Tag Archives: White Tail Deer

Old Albion Road

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Humber Recreational Trail is pretty much continuous through Toronto from Lake Ontario to Steeles Avenue.  It has a short section on the road where a golf course restricts passing.  We chose to explore a section north of the 401 so we could look for the remains of Old Albion Road.  Free parking is available at Pine Point Park at the end of Hadrian Drive.

Staying close to the river, we were treated to several Mergansers who were playing in the slushy waters.  The males were attempting to impress a group of seemingly bored females.  In breeding season the male Merganser gets a glossy green tinge.  Later in the summer and fall both he and the females will be mostly a dull grey.  The diet is mostly fish and so their bills have serrations to help with holding onto their slippery prey.  For this reason they are also sometimes known as “sawbills”.

 

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Male whitetail deer rapidly grow their antlers for three or four months during the summer when their testosterone levels are high.  Following the rutting season the testosterone levels drop quickly which activates specialized cells called osteoclasts at the point of connection of the antlers.  These cells eat away at the pedicle, where the antlers grow, until the connection becomes so weak the antlers are simply shed to make way for new ones.  Depending on the age and health of the animal as well as their local climate they shed their antlers between January and April.  This young buck has clearly visible pedicles, just waiting for new antlers to begin to grow.

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Albion Road was originally a private road built for a French teacher named Jean du Petit Pont de la Haye and ran to his estate at Indian Line and Steeles Avenue.  The settlement he founded there was named Claireville after his daughter Claire.    In 1846 the road was upgraded from Musson’s Bridge at the Humber River all the way to Bolton by The Weston Plank Road Company.  At this time the road was named Claireville Road and there was a toll booth in Claireville to help pay for maintenance of the road.  It is believed that the white house that can be seen from Steeles Avenue is the old toll house.  Claireville Road is coloured brown in the 1877 County Atlas image below.

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Early bridges were built of wood and seldom lasted more than 20 years.  Flooding would often destroy them even earlier than that.  By the time of the County Atlas, Claireville Road was likely on its second bridge across the Humber.  In 1905 the bridge was again in need of replacement and Octavius Laing Hicks was commissioned to build the new one.  The bridge was his first and also the first all-riveted steel bridge to have a permanent deck.  Hicks built it on cut stone abutments instead of concrete that had started to become popular in construction at the time.  As his next bridge was a concrete bow bridge it is clear that Octavius was familiar with concrete as a bridge building material.  This suggests that he built his bridge on the abutments from the previous one.  The bridge became known as Musson’s Bridge because the family owned several pieces of property on the Etobicoke side of the river.

When the remnants of Hurricane Hazel swept down on the city on October 15, 1954 they destroyed or severely damaged 40 bridges.  Musson’s bridge had already been replaced with the new alignment of Albion Road and was no longer as critical to transportation as it had once been.  The bridge wasn’t badly damaged and remained on site until it was removed in 1962.

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The bridge abutments on the west side of the river were removed in 1963 but the ones on the east side remain, and we can see them but for the moment there’s still an icy river between us.

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We followed the edge of the Humber Valley Golf Course until the river doubled back on itself leaving us to also turn back.  Just as we were about to do so, we caught sight of a coyote who saw us at about the same time.  Unfortunately, he didn’t hang around to get his picture taken.  Soon, movement in the trees across the river alerted us to the presence of at least two more deer.  These two were likely females who will be giving birth to their fawns in late Spring.  The deer were keeping the swiftly flowing river between them and the coyote.

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We retraced our steps to a pedestrian bridge we had seen earlier in Louise Russo Park and made our way back to the abutment on the east side of the river.  The steel beam is still in place that anchored the bridge to the abutment, however it may have been added by Octavius in place of a previous wooden span.

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One thing that never changes is human interest in seeing the damage that storms can cause.  Ice, wind or water can all inflict a lot of damage and this 1954 picture from the Toronto Public Library shows us the curious ones out to see the damage from the hurricane.  This view is from the east side looking toward Musson’s bridge and the river.

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The street view today is much different with the road closed off and the bridge missing.  The embankment on the left of the picture has grown over with trees and there is a park on the right side.  The road crossed the river and then angled north-west  right where the apartment is today.  The small section of Albion Road that ran between Weston Road and the river still provides access to a few houses under the name Norris Place.

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It was nice to see so many birds this weekend along with the other wildlife.  It’s a certain sign of warmer days ahead.

Google Maps Link: Pine Point 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.

Our readers selected the top 15 stories for this special feature.

Google Maps Link: J. C. Saddington Park

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The Haunted Hermitage

Sunday, Nov, 15, 2015

The ruins known as The Hermitage are said to be one of the best spots for ghost watchers because of it’s haunted past.  Reverend George Sheed bought this property in 1830 when he moved to Ancaster to become the first resident Presbyterian Minister.  He built a frame house on low ground close to the stream. The property seems to have had some odd things going on from the very beginning.  The first service conducted in the new church was the funeral for Reverend Sheed who had passed away suddenly in 1832.  As you walk back though the former estate grounds, now part of the Bruce Trail, you pass a small pond that was almost perfectly calm on this sunny morning.

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Otto Ives came to Upper Canada in 1833 and purchased the land from Sheed’s estate.  Legend has it that Ives and his wife hired a coachman named William Black to assist them.  Black became obsessed with Otto Ives’ niece who had moved to Canada with them.  Finally he worked up the nerve to ask Otto for the young woman’s hand in marriage.  William Black was quickly rejected and told he was beneath the family and could never hope to marry into it.  When he failed to turn up for work the following morning Ives went looking for him.  Whether found hanging in the rafters or a tree it is recorded that heartbreak caused Walter to take his own life. Otto then cut the body down and took it for burial.  Suicides could not be buried in the church cemetery and so the body was transported via a manure wheel barrow to a burial site near Lover’s Lane. They say that the ghost haunts the property today looking for his lost love.  There are many claims of sightings and the park is now closed at night as a result.

George Gordon Brown Leith bought the property in 1855 and he built a two story home in a park-like setting that came to be known as The Hermitage.  The front and side walls were made of hammered limestone while the rest was made of random field stones.   The house has been in ruins for years with the walls being propped up from the inside.  For safety the walls either needed to be lowered to waist height or be secured.  It was decided to rebuild the walls. Restoring the Hermitage is a $600,000 project and was started in July.  Each stone was removed, numbered and set aside.  A new foundation was poured and steel support beams installed to support the walls.  The stone masons are busy putting the walls back in place.  In the end we will have a set of restored ruins.

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Behind the two story home an extended carriage house also contained a workroom and space for wood storage.  This building itself was 85 feet long.  There was also a smaller building which housed the nursery.  Their ruins can be seen in relation to the Hermitage in the picture below.

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At the rear of the house was a two room building that housed the laundry.  One of these rooms had a cistern built into the floor.  The ruins of the laundry are relatively more intact than the stable or nursery.  The cover photo shows the inside of the laundry while the picture below is from the rear.

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Beside the parking lot on Sulphur Springs Road stands the gatehouse which was built around the same time as the rest of the structures.  It was also called The Lodge and was occupied by the gatekeeper and his family. His duties included opening the gate for the family and their guests and escorting people back to the house.  For many years it was lived in by the grand daughter of George Leith.  Today the gatehouse hosts a museum on the property.

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By the 1860’s the farm was quite prosperous with 150 acres cleared and cultivated out of the total 250.  The family of 8 shared the home with five servants and lived in relative opulance for the time period.  Slowly the family died off with Mr. Leith going first in 1887 followed by his wife in 1900.  Their daughter, Mrs. Alma Dick-Lauder, lived in the house after they were gone.  In October 1934 there was a fire that totally destroyed the buildings leaving only ruins.  In another small example of unusual behaviour on the property, Mrs. Lauder lived in a tent while she had a smaller new home built inside the ruins.  She lived there until her death in 1942 when the farm began to return to the forested condition it enjoys today.  Among the trees grow wild grapes, some of which have reached massive sizes as the vine below illustrates.

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The park is full of deer tracks, some of them very fresh.  I followed what looked to be the freshest ones and soon came to a set of deer bones scattered on the ground.  Thinking the tracks were much newer than this, I carried on and came to an old orchard.  This is a prime area to see deer, especially at this time of year when they can find some apples to eat.

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At the end of the orchard stands a giant old red oak tree.  I estimated that it must be six feet across at the base of the trunk.  These trees can live to be 600 years old.

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In the park is a section which belongs to a private residence. These structures were built by Leith for the farmer who lived there and tended the farm for him.  There is a house, granary and a barn.  It is clearly fenced off and as I admired the old architecture I wondered if those might not be three arrowslits in the top of the wall on the second story of the barn.  How many times has a musket poked out of one of those I wondered?

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Finally, my following deer tracks paid off as I came to a buck and doe grazing.  They both posed for some great shots but the buck was especially proud of himself.  Following wild animals through the woods is hazardous because they are unpredictable and they are, therefore, safer enjoyed by photo and video.

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After a few pictures he decided to strut off into the woods as if I didn’t concern him at all.

I didn’t feel anything that was unusual while I was around the Hermitage.  Perhaps the restoration project has caused the ghost of William Black to find temporary new lodgings.  And then again, was that a musket in the arrowslit on the old barn?

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Hiking the GTA #100 – Amazing Animals

April 28, 2014 to July 18, 2015

Presented below is a gallery of animal pictures taken during the first 100 hikes on the Hiking the GTA adventure.

On July 21, 2015 I published my 100th post in this blog under the title Hiking the GTA #100 – Greatest Treks.  That post looked back at the creation of Hiking the GTA and listed the top 15 hikes as determined by activity on WordPress.  This post presents some of the amazing animals that we encountered along the way.  By hiking quietly and keeping off of the beaten path you have the opportunity to come face to face with some of the wide variety of wildlife we share our parks with.  Most of the animals are more afraid of you than you are of them and will disappear quickly.  In reality some of the plants in our parks are more dangerous than the wildlife.  The following pictures are in the order in which I took them except that I saved my personal favourite for last.  Links to the related articles are provided where additional descriptions of the animals are presented.

This White Tail Deer buck was following me through the woods along Wilket Creek on June 22, 2014.  This was the only creature I saw all year that made me nervous as I’m usually the one doing the following.

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The little baby Cross Orb Weaver spiders in this picture are just hatching and look like grains of pepper leaving the egg sac.  The mother spider had previously brought a Daddy Long Legs spider into the web to provide a breakfast to the hatchlings.  Seen near Middle Road Bridge on Aug. 16, 2014

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This Red Tailed Hawk was feasting near Barbertown on Aug. 23, 2014.

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Also seen in Barbertown was this Dekay’s Brown Snake on Aug. 23, 2014

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The Monarch Butterfly below was seen at the forks of the Don on Sept. 14, 2014.

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Spadina House has it’s own resident fox as photographed on Dec. 21, 2014.

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This Snowy Owl was seen at the Adamson Estate on Jan. 24, 2015

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This coyote was photographed in West Deane Park on Jan. 31, 2015

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The beaver in this picture was seen in Etobicoke Valley Park on Feb. 28, 2015

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This White Egret was fishing near the dam at The Old Mill on May 10, 2015.

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The Red Breasted Grosbeak below was photographed in Norval on May 16, 2015.

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This Trumpeter Swan, complete with tracking tag, was seen at the mouth of the Credit River and featured in The Ridgetown – Port Credit on May 23, 2015.

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This Black-crowned Night Heron was published in The Forks of the Credit – The Stone Cutter’s Dam on July 18, 2015.  Unlike the Great Blue Heron in the cover photo it does not have long legs and neck.

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Hiding in plain sight in the picture below is a new born White Tail Deer Fawn.  This is my favourite picture of the past year and was taken near the Barber Paper Mills on June 6, 2015.

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This is just a sample of the some of the amazing animals we saw on our journeys in the first 100 hikes in this blog.  Many others were featured and many more will yet be photographed on future hikes.

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Rowntree Mills

Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014

It was overcast and 5 degrees with occasional light drizzle.  Parking is available on Hathor Crescent just before Rowntree Mills Road descends the hill to the river.  The road is closed at the bottom of the hill and from here the bridge across the Humber river can be seen.  The bridge is a steel girder construction and has been fitted with new wood decking to convert it into a safe pedestrian bridge.  It’s construction likely dates to around 1900.  The bridge can be seen crossing the river in the lower corner of the cover photo, which is an aerial shot from 1953. The photo below of the bridge is taken from the west bank of the river.

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Joseph Rowntree arrived in Canada from England in 1830 and set himself up in an area known as Pine Ridge, just outside of Thistletown.  In 1843 he built a saw mill on the east side of the Humber river and in 1848 he built a grist mill on the west side.  A road was built to access the mill which we now call Rowntree Mills road.  A bridge was built across the river and he named it all Greenholme Mills.  In 1870 Joseph added the Humberwood Mills, a mile down river, to the family holdings.  The cover photo shows the grist mill as it appeared in 1953. Rowntree Mills road crosses the bridge and passes to the west of the mill.  A laneway completes the loop on the river side of the mill.  Today the area where the mill stood 60 years ago has become completely overgrown.  All that could be found was this square area of concrete in the woods and many piles of bricks, stone and concrete.

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From the east side of the river the former mill site can be identified by the row of pine trees that ran along side of the lane way that lies between the mill and the river.  They show up as the dark strip to the right of the road, adjacent to the mill, in the cover photo.  I can picture Joseph planting these pines along the ridge in honour of the community of Pine Ridge where he lived. The mill stood about 20 feet above the current water level of the river.  It isn’t immediately obvious how Joseph used the water power from the river to turn the grinding wheels in his grist mill.  It may have initially been an undershot wheel sticking out into the river.

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It was a morning full of various birds.  At one point a migration of cardinals passed through but none sat still long enough to get their picture taken.  There were also flickers, herons, and large birds of prey.  Some of the trees in the area display the straight rows of tiny holes that are typical of a yellow-bellied sap sucker.  These woodpeckers drill little holes from which they feed on the sap that flows out.  The tree in the picture below had these rows of holes extending for as far up the tree as the eye can see.

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This plant is known as tall thimbleweed.  The single head on a tall stem contains tiny nubs that make it look like a thimble.  When the seed heads burst open they look and feel like cotton. Native peoples used the plants for medicinal purposes but we now know that the leaves are toxic in large doses and so the plant is used mainly for decoration.  The picture below shows both a closed pod and one that has blown open to spread its seeds to the wind.

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This very large red tailed hawk didn’t seem to mind posing for the camera.

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Rowntree Mills Park and the surrounding ravines have been taken over by white tail deer.  In one spot I was able to see 8 females at one time plus at least one male.  Mating season is known as rutting season for these deer.  Males begin their part of the rut in the fall when the velvet is falling off of their antlers.  In North America this lasts for several weeks with the peak being on average, November 13th.  The male’s part in the reproductive act lasts for exactly one thrust.  Ho-Hum.  Females go into rut for periods of up to 3 days at a time and can do so 7 times over the rutting season, or until they conceive. The picture below has at least 4 deer looking at the camera plus 4 others hiding in the background.

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In October 1954 the area on the east bank of the river just north of Rowntree Mills road was home to a small community of houses.  On the morning of October 16, 1954, there were 12 less of them there because Hurricane Hazel had swept them away.  Two people died in this area as well when they were trapped in their car as the river washed it down stream.  Today the area has been cleaned up and there is no trace, other than in old aerial photos, to show where the homes were. Rowntree Mills Park was named after Joseph in 1969 but was closed in 2009 due to wild parties that trashed the park.  Today it is basically abandoned although the grass is cut and the leaves are cleaned up.  The picture below is taken from the front yard of one of these former homes looking along the street where others once stood.

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At the corner of Rowntree Mills Road and Islington Avenue is a pioneer cemetery.  This land was donated in 1848 by Joseph Rowntree to be used for Pine Ridge Methodist Church and its cemetery.  There are many grave markers in here that commemorate the lives of various members of the Rowntree family.  Although it seems likely that Joesph was laid to rest here, I was unable to locate his grave marker.

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Google Maps link: Rowntree Mills Park

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