Tag Archives: Sixteen Mile Creek

The Old Dam – Oakville

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Last week we explored Sixteen Mile Creek on the west side looking for evidence of the old tunnel through the Hog’s Back.  We found an old stone structure that looked like a tunnel entrance that had been filled in.  Owing to the fact that it wasn’t in the location we expected, we determined that it was not the tunnel we sought.  Having circumnavigated the hog’s back we had determined that the openings on either side had been closed off, either intentionally for safety or through a mud or talus slide.  This week we returned to have a look on the east side of the creek for the remains of the old dam.  The post card below is over 100 years old and shows Sixteen Mile Creek with the dam intact on the left of the photo.  The earth and stone berm can be seen running out toward the creek where the water spills over the dam.  The creek flows around the hog’s back and then under the railway bridge.  The wood stave flume passes under the railway bridge on its way toward the mill.

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William Chisholm purchased 960 acres of land at the mouth of Sixteen Mile Creek in 1827 with the plan to create ship building yards there.  Another of William’s early ventures was the construction of saw and grist mills both of which were completed by 1833.  The grist mill was located downstream from the Hog’s Back but the mill pond was on the opposite side of this geological feature. The solution was to bring the water through the hog’s back in a tunnel.

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St. Mary’s Pioneer Cemetery contains the city’s earliest founders including William Chisholm.  There are a few parking places on Lyons Lane near the entrance to the cemetery.  Just inside the gate there is an opening in the fence and a small path.  It is possible to descend to the creek level but caution is required as the footing is loose.  The large “S” that Sixteen Mile Creek forms as it rounds the hog’s back makes directions a little odd when you reach the creek.  You are on the east side of the creek but west of it.  You’ll walk south toward Lake Ontario as you make your way upstream toward the old dam.  The dam can be seen in the picture below as the white line running horizontal through the trees in the middle of the photo.

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Looking back along the dam you can see where it met the embankment with St. Mary’s Pioneer Cemetery at the top of the hill.

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The dam stands eight to ten feet off of the creek floodplain.  A cross section of the dam can be seen by walking out to the end and climbing down the side.  Large pieces of dolostone were layered to form a sturdy wall.  A layer of soil was scooped up off the floodplain to deepen the mill pond and provide a covering for the dam.  A wooden crib filled with stone was used to span the creek.  The dam was built in the winter when water levels were low and maintenance was also done during these months.  The dam has been removed from the creek to help prevent flooding and reduce the danger downstream should it eventually fail.

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Tracing the line of the old dam to the creek’s edge you can see the stone in the water and on the far embankment that marked the dam’s east end at the hog’s back.  The dam met the hog’s back at the extreme left in this photo. The now closed entrance to the water tunnel would have been along the embankment in this picture, perhaps near the large tree with the platform in it.

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Following the dam back to where it meets the ravine side you will find a small path that leads back up to the cemetery.  The picture below shows how obvious the dam is when seen from above, once you know that it is there.

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Keep your eyes open as you walk through places where there is a lot of limestone because it can often be found with fossils in it.  The piece pictured below has fossil worms and twigs and what appears to be a moth near the middle.

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The woods near Sixteen Mile Creek were alive with robins.  Groups of birds are not always called flocks and a group of robins is known as a “round”.  In England, they are also known as a breast and in the USA they are called a wave.  Perhaps this is where the term “round-robin” comes from.  The round of robins by the creek was fat and obviously well fed. It is most likely that these birds have returned from their migration south, perhaps pushed north by storms below them.  Two robins stop for a drink from the creek in the picture below.

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Google Maps Link: St. Mary’s Pioneer Cemetery Oakville

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Hog’s Back Park – Oakville

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A hog’s back is a narrow ridge of steeply inclined rock strata that is resistant to erosion. In Oakville, the Sixteen Mile Creek forms a hog’s back at St. Mary’s Pioneer Cemetery. The Google Earth picture below shows how the hog’s back is surrounded on three sides by water (blue).  Following a story last year on the east side of Sixteen Mile Creek we received a tip about an artifact on the other side.  The entrance to a tunnel that used to run under the hog’s back aparently still remained on the west side of the creek across from St. Mary’s Cemetery. Initially, it was used to carry a wooden flume which supplied water to power the first mills in Oakville.  There is limited parking in the area and in some places, you risk towing.  We found limited free street parking on Kerr Street south of the 403. Access to the bottom of the ravine can be gained off of Kerr Street adjacent to the highway bridge.

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The bridge replaces an earlier crossing at river level.  Today’s Kerr Street used to have a switchback that led down to the ravine floor and this was eliminated when the high-level bridge was installed in the 1930’s.  There is still an obvious roadway that has been cut down the side of the ravine although it is becoming overgrown with hawthorn and other first generation growth.  There were signs that going down this way wasn’t a good idea, due to trees that had fallen across the roadway and so we returned and descended beside the bridge.

Two types of bridge construction can be seen from the ravine floor.  In the foreground are the graceful arches of the earlier bridge of the Middle Road Highway.  When it opened in 1937 between Toronto and Burlington it was the first inter-city divided highway in North America.  The lamp posts featured “ER” in wrought iron for Elizabeth Regina or Queen Elizabeth, giving the highway the longest stretch of illumination in the world at the time. The second bridge, on straight pillars in the background, was opened in 2011 when the addition of HOV lanes required that a second structure was built to cross the creek. Notice how the new construction was built with room for another expansion in the future.

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The west creek bank has an open floodplain until you reach the major curve in the river near the railway tracks.  At this point, the creek edges up against the ravine wall.  Before the curve extensive work has been done on the embankment with shale.  We found the opening with its crude arch that can be seen in the photo below.  The embankment is shored up with additional shale to support the entrance to a tunnel which has recently been filled in.  The bottom of a wheelbarrow remains in the opening to attest to the deed and give an indication of scale.

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On the top of the ravine above this inlet are the remains of some extensive stonework. Arches and columns support other arches and these, in turn, support the deck of a more modern house.  Following the creek ceases to be an option at this point and you are forced to retreat or climb the side of the ravine.

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Stonehooking was performed between about 1830 and World War 1.  Shale was collected from the lake bottom and used in construction projects.  Two examples of this kind of construction formerly stood on Kerr Street just south of the railway tracks.  They have since been moved onto Shepherd Road to make space for the highrise building that can be seen in the corner of the picture below.  The two houses were built in 1911 and 1930 respectively.  Three triangular dormers grace the two-story 1911 home which has been restored with new cedar shingles.  The story-and-a-half 1930 home can be seen on the left in this photo.  Their location has been marked with a red asterisk on the Google Earth picture above where they sit in the shadow of the building that they were moved to accommodate.

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At the end of Shepherd Road is a small park that has a sign welcoming you to West River Community.  Here, contrary to trespass laws, an obvious trail leads across a triple-tracked and very active railway line.  This trail leads out onto the top of the hog’s back.  In an effort to fully explore this section of the creek we had to descend back to creek level.

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Backtracking upstream, it was confirmed that there is just a short section along the base of the railway line that cannot be traversed safely at water level.  The view south from here reveals the layers of shale that make up the hog’s back.  Extensive talus slopes at water level contain the loose clay, sand and shale that has fallen from the cliff face.  A thin strip of vegetation along the edge of the water gives a faint hope of being able to get past.

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It turns out that there were sufficient places to step to allow us to slowly work past all the talus. Rapidly changing water levels could make this quite dangerous at times.

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At the end of the hog’s back we found a camp site.  We are either very early or much too late for breakfast.

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Once around the tip of the hog’s back, we saw two GO trains pass each other in opposite directions on the rail bridge over Sixteen Mile Creek.  The 1877 county atlas shows the rail line (yellow below) passing through Oakville as the H & T Branch of the Great Western Railway (GWR).  In 1834 the GWR was the first railway in Canada West (Ontario) to receive a charter, as the London and Gore Railway.  It was rechartered in 1845 as the GWR.  When it opened in 1853 it connected Niagara Falls with Windsor.  In 1855 the line was extended with the Hamilton & Toronto (H&T) branch.  The rail bridge over Sixteen Mile Creek was built of cut blocks of limestone.  When it was triple-tracked the new section was made of poured concrete with a pattern that mimics the cut stone blocks beside it.

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The historical atlas below shows the journey starting at the parking spot which is marked with a star.  The trail is marked in red and the end is marked with a diamond.  Having hiked all the way around the hog’s back at creek level we are forced to conclude that the shale structure featured in the cover photo is the only candidate to be the remains of the mill flume intake tunnel.

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Google Maps link: Hog’s Back Park

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The Vandalized Memorial – Taras Shevchenko Museum

Dec. 13, 2015

On the side of Sixteen Mile Creek stand the remains of a memorial park that has been vandalized on multiple occasions. The scattered remnants stand abandoned waiting to see if they will fall victim to land developers or be restored as a public park. We parked on the fourth line where it dead ends south of Dundas Street and set out in the light rain and 6 degree temperatures.
Taras Shevchenko was born in Ukraine in 1814 in the feudal system of the era. He was orphaned at the age of 11 and went on to become one of the country’s most prolific writers composing over 1000 works. Some consider him to be the Ukrainian version of Shakepeare. When his writing was seen as agitating against the czarists regime he was sentenced to serve in a military outpost and banned from writing. Although he could have lived in luxury from his work he chose to live humbly like the people he loved.  He died in 1861 just the day after his 47th birthday.  Ukrainians began to emmigrate to Canada in 1891 and by 1939 there was already a plan to erect a statue in honour of Taras. The Second World War prevented the community from getting things started but in 1950 it was picked up again. The plan was revised this time with a park and statue envisioned for the following year. Ten thousand people attended a performance in Maple Leaf Gardens on June 30th, 1951 which featured 1,500 performers. The following day the park was opened with up to 45,000 in attendance. An archive picture from the opening ceremonies is shown below.

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The 15 foot tall statue stood on top of a 70 tonne granite monument. It was a gift to Canada from Ukraine and was shipped here in 121 pieces which included the pedestal and garden stones. The total weight was 51 metric tonnes and the assembly work was completed by two local brothers. The statue was controversial from the start with a split between Communist and Czarist Russia causing the statue to be under 24 hour guard for some time after it opened. The Taras Shevchenko monument is seen below as it looked when the park opened on July 1, 1951.

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The Taras Shevchenko Museum opened a year later on July 1, 1952.  It housed over 500 exhibits, mostly from the museum in Kiev.  It included 23 of Taras’ oil paintings as well as carvings and Easter eggs.  On September 16, 1988 the museum was destroyed by an arson. The death mask, an original bronze copy of the mold was the only thing rescued from the museum. It has been moved to the new museum which was opened at 1614 Bloor Street W.  Today an old sidewalk runs to the field where the museum stood until 27 years ago.

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Park benches are scattered around the formerly landscaped park. 16.5 acres were planted with over 600 trees and 500 pounds of grass seed. The grass near the bench shows signs of a recent grass fire that threatened to consume the remnants of the park.

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The old flag pole still stands in the open field near the monument.

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Sometime around Christmas 2006 thieves drove a truck up to the statue. They attached ropes to the statue using a ladder stolen from the caretaker’s property and pulled it the ground. The scrap value was estimated at $20,000 by police and only the head was recovered. It alone weighs 170 lbs and has been placed in the new museum on Bloor Street.

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There was a smaller statue of Taras sitting in a chair reading a book near the entrance to the park but it was stolen in 2001 just a few days after the July 1st celebration of the park’s 50th anniversary. There also used to be ornate iron gates that welcomed visitors off of Dundas street but they too appear to have been stolen for their scrap value. The cover photo shows the entrance to the park with the broken monument in the background. Even the granite marker naming the park has been vandalized by graffiti.

We followed the trail to where an old access road leads down to the level of Sixteen Mile Creek. There is a limited range one can travel upstream on this side before you must climb the ravine to cross a shale cliff. Near here is an old pump house on the side of the creek. There are intake pipes in the river as well as pipes running to the top of the hill. The pump house appears to have been associated with a children’s campground that occupied 47 acres adjacent to the Memorial Park. The children’s campground was closed in 1998.  The picture below shows the view through the open door facing the creek.  Pieces of PVC pipe can be seen on the far embankment and in the water.

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The eastern red-backed salamander lives in woodlands and is considered to be the salamander species of least concern for preservation in Southern Ontario. They typically breed in the fall but can also breed in the spring. They can reach population densities as high as 1,000 salamanders per acre. This salamander has a short hibernation period compared with other salamanders and have been known to be seen even in winter. The slow start to the winter season this year seems to have kept this one still active.

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Before the current Dundas Street bridge was built the road used to climb the side of the ravine in a switchback that connected with the fourth line. That road was closed to traffic and now provides a link to the hiking trails. We previously visited this site when investigating the Ghost Town of Sixteen Hollow.

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The future of the Taras Shevchenko memorial park is uncertain. The park owners had been in negotiations with the City of Oakville to donate the property as a city park when the statue was stolen. At the same time the surrounding land from the children’s camp has been bought by developers who plan 205 single family homes and 125 townhouses on their land. They have been actively trying to acquire the memorial site for part of their development. I’m not sure what is in store for this repeatedly vandalized memorial.

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