Tag Archives: William Gamble

The Old Mill

Sunday May 10, 2015

It was 20 degrees with rain in the forecast and the Japanese Cherry Trees in High Park were in full bloom.  Unfortunately, several thousand other people went to view them as well and there was simply no parking.  (This would have been a good time to use the subway). Fortunately, the Old Mill is very close and has some interesting things to explore.  Parking in the parking lot on the east side of the Humber River we chose to walk as far north as the old dam and then from there back to the mill.

False Solomon’s Seal is growing in the woods along the east bank of the river.  This plant can be eaten in the spring when the stems are still tender.  The native peoples used it for it’s strong laxative properties.  When it is a young plant is strongly resembles another highly toxic plant so please make sure that it is positively identified.


Robins lay their eggs in clutches of 3 to 5 eggs.  They hatch about two weeks after they’re laid and the bald babies with their eyes closed are protected by both male and female birds.  A couple of weeks later and the young birds are already proficient fliers.  A mating pair will raise two or three broods in a season.  Only about 25% of the young will survive the first year with the longest known life span being 14 years.  Robins take the egg shells and throw them at some distance from the nest.  This is to keep predators from robbing the nest.


The Humber was dammed just north of the Old Mill.  Today, most of this has been removed for flood control following Hurricane Hazel in 1954.  An egret stands fishing in the waters just below the water falls.


In the 19th century people had a love for the plumage of the egret and this led to their demise. Egrets are monogamous with both male and female protecting the young in the nest. The little ones are fiercely aggressive with the stronger ones often killing the weaker so that they don’t all reach the fledgling stage. Over hunting lead to their near extinction and the implementation of some of the first conservation laws protecting birds.


The cormorant in the picture below looked like he was having fun.  He rode the river straight toward the fastest part of the water falls.  He did his last second launch and landed gracefully to score a perfect ten.


An earlier mill bridge over Catherine Street was made of steel truss with a wooden decking and it was lost in the spring ice break up of 1916. The picture below shows the bridge on Mar. 29th in the ice field.  Two days later it was gone.

old mill bridge

The bridge was replaced the same year by this three arch stone structure.  Stone arch bridges date back to Roman times and the frequent loss of bridges on the Humber led to the decision to construct this more substantial one.  Frank Barber had pioneered the use of concrete in Canadian bridge construction in 1909 and by 1913 had designed all nine that had been built in Upper Canada.  His design for the bridge at the old mill has survived 99 spring ice break ups and Hurricane Hazel while others up and down the river have been lost.  The Humber River divided York County and the Township of Etobicoke at the time of construction and their crests are carved in stone on either side of the centre arch.


Water from the dam on the river was brought under Catherine Street via the head race which flowed through this passage.


From here it was dropped onto the water wheel.  This type of water wheel is known as over-shot because the water comes from above.  Close examination of the wall in front of the wheel shows that the tail race used to pass through here but has been closed off with new stone. There is a straight line up the wall that marks the old passageway.


The first mill in York (Toronto) was constructed in 1793 at the request of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe and this was the first industrial site in Toronto.  It was known as the King’s Mill after King George III of England who was the reigning monarch at the time.  The mill went into operation the following year when the mill wheels and gear systems arrived from England where they had been forgotten the year before.  The government elected to lease the mill and ended up with a long series of mill operators.  The first mill was a  saw mill but while Thomas Fisher was the miller he replaced it with a grist mill in 1834.  William Gamble bought the mill and replaced it with a new larger mill.  This mill was destroyed by fire in 1849. The fourth mill was built on the same location by Gamble.  During this time it was known as Gamble’s Mill and the upper story was used to store apples.  During the winter a wood burning stove was kept going to keep the apples from freezing.  This practice ended badly when the stove overheated in the winter of 1881 and burned the mill down.  It sat abandoned until 1914 when Robert Home Smith, who was instrumental in developing the Port Lands, bought 3000 acres in the area of the mill to create a subdivision.  He converted part of the site into the Old Mill Tea Garden.  Various additions were made over the next 80 years as the area became a focal point in the community. In the  1990’s significant restoration and reconstruction of the original grist mill was undertaken and in 2001 the Old Mill Inn was opened with 57 luxurious suites.  The picture below shows some of the original stonework from the 1849 mill with the new English Tudor style hotel on top.


The stone on the lower portion of the mill is darker and may represent the foundations of Fisher’s mill.  The cover photo shows the abandoned mill as it looked in 1913 just prior to the start of redevelopment.


I close with this majestic tree simply because it’s nice after months of brown and white photo’s to have a vibrant green one.


Google Maps Link: The Old Mill

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Mimico Creek – Queensway to Lake Ontario

Saturday Dec. 20, 2014

It was minus 5 with almost no breeze.  The Canadian flag reflected on the creek in the cover photo hangs almost motionless.  With the sun shining it made for beautiful day to mark the end of fall.  Returning to the parking lot at Jeff Healey park we set out heading south to see what we could see.  Steep shale embankments on the west side of Mimico Creek forced us to cross to the east side.  It wasn’t too long before we began to see a lot of trees that had recently been chewed off by beavers.  Beavers have strong jaws for cutting down trees and can bite through a 1.5 cm tree in a single bite.  Larger trees, like the one in the picture below, are not used for construction of lodges or dams.  Their bark is used for food and the upper branches are taken for building materials.


The beavers have started to build a dam across the creek.  Left on their own they will continue to build their dam higher as they raise the water level in the creek.  The dam is strengthened with mud and stone that is dug up off the bottom of the creek with their tails.


Beavers like to build a lodge which they use as a home for the winter.  The entrance to the home will be from under the water but the home will eventually be built up to have room above the water to make a dry comfy home.  This one is currently under construction.  The beavers will raise the water level to close to a meter above the lodge entrance to keep it clear of ice during winter.


Along the creek bed a lot of old building materials have been dumped.  The Port Credit brick in the picture below is like one described in Middle Road Bridge on Aug. 16th from a brickyard that closed in 1920.  The J. Price brick is from a brickyard that operated on Greenwood Avenue in Scarborough from 1912 to 1962.  Greenwood Avenue ran along a seam of clay which made it home to several brick makers during the 1900’s.  John Price ran his brick yards producing a soft mud brick which is used for residential construction.  The term “John Price Brick” is still used generically to refer to this type of brick.


When the Price brickyards closed in 1962 the soft mud press was moved to the Don Valley Brick Works.  The picture below shows Price’s soft mud brick press as photographed during an excursion to the Brick Works on Nov. 16th.


A little farther along we found an old beer bottle.  The stubby, as it was affectionately known, was introduced to Canadian beer drinkers in 1961.  Market research showed that women drank less beer than men and it was thought that making the bottle skinnier would appeal more to that untapped market.  By the mid 1980’s all the stubbies had been eliminated in favour of the American style long neck bottle.  The picture below shows a 1977 stubby.


This is what it may have looked like when it was new.


William Gamble built a saw mill on the Mimico Creek on the west side near the railway crossing. It is likely that it was located on the land that can be seen upstream, framed by the rail bridge. Gamble also owned the King’s Mill before it was destroyed by fire in 1881.  Today we know that restored mill as The Old Mill.


The creek had been splashing on this branch creating it’s own form of Christmas decorations.


We found a couple of records of past lives along the creek bed.  Below is a perfectly preserved shell from when this area was the bottom of Lake Iroquois.  Davenport Road marks the approximate shoreline of this ancient inland lake.


The past life recorded on this piece of rock is from a much more recent era.  However, it is only possible to make out that the last 4 letters on the first line say “wood” while the second line ends with “sons”.


In 1997 the first single rib inclined arch bridge in North America was built across the Mimico creek near the mouth.  The creek is 90 meters wide at this point but was reduced to 44 meters to keep construction costs down.  The bridge deck was also reduced to just 2.5 meters to keep the project on it’s $650,000 budget.  The narrowing of the creek provided wetlands around the bridge attracting wild life to the area.


Where Mimico Creek empties into Lake Ontario is protected by a in-filling.  The shoreline has been altered to create a safe harbour for boat launches.  An earlier boat launch on the west side of the creek has been replaced with a new one in the sheltered cove.  On the horizon near the left side of the picture, way off in the distance, is a large ship.


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