Tag Archives: garter snake

Staying Close To Home

Sunday, May 3, 2020

In keeping with the request to limit travel I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and walk through the Burke Brook ravine to The Don River and back.  Years of exploring different places each weekend has left me with the impression that my local park was boring.  That certainly wasn’t true.  One section of the trail along Burke Brook in Sherwood Park is an off-leash dog area and is currently closed due to COVID-19.  This forced me to walk along Blythwood Avenue until I reached Bayview.  From just south of there I could enter the ravine near the old Bayview Transformer House.   I stopped to see the deterioration that had occurred since my last visit.  With all the windows broken, the weather has been able to get inside and the ceiling is almost gone.

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White Fawn Lily are a variation of the yellow Trout Lily.  These plants are also known as Adder’s Tongue and Dog’s-tooth Violet.  Yellow Trout Lily are very common throughout the GTA but the white ones are a rare find.

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Twice I thought I heard something in the leaves but couldn’t identify a source for the sound.  Moments later I crested a small rise to see a Garter Snake crossing the trail.  It stopped to say “Hello” and then was gone under the leaves.

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There is a well used trail along the valley floor that follows Burke Brook and the upper trail is used mostly by cyclists.  For this reason you need to be cautious as there are places where allowing a bike to pass is tricky.  There’s also a couple of steep sections that are impassible when muddy.  The section pictured below has a knotted rope to help people get up the slope.

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White Trillium are the Provincial Flower for Ontario.  Along the trail I found a small patch of three.  At this time of year I usually follow the progress of the red ones in G Ross Lord Park.  These are less common than the white ones, but there are between 3 and 5 red flowers in one spot and 2 in another.  On occasion, the white flowers may have a green stripe down the middle of each petal.  This is caused by a virus and the size of the stripe will increase until the plant is no longer able to produce proper flowers and seeds.

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I returned to the trail in the valley which has a boardwalk through sections where water is weeping out of the ground.  There were a few people on the trail but when parks are only used by the locals, it is fairly easy to respect social distancing guidelines.  We’ll see how it goes when they ease the restrictions and everyone rushes out to the trails the first nice weekend.  I hope people won’t be careless and cause the parks to be closed again.

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Burke Brook enters the Don River near another off-leash dog park which is currently closed.  It is possible to get to the mouth of the brook but other people were already enjoying it so I chose to go another way.

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Near the mouth of Burke Brook I found the remains of of a concrete circle, possibly a well except that had been lined with wood.  I decided that it had probably been part of the landscaping for the home of Joseph and Alice Kilgour.  The donation of their 200 acre estate had allowed the creation of Sunnybrook Park and provided the land for Sunnybrook Hospital.  Later, as I did a little research, I discovered that there just might be enough interesting stuff around to tell their story.  It looks like another neighbourhood walk is in order.

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There were many Ostrich Ferns throughout the area, just beginning to open.  At this point of their development people often refer to them as Fiddlehead Ferns because their shape is similar to the end of a fiddle.  Later when they are fully open they resemble Ostrich plumes, from which they take their name.  It is when they are very young that people pick them to enjoy the annual delicacy of fresh fiddleheads.

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Bloodroot is a member of the poppy family and is one of the earlier spring flowers.  There is a single leaf and flower that emerge on separate stems but with the leaf completely wrapping around the flower bud.  The red sap from the roots of the plant was traditionally used as a dye for clothing and baskets.  It was also used by the native peoples as an insect repellent.

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You can follow the Don River northward until you come to Glendon Forest.  This section of the river is usually home to a heron and several families of cardinals.  I didn’t see any and decided not to wander too far into Glendon Forest as that is another entire adventure on its own.

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The original driveway leading to the Kilgour properties still leads back up the hill toward Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.  It was here that the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Ontario was recorded.  I walked by and realized that behind these walls are hundreds of true heroes.  This blog is dedicated to everyone who works in this series of hospital buildings and all other front line workers, everywhere.

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All of this was within walking distance of my home.  What is waiting near you?

Click here for our previous story on Sunnybrook Park.

Google Maps Link: Sunnybrook Park

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Humber Grove – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The remains of a ghost town lie along the Humber River on Duffy’s Lane just north of Bolton.  The property of George Elliot on the county atlas below was in the Elliot family from 1855 until 1929.  During this time a few homes were built along Duffy’s Lane with views of the river.  Only two are shown at the time the atlas was drawn in 1877.  By 1909 there were half a dozen homes with a small community forming around the bridge over the river.  In 1929 the 100-acre half lot was sold to Bertram Realty Company who planned to capitalize on the quiet setting along the river.  They divided the land into small parcels and started selling them for cottages.  People began to buy the lots and build on them and by the early 1950’s there were enough children to support the construction of a new school at the corner of King Road and Duffy’s Lane.

In October 1954 Hurricane Hazel hit the GTA killing 81 people and changing the way we managed our floodplains.  Local conservation authorities across the GTA began to buy properties and remove houses that were considered at risk.  They also developed a plan that called for the construction of 15 major flood control dams and reservoirs including one on the Humber River just north of Bolton.  Of these dams only Claireville, G Ross Lord and Milne Dam were constructed.  The Glasgow dam would have been 29 metres high and Humber Grove would have been under the new flood control lake.  Slowly the houses were moved or demolished until by 1977 there were no buildings remaining.

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Duffy’s Lane is exactly that, their original laneway.  This is what is known as a “given road” because it is not part of the original grid of the township survey.  It is a privately constructed road, on private land, that was given for the use of the public.  For reference, Duffy’s Lane has been coloured brown on the map above.  The Duffy house was built in the 1840’s and has been given a historical designation by the township of Caledon.  It is seen in the picture below and marked with a red arrow on the map above.

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Duffy’s Lane has had many alignments in the area where Humber Grove was and there have been at least four bridges over the river.  The county atlas above shows a bridge over the west branch of the Humber River that predated the use of poured concrete for bridge construction by 20 to 30 years.  Therefore, the abandoned bridge in the cover photo has to be at least the second bridge at this location.  The picture below shows the abutment for the old bridge in the lower right corner.  This bridge was likely built at the time that a subdivision plan was put forward in the 1920’s.  A new bridge would have been helpful in persuading people to buy a lot this far outside of Bolton. On the left in this picture are two newer bridges, the lower one from 1985.  In 2013 work began on the Emil Kolb Parkway as a bypass to keep the increasing flow of traffic from going through downtown Bolton.  The new multi-lane bridge was built in 2014 and the older one converted to a pedestrian trail.  It is likely that some of the original Humber Grove foundations were lost during the construction of these various bridges.

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Milkweed pods have started to break open exposing their seeds to the wind.  Each tiny, flat seed is carried on the breeze by hundreds of tiny filaments attached to it.

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Milkweed is essential in the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly.  There were many of these orange beauties flying around and it seems like it is late in the year for them.  This is the fourth generation of monarch born in Ontario this year and it is programmed to fly to Mexico to spend the winter.  The example in the picture below is a female because it lacks the two little black dots on the hind wings that mark the male scent glands.

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Throughout the woods, there are several obvious laneways, most often marked with a double row of trees that lined either side of the old roads.  In a couple of places, there are old hydro poles in the woods that have the wires cut from them because the homes they once served no longer exist.

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At the end of the laneway above is an obvious clearing where a house once stood.  The back end of the property has been reinforced with a concrete wall.

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A garter snake was sitting on a fallen branch taking in the late October sunshine.  These snakes don’t actually hibernate unless they are in a climate where it goes below -40 Celcius.  In reptiles, hibernation is normally referred to as brumation.  In most cases, the garter snake is awake through the winter with a 77% reduced heart rate and minimal oxygen intake.

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The original alignment of Duffy’s Lane can still be found running north from the earlier bridge abutments at the river.  Former laneways extend into the woods along the sides of the road.  We found an old concrete foundation a few feet into the first of these laneways.  The woods have been regenerating for 40 years and most of the former entrances can only be made out due to the parallel rows of mature trees that line either side.

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Old fence lines mark the edges of the various properties that used to line both sides of old Duffy’s Lane.

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The boletus family of mushrooms includes over 100 varieties, many of which are edible.  They can be distinguished by the tubes that carry the spores under the cap rather than the gills that can be found on many other types of mushrooms.  Make sure that you never touch or eat any mushroom that you cannot positively identify.  There are often similar looking species where some are edible and some are poisonous and can kill you.

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There is a lot of tall grass, dog-strangling vines and undergrowth throughout the area. There are plenty of foundations remaining to be found, perhaps when there is less foliage.  Humber Grove can be accessed from the Humber Valley Heritage Trail.  We explored part of this trail in a previous post called Humber Heritage Trail Bolton.

The Toronto Region Conservation Authority has an informative article on Humber Grove with historic maps that can be found here.

Google Maps Link: Humber Grove

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The Vale Of Avoca

Saturday Sept. 5th, 2015

In need of a shorter hike this week we set off to visit The Vale Of Avoca.  We investigated the collapsed ruins of an old saw mill, the eastern abutments of an old bridge and a 90 year old example of recycling as we explored a section of Yellow Creek.  It was 21 degrees early in the morning and quite comfortable, except for the unending mosquito attacks.  Only the female mosquito bites after which they live off the blood while 100-200 eggs develop.  They normally live for up to two weeks or until they land on me, which ever comes first.

We parked on Roxborough just off of Mount Pleasant.  From here the trail goes to the left and follows the creek to the lower portion of the Belt Line Trail.  We turned to the right and entered the Rosedale Ravine which we followed north to The Vale of Avoca, the name given to a section of this ravine.  As we walked north we came to the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge. This intricate concrete bridge replaces an earlier trestle bridge for which the cut stone foundations remain.

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In 1837 the Heath Family purchased the north west corner of Yonge Street and the Third Concession Road (renamed St. Clair Ave. in 1914).  They named the area Deer Park and built a hotel where patrons could feed the local deer.  Their lot was subdivided and by the 1870’s the community was well established.  Today the Heath’s are commemorated by a street name. Deer Park extended as far east as the ravine carrying the Yellow Creek, which St. Clair didn’t cross.  In 1888 John Thomas Moore began to market his community of Moore Park which would be constructed between Yellow Creek and the ravine to the east of it containing Mud Creek.  To support his community he built bridges across both ravines and also attracted the Belt Line commuter railway.  Just prior to reaching St. Clair an old abandoned bridge crosses the channelized creek in the bottom of the ravine.  This concrete bridge sits on an earlier stone foundation.

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Moore’s bridge across Yellow Creek was built of iron and didn’t follow the alignment of the third concession.  It angled slightly south west and aligned with today’s Pleasant Boulevard.  By 1922 the bridge was starting to become a safety concern and approval was given to build a replacement. It was decided to straighten the alignment of the road and provide for four lanes of traffic and two of street cars.  The new bridge was built over a period of two years and is 509 feet long and 89 feet high.  It opened in 1924 and cost the equivalent of $9M in today’s economy.  The bridge is a steel and concrete triple span bridge.  The picture below shows the steel arches under the bridge as well as three concrete arches at the other end.  The bridge and the valley they span were renamed The Vale Of Avoca in 1973. The name is taken from a poem by Thomas Moore called The Meeting of The Waters.  It is said that Thomas Moore the poet and John Thomas Moore the community builder were related.

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The Toronto Archives photo below shows the bridge looking west toward Pleasant Boulevard. Notice the lattice work iron railings on either side.

Construction photographs of St. Clair Avenue E. viaduct

When The Vale of Avoca opened in 1924 the old iron bridge was immediately removed.  The iron railings from John Thomas Moore’s bridge were cut up and recycled as fencing along the side of Avoca Avenue.  The Vale of Avoca bridge can be seen in the background.

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The archive photo below from 1925 shows the work in process of removing the old bridge.

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Just north in The Vale of Avoca lie the remains of an early sawmill. The  mill dam created a pond that stretched back upstream flooding part of what is today’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  This seems hard to believe looking at the present condition where the cemetery is on such higher ground.  The ravine that formerly held Yellow Creek through the cemetery property has been filled in with ten metres of soil that were excavated when the Yonge subway was built in the 1950’s.  The earthen works of the dam provided the first bridge across Yellow Creek at this location, prior to Moore’s bridge.  Today most of the structure of the mill has collapsed into a mess of shale on an otherwise soil covered embankment.  The horizontal tree in the middle of the picture below is resting on, and perhaps knocking over, part of one wall.  Near the left side of the picture there stands one of the other corners of the building.

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In the midst of the ruins of the collapsed mill I found the bottle pictured below.  It is embossed Buckingham Cleaner but bears no other markings.  The seam on the edge ends just below the lip suggesting a date between the late 1880’s and the introduction of the bottle machine in 1906.  Researching Buckingham Cleaner suggested to me that people in Buckingham have no excuse for dirt as you have a lot of cleaning services available.  The original product in this bottle is a little harder to find information about.

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We returned to St. Clair and crossed Yellow Creek on The Vale Of Avoca.  On the east bank of the creek just south of the bridge stand the remains of the abutments and footings for the 1888 bridge.  The original bridge abutment was made of cut stone.  A rectangular slab of concrete near the left of the picture is from a repair conducted just prior to replacement.  The cover photo also shows the former bridge abutment looking out across The Vale Of Avoca.

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The common Garter Snake lives in a wide variety of habitats and is completely harmless.   Various species of snakes either lay eggs or give live birth.  The garter snake is one of the species that gives live birth and the female can have as many as 70-80 snakes in a single litter.

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The teasel has nearly finished blooming for this year.  A few still have their purple ring of tiny flowers but these are only the ones which get less direct sunlight.  A group or cluster of tiny flowers such as these is known as an inflorescence.  The little flowers are actually specialized leaves known as bracts which bloom in a ring around the middle of the inflorescence and then progress toward the ends of the oval flower head.

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The Villa St. Clair was built in 1892 and added to Toronto’s list of heritage properties in 1984.  It has a small tower, or turret,  which looks out across The Vale Of Avoca.

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