord website.

The Battle of Beaverdams Park is not the actual location of the battle field which was on the other side of the Thorold Tunnel. This new park was created in 1976 on land reclaimed when the Second Welland Canal was drained and filled in. The name “Beaver Dams” was contracted into a single word for the park name. The sides of Lock 25 can be seen in the picture below and it was the highest elevation Escarpment lock on the canal, which had opened in 1845. The monuments were moved from the actual battlefield to this site but the American soldiers remain interred where they’ve lain for over two centuries.

The anchor on display in the park is also a reminder of the days when ships used to pass through here on their way between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Details of the War of 1812 many be unknown to many Canadians but few people haven’t heard of Laura Secord because she has become a celebrated heroine of the conflict. Or is it just because of the candy store? We hope not.

Other War of 1812 Stories: Battle Of Queenston Heights, Battle of York, Battle of Stoney Creek

Google Maps Link: Battle of Beaverdams Park, Fort George, Laura Secord House, Decew House

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Ghost Towns of York Region

Sunday, June 20, 2021

York Region has many small communities that have shrunk from their late 1800s sizes and faded almost into oblivion. They have lost their industry, blacksmiths and hotels and usually their stores as well. We refer to these as ghost towns although in the strictest sense they aren’t really. This blog collects 7 of the ones that we have visited and arranges them in alphabetical order. Each has a picture that represents the community as well as a brief description. The link for each will take you to a feature article on the community which has the local history as well as pictures of any surviving architectural features. At the end of each feature article is a google maps link in case you should wish to explore for yourself someday. Future companion blogs in this series will cover the ghost towns of the Peel Region, Halton Region, and the City of Toronto.

Cedar Grove still has it’s historic school and Lapp’s Cider Mill but the real treasure is Cedarena. The skating rink operated from 1927 until 2015 and now it sits waiting for skaters who never show up.

Elders Mills formed around a crossroad and thrived for a couple of decades before it went into decline. Several of the original houses and the 1872 school house still remain. A couple of the houses as well as the school have been incorporated into new structures which has saved them from demolition. The homes on the farms around the town have been removed as the land has been cleared for housing.

The former community of Laskay has declined considerably and now the old Methodist Church is a home. A few historic buildings still line the street but the best preserved of all is the old Laskay Emporium which serves as an fine example of a country store and post office at Black Creek Pioneer village. Filled with period merchandise it is a real blast from the past.

Maple has grown into a larger community but there’s still lots of older homes and the historic train station to remind us of the small town that started in the early 1800s. There’s also this amazing log home built with massive timbers that hides in a woodlot on the edge of town.

Ringwood has a lot of abandoned buildings including this 1887 school house which has some interesting wood paneling on the front. At that time, the population was 300 but began declining almost right away until within a few decades there were only 13 students in the school.

Sherwood was larger than Maple at one point but quickly faded into a couple of churches and a few homes. Most of these have since been demolished in order to build a large train switching facility. The Zion Evangelical Church still holds services and has an extensive pioneer cemetery.

Every Ghost Town has its pioneer cemetery where you can check out the old grave markers and remember the people who lived there a couple of hundred years ago. Some even have markers or cairns for Indigenous Peoples who lived here centuries ago and are buried within the community. Teston has both types of burial grounds but neither is well marked and even the pioneer head stones are missing.

Compared to Toronto and some of the other surrounding areas, York Region has still got quite a bit of its pioneer heritage in place.

Other ghost town collections: Ghost Towns of Toronto, Ghost Towns of Peel Region, Ghost Towns of Halton Region.

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The Grand River In Galt

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Grand River is one of our Heritage Rivers and has been a means of travel and a source of power for centuries. William Dickson came to the Grand River area in 1816 and bought 90,000 acres of land with the intention of establishing a town and developing his land holdings. He built a mill at the confluence of Mill Creek and The Grand River and established Shade’s Mills which would be renamed Galt by 1827. The river made it possible for the establishment of Galt as an industrial centre. The residents built their early community along Water Street, an aptly named roadway.

There’s lots to see in the old town of Galt but this post focusses on the buildings along Water Street. I parked in the parking lot near the Mill Restaurant and walked south along the river. The county atlas map below shows Galt in 1877. I’ve coloured the river blue and the section of Water Street that I explored is coloured green.

There has been a dam on the Grand River in Galt since 1837 when water was first harnessed for power in the Dickson Mill. This same dam would also provide power to the Turnbull Woolen Mill and several other downstream establishments.

The Dickson Mill was built in 1843 and named after Robert Dickson who was a son of Galt founder William Dickson. When its milling days were over it was converted into the Galt Gas and Light Company which generated electricity to light the streets and homes of town. They operated between 1889 and 1911 when power arrived in town from Niagara Falls. In 1980 it was converted into The Mill Restaurant.

In 1974 there was a severe flood which caused damage to the riverbank and several historical structures along Water Street. This led the city to form a riverbank development program which saw the creation of Mill Race Park along with other stabilization projects. Robert Turnbull and John Deans had operated a knitting mill in Galt since 1859 and had taken over the old Wardlaw Mill on this site and used it between 1890 and 1897 when it burned down. It was rebuilt and operated under various names until 1972. The ruins have been incorporated into an amphitheater and park area for use by everyone.

The mill race carried a flow of water from the dam and along the side of Water Street where it was used by a series of mills. The turbine still remains in the mill race beside the old Turnbull Woolen Mill. Water rushed through a penstock at the bottom of the mill race to turn the turbine. It turned the belts that ran on the smooth wheels and supplied power to the knitting mill.

Morris Lutz built this Georgian style limestone house in 1850. Lutz had arrived in Galt in 1844 and became part of the Dumfries Foundry where he was foreman in the machine shop. Morris was elected to the first town council and when Galt was incorporated as a city in 1857 he was the first mayor.

Galt got a new post office in 1936 which replaced the one that still stands a little farther down Water Street. This handsome stone building with clock tower has been home to the post office ever since.

The Bank of Toronto opened a branch on Water Street in 1912 and this Beaux-Arts style building is unique in town. It has white glazed tiles on the exterior that are similar to pottery, another example of bank buildings that were designed to stand out from their neighbours.

Andrew Carnegie donated $23,000 for the construction of a new library for the Town of Galt in 1905. Carnegie gave away 90% of his fortune which is roughly $5.2 Billion in 2021 value. He funded about 3,000 libraries in the belief that libraries should be free to the local community. This Beaux-Arts style building housed the library for over 60 years and has since been home to several businesses. It is currently available for lease.

The First Delta Baptist Church was built in 1887 and is a mixture of Romanesque and Italianate styles. In Ontario it is rare for a church to be built with river or waterfront property. Usually they are on side streets, often conveniently named Church Street. The Baptist congregation formed in Galt in 1851 and they met in houses until 1872 when they started using the Primitive Methodist building. Robert Scott donated the land for the church which was deconsecrated in 1980 and then sold to the city for use as a theatre.

This archive photo shows the Baptist Church in 1902. It is interesting to see how the building has changed over the years. The main alteration is the elimination of the two doors on either corner and the opening of a central doorway. The side doors have been bricked in to disguise the fact that they ever existed. The new central door has also been closed in during the intervening years. There appears to be a new small window in between the two buttresses beside the new doorway.

George Landreth arrived in Galt in 1831 and found work in one of the many mills in town. He had this Georgian Cottage built in 1858 and it still has its original doorway with the multipaned side lights and transom. Along with the Lutz home featured above, it is one of just two original homes that remain in the original core of Water Street.

The Imperial Block was built in 1887 and was almost like an early strip mall. This Romanesque Revival structure at one time was home to the Commercial Bank, a grocery store, a tailor shop, a dress maker, tobacco dealer, hairdresser, dentist and a music store.

Scott’s Block was built in 1890 in the Romanesque Revival style. It has a terra cotta tower on top and detailed brickwork on the front. A two story oriel window stands out from the crowd of historic buildings on Water Street.

The Galt Woolen Factory is the oldest surviving textile mill in the city. It was built in 1843 for Isaac Sours who operated it until 1852. During this time his employees worked an average of 64 hours per week. In 1881 it became the Tiger Brand Knitting Company and today has been converted into offices and apartments.

In 1885 the Federal Government commissioned a new post office for Galt which was also used for as a Customs and Inland Revenue Office. It has some of the most interesting masonry work of all the stone buildings in Cambridge which has been preserved in the restoration and expansion project that brought the glass section to the rear.

Partial ruins of old mills and factories line both sides of Water Street and there is a great deal of history being retained in creative ways. Plenty of communities could learn from this example. The Canada Machinery Corporation had a Pattern Works Shop and Stores building beside the river where it forged machinery parts. They operated until 1979 and in 1984 the remains of their building were incorporated into another public park with its history intact.

The Galt branch of the Great Western Railway opened in 1854. Some portions of the former right of way along Water Street can still be traced and the old stone abutments can be seen where it crosses a small creek.

This blog is focused on Water Street and really doesn’t get into Main Street and some of the other parts of town. If you explore these areas you will find the 1857 Town Hall, the 1838 Dumfries Township Hall and the old Galt Firehall among the many interesting buildings in town.

Other Grand River stories: The Shand Dam, The Elora Gorge, West Montrose Bridge (Kissing Bridge)

Google Maps Link: Mill Race Park Cambridge

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The Battle of Stoney Creek

June 6, 1813

The Battle of Stoney Creek may not have been significant in terms of the number of combatants or in casualties but the outcome had a profound impact on the course of the War of 1812. The war had entered its second year with the Battle of York on April 27th, 1813. Capturing York might have been good for morale after the series of losses the Americans had sustained the previous year, but holding it didn’t have great military purposes. So the Americans had withdrawn and focused their attention on capturing the Niagara Peninsula. On May 27th a force of 7,000 men had attacked Fort George with the support of 16 warships. The fort was captured and the British forces of 1,800 men had retired to Burlington Heights where they had dug in to make a defensive stand. The map below was taken from Pierre Burton’s War of 1812 and shows the formation of the battle.

The American forces slowly made their way up the peninsula from Fort George and by the night of June 5-6 had arrived at Stoney Creek. They camped on the property of James Gage who lived with his mother and his wife in their family homestead. Mary Jones Gage had moved to Canada in 1790 and had been building their home in stages since 1796. They had originally lived in the basement while the upper levels were being built. The Americans commandeered their house as a headquarters for Brigadier General John Chandler and had locked the Gage family in the basement.

Billy Green and his brother Levi spent the afternoon of June 5th tracking the advancing army from the top of the escarpment and scaring them by howling in the woods and pretending to be natives. Billy’s brother in-law Isaac had been taken prisoner by the Americans but had been released after claiming to be related to William Henry Harrison, the US President. They gave him the password of the day which he then shared with Billy. Armed with this information, Green made his way to the British camp at Burlington Heights.

Convinced that a surprise attack under cover of night was the only hope for the British due to their much smaller forces, they set off to march to Stoney Creek. The British removed the flints from their guns to prevent accidental firing so as not to alert the Americans of their approach. When they arrived in Stoney Creek they found that a sentry had been posted at the Methodist Church. While giving him the password, Billy Green dispatched him with his bayonet. The plan was to sneak into the camp and kill as many sleeping soldiers as possible by bayonetting them. Instead, the British started yelling in their excitement and the whole camp was awoken. A confusing battle ensued in the darkness with the British capturing four of the six the American field guns. One after the other, both of the American leaders approached the guns to see why they weren’t firing and were captured by the British. Eventually both sides retreat convinced the other side had won the battle.

The American forces retreated to Fort George where they were trapped until the end of the year at which time they slipped back across the Niagara River and returned home. With the exception of another loss at The Battle of Beaver Dams on June 24th, the American campaign on the Niagara Peninsula was over for the year.

Battlefield House has been restored as a museum and is furnished to illustrate life at the time of the war. There’s also plenty of artifacts to help illustrate the battle and these can be viewed as part of a guided tour. The picture below shows the back of the house as seen from the base of the monument.

Sara Calder was the great grand-daughter of Mary Jones Gage and had been born in 1846. When the Wentworth Historical Society had been formed in 1888 she was the president of the ladies committee. In 1899 the women broke away and formed the Women’s Wentworth Historical Society. Later that year they purchased the Gage Homestead for $1900.00 and on October 23, 1899 Battlefield Park was opened. The ladies began planning for a monument to mark the site of the battle and a corner stone was laid on May 26, 1910. With their $5000.00 grant expended, work on the tower was stopped after a year with just the first 25 feet built. It would take another $10,000.00 and three more years to complete the project.

It was 1:25 p.m. on June 6, 1913, exactly 100 years after the battle, that the monument was officially opened. Queen Mary, consort to King George V, pressed a button in Buckingham Palace and a signal was sent along a telegraph line to drop a shroud and reveal the monument.

The tower has been closed since the pandemic began but as I was the only visitor when I was there physical distancing wasn’t a problem and I was allowed inside to see the ground level displays. Regular safety inspections of the stairs had not been completed for months and so I wasn’t allowed to climb to the top. Perhaps another time I’ll have the opportunity to check out the view. Meanwhile, I love the castle doors at the base of the monument.

Allan Smith was plowing his field in 1899 when he started to find human bones in a small knoll. Scraps of cloth and buttons also came to the surface indicating that both British and American soldiers had been buried there. The plot of land became locally known as Smith’s Knoll and was consecrated as “Soldier’s Plot” on May 3, 1908. A cairn with a lion on it was dedicated on August 1, 1910. The pictures for this story were taken on November 6, 2020 which is why the trees are in their fall colours.

The Nash-Jackson house was built in 1818 and formerly stood at the corner of King Street East and Nash Road. Five generations of the Nash family lived in the home and an earlier home on the property was used as a field hospital following the Battle of Stoney Creek. The city was deeded the house in 1996 and moved it to Battlefield Park in 1999.

The Battle of Stoney Creek was a turning point in the war and the Americans would never again penetrate as far up the Niagara Peninsula.

Related blogs in our War of 1812 series: Battle of York, Battle of Queenston Heights

Google Maps link: Battle of Stoney Creek

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Dominion Wheel and Foundry Company

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Revised August 23, 2021

(The City, Province and community groups have reached an agreement that will retain the machine shops while the offices and warehouses will be demolished.)

The Dominion Wheel and Foundry Company supplied railway components to the Canadian Northern Railway and in 1914 started an operation in the industrial zone near Gooderham and Worts Distillery. They made car wheels, brake shoes, the nickel iron centres for passenger wheels and other cast iron car parts. Cone valves for stop and check, pressure regulating, liquid level and altitude controls were also made on site. Outside of the railway industry they were also involved in the manufacture of parts and equipment for paper mills and printing presses. They were originally owned by the Canadian Northern Railway and later by the Canadian National Railway.

The photo below was taken from the Toronto Archives and shows the extent of the operation in 1947 when it reached all the way to Cherry Street. The buildings outlined in green have already disappeared leaving only the four outlined in blue. These are the foundry, warehouse, offices and machine shop.

The foundry building was where metal ingots were heated and poured into molds to produce the parts for repairing the rolling stock of the railway. The foundry has a low pitched gabled roofline that is less common in industrial buildings.

This undated photo from Friends of the Foundry shows the interior of the foundry when it was in operation. I can only imagine the heat in this place in the middle of the summer.

The entrance to the office building was located on the north wall and had single story pilasters on either side. Unfortunately, It can’t be appreciated because of the hoarding that was recently installed.

The office building is the only one that has any type of extra ornamentation. The walls are buttressed with brick piers that have small cut stone detailing at the tops. There’s also brick corbelling along the roofline with small stone details worked in.

When the foundry closed down the buildings were temporarily occupied by MSR Inc. into the late 1980’s. Since then it has stood empty while debates over the future of the entire 80 acre industrial zone went on. The City and Province proposed to develop the entire area for affordable housing in 1988. It is located in the flood plain for the Don River and so flood control and years of contamination required extensive remediation before development could begin. This new community would have been called Ataratiri after the Huon village that was destroyed near Midland in 1649. In this plan, the entire area would have been razed and all the buildings lost. Property values declined in the early 1990’s and along with skyrocketing remediation costs led to the project being cancelled.

The picture below shows the side of the warehouse with its double rows of windows and lack of any ornamentation, except for a single row of corbel under the roofline.

The city added the four remaining buildings to their heritage inventory in 2004 and a plan was put forward that would have developed them into a community hub with a musical theme. There would have been studios and places to jam as well as community kitchens and meeting areas. This also didn’t happen.

The machine shop had a full wall of two story windows that let a lot of morning light in through its five bays.

The Pan Am Games were held in Toronto in 2015 and the 80 acre industrial zone became a new project. Now known as the West Don Lands, it was partially redeveloped as housing for the athlete’s village. When the games were being planned the foundry buildings were used for this purpose and during this time Prince Charles visited them. Since then, development has continued unabated with the whole area east of the old Canary Restaurant being turned into midrise condos .

In 2020 the foundry site was announced as the future home of Eastern Avenue Affordable Housing. In January 2021 the Provincial Government invoked a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to allow the development to proceed without delay or further community consultation. Demolition began almost immediately. So did the public outcry. Within days the demolition was put on hold and the damaged sections of the foundry building were boarded over.

The southern elevation of the Machine Shop shows a lot of new wood that has been installed to replace the original window boarding on the buildings. This was done at the specific request of the provincial government who found the anti-demolition graffiti on the older boards to be disturbing. The local community had left chalk and encouraged anti-demolition comments which support the preservation of this part of our railway heritage. It appears from the door in the picture below that the city workers have left a few pro-demolition comments behind.

The 1959 surveyors map below shows the industrial area and how it was completely intertwined with the railways. Much of this railway heritage has already been lost to redevelopment and it remains to be seen what happens to the remnants. The Smithsonian Institute has recognized the cultural heritage of the industry and has one of Dominion Wheel and Foundry’s catalogues in their collection.

A few decades ago this would have vanished without thought but the tide has turned and people are more aware of the diminished cultural heritage that we retain. Hopefully we can continue to influence how it is retained and maintained.

Relevant Blogs: The Distillery District, Canary Restaurant

Google Maps Link: 153 Eastern Avenue

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Toronto’s Early Banks

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Lots of history

Yonge Street has become the main street of Toronto but the city didn’t start there. The original town of York started in a small ten block section east of there. The town of York was bounded by George, Berkley, Adelaide and Front Streets and the oldest bank building in the city is to be found there.

The Bank of Upper Canada opened in 1821 in a local store and they began work on their new building in 1825. It opened in 1827 and because it was owned and operated by The Family Compact it came under constant attack from reformers. It was a target of the failed Rebellion of Dec. 1837. The building housed the bank until it failed in 1866 after which it had several uses before being abandoned by the late 1970’s. It was restored in 1982 and now serves as office spaces. The bank issued bank notes between 1822 and 1861 and ones in poor condition can sell for $750 in today’s market. More about the building can be found in our story Toronto’s First Post Office.

The Bank of Toronto was founded in 1855 by a group of grain dealers and flour mill operators including Gooderham and Worts. Throughout most of the 19th century the bank had farmers as their primary customers. By the 1880’s and 90’s they had started to extend loans to manufacturing, utilities and natural resource companies. Between 1856 and 1937 the bank issued several series of bank notes that continue to be collected today. In 1856 the bank opened their first branch at 78 Church Street. It was located in the building which is now numbered 80 Church Street and has the three small dormers on the top floor in the picture below.

The archive photo below was taken from the York University Library collection and is dated July 7, 1956. At this time the building was still numbered as 78 Church Street and the bank had recently merged with the Dominion Bank in 1955 to form the Toronto Dominion Bank (TD).

The Bank of British North America was founded by Royal Charter in London in 1836. It opened its first branch in Toronto in 1845 on the corner of Yonge Street and Wellington Street. Thirty years later it opened a new building at 49 Yonge Street and issued its own bank notes from 1852 until 1911. It merged with the Bank of Montreal in 1918.

The Bank of Montreal was founded in 1817 and was the first chartered bank in Canada. It served as the central bank for the country until the founding of the Bank of Canada in 1935. Legislation in 1824 prevented the bank from serving the town of York but it got its break in 1840 when it took over The Bank of The People. This was a reformer bank started in 1835 to provide loans to farmers that the Bank of Upper Canada wouldn’t serve. The Family Compact didn’t like the direct competition of reformers and plotted to have the bank taken over by the Bank of Montreal. In 1885 they opened a branch at Yonge and Front Streets and this building is one of the few in this area that survived the great fire of 1904. The building was designated in 1976 for its heritage value as one of the finest examples of 19th century bank buildings in Canada. It is now home to The Hockey Hall of Fame.

A little farther north on Yonge Street the Bank of Montreal opened another branch in 1887. Somewhat less ornate than the one built at Front Street two years earlier it survives today as an A & W restaurant.

Traders Bank of Canada was formed in Toronto in 1885 and survived until it was acquired by the Royal Bank of Canada in 1912. It was popular in rural Ontario but built a 15 story skyscraper on the corner of Yonge and King Streets in 1905. It was the tallest building in the British Empire upon completion, a title it would only hold until 1911. It was the first skyscraper in Toronto and one of the few remaining from the early 20th century. It is currently undergoing some restorations.

The Canadian Bank of Commerce was founded in 1867 by a group of Toronto businessmen. It grew rapidly and by 1907 had 172 locations across Canada. In 1961 they merged with The Imperial Bank of Canada to form the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce or CIBC. In 1905 they built this impressive 4 story building at 199 Yonge Street which has been preserved as part of the Massey Tower condos.

The Bank of Toronto erected a building at 205 Yonge Street in 1905 to a design by Toronto architect E. J. Lennox. He is famous for designing Old City hall and Casa Loma. This small building looks more imposing than its four stories because of the dome on top.

The Dominion Bank was founded in Toronto in 1869. In 1914 they constructed The Dominion Bank Building at the corner of King and Yonge Streets to replace the head office that had been located there since 1879. The building is 12 stories tall and was one of the earliest skyscrapers in the city. It was designed in the Beaux-Arts style with Renaissance Revival detailing.

On June 19, 1929 the Canadian Bank of Commerce started construction on their new 34 story building. When it was completed in 1931 it was the tallest building in the British Empire, a status that it held for the next 30 years while it served as head office for the bank. The site was originally home to a small wood chapel for York’s first Wesleyan Methodist Church starting in 1818. In 1887 the Canadian Bank of Commerce demolished a theatre on the site and built a 7 story head office which stood until 1927 when it too was razed for the current building.

The Dominion Bank built a new branch in 1930 at the corner of Yonge and Gerrard Streets. The building was designed in a simplified classical style is the work of prominent Toronto architect John M. Lyle and has fine detailing on the front and sides. Images of native plants and animals along with Canadian history adorn the building.

Following the Second World War designs had been simplified when the Bank of Nova Scotia built this branch in 1949. The Modern Classicism is enhanced with the rounded corner and smooth cladding.

In 1975 the Bank of Montreal completed their 298 metre tall building called First Bank Building in honour of the banks status as Canada’s first bank. It is the tallest building in Canada and only two metres short of being classified as our only Supertall Building. Two Supertalls are under construction and four more are in the planning phases. When they are completed it will be the first time in over 100 years that a bank building hasn’t been the tallest on Toronto’s skyline.

The banks have always held some of the most prominent buildings in the city, either in architectural design or for their height. It is only in the next couple of years that new condos will surpass the bank buildings in height but who knows how long that will last before a grander bank tower is constructed.

Associated blogs: The Rebellion of 1837, Toronto’s First Post Office, The Distillery District.

Google Maps Link : Yonge and Dundas

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Trafalgar – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Most people are familiar with Trafalgar Road but it could just as easily been named Postsville Road. That’s because the early name for the community of Trafalgar was Postsville. The Post Family settled at the intersection of Trafalgar Road and Dundas Street sometime shortly after 1807. Ephriam Post owned two lots #12 NDS (North Dundas Street) on the north east corner and lot 13 SDS on the south west corner. He built an inn on lot 13 and Posts Inn was a busy place serving as a change house for horse drawn stagecoaches that used to operate along Dundas Street. Hiram Post took over the Inn in 1841. The community was known as Posts Corners from 1815 until 1851 when it became Postsville. By the time of the 1877 County Atlas below it had been renamed Trafalgar. The points of interest in the story below have been circled on the map.

The community grew slowly and by 1869 had about 80 residents. There were two hotels, a butcher shop, a grist mill and carriagemaker as well as a blacksmith. It was in 1834 while James Thompson owned the north west corner of Governor’s Road (Dundas Street) and 7th line (Trafalgar Road) that small lots began to be sold for homes along both street frontages. These few homes formed the nucleus of the hamlet of Post’s Corners. The house just north of the corner was built around 1850.

The house next door is one of my personal favourites because although it is simple, and lacks extensive ornamentation, it has a quite unique look to it. The clipped gable on the front might be the only one of its type in the hundreds of historic homes featured in blogs so far. The style is Queen Anne and it was built around 1890 for Dr. Johnstone and his family while he worked as the veterinary inspector for Halton County. He was also the deputy reeve of Trafalgar Township. He died September 3, 1959 and was buried in Munn’s Cemetery where his wife is also interred. The family had been supporting members of Munns Methodist Church. This property is designated for condos but the current plan calls for the preservation of this house. I hope it is restored and put to good use.

James Appelbe came to Canada in 1815 from Ireland and by 1831 had married and settled in Postsville. For a few years he taught school at Munns Corners before becoming a merchant and postmaster. Locally, Appelbe was known as The Squire and was a justice of the peace. He also served as one of the first directors of The Bank of Toronto. Appelbe eventually acquired most of the land around Trafalgar and was one of its best known residents. His 1850 home used to stand closer to the intersection but it has been restored and moved by Great Gulf Homes after it was nearly destroyed by vandals. The house a four full length windows that reach from the floor to the ceiling on the main floor giving it a unique look and plenty of light.

Lot 12 on the North East corner was patented to Hugh Howard in 1807 and by 1820 he was able to build the wood frame house that stood on the property until just recently. John Clements bought the property in 1831 and when he passed away in 1873 it went to his son Matthew. The 1877 county atlas shows the property as M. Clements with two houses on it. This earlier house was lived in recently enough that the picture below shows a window air conditioner. By 2013 when the Cultural Heritage Assessment of Trafalgar Road was conducted the roof had caved in as had some of the walls. It has since been completely demolished.

The second farmhouse on the Clements property was built in the 1870s, likely by Matthew. This stucco farmhouse has been vacant long enough that the front yard is overgrown with hawthorn and other first generation regrowth trees that mask it from the road.

John Clements also owned the property across the road in the 1850’s but by 1877 had sold it to James Morrison who lived here until 1907. The house has belonged to the Bentley family since then but now sits empty waiting to find out what fate the developers have planned for it.

An old blacksmith shop still stands at the corner of Trafalgar Road and Burnhamthorpe Road but it is well on its way to becoming just another foundation in a field. Which means that when the developers arrive in a few years it’ll be gone completely.

John Jones owned the property with the blacksmith shop in the 1880’s and the family house still stands next door. It looks to have been recently abandoned and could be restored easily enough and I wonder what’s behind the siding? Does that gable window have the typical pointed arch of a gothic revival home?

Daniel Munn arrived in 1803 and took possession of the lot at the corner of sixth line and Dundas Street and began clearing his farm. That same year he set aside a small corner of the lot for a church but Methodist preachers would continue to hold meetings in the family home until 1844 when the first frame building was erected. A cemetery was opened across the road and in 1898 the present brick building was consecrated. In 1925 the congregation voted to join the United Church of Canada. When Dundas Street was widened in the 1970’s the church was moved 40 feet back from the road.

Munns Corners cemetery has a lot of older markers as it was also the primary cemetery for Trafalgar. Munn’s Church can be seen across the road.

Daniel Munns grave marker has faded to the point of being unidentifiable but you can still note the names of many of the pioneers on the county atlas above.

The south west corner of Trafalgar is being developed with high rise condos and the remaining farmlands are all owned by developers. It doesn’t seem likely that very much of the original community will remain in ten years time.

Also see our feature Ghost Towns of Halton Region

Google Maps Link: Trafalgar

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