The Tollkeeper

Jan. 31, 2021

Davenport Road follows the bottom of the scarp that marks the old shoreline of Glacial Lake Iroquois. The Native Peoples who lived here for centuries had a portage trail that went between The Don River and The Humber River and connected to The Carrying Place Trail. Europeans found it convenient to use the same trail and it continues on its original route. John McGill built the first home accessed from the trail in 1797 and named it Davenport after Major Davenport who served at Fort York. It stood on the top of the scarp on the north east side of present Davenport and Bathurst.

In 1833 thirteen kilometres of Davenport Road was paved with planks. Five small cottages were built by the plank road company to house the men who were hired to collect the tolls. The tollkeeper lived with his family in the cottage which was situated directly beside the road. Known as Toll Gate #3, the little three room cottage that was built for the tollkeeper at Davenport Road and Bathurst Street was only 20 feet by 30 feet in size. It is listed as being the twelfth oldest residence remaining in Toronto and some sources claim it to be the oldest tollkeeper’s cottage in Canada, perhaps the only one. It is listed on Wikipedia as being built between 1827 and 1830 but this would seem to predate the planking of the road making this date too early. It is more likely to be 1832 or 1833. The space between the two posts in front of the house in the picture below represents the width of the road but the boards that represent the toll gate have unfortunately been knocked to the ground.

The inside was originally heated by a single fireplace which was later replaced with a pot-bellied stove. This meant that only the main room was heated. The two bedrooms would have been pretty cold on a winters night. During the 1860’s John Bullmin and his wife Elizabeth took up the position at the toll gate. They lived in this house with their seven children. One bedroom was used by John and Elizabeth while the other was used by the four daughters who slept two to a bed. The three boys slept in the main room and enjoyed the benefits of the fireplace, if not the comforts of a bed.

In 1851 the fees for using the plank road were based on the mode of transportation and the amount of livestock you had with you. A simple pedestrian paid no fees but if they had a horse it was two pence. A wagon pulled by a mule was 3 pence which went up to 6 pence if it was pulled by two horses. A pedestrian leading 20 cows or sheep would pay 1 pence. The toll keeper had to keep meticulous records to get their small percentage and the record books from this tollkeeper’s home still survive. These toll rates were likely unchanged a decade later when the Bullmin family arrived. John left his wife and children to perform household chores, fetch water from the Taddle Creek and collect the tolls while he worked 6.5 hectares of land to supplement their income. His wife used to churn and sell about 50 lbs. of butter per year from the family cows.

When roadside tolls were abandoned in 1896 the government placed road maintenance under the care of the municipalities. John Bullmin died in 1867 and is buried in The Necropolis while his wife survived him until 1912. The cottage became obsolete in 1896 and was sold to someone who moved it near Howland and Bathurst as a private home. A newer addition later obscured the original cottage and by the 1990’s it was in danger of demolition for a high rise development. A neighbour who recalled the story of the little cottage was instrumental in its being sold to a heritage group for a dollar. The TTC allowed them to move it to the Wynchwood Streetcar Barns where it was restored over a six year period. In 2002 it was moved to a small park kitty-corner to its original location. The house opened as a museum on July 1, 2003 with a small addition on the back for an interpretive centre.

The painting below is from 1875 and is by Arthur Cox. The vantage point is the top of the old escarpment looking toward the south east. The area below the hill is still farmland at the time and the church spires in Yorkville can be seen in the distance. The cottage sits with the front porch on the very edge of the road and the toll gate stretching across Bathurst. This picture was taken from taylorhistory.com.

There are a few other hints to our toll road systems of the past that can still be found throughout the city. In 1841 John Grubb founded the Weston Plank Road Company to improve his local roads by covering them with a layer of thick wooden planks. A few years later he also formed the Albion Plank Road Company. The building that the Weston Plank Road Company operated out of was built in 1846 and still sits on its original location about a kilometre south of the 401 on Weston Road.

The Gore and Vaughan Plank Road Company was established in 1855 to build a plank road along Dufferin Street. The road was to be built of local wood and various saw mills were engaged along the route to cut and prepare the planks. The picture below shows one exposed end of the plank road along with one of the steel spikes that held it together.  The planks were sixteen feet long and held together with spies over two feet long though this section of the road.

Davenport Road is unique because it existed long before the time of the Europeans and still retains the Tollkeeper’s Cottage as a reminder of its era as a plank road.

Further reading and more pictures: The Gore and Vaughan Plank Road and Elm Bank and The Necropolis

Google Maps Link: The Tollkeeper’s Park

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St. Marys – The Town of Stone

Sunday, January 31, 2021 (pictures taken July 24, 2020)

St. Marys was founded in 1841 when Thomas and James Ingersoll bought 400 acres of land near the junction of Trout Creek and The Thames River. They dammed the Thames River just below the confluence and built mills on the south side of the present Queen Street. The mill race that fed their mills was incorporated as an integral part of the Victoria Bridge when it was built in 1864. The mill race was restored in 1980 and now has its own heritage designation. I visited here in July when the first wave of Covid was just relaxing and took these pictures that I present now that travel is once again restricted due to the pandemic. Hopefully we’ll get back to newly explored material before too long.

By 1845 there were a number of small limestone quarries operating in the area and many of the early homes and buildings were constructed from this material. The town had already attracted several stone masons and had three stores to serve its 100 inhabitants. The number of stone buildings that survive in St. Marys makes it a beautiful place to visit when safe to do so. The stone mill still stands beside the river where it sparked the community that has such an interesting heritage to share.

The Millers Residence was built in 1858 beside the mill race and across the street from the mill. An entire commercial block has been added to the original two and a half story home but it can be seen in the left of the picture below. The gothic influenced gabled roof sets it apart from the three story Georgian commercial block in the middle and the mansard roof of the Queen Anne styled section on the end.

The Grand Trunk Railway split in St. Marys with one line headed to Sarnia while the other went to London. Both required high level bridges that were built in 1857-1858. The London bridge is seen below as it crosses over Trout Creek.

The Imperial Order of Oddfellows in St. Marys had been expanding and had outgrown their original frame building. They commissioned a new hall and opera house which they envisioned to be the finest Lodge anywhere in the Dominion. When the building opened in 1878 they occupied the third floor which used to have a central gable. The Opera House occupied the second floor and three retail businesses operated between the gothic entrances below the spires on each end. The building lost money for the Oddfellows and they were forced to sell it in 1904. For three years it was home to a harness maker before being converted into a mill that operated until 1973.

The limestone block to the south of the Opera House was built in 1868 to serve as a store for Theodore Hutton with his residence above. Starting in the 1930’s it served as as a drill hall for the local militia and is also known as the armouries building.

St. Marys post office and customs building stands across the street from the Opera House. It was built in 1903 and was replaced with a newer facility in 1956.

As St. Marys grew the original town hall on Water Street quickly became obsolete, being small and located away from where the town was now developing. In 1859 a new location was chosen on Queen street and a two story town hall was constructed which housed the town clerk, police, jail and several butchers. The smell of the slaughter and preparation of meat permeated the building and it was quickly deemed to be a problem. The picture below was taken in 1865 and is from the book Early St. Marys by L. W. Wilson and L. R. Pfaff.

By 1889 when the frame town hall was destroyed by fire no one considered it to be much of a loss. Plans were put in place to build a grander structure, this time from stone. It was completed in 1891 and remains one of the signature buildings in the community.

James Ingersoll donated land for churches including the Presbyterian Church in 1849. They built a frame church in 1852 which was replaced with the present stone building in 1879. The congregation had been split over the appointment of a certain pastor and Knox Presbyterian also operated in town. Both congregations survived the United Church movement in 1925 but continued to operate separately until 1964 when 46 year old peace talks finally mended the rift in the Presbyterian congregation in St. Marys.

The Catholic congregation in town is aptly named the Holy Name Of Mary Catholic Church. Their second building still houses the congregation in a stone structure dating to 1893. Unlike the smaller stone church that formerly stood on this site, this one has an impressive tower. An 18-metre steeple stands on top of the 21-metre tower.

St. Marys features some very interesting stone houses dating back to the earliest one which was built by the Ingersolls in 1843. Some are simple Georgian cottages while others are mansions built later in the 1890’s.

By 1899 the Thames River and Trout Creek were both polluted and the citizens approached the town council to call for construction of a waterworks system. This would include waterworks buildings near the Grand Trunk Trestle over Trout Creek, a stone water tower for storage and pipes running throughout the town. The system was completed and put into service in May 1900.

Andrew Carnegie was an American industrialist who had a passion for funding libraries. Originally he built libraries in his home town in Scotland and his adopted town of Pittsburgh. Eventually he spread his influence founding 2509 libraries between 1883 and 1929 of which 125 were in Canada. In 1904 he donated $10,000 for the library in St. Marys which was built in the Grecian style which was his personal preference.

Andrews Jewelers has been a fixture in St. Marys since 1869. The Andrews family had arrived in town in 1857 when Henry Andrews came to lend his stone mason skills to the stone abutments of the London Bridge. William Andrews replaced his original frame shop with a building that was considered to be architect and mason William Williams’ masterpiece. Opened in 1884 it is a rare example of a building that is essentially unaltered inside or out. The side and rear walls are made of St. Marys limestone while the front is made of bricks with finely worked stone dressings. The clock is 4.5 feet in diameter and cost over $1,000, about $25,000 in modern currency.

The Grand Junction Depot was built in 1907 to supplement the Junction Station and replace the earlier frame station on Elizabeth Street. It was built from a brown glazed brick known as Logan brick and is a departure from the stone architecture in town. Slated for demolition in the 1980’s it has been preserved and restored.

St. Marys is a unique town because it’s stone buildings have survived the test of time. There are many other examples that can’t be presented in this length of an article but are equally interesting.

Google Maps Link: St. Marys

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Omagh – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The community of Omagh is the last one in Trafalgar township that still retains some of its rural characteristics. This is the reason that the town of Milton is considering designating it as a cultural heritage district. This would allow it to survive the encroaching development that threatens to over-run it. The photos presented below were taken early in November 2020 and have been held in reserve in case a future provincial lockdown might prevent extensive travel and exploration. As such, it’s time to explore the historic hamlet of Omagh. It was founded in 1818 and never grew much beyond the intersection of todays Britannia Road and Fourth Line near Milton. The 1877 county atlas image below shows the small cluster around the intersection as well as the Presbyterian Church to the west of town.

Trafalgar Township was settled in two parts. The southern section, now known as Oakville, was settled primarily by United Empire Loyalists (UEL) who came from the United States. The northern section, now Milton, was settled largely by people from the British Empire. The original name for Omagh was Howellville after John Triller Howell who arrived in 1805 as a boy. His family were UEL and the local MP John White didn’t want the town named after someone he considered to be a Yankee. He persuaded the local land owners, who were mostly Irish, that if they chose Omagh he would get them a post office with that name. Ironically, the post office ended up being in Howells store and hotel. The building has been altered greatly over the years but it still stands on the north east corner of the intersection. The side facing Britannia used to have a large porch and was the main entrance to the store.

This archive picture was taken before 1920 and shows the building when it served as a store but before it started to sell gasoline for those who were enjoying the newly developing automotive craze. By 1980 the store had closed and the building has served as a private residence for the past 40 years.

The south east corner of the intersection has one of the few actually abandoned homes in the little community. This property was originally deeded to Kings College (University of Toronto) in 1828. Between 1862 and 1883 the property belonged to William McLean and featured a home that faced the fourth line. By 1930 it belonged to Edward Delvin who built the current home which faces Britannia.

The small hamlet of Omagh once had four churches, which illustrates the significance the community had within the local rural area. The Wesleyan Methodist Church was built in 1854 with seating for 300. It was destroyed in a fire sometime around 1914. The Omagh Disciples of Christ built their church in 1850 and continue to operate to this day. They changed their name to the Church of Christ in 1930. This building features rounded windows as opposed the common pointed arches that were popular in Gothic Revival designs for churches of the era.

The church cemetery contains some of the earliest burials in the community, a few of which have been collected and restored into a small cement slab. Other more recent stones can be found on either side of the church.

An Anglican Church was built in 1868 and operated until 1946. It was demolished in 1947. The Omagh Presbyterian Church is west of town on a one acre lot of land which was purchased on April 31, 1838. The local Presbyterians originally built an small wooden building which they painted white. Seventy years later, in 1908, a building committee was formed to look into the construction of a new church building. A year later in 1909 they laid the cornerstone of the present brick building. In 1925 they resisted the movement to join the United Church and today continue to serve as a small community church with several members who have worshiped there for their entire lives.

Omagh Presbyterian cemetery continues to receive burials. The open area to the east of the church contained the original drive sheds for horses. These were removed when automobiles replaced carriages as the primary method of transportation. In 1877 there were 100 residents but by 1935 Omagh was down to 6 houses and 3 churches, 4 farms and the ball park which was created in 1930.

The house featured below was built in 1882 as the parsonage for the Methodist Church. In 1919 the Methodists sold the parsonage as their church had been destroyed and they no longer had a pastor. Standing on the south west corner, the house has the distinction of being the only parsonage in the small town.

Children in early Omagh had to walk a concession west to Boyne to go to school. The first school in the community may have been built as early as 1828 on a lot on the south east side of the intersection. In 1874 when a new School Section #6 building was erected, it was located across the street. It closed in 1956 and was demolished in 1968 with the bricks being recycled into the home that replaced it at 10095 Britannia Road. The bell was saved and installed in a memorial at the ball park.

This little house was built in 1928 according to tax records as a rental property, likely for a farmhand on the Devlin farm across the road. It has been left empty for several years now.

The barn on the former Devlin property was built in 1900 but is in fairly poor condition. The heritage farm house that stood on the property was demolished in 2001 which removes some of the heritage value of the barn. it’s unclear if there will be any effort to save the barn before wind and weather conspire to bring it down.

A large shed on the property is in even worse condition. With most of the rear roof missing, as seen from the ball park, it is unlikely to be standing for very much longer.

Milton town council made the decision in December 2019 to recognize Omagh as a Cultural Heritage Area and now a management plan has to be drawn up and implemented. This will help ensure that at least the structurally sound buildings in town will be retained as the surrounding farmland is developed for housing.

Google Maps Link: Omagh

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Pine Point Golf and Country Club

Saturday, January 9, 2021

There are currently 13 golf courses in Toronto and another 87 within 20 miles of Toronto which attests to the popularity of golf. Between 1869 and 1919 there were thirty courses opened in the city but many of them have been built over with homes. At least two of them have been turned into parks that we’ve visited. The former York Downs Golf and Country Club is now Earl Bales Park. Similarly, Pine Point Golf and Country Club is now Pine Point Park.

Pine Point Golf and Country Club wasn’t one of these original 30, nor is it one of the remaining 13 as it came and went between then and now. In 1925 it got its start as the Riverside Golf Course. It consisted of 225 acres and was operated by Cecil White until 1932 when he sold it to Bert and Frank Deakin. This father and son partnership rebranded it as Pine Point Golf and Country Club. They built a new club house in 1932 to replace the existing one.

They experienced disaster on the night of August 6th, 1938. At 2:20 in the morning Frank Cech was watering the far greens on the course when he saw the glow of the blaze. The club house was completely destroyed before the Weston Volunteer Fire Brigade could put it out. As soon as the clean up was complete they set about building a new club house. Things carried on until 1950 when the government bought a strip through the middle of the golf course for construction of the 401. Another 22 acres were bought on the north side of the new highway for the creation of a new park. Pine Point Park was opened in 1957. The picture below shows the back of the club house and a bunch of newly planted trees.

The main chimney still sports the logo from the days when golfers would congregate here before and after a round of golf.

The chimney on the south side of the main door is crumbling badly and appears to be hazardous. You wouldn’t want to be walking below when one of those large stones dropped out.

Below is a 1953 aerial photograph from the Toronto Archives. The small circle on the left is the club house featured above. Shapes of greens and sand traps can be seen in the circle at the centre of the picture while the larger circle shows the bridge over the Humber River. Meanwhile, the new highway west of the river isn’t even fully laid out yet.

Seventy years have passed since the last game of golf was played at Pine Grove. In 1957 the city bought 22 acres of land on the north side of the 401 to create a new park. The club house was retained and the floodplain was turned into an open field of grass with a walking trail along the side of the Humber River. One large section of the park has been allowed to return to a more natural condition and second generation trees have become established. Throughout this wooded area there are several curved depressions in the ground that look suspiciously like old sand traps.

The Humber River had a thin layer of ice along the edges and a fair amount of slush floating downstream but surprisingly has not frozen over yet this season. Some years there could be large ice sheets pushed up on the banks that are several centimeters thick. This freezing and thawing could happen several times per winter.

Other than the club house and the general shape of some parts of the park there isn’t very much remaining from the days of Pine Point Golf and Country Club. Near the river stands an old lamp post that is likely hidden by vines for most of the summer. Notice the two bands of steel at the top which distinguish it from the modern lighting around the parking lot.

We often see tents and other temporary shelter for homeless people in the parks and this year there may be more than average as a result of the pandemic. One of the most unusual of these types of shelters is the one we found in Pine Point Park. Someone has found a group of trees which they have surrounded with industrial stretch wrap. Earth has been scooped up around the bottom to seal out the wind and water while ropes support a roof made of burlap. It’s just about the right size for a sleeping bag to be laid out inside of it. Although it seems like an environmental disaster, i give it high marks for creativity.

In the game of golf it is quite common to hit an errant ball that could come close to hitting another player. It might be more instinctual to yell “heads up” or “duck” but in golf the normal expression is “Fore!”. This appears to be tied to the idea that the player or caddie in danger is before, or in the foreground, of the incoming ball. Since the game of golf is no longer played here it is much more appropriate to whisper “duck” and point to the river. The Common Goldeneye pictured below is the female which has a chocolate brown head and a gray body.

The male Common Goldeneye has an iridescent green head which frequently looks black. They have a white patch behind their bill and white wings on a mostly white body. The wings appear to have little white windows on them. Goldeneye ducks often forage in small flocks and dive together, staying under for up to 20 seconds at a time.

Common Merganser males have a mostly white body with a green head and orange bill. The female has a brown head with a white chin and an orange bill. When migrating or during winter Mergansers are known for mixing with other species of diving ducks, including Goldeneyes, other Mergansers and Buffleheads.

Mallard Ducks were the most common birds we sighted, except perhaps Canada Geese, and a group of them were checking out the ice skating facilities.

Construction of the 401 brought an end to the Pine Point Golf and Country Club and the original highway has been expanded several times creating an extensive set of bridges over the Humber River. It appears that one effective method of reducing graffiti under the bridges is to allow the creation of public art on all the available surfaces. People seem reluctant to tag over the top of some of this creative artwork. The entire length of the trail under the 401 has been covered in some very impressive artwork.

Many people walk their dogs or go jogging through Pine Point Park without ever realizing the history they are passing through.

Additional reading: Earl Bales Park,

Google Maps Link: Pine Point Park

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Elm Bank

Saturday, January 3, 2021

While on a walk along the West Humber Trail near Albion Road I had the opportunity to photograph the oldest building in Etobicoke as well as one thought to be number 3 or 4. This section of the trail on either side of Albion runs through property that was once the farm of the Grubb(e) family.

In 1833 John and Janet Grubb arrived in Etobicoke from Scotland. They bought 150 acres of land which included a two story home that had been built of river stone between 1802 and 1820. The house is unusual for its era because of the lack of symmetry. Often a three bay house would have the upper windows lined up with the first floor ones. The ground floor windows are different sizes and on different levels. There also appears to have been a small entrance porch at one time based on the discolouration of the stones around the door. Eight separate land owners held the property prior to Grubb and the original builder of the home is no longer known.

The Grubb family eventually included ten children and so they needed more space immediately. Using more stone from the Humber River, John built a second home just 20 feet south of the first one. The second home was built in 1834 and is a story and a half Regency Cottage design with a low hipped roof. Dormers face north and south and a large veranda looks from the south side down onto the river and floodplain below. The two houses are connected below ground with a tunnel. The second house can be seen behind the first one, on the left in the picture below. It is much larger as befits a family home but only the corner can be seen without walking right up onto the property, which isn’t appropriate without seeking permission first. The homes can be found at 19 and 23 Jason Road.

John Grubb was also the president of the Weston and Albion Plank Road Company until he passed away in 1850. In 1889 John’s son William also passed and the farm was sold to cover the expenses still owed on the former plank road company. The family continued to live in their home east of Albion road until 1930. This home is marked in orange on the atlas above and has been rescued and moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village. Across the street, a house has been built on the original stone foundations of the Grubb barn. The barn and a piggery next door were both constructed in 1835 when John was getting his farm established.

The house that was built on the foundations of the piggery is in poor shape, although it does appear to be lived in.

In addition to farming, the Grubb family also got into town building by laying out the original community of Thistletown. John Grubb was distressed at the condition of the early roads and decided to do something about them. In 1841 he founded the Weston Plank Road Company to improve the local roads by covering them with a layer of thick wooden planks. A few years later he also formed the Albion Plank Road Company. The building that the Weston Plank Road Company operated out of was built in 1846 and still sits on its original location about a kilometre south of the 401 on Weston Road.

The rear of the building is also quite interesting because you can see the way the building has been modified over the years. Where the ground level door is there are signs that another door or a window was previously bricked in just above it. The green beam that runs between the first and second floors matches the one on the front side of the building. The variations in the brickwork patterns reveal where sections of this have been closed off. It appears that this may have been one larger shipping door that was split into a couple of windows. The building was given an historic designation in 1987 but has sat neglected for a least a couple of decades now. It suffered a small fire in March of 2019 but fortunately it wasn’t completely destroyed.

Dufferin Street was also covered in planks around the same time. It was known as the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road and a small section still exists in a ravine south of Finch Avenue. Massive sixteen foot long boards held together with huge spikes were unearthed during recent erosion control work. The picture below shows one of these spikes compared to the size of my foot. The link above leads to an article with many more pictures of the planks and spikes.

The next image was taken from “A History of Vaughan Township Churches” by the Vaughan Historical Society and shows the 1851 Primitive Methodist Church in Shiloh. It is interesting because of the plank road that runs in front of the church. You can get a good idea of the size of the planks that were used and the amount of maintenance that must have been required to keep it from rotting away. These costs were not always offset by the tolls charged for using the roads.

On the way back out from Jason Street be sure to stop and admire the home of the Franklin Carmichael Art Centre. The home was built in 1934 and was converted into the Art Centre in 1971 to showcase the works of Franklin Carmichael who was one of Canada’s famous Group of Seven artists.

A little south of Elm Bank on a road known as Elmhurst sits the last remaining Victorian Era farm house in the area. The rear portion of this home was built in 1864 by George and Hannah Garbutt. This section has a nice row of buff coloured bricks just below the roof. In 1903 their daughter Alice married William Gardhouse. George passed away a few months later and Alice inherited the farm. When her family outgrew the home, an addition was built on the front of the original house. The family continued to farm the property until 1952 when it was sold to developers for a subdivision. Today this house sits at a funny angle to the street but it faces Islington Avenue squarely.

The Grubb and Garbutt family homes are note worthy because of their age and also the way in which they have been retained in spite of the urban sprawl that hit the area in the 1950’s.

Also check out our blog The Gore And Vaughan Plank road

Google Maps Link: Elm Bank

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The Stone Cottage at Bond Lake

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Bond Lake has an extensive history and in earlier blogs we touched on some of the electric railway uses of the area. Returning, we set out to discover what else remained to be seen at Bond Lake.

The original land grant had been given to William Bond who briefly settled in there in 1793 constructing homes and building 8 miles of Yonge Street in the area. By 1795 he had already sold the land but had left his name on the lake. The county atlas below shows the area in 1877 when it consisted of several small farms including that of the Thompson family. Moses Gamble and his heirs would own all of this land by the middle of the 20th century and today it has been over-run with single family homes. The story of Bond Lake and the years in between can be found in our feature Bond Lake.

The Thompsons ran their farm until 1908 when the General Manager of the Merchant’s Life insurance Company of Toronto, a man named John H. C. Durham, bought the place. He turned it into his country estate and in 1912 had the old farm house remodeled to suit himself. Then in 1915, he had a cobblestone cottage built to house the farm manager and his family.

The cottage is square with a stone chimney on both the east and west walls. The roof is hipped with the four sides meeting in the middle. Rounded river stones face the building with larger ones used to form rough quoins on the corners. Above the windows are wedge shaped stones that form a rough arch. These are known by their French name of “voussoirs”.

The south wall has had a frame addition at some point over the years. Records show that the original stone building had double hung, 6 over 6 windows while the addition was 3 over 2. This building is on the heritage list and has had an earlier attempt to preserve it by adding a tarp over the holes in the roof. That appears to have been done quite some time ago. The home itself and the land around it was sold in 1940 to the Gamble family who were increasing their hold on the area around Bond Lake.

One of the many little buildings that once surrounded the lake, this one has seen its best days. Outside it has a lazy kind of lean to it but inside it has been semi-demolished.

Inside this building has been trashed which is a pure shame. I understand that people like to get together with friends and have a drink and smoke something and they may not be able to do it at home. Buildings like this provide some shelter from the weather and perhaps some discretion as well. However, I don’t understand why people can’t stop by for a party and enjoy themselves without having to ruin the place. It seems to be self-defeating behaviour as far as I can tell.

We found the remnants of several old cars, or at least the chassis of them. This one was a green truck and had more of the body still remaining. Most likely this was some kind of 1970’s G.M. pick up truck.

Sets of cut stone blocks form the mounting pads for the old steam generators for the Toronto & York Radial Railway. These also contain the old fire places where the coal was burned to create the heat for the generators. In this shot the maintenance shed can be seen in the background. It is still in quite good shape considering the number of years since it was last used to service electric railway cars and equipment.

The substation at the Electric Railway Generating Plant is in worse condition every time we visit the area. Having suffered a fire, and with major holes in the back roof, it seems that this historic building may soon be history.

Bond Lake was still, and with the light fluffy clouds reflected off the surface of the water, it was quite calming to relax for a minute and just observe.

Tamarack is also known as Larch and is a coniferous deciduous tree. This means that it bears cones like an evergreen but loses its leaves like a Maple or Oak tree. On the south east side of Bond Lake several extensive patches of Tamarack have been planted and since they turn colour later than the broad leaved trees, they provide a late season splash of yellow to the woods.

This canoe was one of two small craft that we found in the edge of the woods. The area has been home to many forms of recreation over the years including reportedly being used as a home for motorcycle gangs. I wonder if there’s a classic bike hiding around here somewhere?

I suspect that only a few of the local dog walkers have the true picture of everything that awaits the thorough explorer at Bond Lake.

Associated blogs: Bond Lake, Electric Railway Generating Plant, and the Toronto and York Radial Railway

Google Maps Link: Bond Lake

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The Scarborough Bluffs

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Scarborough Bluffs that we see today have changed significantly since 1793 when Elizabeth Simcoe named them while exploring the area around the newly founded town of York. Through her diaries we have the records of the original hiker in the area. The bluffs have been receding inland for the past 12,000 years ever since their exposure at the end of the last ice age. As York grew into Toronto and then expanded to the GTA the bluffs continued to erode and they way they appear today will most certainly change in the future.

The article below contains links to the eleven stories we wrote as we explored the various sections of the bluffs. They are arranged from west to east which is roughly the sequence in which they were written. Before we get started though, we present a new photograph that was taken on December 15th 2020 at Bluffer’s Park. Notice the dark pile of sand at the water’s edge and the horizontal shelf about two thirds of the way up. This is the remnant of a slide that took place on August 24, 2020.

The picture below was taken in January 2016 before the slide took place. In the right of the picture is a section of sand that is topped by two pointed spires. In the recent picture one of those spires is missing and the other is much more rounded.

We now present the detailed blogs about each of the sections of the Scarborough Bluffs. Click on the link to find more pictures and the stories behind each section.

Rosetta McClain Gardens sit on top of the western end of the bluffs and is one of the most beautiful places in the city. The gardens were laid out by Rosetta McClain and her husband and have been in use as a city park since 1959. Aside from all the birds that can be seen in the park it has a view from on top of the Bluffs out over the lake.

Sand Castles was the first one written and tells the geology of the formation of the Bluffs. It also looks at the section of the Bluffs that can be accessed to the west of Bluffers Park.

Erosion at Cathedral Bluffs describes some of the forces effecting the stability of the bluffs and follows them to the east of Bluffers Park.

The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein is located just west of the Gates Gully access to the bottom of the Bluffs. Several houses have fallen prey to the forces of erosion as the land has disappeared out from underneath them. The house in this story used to belong to Billy Van who starred in many roles in the TV show The House of Frightenstein. Just a few years ago the property owners were cutting the grass in the back yard of this house which today is almost completely destroyed.

Gates Gully provides a trail to the bottom of the Bluffs and has quite the history of its own. Along with stories of smugglers and sunken ships it also claims to have buried treasure from 1813. The trail through the gully is named after Dorthy McCarthy who was one of the early artists to take up residence on the Bluffs. The artwork at the bottom of the trail is known as the Passage.

The Alexandria was a steamship

South Marine Park Drive is an old construction road that has been turned into a linear park that runs west from the access road beside the Guild Inn. The road was used to create what is known as a hard shoreline which is intended to slow down the erosion of the Bluffs. Old construction materials and parts of demolished buildings were dumped along the shore destroying the natural interface between the lake and the land.

Guildwood Park sits on top of the Scarborough Bluffs and contains a newly restored Guild Inn. It is also home to pieces that were salvaged from early Toronto buildings that were demolished. These are presented as artwork throughout the property.

Beachcombers is the title we selected for the section of the Bluffs that runs east from the Guild Inn toward East Point Park. Up until now this section of the Bluffs has a natural beach that allows the lake to deposit a wide variety of stuff onto the beach. We met a couple who regularly walk this section looking for the most recent treasures. It sounds like the Toronto Region Conservation Authority will be going ahead with a plan to hardline this shore, thereby destroying one of the last natural sections of the Bluffs.

East Point Park has an upper meadow, wetlands, a segment of the Scarborough Bluffs and a lengthy beach. The meadow is a staging area for Monarch Butterflies as they prepare to migrate south for the winter.

Highland Creek marks the eastern end of the Scarborough Bluffs and has plenty of natural spaces which provide homes to its varied wildlife.

It isn’t possible to hike from one end of the Bluffs to the other at water level because of places where the lake and bluffs meet but you can explore most of it by approaching it in sections.

Google Maps Links are provided in each individual story.

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Paletta Lakefront Park

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The site of Paletta Lakefront Park covers 14 acres and is considered to be the finest among the waterfront parks in Burlington. The original land grant has a long history of changing hands starting in 1809 when lot 8 in concession 4 was given to Laura Secord. The Secord family didn’t settle on their property in Nelson Township and conveyed the lot to John Beaupre in 1810 before moving to the Niagara region. Laura Secord would go on to play a pivotal role in The Battle of Lundy’s Lane in 1813 during the War of 1812.

After being sold about 15 times the property was bought in 1912 by Cyrus Albert Birge and William Delos Flatt. It was used as a fruit farm and people from around the area would visit for the purpose of fishing, swimming or boating.

Cyrus Albert Birge was an industrialist who started off with the Canada Screw Company and by 1910 he was the VP of the new Steel Company of Canada. He died on December 14, 1929 leaving his wealth to his daughter Edyth Merriam MacKay. She tore down the existing home on the property and set about building an 11,000 square foot mansion. The finest materials were used which she sourced on trips to Europe and the Southern United States. The house included servant quarters, a dumbwaiter and large ballroom.

The mansion sat empty from 1990 until 2000 when restoration began. The work was expensive and $2 million dollars were donated by Pat Paletta whose name has now been given to the estate. The view from the mansion to the lake is quite spectacular and has changed over the years as some of the grounds have been planted with new trees.

Horse riding was a favourite pass time and horses were kept in a stable on the property. These stables are one of last surviving ones in the urban part of Burlington.

A miniature house was built for the children to play in. This was known as the doll house and was constructed in the early 1930’s for Dorthy McKay and her friends so that they would have their own special place. It was complete with running water and electricity.

There were three formal gardens, various lawns and fruit trees that all required the help of a full time gardener. The former gardeners house is the fourth historic structure that is being preserved in the park. This building served as a gatehouse from the time of its construction in 1912.

On the east side of the property there are three lawns, each separated by a row of cedar hedges. The cedars have run wild and are thirty feet tall. Beyond the hedges is another section of the park where a small creek flows through a more natural area that is home to a lot of wildlife.

The past 90 years have seen the original hedge rows get a little on the wild side.

A long stone wall runs along the length of the gardens but the gate has been removed over the years.

The lake provides a perfect backdrop and the park has become a common place for weddings and other types of social events. It’s a lot quieter this year.

This is a beautiful example of a grand estate that was built during the early years of the Great Depression.

Google Maps Link: Paletta Lakefront Park

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Cooper’s Falls – Ghost Towns of Ontario

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Cooper’s Falls has a few newer homes that appear to be occupied, but nearly all of its historical buildings have been left to the elements. It isn’t that far off of highway 11 north and can make an interesting side trip on your way north of Orillia. At Hiking the GTA we typically explore the places in our area since this is where we spend most weekends but not all of them. These pictures were taken on a trip to visit my mother for her birthday back when that was still a good idea.

Thomas and Emma Cooper were each 27 in 1864 when they arrived at Washago. From there they made their way through the woods to the location of their land grant. After building a log school house in 1874 and donating land for a church and graveyard Thomas opened a general store in 1876. A post office was added on April 1, 1878 and he was postmaster until March 1905. Two generations later his grandson would close it on April 30, 1968. In the picture below a line in the bricks just below the second story windows shows the position of a former front veranda sheltering the door and the display windows. The general store also sold gasoline with the Esso pump being featured in the cover photo. The family home is attached on the side and back with the front porch being seen behind the gas pump in that shot. In 1968 gasoline went to $0.33 per gallon, or 8 cents per liter, for the first time.

Across the street from the general store is a building which was the town hall and was locally known as the courthouse. The original drive shed still extends from the town hall although it has likely been a few years since anyone left their horse and carriage here while on business in town. A string of coloured lights extends across the road to the old general store and can be seen below. There are fourteen of these lights which are maintained by Frank Cooper who was born on the second floor of the general store. He claims to have strung them up sometime after the Second World War when electricity was being extended across the street. He decided to decorate the wire and as of 2011 had still been lighting it nightly.

The first church in town was St. George’s Anglican Church which was built around 1884 a couple of kilometers outside of town. This building is still maintained and is used for the occasional service and as a funeral chapel.

By 1921 William, son of Thomas, had converted the saw mill to steam power. When he had a fatal accident at the mill in 1925 it closed because the lumber supply was depleted and the family didn’t have the will to continue. The Anglican cemetery is just east of the church and contains many early gave markers including those of the several of the Cooper family including William. Although the town began a rapid decline when the lumber mill closed it is clear that a large number of people have lived here and in the surrounding area over the years. This one of two cemeteries in the community.

A second church was added by the Free Methodists in 1894 when the town was booming. This denomination remained separate from the Methodist Church when it was united in 1884 and then didn’t participate in the formation of the United Church. Cooper’s Falls Free Methodist Church has been closed for years but there is still one in Armadale that is the oldest continually serving one in Canada. You can read about it in our story Armadale Free Methodist Church. The Cooper’s Falls Free Methodist Church stands right beside the Anglican Cemetery with its own cemetery on the other side.

In small communities the blacksmith was an important tradesman because you couldn’t run to Walmart when something broke and these people kept horses, buggies and much more going. As the town declined and Washago and Severn Bridge grew, the need for a blacksmith disappeared. After the mill closed his shop wasn’t far behind. Today it has a distinct lean to it.

The buildings along Cooper’s Falls Road are in various states of decay and most of them have either the walls or roof opened up. Even if these buildings were not marked as No Trespassing it would be an exceptionally risky thing to get too close, let alone go into them.

Around Ontario we seem to have kept a fair amount of our grist mill heritage compared to our saw mill history. Perhaps this is because the grist mills operated for a few decades after the last of the lumber supplies forced the closure of most of the saw mills in the province. Lumber camps and their supporting towns seemed to have fared poorly and this part of our heritage seems to be vanishing.

Thomas Cooper served the workers who lived in local lumber camps by providing them with supplies through his general store. He also provided for the people of his community including ensuring they had places to live. The men who worked in Cooper’s Lumber Mill, the blacksmith shop or the cheese factory likely lived in small workers cottages like the one rotting in the trees in the picture below.

There’s no shortage of old homes in the community but unfortunately most don’t have any ongoing maintenance to keep the weather from destroying them. Without the interest and interaction of a local historical society the lumber era portion of Cooper’s Falls is being felled by nature.

The Black River was pretty calm on this particular afternoon when this picture was taken upstream from the falls where Thomas Copper built his sawmill. The waterfall is on private property behind the former general store but can be seen from the road during the winter if you know exactly where to look.

Cooper’s Falls Trail is an 8 kilometer hike which is listed as challenging featuring 100 meters of elevation changes. It includes parts of The Great Trail but the entrance off of Cooper’s Falls Road doesn’t have parking. For that you need to enter off of Housey’s Rapids Road.

Google Maps Link: Cooper’s Falls

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Bronte Bluffs Park

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Just west of the mouth of Bronte Creek is a geological feature that dates back 13,000 years to the end of the last ice age. At that time, the lake level was about 100 feet higher than today and that version of Lake Ontario is referred to as Glacial Lake Iroquois. It is responsible for various land formations all around the lake including the Scarborough Bluffs and Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park. We decided to go and see this feature and explore the area and we used free parking in one of the lots on West River Street.

The map below shows the area as it was in 1877 including the Sovereign property which originally stretched all the way to Bronte Creek. The Sovereign House featured below is one of the three at the end of the property by the lake, possibly the one circled. Also circled is the site of the Bronte Cemetery which was on land donated by the family.

Philip Sovereign was one of the first settlers on Twelve Mile Creek, now known as Bronte Creek, when he arrived in 1814. His property on the west side of the creek mouth would be the site of the first school house in the community when he had a small log building erected the following year. His son Charles would be the teacher in the school by the time he was 17. The Sovereign family was instrumental in the early development of Bronte and their house was built in 1825. After Charles passed away in 1885 the house had several tenants the most notable being in the years 1911-1914. During this time Mazo de la Roche lived here. She was the author of the “Jalna” series of books whose 16 novels were among the most popular of the era. The house was moved on Aug. 23, 1988 to Bronte Bluffs Park where it was restored and now houses the Bronte Historical Society. Several trails run east from the house along the bluffs and lead to stairs that provide access to the beach.

Hawks are one of the few animals with colour receptors in their eyes making them incredible hunters even at great distances. Their keen eyesight also allows them to be diurnal, hunting during both the day and night hours. They can take their prey from the air as well as off the ground and can dive at speeds up to 150 miles per hour to capture it. The one sitting in a large tree outside of Sovereign House allowed me to get pretty close before pooping in my general direction and flying off. Such attitude!

There were several swans on the lake and three of them were an obvious family unit. The cygnet, or baby swan, was still grey in colour and slightly smaller than its parents. Swans are not very graceful when they take off as they need about 30 yards just to become airborne and about that much again to achieve a safe height above the land or water. The picture below shows one just as it is landing.

There was a small flock of Bufflehead ducks on the lake. These birds dive for their food and at times the entire group would disappear at the same time. The males have the large white patch that wraps around the back of the head while the females have a smaller white patch on the cheek.

While we were watching from the top of the bluffs a young couple appeared on the beach below. They both dashed into the water but she only went about knee deep. He didn’t hesitate, diving in and getting completely wet. Except for those two people there was no one else enjoying the lake on this sunny day. Even so, the Halton Police were still out on patrol, perhaps looking for those people who froze while swimming.

Chris Vokes Memorial Park is named after Major General Christopher Vokes who served Canada during the Second World War. He was from Oakville and passed away there in 1985. The war memorial in the park is dedicated to the soldiers who died in two World Wars plus the Korean War. It is actually the second war memorial to be built in Bronte, the first one being placed in 1956 at 2457 Lakeshore Road West.

Bronte harbour was home to fishermen and stone hookers who provided much of the early industry in the town. Lake Trout, Whitefish and Herring were cleaned at the docks and packed into ice for shipping to the large city markets. Up to 22 fishing boats operated out of the harbour until the 1950’s by which time most of the fish stocks had been depleted. The stone hooking industry ended after 1910 when portland cement replaced stone as a primary building material for foundations. There are several information signs around Bronte describing the local history and there is one dedicated to the fishing industry as well.

The Methodist Church sent missionaries to Upper Canada as both Primitive Methodists and Episcopal Methodists, often competing to both start a church in a community. The Episcopal church formed in Bronte and built a white structure of wood on the south side of Lakeshore. The two Methodist groups united in 1884 and a period of growth followed. By 1912 the church had outgrown its building and the next year a new brick building was opened across the street. Since this building was a gift from the Walton Family in memory of their father the church became known as Walton Memorial church. It has been part of the United Church since 1925.

Bronte Cemetery is located on land that was owned by Philip Sovereign and both he and his son Charles are buried here. A large portion of the headstones in Bronte Cemetery commemorate those who drowned working in the fishing and stone hooking industries along the lakeshore. Ironically, some of those who drowned and were later recovered and buried may be among those whose remains have subsequently been lost to the lake. Over the years about 70 feet of the cemetery has been eroded into the lake as it relentlessly beats on the shore

Philip Sovereign died in 1833 and was laid to rest in the cemetery he donated to the community.

Bronte Bluffs Park made for an interesting visit and somehow you get the feeling that you may have just scratched the surface of all that is to be seen. Hmmm…

Related blogs: Scarborough Bluffs and Iroquois Shoreline Woods Park

Google Maps link: Bronte Bluffs Park

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