Tag Archives: Waterfront Trail

Ajax Waterfront Park

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The busiest highway in North America runs parallel to the shore of Lake Ontario and the strip in between is mostly developed through the entire GTA.  However, the lake shore itself is a small oasis that is too often broken by private property.  The Waterfront Trail stays off road as much as possible but usually has to take side streets to go around these little enclaves.  Ajax has a lengthy section of beach that can be followed, as I did from Duffins Marsh on Duffins Creek, Rotary Park, through Ajax Waterfront Park and beyond. To begin, I parked in Rotary Park off of Lake Driveway West.  The marsh was calm and several egret and a heron were seeking their breakfast along the water’s edge.  Where Duffins Creek empties into Lake Ontario a foot bridge carries the trail west toward Alex Robertson Park and Frenchman’s Bay.  The picture below shows Duffins Marsh just north of the lake.

I decided to follow the shore line east with the idea that I could return using the paved trail.  It wasn’t long before I attracted the attention of this Trumpeter Swan who swam along beside me for awhile before deciding that I hadn’t noticed it there, supposedly starving.  It came out of the water and started to follow me along the beach.  I noticed that it was tagged and numbered “T61”.  These swans were nearly extinct along the shores of Lake Ontario until about 30 years ago when they were reintroduced with eggs taken from other places in Canada.  The tagged birds are monitored for their movements based on where they are reported.  It also serves to indicate how many swans are being born in the wild as the percentage of tagged swans continues to decrease over the years.  Researchers are monitoring this closely and now estimate the local population in the GTHA to exceed 1000 birds.

There seems to be a lot of apple trees growing along the top of the embankment.  Slowly the ground is being washed away from under these trees and some are in danger of falling over the edge.  Then I came across an apple tree that was growing on the beach.  That seemed a little puzzling as to how it came to be there.  The most likely explanation for the tree on the beach is that an apple fell there and grew.  It’s surprising that it survived the waves that must have beaten upon it as it grew.

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Like the Scarborough Bluffs, the sand along the shore of the lake is eroding away.  Large eratic boulders left behind during the last ice age are slowly being exposed and will eventually end up on the beach.  The rock in the picture below looks like it is about to fall but it is hard to tell how much of the stone may yet remain in the sand bank.

September 15th was the date for The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.  The good people of Ajax were cleaning the shore as I made my way past.  This year there were 1714 different teams across Canada that cleaned 2,679 kilometres of shoreline and removed 58,226 kilograms of trash.  We salute all these people.

Zebra Mussels were first seen in North America in 1988 in Lake St. Clair.  The are believed to have come in the ballast water of a ship from Europe and have since spread into all of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River and many smaller lakes.  One female Zebra Mussel can produce up to a million eggs per year and they can live up to five years.  They are spread from lake to lake on boats and trailers of people who don’t take the time to clean them off their equipment after a day in the water.  Their shells have washed ashore and in some places lay in drifts a foot deep.

There are several metres of sand bank along the shore in most places.  I found it interesting that the swallows seemed to place their nests in just the lighter layer of sand.  The nests are naturally not to close to the top or too close to the bottom so that they provide safety from predators.

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There is a great section of beach along here that hasn’t been artificially protected from erosion.  No armour stone and no break walls have been added to keep the waves from doing what comes naturally.  Some sections have shingle beach features with stone washed in from the lake or eroded out of the embankments along the shore.  Other sections have sand and could make suitable spots to spend an afternoon with the kids.

One rock on the shore was not like the others and appears to be rusting like a giant chunk of iron ore.  This single rock looks so out of place that it makes me wonder how it got there.  Was it ship’s ballast that was later dumped?  Ore headed for Hamilton for smelting, perhaps.  Or was it left there by ancient aliens as a clue that we’d been visited?

The shore line eventually came to a point of land that made access to the top of the embankment quite easy so it seemed like a good place to turn around.  Having walked the shore on the way east, I returned along the paved trail that follows the edge of the lake from a few metres above.  This path provides many great views out across the lake.

I hadn’t seen very many Monarch Butterflies but at one point I came across a patch of goldenrod that had several on it.  I snapped a few pictures and every one had at least two of the colourful insects in it.

Various pleasure craft were seen making their way up and down the lake.  Sometimes one or two larger tankers could be seen off in the distance against the skyline.  The boat in the picture below stopped and executed a turn in front of us as if someone was taking practice on doing so.

The tracker I use indicated that the total loop I made was about 7.4 kilometres.  It was a hot day and there was little shade anywhere along the trail.  I wish I had brought more cold water with me.

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The Waterfront Trail continues in both directions from where I was today so it’s safe to say that there will be more trips to this area.

Google Maps Link: Waterfront Trail Ajax

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Frenchman’s Bay

August 18, 2018

The original inhabitants of the Pickering area were the Senecas who had a settlement named Gandatsetiagon.  Frenchman’s Bay in Pickering was so named because of Francois de Salignac de Fenlon who arrived in Montreal in 1667 and came to Gandatsetiagon in 1669 to work as a missionary with the native people.  After 1791 when the British opened Upper Canada for colonization the area soon became home to settlers who started the settlement of Pickering.  We parked on West Shore Boulevard beside the Rotary Frenchman’s Bay West Park for our exploration of that park.   The county atlas picture below shows the area as it appeared in 1877.

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Very shortly after we entered the trail we came across a rose bush that is very well covered in rose hips.  These seed pods often require a winter season of freezing, known as stratification, before they can germinate.  Some species require two seasons of freezing.  The rose hips are frequently used in jams and teas because of their relatively high levels of vitamin c.

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Several types of bee structures have been placed in the park to help encourage the bees that pollinate the wildflowers growing in the park.

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Several trails cut their way through the park leading to the Beachfront Promenade as well as the bay.

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Cucumber beetles come in two groups, striped and spotted.  The striped one has three rows of black stripes on the abdomen while the spotted one, seen below, has 12 black spots.  The striped one feeds exclusively on cucurbits like cucumber, pumpkin or squash while the spotted on is less picky and will feed on other plants too.  Aside from often killing the host plant when the larvae feed on the roots these beetles carry bacterial and fungal diseases from one plant to another.

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This year there appears to be a lot of monarch butterflies.  The section of the Waterfront Trail that surrounds Frenchman’s Bay is known as the Monarch Trail.  This 4.7 kilometre trail section commemorates the monarch butterfly and the annual stop they make at the bay on their return flight from the south.

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We saw the following sign and wondered who defines what constitutes an offence.

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The park is home to the Pickering Rouge Canoe Club.  Canoes, kayaks and dragon boats all belong to the club.  Sculling is also done on the bay with the main difference between sculling and rowing being the use of two oars by a sculler and only one per rower.

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Frenchman’s Bay has a protected harbour with lengthy breakwalls protruding into the lake.  A small green lighthouse guards the west point while a red one is positioned on the east side.  The original channel into the harbour was dredged in 1843 and wooden piers were built to protect the entrance to the bay.  Looking to the east of the harbour you can see the towers of Pickering Nuclear Generating Plant.  The plant was built starting in 1966 and it is one of the oldest nuclear generating stations in the world.  Ontario has committed to continued use of the facility until 2024.

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In 1843 a set of piers was constructed at the north end of the bay with a wharf extending into the middle of the bay.  The wharf was built of hand hewn timbers that were dovetailed and connected much the same way as a log cabin.  The sections were built in shallow water and then towed to their individual locations.  Using stone they were sunk to the bottom, which had been leveled already, and then filled with more stone.  The decking was placed on top and a hand rail was attached completing the structure.  The picture below shows a replica built to the dimensions of the original as measured from sections the archaeological society had recovered.

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During the Second World War the production facilities of Cadillac were used for the manufacture of warplanes.  After the war they incorporated the concept of the wings into tail fins.  If I had an option to buy a classic car it would be a late 50’s Cadillac.  As we were returning from our hike we shared the highway with a string of antique cars.  Many of them had the words “RIP Paul Fernley” written in the rear window.  By having the person driving attain a similar speed to these cars I was able to get several great pictures of each car.

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There are three trails that wrap around Frenchman’s Bay and we will need to return to visit the others.  On the east side of the bay is Alex Robertson Park with a unique set of carvings on the trees, including Merlin, that give the park an enchanted feeling.

Google Maps Link: Frenchman’s Bay

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Ireland Park

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Between 1845 and 1849 the Irish Potato Famine claimed 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 lives and caused a mass emigration from the country.  Many of the refugees came to Montreal and Toronto seeking free land and a chance to provide for their families.  Arriving in Toronto the ships docked at The Queen’s Pier (also known as Queen’s Wharf and today Bathurst Quay).  This was the third wharf in the city built by the military and it stood near the mouth of Garrison Creek at Fort York.  The wharf was buried in 1917 as part of a large in-filling project and is today remembered by Queen’s Wharf Road which runs where it used to extend into the lake.  The 1842 map below shows the wharf at the foot of Bathurst Street with the Garrison Hospital and the military cemetery, Victoria Square both circled.  This is what the city would have looked like when the refugees arrived.

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The idea for Ireland Park started when 7 statues were placed near the dockside in Dublin, Ireland in 1997. This was the 150th anniversary of the famine.  The Toronto park opened ten years later on June 21, 2007 with the president of Ireland doing the honours.  The Irish sculpture is known as Departure while the Toronto one is called Arrival.  The seven statues in Ireland have been reduced to five in Toronto signifying the horrible loss of life that occurred.  The first statue is a triumphant man who stands with his arms raised in thankfulness as he surveys the city of Toronto across the water.  In 1847 there were only 20,000 people in Toronto but they will handle 38,560 refugees, many of whom will pass through the hospital to the graveyard.

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A second statue is of a pregnant lady who stands looking up and clutching her belly.  She faces a new life in a new land with a new life inside her.  Like the others, she looks like she has worn the same clothes for the entire journey and that they may not have been the best to start.

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The little boy that stands to the rear of the woman appears to be unsure of what the future holds as he timidly clutches his hands before himself.  He may represent those children who arrive alone, having lost their family either on the journey or shortly after arriving.

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This individual is known as Pius Mulvey and was inspired by a character in the book Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor.

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The fifth sculpture depicts a woman lying on the ground.  She is in the last moments of life and represents the hope that was never realized for so many.  Seven departed, five arrived and only four survived to become part of the fabric of the city.

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The emigrants that fled from Ireland in 1847 were packed into crowded ships with poor hygiene for weeks during the passage.  The result was an outbreak of typhus on the ships with so many dying on board that they became known as coffin ships.  Upon arrival, the sick were taken to the Garrison Hospital.  When this facility was full they were put into fever sheds.  Within weeks of arriving 1186 of them had died and some were taken to the burial grounds at Victoria Square.  The limestone for the wall pictured below was quarried in Kilkenny, Ireland and stands in the park as a tribute to the people who perished after they arrived in Toronto.

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So far, the names of 675 of the people who died upon arrival have been recovered and engraved on the walls.  The names can be found in the narrow slots between the stones.

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The tower of glass bricks represents hope and is lit up at night.  The spaces between the sections of limestone wall where the names are carved are also lit at night to illuminate the names.  After dark, spotlights on the statues cast eerie shadows onto the abandoned silos behind. The silos represent storage facilities for grain during abundant times and stand in contrast to the poverty that the refugees were fleeing from.

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The Canada Malting Company located a set of concrete silos at the foot of Bathurst Street in 1928.  The waterfront had been used for heavy industry for decades and at one time Polson’s Shipbuilding Yards were located here.  Polson’s Pier in The Port Lands is named after this enterprise.  Storage silos had disappeared from the city because they were made of wood and had a lifespan of about ten years due to the fact that they were severe fire hazards.  The Canada Malting Company used concrete silos to store barley in before it was turned into malt.  The original silos near the lake were 120 feet tall and more storage was added in 1944 in the form of 150-foot tall silos.

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The malt was sold for beer and other uses and the operation continued until 1987 when it was closed.  The city has spent the last 25 years looking for a good way to re-purpose the silos as they have a heritage designation being one of the last two remaining on the waterfront.  Some of the silos have been demolished and the remaining ones are crumbling badly but suggestions for their preservation include turning them into a luxury hotel.  It has also been suggested that they may make a good hotel for the dead in a mausoleum with room for 6,500 coffins and niches for an additional 5,000 urns.

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This immigrant statue surveys the skyline of Toronto and raises his arms at the prospects before him.  It would have looked considerably different in 1847 without the towers crowding out the shoreline.

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Ireland Park is a very small location with a very big story to tell and because it is hidden there was no one here during my visit making it perfect for contemplation of this chapter in our history.  It also looks like an interesting place for an evening visit to see the lighting.

Google maps link: Ireland Park

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Imperial Oil Lands

Saturday, March 4, 2017

J. C. Saddington Park sits between Mississauga Road and the mouth of the Credit River.  To the west of Mississauga Road, south of Lakeshore, lie the 73 acres of brown space known as the Imperial Oil Lands.  There is parking on at the end of Mississauga Road at J. C. Saddington Park, as can be seen on the Google Earth map below.  Key points from today’s exploration are also marked on the map.

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Thomas Nightingale opened a brickyard on the west side of the Credit River in the 1880’s. The addition of a stone crusher increased production to the point that by 1900 there wasn’t enough local labour to run the brickyards.  A series of bunkhouses were constructed and Italian workers were brought in to meet the demand.  The archive photo below shows the Port Credit Brickyards in their prime.

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After the First World War, the clay was becoming exhausted and the yards started operating at a loss. By 1929 the brickyards were closed.  This brick was found on the property of the old brickyards where it was made, perhaps over 100 years ago.

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In 1933 the Lloyd Refining Company purchased part of the property to build a modern refinery capable of producing 1,500 barrels a day.  The refinery changed hands a few times including 1937 and 1946.  In 1955 the property was purchased by Texaco and their Canadian subsidiary McColl-Frontenac began operating the refinery.  In 1959 the name was changed to Texaco Canada Ltd.  Petrochemicals were produced here beginning in 1978 but by 1985 it was starting to be decommissioned.  The oil tank farm was removed first and by 1987 it was fully closed.  Only one small building remains on site along with a storage shed.

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The property has sat vacant for a couple of decades now and is highly contaminated from its years as an oil refinery.  As of March 2017, Imperial Oil is selling the property to a developer who plans to develop a waterfront park, mid-rise condos and affordable housing on the site.  Today the property is home to a large selection of wildlife.  Coyote scat is everywhere and rabbits and squirrels provide food for them as well as the hawks.  A white tailed deer was casually feeding just inside the fence from Mississauga Road.

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Roadways and concrete pads mark the locations of the former tanks and buildings.  The property is marked as no trespassing because of the numerous hazards that exist throughout.  This story is presented to preserve the site as it exists at this moment in time.  Soon it will change forever and this chapter will be lost.  Choosing to explore here is solely your responsibility.  A large man-made pond covers a section of the property and may feature in redevelopment plans for a central park within the community.  The pond is currently full of pipes that have started to break apart over the years of abandonment.

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The lower corner of the pond still has the dam and flood control devices intact.  Two sluice gates could be opened by turning handwheels.  The cover photo shows a closer look at the mechanics of the system.

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Outflow from the pond was transferred to a series of settling ponds to remove solids from the water.  From here it was carried through a concrete pipe and released into the lake.

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We made our way to the end of the concrete pipe that discharged the water from the pond on the Imperial Oil Lands.  The round concrete pipe has been encased in a concrete shell to protect it from the effects of the lake.

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The Waterfront Trail takes the name Imperial Oil Trail as it passes along the lake side of the property.  We followed it west to where you are forced briefly to follow the road.  That wasn’t such a bad thing as we were treated to a broad-winged hawk sitting on a hydro wire.  These birds usually winter in the south and I wonder if this one was noticing the -20-celsius wind and wishing it hadn’t come back yet.

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Ben Machree Park has some interesting wood carvings by Jim Menkin.  Jim has converted dead tree stumps into art with his chainsaw in many parts of Ontario including Orangeville and Mississauga.  This park features three wood carvings named “Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey”.

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We returned along the Imperial Oil Trail east toward the mouth of the Credit River.  Just east of the concrete drainage pipe from the oil lands is a lengthy finger pier extending out into Lake Ontario.  This pier provides great views to the west looking toward Rattray Marsh.  To the east, you can see the Ridgetown with the city of Toronto in the background. The ship is partially sunk at the mouth of the Credit River to provide shelter for the marina.  Our post on the Ridgetown contains its fascinating history.

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In the 1940’s Port Credit ended at Lake Street, of all places!  Today it extends out into the lake in the form of J. C. Saddington Park.  This park is built on a decommissioned dump that was in use from 1949 to 1970. A pond has been created for recreation and fishing and benches positioned around for relaxation. The pond has a thin layer of ice on it from the past two days of cold weather and a light dusting of snow.  A sliver of the moon can be seen above the trees in the middle of the picture.

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Three historic buildings stand in the corner of the parking lot. Dating from 1922 to 1923 the Port Credit Waterworks pumping station was a major advancement in the infrastructure of Port Credit.

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Swans, Canada Geese and several species of ducks were all to be seen in the lake today.  Of interest was the fact that they have gone back into pairs after spending the winter in groups.  Spring must be coming soon…

A 1973 Toronto Archive Aerial photo of the oil lands can be accessed here.

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Google Maps Link: J. C. Saddington Park

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