Tag Archives: Don Valley Brick Works

Beachcombers – Scarborough Bluffs

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The beach along the Scarborough Bluffs is an ever changing environment.  It is eroded by wind, rain and waves.  Objects are washed ashore, washed down the bluffs or dumped here.  As such it is a great place to look for treasures, each of which has a story to tell or a little bit of history to reveal.

This hike set out to investigate the Scarborough Bluffs, specifically the section from The Guild Inn through to East Point Park. There is a small parking lot for The Guild Inn at the end of Galloway Road and Guildwood Parkway that will provide access to the beach via an old construction road which was used to harden the shore west of here in an attempt to prevent erosion.  The picture below shows the view from the top of The Bluffs looking west.

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The morning was bright and sunny but the beach was virtually deserted.

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East Point Park is one of the places that is known for its Monarch Butterfly migrations. Milkweed is essential to the lifecycle of this species of butterflies and it is encouraging to see milkweed seeds scattered along the bluffs.  The flat brown oval seeds are attached to the white fluff that helps them to be spread by the wind.

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The vegetation on the top of the bluffs slows erosion down but doesn’t stop it.  The roots are holding a thin layer of soil above where the sand has vanished below.  Walking along the top of the bluffs it is, therefore, necessary to stay back from the edge so that you don’t have the ground disappear below your feet.  The cover photo shows a fence that was installed to keep people away from the edge.  The fence is now falling over the edge itself.

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The area of Leslieville was situated on clay deposits that were excellent for brick making. As a result, Greenwood Avenue in 1914 had seven brickyards including that of Albert Wagstaff.  When Wastaff died in 1931 he left the brickyards to his drinking buddy Albert Harper who operated the brickyards while the family contested the will.  When the will was found to be valid he closed the yards down and the pit was turned into the town dump. The name Harper on the brick below was his way of stating his claim to the company while the will was being reviewed.

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The ravine at Greyabbey Park is one of the places where there is a flow of water from the top of the bluffs to the bottom.  Tall invasive phragmites grow in wetlands all along the sides of the bluffs, sometimes as much as half way up.  These ravines provide homes for the white-tailed deer, coyotes and other animals that call the bluffs home.

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As we walked along the beach we met a local couple who walk there daily.  We noted that they were combing the beach looking for interesting objects, as were we.  They collect antique bottles and glass and display them on an Instagram account.  Their treasures can be seen at this location.  The picture below shows several pieces of glass, including a couple of Coke bottle bottoms, that have been tumbled by the water and sand until they are well rounded.

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The Toronto Brick Company was stamped onto bricks produced at The Don Valley Brick Works, one of Toronto’s largest manufacturers.  Their bricks may also read TPB Co for Toronto Pressed Brick Company.  Much of the early Toronto skyline was made of buildings constructed using bricks from this brickyard.  Much of the beach along The Bluffs is also made up of bricks from this brickyard now that old construction debris has been used for fill and for hardening the shoreline.

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Rose hips provide a splash of colour in the winter and can also be eaten if you avoid the seeds.  It is said that they help to reduce inflammation and they contain 50% more vitamin C than oranges do.

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It’s hard to say where this plastic elephant got tossed away at because the lake may have carried it a long distance before depositing it here.  It may also have come from the top of the bluffs.  Unlike some of the glass on the beach, plastic has little chance of being taken home.

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The rusting remains of a milk chum, or milk can, lie behind a log on the beach.  Starting in the 1850’s metal cans were introduced for milk collection so it could be taken to the dairy.  By the 1970’s collection was converted to tanker trucks and the cans became collected for their antique value.

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There is a movement to pave a trail along this section of the bluffs and add armour stone to the shore to slow down the erosion of the bluffs.  Nature will continue to have its way and the bluffs will continue to recede.  The vegetation that is growing along the shoreline and up the sides of the bluffs will go a long way toward slowing the process down.

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This post brings the total along the Scarborough Bluffs to 8 which cover much of the distance between Bluffer’s Park and Highland Creek.  From the west to the east the adventure began with Sand Castles in Bluffer’s Park.  That story looks at the geology of the bluffs.  Erosion investigates the effect of the lake, the wind and rain on the bluffs.  Gates Gully is the most famous ravine along the bluffs with a sunken ship and stories of buried treasure.  South Marine Park Drive follows the lakeshore between the sunken Alexandria and The Guild Inn.  The Inn is a former artist guild and preserves some of Toronto’s early architecture.  This post fills the gap between the Inn and East Point Park where there is a Monarch Butterfly migration point.  Highland Creek is the eastern most point of The Bluffs.

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There’s still Greyabbey Park on the top of the Bluffs to be explored at some time in the future.

Google Maps link: The Bluffs

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Crothers Woods

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Crothers Woods has at least three access points, each with parking.  There is one parking lot at the Don Valley Mountain Bike Trailhead on Pottery Road (map link at end) just before the bow-string bridge over the Don River.  This parking lot sits on the old road allowance for Pottery Road, a section of which was abandoned when the Bayview Extension was built in 1959.  From the trailhead, the path leads north following the side of Bayview Avenue until it reaches the northern tip of the park where there are a couple of parking spots.  To the right along this trail is an area known as Sun Valley.  It was home to a small brick making company called The Sun Brick Company which operated until the late 1930’s.  The property had been home to the Taylor Family who built their homestead here in 1826.  The family owned the Don Valley Brick Works and Todmorden Mills where they ran one of their three paper mills. When the clay for the bricks was nearly exhausted the town of Leaside purchased the pit for a landfill.  Over the next few decades, they dumped garbage up to 25 metres deep in the pit.  It has now been capped with clean fill and is being restored as a meadow at this time.  The Terry Family home has been moved to Todmorden Mills where it is being preserved.  The picture below shows the home, that once stood in today’s Crothers Woods, as it appeared in the summer of 2014.

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Following the trail into the woods leads to a slight diversion, the abandoned CPR tracks. The first train to roll across the tracks here was a freight train in 1891.  That train continued south along the Don Valley and into downtown Toronto.  Along the way, it passed over the Half-Mile bridge.   The first good snowfall of the season sits largely undisturbed on the tracks in the picture below. Due to the fact that the snow had fallen without much drifting the rails and ties can be clearly seen in spite of the fact that there is about a foot of fresh snow.  This is one of the few local abandoned railways that still has the rails and ties intact.  It is likely that Metrolinx, who owns the railway corridor, will incorporate it into some future passenger line.

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An active set of tracks belonging to Canadian National Railway runs parallel to the abandoned CPR ones as the Don Valley made a suitable access to the city.  Two freight trains passed along the other tracks while the lower ones were being briefly explored.

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Crothers Woods is one of the most bike friendly parks in the city.  Bikers are encouraged to use the trails although pedestrians still have the right-of-way. Winter biking has its challenges and a bike is normally fitted out especially for the season.  Fat tires and wider frames are matched with enclosed gears that prevent freeze up.  The tires may be inflated to as low as 5 pounds pressure.  A group of winter bike enthusiasts was using the park to get some exercise and enjoy their custom cycles.    It is always nice to see others who find a way to enjoy the winter weather.

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Crothers Caterpillar had a manufacturing plant in Crothers Woods until 1979.  Built by George W. Crothers it produced heavy equipment, primarily for the mining industry.  The plant backed onto the railway and the factory buildings on the site were removed by 1991. The site has recently been partially repurposed as a Loblaws store and parking lot.  There is a trail head here as well that was the starting site of the group of fatbikes we had seen earlier.  There is also lots of parking available in the back of the parking lot near the trailhead.

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The loading ramp from the former Crothers Caterpillar plant still stands along the abandoned railway track.

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A lone hydro pole stands in the woods where it once was part of the Crothers Caterpillar plant.  What was an open field 30 years ago has grown back in quite well!

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In 1929 the city built the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant on the edge of Crothers Woods.  It processes the effluent from North Toronto and Leaside.  Personal experience indicated that the sewage system covers in North Toronto are mainly dated 1928 with a few from 1929.  The cover photo shows another view of the treatment plant.

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Crothers Woods was a farm for about 100 years before it spent the next century as an industrial site.  Today it still retains some areas of Carolinian Forest consisting of beech, maple and oak.  There are also a few butternut trees which are locally rare.  Crothers Woods has been designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) because it is a home to some rare undergrowth plants.  It is also a good place to see common spring flowers like trout lilies and trilliums.  The east ravine wall contains some climax forest which is the historical normal vegetation that exists in a stable condition in this part of the country.  New growth forest has taken over much of the rest of the 52-hectare park.

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An extensive set of stairs leads from the corner of Redwood Road and Millway Road down to the sewage plant.

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There are plenty of remnants from old land usage in the ravine.  A lengthy penstock runs down the hill behind the treatment plant while these concrete structures stand a little farther along.  They say that old relics from the Crothers Caterpillar plant are still dug up on occasion in the woods.

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Crothers Woods also includes the Beechgrove Wetland which is a successful restoration project.  The wetlands, Sun Valley and an abandoned road await a visit in the spring when the wetlands will be teeming with life.

 

Google Maps link: Crothers Woods

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Don Valley Brick Works

Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014

It was minus two with light snow flurries but one of those pleasant days when fall is trying to be winter. There is plenty of pay parking on the site of the brick works (Google Maps link).

In 1882 William Taylor was digging holes for fence posts on his farm when he uncovered some good looking clay.  Checking with a local brick maker, he was told that the clay was ideal for bricks.  William and his two brothers operated the paper mills at Todmorden.  By 1889 they had opened up the Don Valley Pressed Brick Company.  By the early 1890’s they were winning international awards for the quality of their bricks.

There were earlier wooden buildings but the oldest of the 15 remaining ones, and the first one made of Don Valley bricks, is the 1891 dry press brick plant.  This building held most of the early production and was built in the first two years of operation.

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This is the view from the top of the quarry looking down on the last remaining kiln chimney, built in 1906.  This chimney, as well as three others, provided a continuous draft over a series of kilns. As can be seen in the cover photo each chimney contained one word that together spelled out Don Valley Brick Works.  Only the “Valley” chimney remains.

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On April 19, 1904 a great fire destroyed much of the downtown of Toronto.  When it was over, there were 104 buildings which had burnt down.  The city enacted new laws to reduce the risk of another serious fire and these included a move toward more brick construction.  Over the next few years much of the Toronto skyline would be built using Don Valley bricks.  Some of the major buildings constructed of their bricks include Sick Kids Hospital, Toronto General, Osgood Hall, Massey Hall, and Old City Hall.  The fire proved to be a major boom for the brick works and they expanded quickly over the next few years.  By 1907 production was up to 100,000 bricks per day.  The picture below from the Toronto Archives shows Front Street after the fire.

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In 1909 the business was sold by the Taylor brothers to their brother-in-law Robert Davies. Davies invested a lot of money into the brick works and erected four of the buildings that remain today.  in 1910 he built the sales office pictured below.

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That same year another production facility was added beside the 1891 building where soft mud, stiff mud and dry bricks were produced.  It still houses the original shakers, dust collectors and sieves as pictured below.

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In 1912 a sand and lime storage facility was added.  The picture below is taken from the rear of the building.  This building features prominently in most old photos, including the aerial ones, of the 43 acre site due to the conveyor belt that always runs into a window on the back.  In the cover photo the conveyor on the right is carrying raw materials from the quarry into this building.  The picture of the complex in the cover photo includes the Half Mile Bridge which is described in a separate post.  We can date the photo to the early 20’s by the buildings and the steel construction of the half mile bridge.

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Large quantities of water are essential for the production of bricks.  The Taylor brothers diverted nearby Mud Creek to flow through their brick factory site.  In the picture below  there is a water channel that runs down the centre of the picture.  A rock wall lines the left side of the channel. The 1926 water treatment plant is the single story building that actually straddles the waterway. The front view of the 1912 sand and lime storage shed is on the right with the flower art sticking out of one third story window.

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During the second world war there were many German soldiers taken captive.  It was feared that if Germany invaded England these prisoners would be freed to fight again on the side of Germany.  A shortage of food and people to guard the prisoners led to the decision to inter some of them in prison camps in Canada.  One of these camps was at Todmorden and the inmates were forced to work at the Don Valley Brick works.  If you own a brick home built in the early 1940’s chances are that German POW’s made the bricks.

The business was sold again in 1956, this time to United Ceramics of Germany who went on an expansion program.  Seven new buildings were added between 1956 and 1961.  These included another dry press brick production building and in 1956 a building with 3 rows of kilns.  These kilns were fired at 1800 Fahrenheit and it would take a cart of bricks 2 days to pass through the 5 stages of the oven.

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An old brick press machine still sits in the welcome centre.

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The view from near the front of the pit looking north to the back.  In the early 1900’s the north face became an international geological site when it was discovered that there were fossils indicative of warmer climates.  From this they deduced that there was more than one ice age.  To get perspective on the size of the pit take notice of the person walking on the trail below.

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I climbed the hill on the north face to get a clear view back across the quarry to the cluster of old buildings.  The Bloor Viaduct (1918), also known as the Price Edward Viaduct, can be seen just beyond the compound.

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When the clay and shale were exhausted the pit was shut down and some of the equipment was sold off. The site sat abandoned for close to 20 years while the weather and lack of repairs took it’s toll on the buildings.  Wild parties and graffiti artists left their marks in the various facilities as well.

Starting in the mid 1990’s the site has been under restoration.  The quarry was partly filled in using excavations from the towers downtown including the Scotia Bank tower.  Mud Creek has been used to form 3 ponds and native vegetation has been re-established.  The site is now managed by Evergreen which has transformed it into an environmental showcase.  The building below was constructed to qualify for LEED platinum status as a building with one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world.  It uses part of the old holding building where bricks were kept before they went to the kilns.

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There is much more to be seen at the brick works and more opportunities to explore.  The guided tour sounds interesting but was not operating when I was there.

A list of our top 15 stories can be found here.

Google Maps link: Don Valley Brick Works

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