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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The trees along this section of the bluffs are hanging over the edge as they start their journey to the bottom.
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.
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 steamer 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.
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.
Having reached this point it is about a 45 minute walk back to the parking lot at the Guild.
Google Maps link: South Marine Drive Park
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