Jokers Hill

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Jokers Hill is a large, forested tract located just west of Newmarket and south of Highway 9. It covers 889 acres of the Oak Ridges Moraine and has multiple hiking trails. I decided to check it out and took advantage of the free parking just off Bathurst Street. In the 1950’s this property was bought by General Churchill Mann and his wife Billie. She was the daughter of the founder of General Motors, Canada and was looking for a country retreat to house his many horses.

Churchill personally designed an equestrian course for his horses that covered a 12-mile cross country course with 50 miles of groomed trails. The property features a wide variety of habitats including wetlands, regenerating farmland and virgin forests. The picture below shows one of the sandy hills in the area near Bathurst Street.

Billie Mann named the property after her prize horse, Joker, who used to run to the top of the highest point, nearly 1,100 feet above sea level. They would eventually build their home at this spot to overlook the surrounding countryside. The Manns used to host the North York Hunting Club and allowed Olympic contestants to practice there. The 1956 Olympic medalists Elder and John Rumble attributed their bronze medal to the use of Jokers Hill.

In 1964 the Manns sold the property to Brian and Nancy Benitz who held it for about ten years. The elevation of the trail changes multiple times as you make your way through the forest. When you reach the lowest point on the trail there is a couple of small wetlands to cross. This little boardwalk has become less than ideal but if you navigate carefully, you can get through without getting mud on your pant cuffs. Better luck next time, lol.

In 1974 Murray and Marvelle Koffler, founders of Shoppers Drug Mart, bought the property. There weren’t very many fungus species to be seen this late in the season but some of the polypores could still be found on the trees. These Tinder Polypores are useful as tinder to start a campfire quickly if needed. They also have been used traditionally by indigenous people to cauterize wounds that won’t stop bleeding.

Jokers Hill hosted celebrities over the years including Prince Phillip and Princess Margaret as well as Pierre and Margaret Trudeau. In 1995 the Kofflers decided to gift the property to the University of Toronto. It is now used as the Koffler Scientific Reserve and research is conducted there in a variety of fields including climate change, ecology, migration, genetics and environmental science. As you follow the white trail you will come to a mysterious collapsed building in an open area of the woods. Upon investigation it reveals itself to be a former sugar shack where the sap of maple trees was made into maple syrup.

The area around the former sugar shack has a number of PVC collection pipes and tubes still attached to trees or lying on the ground. If you look carefully, you can also find the small round holes that are the scars left on maple trees from them being tapped over the years.

There was a distinct lack of wildlife on this day even though it is a prime spot for white-tailed deer, pileated woodpeckers and a host of other birds. The majority of people I met along the trail had dogs with them, many of them off leash. This will usually scare the wildlife away. Jokers Hill is a primary wildlife study area with up to 35 study projects going on at the same time. This suggests that there is plenty to be seen and those that visit often can likely attest to this. I saw a Hairy Woodpecker, two Blue Jays, a couple of Cabbage Butterflies and this beetle who was a lone late-season insect.

I came across a few Halloween pumpkins that had been thrown in the woods. There are many posts online encouraging people to do this to feed the wildlife. However, wildlife experts discourage this practice because it can be harmful and can encourage rats. Halloween pumpkins often have foreign objects in them such as candle wax which can cause serious health issues or death if eaten by an unsuspecting animal. They also bring groups of wildlife together which can lead to the spread of disease. Instead, people are encouraged to compost their pumpkins or take them to a drop off location.

Following the blue trail will bring you to Thornton Bales Conservation Area. If you’ve ever been to Niagara Falls and seen the impressive drop of the falls, you can hike a greater change in elevation here. The locals call this the “99 steps.”. I counted 100, but such is my ability to exaggerate.

The trail map shows the variety of loops and other trails that are available to hikers and dog walkers. I followed the red trail to the blue and white one that leads to the red oak loop and 19th sideroad and then returned the same way.

There’s lots to see on the Jokers Hill trails and I suspect that a wide variety of wildlife can be observed at various times. The variation of forest types likely presented a wonderful example of the fall colours a couple of weeks ago.

Google Maps Link: Jokers Hill Trail Parking

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Watson’s Mill – Manotick

October 30, 2022

My job as self-employed inspector under contract to various government inspection agencies gives me the opportunity to travel all over the province of Ontario. This past week, I spent 3 days working in the Ottawa area. During my travels I drove past the Watson Mill in Manotick and stopped to check it out. This mill continues to operate at select times and can be seen grinding grain which it sells as flour, along with baked bread. It wasn’t open when I was there, but you can take a virtual tour of the inside by clicking here.

Following the War of 1812 there was a general fear that the Americans would invade Canada again and so plans were put in place to create an inland military transportation route to supplement the St. Lawrence River. The construction of the canal brought many labourers and stone masons into the area and for the next few years most immigrants also came to the area via the canal. Moss Dickinson was 10 when the canal opened in 1832 and he saw the opportunity to commercialize the river and canal system. In 1858 a wooden dam was constructed at the future mill site using wood beams that were fastened to the rock with steel pins. The original dam can be seen in the archive image below.

In the late 1850s, Moss K. Dickinson and Joseph M. Currier owned a sawmill on the Rideau River, and they contracted Thomas Langell of Ottawa to build a grist mill to add to their growing industrial operations. It opened in 1860 with four runs of grinding stones which were powered by turbines that had been manufactured in Ottawa. In 1862 they added a woolen mill to the complex and the need for labour drew people to the area and the town of Manotick began to grow around the mills. In 1863 Dickinson bought out his partner and the mills remained in the family until 1929, operating under the name of The Long Island Mill. The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority purchased the mill in 1972 and restored it along with the Dickinson house and drive shed.

The construction of a sawmill, grist mill and carding or woolen mill provided the locals with the three basic necessities of life without the manual labour that had previously been required. The sawmill provided cut lumber for the construction of shelter, the grist mill provided flour for food and the woolen mill provided clothing. Alexander Spratt owned the mills after the Dickinson family and his family operated them until after the Second World War. Harry Watson bought the mill in 1946 and promptly changed the name to Watson’s Mill. He rebuilt the dam out of concrete in 1956 and today you can walk across the top of the mill to Long Island. A crane on wheels and rails was installed to raise and lower the stop logs that control the water level behind the dam.

Milling operations would cease in 1963 but the mill and dam remained as the most recognizable feature in the town of Manotick. From the middle of the dam the view upstream shows the slow-moving water behind the dam. Most of the fall colours had disappeared from the Ottawa region by this late in October but the scenery was still very beautiful.

In 1963 the National Capital Commission entered into an agreement with Watson to restore the mill and keep it as a functioning water-powered grist mill. In 1972 Watson sold his interests in the mill to the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority on condition that the mill remain known as Watson’s Mill. They completed the restoration and opened the mill as a tourist attraction in 1974.

Looking downstream you can see the cut-stone foundations from an earlier bridge across the Rideau River.

The view from the river side of the mill shows the Georgian symmetry of its three floor, five-bay construction.

Watson’s Mill in Manotick is one of only a few water-powered mills that still produce flour in all of Ontario and it is worth stopping for a visit if you are in the Ottawa area.

Google maps link: Watson’s Mill Manotick

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Kensington Market

October 23, 2022

Saturday, October 22 was a beautiful day for late October and a perfect one to explore some of the small shops in the Kensington Market area of the city. George Taylor Dennison had served in the Canadian Militia in the War of 1812 and purchased an estate lot west of the town of York (Toronto). In the 1850s the former Dennison Family estate was divided into several narrow streets and over the next couple of decades was built up with small affordable homes. They were originally occupied by British workers but as this first group of residents prospered and moved out, they were replaced with a wave of Jewish immigrants. The small Victorian homes were converted into businesses by making shops out of the ground floor of the units and for several decades the area became known as the Jewish Market.

Following the Second World War, the area became home to new Canadians from Italy, Portugal, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. They each brought some of their culture to the area as they integrated into the fabric of the neighbourhood. Today, the mix of foods and shops reflects the diversity of the people who have called these few streets home. While graffiti can be seen on many of the buildings, there’s also some pretty creative artwork on display.

The Kensington Market Garden Car has been a fixture in the area since 2006. Originally, supporters paid the parking meter to keep it there, but the city soon approved it as a tourist attraction and allowed it to stay, provided that it is insured and also removed every winter to allow for snow clearing. Some consider it to be the smallest park in the city.

The mid-Victorian row houses that formed the community can still be seen behind the store fronts

Dolce Gelato has used some colourful artwork to draw attention to their location in Kensington Market. This is one of three locations they operate in Toronto that serve authentic Italian Gelato.

There is a theory that Kensington Market is one of the most photographed areas in the city and it was designated as a National Historic Site in 2006. With Halloween just around the corner, there’s several buildings which are all decorated for the season.

Bellevue Square Park has a couple of historical plaques and a map of the area. The park was formerly used by Dennison as a parade ground for his volunteer calvary group when the area was still his estate. His volunteer group participated in putting down the Rebellion of 1837. Today there’s a small but vibrant park on the site of the former parade grounds.

Narrow streets, lack of parking and the volume of pedestrians make this an area to avoid driving in. There’s plenty of parking under the Dragon City Mall at Spadina and Dundas which will leave you free to wander around and investigate the area.

There’s a lot of little stores and markets in the Kensington Market area and tons of places to eat a wide variety of foods. It’s also just a short walk away from Chinatown where there’s another whole variety of places to investigate or find something to eat.

Google Maps link: Kensington Market

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White-tailed Deer

October 16, 2022

White-tailed deer can be found throughout the GTA, and they are quite comfortable with the human presence, partially because they don’t experience the hunting season that their country cousins have to survive. Between Canada and the USA, the population is estimated to be over 710 million animals. Local populations and food sources are used to determine the number of animals that can be culled during hunting season so that the remainder can be healthy and thrive. While hunting deer may seem horrible to some of us it allows for a healthier herd that doesn’t suffer and die from starvation.

The life cycle starts in late May or June in Ontario when fawns are born. They are born earlier in the colder environments so that the young have the advantage of a full summer to get larger and stronger before the challenge of the next winter comes along. A yearling doe will have a single fawn in her first year and she’ll leave it alone while she forages in the first week of its life. She returns to nurse it 4-5 times per day until it is old enough to forage for itself. The newborn fawn in the picture below is well disguised among the branches and leaves.

Fawns have white spots in their fur when they are first born which they lose over the course of their first year.

The doe will take care of the fawn for the first year and they are very paternal and caring. The doe in the picture below is giving her fawn a lick on the top of the head.

In return, the fawn is very fond of the mother and shows signs of affection. The fawn in the cover photo was walking up to us to check us out but was called back by its mother who was concerned about how close it was getting. When she snorted the fawn immediately responded by returning to her. The fawn will become sexually mature in about six months if it is a female but will usually not mate until it is in its second fall. The males take about 1.5 years to become sexually mature.

A female will have a single fawn in her first year of reproduction but can have up to three fawns in subsequent years. These two fawns were following mama deer across the Credit River in Mississauga until she spotted us and called them into a retreat to the far shore.

Deer will molt twice per year, spring and fall, although the fawns will only molt in the fall of their first year. They will lose their spots in their first molt and the fawn below is seen part way through that process.

White-tailed deer will live between 6 and 14 years on average but can survive up to 20 years. A female will weigh between 88 and 200 pounds while the males typically will reach 150 to 300 pounds. They can reach 4 feet tall and 8 feet long.

Adult deer can run at speeds up to 64 kilometres per hour (40 miles per hour) and can jump up to 2.5 metres (8.2 feet). They rut (mate) in the fall between October and November and the female can come into heat every 28 days until she becomes pregnant. The normal gestation period is about 200 days while the animal passes through the winter.

Male deer are known as bucks and grow a set of antlers every spring which they cast off after mating season each year. They are the fastest growing tissues in nature and are made of bone, nerves and cartilage. They are covered by velvet which has small hairlike structures that allow the buck to feel their antlers and prevent them from getting damaged during the growing phase.

Growing antlers can take 3-4 times the nutrients that are required to grow the rest of the skeleton. For this reason, a male will have larger antlers after 4.5 or 5.5 years when the skeletal structure is finished growing. Dropping testosterone levels cause the antlers to be cast off in late winter or early spring.

Antler size and growth potential increases with the age of the animal. When they are 1.5 years old their antlers will only be 55-60% of their later potential. At 4.5 years they will have reached about 90% of their potential. The availability of food, severity of the winters and drought will determine whether a male reaches 100% of its antler potential at 6.5, 7.5 or 8.5 years of age.

The bucks tend to spend most of their lives alone except during the mating season when they use their antlers to fight other bucks for the right to mate with the local does. The females may mate with more than one male in the effort to become pregnant. Deer eyes have more rods than cones which means that they actually see better at night.

White Tailed Deer can be found in all of the ravines in Toronto and most of the larger parks. In the city they have become accustomed to people and are easier to spot while outside of town they tend to vanish at the first scent of humans.

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Peterborough Lift Lock

October 9, 2022

On a business trip to Peterborough in July I had a few minutes to stop and watch the operation of Lock 21 on the Trent-Severn Waterway. The waterway is 386 kilometres long and was first travelled by a European in 1615 when Jacques Cartier explored the region using long standing indigenous routes.

The canal was originally surveyed as a military route with the first lock being built in 1833 as part of a commercial venture. Three more locks were under construction in 1837 when the Rebellion broke out. It was determined that the canal would have too many locks to be used for rapid troop movements and so the three locks were completed, and progress was suspended. With the canal incomplete and no outlet to a major lake it was connected to other travel routes by toll roads, plank roads and eventually by railways. The image below shows the side view of the lift lock in Peterborough,

It was restarted in the late 1880s by the government of Sir John A. Macdonald, but little progress was made, and it was generally used as a political tool to get votes from the communities along the route. In the late 1890s it was undertaken with a new commitment, and it reached Peterborough and Lake Simcoe in 1904. The First World War slowed progress again and it didn’t reach Trenton until 1918 and Georgian Bay in 1920. By this time the ships had grown too big for the canal system and railways were carrying most of the commercial traffic. It became a pleasure route and eventually would be declared a National Historic Site of Canada and be used as a linear park. The image below shows the lift lock with the left hand side elevated and the right side being loaded for the next lift.

When it was completed in 1904 it was the highest hydraulic boat lift in the world and the largest concrete structure in the world. The vertical lift was 65 feet (20 metres) while most conventional locks had a lift of 7 feet (2.3 metres). The system consists of two identical caissons that sit at the level of the river at their lowest point. They each sit on a 7.5 metre diameter ram. In the picture below the lift is half completed and the two caissons can be seen beside each other.

When the lift reaches the top, it stops 12 inches below the water level in the upper reach. The gate is opened and water flows in to equalize with the level of the river in the upper reach. This causes the upper caisson to increase in weight so that it is 1844 short tons compared to the lower one which has 1700 tons of water in it. When the system is ready to reverse the valve between the two rams is opened and the extra weight in the upper caisson pushed the ram of the lower caisson up until the positions are reversed. The system requires no external power as the weight of the water is enough to operate the system.

Just below the lock is a swing bridge that allows the Canadian Pacific Railway to cross the river. When not in use by the railway it is moved out of the way of boat traffic on the river.

The Peterborough Lift lock was declared a National Historical Site in 1979.

Related stories: Newmarket Ghost Canal, The First Three Welland Canals.

Google Maps Link: Peterborough Lift Lock

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National Air Force Museum

October 2, 2022

On a recent business trip to the Trenton Airforce Base, I stopped and took in the collection at the National Airforce Museum of Canada. All of these photos were taken from outside the fence as I didn’t have time to go in and review the collection properly before my next appointment. There are other aircraft located inside the storage building which tends to house many of the older planes. The museum opened on April 1, 1984, on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Canadian Airforce.

P-140 Aurora – This long-range patrol aircraft was put into service in 1980 and remained active until 2017. It has a range of 7,400 kilometres and has been used for rescue missions as well to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking. After being in storage for a year it was brought to the museum and re-assembled for display.

CC-115 Buffalo. This aircraft was built by De Havilland in Downsview and completed on August 27, 1967, after which it went into service as a transport plane. In 1975 it took on a dual role as a Search & Rescue craft until it was retired in September 2020 after over 50 years of service.

CC-144 Challenger. This aircraft was put into service in April 1983 in Ottawa to provide transportation for VIPs. It got a new assignment in 1995 when it went to Nova Scotia to serve as a training plane for pilots in electronic warfare. Five years later it was back in Ottawa flying VIPs around. It was in Florida in 2012 when it struck a large bird and was damaged requiring extensive repairs. In 2014 the Challenger fleet was reduced from 6 planes to just 4 and this one was retired. It found a new home in the museum in 2015.

CL-28 Mark II Argus. This is one of 20 Mark II aircraft purchased in 1958 and used for maritime patrol. It was stationed at Summerside P.E.I. in the 415 Maritime Patrol “Swordfish” Squadron. It flies at 463 kilometres per hour and was in service until 1982 performing patrols as part of anti-submarine warfare.

CH-124 Sea King went into service on May 14, 1964, performing surveillance and anti-submarine tasks. It has a compact design with rotors and tail that fold up allowing it to land on the smallest warships. It is also amphibious and can make landings in water. This one served in The Gulf War in 1991 as well as East Timor in 1999-2000. When it was retired in 2018 it had the most air-hours of any Sea King having racked up 17,775.3 hours.

The F86 Mark V Sabre is a fighter craft, and the model was purchased between 1948 and 1958. The one in the museum was in service until 1969 serving in Chatham, New Brunswick until it was placed in duty as an instructional airframe. This model of fighter can achieve speeds of 973 kilometres per hour.

CH-147D Chinook was originally a USA army helicopter beginning in 1969. The Canadian Government bought it and five others in 2008 to deploy to Kandahar in Afghanistan. It has been part of the museum collection since 2016.

F-18 Hornet. This aircraft is capable of flying at Mach 1.8, 2,200 kilometres per hour at sea level. The one in the museum was put into service in 1982 as a training craft in Cold Lake, Alberta. All training on the Hornet was conducted at Cold Lake. This airplane was donated to the museum in 2009 as part of the celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of flight.

The Spitfire Mark IX was one of the primary fighter crafts of the allied forces in the Second World War. It was in service between 1940 and 1950 and could fly at speeds up to 586 kilometres per hour. This example was donated to the museum in 2001.

Ch-118 Iroquois was a combat support unit which performed search and rescue operations. It was in service between 1968 and 1995 when all Iroquois were retired from service. This machine was then used at CFB Borden and then CFB Trenton for aircraft battle damage repair training. It was placed in the museum in 2007.

Code named “Fishbed” by the Allies, this Russian fighter jet was never flown by the Canadian Military. It was officially known as a MiG-21 and was first put into service in 1959 and was able to fly at 2,230 kilometres per hour. The specimen in the museum was put into service in 1975 in East Germany. After German Unification in 1990 it was soon withdrawn from service and was donated to the Canadian Government in 1993. It has been in the museum collection since then.

The CF-116A Freedom Fighter in the museum was in service from 1968 to 1995 and entered the museum in 1997. It was used at Cold Lake, Alberta as a tactical fighter and training aircraft. In 1976 it was transferred to the 419 Moose Squadron where it was painted red and white like the Canadian Flag.

This is just a sampling of the 37 aircraft in the museum, several of which are housed in the indoor facility. At some point I would love to spend the time to go through the museum properly and see the full exhibit including all the other memorabilia that is on display.

Related Stories: Downsview Airforce Base

Google Maps Link: National Airforce Museum of Canada

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The Boardwalk

September 25, 2022

Toronto has a lengthy stretch of beaches that begin near the foot of Victoria Park Avenue on Silver Birch Beach through to Woodbine Beach near Ashbridges Bay. Along the way the names change through Balmy Beach and Kew Gardens Beach, but they are all connected. They have been created over the years by sand that has eroded from the Scarborough Bluffs and has been carried by the lake in its westward spin. The rotation of the lake is known as Longshore Drift and is influenced by the pressure of the Niagara River that pushes water along the southern shore toward the St. Lawrence River. These beaches have been an attraction for city residents for decades and originally were home to amusement parks such as Victoria Park and Kew Gardens. Today they attract dog walkers, swimmers and those who just want to bake in the sun. The Waterfront Trail runs through the beaches and continues for 3,600 kilometres along the shores of The Great Lakes.

The picture below shows the beaches in April of 1929 when homes and cottages existed close to the water’s edge. As early as 1908 the city had built a wooden boardwalk from Woodbine Beach to Leuty Avenue. Storms in 1929 caused extensive damage and many of the homes had flooded basements. In 1931 and 1932 the city proposed the creation of a permanent boardwalk running from Woodbine Beach all the way to Silver Birch. This would allow for a continuous walk of nearly 5 kilometres. Since then, the boardwalk has been repaired many times and a bicycle and jogging path has been added alongside it.

The archive picture below shows people enjoying the early boardwalk along the area of Kew Beach.

Today, the boardwalk is a destination for many people in the city to enjoy but it wasn’t terribly busy on this September afternoon.

Muskoka Chairs were created in 1903 in the Adirondack Hills in New York with a sloping seat and back and large armrests to allow people to sit in a comfortable reclined position. There are several sets of Muskoka Chairs as well as benches and large pieces of armour stone that provide seating along the beaches.

The Leuty Lifeguard Station was built in 1920 and was described in our post Kew Gardens.

We visited the beaches during Windfest 2022 when dozens of kites were being flown on Woodbine Beach. The annual kite flying festival was held on September 17th from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Participants brought their own kites and there was a wide variety from the simple kites to elaborate ones with bright colours and several shaped like various cartoon characters.

There are over 100 volleyball courts at Woodbine Beach. Most of these are subject to usage permits and are dominated by league players. There’s only a few that can be accessed by the public on a “free to use” basis. There is a petition before City Council to change this and make 50% of the courts available for public use. Woodbine Beach also has a nine-hole disc golf course where people can play golf using frisbees that are thrown at metal poles with chains on them. The course had been expanded in November 2021 but complaints that the new section encroached on a sensitive area that is used by migrating birds led to the new section being removed this spring.

The beaches are a great place to relax although there may not be a lot of peace and quiet on some days. During our visit a concert was going on at Woodbine Beach and it was amplified very loudly. Sudden yelling from the microphone caused some of the people on the boardwalk to be startled and made them jump. Someone has created a couple of peace signs and several hearts out of painted rocks. This symbol dates back to 1958 when Gerald Holtom took the semaphore symbols for N and D to create a symbol for Nuclear Disarmament. A semaphore symbol is a system of depicting the alphabet using the arms and two flags.

Parking is available at Woodbine Beach and in various places along Queen Street.

Related posts: Kew Gardens

Google Maps Link: Woodbine Beach Parking

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Markham Museum

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Markham Museum is a 25-acre collection of historical buildings and artifacts that relate to the early history of Markham Township. There are close to 30 buildings which have been collected from various sites around the township over the past 50 years. Many of the buildings have had some restoration to preserve them. Seven of the buildings can be viewed from the inside as part of a guided tour that is free upon request with your paid admission. The museum is located at Markham Road and 16th Avenue. Just to the west of the museum is Markham Heritage Estates which is a subdivision made up of historic homes that have been moved from around the township to preserve them from demolition. These homes are lived in and can often be viewed inside during Open Doors events.

The oldest building in the museum was built in 1824 at McCowan and Stouffville Roads. Christian K Hoover and his wife Anna lived in this house followed by three more generations of the family. During the mid-1870s the house became a stopping point for Russian Mennonites as they emigrated west to Manitoba. In 1975 the house belonged to A.D. Reesor who donated it to the museum.

Inside the house is an open layout where kitchen, eating and sleeping areas are combined. The museum has decorated the home to look like the year 1860, at which time Christian’s son Abraham and his wife Fanny lived there with their three young children.

The blacksmith shop was built in 1862 by Henry Lapp in the village of Cedar Grove. Between 1866 and 1896 there were 9 different blacksmiths who worked in the Lapp blacksmith shop. Beginning in 1896 Arthur Clendenen took over and he bought the shop from Henry Lapp in 1905. He continued to work there until it closed in 1956. Cedar Grove plays a large part in the Markham Museum and the small community has been featured in several of our blogs in the past including Cedar Grove – Ghost towns of the GTA, Lapp’s Cider Mill, and Cedarena.

Inside, the blacksmith shop is set up to look like it did around 1910. Blacksmiths were important to early communities and there were usually one or more in each village. The blacksmith made horseshoes and installed them in addition to making and repairing all manner of tools. Everything from hammers to belt buckles was created in these little shops. The Cedar Grove blacksmith shop was moved to Markham Museum in 1977.

The Cider Mill at the museum was actually a shed on a property belonging to the Lapp Cider Mill in Cedar Grove. The shed was moved to the museum and outfitted with the inner workings of the Lapp Cider Mill which was built in 1872. The Lapp Cider Mill operated until 1955 producing apple cider, vinegar and apple butter. The cider mill at Markham Museum is operational and is in use every year during their annual Applefest, which this year takes place on September 24, 2022.

The church in the museum was moved from the 9th Line just north of Major Mackenzie Drive. It was built on an acre of land that was purchased from Joshua and Rachel Miller in 1847. The church was opened as Knox Baptist Church the following year and always had a small congregation. In the early years the church shared a minister with two other congregations and the pastor would only teach there every three weeks. By 1958 the congregation had shrunk to the point where the church was closed. In 1981 the church was disassembled and each of the 35,000 bricks were numbered and then reassembled on the museum site.

Most early churches had a drive shed where carriages and horses were kept while the church service was going on. There are very few of these left in their original locations and we have previously featured the one at the Cober Dunkard Church in Vaughan.

James and Euphemia Maxwell operated a grist mill on the Rouge River in the area that is now Rouge National Urban Park. They built a log cabin around 1850 and raised 6 children in it. When James died in 1894 the house and surrounding lands were sold but the cabin was used as a home until 1962 when the Little Family donated the cabin to the Markham Museum. It was moved to the museum site in 1970. The remains of the Maxwell Mill can still be seen along Twyn Rivers Road beside The Rouge River and were written about in the linked story.

Henry Wilson and Clementia May were husband and wife business partners in Markham in the 19th century. They opened a general store in Markham in 1862 and expanded into this building in 1875. Henry operated a variety store out of the first floor while Clementia ran a dress making business on the second floor. Dresses were usually custom designed and sewn in this era and her business was far more profitable than the store downstairs. In 1898 their son Edmund took over the business, but he closed it in 1913 and sold the building to Dr. John MacDonald. When the building was slated for demolition in 1985 it was moved to the museum.

There is a collection of moustache mugs in the Variety Hall. These mugs were invented in the mid 1800s by Harvey Adams in England. In Victorian times, many men wore large moustaches which they waxed or dyed in order to make them more impressive. The moustache mug contains a small moustache shaped ledge with a little hole to allow the men to drink tea without getting it in their moustaches.

Markham Museum is home to the Locust Hill train station which was built in 1936 to replace an earlier station that had burned down the previous year. The first station in the community had been built in 1885 by the Ontario and Quebec Railway which had been completed through town in 1887. Train service through Locust Hill was discontinued in 1969 and the station was moved to the museum in 1983. One of the interesting artifacts in the museum collection is the Canadian Pacific snowplow number 400896. This classic wedge snowplow weighs 20 tons and was built in the Canadian Pacific Angus workshops in Montreal between 1920 and 1929. It cleared a 10-foot path and had blades in the front to clear between the rails. These blades would be raised at intersections to avoid damaging the equipment.

Markham Museum has a fairly small entry fee set at only $6.00 for adults but doesn’t allow you to enter all of the buildings like other heritage villages such as Black Creek Pioneer Village. This is likely due to the lack of staff which, unfortunately, are required to preserve the antique displays to keep them from getting broken or going missing.

Related stories: Markham Heritage Estates, Maxwell’s Mill, Cedar Grove – Ghost Towns of the GTA, Lapp’s Cider Mill, Cedarena, Cober Dunkard Church, Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Google Maps Link: Markham Museum

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Milne Dam Conservation Area 2022

Milne Dam Conservation Area is a 305 acre park in Markham which we have visited a few times. There are two previous blogs which talk about the park and the new bridges that were added across the Rouge River near the dam. We won’t be repeating very much of the information from those two stories and links to them can be found at the end of this blog.

The east end of the lake has become overgrown with lily pads this summer. Although the pads appear to float on the surface they are actually on long stems that grow from the bottom of the lake. The top side is flat but on the bottom of the leaves they have a series of tubes that are connected to openings on the top of the pad called stomas. Up to two litres of air are transported each day from the top of the pad to the root system using these tubes. Lily pads provide protection for small fish and also a safe place for frogs to sit and hide from underwater predators and catch flies and other insects.

Before you reach the dam you come to the newly constructed Milne Creek Bridge.  It is 42 metres long and helps connect the Markham Rouge Valley Trail which begins in Unionville at Toogood Pond.  The new bridges in the Milne Dam Conservation Area were officially opened on September 21, 2019.  The first three phases of the 15 kilometre trail are completed with the final phase currently under construction.

The first concrete and steel dam in Canada was built by Archie Milne on the Rouge River in 1911. It replaced a mill dam that had been located on the site since 1820. In the 1950s the dam and surrounding lands were bought by the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority who created Milne Dam Conservation Area using the dam to help with flood control on the Rouge River.

Canada Thistle is also known as Creeping Thistle and in spite of its name is not native to Canada. It was likely imported from the Mediterranean area by early settlers. Residents of New England blamed the emergence of the thistle on French Canadian traders and therefore gave it the name Canada Thistle. It grows both by seeds that are carried on the wind and by horizontal roots that spread below ground. It grows in open areas and likes lots of direct sunlight and can be found growing amongst crops such as canola, wheat and barley where it reduces the cash value of the crops. It tends to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies so therefore it has some benefits as well.

There is a small trail at the west end of the lake that leads down to the river where a floating walkway allows you to cross to the other side and into Camp Chimo. There is no entry fee for people who walk in to Camp Chimo and it can also be accessed from McCowan Road.

For a small fee families and youth can take basic canoe training and safety lessons at the camp.

Camp Chimo is a day camp for children that operates on the south side of the lake. They have archery, a climbing wall, a large bonfire pit and plenty of activities for the children to participate in.

Surprisingly, the children’s day camp is full of dense stands of wild parsnip. This toxic plant isn’t native to North America and was likely brough in by people who grew it for its edible root. Unfortunately, it has spread in the wild and can choke out native plants. The stems, leaves and flowers contain chemicals that make the skin more sensitive to sunlight and can cause burns and severe dermatitis. While the City of Markham cannot possibly eradicate the weed, they should try to control it in a day camp for children.

There is a nature trail on the south side of the lake which is a 5.3 kilometer loop that will bring you back to the summer camp. It is an easy trail and is suitable for all skill levels of hikers but is not accessible for handicapped people. It can also be followed to the far end of the lake and then, using the bridge by the dam, it can be turned into a longer loop back through Milne Dam Park.

Milne Dam Conservation Area has a nominal entrance fee of $4.50 per person on the weekends and holidays but is free during the week. It is well worth the entry fee because it is usually not crowded and there’s lots of picnic tables and several kilometers of trails to walk on.

Related stories: Milne Dam Conservation Area, Milne Dam Bridge

Google Maps Link: Milne Dam Park

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Forest of Cars

August 21, 2022

While on a business trip near Thunder Bay back in April I noticed a forest which appeared to be full of abandoned cars. I decided on my return trip this past week to check it out. Unfortunately the place is marked as No Trespassing and the owner could not be seen to try to get permission to go in and have a look around. I had to settle for a few pictures that I took as I walked along the front of the property. The image below is taken from Google Earth and shows the cars, trucks and buses that can be seen on the open areas as well as three buildings in various states of collapse. On the right hand side of the image is Oliver Road from which the images in this post were taken.

One of my clients has their business a few kilometers away from this location and so I asked them what they knew about the property. It seems that the owner had collected the vehicles over a period of years and refused to sell any of them or even let people buy spare parts to repair their own vehicles or classic cars.

Another local person told me a story of trespassers encountering the owner who showed his displeasure by brandishing a gun! There’s also a story about the original owner passing away and someone new taking over the property.

Most of the cars near Oliver road appear to be forty or fifty years old but who knows what might be located deeper into the forest. The view from Google Earth suggests that there could be some real treasures waiting to be discovered.

There doesn’t appear to be anything online about the property or the owner although I plan to keep looking to see what can be found.

The cars, vans and trucks seem to have been parked in an open area and the woods have taken over again making it almost impossible to be able to get a vehicle out, even if you wanted to.

This Cadillac has had a tree fall on top of it. I would imagine that there are likely several cars on the property that have suffered similar damage over the years.

The next time I’m in the area will likely be in November when the leaves are off of the trees but it might not make a huge difference because most of the forest is made up of evergreen trees.

I have been given the offer of meeting another classic car collector a few sideroads over when I visit next time. Perhaps he will know more about this mysterious forest of cars. If this is the case, he may also be able to put me in touch with the owner.

With luck, maybe I can make arrangements to go exploring during my spring visit to the area. That could prove to be very interesting indeed.

It would appear that there are hundreds, perhaps a couple of thousand vehicles in this forest. Someday I hope to bring you more pictures and the complete history of this forest full of cars.

Google Maps Link: Murillo Car Forest

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