Tag Archives: German Mills Creek

German Mills Settlers Park

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The community of German Mills didn’t last very long and there is only one building left standing.  We decided to investigate the area which has now become a park and we found free parking on the end of Leslie Street where it has been closed north of Steeles Avenue.

The county atlas was drawn in 1877 and by that time there was no longer a community named German Mills.  The school was replaced in 1874 with a new building on German Mills Street but it is the last remaining structure from this early settlement.  On the map below Leslie Street is brown while John Street, a given road, is yellow.  German Mills Creek is in blue while our hike is roughly outlined in green.

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Jack in the pulpit grow for up to 100 years from their corm, a type of root similar to a small turnip, although basically inedible.  They spread through seeds that are grown inside their berries.  The berries will turn from green to red when the seeds are ready.  The berries can be harvested and the seeds gently squeezed out.  There will usually be 4 to 6 seeds in each berry.  These can be planted about 1/2 inch deep in the fall.

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German Mills was settled in 1794, the year following the founding of York (Toronto) by a group of German families.  They not only established the first industrial complex in Markham but set an early example of the development of Canada through a multicultural approach.  The settlement didn’t last long because the water supply was inadequate to power their mills.  The picture below shows a sketch of the settlement that can be found on an interpretive plaque along the trail.

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The main paved trail crosses German Mills Creek but we chose to follow the old road allowance for Leslie Street.  German Mills Creek appears to have a few minnows in it but not much else.  The creek runs for about 10 kilometres before emptying into the East Don River in the East Don Parklands.

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Pheasant’s-back Polypore is also known as Dryad’s Saddle and is one of the larger polypore mushrooms found in Ontario.  The caps can reach 12 inches or more with the example seen below coming in at nearly 13 inches.  Although this mushroom is edible it is also rather tough and rubbery.  The outer edges are sometimes pickled or fried and are reported to taste like watermelon rind.  They are common from May until November and they seem to have been quite prolific this year with some trees having had several crops growing on them already.

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On the county atlas above the lots belonging to John Lane and G. C. Harris have been outlined in black.  A large portion of each of these lots was used for gravel extraction between 1940 and 1960.  When the aggregate supply was exhausted the empty pit was converted into the Sabiston Landfill.  From 1960 to 1975 the landfill operated with no records of what types of materials were dumped there and in which sections.  The site continues to produce methane gas that is released into the air and leachate which enters the groundwater.  Today there is a one metre clay cap over the landfill and the area has been designated as the German Mills Meadow and Natural Habitat.

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The mound that represents the former landfill is now monitored for discharges.  A decade ago the Town of Markham was considering installing an aerobic system to help speed up the elimination of methane and leachate from the site.  Local residents protested the plan based on the fact that methane was below the 2.5% level that the Ministry of the Environment sets as safe.  The community succeeded in 2012 in getting the plan halted by arguing

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We found another one of these old canoes which has been planted to help encourage pollinators to do their thing.

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The community of German Mills constructed a one room log school to serve the children of the community.  In 1874 it was decided to replace the school with a larger board and batten structure.  The school was built with separate entrances for the boys and girls as was common in the Victorian Era.  One of the interesting features of the architecture is the way the batten curve into scallops under the boxed cornice of the roof.

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Originally known as school section number 2 there were over thirty different teachers who served here between 1874 and 1962 when it closed.  The original bell still hangs in the bell tower.

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One of the notable teachers from the school was Leonard S Klink who taught here in the 1890’s.  He was responsible for getting the students to plant rows of spruce trees around the sides of the property.  These trees continue to mark the outline of the school yard.  Klink went on to serve as the President of The University of British Columbia from 1919-1944.

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Poison ivy seems to have had a good year and there is plenty of it in German Mills Settlers Park.  The sap contains a substance known as urushiol that usually causes a reaction within 24-48 hours.  Controlling poison ivy by burning it can be very dangerous because inhalation of the smoke can cause the rash to develop on the inside of the lungs.  This can be very painful and possibly fatal.

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Bur Oak is a member of the group of white oaks and is also known as mossy cup oak.  The tree typically reaches 30 metres tall but has been known to be as large as 50 metres.  Like most oak trees they grow slowly but can live for up to 400 years.  The acorns are also large growing up to 5 cm in size.  These trees produce a heavy crop of acorns every few years in a process known as masting.  This bumper crop overwhelms the ability of the local wildlife to consume the acorns and ensures the survival of some seeds.

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German Mills Settlers Park is about to undergo construction work to prevent erosion from damaging the sewer pipe that runs along the length of the creek.  This will change the natural look of the creek for several years.

Google Maps Link: German Mills Settlers Park

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Flynntown – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Last week we visited the former community of Oriole at Sheppard Avenue and Leslie Street and made a short excursion north that only made it as far as Newtonbrook Creek.  To pick up where that hike left off, we took advantage of free street parking on Alamosa Drive and Gatehead Road where there is an entrance to the park.  The next community north along the river was known as Flynntown and was located around the intersection of Leslie and Finch.  Like Oriole, it formed around the mill sites that were prominent along the Don River in the first half of the 19th century.  It too was a name applied to a postal district in much the same way that we use postal codes today.

The 1877 county atlas below shows the area of the hike with the section of the East Don River that we covered being outlined in blue.  A small tip of German Mills Creek is coloured leading to the right near the top of the map.  We started at the former property of William Dunton where we looked for the remains of the saw mill built by Phillip Phillips. Old Cummer Road has been coloured in black and we followed the short piece that runs on an angle from the stream up to where it meets the grey line marking the new section of Cummer Road.  Cooper’s grist mill is shown where the new road meets the older section.

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Near the bottom of the hill when you enter the park off Alamosa Drive you will find a set of tennis courts.  Near the courts, beside the river, is a pole with life saving equipment on it.  That marks the spot where Philip Phillips built his saw mill in the early 1800’s.  The wood for the mill was rough hewn by hand indicating that it was prepared before the mill went into operation.  After the saw mill was up and running the wood produced displayed the obvious signs of being cut with a blade or wheel.  The houses and barns closest to the mill would have been constructed with wood that had been prepared at the saw mill.  The picture below shows the remains of what is most likely part of the wooden crib for the old mill dam.  The only other place we have seen the wooden crib preserved is at the Barber Dynamo.  One of the mill mapping sites reports that these are actual timers to the saw mill.

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Tree Swallows are highly social birds and can form flocks of thousands around their nesting sites.  They breed in Canada and the United States but spend the winter in Mexico, the Carribean and throughout Central America.  Their genus name is tachycineta bicolor which comes from the ancient Greek for “moving quickly” and the bicolor from their two coloured markings.  The males have much brighter blue-green upperparts while the females tend to have duller colours.  The female needs to hide on the nest for two weeks before the eggs hatch and another three before the young ones are ready to leave the nest.  The brighter male likes to be obvious as he dive bombs intruders to protect the nest.

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Following the trail north of Finch Avenue brings you to the intersection of Old Cummer Road and the century-old bridge across the river.  The single-lane bridge was replaced when the surrounding farms were developed for housing.  In 1968 the new portion of Cummer Road (grey on the map above) was opened and this became Old Cummer Road and was closed to through traffic.

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The road north of the closed bridge has been largely overgrown and the former pavement has all but vanished.  Cummer operated a saw mill and a woollen mill on the river near his home but it closed in 1857 and all traces are now lost.

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Crossing under the new Cummer Road bridge, the trail quickly follows a pedestrian bridge to the east side of the Don River.  We chose a small path that led along the west side but after crossing a drainage ditch the trail quickly vanished.  Our intention was to find any evidence of the mill site or dam that was shown on the county atlas.  The mill appears to have been somewhere near the new bridge and no trace exists.  The concrete dam we found on Cooper’s property would have been built here long after the mill had closed and would have replaced a wood crib dam.  The mill pond shown on the map has been drained.  The cover photo shows the dam from the downstream side while the picture below shows the upstream side.

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This dam looks more like an electrical generating dam than one used to store water for mill operations.  A large building stood  near the end of the dam but all traces of it have vanished today.  What remains is an old utility pole that has a large transformer attached to the top along with several old light sockets.  A second electrical pole is leaning into the trees a little farther upstream.

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Returning to the main trail, we crossed the Don River and went up the east side to explore the dam from that vantage point.  Near this place, German Mills Creek empties into The Don.  German Mills Creek flows for about 10 kilometres as a left tributary of the East Don River.  It gets its name from the community of German settlers who, in 1796, became the first pioneers in Markham Township.  The settlement of German Mills fell apart after only a few years but the name has been preserved via this creek.  The bridge across the creek has been here for a long time and formerly provided access to the mills and other establishments in the valley.  Today this little bridge supports the traffic along the hiking trail that follows the former roadway.

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The picture below shows German Mills Creek and the confluence with the East Don River as seen from the old bridge over the creek.

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The Don River is interwoven with the early history of Toronto and York County and there will always be more to explore another day.

Google Maps Link: Flynntown

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