Sir Casimir Gzowski Park

Sunday, November 1, 2020

It was cold and windy down by the lake but I had decided to check out Sir Casimir Gzowski Park because of its monument to the man who was instrumental in early transportation in Upper Canada. Gzowski was born in St. Petersburg in 1813 to Polish parents and after being exiled to the USA following the Russian November Uprisings he came to Canada in 1841. His first project was work on the Welland Canal. He also completed part of Yonge Street and was a railway builder as well. His work on both the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad and the Grand Trunk Railway helped link communities across Upper and Lower Canada. His design for the international bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo was made challenging by the wind and strong currents but he was successful. As the first chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission, Gzowski was responsible for planning the park system along the Canadian side of the Niagara River. This includes the observation areas for Niagara Falls.

There is a monument to Sir Casimir Gzowski in the park which is a concrete tripod with steel beams at the top and railway ties at ground level. It was built in 1968 and in addition to the bust shown in the cover photo has several panels with considerable detail about his life and accomplishments. He died on August 24, 1898 after being ill for several months. The park and monument celebrate his contribution as a member of the Polish community.

Mute Swans, like the ones pictured here, have mostly orange bills as opposed to the mainly black bills of Trumpeter Swans and Tundra Swans. Mute swans are not native to North America and were introduced in the 1870’s as garden and park ornaments. Today there are over 3,000 of them in Ontario’s Great Lake regions. They can each eat about 4 kilograms of vegetation a day which means that they damage plant systems and destroy the habitat of local creatures.

The view toward Mimico seems to change every time I look. it wasn’t so long ago the Palace Pier was a lone condo near the mouth of The Humber River and the mouth of Mimico Creek was home to a variety of aging motels. The last of the motels has now been demolished and the now tallest building outside the downtown core stands at 66 floors looking out over the lake.

The park features a beach as well as 9 pieces of exercise equipment along with an off leash area for dogs and two picnic shelters. A concession stand also operates during peak periods. The weather along with the weekend closure of three local parking lots along Lake Shore Boulevard meant that I had the park almost completely to myself.

In the 1930’s the era of personal automobiles was really getting underway and Joy Oil Company Limited was one of the late-comers in Toronto. Gas stations today are purely utilitarian in design but it wasn’t this way with the Joy gas stations. They were built with steep pitched roofs, spires and towers in a design known as Chateau Style. A total of sixteen of these stations were built in the GTA with 14 being in Toronto. All but one has been demolished including the one that stood on the other side of High Park at 429 Roncesvalles Avenue. In 1986 bylaw 837-86 designated that station as being of architectural significance. It wasn’t long before it was demolished and replaced with a unimaginative retail store.

During the 1937 Joy Oil built the station which stood at Windemere Road and Lake Shore Boulevard. It survived the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Way and later the Gardiner Expressway before closing. By 2007 it was badly dilapidated but the city chose to rescue it. They moved it across the road into Sir Casimir Gzowski Park and spent $400,000 to renovate it. Since then it has sat behind a chain link fence waiting for one of the many plans to come to fruition. Meanwhile, the paint is starting to peel again.

The east bound lanes of the Gardiner Expressway were closed which meant that I couldn’t get really close to park. Most of the time you can park almost right beside the old Joy Station. I had to park on Parkside Drive and walk along the waterfront trail to get to Sir Casimir Gzowski Park. Along the way I noticed the true reason for the closure of the busy expressway. It was to allow a flock of geese to cross the road.

My route took me past Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, one of the last remnants of the strip of attractions, including an amusement park, that used to line the shore of Lake Ontario. More details about Sunnyside can be found in our feature story Sunnyside Beach.

I recently read about a man named Khaleel Sievwright who is building small mobile shelters for the homeless. They are well insulated and reportedly should help people stay warm at -20 with just their own body heat. The city is opposed to the shelters because they say that they could pose a serious fire hazard to the occupants. For now Khaheel continues to make the shelters and give them away, getting the needed money through on-line fundraising platforms. I happened to find one of just two or three that he has distributed so far.

Sir Casimir Gzowski Park is just one of many parks along the 3,600 kilometer Waterfront Trail and is enjoyed by joggers, cyclists and dog walkers as well as the occasional local history buff.

Google Maps Link: Sir Casimir Gzowski Park

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Markham Heritage Estates

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Markham has an old-age home for homes. Between 1981 and 1988 over 40 structures that were listed on the Markham Heritage Inventory were demolished to make way for construction projects. The citizens were upset and the city council decided to do something about it. They created the first heritage subdivision in the country. The Markham Heritage Estates were established in 1988 to provide a place for heritage homes that otherwise faced demolition. The first option is to retain the homes on their original site but this is not always possible. In those cases, the city has set aside 42 lots that it sells below market value to approved heritage homes. The savings in property price is used to encourage the homes to be moved and restored. For anyone with a keen interest in heritage homes a walk around this subdivision can be most enjoyable.

The section of the County Atlas below shows Markham Township in 1877. A small green rectangle marks the site of the Markham Heritage Estates. I looked up many of the homes in the subdivision and have marked them on the map. The lots marked in red contain homes that are featured in the article below. The lots marked in blue have had their home moved into Markham Heritage Estates. Several other homes in the estates have not been identified on the map due to a lack of information being available.

Houses arrive in the subdivision in various states of disrepair. There is one recent arrival that has several broken windows, holes in the roof and is missing the front porch. It will be interesting to see what this place looks like when the restoration team is finished with it.

The houses shown below are just a selection from the subdivision and are presented in order of age. All of them were on their respective lots when the county atlas was drawn in 1877. The Ambrose Nobel house is Georgian in style and was built in 1830 near the corner of Markham Road and 16th Avenue. The house belonged to the local tanner who operated his business on the same property. The most unusual feature of this home is the fact that it has two front doors. It is believed that Nobel used the door on the left as an entrance to his office for the tannery.

Peter Phillips (originally Phillipsen) built this lovely Gothic Revival home in 1835. Prior to this house being moved it was the last home remaining in the former community of Leek’s Corners.

Robert Gundy purchased the lot on which this house was built in 1818. After operating the farm for a few years he built this regency inspired home in 1840. Gundy was a reformer who is listed as having supported William Lyon Mackenzie in the rebellion of 1837. Gundy died in 1867 after which the house was occupied by Edward Sanderson.

Also constructed in 1840 is the house of Peter G. Mustard. It is a simple 3 bay Georgian style home that was moved the the Heritage Estates in 2003 in preparation for a realignment of the 9th line.

Joachim Pingle emigrated from Germany in 1794 and settled in Markham as one of the first Berczy Settlers. Jacob Pingle who was his son built a gothic revival style house in 1840 that had a wrap around veranda on three sides. It is a rare example of a home with the main entrance on the end, shown, rather than on the long side.

David Leek built this house in 1840 in the former community of Dollar. It is unusual in that it is one of very few examples of second empire style in the township of Markham. The mansard roof is the key architectural component of this style of building where the roof forms part of the upper walls. David Leek was a prominent member of the Headford Methodist Church which was known as Leek’s Chapel at one time.

The Udell-Hamilton house was built in 1850 for Mary Udell and her four children. It originally stood on a lot just south of Stouffville that had belonged to her husband Mathew. He was accused of printing counterfeit money for the Markham Gang and had been arrested and jailed in 1845. The house was sold in 1871 to Abraham Hamilton who converted the story and a half home into a full two stories and added the two bays at the front. This is one of my favourite homes in this little enclave.

David Gohn built this regency style one and a half story cottage in 1855 on Leslie Street near Highway 7. Of all the houses in the subdivision it is the one which was relocated here first and perhaps was moved the farthest of all the rescued heritage homes.

James Thomas used elements of the regency cottage and the Georgian style in 1856 when he built this home. It has an interesting window under the front gable. It has the over-all rounded shape of the Italianate style with pointed arches within that are Gothic in design. The combination of four major design styles makes this one of the more unique homes in Markham.

John McCreight built this two story farm house in 1874. This house is unusual in that it has a T section that comes out of the side instead of the back of the house. This puts both the front and back doors on the same side of the house. A nice wrap around veranda connects the two entrances.

The Google Earth capture from 2002 shows how few homes have been moved in during the first 14 years and how they have been concentrated at the north end of the site. To the east is the Markham Museum and Historic Village where another 30 historic buildings are preserved including homes, barns, a saw mill, train station and church. It is currently closed and will definitely be on the “to-do” list.

The Google Earth image from 2018 shows how much the subdivision has filled in. The new arrival that is waiting for restoration will fill in the last vacant spot in the middle loop. The loop at the top is known as David Gohn Circle and has an information sign on each of the little islands in the middle. These give the descriptions of the houses on the street as well as a brief history. I hope that will be completed on the second loop when all the lots have been filled. It makes the subdivision all the more interesting.

Markham Heritage Estates can be enjoyed as a walk around but it is most popular during Markham Doors Open events when you can visit the insides of the buildings.

Google Maps Link: Markham Heritage Estates

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North Halton Kart Club

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The North Halton Kart Club used to operate on the Fifth Line south of Limehouse but it has been closed for a third of a century. It seemed like a good idea to go and see what remains of a place that so many enjoyed over the years. To access it we parked in the Limehouse Conservation Area and took the Limehouse Side Trail to the main Bruce Trail. The main trail heads north toward The Hole-In-The-Wall and the Limehouse Kilns but we turned in the opposite direction. We were a little wary of the Bruce Trail because of stories of overcrowding and lack of parking. Arriving early, there were only two other cars in the parking lot. However, a few hours later there were no available parking spaces and cars were lined up along both sides of the laneway.

Along the trail on the way to the kart track we observed a small bird known as a Downey Woodpecker. They primarily eat ants and beetles and can often be seen pecking on trees in search of them. They supplement their diet with seeds and berries and this one was in the grass finding things to eat. In the winter they will also be seen at bird feeders eating suet. The small red dot on the back of the head marks this example as a male.

The North Halton Kart Club was founded in 1959 with only three members but they were off to the races and had 30 members by the following summer. This allowed them to rent a piece of land from a farmer in Limehouse and build their first peanut-shaped track which is marked in yellow on the Google Earth capture below. The track was originally unpaved but that only lasted a few races before the members set about fundraising and donating to have it paved in the summer of 1960. The karts were maintained by their owners and had to meet strict inspection before being allowed onto the track. Their engines ranged from 2.5 – 12 horse power and could reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. A second track is outlined in orange while other points of interest are marked in blue on the picture below.

Races were typically run on Sunday afternoons between 2 and 5 and would provide an outing for the whole family. Even the children got to have their turn, some of them beating their elders. Today the track has become overgrown in most places and if you look carefully in the picture below there’s a downed power line crossing the track at about a driver’s neck level.

The scoring booth sat at the corner of the original track and is the best preserved of the remaining buildings on the site. With broken windows and a smashed in door the weather will soon take this structure down.

An expanded second track was built with a loop that extended into the forest and back again. Much of this track has been covered over with new soil, especially at the top end, but the asphalt is just a centimeter or two below the surface.

At the top end of the forest loop is a small berm that was built to help keep the karts from jumping the track. From behind the berm looking back toward the forest loop you can see the berm even more clearly.

Walking into the trees behind the berm proved to be a good idea because we saw a Pileated Woodpecker ripping big chunks out of the sides of several trees as he searched for food. The small red stripe on the cheek near the beak marks this example as a male.

Terry Dalton was an active member of the North Halton Kart Club from 1978 until the end of the 1987 season when the track was closed for good. Terry provided me with some pictures that were taken when the track was in use as well as some valuable insight into what remains today. The picture below was supplied by Terry and shows karts coming back from the loop in the forest.

Scaffolding still stands in the centre of the track area but the power lines are down. Several lamp posts, which were installed in 1961, are on the ground as well. There are still a couple of loud speakers mounted around the area, including one near the old grandstands. The flag pole still stands in the middle of the site but the flag no longer waves. It’s interesting to note that when the park first opened the familiar Maple Leaf Flag wouldn’t be developed for another five years.

The grandstands used to provide seating for family members and guests to watch the races. Sometimes people would sit here and wait for their turn to take a few spins around the track. Today the seating faces the empty track but there is a new growth of trees that obscures the view. The grandstands appear to be one good windstorm away from falling over and perhaps those young trees are all that is holding it up these days.

The snack booth stood just behind the grandstands and it is in bad shape. The front has fallen off as has part of the roof and one side. Looking through the missing wall you can see the hood from the grill where food was prepared for those who were watching the day’s entertainment. There was a red squirrel standing in the window frame chattering at me like a server but the days of hot food, cold drinks and salty snacks are long gone.

The Maintenance Shed needs a little maintaining of its own. The back wall has fallen out of the building exposing a storage shelf of paint cans. The roof is gone and it too looks like it will be laying on the ground before too many more seasons pass by.

Below is another photo of the track when it was in operation which gives the area a bit of context. Once again it was provided by Terry Dalton who is in cart number 68 getting ready to round the turn and head toward the scoring booth.

In 1987 the property owners decided that the liability insurance the club carried was inadequate and attempted to force them to increase it. This was more than the club could afford and so at the end of the season a 27-year race to have fun came to an end. The lights were switched off for the last time and the 33 winters since then have taken their toll on everything.

It is said that the North Halton Kart Club attracted people from all over including many who were not regulars to the club. Paul Tracy and Scott Goodyear are reported to have raced there during their early years behind the wheel. Today, kart racers have to attend other tracks scattered around the province. Ironically, one of these tracks is at Mosport while the old North Halton Kart Klub track is looking more like mossport since nature has been working on reclaiming it.

This site provided one of my personal favourite explorations since the pandemic started and we began to visit forestry tracts and nature reserves instead of the busier trails.

Be sure to check out other sites while you are in the area. The Hole-In-The Wall and the Limehouse Kilns can be explored together.

Google Maps Link: Limehouse Conservation Area

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Cook Woodlot

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Cook Woodlot was once part of the property belonging to Thomas Cook who played an important role in the community of Carrville in Vaughan Township. The county atlas below shows his property outlined in green while the woodlot comprised the section closest to the Northern Railway line. Settlers would often clear most of their lot but left a woodlot that served them as a source of lumber and firewood. There is limited parking on Halo Court and residents would likely prefer people to park on Peter Rupert Avenue if they plan to visit. Notice that Peter Rupert owned the land below the woodlot and he lends his name to the avenue. His property extended west to Keele Street and was the site of Rupert’s Chapel in the former community of Sherwood, a Ghost Town of the GTA.

Cook woodlot is large enough to be home to a variety of animals. The oak trees seem to support a large number of squirrels. These in turn support a number of predators including red-tailed hawks and coyotes. The coyote in the picture below was sitting in the trees when I spotted it. It allowed me to get three successively closer pictures before it got up and took off.

I took two more pictures as it retreated. Although it took its eyes off of me it made sure I wasn’t following it. They have keen hearing and can detect the squeak of a mouse from 100 yards away.

Pear-shaped Puffballs grow on decaying logs and stumps. These ones were still fresh and had a white mass in the centre that hasn’t gone to spores yet. Some of these have been partially eaten by insects and they are considered choice edibles. Although, again, we promote a no picking type of hiking adventure.

An earlier crop of puffballs have reached the stage where they have released most of their spores. They have a small opening near the top of each of the small balls. When they are poked with a stick they still have enough spores to release a small green/brown cloud. Between the effects of wind and rain these spores will be released in an effort to spread the fungus to new hosts.

At the edge of the forest the trail turns and runs along the former pasture on Peter Rupert’s property. At the far end it comes to a paved trail that leads south to Rutherford Road and a large storm water pond. To the north it runs along the western edge of the wood lot and passes a couple more storm management ponds.

Cardinals have a curved beak and powerful set of jaws that allow them to crack hard seeds and nuts. Cardinals have one of the greatest varieties of seeds and nuts in their diet of any species in the local bird population. They eat about 40 different types of grass and sunflower seeds and during summer supplement 30% of their diet with various insects. This allows them to survive quite well in the winter as most of their food sources stay above the snow level.

There appeared to be a large population of juvenile DeKays Brownsnakes. One feature of the young snakes is their small patch at the back of the head. While we saw four different snakes there was one that stood out from the others. This specimen was more red than brown in colour.

On the lighter side, we found several places along the paved path where someone has written messages on the trail. It would appear that they made at least a second trip as I venture that very few people carry a piece of chalk in their pocket when they walk. The part that caught me funny was the fact that most of the feces on the trail wasn’t from a dog. Some contained a lot of seeds and was likely from racoons while other piles had a lot of fur in them suggesting that the local coyote was using the trail in more ways than one. It makes me think that someone should write on there: “You don’t know sh*t, this is coyote”, etc.

Thomas Cook left us a little more than a woodlot. You can’t fully tell his tale without touching on the community of Carrville. This was a mill town in support of a flour mill that was built by Michael Fisher in 1816. Thomas Cook and his brother William emigrated from England in 1831 and Thomas bought the mills from Fisher. He added other mills and built a store in 1856 which contained the post office from 1865 to 1923, of which he was the first post master. The Carrville Mill Dam was originally built in 1816 and must have been repaired many times. It still exists, but on private property, and is designated under the Ontario Heritage Trust. This dam served Cooks mills and it is said that his name is carved in the structure. The picture below was taken from the August 26, 1987 Town of Vaughan council act designating the dam.

The Primitive Methodists began meeting at Cook’s Mills as early as 1848 and in 1850 at the urging of Thomas they erected a white frame church near Bathurst Street. The land belonged to The Evangelical Association and they shared the building until 1857 when it was vacated by the Methodists in favour of their new church building. This church has been moved about a kilometer east on Rutherford Road and can be found in Wood Park.

Thomas Cook wanted the church to have its own land and so he donated it in 1857. He also provided the clay for the bricks which were made nearby on the property. To keep costs down he provided housing for the work crew while they erected the church building. He was known to provide the minister who served the church with lodging and a horse for his personal use. It was known as Cook’s Mills Primitive Methodist Church until it became Carrville Methodist in 1884. They joined the United Church in 1925 and continued to serve the community until the congregation could no longer support themselves and merged with the United Church in Maple. The building now serves as a community centre for the Jewish group Maon Noam.

Thomas Cook also donated land for a cemetery beside the church. Burials date back to 1860 and the cemetery is still active with interments in the past few years. A single tall white grave marker stands near the centre of the cemetery marking the resting places of Thomas Cook, his wife and two children.

Thomas was born in 1801 and after coming to Canada contributed greatly to his new home. He died on Christmas Day in 1877 and although there is a woodlot named after him there is no information plaque there to tell the story of his legacy.

Perhaps one day we’ll return with a feature story on Carrville as a feature story in our Ghost Towns of the GTA series.

Google Maps Link: Cook Woodlot

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Elder’s Mills – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday,October 3, 2020

Elder Mills began life as a farming community that centred around a set of mills where the Humber River crosses Rutherford Road at Highway 27. To investigate we started at Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve which can be accessed off of Napa Valley Road. The 1877 County Atlas section featured below shows the town and the location of the saw mill (SM) and grist mill (GM) on the Elder property as well as the Presbyterian Church (and cemetery (*PC). The school house (SCH) is across the road from the church. It also shows three properties that still contain the Robert Agar House (1855), John Lawrie House (1855) and James Sommerville House (1856) that form part of the legacy of Elder’s Mills.

In 1850 James Gibb Thompson started milling in the area by building a saw mill, grist mill and carding mill along the Humber River. He sold the business to David Elder in 1869 and in 1874 when the post office was opened on the corner of his property the town took the name Elder’s Mills. His children continued to run the grist mill and comb wool in the carding mill until 1919. The Vaughan Archives photo below shows one of the mill buildings but is unfortunately undated.

Elder’s Mills

At the foot of the ravine are a couple of flood control ponds which were showing steam fog this crisp morning. Water cools down slower than the surrounding land and cooler air will flow over the water. The warmth of the pond causes a thin layer of air above it to warm up and moisture evaporates into it. When this air mixes with more colder air coming in off the land a fog condenses out of the moist warmer air that looks like steam rising off the water.

A White Breasted Nuthatch was bobbing its way around the branches of a tree, often standing upside down. Walking straight down the branch of a tree is a quick indication that the bird you are watching could be a type of nuthatch. The back of the neck and cap of the head on the white breasted nuthatch is dark and make it appear to be wearing a hood. Nuthatches probe into cracks in the bark with their long straight bills and unlike woodpeckers they don’t lean against their tails when probing a tree.

There are two small storm water control ponds near the bottom of the hill that were originally separated by a row of about twenty small trees. All but four of these have recently been chewed off and dragged into the water to serve as food supplies. The picture below shows how ambitious the local beaver is as it is working on a much larger tree than it can possibly move after it fells it. It will then work on removing smaller branches and bringing them closer to the underwater entrance to their home.

The former Elder property has seen a few changes over the years. It spent 70 years as an industrial hub when the mills arrived and then it was later turned into a golf course. More recently it has been restored with new plantings and water management systems that allow meadows and wetlands to flourish all year. The noise of Elder’s Mills has been replaced with the tranquility of Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve.

American Goldfinch shed their bright yellow plumage after the mating season and it becomes harder to tell the male from the female. They are better set to blend in with their surroundings for the winter months. Some goldfinches will migrate south into the northern states while a few in eastern Ontario will move north into boreal forests for the winter.

There is a lookout two-thirds of the way up the side of the ravine that provides a nice view out across the nature reserve. The forests on the far side of Highway 27 are a bright red and orange that would really look nice on a sunny day.

The congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church had been meeting from as early 1841 in local homes. After the school building was erected they moved into it until they built their first frame church building in 1845. The church quickly grew to 175 members and by 1883 they had completed the construction of a new brick building on the same site. When the United Church was formed in 1925 nearly half of the congregation left to join the new denomination and the church never recovered its former size. In 1961 it closed and, sadly, the building was destroyed by fire in 1974. Older or damaged stones were gathered into a cemetery cairn in 1983. You can read about other Pioneer Cemetery Cairns in our feature presentation.

Across the road from the church stood the town school. The original frame structure was built in 1843 and then replaced with the structure that still stands behind a new front section. The bell appears to be missing from the small cupola but the date stone is still clearly legible. It reads “School Section No 15 Erected 1872”.

Robert Agar had his house built in 1845 and it is made of bricks manufactured on his farm. The use of light coloured bricks to form the quoins and add a pattern below the eaves makes this a very attractive home. There’s a rear entrance with a porch decorated with gingerbread.

James Sommerville built his story and a half house of split field stone collected on his farm. It was completed in 1856 and cut stone was used for the quoins as well as the window and door frames. It is a simple 5 bay Georgian style house and has recently been renovated and incorporated into the Arlington Estate Event Centre.

John Lawrie built his Georgian style house in 1855 at Lot 12, Concession 9 in Vaughan Township. Four generations of Lawrie family farmed on this lot over the next 120 years. John would have gone into Elder’s Mills to visit the post office for his mail and to get things for his farm. You can read more in our feature post John Lawrie Heritage House.

There were four other homes on Huntington Road that were listed on the Vaughan Heritage Register but only the Agar and Sommerville ones were designated. Developers have apparently demolished the others as the farms around them are being stripped for development.

Google Maps Link: Elder Mills Nature Reserve

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The Credit River – Georgetown

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The section of the Credit River north of Georgetown is one of my favourite places to hike and I’ve returned here a few times over the past thirty years. We typically park on Maple Avenue near River Drive. Once you cross the Credit River on the bridge you can follow the Credit Valley Footpath north to Terra Cotta or south to the Barber Dynamo. This is a side trail to the Bruce Trail and is marked with blue blazes.

The first point of interest is the site of the Barber Paper Mills. These historic Victorian era industrial buildings have sat vacant for over four decades. Several proposals for redevelopment and preservation have been left unfulfilled over the years and the fate of one of Heritage Canada’s 2015 top 10 most endangered sites remains unknown.

The roof on the former paper rolling building, built in 1852, is deteriorating quickly. When we released the feature story Barber Paper Mills in June of 2015 the roof was largely intact on the river side. The side of the roof facing the road was already collapsing at that time. An updated picture was featured in March of 2018 in our story Credit Valley Footpath at which time there were two small holes in the roof on the side facing the river. Today, the roof is collapsing and at least one beam has fallen in as well. Nature is relentless.

The dam that served the Barber Paper mills was replaced with a concrete one that still spans the river below the River Drive bridge. We initially followed the small trail close to the river but it doesn’t go very far past the remains of the old paper mill. You are forced to return to the formal trail and make your way into the forest that lines the sides of the ravine.

The trail follows the river and climbs the ravine three times between the road and the Barber Dynamo. There is one section that climbs a few steps and then follows the root system of the trees along the edge of the ravine. That part of the trail could be challenging in wet or snowy conditions.

The DeKay’s Snake is also known simply as a Brown Snake and has two distinct rows of black black spots running down each side of the back. With the colder weather coming on we may not see anymore snakes this year, but we’re always watching. I should have been watching a little closer because I almost stepped on this one before it slithered off the trail.

The Common Earthball is also known as Pigskin Poison Puffball. However, unlike other puffballs, earthballs do not have a single opening at the top but rather split open to release their spores.

The Grand Trunk Railway Bridge was built in 1855 and earned the nick-name the Iron Bridge. It crosses the 2000 foot wide river valley using 8 spans of 96 feet each and extensive berms on either side. The bridge rises 115 feet above the river. It was expanded in 2010 to accommodate a double track as part of GO Transit’s expansion of services.  Provision has been made for a third track in the future. 

Part of the trail runs through a forest of red oak trees. The weight of nuts or fruit in a forest is known as its “mast” and this year would be known as a big mast year because of the high volume of acorns produced. To have a big mast requires three factors, the first of which is sufficient rain in the fall to prepare the tree for a good spring flowering. Secondly, there can’t be a frost during the week that the female flowers are open in the spring. Lastly, once the acorns are growing they need to avoid summer droughts that can cause fungal problems. The acorns were dropping almost continually in the forest as we passed through, making it the first time we had to hike in acorn rain.

Positive identification of mushrooms can be difficult sometimes and these bright yellow mushrooms were not featured in my field guide or clearly singled out on line. The scales on the caps may indicate that they are poisonous. We don’t harvest mushrooms on our hikes, and recommend you don’t either, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if they are edible or not.

The Barber Dynamo is one of our favourite places to visit in the GTA and we have previously told the story of the building. Each time we take a new set of pictures there is some level of deterioration in the old stone building. Unfortunately it looks like we will eventually lose what remains of the first electrical generating plant to transmit power over wires for the operation of a mill. More details can be found in our feature story on the history of the Barber Dynamo.

The walls are starting to sag in various places and will collapse if steps are not taken to support them, perhaps in a manner similar to the work being done at Goldie Mill in Guelph.

Wolf’s Milk Slime is also known as Toothpaste Slime because of the consistency it has when it first comes out. If the balls are punctured before the spores are ready they will ooze a pink slime. Wolf’s Milk Slime grows between June and November on well rotted logs.

The Credit Valley Footpath continues out to the Tenth Line which could provide a less strenuous hike should you wish to visit the Dynamo. Perhaps we’ll use that end of the trail in the future as we continue to keep an eye on this heritage site over the coming years.

Google Maps Link : Barber Paper Mill

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Lower Don Trail

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Lower Don Trail runs along the Don River from Corktown Commons to Pottery Road. Having previously covered the section from Riverdale Park south to Corktown Commons in our feature The Don Narrows it was time to return and visit the north section. As before there was free parking on the end of Carlton Street at Riverdale Farm. A metal staircase leads you down the 88 steps to the floodplain of the Don River in Riverdale Park. The picture below shows the pedestrian bridge that crosses Bayview Avenue and the railway tracks. There’s a set of stairs that lead to the Lower Don Trail on the west side of the Don River.

South of the bridge the trail follows the section of the Don River that was straightened in the 1880’s. This section is sometimes referred to as The Don Narrows. Heading north the river quickly starts winding and turning as it follows its natural course. Blue Jays were out in abundance along the trail.

The Don River is known to flood its banks and the Don Valley Parkway during heavy rain storms but on this morning it was perfectly calm in many places. The railway bridge in the picture below belongs to Metrolinx and is currently not used. It leads to the Half Mile Bridge and makes an interesting walk. We have previously proposed that this section be turned into The Half Mile Bridge Trail, at least temporarily. It is currently illegal to walk along these tracks and when I was making my return along the trail I saw a Metrolinx rail truck driving along the tracks. That likely would have been trouble for anyone caught walking there.

The main trail heads north after crossing the Don river on a footbridge. The Bloor Viaduct spans the ravine and the trail passes underneath it. Officially known as the Prince Edward Viaduct, construction was started in 1915. A detailed story of the bridge can be found in our feature story The Bloor Viaduct.

Goldenrod is a member of the aster family and usually has the distinct disc and ray florets of a daisy. There are over 100 members of the goldenrod family and their tiny yellow flowers bring witness of the changing of the seasons.

A white tailed deer buck was casually grazing on the trees on the side of the Don River. This buck had 6 points on his antlers. Some people believe that you can tell the age of the animal by the number of points but this isn’t true. The deer will grow about 10 % of its potential antler mass in the second summer of its life. The third year it may reach 25-35% of its full growth. Out side the parks and ravines the male deer typically only live about four years due to hunting pressure. That obviously isn’t a factor in the downtown area. They say that the only real way to tell the age of a deer is to look at the teeth. This one let me get pretty close, but not quite that close.

A short distance north of the Bloor Viaduct is a public art display known as Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality. It contains fourteen cast concrete sculptures that were placed here in 2017.

The sculpture are recreations of gargoyles that adorn buildings in downtown Toronto. Old City Hall and Queens Park provided some of the inspiration for the artwork.

The artist is named Duane Linklater and he is an Omaskeko Cree from Moose Factory. Duane has been awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts as well as having won the Sobey Art Award. His display on the Lower Don Trail is intended to draw attention to the changing role of the Don River in the early industrialization of the city.

Side trails run along the edge of the river in places where the floodplain is wide enough. These can be much more interesting and you are more likely to see the local wildlife on these less used trails. Kingfishers were zipping up and down the river calling out in their urgent chatter and a couple of hawks were circling in the distance. This is the area where you may see one of the deer that reside in this greenbelt.

The Half Mile Bridge was replaced in the 1920’s with a wider bed on concrete piers. The old steel piers were all removed except the one on the west end by the Don Valley Brick Works.

As you approach Pottery Road you can see the chimney from Todmorden Mills which was the first industrial site in the new town of York (Toronto). I love the 1967 Canadian Centennial Maple Leaf that was installed at the top of the chimney during restorations that year.

When you reach Pottery Road you have the option to follow it across Bayview Avenue and explore the abandoned section which can be read about in our post Abandoned Pottery Road. If you follow the trail north it brings you to Beechwood Wetlands and Crothers Woods.

Google Maps Link: Lower Don Trail

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Pioneer Cemetery Cairns

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Vaughan has embraced a program of repairing and maintaining their pioneer cemeteries. Many of these are still associated with places of worship and are being maintained by the congregation. Others mark the location of a previous church building that no longer exists. These are being restored in the form of commemorative cairns.

Presbyterian Free Church Purpleville. The Presbyterian church in this area was started in 1846 in the kitchen of Jane Lucas’ log cabin. A church was built around 1860 and the last person to be buried in the cemetery was in 1879. The church building was disassembled and used in local farm buildings and the cemetery deteriorated badly. It was the first of the Vaughan restorations having been completed in 1962.

Hope Primitive Methodist Church. Hope or Nixon’s Chapel was built around 1840 as a Primitive Methodist Church. In 1884 the various Methodist congregations joined together into the Methodist Church of Canada. When the United Church was created in 1925 Hope joined and became the Hope United Church. By 1966 the congregation had dwindled to the point where they decided to join the Maple United Church and the building was sold and dismantled. The cemetery was restored in 1963 while the church was still active on the site.

Kleinberg Wesleyan Methodist Church. Methodist congregations were formed in many small towns in Ontario with the Kleinberg one being founded in 1856. The church building was erected in 1859 but by 1869 was too small for the congregation. The Kleinberg Evangelical Lutheran Church was unable to maintain their building and so they sold it to the Methodists along with the burial grounds behind it. In 1925 when they joined the United Church a new building was constructed in town and the old one demolished. The cemetery contains members of both congregations and was restored in 1964 in the shape of a cross with a flower garden in the middle.

Old St. Stephen’s Langstaff. An Anglican Church was built in 1838 on a plot of land donated by one of the Keffer brothers of Sherwood.  The property was owned by a member of the Zion Lutheran Church, honouring a longstanding history of cooperation between the two denominations.  In 1895 they built a new church on Keele Street on the north end of Maple. While looking at the names and dates on the markers I noticed that there were a lot of tombstones marking the graves of people who lived less than a year.  From the days of the first settlers in North America until the mid-1800s about 30% of infants did not survive their first year. The cairn was constructed in 1965. More can be read about this church and cemetery in our feature post Pioneer Heartbreak.

Rupert’s Chapel in Sherwood. In the early 1880’s Adam and Ann Rupert lived on Lot 16 Concession 3 of Vaughan.  On April 23, 1939 Peter Rupert deeded an acre of land for the construction of a Wesleyan Methodist church.  The Methodists worshiped here from 1840 until 1870 when they opened a new building in Maple.  The church building was purchased in 1885 by the Sherwood Church of Christ (Disciples) which had been meeting in homes prior to that.  They used the building until 1925 after which it sat empty until it was dismantled in 1944. The tombstones were collected into a cairn in 1966. More about the town of Sherwood can be found in our feature Sherwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA.

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Fisherville Presbyterian Church. The only surviving building from Fisherville is the Presbyterian church which was built in 1856.  It was located near the north east corner of Dufferin and Steeles but moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1960. The remaining tombstones were collected into a cairn in 1967. The story of Fisherville can be read in our feature Fisherville – Ghost Towns of the GTA.

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Pinegrove Congregational Church. This church was established in 1840 in a large frame structure that served the community of Pine Grove until 1864 at which time it was decided to build a new church on Islington Avenue. The old frame building was eventually demolished and the cemetery left until it was restored in 1968.

Cairn

Purpleville Wesleyan Church. Founded in 1840 this congregation met in homes until their church building was finally completed around 1850. The congregation remained small and by 1900 most of the remaining Methodists has either moved away or started attending church in Teston. The building stood vacant until being demolished in 1915 and the cemetery was restored in 1969.

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Edgeley Meeting House. The oldest existing church structure erected in Vaughan is the Edgeley Meeting House which was built in 1824. When the Mennonite congregation split in 1889 weekly meetings were discontinued. At first they were held monthly but by 1923 were discontinued. In 1976 the building was moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village while the cemetery was restored in 1985.

Cairn

St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. This is the only cairn presented here that is attached to a site with an active church congregation. The Upper Corner church was established in 1837 but erected its first building in 1844. A beautiful brick building was constructed in 1889 to replace the original and it remains in use at this time, although the congregation is meeting on-line due to Covid-19. Something the founders could never have imagined. The pioneer stones were restored in 1990.

Cairn

St. Paul’s 1889 church building.

Teston Wesleyan Church is an exception to this process of restoration. The congregation began in 1811 meeting in various homes. in 1845 they built a log church on the side of Teston Road. When it burned down in the late 1860’s the church was replaced with a new one at the main intersection in town. The early pioneers now lay in unmarked graves with no tombstones at all. Perhaps they are in storage for some later restoration project.

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There are several other restored cairns around Vaughan which will eventually be photographed and added to this collection.

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Bindertwine Park

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Bindertwine Park is on the edge of Kleinberg and is the northern trail head for an eight kilometre section of the Humber Trail known as the William Granger Greenway. It runs from Kleinberg to Boyd Conservation Area following the East Humber River. The trail is temporarily broken at Major Mackenzie Drive as the bridgework there requires the use of heavy machinery. We followed the empty trail south, enjoying a beautiful Wednesday morning on a vacation day from work.

Bedstraw Hawk Moth Caterpillars are usually green, but can be brown, with black bands and pairs of yellow spots. Another distinct feature is the tail, or horn, on the rear end which is always red. The moth is tan and olive brown with a red stripe on the hind wing that fades to white at the edge. It has a wingspan that is up to 80 millimeters wide and flies between May and October. This caterpillar will make a cocoon in a shallow burrow and overwinter there. In the spring it will appear as a moth and start the lifecycle again by laying eggs.

It was a day for seeing a variety of insects although the biting kind were not too bad. Praying mantis are carnivorous and will eat many other insects and even other praying mantises. The female is said to often consume the male either during or after intercourse. She will then lay an egg sack which will contain hundreds of eggs. The little ones hatch looking much like miniature versions of their parents. We saw several praying mantis which are easy to spot when they fly because of their size compared to other flying insects. Once they land their resemblance to the plants they live on makes them hard to pick out.

An unusual piece of art stands along the side of the trail tells you that you are getting close to the McMichael Canadian Art Gallery. The sculpture is called the Peace Making Machine and was built in 2011 out of ash planks and steel pipe. We continued along the trail heading south from the gallery.

Apart from the main trail there are several smaller side trails. These are limited because the area is environmentally sensitive and they don’t want people wandering throughout the woods. We followed one small trail up the side of the ravine to the top and then back down again.

Part way up we found a garter snake that was moving sluggishly toward some sunnier places up the trail. Snakes don’t fatten up for the winter like mammals do because they don’t hibernate, they do something called brumation. Their metabolism slows down when its cold to the point that they use almost no energy all winter. Their biggest challenge is to get deep enough to be below the frost line so that they don’t freeze to death. Places where this can be accomplished are relatively few and so snakes will often spend the winter in large groups.

There were purple asters and lots of goldenrod along the sections of the trail that pass through meadows. Dozens of types of pollinators were at work among the wild flowers including bumble bees, honey bees, moths, butterflies, hornets and various types of hover flies.

We made it to where the trail went under Major Mackenzie Drive and had to stop because of the active construction site at the bridge. On the way back we heard the chittering of a red squirrel as it scolded us. It had been busy building mounds of pine cones at the base each tree. This isn’t pandemic hoarding, it’s just normal behaviour for red squirrels who don’t bury their food stores.

We decided to take a different trail on the way back and passed through the grounds of The McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Along with their gallery and art exhibits they also have a building known as the Tom Thomson Shack. It was built in the Rosedale Ravine for a cabinet maker and later used as a tool shed during the construction of a low rent artist studio. By the fall of 1915 Thomson had moved into the shack and he lived and worked there until his death in 1917. In 1962 the shack was purchased and moved here.

Outdoor art is a large part of the exhibit at the gallery. The Shibagau Shard was added to the collection in 1989 and uses a single piece of granite to depict native petroglyphs and pictographs.

The main trail is in pretty good shape and is likely good for walkers or wheel chairs when the ground is dry. The signs of fall are in the plant world and the picture below shows a group of sumac trees that are just starting to take on their red colours.

The compton tortoiseshell butterfly can be seen from July until November and then the adults hibernate over the winter. They can be found in meadows near deciduous forests of aspen, willows and paper birch.

There are several more trails at the McMichael property which will require an additional hike to fully experience what they have to offer.

Other trails in the area that are interesting to explore include William T Foster Woods, Kortright Centre and Boyd Conservation Area.

Google Maps Link: Bindertwine Park

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Tyrone Mill

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Tyrone mill is the last surviving, commercially operated, water powered mill in the GTA, and one of very few in all of Ontario. The village was founded around 1828 although records of it’s beginning are unclear. At one time the settlement was split with the English living on the eastern end in a community named Mount Hope while Irish settled on the western end in Tyrone. In 1840 the two ends decided to have a cricket match to see what the town would be called. The western side won and the town became known as Tyrone. The county atlas below shows the narrow town stretched out along the side road with no side streets. The road no longer goes around the mill pond and continues north and although it has been closed for decades it can still be traced on Google Earth.

The mill dates back to 1846 when James McFeeters and John Gray built a dam on Bowmanville Creek and erected a grist mill. The mill operated under different owners until 1908 when milling grain became unprofitable and the mill was converted to preparing feed stock. Even this operation didn’t last and by the late 1970’s the mill was once again in danger of closing permanently. It was purchased by Bob Shafer who decided to operate it as a water powered saw and grist mill and cater to those with a sense of the historic. It has now become a popular destination in the GTA where a short drive that can take you back into the pioneer lifestyle of the past.

Today the mill operates on the power supplied by a water wheel but in the past it has been supplied by a turbine. Parts of that turbine are now on display outside the mill.

The entrance to the mill still has an old bell which was once operated by a string that runs into the building to alert the owners that someone was entering. They could have been anywhere around the mill but would come to take care of their customers.

It also has its own small blacksmith shop and in the early days Abraham Younie operated a barrel shop that served the export trade of the grist mill. Younie owned property on the east end of town and later opened a stave factory to make the wooden parts for his cooper shop to turn into flour barrels.

Inside the mill there is a store tucked around all of the original mill structure. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions I was unable to see the full extent of the mill and its workings. The side of the store with the baker in it was closed off but baked goods could still be purchased, including fresh baked bread. One of the specialties of the mill bakery is home-made doughnuts and I was able to get some that were still slightly warm. Rolled in cinnamon and sugar these were the closest thing to the ones my great-grandmother used to make for us when we visited as children.

The blacksmith shop in Tryone was erected by a local mason named Richard Treneuth who is credited with several other stone buildings in the area. The blacksmith shop was built in 1860 for George Emmerson. The shop then passed to his apprentice Robert McCullough who operated it from 1895 to 1950.

Byam’s General Store stands across the street from the blacksmith shop. It occupies the site of a former hotel. The previous hotel was complete with a number of horse sheds in the back that have been replaced with lawn and trees.

Prior to 1860 the children in town had to walk two miles to get to their classes in either school section 10 or 13. Then a school was erected in town that took in parts of each of these school sections and created a new one. Then in 1892 the town built a beautiful brick school house, complete with a bell tower, on the site of the earlier school.

Across the street from the Methodist Church stands Tyrone Community Hall which was erected in 1925.

Methodist preachers traveled throughout the communities in Upper Canada and founded churches in almost every one of them. A small church had been built in the 1830’s but within a decade it was too small and was replaced with a new building in 1844. By 1868 this was also too small and was replaced with the present building which now houses the United Church.

John Gray owned the only stone house in the early town. He was one of the original settlers in the area, having arrived in 1810.

This house is a surviving example of the Georgian Style which was popular for many of the earliest homes in Upper Canada. This house was built by Samuel Bingham but was occupied by Samuel Younie for many years.

Tyrone Mill is a place that I will be visiting again to get a better look around when I can go upstairs to see the saw mill in operation and perhaps enjoy the added bonus of the excellent bakery.

Google Maps Link: Tyrone

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