Old Finch Avenue

 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Until 1954 Old Finch Avenue crossed The Rouge River on a steel truss bridge.  Hurricane Hazel demolished the bridge on October 15, 1954 and shifted the cut stone abutments to the point where they were no longer usable.  The quick solution was to install a temporary bailey bridge which we decided to visit.

The river has cut steep embankments through this area of sand and gravel that can be seen from Google Earth.  The capture below is taken from there.  The blue line roughly shows the areas we hiked.  There is parking for The Meander Trail at the turnaround on Old Finch Avenue beside the bailey bridge.

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The bailey bridge is 130 feet long and was constructed by the 2nd Field Engineer Regiment in just 3 days.  The Field Engineer Regiment dates back to January 14, 1876 when the unit was created.  They are based in Toronto and continue to parade at the Denison Armoury at Downsview Park every Friday night.  Following the hurricane, which claimed 81 lives, there was a need to rapidly repair infrastructure to keep people from being isolated from food and medical needs.

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After crossing the bridge we made our way into the bush on a worn trail that turned toward the river pretty quickly.  The picture below shows the river looking upstream toward the only suspension bridge in Toronto which is around the next bend on Sewell’s Road.

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It was a day for finding dead animals and we were surprised to find a dead deer that looked like it had been well scavenged.  It turns out that even small birds that eat suet at your feeder will pick at a deer carcass.  Within a couple of feet of each other we also found a dead crayfish and a dead salmon.  The salmon must have been one of the last of the fall spawning run.  It too has been well scavenged as nature feeds nature and nothing is left to waste.

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At the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago, all of Toronto’s ravines were full of rushing melt water from the retreating glacier.  Ice had been a kilometre thick over the area and our extensive system of ravines was created as it melted.  Ravines and embankments were eroded that are way out of scale for the size of rivers that currently flow through them.  Where The Rouge River turned corners around this hogs back it carved the large embankments that can be seen in the Google Earth capture above.

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After we  had followed the river around we arrived back at the bailey bridge.

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It is an odd feeling standing below the bridge as a car rattles past overhead.  The bridge decking is in good condition and looks like it has been replaced at some point.

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This picture, as well as the cover photo, show the extent that the abutments were thrown out of alignment by the hurricane.  Bridges over the rivers in Ontario have gone through several phases with the early wooden ones lasting for only an average of ten years.  Later steel truss bridges were built on cut stone abutments which were themselves often replaced with concrete abutments and new bridges early in the twentieth century.  Old Finch Road wasn’t so old when the cut stone abutments were placed here but traffic and maintenance costs never mandated a new bridge prior to 1954.

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Looking from the inside of the abutment you can see why the military decided the abandon the stonework and install a temporary bailey bridge.  The field engineers who built it likely never expected it to last more than about 20 years, let alone nearly 65.

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Before returning to the car we made the quick walk around a short trail that is part of Rouge National Urban Park.  The Finch Meander Trail runs for 250 metres and lets you have a closer look at the river near the bailey bridge.  From here we went to the site of  Hillside Church and cemetery on Old Finch Road.  The church opened on November 18, 1877 as a part of the Scarborough circuit of the Methodist Church.  This meant that it didn’t have a permanent minister at that time and one would come for Sunday services.  The property was donated in trust to several local men for the purpose of the church and cemetery.  Among them was John Sewell (Sewells Road with the suspension bridge), Peter Reesor (Reesor’s Road) and George and James Pearse (Toronto Zoo property).  In 1925 they became part of the Mount Zion United Church and today the building is still the same inside and out as when it was first opened.

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The church cemetery is the final resting place for many of the early settlers from the community.  This includes members of the Pearse family who owned the house that is now the nearby visitor centre at Rouge National Urban Park.  You can read more about them and see the house by clicking here.

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The community of Hillside has become a vanished village where a few homes and the school remain along with the church.  Perhaps we’ll return one day for a Ghost Towns of the GTA feature.

Google Maps Link: Old Finch Avenue

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Rouge National Urban Park – Vista Trail

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Rouge National Urban Park continues to grow with new properties being added to the park this fall. The park is currently about 63 square kilometres but will expand to include over 79 square kilometres when it is complete.  There are over 12 kilometres of trails at the moment but this too is set to increase.  The Vista Trail is a 1.0 kilometre loop with a 0.6 kilomtre tail that takes you out to Twyn Rivers Road near The Mast Trail and Maxwell’s Mill.  We accessed the trail from Zoo Road where we were able to park.  The historical atlas below has been rotated 90 degrees to make it easier to read and to fit better.  The Vista Trail has been drawn in black between the Little Rouge and Big Rouge.  The original location of the Pearse House has also been circled for reference.

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In the 1830’s three Pearse brothers names James, John and George left England and moved to Toronto.  James Pearse bought 200 acres at the intersection of today’s Meadowvale Road and Old Finch Avenue.  The family grew and the 1869 farm house was enlarged until in 1893 it was rebuilt around them as they continued to live in the house.  The brick veneer was decorated with ornate patterns and the picture below shows the date above the upstairs window.  When the property was purchased for use as a new zoo in the early 1970’s The house was moved to the present location and restored for use as the visitor centre for Rouge Park.  The coating of plain white paint that had been added over the years was removed to reveal the brickwork below.

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Ontario Power Generation has been in partnership with the park since 2010 and was responsible for building a viewing platform along the trail.  Rouge National Urban Park has over 1700 different species of plants, animals and fungi including all eight native species of bats.

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From the top of the viewing platform you have a great view down to the Little Rouge.  The vista from here would have been quite different a couple of weeks ago when the fall colours were still out.  Today, you can pick out the oak trees easily due to the brown leaves that still cling to the trees.

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The Vista Trail is well named because you get a view as you make your way along the ever narrowing strip of land.  The slope on the right drops away toward the Rouge River while the one on the left leads to the Little Rouge.

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Ferns growing along the side of the trail provide a splash of green among the dead leaves and snow.  Christmas Ferns are evergreen and for that reason are often grown in winter gardens.

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Having reached Twyn Rivers Road we made our way back up the hill to the point where the loop splits.  This time we took the trail to the left keeping closer to the Rouge River.  We find some odd things in the woods most weeks but one of the more unusual ones is the skeleton of a transport truck.

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It would appear that there are many more explorations to be made in Rouge National Urban Park.  Here again are the links to the Mast Trail and Maxwell’s Mill.

Google Maps Link: Vista Trail

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Downsview Park

 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

One of the GTA’s newer parks, Downsview Park is 291 acres of the former Royal Canadian Air Force Station Downsview.  Last weekend we had investigated William Baker Park where a housing community had been built by the military.  The woodlot has been preserved and can be seen as a rare original woodlot on the county atlas map below where it is circled in green.  A detailed history of the military operations at the site can be found in a link at the end of this post.  Many of the properties seen on the 1877 map were taken over for the air base including the property  which is shown as Edward Boake (spelled Roake on the atlas).  His homestead is circled in brown and shows the headwaters for the small creek that was used to form the lake in the new park.  The atlas also shows two tollgates on what would become Dufferin Road.  These tolls were levied on users of the plank road that had been built along this concession.  More on the plank road can be found in this post.  Beginning in 1995 plans were developed to turn the former air force base into a series of new residential communities and a new urban park to be called Downsview Park.

Downsview Map

Several generations of the Boakes family farmed the family homestead before having it expropriated by the military for the air force base.  The home stood until around 1962 when it was demolished.  A few lines of mature trees in the new urban forest mark the outline of the front yard of the home.

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Forty-five acres are planned for urban forest in the park.  The heart of this is the Boakes Grove which contains many mature trees but is not a mature forest.  Most of the area around the Boakes home was open fields with just a few trees along the lane and fence lines.  Silver Maples, Walnut and Black Locust are common here but most of the trees are very small and will mature into a nice forest over the next couple of decades.

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The soil in the park was heavily compacted and full of pollutants and needed remediation before planting could begin.  The soil was churned-up to a depth of 60 centimetres to loosen it up and provide aeration.  Then, a 10-centimetre layer of composted leaves was spread on top to provide nutrients for growing the urban forest.  Volunteers and community groups have planted thousands of trees in the park.   There are 45 acres of parkland set aside for the urban forest which will mature over the next 40 years becoming a dynamic biosystem.

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At the very heart of Downsview Park is a 9-acre lake that has been built as an integral part of the water system in the park.  The lake is the final step in a water purification system to ensure the water is clean before it is discharged into Black Creek.  The park has been graded to direct the flow of storm water and slow it down so the ground has time to naturally filter the water.  It passes through a series of bioswales and filtration ponds.  Finally it flows into the pond which is normally about 3-metres deep but which can rise and additional metre during storm events.  The lake has a circuit path that allows you to stroll around the edge as you watch for the multitude of birds that call the park home.  The lake sits on the headwaters of a tributary of Black Creek and can be seen marked in blue on the county atlas above.

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A row of mature maple trees in the middle of a field has a story to tell.  The lake is brand new and most of the other trees are very young.  When this was an active farm run by generations of Boakes trees didn’t grow in the middle of crop fields.  Fence lines always provided a few feet of growing room and trees that got started there were left to grow.  This particular line of trees marked the southern property line of the Boakes farm.

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The orchard in Downsview Park is rather recent compared to the one that is shown on the property in the county atlas.  Many of the original settlers planted orchards to help feed their families.  Many of these early orchards still exist, at least in part.  One of the better preserved ones can be found in Erindale.  The original orchard on the Boakes property was, as usual, close to the house.  The community orchard in Downsview Park was started in 2012 when 200 fruit trees were planted.  A second major planting in 2017 has brought the total to over 400 trees.  Apples, plums, apricots and pears now grow here to educate the community.  Other gardens are scattered around the pavilion including a patch of blueberries that are not very common in the GTA.

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The land was originally chosen by de Havilland because it was flat and therefore suitable for aircraft manufacture because it could support a runway.  Flying aircraft from the facility to their new owners is the most practical way to deliver the product to the end user.  A large mound has been made, partially with soil excavated in the construction of the lake.  An unofficial path leads up the side of the mound.

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Climbing the mound gives you a panoramic view of the park and the city.  Lake Ontario can be seen in the distance as you look south.  The picture below looks toward Keele Street and the man-made lake.

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There is plenty of wildlife in Downsview Park.  This red-tailed hawk was seen along with a Cooper’s Hawk and a dozen smaller birds as we made our way around the park.  Deer, coyote and a host of smaller mammals can be found throughout the woods and grasslands.  This picture was taken the day before and shows the industrial buildings in the south of the park.

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A gaggle of geese has gathered on the open field near the old central heating plant.  Most of these geese will fly south for the winter but in this era of milder winters we are seeing more birds remain behind.  Sometime they have a real struggle for food in the winter however, please don’t feed ducks and geese with bread.  They don’t digest it and it bloats in their stomachs.  This fills them up and prevents them from eating food which they can get nutrition from.

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For the smaller children a new playground has been added with several aviation themed toys including a small airplane.  The concrete pad around the playground has been painted to simulate a runway.  Windsocks are commonly used at airports to provide visual clues to pilots concerning wind direction and strength.  According to Transport Canada regulations the design of a windsock should cause it to perform consistently.  A wind speed of 15-knots should fully extend a windsock.  At 10-knots the sock should be about 5 degrees below horizontal, as the ones pictured below are.  If the sock is 30 degrees below horizontal it means the wind speed is 6-knots.

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This concludes our current series on Downsview Park.  Click on the link for the story of the officer’s housing and the William Baker Woodlot.  For the history of RCAF Downsview before the creation of the park you can click on the link above.

Google Maps Link: Downsview Park

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RCAF Station Downsview

Sunday, November 4, 2018

This blog looks at the former military base in Downsview and is part one of a two part story which included an exploration of our new urban park.  The site of Downsview Park has a long history including being home of the first aircraft manufacturing plant in Canada.  In April of 1929 de Haviland Aircraft of Canada purchased 70 acres of land along Sheppard Avenue and moved their operations from Mount Dennis.  The property was chosen because it was flat and sat at a high elevation. de Havilland erected a 20,000 square foot building and hired a staff of 35 to start production of airplanes.  The original building still stands at 65 Carl Hall Road.  The section of old Sheppard Avenue that runs through the base is now known as Carl Hall Road.  Many of the roads on the base were named after World War One heroes and Carl Hall served and died at the river Seine on October 10, 1916.   The original manufacturing plant is one of a collection of twelve properties on the site that are collectively being considered for historic designation.

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Between 1936 and 1938 de Havilland added a new main building (75 Carl Hall), paint shop and hanger.

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Additional land along Sheppard was purchased and production facilities were expanded during the Second World War when the facility began producing war planes.  Their staff grew to 2,400 and in 1942 they produced 550 Tiger Moths and another 362 Ansons.  That year they also developed the Mosquito fighter bomber at their Downsview plant.  When the war was over de Havilland went back to making commercial airplanes.  The Canadian Military maintained an interest in the runway at de Havilland and in 1947 bought up 270 of the surrounding properties to form RCAF Station Downsview.  The expanded runway is still in use to the east of the hanger where a small plane readies for take-off.

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After the war the air force moved the 400 Squadron to Downsview and reformed the 401 Squadron there.  These two Auxiliary Squadrons became the heart of a new Air Material Base.  In 1952 the Department of National Defense was given control of the lands and they granted de Havilland a long term lease on some land to the south of the base.  With de Havilland moved out, the air force soon built maintenance buildings, headquarters and housing.  They expanded the runways and in 1962 expropriated the section of Sheppard Avenue that crossed the base.  In exchange, the military granted 86 feet of land along the north end of the runway for the construction of a new Sheppard Avenue.  It is good to see that several of the maintenance buildings at 60 Carl Hall have been re-purposed and Wildlife Rescue occupies at least one of them.  The portion with the curved roof was built in 1928 as a hangar at de Havilland’s airstrip at Mount Dennis.  It features a rare wooden bow truss structure and is the oldest building on the grounds.

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In 1954 the RCAF built No. 1 Supply Depot.  This massive building covers 18.5 acres and was designed to survive the largest non-nuclear bomb of 1951.  It was also built with a one-million gallon storage tank beneath it.  Storm water was collected here for use as fire suppression.  It was also pumped onto the roof at times to reflect the sunshine and control the temperature inside.  Today it is 40 Carl Hall Road and among may other uses it houses a weekend flea market where one can buy some amazing shortbread cookies.

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Plant Complex Number 3 was built by de Havilland at 35 Carl Hall in 1952 and consists of three buildings.  The rear of the complex includes two sets of concrete ventilation towers and chambers.  These were used in the development and testing of advancements in the testing and repair of jet engines.  The building was still rented by de Havilland after they moved into their new home later in 1952.

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A central heating plant was used to supply heat to over 2 million square feet of buildings on the site.  The concrete construction uses fireproof cladding on the outside.  Four chimneys on the south side of the building mark the huge boilers inside.

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Most of the historic buildings on site have been put into service with new tenants.  A notable exception is the old fire hall at 10 Carl Hall Road.  There are several older fire halls in the city that display fine architecture and ornate styles but by the 1950’s a more utilitarian style took over and buildings became purely functional.  The 1953 fire hall at Downsview had two bays on the east side, one of which could be driven straight through and out the west end.  As a result of the style few fire halls from this period survive once they are decommissioned as it is hard to find new tenants.  This shuttered fire hall is one of the very few that remain from this era that are not still in active service.

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On the base the housing was divided into two sections.  At the north end of the base the Officers lived in William Baker Park where 81 detached and semi-detached houses were constructed.  The historic county atlas shows the area of William Baker as virgin trees in 1877, one of the rare spots on the map.  Today those houses have been removed and William Baker Park stands as a ghost town where the streetlights preside over empty streets and the houses have been demolished.  In the south end of the base a grouping of  barracks known as Stanley Greene were constructed for the enlisted men.  These were damaged in the Sunrise Propane Explosion on Aug. 10, 2008 and were demolished in 2009.  They have since been replaced by a great number of stacked townhouses.

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Although the base closed in April 1996 the military has not completely moved out.  Defense Research Development Canada operates DRDC Toronto along Sheppard Avenue near Dufferin Street.  They have a display of military equipment in front of their building including the CF-5 Freedom Fighter jet seen on the cover and in this picture.  An M113 APC is on display adjacent to the jet.  The display also incorporates two Sherman Firefly tanks, a floating pontoon bridge and several other pieces of military equipment.

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The pictures and story of our exploration of Downsview Park will be featured in an upcoming post.

Google Maps Link: Downsview Airforce Base

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William Baker Park

 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

In 1947, following the end of the Second World War, the Canadian Government purchased 270 properties near the De Havilland Aircraft manufacturing facility in Downsview.  That year, RCAF Station Downsview was opened north of the city.  For the next 50 years the role of the base rose and declined with the cold war as the city grew all around the base.  In 1996 it was decided to close the base and developers started thinking about all the prime land Downsview was occupying.  It amounted to one of the largest undeveloped spaces in the city.  We set out to explore the small area of former military housing at the north end of the base and perhaps Downsview Park as well.  The capture below is from Google Earth on December 31, 2004 and shows the double row of houses set around the curve of Robert Woodhead Crecent at the bottom and John Drury Drive at the top of the picture.

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When the housing was built Sheppard Avenue was on the original alignment.  When it was realigned and widened a new bridge was built to allow easy access for personnel to get to work at the base.  At the foot of the bridge stand two larger parking lots that still retain one flag pole.  A mounting plate for a second one can be seen on the right of the sidewalk.  Perhaps the park could one day fly the Canadian and Provincial flags at the corner of Keele and Sheppard.  This little piece of grass with the flag poles was on the south side of the original alignment of Sheppard Avenue which can be seen in the background of the picture below.

Robert Woodhead Crescent and John Drury Drive are named after Canadian soldiers from World War 1.  Between them they contained 81 houses, mostly built in 1953. Eight more were added in 1971 and the last six were built in 1980-1981.  Today, the curving roads have been given benches for pedestrians to stop and relax while cyclists, joggers and feral cats pass by.

Generations of families lived in these homes, raising their children and celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.  There are still a few clues to the daily lives of the former inhabitants.  When the base closed in 1996 ownership of the three housing lots in the Downsview area was passed to the Canadian Forces Housing Authority.  In 2009 they sold the property to Canada Lands Company who are responsible for the redevelopment of the Downsview lands.  They began that year by demolishing the military housing known as Stanley Green at the south end of the base.  Some of these homes had been damaged by the Sunrise Propane explosion of August 10, 2008.  The William Baker houses fared a little better but the last of the families moved out of there in October 2012.  A clothes line that may have held a line of drying clothes on a beautiful day in October still remains nailed to a tree in the picture below.

When the government expropriated the farm lands for the base they got some prime farm land.  Farmers often left the ravines as woodlots because they were difficult to farm and provided wood for heating and fence posts.  The woodlot at William Baker was already an established climax forest and the military left it intact.  Today there are trees that are over 100 years old in the forest and it is a great place for a walk in the fall.  The 30 acre woodlot has been protected from development in the Downsview Secondary Plan of 2015.

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This private little community was featured in the 2010 Bruce Willis movie Red.  After the closure of the base, military families continued to live in the housing.  Many of them attended the military college on Wilson Road.  Today driveways are already becoming indistinct as nature takes over and grasses begin to invade the pavement.

Power lines have been removed from some of the poles but the transformers were left behind.  If these lands are redeveloped these poles will be removed but I wonder what will happen if it is left as a natural area.  Will the poles be taken out or left to fade into the forest as it takes over?

Nature has a way of using everything and switch boxes have become sheltered homes for funnel spiders.

There are some large trees in the woodlot and white tailed deer have made the former community their home.  Fields of milkweeds suggest that this will be a prime habitat for monarch butterflies in the coming years.  Many of the birds have left for warmer climates but the woods must be alive with songbirds in the summer.  It’s getting late in the season but the hardier species of mushrooms can still be found and this log has turkey tails growing around the end and all down the sides.

The sewer grates in the roads are dated 1953, 1979, 1980 and as recent as 2006.  A few houses were added at the back of John Drury Drive in the mid-1980’s but sewer upgrades were ongoing even ten years after the army closed the base.

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Here and there reminders of the recent past can be found in the woods and the power is in fact, still turned on as we noted on one of the meters.  At night, the street lights still come on to provide a measure of safety in the park.

Whats next for William Baker Park?  If the developers have their way there will be 6,700 new residents living in the 3534 new units they plan to build.  The woodlot will be saved and the rest of it would be cleared for mid-rise condominiums, capped at 15 stories.  At least that was the plan as laid out in the Downsview Secondary Plan from which the map below is taken.  However, Toronto City Council voted 43-0 to request the federal government sell the property to the city so it can be held as a city park forever.   William Baker Park is outlined in blue on the map below while the section of forest to be saved is outlined in green.  On the map the newly created Downsview Park between Keele Street and the Canadian National Railway is small in comparison to the size of the former base.  At the bottom left of the map is a section marked with little squares that was the Stanley Green housing and has already been redeveloped into townhouses.

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Having wondered the quiet trails of William Baker Park I am convinced that it should remain a park.  We never made it to Downsview Park and so that waits for another week.

For other military themed posts see: Military Burying Grounds, The Battle of York, The Battle of Queenston Heights, The Rebellion of 1837 and The Arsenal Lands

Google Maps Link: William Baker Park

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Bruce Trail – Olde Base to The Forks

Saturday, October 20, 2018

In a previous post we had looked at The Devil’s Pulpit having approached from the Forks of the Credit road.  Thinking that the fall colours might still hold some charm we decided to hike to the pulpit from the south.  When possible, we like to hike longer sections of the Bruce Trail using two cars.  We met on the Forks of the Credit Road near the end of Chisholm Street where we left one car.  We drove east to McLaughlin Road and then two concessions south through the historic community of Inglewood to Olde Base Line.  There is parking for a few cars west of here where Chinguacousey Road dead-ends.  The Bruce Trail roughly follows the old road allowance north from here.  It was an ideal morning for a hike in the woods with the sun shining and the smell of fall in the air.

The remains of an old split rail fence snake their way through the woods.  These fences were often the first method a farmer employed to divide his fields.  They were easy to build and could be made from material cut from the property.  They also provided the farmer with the option to reconfigure his fields, changing the size and shape of them quite easily. Their biggest drawback came in the amount of land that was used in their construction.  In later years when farming techniques improved and productivity was sought from the greatest amount of land possible.  The wooden snake fence was often replaced with flat wire fencing.

There are several ponds along the side of the trail that appear to have formerly been aggregate extraction sites.  Many of these former quarries along the Niagara Escarpment are now flooded and have become important wildlife habitats.  Mother nature reclaims her own.

Original property owners found that land grants along the top of the Niagara Escarpment were often not the best farmland.   The climax forests provided an initial resource in wood but this was soon exhausted.  Many land owners then sought to make money off the natural resources on the escarpment.  Transportation costs meant that many small quarries could no longer be profitable when local road building projects were completed and the market moved farther from the quarry.  Other uses for the property then had to be developed.  Grants have been offered at various times over the years for property that is reforested.  The production of maple syrup can turn a forest into a profit centre for a few weeks each spring and there are remains of sugar shacks in the woods.

Eventually the trail emerges onto a small section of Chinguacousey Road that provides access to one of these aggregate extraction sites.  Deforest Brothers Quarries is licenced to operate a quarry that is just over 10 hectares in size.  They are allowed to extract up to 20,000 tonnes of material per year.  How ironic that the Deforest Brothers have been cutting down trees to reveal their product.

The trail follows the Grange Side Road west for one concession until it reaches the third line, now known as Creditview Road. Once again, the Bruce Trail heads north along the old right of way for the road.  The road was never completed through to connect with the Forks of the Credit Road because the Devil’s Pulpit lies in the way.

The fall colours are still quite vivid on some of the trees but most of them are past their prime.

White Baneberry grows in a small patch along the trail.  Birds will eat the berries and the seeds pass through their digestive system and are deposited somewhere else to start a new plant.  Toxins in the seeds are known to have a sedative effect on the human heart muscle and ingestion can lead to cardiac arrest and possibly death.

This beautiful pond is one of several along this stretch of the trail.

When you reach the top of The Devil’s Pulpit the view is quite spectacular at any time of the year.

Stairs and a guide wire help you up or down the side of the escarpment.

The rock face at The Devil’s Pulpit must have been an interesting place to work every day.  Workplace standards have changed considerably in the last 150 years.

The trail continues to descend and passes the Ring Kiln Side Trail that leads to the Hoffman Lime Kilns.  This 0.6 kilometre trail leads to a dozen set kilns built in a ring for the burning of limestone.  As the trail descends to the former Credit Valley Railway it uses another set of stairs.

On the way back to the car near Olde Base Line we decided to check out the one-lane rail bridge where the CVR was built over The Grange Sideroad.

We encountered very few people for such a nice fall day on the Bruce Trail.

Google Maps link: Forks of the Credit

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Caledon’s Stone Culverts

October 13, 2018

Just west of Palgrave are two culverts made of cut stone that have been given heritage designations by the town of Caledon.  We decided the check them out and found parking on Patterson Sideroad just west of Duffy’s Lane.

The Hamilton & North-Western Railway (H&NW) was built in 1877 as far as Barrie and completed into Collingwood by 1879.  Various sections had been opening upon completion during construction but the official opening was in December of this year.  The next decade saw mergers and extensions until the entire network was taken over by The Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in 1888.  One of the GTR’s first projects appears to have been the upgrade of trestles across the Humber River and a nearby tributary known as Coffey Creek.  The rail line passes through this area on an extensive berm which suggests that the track originally crossed the waterways on high wooden trestles.  Culverts of cut stone were built below the trestles and later buried when the trestle was filled in to match the berms on either end.  The map in the county atlas shows the railway during the two years that it was known as the H&NW.  The Humber River crossing has been coloured in blue while Coffey Creek on the left is a lighter blue.

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Just east of Patterson Road the trail crosses Coffey Creek and the first of the two stone culverts.  By climbing down the rail berm you can reach the mouth of the culvert on both ends but there is no way to get inside it.

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Duffy’s Lane is crossed by a steel railway bridge set on abutments of cut stone that were likely laid at the time of railway construction.

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Bolete mushrooms are a class that contains about 200 species characterized by the lack of gills.  Instead, these mushrooms have a sponge-like surface with thousands of pores from which their spores are released.  Many bolete mushrooms are edible, some of them are the choicest ones.  There are a few of them that can be poisonous though and so you must really know what you’re eating.  If you crush the edge of the mushroom or the stalk and it turns blue it is likely toxic.  One certain trait of the poisonous ones can be found on the pore surface.  If this surface is white it may be okay but if it is red, the mushroom is definitely poisonous.

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The Caledon Trailway is 35 kilometres long and is suitable for hiking and cycling.  It is wheelchair accessible and frequented by joggers and dog walkers and sections of it are used by horse and riders.  The trail surface is crushed gravel and on this particular day it was lightly used.  East of Duffy’s Lane there is a section that has a wooden railing along the side.  This is on the section that crosses the Humber River.  We decided to climb down the south side of the embankment first as we could clearly see the top of stone culvert from the top.

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The culvert on the Humber River is also made out of blocks of cut stone like the one on Coffey Creek.  These have been cut precisely so that in most places they fit together without the use of mortar.

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The keystone is dated 1889 on the culvert which was designed by Joseph Hobson who was the chief engineer for The Grand Trunk Railway.  The keystone is a critical element of a mason’s arch.  It is the last piece installed and provides downward and outward pressure, locking the rest of the stone blocks into place.  The whole thing is held in position by the weight of the railway berm on top of it.

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The view out of the south end of the culvert looks onto a potentially interesting fishing hole.

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When the water is low it is easy to walk the ledge along the west side of the culvert if you enter from the north end.   Access from the south end is restricted due to the growth of cedars and deposits of mud on the walking surfaces.  The picture below looks back toward the north end.

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The floor of the culvert on The Humber River has been lined with thick boards but there was no wood in the bottom of the culvert on Coffey Creek.  The planks appear to be trapped under the stone foundation and extend the full length of the stone walls at both ends of the tunnel.

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These two stone culverts make an interesting historical site that is worth the effort to investigate.  We have previously covered some of this section in our feature on The Great Trail – Caledon East.

Google Maps Link: Palgrave

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