Tag Archives: Bronte Creek

River and Ruin Side Trail

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The River and Ruin Side Trail explores the property that formerly belonged to James Cleaver.  James built the mill in Lowville and a stone house for his family.  The mill still exists as a private residence but the house has been ruined for many years.  There are four or five official parking places along the side of Britannia Road at the intersection with the Blind Line.  The Bruce Trail follows the right of way for the Blind Line and it descends to the level of Twelve Mile Creek.  Just before you reach the creek you will come to the River and Ruins Side Trail which is marked with blue blazes on the trees.  It is a 2.5 km trail that wanders through some heavy patches of Wild Parsnip, a poisonous plant.

Lowville RnR

James Cleaver was born in Pennsylvania on January 30, 1800, and was 5 when his family moved to Upper Canada.  In 1813 James went with the family horses when they were conscripted for use in the War of 1812.  It is said that James and his team were at the Battle of Stoney Creek.  It was around this time that he took an interest in becoming a Public Land Surveyor and started to attend school to qualify for this occupation.  He was 20 years old and teaching in the Lowville one room school house when he completed his studies.  The County Atlas pictured above shows the land as belonging to Cleaver PLS or Public Land Surveyor.  It was uncommon for a land owner’s occupation to appear on the map and perhaps James put this here himself.

The house was added onto at least once and it appears that there was certainly a need for it.  James married Angeline DeMond on November 3, 1827, and they had 7 children before she died in 1841.  James took Jane Watson as a second wife and had 11 more children with her.  Cleaver died March 30, 1890, leaving his land holdings to his sons. Instructions were given for the leasing of the Cleaver Grist Mill in Lowville with the money being divided among the seven living daughters.

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The stone that James used to build his house was taken from the property.  Larger pieces of dolomite were used for the front walls as an expression of the status and importance of the occupants.  The rear and side walls were made of smaller pieces of limestone.  The front walls had dolomite window sills and lintels while the back of the house had rough-hewn logs for the window framing.  The cover photo shows the front side of the house and the second story can be seen in the form of window sills along the top of the wall. The walls are about 20 inches thick with wood strips set into the inside of them to allow for the application of the inner wall coverings.  These can be seen in the picture above which looks at the front wall from the inside.  The door easily accommodated James’ six-foot two height.  The story circulates on the internet that the house burned down in the 1920’s but there appears to be no physical evidence of this. All of the wood framings are free of char marks that would indicate a fire.  The limestone pieces that have fallen down contain many interesting fossils including the crinoids in the sample pictured below.

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Following the trail will eventually bring you to Twelve Mile Creek, otherwise known as Bronte Creek near an old concrete and steel beam bridge.  The opposite side of the creek is clearly marked as no trespassing and the bridge claims to be under video surveillance. Both ends of the bridge are closed with steel gates.  Notice the large concrete culvert in the creek, just behind the bridge.

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The Cleaver Mill Pond has been drained but a concrete dam still remains in place, close to Guelph Line in Lowville.  The approach along the river follows a well-used trail that likely represents the old Clever laneway.  Once you cross over the dam you will find that you are on the wrong side of a no trespassing sign that blocks access from the road.

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The river portion of the River and Ruin Side Trail splits at one point to provide a winter and early spring trail called the High Water Trail that keeps you out of the mud and water along the side of the creek.  The Low Water Trail is more scenic and is the one to follow in the summer and autumn months.  When you get back to the point where the side trail connects with the main Bruce Trail you will find an elevated bridge that carries the Bruce Trail across Bronte Creek.

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There are several historic buildings in Lowville including the old grist mill, churches, and the pioneer cemetery.  Lowville Park stands just beside the old school house built in 1889 and pictured below.  This is a replacement for the school that Cleaver once taught in.

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The Bruce Trail and its side trails around Lowville make for an interesting outing and are close to several other great hikes including the following:

The Longhouse People Of Crawford Lake

Nassagaweya Canyon

Rattlesnake Point 

Mount Nemo

Kelso’s Kilns

Google Maps Link: Lowville

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Nassagaweya Canyon

Saturday March 19, 2016

The cover photo shows a turkey vulture sitting in a tree looking out across the Nassagaweya Canyon.  This canyon is a deep cut in the Niagara Escarpment and it takes it’s name from an Indian word meaning “Meeting of two rivers”.  Sixteen Mile Creek and Bronte Creek both occupy the canyon.  When the escarpment was formed a large river cut through the bedrock and created an island of rock which is known as the Milton Outlier.  It has Rattlesnake Point on the southern end.  Four ice ages have further carved the river channel and widened it to the present size as glacial meltwaters flowed through the canyon.

When the county atlas was drawn in 1877 the 4th line was continuous and ran along the Nassagaweya Canyon floor next to Limestone Creek.  The portion of road through the canyon has since been closed.  The northern section is now known as Canyon Road and the part south of Rattlesnake Point is known as Walker’s line.  We parked on Canyon Road where it dead ends near the north end of Nassagaweya Canyon. The closed roadway is still open as a trail which leads toward a connection with the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail, The Bruce Trail and a Bruce side trail.  One possible factor in the closing of this road allowance is the wetlands that it passes through and it’s three crossings of Limestone Creek.  I’ve marked the road in red and the property of John Agnew with a red arrow.

Rattlesnake Point

The early settlers who owned the land grants on either side of this road struggled with the maintenance and elected to create a corduroy road.  Logs were placed perpendicular to the roadway to make the road passable.  These roads were bumpy at best and a danger to horses because the logs often shifted.  They were not as refined as plank roads like the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road.  The picture below shows a section where the logs from the corduroy road are showing through the mud and grass.

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Along the old roadway there is clear evidence of human engineering in the form of drainage pipes, ditches and embankments.  At one point we noted a ridge on the west side of the road that didn’t look natural or man made.  Beavers build retaining walls for their ponds by scooping dirt up using their tails.  The trees around the pond don’t show any sign of recent chewing and so it looks like the beaver pond has been abandoned for a little while.

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The old road allowance connects with several other trails including the main Bruce Trail which is marked with a white slash.  The blue markers indicate Bruce Trail side trails and the orange is the 7.2 kilometer Nassagaweya Canyon Trail.  Following it to the right will bring you to Crawford Lake and the restored village of Longhouses there.  Following it, as we did, to the left takes you up the Milton Outlier where the trail follows the canyon edge to Rattlesnake Point.

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The blue side trail indicated above with two markers in a T formation is the Jack Leech Porter trail.  It is named after a member of the Iroquoia and had a boardwalk installed in the mid-1980’s.  In 2010 it was decided to replace the old 480-foot boardwalk with the new one which features a 16-foot bridge over Limestone Creek.  An 8-foot rest area is built into the boardwalk and can be seen in the picture below.

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The Nassagaweya Canyon provides a perfect habitat for Turkey Vultures.  They nest on the sides of the cliffs and in April or May produce up to three eggs.  The little ones are fed with regurgitated carrion which makes a smell that attracts predators.  The remote edges of the canyon cliffs provide protection for the nests from these threats.  The vultures spend the winter south of New Jersey and have recently returned to the canyon.  We were approaching Rattlesnake Point when we saw several pairs of vultures circling and resting in trees.  Making our way along the edge of the cliff allowed us to get some close-up shots of the birds.

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When we visited Rattlesnake Point last weekend we noted an old farm house near the mouth of the canyon.  From our vantage point, we had wondered if it might be abandoned and if we should investigate it some day.  We decided that climbing down the side of the cliff to reach the canyon floor was the only way to find out and so we set out to do so.  We are in no way suggesting that this is a good idea or that you do this.  This picture shows the limestone cliff face near Rattlesnake Point from part way down the side of the canyon. Traversing the valley would allow us to turn the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail into a loop instead of the usual two-way walk.

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Limestone Creek is a tributary of Bronte Creek and flows through the canyon.  We found a solid tree that had fallen across the creek to use as our bridge.  The forest through the canyon valley is quite young and most of the trees appear to be less than 40 years old.

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The mouth of the canyon at the south end is full of glacial deposits of sand and gravel. Farmers had to clear their fields of rocks every spring and they were lined up along the edge of fields in place of a fence.  This old stone fence marks the line where a field on the right has recently gone back to forest while the one the left was sold for the mining of aggregates. This property belonged to John Agnew in 1877 as shown on the county atlas above.

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The abandoned house we were seeking is on the edge of the old quarry.  This story and a half Georgian style home has a small dormer on the front which sits just slightly off centre.

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 The house hasn’t been abandoned for very long as there is little damage from weather or vandals.  The view from the upstairs hallway looks out over the extension at the rear of the house toward the site of the quarry.  The tree to the left of the house has an abandoned dog house beneath it.

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We had to ascend the canyon’s western wall to where we could see people on the Bruce Trail walking along the top of the cliff.

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This is the view from the top of the canyon looking back across to the Milton Outlier.  We had descended the 144 feet to the canyon floor at the left end of the white limestone cliffs on the far side.

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Scarlet Elf Cup is a type of fungus that grows in early winter through to early spring.  They are bright red on the inside and were used by the Oneida people to stop the bleeding on umbilical cords when an infant bled longer than usual.  We found large patches of them growing along the closed roadway.

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Along the old 4th line road allowance stand the remains of this old building, likely abandoned long before the road was.

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Google Maps link: Nassagaweya Canyon Trail

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