Tag Archives: Swing Bridge

The Bell Fountain – Belfountain

Saturday August 22, 2015

Set in the Caledon hills the town of Belfountain has a beautiful park with a swing bridge and water falls.  It was another excellent summer Saturday with an early morning temperature of just 13 degrees, a perfect day for a hike to a swing bridge.

The area was surveyed by 1820 but the rugged terrain made farming difficult and settlement was slow.  There was plenty of cherry and white pine trees and William Frank built a saw mill on the West Credit river in 1825.  Selling cherry wood for furniture and pine for construction he soon was able to dam the river where he built a grist mill.  The grist mill was purchased by Jonathon McCurdy who built another saw mill adjacent to it giving the community the temporary name of McCurdy’s Mills.  Belfountain was surveyed in 1846, registered in 1853 and by 1860 more saw mills, a tannery and another flour mill had been added.

Around 1850 Peter McNaughton set up a barrel making shop in town.  He wanted his cooperage to be easily distinguished and so he built his house like a barrel.  It was 12 feet wide and 12 feet tall with a pyramid for a roof.  He used wooden staves and steel bands in the construction and this earned the town the nickname “Tubtown” for awhile.  By the time this house was moved to Erin the town had taken on the name Belfountain.  We parked on Mississauga road on the edge of town where an old barn and the foundations of a farmhouse remain.

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In 1908 Charles Mack bought the property that would become Belfountain Park.  It had been owned in the 1860’s by George Hughson and had been the home to four of Belfountain’s mills.   Mack had made his fortune as an inventor, most notably of the cushion rubber stamp which he sold to banks and post offices.  He wanted to create a park that would be memorable to those who visited and he has been successful for over a hundred years.  Mack built his own little version of Niagara Falls and added a swing bridge to view it from.  The current bridge replaces the 1909 bridge that I used to cross as a youngster.

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Beside the waterfall is a  sluice gate and the round pipe from a penstock used for water power. There was a dam here prior to Mack building his waterfall and so the new dam continued to be used by local mills.  The mini Niagara Falls dam has been determined to be short of current Ontario code for dams and is under environmental assessment to see how it can be restored and the danger to downstream properties alleviated.

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The gardens and falls area are lined with stone walls and stairways.  A local stonemason named Sam Brock was hired to do most of the decorative work and build the cave.

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Mack built what he called Yellowstone Cave, complete with concrete stalagmites and stalactites. To me the cave looks more like a shrine of some kind and, perhaps, in some way it is a shrine to one man’s eccentricity.

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Mack also built a fountain out of inverted bells with an upright bell at the top as a pun on the town’s name.  I’ve used the same pun in the title and cover photo.  After running for more than 100 years the bells are covered in a thick layer of moss but the water still flows.

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A series of beautiful planters and gardens surrounded the area of the bell fountain.  Benches and lookouts were also provided for visitors.

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A swimming and boating area above the water falls has been allowed to silt in so that it is no longer usable. In the 1970’s this was a great place to get cooled off on a hot summer day. Concrete steps now lead down into the water and muck.  After Charles Mack passed away his widow sold the park which was used commercially until the Credit Valley Conservation authority bought it in 1959.  They are currently in the works of a master plan to restore the heritage features and to make the area more enjoyable for visitors.

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There are four generations of Monarch butterflies born each year in Ontario.  The picture below is of a butterfly which has just emerged from it’s chrysalis and it was still in the process of drying it’s wings.  The third generation of monarchs is born in July and August and will live for two to six weeks in which time it will lay the eggs for the fourth generation this year.  The fourth generation will be born in September and October.  This generation will not be like the three before it in that it is programmed to live for six to eight months and not just a few weeks.  This fourth generation will migrate south to places like Mexico to survive the winter.  When they return in the spring they will lay the eggs for next year’s first, short lived, generation of Monarch butterflies.

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By 1870 Belfountain had become home to about 300 people.  The two local communities of Forks of the Credit and Brimstone were home to quarry workers and essentially were company towns.  The skilled tradesmen and quarry managers lived in Belfountain which, due to it’s mills, had become the economic centre of the region.  Quarry workers get thirsty and need a place to spend their pay cheques.  The ornate patterned brick building at the corner of Mississauga Road and Bush Street was opened as a tavern in 1888.

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The Community Hall was built in 1893 of board and batten construction.  The precast concrete brick foundation dates to the 20th century and indicates that the building was raised at some point.  The hall was closed in 2015 due to safety concerns and it is unknown where the funding for restoration will come from.

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Belfountain, with it’s bell fountain and mini Niagara Falls, makes a great place to visit and is especially nice when the fall colours are in full display.

There’s still plenty of summer weather left though so get out and enjoy it.  Perhaps visit one of the more popular places as picked by readers in this top 15 list.

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Newmarket Ghost Canal

Sunday June 21, 2015

It was the first day of summer and although the sky was threatening rain it wasn’t actually supposed to happen.  I decided to check out the remains of the partially constructed Newmarket Canal.  I parked in the conservation parking lot off of Green Lane near the second concession.  The East Holland River crosses here and heads north out of
Newmarket.  I walked about 15 minutes south of Green Lane to where the third lock on the abandoned canal was built to start my investigation of the canal.

The idea of building a canal to link Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe had it’s beginnings in the 1820’s.  Following the War of 1812 greater consideration was given to the moving of goods and people and a period of canal building began.  The first Welland canal opened in 1829, the Rideau in 1832 and Trent-Severn in 1833.  An idea was brought forward to link Lake Ontario near Toronto with Lake Simcoe and then Georgian Bay.  The project never got past the drawing board however and was abandoned until Rowland Burr resurrected it in the 1850’s.  In 1857 he had some success and the government commissioned the Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay Canal.  The idea was to use the Humber and Holland Rivers to reach Cook’s Bay on Lake Simcoe. With all the dredging and locks that would have been required the cost became too great and the idea was put on the shelf.

William Mulock was born in 1844 and was a member of parliament from 1882 until 1905. Serving as the MP for Newmarket, Mulock revived the idea in response to his constituent’s requests to do something about rising railway prices.  Mulock envisioned the canal extending only as far as Newmarket with a possible future extension to Aurora.  In 1904 Mulock proposed the canal which began construction in 1906.  The first section from Lake Simcoe to Holland Landing would require no locks but there would be three locks between there and Newmarket. The third lock was intended to lift boats 11 feet but as can be seen below has been filled in and is now part of Bayview Park.

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The dam has also been partially filled in as the first three sections are near ground level behind the dam. A sluice gate allows the river to bypass the old lock.

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Black Raspberries grow along the sides of the trail between lock number three and Green Lane. It looks like there will be a nice crop coming soon for those who live in the area.

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Four swing bridges were constructed of which only the one near Green Lane remains.  This one was built on the Kelley Farm and was locally known as the Kelley Bridge.  The blue swing mechanism can be seen under the new pedestrian bridge in the picture below.  The bridge would have swung across to rest on the concrete support to make way for a ship to pass through the canal.

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The gears that ran the swing bridge remain in place although the bridge was never used in that manner.  It was used as a stationary steel truss bridge to carry Green Lane over the Holland River until 2002 when it was replaced with the newly widened road and bridge.  The earlier truss bridge was removed in 2004 for safety reasons and the swing bridge works painted to help preserve them.

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The paved path works its way up the west side but I chose the less used dirt path on the east. The trail leads to a hydro corridor and then through a marsh.  I kept following a set of human footprints that led me across two small streams and through a field onto an abandoned piece of roadway.  From there I could see the second lock.  Great Blue Heron seem to like the river and local marshes.  I saw at least three different ones as I made my way along the river.

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A red car hood has been tossed off of the bridge on the second concession and into the East Holland River.  A tree is taking advantage and growing inside the car part.

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Lock number two was the tallest of the three rising 26 feet.   An old concrete bridge still spans the river on the second line but it was added after the canal was abandoned and a swing bridge was no longer required.  This is now an abandoned bridge across an older abandoned canal lock.  Rogers Reservoir was intended to contain some of the water required to operate the canal and the canal walls extend well beyond the actual lock here to form the sides of the reservoir.

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The trail continues into Holland Landing where lock number one stands abandoned.  It’s lift was 16 feet and is the only one of the three locks that the river still runs through.  Holland Landing has it’s own collection of historic buildings including an 1870 court house and two churches from the 1840’s.  It’s interesting to ponder what might have become of the village if it had been home to one of the locks on a functioning canal system.

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The project ran way over budget and construction was about 2/3 complete in 1911 when the Federal Government changed after 15 years of Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberals to Robert Borden’s Conservatives.  Construction was stopped while the new government reviewed the project, ultimately determining that there simply wasn’t enough water to make it work.  Calculations showed it would take over 2 weeks to fill the locks and so the project was abandoned.  No further work was done until 1924 when a crew was sent around to make the locks safe.  The picture below of the first lock shows the mounting position for the swing bridge for Old Yonge Street which has since been removed.

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Although his proposal for a canal to Newmarket ended in disaster, earning the nickname “Mulock’s Madness”, he managed to have a very successful career after leaving politics.  He worked in the justice system serving as Chief Justice of The Supreme Court of Ontario from 1923 until 1936.  He passed away in his 100th year having earned his own nickname, “The Grand Old Man of Canada”, and a street name in Newmarket.

A story published in Newmarket Today on Feb. 9, 2019 contains considerable detail much of it setting the record straight on some fake facts that can be found on the internet.  Included among them is the idea that there was insufficient water to operate the canal.  Richard MacLeod is an expert on Newmarket history (The History Hound) and his article can be found here.

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