Tag Archives: Cormorant

The Strawberry Fields Weren’t Forever

Saturday October 3, 2015

The Trafalgar, Esquesing and Erin Road Company established a toll gate on Trafalgar Road in Oakville near the present site of Inglehart Street.  Tolls were collected to pay for the maintenance of the plank road that was to be built from Oakville to Fergus.  We decided to return to Sixteen Mile Creek and continue north from Kerosene Castle, hiking on the east side of the creek.  We parked on Inglehart street near Trafalgar.  It was cloudy and windy with a temperature of only 7 degrees.

The Hamilton Radial Electric Railway Company was chartered in 1893.  In 1905 it was extended to Oakville and a large steel bridge was constructed across Sixteen Mile Creek.  The Oakville station is seen in this archive photo as it appeared in 1908 with one of the electric cars in front.


The Oakville station is the only remaining one on the line but the building is abandoned today and has some broken windows on the front.  We took a short trip down to the site of the old station before starting our hike.  Some windows have been added to the rear portion of the building but otherwise it retains it’s original charm.


Directly across the street from the train station is the Scout Hut built in 1926.  The location is perfect since Scouts were expected to be well trained.


John Cross introduced the growing of strawberries to Oakville.  He found that the fruit grew wild in the area and was easily cultivated.  Soon others were following suit and by the mid 1870’s Oakville was the primary strawberry production area in the Dominion of Canada.  The delicate fruit was easily damaged and so to support it’s storage and transportation a local basket industry developed.  Cross designed a wood veneer basket that he produced.  Soon John A. Chisholm opened his own basket factory and expanded operations in 1874.  His son, Charles, invented a machine to slice wood veneer for the baskets.  By 1877 there were almost 750,000 fruit baskets being produced each year in Oakville.  In 1889 he sold the business which was re-named the Oakville Basket Company  three years later.  Although it was destroyed by fire twice it was rebuilt each time.  It operated until 1984 when it was finally shut down.  In it’s later years all the local strawberry fields had been subdivided for housing and so the factory produced Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors.  The drive wheel from the steam generator has been preserved and is located in Old Mill Parkette.


We descended to the level of the creek soon after we crossed Trafalgar and began to make our way upstream. It was a windy morning and we were watching the wind burst in sudden swirls on the surface of the water.  Suddenly we heard a loud crack from directly across the creek and looked in time to see three quarters of a large tree collapse to the right.  As it came to rest the remaining section topped in slow motion to the left.  In all my time spent hiking in the woods this is the only time I’ve witnessed a tree fall and it most certainly does make a noise.  The broken and twisted remains of the tree stump can be seen in the picture below.


Cormorants were fishing in the Sixteen Mile Creek.  The rock on the right in this picture had three of them standing on it at one point.  As they flew away they almost skipped across the top of the water like a flat stone.  The bird on the wing below slapped the water fast enough that the spray from the previous two impacts hasn’t settled back into the creek yet as it reaches for the next wing flap.


The fall colours are still not at their prime but there are places where the display is beginning. The trigger for change is the shorter hours of daylight which causes the change to happen at nearly the same time each year, regardless of the temperature.


The yellow iris has seed pods that contain rows of brown seeds.   These seeds react to the freezing and thawing cycle in the spring to wake them from their dormant state.


We made our way along the shale embankment on the east side of the creek.  There were many places where we had to go part way up the embankment to get around a fallen tree or a place where there was no footing at the water’s edge.


It’s quite common to find the remnants of some person’s temporary shelter in the woods. Seldom do they take the time to build from shale and have a more durable home complete with a fire place.


A little past the shale home in the woods we decided to climb the hill where we found the Oakville St. Mary Pioneer Cemetery.  This cemetery contains Oakville’s founder William Chisholm and the first mayor George King Chisholm in a separate family plot surrounded by a wrought iron fence.  Like most pioneer cemeteries there is a tale of premature death and the loss of infants.  There are several stones here that record the tragic loss of multiple children within a family.  Weather has eroded some of the earliest stones until they’re almost illegible but the bold and deep carving of this one will last for many more centuries.


We walked along the historical trail on the way back to the car.  It follows the street and is far less challenging than the arduous journey along the edge of the creek. Looking down at the curve in the creek where we had been climbing it was obvious that this is not a hike to be undertaken alone or by those just starting out.


Much of the industry in Oakville was located on the west side of the creek and so a future journey may undertake to see what remains from this period.

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The Old Mill

Sunday May 10, 2015

It was 20 degrees with rain in the forecast and the Japanese Cherry Trees in High Park were in full bloom.  Unfortunately, several thousand other people went to view them as well and there was simply no parking.  (This would have been a good time to use the subway). Fortunately, the Old Mill is very close and has some interesting things to explore.  Parking in the parking lot on the east side of the Humber River we chose to walk as far north as the old dam and then from there back to the mill.

False Solomon’s Seal is growing in the woods along the east bank of the river.  This plant can be eaten in the spring when the stems are still tender.  The native peoples used it for it’s strong laxative properties.  When it is a young plant is strongly resembles another highly toxic plant so please make sure that it is positively identified.


Robins lay their eggs in clutches of 3 to 5 eggs.  They hatch about two weeks after they’re laid and the bald babies with their eyes closed are protected by both male and female birds.  A couple of weeks later and the young birds are already proficient fliers.  A mating pair will raise two or three broods in a season.  Only about 25% of the young will survive the first year with the longest known life span being 14 years.  Robins take the egg shells and throw them at some distance from the nest.  This is to keep predators from robbing the nest.


The Humber was dammed just north of the Old Mill.  Today, most of this has been removed for flood control following Hurricane Hazel in 1954.  An egret stands fishing in the waters just below the water falls.


In the 19th century people had a love for the plumage of the egret and this led to their demise. Egrets are monogamous with both male and female protecting the young in the nest. The little ones are fiercely aggressive with the stronger ones often killing the weaker so that they don’t all reach the fledgling stage. Over hunting lead to their near extinction and the implementation of some of the first conservation laws protecting birds.


The cormorant in the picture below looked like he was having fun.  He rode the river straight toward the fastest part of the water falls.  He did his last second launch and landed gracefully to score a perfect ten.


An earlier mill bridge over Catherine Street was made of steel truss with a wooden decking and it was lost in the spring ice break up of 1916. The picture below shows the bridge on Mar. 29th in the ice field.  Two days later it was gone.

old mill bridge

The bridge was replaced the same year by this three arch stone structure.  Stone arch bridges date back to Roman times and the frequent loss of bridges on the Humber led to the decision to construct this more substantial one.  Frank Barber had pioneered the use of concrete in Canadian bridge construction in 1909 and by 1913 had designed all nine that had been built in Upper Canada.  His design for the bridge at the old mill has survived 99 spring ice break ups and Hurricane Hazel while others up and down the river have been lost.  The Humber River divided York County and the Township of Etobicoke at the time of construction and their crests are carved in stone on either side of the centre arch.


Water from the dam on the river was brought under Catherine Street via the head race which flowed through this passage.


From here it was dropped onto the water wheel.  This type of water wheel is known as over-shot because the water comes from above.  Close examination of the wall in front of the wheel shows that the tail race used to pass through here but has been closed off with new stone. There is a straight line up the wall that marks the old passageway.


The first mill in York (Toronto) was constructed in 1793 at the request of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe and this was the first industrial site in Toronto.  It was known as the King’s Mill after King George III of England who was the reigning monarch at the time.  The mill went into operation the following year when the mill wheels and gear systems arrived from England where they had been forgotten the year before.  The government elected to lease the mill and ended up with a long series of mill operators.  The first mill was a  saw mill but while Thomas Fisher was the miller he replaced it with a grist mill in 1834.  William Gamble bought the mill and replaced it with a new larger mill.  This mill was destroyed by fire in 1849. The fourth mill was built on the same location by Gamble.  During this time it was known as Gamble’s Mill and the upper story was used to store apples.  During the winter a wood burning stove was kept going to keep the apples from freezing.  This practice ended badly when the stove overheated in the winter of 1881 and burned the mill down.  It sat abandoned until 1914 when Robert Home Smith, who was instrumental in developing the Port Lands, bought 3000 acres in the area of the mill to create a subdivision.  He converted part of the site into the Old Mill Tea Garden.  Various additions were made over the next 80 years as the area became a focal point in the community. In the  1990’s significant restoration and reconstruction of the original grist mill was undertaken and in 2001 the Old Mill Inn was opened with 57 luxurious suites.  The picture below shows some of the original stonework from the 1849 mill with the new English Tudor style hotel on top.


The stone on the lower portion of the mill is darker and may represent the foundations of Fisher’s mill.  The cover photo shows the abandoned mill as it looked in 1913 just prior to the start of redevelopment.


I close with this majestic tree simply because it’s nice after months of brown and white photo’s to have a vibrant green one.


Google Maps Link: The Old Mill

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