Saturday March 19, 2016
The cover photo shows a turkey vulture sitting in a tree looking out across the Nassagaweya Canyon. This canyon is a deep cut in the Niagara Escarpment and it takes it’s name from an Indian word meaning “Meeting of two rivers”. Sixteen Mile Creek and Bronte Creek both occupy the canyon. When the escarpment was formed a large river cut through the bedrock and created an island of rock which is known as the Milton Outlier. It has Rattlesnake Point on the southern end. Four ice ages have further carved the river channel and widened it to the present size as glacial meltwaters flowed through the canyon.
When the county atlas was drawn in 1877 the 4th line was continuous and ran along the Nassagaweya Canyon floor next to Limestone Creek. The portion of road through the canyon has since been closed. The northern section is now known as Canyon Road and the part south of Rattlesnake Point is known as Walker’s line. We parked on Canyon Road where it dead ends near the north end of Nassagaweya Canyon. The closed roadway is still open as a trail which leads toward a connection with the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail, The Bruce Trail and a Bruce side trail. One possible factor in the closing of this road allowance is the wetlands that it passes through and it’s three crossings of Limestone Creek. I’ve marked the road in red and the property of John Agnew with a red arrow.
The early settlers who owned the land grants on either side of this road struggled with the maintenance and elected to create a corduroy road. Logs were placed perpendicular to the roadway to make the road passable. These roads were bumpy at best and a danger to horses because the logs often shifted. They were not as refined as plank roads like the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road. The picture below shows a section where the logs from the corduroy road are showing through the mud and grass.
Along the old roadway there is clear evidence of human engineering in the form of drainage pipes, ditches and embankments. At one point we noted a ridge on the west side of the road that didn’t look natural or man made. Beavers build retaining walls for their ponds by scooping dirt up using their tails. The trees around the pond don’t show any sign of recent chewing and so it looks like the beaver pond has been abandoned for a little while.
The old road allowance connects with several other trails including the main Bruce Trail which is marked with a white blaze. The blue blazes indicate Bruce Trail side trails and the orange is the 7.2 kilometer Nassagaweya Canyon Trail. Following it to the right will bring you to Crawford Lake and the restored village of Longhouses there. Following it, as we did, to the left takes you up the Milton Outlier where the trail follows the canyon edge to Rattlesnake Point.
The blue side trail indicated above with two markers in a T formation is the Jack Leech Porter trail. It is named after a member of the Iroquoia Section and had a boardwalk installed in the mid-1980’s. In 2010 it was decided to replace the old 480-foot boardwalk with the new one which features a 16-foot bridge over Limestone Creek. An 8-foot rest area is built into the boardwalk and can be seen in the picture below.
The Nassagaweya Canyon provides a perfect habitat for Turkey Vultures. They nest on the sides of the cliffs and in April or May produce up to three eggs. The little ones are fed with regurgitated carrion which makes a smell that attracts predators. The remote edges of the canyon cliffs provide protection for the nests from these threats. The vultures spend the winter south of New Jersey and have recently returned to the canyon. We were approaching Rattlesnake Point when we saw several pairs of vultures circling and resting in trees. Making our way along the edge of the cliff allowed us to get some close-up shots of the birds.
When we visited Rattlesnake Point last weekend we noted an old farm house near the mouth of the canyon. From our vantage point, we had wondered if it might be abandoned and if we should investigate it some day. We decided that climbing down the side of the cliff to reach the canyon floor was the only way to find out and so we set out to do so. We are in no way suggesting that this is a good idea or that you do this. This picture shows the limestone cliff face near Rattlesnake Point from part way down the side of the canyon. Traversing the valley would allow us to turn the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail into a loop instead of the usual two-way walk.
Limestone Creek is a tributary of Bronte Creek and flows through the canyon. We found a solid tree that had fallen across the creek to use as our bridge. The forest through the canyon valley is quite young and most of the trees appear to be less than 40 years old.
The mouth of the canyon at the south end is full of glacial deposits of sand and gravel. Farmers had to clear their fields of rocks every spring and they were lined up along the edge of fields in place of a fence. This old stone fence marks the line where a field on the right has recently gone back to forest while the one the left was sold for the mining of aggregates. This property belonged to John Agnew in 1877 as shown on the county atlas above.
The abandoned house we were seeking is on the edge of the old quarry. This story and a half Georgian style home has a small dormer on the front which sits just slightly off centre.
We had to ascend the canyon’s western wall to where we could see people on the Bruce Trail walking along the top of the cliff.
This is the view from the top of the canyon looking back across to the Milton Outlier. We had descended the 144 feet to the canyon floor at the left end of the white limestone cliffs on the far side.
Scarlet Elf Cup is a type of fungus that grows in early winter through to early spring. They are bright red on the inside and were used by the Oneida people to stop the bleeding on umbilical cords when an infant bled longer than usual. We found large patches of them growing along the closed roadway.
Along the old 4th line road allowance stand the remains of this old building, likely abandoned long before the road was.
Google Maps link: Nassagaweya Canyon Trail
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