Tag Archives: Don River

Connaught Labs

Thursday March 12, 2015

Thanks to my friend James, who hooked me up with historian Christopher Rutty, I was able to have a lunch hour tour of the museum at Sanofi Pasteur.  I have worked at Dufferin and Steeles for 17 years and often wondered about the history of the fancy old buildings near the south east corner.

Fisherville was named after the Fisher family.  Jacob Fisher emigrated from Pennsylvania with 22 members of his family in 1797. They were granted lots 25 and 26 which were on both sides of Steeles, east of Dufferin street. They ran a saw mill on the West Don River and later a grist mill which operated with different owners until about 1912.  By the 1870’s the property had been divided and was under several owners with the Fisher house and mill in the hands of G. H. Appleby.

John G. Fitzgerald was born in 1882 in Drayton Ontario.  He attended the University of Toronto medical school where he graduated at the young age of 21.  In 1913 he became the professor of hygene at the university.  Using his wife’s inheritance money he built a back yard stable on Barton street and acquired a couple of horses.  He began to produce the antitoxin for diptheria which he sold to the Canadian Government at cost for free distribution.  The university decided to back him and in 1914 the Antitoxin labs were opened.  The original stable was in danger of being demolished and has been moved to the Fisherville site. One side of the stables has no windows because it used to stand against another building in it’s original location.

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Inside, the old stable has been restored and served as a museum to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the antitoxin labs.

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Albert Gooderham was the grandson of William Gooderham of Gooderham and Worts distillery and served as chairman of the Ontario branch of the Red Cross.  With the outbreak of World War 1 there was a shortage of tetanus shots for the soldiers.  In order to increase production, space was required to increase the number of horses that could be cared for.  Albert took John G. Fitzgerald for a country drive one day in 1915 and ended up at the old Fisher farm, now abandoned, but still complete with the mill and pond.  Albert bought the property and built the labs and stables which were opened on October 25, 1917.  The Connaught Antitoxin Laboratories and University Farm was named after the Duke of Connaught, Canada’s governor general during WW1.

The cover photo was borrowed from the Sanofi Pasteur Canada Centenary Facebook page which I highly recommend for additional information on this historical site.  It shows the antitoxin labs with the company truck, also donated by Gooderham, which made the 20 mile trip back and forth to the university a couple times per week.  The photo below shows the labs today.  The middle section between the two towered ends of the right hand building contained stables while labs and production facilities were located in the rest of the two original buildings. The original 1913 stable has recently been relocated between the two 1916 buildings to form a heritage square.

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Horses were essential to the production of antitoxins.  Horses can be safely injected with small amounts of toxins that have no negative effect on the animal.  Their bodies produce an antitoxin that can be removed and administered to a human to make the person immune to the toxin. Horses were bought by Fitzgerald that were headed for the glue factory and given new life as living antitoxin producers.  For example, one horse could produce enough tetanus serum for 15,000 soldiers during WW1.  The picture below is from a January 25, 1928 Macleans article, but taken from the same Facebook page as the cover photo, describing how this horse and one other produced enough meningitis serum for all of Canada.

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Prior to the discovery of insulin a person who had diabetes pretty much had a death sentence. In 1920 Dr. Frederick Banting had the idea that led to the discovery of Insulin.  He brought the idea to the University of Toronto where a small experiment was set up using dogs.  When human trials were successful a large scale production method needed to be perfected. Connaught Labs had the ability and in 1923 they began a sixty year history of supplying all the insulin used in Canada.  The historical insulin vials in the picture below are on display at the museum.

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Fitzgerald passed away on June 20th 1940.  His desk, chair and an early ledger have been preserved in the heritage museum.  The picture above the desk shows the early days of Connaught Labs and he kept it above his desk at the university.

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Connaught Labs pioneered the process of growing the poliovirus in rocking glass bottles that became known as the Toronto Method.  It involved culturing the virus using a purely synthetic tissue culture known as “Medium 199,”.  In 1962 Connaught Labs licensed the Sabin oral polio vaccine.  I was likely among the first people to be administered this vaccine.  Connaught Labs also played a key role in the eradication of small pox.  Povitsky bottles used for the Toronto Method are seen in the lower right of the display below.

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In 1972 the University sold Connaught Labs to the Canadian Development Corporation making it a “for profit” company for the first time.  Mergers and expansions in 1989, 1999 and 2004 resulted in the formation of Sanofi Pasteur which employs 1,100 people in it’s Toronto facility. Over the past 100 years they have played a key role in the development of public health in Canada and have a vision of a world in which no one suffers or dies from a vaccine preventable disease.  Nearly a hundred buildings, including research facilities, have been constructed on the compound which can be seen outlined in red in the recent photo below.  The two buildings that started it all are in the lower right of the property.

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The farm where Jacob Fisher settled his family and built his mill has been used to save the lives and reduce the suffering of countless millions of people around the world.  I think Mr. Fisher would be very proud of how the farm he worked so hard to clear over 200 years ago is being used today.

Old Cummer Road

Sunday, March 8th, 2015.

It was the first bright sunny day of plus temperatures at an enjoyable 2 degrees.  With the clear blue sky, sunshine and melting snow you could start to believe that spring might actually come after all.  I parked on Pineway Blvd where Old Cummer used to cross.

Jacob Cummer (Kummer) was born in 1767 and married 16 year old Elizabeth Fisher in 1791. They came to Upper Canada in 1797 and made their way north from York.  Jacob built a log house at Yonge and Eglinton where his wife and 3 children spent the first winter.  The following year they took possession of 300 acres about 6 miles further north.  The Cummers were the first settlers in what would be known as Kummer’s Settlement and later as Willowdale.

Jacob established himself on lot 22 (the second lot north of Finch).  His lot ran from Yonge Street east to half way between the first line (Bayview) and the second line (Leslie).  In 1819 he built a saw mill on the East Don River that five generations of Cummers would operate.  Jacob had a store on Yonge Street where he ran the first post office in the area.  He donated land for the Methodist church and is buried in it’s graveyard.  To allow people to access his mill he built a road along the north edge of lot 22 from Yonge Street to Leslie Street which we call Cummer Road today.  A grist mill was built to the north on lot 23 and a woolen mill was added as well. A large industrial site grew up along the river because of his road.  From where I parked the old road runs a short way east to the Old Cummer GO train station which further commemorates the founder of the neighbourhood.  The road no longer crosses the train tracks but continues east of here to Leslie Street as Old Cummer Road, home to a subdivision.

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As you descend the ravine toward the East Don River you come into view of the old Cummer Road bridge.  The view below is taken from a similar vantage point to the cover photo.  The road curves to the right of the hydro tower which stands about where the barn used to be.

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The old bridge was a single arch and decorated with a series of “X’s” along each side.

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Behind the old homestead the road climbs a small hill which has been cut away to reduce the steepness of the incline.  This was not likely done in the early days when the mill served the local community.  More likely, it was part of a road improvement that came with the advent of automobile traffic.

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In 1941 Ontario Hydro bought the property to construct a series of hydro towers.  The old farm house was occupied until 1958 and all the buildings were removed in the mid-1960’s.  Two other buildings on Old Cummer road, just north of the homestead, stood until the 1980’s.  In the 1950’s the portion of the old Cummer property south of the road and east of Bayview was still farmer’s fields.  By the 1960’s it was being sub-divided for a subdivision and the old one lane bridge was no longer adequate for the increased traffic.  The road was realigned to cross a new, 4 lane bridge that was completed in 1968.  After crossing the new bridge the road takes a turn north and leads out to Leslie.  Cummer’s mill road became Old Cummer Road and traffic was diverted off of it.  When the last of the buildings on the road were removed, access was closed by putting a row of large boulders across the entrance.  The view in the picture below is looking from Cummer Road where it used to turn south and head to the mills.

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Returning to the old bridge I crossed and made my way up the east side of the river.  Between the old bridge and the new one there are deer tracks and coyote tracks everywhere.  I didn’t see any wildlife though, likely because the wet snow made it impossible to walk quietly.  The sun was bright and where it was shining on the river it really made me think of spring.

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Jacob Cummer was a self trained doctor and veterinarian as well as a retailer and industrialist. He built what was known as a given road which now bears his name as does the Go station on his former property.  Of all the works that the Cummer family built only one house remains. The house at 44 Beardmore Drive would have been overlooking the river and the grist mill.  It has been altered over the years but stands out among the 1960’s cookie-cutter homes in the area.

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Forks Of The Don

Sunday, Sep.. 14, 2014

Sunny and warm with a temperature around 16 degrees.  My seventh wedding anniversary and a few minutes for a short walk while my wife gets ready to go out with me for dinner.  I parked in E. T. Seton park off of Thorncliffe Park Drive.  Taking a left when you reach the bottom of the hill will bring you across an old bridge and into a parking lot.  This parking lot is on the site of several former buildings.   The bridge crosses the East Don River and right beside the bridge is a trail that goes down and under the old rail bridge.  Soon you will hear rushing water which tells you  that you have come to a waterfall at an old dam.

In 1846 the Taylor Brothers built a paper mill near this dam to join the saw and grist mill already here.  This became known as the upper mill.  The Taylor’s had two other paper mills.  The middle mill was just above Todmorden and the lower mill was at Todmorden.  Mid-nineteenth century paper was often made out of rags.  Homespun wool and cotton was mixed with straw and jute and cooked with soda and lime.  It was then washed, drained, pressed and dried to be made into various paper products.  All traces of this operation have either been removed or are hidden in the tall weeds.  At least the old mill dam is still easy to find.

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The Don river is divided into the East and West and just south of Overlea Blvd., right where Don Mills Road crosses the river,  is where they meet.  The forks of the Don can be approached from either bank as well as the little point of land that juts out between where the branches meet in the picture below.  The cover photo features the dam from between the East and West Don.

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Don Mills road was named for the saw and grist mills that it provided access to.  Originally it ran from the mills at the forks of the Don down to Parliament street.  It was later extended as far north as York Mills road, passing through various people’s well established land grants.  Since this road was independent of the actual mandated road allowance it was called the Independent Mills Road for a time. More recently it has simply been known as Don Mills Road. When it was widened to four lanes in the 1950’s a section south of Gateway Blvd leading down the hill was abandoned.  It remains today as part of a trail and a parking lot at the bottom of the hill.

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The old Don Mills bridge now carries a trail instead of a road across the railroad tracks. The bridge is constructed of steel beams bolted and pinned together.  I arrived here while the Terry Fox run was going on.  Crossing this bridge I could feel the sway caused by the runners as they pounded their feet.  It must have been interesting when cars and trucks were crossing here. The new Don Mills Road bridge can be seen in the background.

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Monarch butterflies are likely the most commonly known species of butterflies in Ontario.  They migrate south each winter to central Mexico.  Point Pelee Park is the most southerly point in Canada and on Sep. 17, 2014 (2 days ago) they reported over 2,000 monarchs spent the night in the park on their way south.  From this they estimate that populations will be up next summer. The butterfly in the picture below is a male.  Male monarchs have two little black spots on their rear wings (seen near the back end of the body) that are used to release a scent to attract the females.  Monarch’s taste bad due to a chemical in the milkweed they eat and that provides them with protection from being eaten by birds.  Another type of butterfly that looks almost identical is the Viceroy.  Viceroy’s are slightly smaller and have a second black ring around the back of their rear wings.

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Half-Mile Bridge

Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2014

Tuesday evening and a couple of hours for a rare mid-week hike.  I parked on True Davidson Drive and went down beside the bridge to the abandoned CPR tracks.  Please note that all railway right of ways are private property and we are not promoting trespassing, simply recording the local history as it exists at this point in time.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad was founded in 1880 to complete a rail line across the continent and connect the provinces in the newly formed country of Canada.  When Confederation occurred on July 1, 1867 Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were the first four provinces.  Manitoba joined in 1870 and B.C. was enticed to join in 1871 by the promise of a transcontinental railway which was to be built within 10 years.

When the line was built it passed through Leaside and Toronto West Junction missing the city of Toronto.  Trains had to back up 5 miles from West Junction to Union Station.  In 1888 the CPR was granted permission to build a spur line from Leaside to Union Station along the west side of the Don River.  In 1891 the first freight train ran along this track into Toronto, with passenger service starting the following year.  A bridge was built to cross the Don River Valley.  One end was near Todmorden and the other ran past The Don Valley Brickworks.  A steel trestle bridge 1100 feet long (just under a quarter mile) and 75 feet high was constructed.  The bridge picked up the nick-name “half mile bridge” early on even though it is only half of that in length.  This photo is from the early 1920’s.

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By the late 1920’s trains were becoming heavier and a new bridge was required.  As this bridge was the route of the Toronto to Montreal train it was decided not to interrupt service.  New concrete supports were built under the existing bridge.  Then new sections of steel were assembled beside the existing bridge.  When the train left for Montreal in the morning a crane would lift an existing section of bridge out.  The new section would be lifted into place and secured before the train came back that evening.  Finally the old girders were removed.  Throughout this section of track the steel plates that the rails are mounted on all read CPR 1953 indicating the last time a major restoration was done to the tracks and ties.  The bridge remained in use until 2007 when the line was abandoned. Metrolinx now owns the line and bridge with plans to integrate it into a future system.

The picture below shows the overgrowth of just seven years.

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A rail line right-of-way is 200 feet wide. Steam engines would have used this track into the 1950’s and the entire strip of land would have been kept cleared of it’s trees to prevent engine sparks from starting fires.  Today, trees that are two inches across are growing right beside the rails.

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Some of the old electrical poles still stand along right of way, many still with short lengths of wire attached.

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Walking along the tracks for a few minutes brings you to the half mile bridge.  There are 4 small platforms perched along the sides of the tracks.  Buckets of water were stored here and they may also have served as places of refuge for anyone caught on the tracks when a train approached.  Today these platforms would likely just drop you 75 feet to your death. Note how small the cars appear in the photo below.

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The idea of walking across this bridge could be scary enough, but for some it isn’t scary at all.  They prefer to jump off the bridge as the bungee jumping ropes tied in the middle of the tracks suggest.

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Two thirds of the way across the bridge you come to the Don River.

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Looking back one can get a good view of the Don Valley Brickworks and it’s assortment of late 19th and early 20th century industrial buildings.

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A steel ladder is secured to the side of the bridge allowing access to a platform several feet below.  Prudence prevented me from finding out what is down there.

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From up here the view of the towers in the downtown core is quite spectacular.

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Along the way back I found one of the old concrete foundations for a signal post.  Track signals are used to inform trains of the location of other trains along the same track.

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This view of the train bridge, along with the cover photo, is taken from the parking lot of the old brickworks.  It has recently been renovated to become Evergreen Brick Works and is now home to a farmer’s market, bike repair and rentals and many gardens.  The old brick kilns remain on display as well.

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Google maps link: Half Mile Bridge

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Abandoned Pottery Road

Sunday Aug. 10, 2014

I parked in the Loblaws parking lot at Bayview and Moore Avenue.  Another beautiful, sunny day, around 22 degrees.  Perfect for a hike.  If you look carefully you notice a sign on the laneway between the Pharma Plus and the Loblaws.  It says “Pottery Road”.  It seems out of place as there is another Pottery Road that runs down the hill from Broadview Ave. to  Bayview Ave., right past Todmorden.

The interesting thing is that, until about 55 years ago these pieces of Pottery Road were connected.  The picture below, from 1947, shows Pottery Road (in red) wiggling up the middle of the picture and crossing the CPR tracks  near the centre.  The CPR tracks run almost straight up the middle of the photo.  This section of the road is now abandoned.

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Pottery Road likely started off as part of an east-west Indian trail that  crossed the city along the present route of Davenport Road.  Today only about a third of the original Pottery Road remains.  The portion going south from Loblaws has been taken over as an access route to a new construction site.  I walked down it but it is a dead end now.  Along the way, parts of the old road can be seen sticking through the grass.   This is a dead end now and you will have to go back to Bayview Ave and walk to Nesbit Street.

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There is a little trail just off of True Davidson Drive just before the bridge that leads down to the old rail line.  The old road crossed the now abandoned CPR tracks that lead to the Half-Mile Bridge and descended along the edge of the Cudmore creek.

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I missed the connection to the roadway and so I tried to find it from the south end of True Davidson Drive.  I ended up in Rosedale Valley Ravine at the top of a 130 foot point of land.  I found this shelter someone had built into the side of the hill.  A place to sit in the sunshine, or retreat in the rain.

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Inside they were using part of an old metal chute as a large scoop to dig their little hide-away.

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There appeared to be no going down the side of the ravine (even the coyote only had two places he would go).  There was a rope tied to the trees just behind the fort and a series of steps were dug into the hillside.  I decided to go down the hill using the rope to steady my decent.  At the bottom I found my way across Cudmore Creek and onto Pottery Road.  It has deteriorated badly in the four years since I first walked through here.  With the erosion and new growth of trees it is hard to see that vehicles once roared up and down the hill here.

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In places the old road is washed out 3 feet deep.  Under the pavement is a mess of broken bricks.  The Don Valley Brick Works, owned by the Taylor brothers who were running Todmorden Mills in the 1890’s, is just south of here.  Any broken or defective brick had to be discarded and so they litter the Don river and every hillside in the area.  It appears that they also formed the base for Pottery Road.  I guess that when they paved over the bricks it was “Goodbye Red Brick Road”.

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Closer to the Bayview  Extension the old steel posts for the guard rail stand like sentinels along the side of the old roadway.  Their wooden facing has dropped off and is rotting on the ground.

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When the Bayview extension was built in 1959 Pottery Road was cut in two and the portion that climbed the hill along the Cudmore creek was cut off and abandoned.  Today as you drive up Bayview avenue it is hard to pick out the location of the former road.  Just at the end of the guardrail there is a chain with a red flag hanging on it.  This marks the old roadway.  It would have come straight across and connected with the bridge over the Don river.

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The 1928 bridge lies behind the newer one in the foreground.

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At the top of the hill the road currently curves to the south as it climbs the hill.  The road originally went straight up the hill and met Broadview Avenue where Charles Sauriol Parkette is today.  Broadview Avenue was built in 1798 by Timothy Skinner who ran the mills at Todmorden and was originally known as Mill Road until 1884.  The name was changed to reflect the “broad view” from the crest of the hill looking over the mills in the valley.  There is a Dairy Queen at the top of the hill which proved to be a distraction that kept me from getting to the parkette to take a last photo.

Google Maps link: Pottery Road

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Todmorden Mills

Sunday August 10, 2014

It was sunny and warm, a beautiful day for a hike.  I parked at the top end of Pottery Road in the Loblaws parking lot.  I also hiked along the old abandoned roadway of Pottery Road but that will have to be described separately due to length.

When Governor Simcoe arrived in 1793 to build his town of York (Toronto) he needed a large supply of sawn lumber.  The only other mill at the time was the King’s Mill (now Old Mill) on the Humber River.  As it was a government run mill it was unreliable and went through many changes of millers due to crazy rules that made it impossible to recoup your investment.  Simcoe brought Isaiah and Aaron Skinner in and granted them 200 acres of land in the Don River valley.  They built a sawmill in 1794 and a grist mill in 1795.  The Skinners sold the mills to Parshall Terry in 1798 and when he drowned in 1808 the mills passed to Timothy Skinner who ran them until he was killed in the war of 1812.

Terry built the older portion of the Terry House, that part at the back which was made of logs.  The front part with the two chimneys was a later addition.  Taxes were levied on the number of chimneys you had, so having three fireplaces was a luxury.

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This picture shows the back end of the paper mill.  The mill race ran down the left side of the mill and this is where the mill wheel would have been.  The tall chimney was added about 1900.  In the cover photo the chimney is contrasted with the urban towers of Toronto in the distance.

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In 1822 Colin Skinner came into a partnership with the idea of chasing a bounty for being the first paper mill in Upper Canada.  They didn’t win the bounty but did become the first mill to install paper making machinery.  Eventually the paper mills spread into three locations and became a major industry in early Toronto.  When the mills closed down they were used for awhile to stable the horses from the brick works.  Later they were the home of Whitewood’s Riding Stable.  The word “White” remains on the side of the old mill.  Also, note the old mill stone mounted on the lawn just outside the door.

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When the Don Valley parkway was built the Don River was re-routed so that the large curve that used to pass through Todmorden and power the mills was cut off by the berm of the highway.  The river was straightened to run along side the railway line.  The part that used to flow under the bridge still has water in it and backs up from the river down stream when there is flooding, providing some flood control.  The picture below is taken from the bridge looking east.

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In 1821 the mills were sold to Thomas Helliwell Sr. and John Eastwood.  Helliwell Sr. came from Todmorden in England and it is because of him that the name of Don Mills was changed to Todmorden Mills.  One of the first things Helliwell did was erect this building as the brewery and distillery.

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Thomas Helliwell Jr. built this house in 1837 out of bricks made from clay he dug out of the hillside behind the house.  The bricks were not baked but only sun dried and so they would crumble easily.  For this reason a protective coating of stucco was applied.

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The portion of the house at the rear has the notable characteristic of no windows breaking the roof line that suggests it was originally a log home.  The two story brick and stucco addition on the front was likely framed and then veneered with bricks and stucco.

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The old flag pole still stands on the front lawn of the Terry House.  Note the wooden cradle mount at the bottom of the pole.

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When Thomas Taylor died in 1880 the mills were handed over to George Taylor’s son’s who added the Don Valley Pressed Brickworks to their empire in 1891 just across the river from Todmorden.  The Don Valley Brickworks produced many of the bricks for the construction of Late Victorian Toronto.  Broken or defective bricks were dumped in the valley all around Todmorden.  The road leading to the bridge over the former Don River is made of bricks but is itself built on several feel of broken bricks.  The blue line on the bricks in the picture below shows the one time bank of the don River.

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A little up stream is old Todmorden dam.  This is a very quiet place to just sit and contemplate the people who made this city out of the woods around them.

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The Don Station was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1896 near Queen Street and the Don River.  Between 1969 and 2008 it was on display at Todmorden before being moved to it’s new home in Roundhouse Park.

Google Maps Link: Todmorden Mills

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Hinder Property

July 26, 2014

Moving day, but still time for a short hike before we have to get serious about hiking between the apartment and the truck.  It was a cooler day and overcast.  We parked in Bathurst Park on the West Don River.

We hiked south along the river into an area known as the Hinder Property.  An extensive mountain bike trail runs through the area making use of fallen trees and boardwalks.

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As we hiked along the side of the Don river we found this sewer cover which commemorates a point in history for the City of North York.  The Township of North York (NYT on this cover) was incorporated on June 13, 1922 out of the rural northern parts of York County.  It became the Borough of North York in 1967 meaning that there are not too many covers made after this one that would say NYT.  North York was incorporated as a city on Valentines day 1979, leading to it’s solgan “City with a Heart”.

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Near this we found another cover that was nearly buried in leaves and soil.  This one is unlike any I’ve ever seen before.

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As mentioned in an earlier post, the province of Ontario was well known for it’s brick buildings.  Some bricks are made with three round holes that reduce the amount of clay required and improve the speed of drying.  A lot of early brick buildings are originally wooden buildings that have been veneered in brick.  The holes are then used to tie the brick skin to the building using metal straps.  This brick is unique in it’s patterned holes.

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Pop began to be sold in cans in the 1930’s.  The can went through several changes, an early significant one being the inclusion of a liner to protect the contents from tasting like the can.  Originally a can opener was required to pierce a hole in the top.  In 1959 the invention of a pull tab eliminated the need of an opener but created a litter problem.  This was solved in the 1970’s by the push tab where a small raised blister was pushed into the can to open it.  This exposed the finger to sharp edges and was eliminated with the “sta-tab” that continues to be popular today.  7-Up was released just two weeks before the stock market crash in 1929.  There was 7 main ingredients in the original recipe, including the mood stabilizing drug lithium citrate.  Originally it was a patented medicine marketed as a cure for hang-overs.  Unlike bottles, cans were never dated and so coming up with a date can be tricky.  In this case we can define this can as 1975, the year in which the marketing slogan was “The Un-Cola.”

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Climbing the hill to the clearing above brought us face to face with a dragon.  This is part of a large memorial being erected in North York Cemetery.

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As we arrived back at the car we passed through a double row of trees that mark an old lane way.  That was our clue to head home and start hiking the lane way into the house where my wife and I were moving.

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Earl Bales Park

Saturday July, 19, 2014

It was a cloudy day and at 18 degrees, a little more comfortable than last week’s swelter. We parked in the lower parking lot for Earl Bales Park off of Finch.  Climbing the hill to the west of the parking lot brings you to John Bales homestead.

John Bales came to Canada from Yorkshire, England in 1819.  He bought the lot at the south west corner of what is now Bathurst and Shepperd (Lot 15 1-W).  In 1822 he built a log house which was later covered with a combination of cement and pebbles.  A kitchen wing was added around 1850 when the family reached 10 children.  The house still stands and is listed as the 8th oldest house in Toronto.

The picture below shows John’s storey and a half house.  The term storey and an half refers to the upper floor which was tucked under the roof so you could only stand up in the middle.  Log houses reveal themselves by the fact that no upstairs windows cut the roof line of the house.  There are four logs that run around the upper rim of the house, where the lower edge of the roof rests, that tie the structure together and cannot be cut through for windows.  In the cover picture of the house you can see that windows cut the roof line on the kitchen wing which was therefore not built from logs.  In the same picture the older wing has yellow brick chimneys and the newer one has red bricks.

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Early wells in Ontario were dug by hand and had to be large enough to allow a man to swing a pick axe.  They were dug in depths up to 30 meters or more.  Early wells had a hand crank which wound or unwound a rope that lowered a bucket into the well.  The invention of hand pumps allowed for easier access to water but were limited in the depth of their draw to about 15 meters.  The old well and pump still exists at the front of the house.

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In the woods just behind the old Bales house we disturbed a rookery of American Kestrels.  Kestrels are members of the falcon family and are often confused with hawks, to which they are not related.  There were at least four of them in this small area of trees.

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The park sits on land that used to be The York Downs Golf and Country Club and the land forms still show.  Just south of the house is a memorial to the Holocaust.  The memorial includes a chimney on the right which has the names of various death camps on it.  The black wall to the left of that contains the story of the holocaust on one side and 23 panels of names of victims and their country on the other.  This is certainly the most somber place we’ve come across while hiking.

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We went back down the hill towards the river.  There is an area where some stuff has been thrown down the hill.  Amongst it we found this old guitar.  It was sold by Eglinton Music Centre which still exists today.  It made me think of a song by Jethro Tull called Songs From The Wood.

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We walked back past the car and crossed the 1962 bridge to get to the path that leads down the east side.  We took a few minutes to have a look just north of the 401 and here we found a place where a large mudslide has ripped away part of the hill.  In all my years of hiking this is the first time I have seen this.

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An area without larger trees at the bottom of the hill suggests the need for investigation. The foundations of a building lie here.  Another hand pump was found inside the foundation.

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R. McDougall & Co. in Galt was a manufacturer of heavy steel equipment from the late 1880’s until they were bought out in 1951.  They specialized in lathes, but apparently also made water pumps.  The one we found here was dated 1921.

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Most of the things we find along our journey were designed to last, and so they have. Today, especially in computer technology, we have something called planned obsolescence.  When a new computer is released to the market the manufacturer is already working on a newer version which replace the older one.  From massive card operated machines in the 1950’s to hand held computers, that we call phones for some reason, the change has been swift.  When Apple released it’s iMac G3 computer in 1998 it eliminated all floppy drives and introduced the USB drive which has pretty much made all other external media connections obsolete.  Even as this new technology was being introduced, the vision was already set for cloud-based file storage.  The unit pictured below is a G4 released in early 1999.

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If you walk through the woods on a regular basis you start to see that although plants come and go, there is always something edible in season.  From Leeks and Fiddle Heads in the early spring through to Puff Balls in late fall it’s a changing menu.  This week the Black Raspberries are just getting going, but it looks like a good crop this year (and tasty too!). Wild Ginger, pictured below is also in season now.

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Wilket Creek

Sunday June 22, 2014

It was sunny and 25 degrees, a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.  I parked on Bridle Path and entered the gardens from there. The upper part of the gardens is an arboretum full of many varieties of mature trees.  The main trail will lead you down the bluff and into the Wilket Creek valley.  Wilket Creek was known as Milne Creek for the first 150 years of settlement.  Here, the creek has been dammed to create a small mill pond as seen in the cover photo.  A miniature water wheel has been recreated below the dam. This is an example of an “overshot” wheel where the water would be dropped into the buckets from above to turn the wheel.  Inside the mill, the drive shaft that the wheel is turning provides power to turn the gears and pulleys that run the factory.

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Alexander Milne and his family first settled on this property in 1817.  He built a three story mill and a small community grew around it.  The mill stood on the east side of the creek an the top floor was used as a saw mill while the lower two floors were a woolen mill. The wooden wheel in the Milne mill was an overshot wheel, 18 feet in diameter.  When the water level became inconsistent at Milne Creek, the Milnes moved to their property on the West Don River at Lawrence.  Here the town of Milneford Mills was re-established.  Two building survive from this era.  One is described separately in a post called “Milneford Mills”.  The second has been moved back to Edwards Gardens.  One of the buildings in Milneford Mills was a wagon shop.  The large door on the end of the upper floor in the picture below is typical of wagon shops where painting and drying were done upstairs.  A temporary ramp would allow access to the door.

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When the Milnes moved the property was left to turn into a weed patch.  In 1944 Rupert E.Edwards purchased the property with the intention of making a country estate.  Very soon the city was closing in on all sides and Edwards sold everything to the city for a public gardens.

Leaving Edwards Gardens you enter Wilket Creek Park.  As I walked along the west side of the river I found that there were a lot of small rivulets that cut steep channels through the hillside.  I kept having to go back down to the river to get around the valleys.  Fortunately there are several sets of “stairs” running up the sides of the hills made of tree roots.  In the picture below the trail runs between the large trees and climbs a point of land which is over 100 feet high.  These hill sides have been kept clean by the groundskeepers, but I did find a 1976 nonreturnable Pepsi bottle.

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Along the way the main path follows the creek crossing it on several bridges.  Just north of the fourth bridge up from the mouth of the creek lies the ruins of an old dam.  The centre piece has been broken out.  Erosion was a constant enemy of the settlers who built dams on the rivers.  Early wooden and earth dams often had to be rebuilt or repaired every spring.  Wilket Creek is prone to flooding and the one end of this dam has been washed clean so that water now flows around it.

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This may have been the mill race for this dam but I suspect that it is the original creek bed and that the old mill race has been taken over by the creek.

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The remains of another dam stand near the first foot bridge up from the mouth of Wilket Creek at the West Don River.  This one, like many others, was likely destroyed by the conservation authority as part of flood control measures implemented after Hurricane Hazel.  It has been difficult to find any information on these other millers in the Wilket Creek watershed.

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At one point along the top of the hill I began to follow a set of deer tracks through the woods.  It wasn’t too long before a young buck stepped out of the woods and posed for a few pictures.  I normally see the tail ends of deer as they try to get away but this one was looking me straight in the eye.  I had no way of knowing if he was used to being fed by humans or was thinking about trying out his new antlers.  He followed me through the woods until I found a place to get out onto Leslie Street.

White Tailed deer bucks grow a new set of antlers every year, beginning in the spring.  The antlers generally grow larger every year until the animal reaches it’s prime at 5-7 years of age.  Antlers can grow up to an inch per day and are covered with a tissue known as velvet during the growth period.  In late summer the antlers calcify, becoming hard and losing their velvet.  The antlers come in handy in the fall when the males fight for supremacy and the attention of the females.  At the start of winter when mating season is complete they lose their antlers.

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Having circled the deer I found a way back into the trees.  The trail makes its way along the crest of the ravine until it reaches Sunnybrook Park and the West Don River.

Wilket Creek empties into  the West Don River in a rather unspectacular way just beside the roadway into the park.

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Burke Brook

Sunday June 15, 2014

It was sunny and over 20 degrees.  I parked on Rosewell avenue and crossed the school playground.  Burke Brook flows under the playground and exits into an open channel just inside the woods at the east end of the baseball diamond.  This little section of the trail crosses the brook on a footbridge.  The ravine has been filled in at Duplex Ave which creates a steep climb up over the road.  The stretch of brook between Duplex and Yonge street is all underground.

One of the city workers who cleaned up the mess of fallen trees that littered the parks after last December’s ice storm turned this log into a bench.

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Burke Brook crosses Yonge street underground where it enters Alexander Muir Gardens.

Alexander Muir was born in Scotland in 1830.  He died in Toronto in 1906 after serving as a teacher in several Toronto area schools.  In October 1867 Muir wrote The Maple Leaf Forever to commemorate Confederation.   It was Canada’s National Song but was not adopted by the french who had written O Canada in french in 1880.  In 1980 we adopted O Canada for our official National Anthem.  A large garden was built in his honour in 1933 on Yonge St, just north of Lawton Blvd.  It was moved to this location in 1952 to facilitate construction of the Yonge street subway.  The garden has a wide variety of trees and flowers and many looping paths and trails that make it an ideal place to get lost for awhile.

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Just past the Alexander Muir gardens the brook flows out of its underground channel into the open.  It was lined with cut stone in 1964 to make a deep channel to prevent erosion. As the photo below shows, the water has little respect for the efforts of man.  The erosion extends out on both sides of the original stonework.  I was amazed at how much soil has been removed by such a small flow of water.

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The brook passes through Blythwood Ravine and then into Sherwood Park.  The Carolinian Forest in the park contains White Pine, Eastern Hemlock, American Beech, Red and White Oak and Sugar Maples that are over 150 years old.  Along the way there is a lot of groundwater discharge and the hillsides are seeping with water.  A long stretch of the trail is covered with a boardwalk that seems to contain one too many stairs.

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Just before you reach Bayview Avenue there are four concrete abutments about 10 feet up the hill on the north side of the valley.  They are somehow related to an old road alignment that brought Bayview down into the valley to cross Burke Brook.  It then climbed the hill behind what is now Sunnydene Crescent.

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Bayview Avenue (1st Line East) runs up the middle of the historical Atlas map below.  The jog in the road (and the actual road allowance) are seen in the centre of the map.  Bayview Ave makes a little “s” curve where it crosses Burke Brook.  The road allowance has been drawn in by the mapmaker with dotted lines.  Between 1947 and 1953 the ravine had a large culvert installed and then a berm was built to fill in the valley to straighten out the road and make it almost level.

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When you cross Bayview Ave to go back down to the bottom of the ravine you will find the descent is one of the steepest slopes on any trail in the GTA.  For this reason, the settlers chose to run the road west along the hillside as it angled toward the bottom of the ravine and then back up on an angle on the other side.

You are now in the ravine below Sunnybrook Hospital.  This property belonged to Joseph Kilgour who made his fortune as head of Canada Paper Company.  He owned a large estate which his wife donated to the city in 1928 as a public park called Sunnybrook Park. Sunnybrook Veterans Hospital, built on the corner of the property, was opened in 1946 to help deal with the influx of veterans following the second world war.  It is likely that the straightening of the road was done to improve access to the hospital from the south.

A building from the 1950’s now stands abandoned in the woods near the hospital.  This appears to have been an electrical generating building that has since become obsolete.

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Turning to your right when you reach the main trail in Sunnybrook Park will bring you to the mouth of Burke Brook where it empties into the West Don River.

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Google Maps Link: Burke Brook

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