Tag Archives: Etobicoke Creek Trail

What’s In Your Ravine?

Sunday, May 9, 2021

When the last ice age retreated about 12,000 years ago each of the rivers and streams that drain into Lake Ontario were swelled with meltwater. The Rouge River, Don River, Humber River and Credit River along with all the little creeks in between carved deep ravines. These are much wider than the modern rivers that flow through their valleys. After Hurricane Hazel in 1954 these ravines were transformed into conservation areas and parks. They have become greenbelts and migration corridors for the local wildlife. With ongoing travel restrictions it is important to remember that there is some good hiking with plenty of wildlife available right in our own part of the city. This post features a selection of the plants and animals we saw in a few hours on Saturday, May 1, 2021 along a section of Etobicoke Creek.

Most ravines will have more than one type of habitat and you should explore each one, slowly. Rivers and their banks will have a distinct group of plants and animals which they may share with local wetlands. Grasslands provide habitats to pollinators and small birds while new and old growth forests will each have their own distinct species. We customarily head for the water first, but move quietly or you might not see the heron, if there is one, until it’s in flight.

Mallard ducks and Canada Geese can be found almost anywhere there’s water. However, there’s lots of other types of waterfowl that you can watch for. The picture below shows a female (left) and male (right) Merganser. Their young will feed themselves a day or two after hatching and will be able to fly after about ten weeks.

An American Mink came running along the opposite creek bank and down a fallen branch to quietly slip into the water. After a moment it emerged with a small fish in its mouth which it then carried away out of sight.

As we watched, the mink returned and went back into the same quiet pool behind some larger rocks. After coming up a couple of times to catch a breath it eventually came out with another fish, this one a little smaller. The mink kits will still have their eyes closed and won’t be weaned for a few weeks yet. As soon as their teeth start to come in their mother will feed them small bits of ripped up fish or mouse to get them started on solid food. The kits will eat every 90 minutes or so which means she will need extra food intake herself to be able to supply the milk they require.

Last April 24th we witnessed a mother mink carrying her kits across Etobicoke Creek and into a den on the other side amongst the rocks. In all, we saw her carry four kits across the creek. The picture below was taken last year while she carried the first one. There’s lots more pictures of the other mink babies in our story Mink Kits.

As we were watching the mink fishing a small heron flew upstream and briefly rested in a tree before moving along. It landed in another tree a little farther upstream. It seemed likely that people using the trail would scare it and there was a reasonable chance it would come back our way, which it did. The Green Heron is smaller than other herons and has a short stalky neck that is usually drawn down toward the body. The green on their back and head is set off by the chestnut colour of their chest.

The grasslands, especially tall grass prairie areas support a wide variety of flowering plants and grasses which attract birds and pollinators. On a sunny day you might see one of several, harmless species of snakes taking advantage of the sun to regulate their body temperature. Garter Snakes give birth to a litter of 20-30 live young in the late summer. This little one was likely born last year and will have a life expectancy of two years in the wild. Garter Snakes are sometimes kept as pets and average ten year life spans in captivity.

Butterflies and moths can be spotted on most days. The picture below shows a Compton Tortoiseshell butterfly which finally rested long enough for a photo op.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbits were not known in Southern Ontario until about 1860. Rabbits never stray far from a hedgerow, woodpile or burrow where they can escape their many predators. This is known as edge habitat and prior to the settlers cutting the forests there weren’t any of these places where fields gave way to shrubs. Their slow migration north didn’t bring them to the Ottawa area until as recently as 1931. They molt twice per year and this one is in the middle of its spring molting.

Not everything you see in your ravine belongs there. Unfortunately invasive species have taken over some areas of our parks and ravines. They grow quickly and overtake the natural species and eventually choke them out. Dog-strangling Vines are a key example of an invasive species as they routinely choke out the milkweed our Monarch Butterflies need. Garlic Mustard, pictured below, is another invader which is doing overly well. Once it gets going, Garlic Mustard will choke out the Trilliums and Trout Lilies (Dog’s-toothed Violet).

The Mayapples are just starting to form the bud that will open into the flower. Plants with a single leaf won’t flower but the colony along this stretch of the creek is almost all female. They have a pair of leaves and a flower bud forming in between. This particular patch appeared to be mostly flowering this year. These plants grow in patches from a single rhizome and will be found in the same location year after year.

Violets are a large family of plants that have over 525 species. This time of the year they form a purple or blue carpet on the forest floor. Many violets are perennials which means that the plant will live for more than one year.

Experience has shown that almost every ravine in the GTA has both coyote and deer. The Etobicoke Creek is no exception. Although the local coyote didn’t make an appearance on this Saturday, the deer showed up in force. While walking a side trail a flash of white in the trees betrayed the presence of a White-tailed Deer. Upon closer examination a small herd of five was detected. Three of them went off along the ridge while the other two continued to browse. The pair are shown in the cover photo and the smaller of the two was very curious. It walked to within a few metres of where we were sitting as it casually munched leaves and grasses.

July 27, 2020 while taking an observation break, a fawn walked right up to us and pretty much said “Hello.” Its mother was nearby and called it back when she thought it was getting a little too curious. From the way the deer approached today, it was almost as if it was the same one with its mother and that it recognized a friendly acquaintance.

This male Hairy Woodpecker is in the process of digging some little snack out of a dead tree. The term “snag” applies to a standing dead tree and they make up an important part of the local ecosystem. They provide unobscured views for raptors such as the pair of hawks we saw circling high above at one point. Snags also provide homes for wood and bark boring beetles and their larvae. This is what attracts the woodpeckers and serves as a source of food for them. Small animals will nest in hollow snags and they’ll continue to serve as housing even after they fall.

Once you know where to look for Jack-in-the-pulpit you should be able to go back every spring and see the same plants. This is because they can grow from the same underground corm for up to 100 years. It’s quite possible that this little plant in the picture below will outlive everyone reading this article today.

This is just a sample of the types of things you can expect to see in almost any ravine, watercourse, or major park in the GTA. So, the question is, “What’s in your local ravine and when are you going exploring?”

Related blogs: Mink Kits, Etobicoke Creek Trail

Google Maps Link: Etobicoke Creek

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The Auto Graveyard

Sunday, May 21, 2019

The short section of Etobicoke Creek Trail that runs between the 401 and Eglinton Avenue is home to at least four dead cars.  We had previously visited a Chevy Vega  that is in the woods to the side of the trail a little south of Sismet Road.  The story of this car is told in a previous post that will be linked at the end, should you wish to further explore. The pictures for this post were taken at the end of May so should you choose to visit you may find the foliage is a little thicker now.

After you pass under Matheson Boulevard the trail will carry you across Etobicoke Creek and into the Toronto side of the park.  The Etobicoke Creek Trail doesn’t pass under the 401 at this time because of safety concerns during restoration of the highway bridges but if you get this far without seeing the old cars you have gone too far.  It appears that there are three cars in one little cluster, all of them in advanced decay.  The first one that we could identify is a 1973 Datsun 1200 coupe.  One of the key attributes that was used to make the identification was the pair of vents on the door panel.  Although the dashboard no longer has any gauges in it the layout is also clearly the same as seen in pictures of the Datsun 1200 Coupe.

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The car had an oblong cluster of three lights on each side of the rear for tail lights.  The innermost on the right has enough of the plastic left to show that it was the white section.

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The eight cylinder engine still contains some spark plugs but you’ll likely want to do a full tune-up anyway as part of any restoration.

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Like the cover photo, this picture shows the Datsun 1200 from the rear.  It’s going to take a little work to get this one back on the road.

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Here’s a picture of a new 1973 Datsun 1200.  Notice the vents on the door panel and the tail light configuration.

1973 Datsun 1200

Car number two is a Chrysler and it too has seen some better days.

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There’s been a few parts removed from the engine but once you replace them you can set the firing order as per the sequence on the casting.

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The code on the side of the exhaust manifold casting indicates that this is a Mopar 340 engine cast in 1971 or 1972.  Beside the part number is a date wheel indicating that the casting was done in October 1971 which means that this was likely installed in a 1972 model year vehicle.  This limits the model to one of five a Duster, Demon, Road Runner, Charger Super B or a ‘Cuda 340.

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Car number three is a GM but we were unable to come up with much more information on this relic.

 

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We can deduce that the model year was likely 1970 or earlier based on the bumper design.  The 5 MPH crash design was imposed in 1971.  This required that an impact at 5 MPH should not damage the lights and so they were removed from the bumpers and placed on the read panel of the car.  The bumpers were extended from the frame and much of the fancy tail light/bumper design was lost forever.  This rear bumper appears in two parts likely with an extended cluster of tail lights running between them.

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The side of the engine has the letters GM which at least tells us the brand of vehicle.

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A 1975 Chevy Vega sits in the woods a little farther south along the trail.  You can read more about it in our post Etobicoke Creek Trail.

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There appears to be plenty left to discover in future hikes along the Etobicoke Creek Trail.

Check out this link for our top 20 stories of all time: Back Tracks: Five Years Of Trails

Google Maps Link: Sismet Road

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Palestine – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The town of Palestine was founded in 1823 by Thomas Grafton.  He took the name Palestine from the Holy Land but his community never gained influence beyond a few local farms.  The town built a log school house in 1842 and replaced it with a brick structure in 1863.  Until 1870 church services were held in the school but a separate church building was constructed adjacent to it that year.  The church was closed in 1962 and torn down in 1965.  The general store was small and the town never had a post office of their own.  Today the main intersection has been taken over by city sprawl and only a couple of early farm houses remain.  We decided to hike along Etobicoke Creek through the farms that would have been the northern edge of Palestine but today are overrun by two multi-lane highways.  Kennedy Road is brown on the map below while Heart Lake Road is yellow and Dixie Road is green.  The houses featured in the story are circled and the larger circle indicates the site of the former waste water treatment plant.

Palestine Map

Toadflax, or butter and eggs, is not native to North America but has become naturalized.  Unlike an invasive plant, this one does not take over and crowd out native plants but is found in limited clusters.  Along the trail we found a comparatively large patch growing.  The plant has been used in natural remedies for centuries and is proven to have diuretic properties and is effective in reducing fevers.

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The Etobicoke Creek was full of life with salmon spawning in it every year when the European settlers first arrived.  It wasn’t long before dams prevented fish from getting upstream and mills dumped their waste directly into the creek disturbing the local habitat.  With the growth of Brampton the creek took on a new function with raw sewage being dumped into it.  It became so polluted that something had to be done and so Brampton became home to the first municipal waste water treatment plant in Canada.  Trunk sewer lines were built down the Credit River to the Clarkson Waste Water Treatment Plant and down Etobicoke Creek to the Lakeview Waste Water Treatment Plant making the municipal plant obsolete.  It was decommissioned and removed in the early 2000’s.  Today there is just a series of roads and the outline of the plant to mark the site.

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Before the opening of the 410 in 1978, Heart Lake Road was a continuous road that provided access to the water treatment plant through the driveway on the left in the picture below.  Construction of the 407 in 1997 further divided the road and left it with several names.  This section is now known as Westcreek Boulevard.  Current Etobicoke Creek Trail improvements through the valley include the development of parking lot at the end of this piece of road to allow trail users easy access.  Sketches suggest parking for about 40 vehicles.

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The trail passes under the 407 as it follows the creek south.

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The Etobicoke Creek Trail has entered into a Missing Links program which aims to build four sections of trail to link existing sections and complete the trail.  The Sherway, North and Valleywood Links each have their own timelines but the Kennedy Valley Link is currently under construction.

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The Etobicoke Creek winds through the area revealing evidence of much greater water flow at times in the past.  The ravine cliffs get taller as the creek approaches the lake with some shale banks of 30 metres being revealed downstream.  This far upstream the embankments are much more modest but they have cut as deep as the shale foundations below the topsoil and sand.

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The top of an old windmill stands above the treeline, obscured to those who are following the path to the south by a cluster of trees.  Looking north from the site of the new bridge the crumbling farm relic is easily seen.  Closer investigation reveals an open well with water inside that has no fence around it.  The pump is still down there and the tower is surprisingly solid considering the crumbling condition of the vein on the top.  I wonder how many children in the GTA are learning about alternate energy sources and could benefit from a working example in their local park.  Why not restore it and make it safe rather than demolish it to make it safe?  The story of pioneer windmills is told in greater detail in our post on The Shand Dam.

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The one house remaining in Palestine is that of William Reed.  His original house was replaced with this Edwardian style house around 1910.   The windmill above is on the back of this property.

Palestine

The Royal Grafton property was the original homestead in the community of Palestine.  By 1877 John Wedgewood had bought the west half of the lot and built the house featured below.  John was instrumental in the development of Palestine being involved in the erection of the shcool, temperance hall and church.  Recently the Poweraide Centre has been built on the lot and the future of the house is unknown although attempts to protect the roof are a hopeful sign.

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Japanese Beetles are native to Japan and appear to have found their way to North America in the early 1900’s, likely aboard ships.  They have since spread throughout the eastern parts of The United States and Canada.

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Our hike is outlined in yellow on this Google Earth capture.  The remnants of the wastewater treatment plant are circled in red.

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In the next few years the Etobicoke Creek Trail will be completed and hopefully they will put up interpretive signs for both Palestine and Mt. Charles, two of the ghost towns it will pass along the way.

Google Maps Link: Palestine.

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