Tag Archives: Todmorden Mills

Abandoned Don Mills Road

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Don Mills Road, or part of it, played an important role in early York (Toronto)  and has been under constant change ever since.  The decision to make Don Mills Road a major thoroughfare led to a new alignment and the abandonment of a section in the heart of the city making it one of only a very few pieces of abandoned roadway in Toronto.  Links to the others ones that we’ve investigated will be provided at the end.  As you drive north on Don Mills Road, just north of the interchange for the Don Valley Boulevard (DVP) an unmarked road exits to the right.  This is the old alignment of Don Mills Road.  Follow it over the bridge to where there is free parking.  An old sign, just off the new Don Mills Road suggests we slow down and see what’s around us.

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The mills at Todmorden on the Don River were the second to open in York after The Old Mill had opened on the Humber River.  In the 1820’s a paper mill was built at Todmorden and in 1846 the Taylor Brothers added a paper mill to the saw and grist mills they owned at the Forks of The Don.  This was the third paper mill along the river that belonged to the Taylors and was known as the upper mill.  The Mill Road was built to join the mills and provide access for the public and workers.  For a long time, the road only served the mills but the farmers to the north got together and extended the road to York Mills and south to the St. Lawrence Market.  The road then became known as the Don Independent Road because it was built on land that was given by the property owners.  In 1954 it was decided that Don Mills Road would become one of the major arteries in the city and it was widened to 4 lanes.  It was given a new alignment through the Forks of the Don so that a new bridge could be built.  The picture below shows the berm that the old road used to climb from the river valley to the tablelands above.

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The elevated wetlands are a familiar site to people who use the DVP to get in or out of downtown Toronto as they have stood on either side of the highway since 1998.  The three elephantine sculptures were created by Canadian Artist Noel Harding who works on large scale public art that has an environmental component. Harding, working in conjunction with the city and the Canadian Plastics Industry, created the wetlands.  They are made from recycled plastics and serve to purify the water that flows through them.  A solar panel on the rear sculpture pumps water from the river.  That water flows into the next planter and finally into the third one before falling into a natural wetland in front. The cover photo shows another view of the elevated wetlands.

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The rainbow arch bridge over the West Don River was built in 1921 to replace an earlier bridge.  Toronto has several of these concrete bowstring bridges but this one is in particularly good condition with little or no restoration.

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There are a couple of architectural features that make this bridge unique among the local bowstring bridges.  First, each end of the bridge has extended parapets on it that are decorated with diamond patterns.  Also, the last two panels on each end of the bridge are filled in to create a solid wall from the arch to the deck of the bridge.  Concrete railings provide protection for pedestrians on either side of the bridge.

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From the arch bridge looking north, the old roadway has been well maintained and is in use as a walking trail.  There is a small parking lot on the side of the roadway, just south of where this picture was taken.  The bridge over the Canadian Pacific tracks can be seen in the distance.

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When the road was closed in 1961 the original bridge over the railway was removed. A new pedestrian bridge was installed in 1972 when the Lower Don Recreational Trail system was set up.  The picture below shows the railway crossed by the pedestrian bridge with the new Don Mills Road bridge in the background.  An elevated boardwalk joins the trails in ET Seton Park with the bridge over the rail line and the Lower Don Recreational Trail.  This trail connects to a series of trails that will take you all the way to Lake Ontario.

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Just north of the bridge is the old railing that was installed for safety when the road was closed.

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Looking back you can see that the new bridge is not in the same alignment as the earlier one.  It ends at the same location on the southern abutment but starts slightly west of the original and runs on a different angle.

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The section of the roadway north of the bridge has been overgrown in places by 50%. Grass, moss and sizeable trees sprout through the pavement on both sides of the road.

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This large tree has burst through the asphalt pushing pieces of pavement up all around the tree.

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The view looking south from near Gateway Boulevard.  Behind here the traces of the old road have been obliterated by an apartment building.

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Google Maps Link: Don Mills Road

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Crothers Woods

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Crothers Woods has at least three access points, each with parking.  There is one parking lot at the Don Valley Mountain Bike Trailhead on Pottery Road (map link at end) just before the bow-string bridge over the Don River.  This parking lot sits on the old road allowance for Pottery Road, a section of which was abandoned when the Bayview Extension was built in 1959.  From the trailhead, the path leads north following the side of Bayview Avenue until it reaches the northern tip of the park where there are a couple of parking spots.  To the right along this trail is an area known as Sun Valley.  It was home to a small brick making company called The Sun Brick Company which operated until the late 1930’s.  The property had been home to the Taylor Family who built their homestead here in 1826.  The family owned the Don Valley Brick Works and Todmorden Mills where they ran one of their three paper mills. When the clay for the bricks was nearly exhausted the town of Leaside purchased the pit for a landfill.  Over the next few decades, they dumped garbage up to 25 metres deep in the pit.  It has now been capped with clean fill and is being restored as a meadow at this time.  The Terry Family home has been moved to Todmorden Mills where it is being preserved.  The picture below shows the home, that once stood in today’s Crothers Woods, as it appeared in the summer of 2014.

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Following the trail into the woods leads to a slight diversion, the abandoned CPR tracks. The first train to roll across the tracks here was a freight train in 1891.  That train continued south along the Don Valley and into downtown Toronto.  Along the way, it passed over the Half-Mile bridge.   The first good snowfall of the season sits largely undisturbed on the tracks in the picture below. Due to the fact that the snow had fallen without much drifting the rails and ties can be clearly seen in spite of the fact that there is about a foot of fresh snow.  This is one of the few local abandoned railways that still has the rails and ties intact.  It is likely that Metrolinx, who owns the railway corridor, will incorporate it into some future passenger line.

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An active set of tracks belonging to Canadian National Railway runs parallel to the abandoned CPR ones as the Don Valley made a suitable access to the city.  Two freight trains passed along the other tracks while the lower ones were being briefly explored.

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Crothers Woods is one of the most bike friendly parks in the city.  Bikers are encouraged to use the trails although pedestrians still have the right-of-way. Winter biking has its challenges and a bike is normally fitted out especially for the season.  Fat tires and wider frames are matched with enclosed gears that prevent freeze up.  The tires may be inflated to as low as 5 pounds pressure.  A group of winter bike enthusiasts was using the park to get some exercise and enjoy their custom cycles.    It is always nice to see others who find a way to enjoy the winter weather.

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Crothers Caterpillar had a manufacturing plant in Crothers Woods until 1979.  Built by George W. Crothers it produced heavy equipment, primarily for the mining industry.  The plant backed onto the railway and the factory buildings on the site were removed by 1991. The site has recently been partially repurposed as a Loblaws store and parking lot.  There is a trail head here as well that was the starting site of the group of fatbikes we had seen earlier.  There is also lots of parking available in the back of the parking lot near the trailhead.

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The loading ramp from the former Crothers Caterpillar plant still stands along the abandoned railway track.

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A lone hydro pole stands in the woods where it once was part of the Crothers Caterpillar plant.  What was an open field 30 years ago has grown back in quite well!

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In 1929 the city built the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant on the edge of Crothers Woods.  It processes the effluent from North Toronto and Leaside.  Personal experience indicated that the sewage system covers in North Toronto are mainly dated 1928 with a few from 1929.  The cover photo shows another view of the treatment plant.

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Crothers Woods was a farm for about 100 years before it spent the next century as an industrial site.  Today it still retains some areas of Carolinian Forest consisting of beech, maple and oak.  There are also a few butternut trees which are locally rare.  Crothers Woods has been designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) because it is a home to some rare undergrowth plants.  It is also a good place to see common spring flowers like trout lilies and trilliums.  The east ravine wall contains some climax forest which is the historical normal vegetation that exists in a stable condition in this part of the country.  New growth forest has taken over much of the rest of the 52-hectare park.

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An extensive set of stairs leads from the corner of Redwood Road and Millway Road down to the sewage plant.

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There are plenty of remnants from old land usage in the ravine.  A lengthy penstock runs down the hill behind the treatment plant while these concrete structures stand a little farther along.  They say that old relics from the Crothers Caterpillar plant are still dug up on occasion in the woods.

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Crothers Woods also includes the Beechgrove Wetland which is a successful restoration project.  The wetlands, Sun Valley and an abandoned road await a visit in the spring when the wetlands will be teeming with life.

 

Google Maps link: Crothers Woods

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Don Valley Brick Works

Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014

It was minus two with light snow flurries but one of those pleasant days when fall is trying to be winter. There is plenty of pay parking on the site of the brick works (Google Maps link).

In 1882 William Taylor was digging holes for fence posts on his farm when he uncovered some good looking clay.  Checking with a local brick maker, he was told that the clay was ideal for bricks.  William and his two brothers operated the paper mills at Todmorden.  By 1889 they had opened up the Don Valley Pressed Brick Company.  By the early 1890’s they were winning international awards for the quality of their bricks.

There were earlier wooden buildings but the oldest of the 15 remaining ones, and the first one made of Don Valley bricks, is the 1891 dry press brick plant.  This building held most of the early production and was built in the first two years of operation.

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This is the view from the top of the quarry looking down on the last remaining kiln chimney, built in 1906.  This chimney, as well as three others, provided a continuous draft over a series of kilns. As can be seen in the cover photo each chimney contained one word that together spelled out Don Valley Brick Works.  Only the “Valley” chimney remains.

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On April 19, 1904 a great fire destroyed much of the downtown of Toronto.  When it was over, there were 104 buildings which had burnt down.  The city enacted new laws to reduce the risk of another serious fire and these included a move toward more brick construction.  Over the next few years much of the Toronto skyline would be built using Don Valley bricks.  Some of the major buildings constructed of their bricks include Sick Kids Hospital, Toronto General, Osgood Hall, Massey Hall, and Old City Hall.  The fire proved to be a major boom for the brick works and they expanded quickly over the next few years.  By 1907 production was up to 100,000 bricks per day.  The picture below from the Toronto Archives shows Front Street after the fire.

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In 1909 the business was sold by the Taylor brothers to their brother-in-law Robert Davies. Davies invested a lot of money into the brick works and erected four of the buildings that remain today.  in 1910 he built the sales office pictured below.

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That same year another production facility was added beside the 1891 building where soft mud, stiff mud and dry bricks were produced.  It still houses the original shakers, dust collectors and sieves as pictured below.

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In 1912 a sand and lime storage facility was added.  The picture below is taken from the rear of the building.  This building features prominently in most old photos, including the aerial ones, of the 43 acre site due to the conveyor belt that always runs into a window on the back.  In the cover photo the conveyor on the right is carrying raw materials from the quarry into this building.  The picture of the complex in the cover photo includes the Half Mile Bridge which is described in a separate post.  We can date the photo to the early 20’s by the buildings and the steel construction of the half mile bridge.

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Large quantities of water are essential for the production of bricks.  The Taylor brothers diverted nearby Mud Creek to flow through their brick factory site.  In the picture below  there is a water channel that runs down the centre of the picture.  A rock wall lines the left side of the channel. The 1926 water treatment plant is the single story building that actually straddles the waterway. The front view of the 1912 sand and lime storage shed is on the right with the flower art sticking out of one third story window.

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During the second world war there were many German soldiers taken captive.  It was feared that if Germany invaded England these prisoners would be freed to fight again on the side of Germany.  A shortage of food and people to guard the prisoners led to the decision to inter some of them in prison camps in Canada.  One of these camps was at Todmorden and the inmates were forced to work at the Don Valley Brick works.  If you own a brick home built in the early 1940’s chances are that German POW’s made the bricks.

The business was sold again in 1956, this time to United Ceramics of Germany who went on an expansion program.  Seven new buildings were added between 1956 and 1961.  These included another dry press brick production building and in 1956 a building with 3 rows of kilns.  These kilns were fired at 1800 Fahrenheit and it would take a cart of bricks 2 days to pass through the 5 stages of the oven.

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An old brick press machine still sits in the welcome centre.

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The view from near the front of the pit looking north to the back.  In the early 1900’s the north face became an international geological site when it was discovered that there were fossils indicative of warmer climates.  From this they deduced that there was more than one ice age.  To get perspective on the size of the pit take notice of the person walking on the trail below.

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I climbed the hill on the north face to get a clear view back across the quarry to the cluster of old buildings.  The Bloor Viaduct (1918), also known as the Price Edward Viaduct, can be seen just beyond the compound.

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When the clay and shale were exhausted the pit was shut down and some of the equipment was sold off. The site sat abandoned for close to 20 years while the weather and lack of repairs took it’s toll on the buildings.  Wild parties and graffiti artists left their marks in the various facilities as well.

Starting in the mid 1990’s the site has been under restoration.  The quarry was partly filled in using excavations from the towers downtown including the Scotia Bank tower.  Mud Creek has been used to form 3 ponds and native vegetation has been re-established.  The site is now managed by Evergreen which has transformed it into an environmental showcase.  The building below was constructed to qualify for LEED platinum status as a building with one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world.  It uses part of the old holding building where bricks were kept before they went to the kilns.

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There is much more to be seen at the brick works and more opportunities to explore.  The guided tour sounds interesting but was not operating when I was there.

A list of our top 15 stories can be found here.

Google Maps link: Don Valley Brick Works

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Todmorden Mills

Sunday August 10, 2014

It was sunny and warm, a beautiful day for a hike.  I parked at the top end of Pottery Road in the Loblaws parking lot.  I also hiked along the old abandoned roadway of Pottery Road but that will have to be described separately due to length.

When Governor Simcoe arrived in 1793 to build his town of York (Toronto) he needed a large supply of sawn lumber.  The only other mill at the time was the King’s Mill (now Old Mill) on the Humber River.  As it was a government run mill it was unreliable and went through many changes of millers due to crazy rules that made it impossible to recoup your investment.  Simcoe brought Isaiah and Aaron Skinner in and granted them 200 acres of land in the Don River valley.  They built a sawmill in 1794 and a grist mill in 1795.  The Skinners sold the mills to Parshall Terry in 1798 and when he drowned in 1808 the mills passed to Timothy Skinner who ran them until he was killed in the war of 1812.

Terry built the older portion of the Terry House, that part at the back which was made of logs.  The front part with the two chimneys was a later addition.  Taxes were levied on the number of chimneys you had, so having three fireplaces was a luxury.

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This picture shows the back end of the paper mill.  The mill race ran down the left side of the mill and this is where the mill wheel would have been.  The tall chimney was added about 1900.  In the cover photo the chimney is contrasted with the urban towers of Toronto in the distance.

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In 1822 Colin Skinner came into a partnership with the idea of chasing a bounty for being the first paper mill in Upper Canada.  They didn’t win the bounty but did become the first mill to install paper making machinery.  Eventually the paper mills spread into three locations and became a major industry in early Toronto.  When the mills closed down they were used for awhile to stable the horses from the brick works.  Later they were the home of Whitewood’s Riding Stable.  The word “White” remains on the side of the old mill.  Also, note the old mill stone mounted on the lawn just outside the door.

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When the Don Valley parkway was built the Don River was re-routed so that the large curve that used to pass through Todmorden and power the mills was cut off by the berm of the highway.  The river was straightened to run along side the railway line.  The part that used to flow under the bridge still has water in it and backs up from the river down stream when there is flooding, providing some flood control.  The picture below is taken from the bridge looking east.

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In 1821 the mills were sold to Thomas Helliwell Sr. and John Eastwood.  Helliwell Sr. came from Todmorden in England and it is because of him that the name of Don Mills was changed to Todmorden Mills.  One of the first things Helliwell did was erect this building as the brewery and distillery.

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Thomas Helliwell Jr. built this house in 1837 out of bricks made from clay he dug out of the hillside behind the house.  The bricks were not baked but only sun dried and so they would crumble easily.  For this reason a protective coating of stucco was applied.

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The portion of the house at the rear has the notable characteristic of no windows breaking the roof line that suggests it was originally a log home.  The two story brick and stucco addition on the front was likely framed and then veneered with bricks and stucco.

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The old flag pole still stands on the front lawn of the Terry House.  Note the wooden cradle mount at the bottom of the pole.

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When Thomas Taylor died in 1880 the mills were handed over to George Taylor’s son’s who added the Don Valley Pressed Brickworks to their empire in 1891 just across the river from Todmorden.  The Don Valley Brickworks produced many of the bricks for the construction of Late Victorian Toronto.  Broken or defective bricks were dumped in the valley all around Todmorden.  The road leading to the bridge over the former Don River is made of bricks but is itself built on several feel of broken bricks.  The blue line on the bricks in the picture below shows the one time bank of the don River.

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A little up stream is old Todmorden dam.  This is a very quiet place to just sit and contemplate the people who made this city out of the woods around them.

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The Don Station was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1896 near Queen Street and the don river.  Between 1969 and 2008 it was on display at Todmorden before being moved to it’s new home in Roundhouse Park.

Google Maps Link: Todmorden Mills

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