Tag Archives: milkweed

Humber Grove – Ghost Towns of Caledon

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 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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South Marine Drive Park

Sunday August 21, 2016

The Scarborough Bluffs run for fifteen kilometers from Victoria Avenue east to Highland Creek.  At their highest point they rise ninety meters above the water and have been described as a geological wonder. They are the only bluffs of their kind in North America.

Hiking the GTA has made several visits to the bluffs starting with Guidwood Park in April 2015.  At that time the historic inn sat closed and in need of repairs.  The Guild Inn is currently undergoing restoration along with the addition of a multi-purpose event hall.  It was time to go and see how that was coming along as well as explore the construction roadway that leads down to the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs.  The $20 million dollar restoration will include a 40,000 square foot addition to the original inn.  The Guild was the only Depression Era artist colony in Canada.  Over the years the Guild had been expanded with several additions, including a hotel tower.  After the inn closed in 2001 the tower was removed.  The current restoration strips the inn back to it’s original building and adds new structures to both ends.

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The restoration is scheduled for completion in December 2016.  The city is paying for the removal of mold and asbestos while the developer will pay to renovate the inn to it’s 1932 appearance.  A banquet hall is being built on the one end while an outdoor pavilion is going on the other end.  The developer has signed a 40 year agreement with the city.

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Parking is currently restricted to a lot on the east side of the old construction roadway.  The road was littered with old leaves and this Northern Crescent butterfly was quite well disguised among them.  I only caught sight of it when it moved.  It feeds on many species of the aster family of which we have many in Ontario.  The Northern Crescent has only recently been recognized as a separate species from the Pearl Crescent.  The latter of which has black lines in the large orange patches on the hind wings.

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There are only a couple of places where a vehicle can get to the bottom of the bluffs.  Bluffer’s Park is one of them and it sits near the western end of the bluffs.  This roadway is not open to public vehicles and is currently in use for heavy construction equipment.  One of the ways in which the city is trying to slow down the erosion of the bluffs is to create hard shorelines and South Marine Drive was created for that purpose.  Old construction material, demolished buildings and slabs of pavement are known as rip rap when dumped along the shoreline as seen below.  There is a project currently in process on the shoreline in front of The Guild.

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This roadway has been turned into a linear park known as South Marine Drive Park.  It runs for several kilometers along the south edge of the bluffs and was largely abandoned this morning except for a couple of hikers and a few cyclists.  With the views of the bluffs, and the breeze off the lake, I was surprised to see so few people.  Access is very limited though as you must come in from one end or the other.

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The sand in the bluffs was laid down in a river delta prior to the last ice age.  The melting ice sheet created a larger lake where Lake Ontario is today and this was known as Lake Iroquois.  It cut through the old river delta and exposed the bluffs.  This lake suddenly drained into a smaller lake known as Lake Admiralty which has since become Lake Ontario.  The exposed sand face has been eroding quickly ever since and in spite of all our efforts, continues to do so.  The roots of the trees and grasses hold the top layer together but when the sand below disappears it is only a matter of time before the tree crashes down the hill side.  The sand will make its way into the lake and eventually come to rest on one of Toronto’s many beaches, all of which are west of the bluffs.  The lake has a slow rotation that means that water takes six years to make its way around the lake and out into the St. Lawrence River.

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Jack-in-the-Pulpit can live up to 100 years.  The corm, similar to an onion,  grows underground and it will produce one flower if it is male or two if it is female.  The plant has the ability to change sex over it’s lifetime with only the female plant producing berries.  These berries will turn bright red and provide food for wild turkeys and wood thrushes.  The berries are listed as toxic to humans most likely because of the raphides of calcium oxalate that are present in the plant.  The sap of the plant makes an instant pain reliever when applied to a wound.  The natives used the plant in this way as well as making a red dye from the berries.  The picture below shows the unripe green berries in their cluster.

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The trees along this section of the bluffs are hanging over the edge as they start their journey to the bottom.

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Milkweed provides the only home for monarch butterfly larvae and the park has quite a large number of the plants growing along the side of the roadway.  The seed pods are getting ripe.  They will soon pop open sending the little white seeds floating on the wind.

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Following the trail will bring you to Gates Gully where the Doris McCarthy Trail leads back up to the Kingston Road.  Just before you reach the gully one section of a sunken ship can be seen sticking out of the lake.  On August 3, 1915 the steamship Alexandria was wrecked near the entrance to the gully. The Alexandria was built in 1866 and served both as a passenger ship and a cargo ship.  On this night it was bringing 300 tons of beans and tomatoes when it was blown too close to the shore and was grounded.  The ship broke into sections and was completely destroyed.  The locals made short work of stripping everything of value above the water line.  They say that many cellars were well stocked with sugar, vinegar and canned goods for the coming winter.  In maritime tradition Captain William Bloomfield was the last man off the ship at about 2:00 am the following morning.  All passengers were brought to safety and led up the bluffs through Gates Gully. The steam remains in the lake 100 years later, just to the east of the gully.  The picture below shows the wrecked ship as seen from the shore.  The cover photo shows the ship in close up.  There is a place rusted through the rectangular part of the hull right at the waterline.  A rounded piece of hull on the left of this is briefly exposed with each rolling wave.

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There are plenty of places where the slopes of the bluffs are covered with shrubs and trees.  This helps to stabilize the slopes and you will notice on the return trip that this section has some well vegetated areas.

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Having reached this point it is about a 45 minute walk back to the parking lot at the Guild.

Other posts in our Scarborough Bluffs Series:  Guildwood Park, Sand Castles (Bluffer’s Park), Erosion(Cathedral Bluffs), Gates Gully, East Point Park

Google Maps link: South Marine Drive Park

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East Point Park

Sunday June 19, 2016

East Point Park is sandwiched between a water and a sewage treatment plant.  The park has an upper meadow, wetlands, a segment of the Scarborough Bluffs and a lengthy beach.  There is a parking lot at the end of Beechgrove Drive where there is free parking.

At 55 acres this is one of Toronto’s largest waterfront parks.  This post is the fourth one by Hiking the GTA that covers parts of the Scarborough Bluffs.  To avoid a lot of repetition a link will be provided to other posts that contain further details.  The park itself is on the former land grant of William Bennett. John Bennett was a 26 year old farmer in Scarborough township in 1890 when he married Eunice Davis. He carried on with the family farm.  In the 1950’s Scarborough was transformed from farmland to urban centre and this piece of land remained undeveloped.  A water filtration plant named F. J. Horgan Filtration Plant was built on the west end in 1979 and the Highland Creek Sewage Plant was built on the east end in 1956.  Fom the parking area the trail leads past a pond and wetland then east along the bluffs.

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Dog strangling vine has become a real problem in many of our hiking areas.  The plant is related to the milkweed plant.  It is actually two plants who are related and are given the same common name.  Black Swallowwort and Pale Swallowwart are native to Eurasia and were brought to the Northern United States in the mid-1800’s for use in gardens.  Like many garden plants they escape and this one can produce up to 28,000 seeds per square metre infested.  In the fall the seed pods pop and the seeds are spread by wind and animal.  Hikers and cyclists need to be diligent at this time to be sure you don’t carry seeds on your clothing or especially in your bike tires.  The dense mats of tangled vines choke out native vegetation and prevent forest regeneration.  Since they cover vast areas and are not eaten by deer they put added pressure on other sources of food.

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Milkweed is related to the Dog Strangling Vine above but we are much happier to see it.  Environmentalists like David Suzuki encourage people to plant this one in their gardens.  Why should two related plants have such different attitudes when it comes to gardens? It has to do with the Monarch Butterfly.  The butterfly lays it’s eggs on the milkweed and it is the only plant on which they can complete their life cycle.  Monarch’s have also been seen laying eggs on dog strangling vines.  Unfortunately, the larvae cannot eat the plant and they all die off.  The milkweed in the picture below is in flower but is surrounded by it’s invasive cousin.  Chances are that it will be strangled and die off itself.

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The Monarch butterfly pictured below was just drying it’s wings after recently hatching.  There are four generations of monarchs born each year in Ontario.  This is the second generation this season and this butterfly will live between 2 and 6 weeks if it avoids being eaten first.  It’s offspring will be born in July or August and will also live up to 6 weeks.  It’s grandchildren will be born in September or October and they will live for six to eight months.  That will be the generation that flies to Mexico and returns next spring to start the cycle over again.  East Point Park is a staging area for monarchs heading south but the invasion of dog strangling vines may put this at risk.

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The trail continues west along the top of the bluffs but is fenced to keep you a safe distance from the edge.  Older portions of the trail run right along the edge of the bluffs but are quite unsafe because erosion as detailed in our Cathedral Bluffs post has undercut the cliff edge and the sand could collapse at any time. Unfortunately, some of the best shots require getting closer to the edge.  Toward the west end of the park there is a small, informal trail that leads down the bluffs.  It is hard packed and has good foot holds but looks like it could be a hazard when wet or icy.  Using this trail you can descend to the beach.  This will let you turn the walk into a loop so you don’t have to double back.

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When you reach the bottom of the path you’ll find sandy beach running off in both directions.  Be careful which one you choose because turning to your right and heading west will bring you to an unposted nude beach.

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Just to your right at the bottom of the bluffs is a large shelter constructed out of branches lashed together.  One section has been covered with a tarp to provide shelter when the rain begins.

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This collapsing tower of sand is the same one seen from the top of the bluffs in the cover photo.

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In several places there are large boulders in the sand part way down the embankment.  These are inconsistent with the formation of the sand bluffs as described in Sand Castles.  Sand laid down in an inland sea shouldn’t have boulders in it.  These boulders are formally referred to as glacial erratic.  Erratics are stones of various sizes that are different in composition from the stone in the area in which they are found.  These stones have been picked up by glaciers and are often carried great distances before they are deposited by retreating ice.  This is commonly seen in river beds which flow through shale but contain granite boulders.  The boulders along the bluffs are only found in the soil layer on top of the sand and they make their way to the bottom as the sand erodes away underneath of them.  There are plenty of these boulders of various sizes along the beach as seen in the picture below.

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Above the sand is a layer of soil which is full of various plants that grow in the meadows of the formerly cleared fields that were once settlers land grants.  The roots of these plants hold the soil together and provide a little mat that sticks out over the edge of the bluffs where the sand has eroded away beneath it.  This has become home to a colony of swallows whose nesting holes dot the edge of the bluffs.

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Following the beach will bring you back to where there is a pathway that leads back up through a small ravine to the meadow at the top of the hill.

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East Point park marks the eastern end of the Scarborough Bluffs which run from Highland Creek to Victoria Park Avenue, a san of 15 kilometers.

Google Maps: East Point Park

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Ontario’s First Rehab Hospital – St. John’s Rehab

Sunday October 25, 2015

The story of The Road To Recovery starts on October 28th 1837.  For me personally it started on October 23rd when my wife was transferred to St. John’s Rehab Hospital.  It was then that I discovered that the hospital hidden in the gardens on Cummer Avenue was the very first rehab hospital in Ontario.  Sunday afternoon I decided to park a short distance from the hospital and walk through Newtonbrook Ravine on my way to visit her.  It was a sunny afternoon and the fall air was fresh with a crisp breeze.

I parked on Manorcrest Drive near Bayview and Finch and entered Newtonbrook Park.  It was a windy day and the milkweed plants were shedding their seeds.  Milkweed is essential in the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and it is recommended that everyone grow milkweed in their garden.  Collecting local seeds and starting your own plants will bring these beautiful butterflies into your yard.

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This little park does not connect with the paved path unless you cross Newtonbrook Creek.  The water level was low and people have made a stone path through the water.  The park itself has some wild stretches along the creek.  The sunlight was working on the late leaves bringing the yellow and orange into a bright collage of colour.

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Along the side of Newtonbrook Creek there are extensive sand deposits.  The creek has cut through these indicating that it had a much stronger flow at times in the past.  The sandbank below had several small holes and one large one cut into it.  Suspecting a large animal, perhaps a coyote, had made that large hole I decided to work my way around for a closer view.  It is simply a spot where a large chunk of sand fell out due to erosion.

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Hannah Greir Coome was born in October 1837 at The Carrying Place, Upper Canada.  When Hannah’s husband died in 1878 she decided to dedicate her widowhood to the service of God and was on her way to England to join a convent.  Having stopped in Toronto on route she met a small group of people who convinced her to start a religious order in Canada.  She agreed and joined an Episcopalian-Anglican order in New York state for training.  She took her vows on Sep. 8, 1884 and this is the founding date for the Canadian Order of the Sisterhood of Saint John The Divine.  The archive picture below shows Mother Hannah in 1918.

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On Dec. 27, 1884, the feast day of St. John The Divine, the Order formally opened it’s first convent called St. John’s House.  It was located at 71-73 Robinson Street, now renumbered 81-83, and included a dispensary to provide free medication to the poor.  In 1885 the adjacent property on Euclid Avenue was acquired and converted into an infirmary which was named St. John’s Surgical Hospital for Women.  Hannah had been born in the year of the Upper Canada Rebellion and delayed the opening of the hospital to participate in the 1885 Riel Rebellion. Hannah, along with nurses and a doctor, traveled to Moose Jaw to create a hospital for the Canadian Army.  By 1890 a larger hospital was required in Toronto and using this experience several lots were purchased on Major Street for a new facility.

This hospital featured large verandas which connected to, or over looked, the gardens.  From the beginning open air and access to nature were combined with scientific medicine and the Sister’s prayers and spiritual attention.  The hospital always operated independent of government funding and when 1930’s medical advances required excessive investment the Sisters decided to take advantage of their unique approach to convalescence.  In 1933 they had the idea to create a centre for rehab treatment for patients from all seven Toronto public hospitals.  This would free up beds in the hospitals for patients needing active treatment.  They laid the corner stone for their new building on Cummer Avenue on October 8, 1935.

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The Governor General of Canada officially opened the facility on May 22, 1937.  The original hospital had the same number of beds as the Major street facility and contained three floors of rooms with a four story bell tower.

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The Sisters owned 31.5 acres of land with the southern border being the Newtonbrook Ravine which features the type of natural beauty displayed above.  The property was flat farmland but they transformed it into a series of gardens so the patients could experience the calming effect of nature.

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The hospital was founded by an Anglican order on their spiritual principles to specialize in women’s care, especially for the poor.  However, they never turned people away based on their gender, race or social status.  They asked those who could pay to do so to offset the cost of tending  to the needy.  They have always included prayer and an open spiritual atmosphere as an essential element of their care.  Today they have an open policy that is accepting of all faiths. The chapel was consecrated on June 4, 1953 and is designed to accommodate those in all stages of recovery from beds to wheel chairs then to regular seating.  The chapel is beautiful inside and my wife and I spent a few quiet moments there.  On the east wall is a stained glass mural depicting the sisterhood’s contribution to nursing.  Notice the nun in the lower right hand corner.

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The hospital operated on the Sister’s experience that rehabilitation needed to look after more than just the body, it included the mind and spirit as well.  This led to the North American College of Physicians designating them as the standard for rehabilitation.  It occurs to me that hiking also challenges the body, stimulates the mind and soothes the spirit.  As I left the hospital I stopped to look back down the Road to Recovery at the bell tower and wondered how many people have traveled that road.  Going in via hospital vehicle and leaving to go home.

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I slowly made my way back through the ravine to the car enjoying the restorative wonder and beauty of creation.

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