Tag Archives: Oriole

Flynntown – Ghost Towns of Toronto

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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Ghost Towns Of Toronto – Oriole

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The East Don Parklands are a much different place today than they were 200 years ago. The corner of Sheppard and Leslie was originally known as the postal village of Oriole and was home to a thriving industrial community.  Seven mills and a brickyard lined the valley along the East Don River as it passed through this intersection.  The remainder of the valley was used by the various landowners for farming.

Over time the saw mills, grist mill and woollen mills all disappeared along with the dams that retained their mill ponds.  Beginning in 1984 the Toronto Region Conservation Authority began a long-term rehabilitation program aimed at improving the wetlands and restoring the forest cover to the parklands.  All of the original mill dams have been removed except for one right at the corner of Sheppard and Leslie beside the parking lot. The river has cut a new path around the east end of the dam as can be seen in the cover photo.  Decades of neglect have taken their toll on the dam and large chunks have been removed at water level.  An extensive amount of tree branches has gathered behind the old sluice gate on the left.  A fence has been installed to keep people from getting on the top of the sluice as it is becoming unsafe.  This dam is likely to be removed in the not too distant future if erosion controls are implemented along the watercourse.

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By 1877 when the county atlas below was drawn most of the mills were already gone. I’ve coloured Leslie Street (2nd line east) green and Sheppard (15 Concession) red while a mill access road has been coloured yellow.  I wandered along the west side of the East Don River, across the first little tributary and then as far along Newtonbrook Creek as I could.  This trek I’ve coloured blue.  The south-east corner shows a mill pond in the atlas where North York General Hospital stands today.  The sawmill in the curve of the yellow road belonged to Hunter and Sons and was destroyed in the flood of 1878.  The first sawmill on this site was Stillwell Wilson’s but it was washed away in a breach of the dam in 1828.  Thomas Sheppard then operated a grist mill here until it was lost to a fire in 1869.  The concrete dam featured above was on the property that belonged to Mrs. Lee at the time of the atlas.  South of here the Duncan Mill is shown with an arrow and it still exists on the property of the Donalda Club Golf Course.  Further north, likely on the Gould property, are reportedly the remains of the Philip Phillips sawmill waiting for another day.

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River grapes have become a real problem in the valley.  This invasive species has the ability to climb the biggest trees and ultimately can choke the life out of it by covering the canopy.  Their twisted vines grow up to two inches thick where they’re well established.

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A couple of foot bridges allow you to cross between the two sides of the river but there is a maintained trail on one side of the river only.  In addition to the usual families with strollers and dogs, the joggers and cyclists are joined on this Sunday by a marathon running the length of the trail.  This makes the trail rather crowded and scares any wildlife away.  Most of the waterways in the GTA have a maintained path on one side and a dirt footpath on the other.  In a busy park like the East Don Parklands the birds, coyote and any deer will be found on the side with the dirt trail.  Therefore, this is the trail I chose.

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Erosion is a major problem and the river bank has been washed away several feet from the previous shoreline.  The natural gas pipeline in this section has been exposed and will now need to be buried again to prevent possible damage to the pipe.  This is going to require heavy equipment and likely some of the trees will be removed along the sides of the pathway.  In will come the armour stone and at the same time the dam downstream will likely be removed for “safety” reasons.

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People always find places to hang out and have a cold beer, relax and enjoy the feeling of being in the country, even if you’re not too far from high rises and the subway.  In some places, people sit in relative comfort in the little forts they build.  This little rest stop is beside the first little tributary and at this time it was easy to cross on the stones that had been provided by the local explorers.

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Sections of the trail along the west side of the river have been very wet at times in the past.  There are several places where there are logs that have been put down similar to a corduroy road.  Recent rain has left the trail pretty muddy in some places.  I’m sure this will turn into a mosquito haven in the coming weeks.

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More signs of erosion can be seen along the East Don river with large trees bring washed into the river in several places.  The Conservation Authority will have to come along and remove them so that they don’t form dams in the river and lead to flooding.

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The green frog has large, distinctive, tympani or ear drums that can be seen behind their eyes.  They also have two folds of skin that run down either side of the back that are known as dorsolateral folds.  They typically have a distinctive green patch on their upper lips.  Tadpoles overwinter and transform into frogs the following spring.

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Having taken the trail on the west side of the river I was forced to turn back when I came to Newtonbrook Creek because I couldn’t get across.  This leaves a large section of the park between here and Old Cummer Road that still needs to be explored, including the Stillwell mill site.

Google Maps Link: East Don Parklands

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