Tag Archives: Crawford lake

Crawford Lake Trails

Saturday, February 29, 2020

February 29th falls on a Saturday once every 28 years with the next one coming in 2048.  To mark this rare occasion we decided to explore the area around Crawford Lake.  We had been here about 5 years ago to explore the longhouses and the meromictic lake that helped modern scholars locate the site.  It isn’t possible to see everything in one trip because the park is 232 acres in size and full of trails.

Having recently heard about stone foundations on the property, we set out to have a look for them.  There is plenty of parking near the re-created Indigenous Village but you have to pay using an envelope and drop-box so no change can be expected.

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Crawford Lake has more than 15 kilometres of trails, including the Bruce Trail.  After parking near the longhouses we followed the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail until we came to The Bruce Trail.  This allowed us to connect with the Escarpment Trail and make our way over to the lookout across the canyon.  From there we used The Woodland Trail to reach The Crawford Lake Trail.  Like most parks, we recommend that you take a picture of the trail map in the parking lot.  This will help you keep track of where you are  in the park and which turns to take at each trail connection.

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After passing several trees with very large woodpecker holes in them it wasn’t surprising to see a Pileated Woodpecker.  We saw one land on a nearby tree while a second one could be heard hammering away on a tree in the distance.  A nesting pair will take turns incubating 3 – 5 eggs until they hatch in about two weeks.  The young may take about a month to fledge after which time they can live for up to 12 years.

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As you follow the trail you will see several large walls of stone that have been put up by the farmers as they cleared the land in an attempt to farm it.

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When the settlers arrived they tried to become self dependent as quickly as possible.  They would raise animals during the summer when feeding them was easy and then slaughter them for food before the winter set in.  The livestock would be kept in a barn to protect it from the worst of the weather.  As we neared the escarpment edge we came to the stone foundations of an old barn.  The barn that was originally built on this property was small with an overhanging porch along the east side.  Wagons didn’t fit in the barn so they were likely stored under the overhang.  A few feet to the east of the barn stands the remains of another one of the stone walls that run across the property.  It provides some shelter to the items stored on this side of the barn.  Close examination reveals a single man-door and a larger animal-door.  These days the barn is used as a shortcut by white tailed deer that shelter among the rows of evergreens near the barn foundations.

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A few metres away from the barn are the foundations of the small house the family lived in.  When settlers cleared the land they used the materials at hand to build their homes and the barns where they kept their livestock.  The house was built on a foundation of field stones collected when the land was cleared.  The trees that were cut down became the logs that were used for the house and barn.  The log house would often have three rooms inside, two of which were bedrooms.  By the middle of the 1800’s the log house would be often be outgrown and the family would build a new home out of bricks.

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Crawford Lake Conservation Area covers several former land grants including that of Mrs. Allan White.  The log house built by her husband can be seen on the county atlas map marked with a green circle.  At the time the county atlas was drawn in 1877 the house was already reaching the end of its normal lifespan.

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Crawford Lake Conservation Area and The Bruce Trail Association are working on removing Ash Trees from the park, especially along the Bruce Trail section in the park.  Emerald Ash Borers have decimated the forests around the GTA with estimates reaching as high as 99% of all ash trees being infected with the beetles.

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Emerald Ash Borers live in the layer between the bark and the core of the tree.  The phloem is the layer directly below the bark and it is responsible for passing nutrients and hormones between the ground and the leaves of the tree.  The larvae of the beetle eats extensive pathways under the bark and leaves the tree without the ability to feed itself.  The places where the bark has fallen off the stumps below reveal the extend of damage on these trees and the reason for their destruction.

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The trail leads to a lookout where there are several information plaques about the history and wildlife of the area.  The canyon below is known as the Nassagaweya Canyon and it separates the Niagara Escarpment from a small section known as the Milton Outlier.  Rattlesnake Point is at the southern end of the outlier and it can be reached by following the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail which is paired with the Bruce Trail through this section.

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Limestone Creek flows through the bottom of Nassagaweya Canyon but it took a much larger force of water to cut the canyon through the limestone and dolomite layers of the escarpment.  Melting ice sheets at the end of the last ice age were able to move large amounts of stone and till.  Much of this material was deposited at the mouth of the canyon and is currently being mined by aggregate companies.  In a couple of months, when they return from warmer climates, Turkey Vultures will fill the skies above the canyon.

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Near Crawford Lake is the Hide and Seek trail which features wood carvings of several of the nearly 200 species that are at risk in Ontario.  The wood carvings were made by Robins Amazing Art.

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Originally the lake was known as Little Lake but when George Crawford bought it in 1883 he started a business called the Crawford Lake Company which ran a mill at the end of the lake.

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A cottage and boathouse were included in the sale of the property to the conservation area in 1969.  The house has since been demolished with only the front porch remaining.

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Crawford Lake is an interesting place to explore and we’ll likely be back.  We have previously posted about the longhouses in the conservation area as well as the Bruce Trail south of the park in the Crawford Forestry Tract.

Google Maps Link: Crawford Lake

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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.

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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 Section 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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The Longhouse People of Crawford Lake

Saturday Nov. 21, 2015

Crawford Lake is one of a handful of meromictic lakes in Ontario and this fact led to the discovery of a pre-contact native village.  It was snowing off and on as I parked in the Crawford Lake conservation area where having correct change would have saved me including a small donation in the envelope.

In the late 1960’s a University of Toronto professor became convinced that Crawford Lake had the characteristics to be a meromictic lake.  Most lakes have the water turn over at least once per year.  As the water cools it becomes denser causing it to sink.  The water at the top mixes with the water at the bottom providing a more even temperature and oxygenation.  In meromictic lakes the surface area is less than the depth and the water doesn’t mix.  In Crawford Lake there are three sections of lake and only the top 15 metres mixes annually.  The middle depth of the lake acts as a buffer while the bottom 9 metres or more never gets disturbed.  This part of the lake is always cold and has no oxygen.  Life doesn’t exist down here and the layers of sediments tell the history of things falling in the lake. Samples taken from the lake bottom revealed 1,000 years of history.  Sediment layers representing the period between 1300 and 1600  have high levels of corn pollen trapped in them in varying concentrations.  This led to the conclusion that an agricultural society had existed near the lake, closer to the shore when the concentrations were higher.  When settlers arrived, cut down the trees and created fields ragweed spread and the upper layers of sediment reflect this.  Crawford Lake is calm in the picture below.

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Local land owners confirmed that they had found artifacts on their properties and when Thomas Howard sold to the conservation authority in 1971 he donated an ungrooved ax or celt he had found here.  It is part of a 10,000 artifact collection that has been uncovered between 1973 and 1989.  The post holes for the frames of 11 longhouses have been discovered and three of these have been reconstructed. Two others have been partially formed including the frame outline seen below.  The positions of the fire pits have been exposed.

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Completed longhouses would have looked like the ones at Crawford Lake except that experts agree there were no ‘panic bars’ on the doors and no little electrical outlets on the outsides.

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It is unknown exactly which peoples lived here.  It may have been the Wendat (Huron) or Attawandaron (Neutral) but either way they were part of the Iroquoian speaking nations and are referred here as Iroquoian for simplicity.  Inside each of the longhouses an individual clan lived. Smaller longhouses may have had 30 people while larger ones up to 100 .  Individual families lived across from each other and shared a common fire.  The lower levels were used to sleep on because they were close to the fire and below the constant smoke.  Upper levels were used for storage with food being hung in the rafters where smoke kept both insect and rodent away.  It is common to find the carbonized remains of food around the fire pits or in the dump sites and these frequently include corn, beans and squash.  For some reason there was no squash found at the Crawford Lake village.

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The art of making stone tools is known as knapping.  It took a great deal of skill to master it but then a piece of chert could be turned into a razor sharp projectile in just 15 minutes.  Along with arrowheads, spear tips, knives and drills were knapped.  Among the findings at the site was a tip known as a turkey-tail arrowhead.  It is out of place by up to 3,000 years suggesting that the idea of collecting antiques may have extended to this culture as well.  The turkey-tail point is displayed along with other arrowheads and is on the tallest shaft in the middle of the picture below.

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Pottery was made by the women and the vessels could be as large as 15 litres.  Each family decorated their pottery in a unique manner that was passed on from mother to daughter. Specific markings on pottery have been used to trace the movements of families and clans over time.  The pottery fragments recovered in the village have been carefully put back together including the 47 pieces of this jug.

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This tract of land was eventually sold to the British Crown to be granted to European settlers and the natives who had lived here for centuries would never return.

Along the Crawford Lake Trail is a series of wood carvings known as the Hide and Seek Trail. Ontario has almost 200 species that are considered to be at risk, seven of which are represented with larger than life wood carvings.  The Eastern Wolf in the carving below is pictured howling, as they commonly do, to communicate within their packs and alert other packs to stay away. They are found in Ontario and Quebec but are now predominantly in Algonquin Park.  They are unable to survive in the small patches of forest left in the more urban parts of the province.

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In 1883 George Crawford bought the lake and 100 acres of land which he transferred it to his son Murray a couple years later.  They operated a saw mill on the south end of the lake to take advantage of the ample timber on the surrounding lands.  In 1898 the name of the lake was changed from Little Lake to Crawford Lake when they opened the Crawford Lake Company. When times were tough during the depression the Crawford family ran a resort on the lake. They also built themselves a cottage and boathouse.  In 1969 the lake and property was sold to the conservation authority and the cottage has since been destroyed.  All that remains is the concrete from the front porch and a set of steps leading down to where the boathouse once stood.

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This cedar tree stands along the side of the trail and is unique in that all three stems are twisted from top to bottom.

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Crawford Lake was formed at the end of the last ice age and has been collecting it’s local history lesson ever since.  Steam was rising off of Crawford Lake even as the snow was falling onto it.

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Crawford Lake Trail and the interpretive reconstruction of the Iroquoian village has been made wheelchair accessible so no one has to miss out.

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I only investigated the village and Crawford Lake Trail but the conservation area contains 7 hiking trails including part of the Bruce Trail.  It looks like you can spend a whole day here and still miss things.

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