The City of Toronto has begun the process of transforming the former 75-hectare Beare Road Landfill into Beare Hill Park. The original plan for the landfill when it opened in 1967 called for rehabilitation as a park when the landfill was closed. We wanted to see if there were any signs of activity at the site and to explore some trails we hadn’t been to in the adjacent Rouge National Urban Park. We returned to the free parking on Twyn Rivers Drive from where we had previously explored The Mast Trail.
We crossed the road into Celebration Forest where there is a ring of benches and a sign that recognizes people who were instrumental in creating Canada’s first National Urban Park. Mayapples were growing in a large colony that is quite easy to spot at this time of the year. The plants grow from rhizomes and spread over a fairly large area. Only some plants produce the single flower that turns into the “apple”. Sterile plants have a single leaf and produce no flower while the plants that do flower will have two leaves. The flower and fruit are produced between the two leaves. The flowering plants were just opening their leaves while the sterile ones were well advanced.
Black Morels are one of the first fungi to emerge in the spring. They can be found in May in Ontario and are considered to be a choice edible. True morels are hollow and are attached to the stalk at the base. If you cut into the cap and find that it has the stalk attached at the top it could be a false morel and shouldn’t be eaten. This was the only example we noticed and we would never suggest anyone harvest anything when there is just a single specimen.
The eastern garter snake can be hard to distinguish from other similar looking snakes. The butler’s garter snake, red-sided garter snake and northern ribbon snake all look similar. The ribbon snake will have smooth lines to the stripes while the garter snake will have a checkered pattern. The eastern garter snake has a yellow chin and belly but the rest of the colouring can be quite varied. Garter snakes give live birth to between 4 and 80 babies in late July to early October. They have a life expectancy of about ten years and can grow up to 1.5 metres long.
Some of the trails were still a little muddy and a few of the side trails were almost impassable.
The trillium is Ontario’s official flower and many people believe that it is illegal to pick them. That actually isn’t true although a recent bill in the legislature would have made it punishable with a $500 fine. It is probably a good thing that people think it is illegal because it is so damaging to the plant. Trilliums grow slowly and can take between 7 and 11 years to produce their first flower. After that they will flower every year until they reach the end of their lifespan of about 20 years. If you pick the flower and three leaves around it the plant loses the ability to supply nutrient to the underground stem and the plant will die.
The access road for the former Beare Road Landfill is now closed except for service vehicles and park users. The road leads from this point back to the parking area near the park visitor centre. The former Pearce House now serves as the visitor centre and is the starting point for our previous exploration of the Vista Trail.
The Beare Road Landfill was allowed to expand their tonnage of garbage in 1971 following a proposal to turn the site into the Beare Road Ski Facility following closure. The elevation and grade were modified to create a facility for up to 800 skiers at one time. The picture below, taken from the Beare Road Park Master Plan, shows the landfill in 1974 around the time the ski hill was proposed. At this time the former gravel pit has been filled in and the hill is starting to rise.
By September of 1982 when the site closed there was over 9 million tonnes of garbage placed in a 60 metre hill. After the landfill had been allowed to settle a cap of clay around 1.5 metres thick was installed over the top to seal and vegetation has taken over since then. The plan for skiing, hang gliding, an alpine slide and go carts was scrapped and replaced with a 2013 plan calling for mixed use trails. These trails are expected to be completed and ready for public use by Fall of 2019.
The former landfill continues to produce methane gas as the refuse rots below the surface. In the 1990’s a private company installed a series of gas wells and pipes throughout the site to collect it. They constructed a generating plant that converts the methane gas, and supplemental natural gas, into electricity that is sold back to the grid. One of the challenges with developing a park will be keeping the public safe from this equipment, and vice-versa.
Painted turtles can live up to 25 years and grow until their shells reach about 25 centimetres with the male being slightly smaller. There are several varieties but the Midland is the one native to the GTA. They can be hard to distinguish without looking at the underside and these ones weren’t willing to participate. Looking at the abdomen can also give you a clue to the age of the turtle. They develop growth rings similar to a tree and these can be counted to determine the age. Turtles are born with the first ring in place so it must be counted as “0”.
We had followed the trail north that was closest to the rail line and so the return hike called for the trail closest to The Little Rouge. There are places along the creek that show signs of a much larger flow than the current level.
Following the trail closest to Little Rouge Creek will bring you back to Twyn Rivers Road at the site of Maxwell’s Mill. Parts of the mill remain and you will exit back onto the road by passing through the entrance gates for the mill.
It seemed like a good time for a hike on the Bruce Trail and this time we planned to do a little larger section using two cars. We parked one on Guelph Line and moved with the second one to Kerns Road beside Kerncliffe Park. There is free parking in both places.
Kerncliffe Park is located just below the Bruce Trail and is the site of a former quarry. Nelson Quarry closed in 1981 and has been the site of an ongoing rehabilitation project since then. The 40-acre park was completed in 2005 and features gravel trails with a boardwalk and observation decks in the wetlands. It can be accessed from the Bruce Trail via the Ian Reid Side Trail. The old rock faces that were blasted to access the limestone have now been taken over by swallows who find this to be a perfect habitat. Geese and red-winged blackbirds have found a home in the wetlands.
Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest species of woodpecker that is native to Ontario. Both the male and female have a bright red crest that sweeps off the back of the head. The male is distinguished by the red stripe on the cheek, as seen on the specimen below. Their main food is the carpenter ant and they dig large square holes in trees to look for them. The mated pair stay in their territory all year long and tend to nest in the largest tree in the area. For this reason they are prone to being killed in lightning strikes. The oldest known pileated woodpecker was almost 12 years old when it was caught for the second time in a banding operation.
Once again we found a ruined car that had been dumped in the woods and left to rot. This one has been stripped of everything and has been here long enough that there is a tree growing up through the middle of the engine compartment.
Positive identification wasn’t possible because no identifying stickers or plastic parts could be found. We did notice that the front bumper incorporated the side signals in a unique three cut-out pattern. Identical looking side markers can be found on the 1970 Chevy Impala.
These little white puffballs have already released their spores through the hole in each one. These were likely purple spored puffballs that have overwintered.
Raccoons are primarily a nocturnal animal and seeing one out in the daylight is much less common. Some believe that a raccoon that is out in the daytime might have rabies. This could be true but is not necessarily so. In the spring time when females are nursing young they may be out foraging in the daylight. Any signs of paralysis in the rear legs, erratic walking patterns or foaming at the mouth should be considered signs of possible rabies infections. The little raccoon in the picture below was walking slowly and seemed confused so there is a risk that it is not well.
Several species of violets are in bloom. The ones pictured below are Marsh Blue Violets and are sometimes called Purple Violets. They are the provincial flower for New Brunswick.
We saw very few other hikers on this morning except a few dog walkers, none of whom had their dogs on leashes. Having too many people on muddy trails is not a good idea anyway. There are those who don’t wear the correct boots and are afraid to walk in the mud in the middle of the trail. They make secondary trails along the edges which can sometimes trample sensitive plants and wildlife habitat. It can also lead to property owners denying access to hikers and forcing the trail onto roads. Please stay on the trail.
Dutchman’s Breeches get their name from the flowers which looks like a tiny pair of breeches. The flowers grow on racemes with up to 14 flowers on the stalk. The plant can be toxic and some people could get contact dermatitis from touching it. Native Americans found the plant useful for skin conditions and as a blood purifier. It was also used to aid people with syphilis.
After we had covered almost 10 kilometres of muddy trail it was time to head for home. We regularly check ourselves for ticks after each hike regardless of where we’ve been. This is the first time we have ever found a tick after hiking on the Bruce Trail. Never assume the area is clear because the risk is always there.
The western end of Lake Ontario has a baymouth barrier formed of sand carried from the Scarborough Bluffs by the longshore drift of the lake. It shelters Burlington Bay and became the site of a canal proposal in 1823. James Crooks was instrumental in getting the idea going and had been the man behind the first paper mill in Upper Canada. Work on the canal began in 1826 and was completed in 1832. We decided to go and check out this early engineering project for ourselves. There is plenty of free parking just south of the Burlington Lift Bridge and from there we enjoyed walking along Hamilton beach. After crossing the lift bridge the beach becomes Burlington Beach although high water levels in the lake are causing the sand strip to disappear.
When the canal was cut through the sandbar it was recognized that piers would need to extend into the lake to calm the waters in the canal and prevent it from silting up with sand. Wooden piers were installed but these kept being damaged in the winter storms. In 1830 it was decided to replace the wood piers with stone ones. Large stones were brought up from the bottom of the lake by stone hookers. These were then taken and thrown into wooden cribs to build more permanent piers. The story is told of Jem Horner whose leg got crushed between a scow and one of the cribs. Apparently his fellow workers carried him up the beach a ways and dumped him in an old building before returning to work. Jem was later found in agony and a doctor had to amputate his leg. Jem later died but they say his one legged ghost still walks the beach strip looking for his leg and also for revenge.
The lighthouse keepers house was built of wood and constructed in 1838 beside the wooden lighthouse and the wooden ferryman’s house. A passing steamer caught the piers and wooden structures on fire in 1856 and they were all destroyed. This one and a half story cottage was built to replace it. Originally it faced the canal but was moved a short distance to the present location around 1900.
in 1838 a wooden lighthouse was built to help guide ships into the canal. When it was lost to the fire of 1856 a new lighthouse was commissioned. It was built in 1858 and stands 55 feet tall. Built of white dolomite it was in service until 1961 when it was decommissioned having become redundant. When the new lift bridge was built in 1962 the lighthouse was obscured from the lake. There is a concrete light on the east end of the south pier that was built in 1909 to guide ships into the canal.
It originally had a pair of oil lamps which the lighthouse keeper had to tend daily. They were later replaced with a third order Fresnel lense. This lense has been removed and placed in storage for the day when the lighthouse is restored.
The long-tailed duck breeds in the arctic and will migrate into Southern Ontario for the winter months. The long-tailed spends a higher percent of time under water than any other duck. When it is foraging it can spend four times as long submerged as it does on the surface. It is also one of the deepest diving ducks being able to go 60 metres to forage. A banded one was once tracked for 17 years in Alaska.
Environment Canada maintains an automated weather reporting station on the south pier. The 1909 pier light can be seen in the background.
Two bridges can be seen with the lift bridge in the foreground. The Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway bridge was built in two phases. The steel arch span was built in 1958 while a concrete span was added in 1985.
The lift bridge is the fifth movable bridge to cross the canal since it opened. It is 116 metres long and weighs almost 2,000 tons. Originally the bridge carried two lanes of traffic and a set of tracks for the Hamilton-Northwestern Railway but in 1982 the tracks were removed so that four lanes of traffic can cross the bridge. It lifts about 4,000 times per year and we were on it when it was about to rise. You have to get off ASAP as you are not allowed to go along for the ride. The bridge lifts 33.5 metres but they have to make sure it is all the way up before the ships start to enter the canal. If there is a malfunction and the bridge drops the larger ships may need a mile to come to a stop.
The house that stands at 900 Lakeshore Court in Burlington was the first house built on the beach strip north of the canal. George Frederick Jelfs had emigrated to Hamilton in 1871 had been appointed the police magistrate for Hamilton in 1893. Two years later he had this house built for a summer home. In 1907 Jelfs was instrumental in keeping Hamilton from annexing the strip of beach north of the canal. The City of Burlington is now thinking about taking over this property and now it appears to have had a recent fire. This could be a case of another heritage home bites the dust.
The opening of the canal had a direct impact on the growth of Hamilton. With a sheltered bay for a harbour heavy industry began to line the shores of the lake. Of the 6,500 vessels that pass through the canal each year about 1,000 of them are cargo ships.
From the Hamilton Beach you get a view of the city of Toronto that nake sit look like it is built out on top of the water.
The beach looks like a great place to spend a hot summer day enjoying the water and the the breeze off the lake. The whole area is also accessible by the Waterfront Trail which passes along the entire length of the sandbar.
For the second year in a row I have had the pleasure of seeing a leucistic robin along the East Don River. This is the same bird I photographed last year living in the same small area between the Rainbow Tunnel and the DVP Tunnel along the East Don Trail.
Leucistic animals have a genetic disorder that causes pigmenattion to not reach some of their feathers or fur. Unlike albinos they do not have pink eyes or skin.
The cover photo shows that the leucistic bird still gets the worm. In this picture the worm has been swallowed and the bird has turned an ear to finding another one.
Leucism can result in a great variety of white colouring but the skin and eyes are always normal colour.
Unfortunately, prejudice exists in the wild as well and leucistic animals are less likely to breed because they get shunned during mating season. This one was feeding among a group of other robins as if it was part of a flock.
The feathers on the back of the neck of this robin are pure white and when in flight the wings show a great deal of white as well.
Robins do not use the same nest every year but they may return to the same area if the food and nesting sites were plentiful.
A robin can live for up to 14 years in the wild but the average is only two years. It was very cool to see this one again, assuming the white headed robin in the picture below is the same bird.
When it is completed the Etobicoke Creek Trail will stretch for 50 kilometres from The Waterfront Trail at Lake Ontario to the town of Caledon. It will connect Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon with a multi-use trail system. The 11.2 kilometres in Mississauga still has one informal section of undeveloped trail as well as a small section of residential street included. Sections of the trail run on either side of the creek with pedestrian bridges providing access. When on the east side of the creek you are in Toronto while the west side is in Mississauga. The Toronto Region Conservation authority are developing the sections in their mandate. Most of the trail through Brampton has also been completed adding another 14.5 kilometres. Please note that while bridge restoration is ongoing on the 401 over the Etobicoke Creek the trail is closed through this portion. We parked on Sismet Road near the creek where there is a formal access path.
The trillium was adopted as Ontario’s floral emblem in 1937. The three leaves are followed by a flower with three petals which can be one of four varieties. The white being the most common in the GTA followed by the red one. Painted and nodding trillium are much less common. They flower and disappear before the trees gain their leaves and block the sunlight from the forest floor.
One of the true oddities along any river or creek in the GTA is the presence of an old car. These can be found quite often along the Bruce Trail but except for near the Hyde Mill in Streetsville where there are two of them, they are not to be found. This one turns out to be a 1975 Chevy Vega. The final detail of the year was found on a plastic part which contained the molding date. Why this car was not removed when the trail was recently upgraded is a mystery.
This car will take a little work to get back on the road as the 3.2 litre engine has been partially disassembled. They came with an inline four cylinder engine with a diecast aluminum alloy cylinder block. All four cylinders were mounted on the same side of the crank case. The firing order has been recorded to assist you when you start to refurbish this car.
Several varieties of plants have recently emerged to welcome the spring sunshine, if we ever get any. Chives are an edible plant which are closely related to Leeks and Garlic. They produce edible flowers which are listed as one of the top ten plant for production of nectar to attract pollinators. These plants are essential to helping us restore the habitat for bees. The loss of bees threatens our entire food chain. When thinking about harvesting a small amount of any wild food, please be sure not to damage the patch or over harvest. Make sure there is some left there to grow for years to come.
The average garden snail moves at the rate of 0.047 k/hr which means that this snail will take about 40 minutes to cross the three metres of paved trail on the Etobicoke Creek Trail. During this time it will risk becoming a snack for one of the robins that were out in full force. When the weather is better and the trail gets busy it will be at even greater risk from cyclists and pedestrians.
Residential oil storage tank are used for home heating and often come in a 910 litre size (200 imperial gallons). There are two of them in a small ravine along the side of the trail. This is another item that is uncommon along the developed park system in the GTA.
Mayapples were just poking their stems through the ground. The flower will appear and bloom in May but the single fruit won’t be ripe until later in the summer. The fruit are poisonous until they turn yellow when you can remove the seeds and safely eat one. Experience shows that raccoons keep a close eye on them and pick the fruit as it ripens which means you’ll be fortunate to find a ripe mayapple fruit to sample.
Leeks are related to the chives we saw earlier and likewise can make a good stir-fry ingredient.
There are several other sections of the trail that are completed and we will certainly be exploring them one day but we have already visited the Ghost Town of Mount Charles
Hiking the GTA photographed their initial blog on April 20, 2014. In the five years that have passed since then we’ve released over 350 stories which include over 4,000 pictures. We’ve had the opportunity to explore most of the Credit, Humber and Don Rivers as well as the Lakefront Trail and large sections of the Bruce Trail. We’ve explored most of the parks and ravines in the area. Our posts explore the areas as they exist today and by looking at the local history we discover how they came to be this way. Many people have gone exploring after reading about an area in their neighbourhood and we’ve had some amazing feedback. Thank you for all the encouraging comments, they mean a lot to us.
Here, then are the top twenty stories from our first five years, as selected by readers. Click on the title of each story to get to the original post for more details about each location, including Google Maps links. Pick a couple that look interesting and plan your summer trips in advance.
Crawford Lake is meromictic, which means that the bottom is never disturbed. Corn pollen in core samples taken from the bottom of the lake showed an agricultural society was living here 500 years ago. This led to the discovery of thousana village of longhouses.
When Mimico Branch Asylum opened in 1889 it was thought that mental patients would benefit from the cottage style atmosphere rather than the hospital nature of the asylum at 999 Queen Street in Toronto. It closed in 1979 and sat empty until recently being re-purposed as a campus for Humber College.
This railway tunnel under the Third Welland Canal was replaced with a swing bridge. The abandoned tunnel has been bricked closed on one end but people still go inside, claiming to see a blue ghost in the dark.
A city is living entity and as such is always evolving, changing and growing. Most often roads are widened and extended but sometimes they are cut off and abandoned. This post looks at a number of those closed roads in Toronto.
The expansion of Oakville threatens the remains of this former community. Like many of Ontario’s early towns, this one has become a sign on the road and a bunch of abandoned houses waiting for demolition.
The weekend seemed like a perfect one to go for an extended hike using two cars. We chose to complete about a third of the Elora Cataract Trail running between Hillsburgh and Cataract, a distance of about 18 kilometres. The east end of the trail can be found at Mississauga Road although the former right of way continues east from there. Based on the trail map we determined that we should leave one car at The Forks Of The Credit Provincial Park. The roadway into the park is in horrible shape and the pot-holes will threaten to rip the front end out of your car. Having braved the lane way you will find that $14.50 is the full day parking fee.
The Credit Valley Railway was built in 1879 to connect Toronto with Orangeville. A branch line was also built between Cataract and Elora but it was only operated under the original name for four years before it became part of the Ontario & Quebec Railway. In 1884 it was leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway where it became known as the Elora Subdivision. A hundred years later in 1988 it ceased to operate and the rails were removed. It only sat abandoned for five years before it was purchased by the Grand River and Credit Valley Conservation Authorities. They have developed 47 kilometres of the right of way into the Elora Cataract Trailway. We parked the second car for free at the trail head on Station Road in Hillsburgh, the site of the former railway station in town. The Hillsburgh Pond was originally created to serve the two grist mills in town. The Caledon Mountain Trout Club bought the pond in 1902 and sold it to the Guelph Fishing Club in 1946. Today there is an ongoing debate about the future of the pond and dam as restoration is required and the pond may be drained instead. This old green shed, like the boathouse in front of it is collapsing into the pond.
The property beside the train station used to have a set of ramps for loading livestock onto rail. A wind mill can be seen in the back of the old Awrey house which has recently been expanded to become the new library.
Although we had chosen a stretch of trail that ran for 17.5 kilometres it was all pretty level as long as we were following the railway right of way. Only later when we got back to the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and found an extensive set of stairs to climb did we realize that starting at Cataract would have allowed us to descend those stairs instead of climbing them at the end of the hike. The trail still had snow and ice on it where the hard packed trail was sheltered from a lot of direct sunlight.
The red squirrel uses his tail for balance and to control his jumping. When they are upset or feel threatened they also use it for communication. When it gets cold and they need a blanket to snuggle up with they use their tails for this too.
After leaving Hillsburgh the trail crosses a couple of side roads before coming to the town of Erin. The railway ran along the northern edge of town where the rail station used to stand. At Shaws Creek Road you come to the old Pinkney Farmhouse which was built in 1886. Fifteen acres of the Pinkney property was used for a large gravel pit and the current owners are Lafarge Canada who might be interested in restoring the house in exchange for increased quarry rights. The Pinkney barn was in poor shape and was demolished last year.
The trees are growing back in so that in some places they may offer a little shade on the summer. When this was a active steam railway the trees would have been kept trimmed back for the full property width to help discourage fires caused by errant sparks.
The trail ends at Cataract Road but we were still several kilometres from the car. Based on the signs at Mississauga Road you could park there and walk the short section to the end of the trail. This would be a lot shorter and considerably cheaper as well.
The Credit Valley Railway line continued east to connect with the Orangeville line. Where it is not used as the trailway it isn’t maintained or improved but it is still quite passable.
A few signs of the old railway still remain including old sleeper ties thrown along the sides of the trail to rot. For long sections of the trail some of these ties have been used for fence posts by the local farmers. Inside the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park an old telegraph pole still marks a bygone era.
Coltsfoot looks similar to a dandelion but has no leaves at the time of the flowers. Once the flowers have faded the leaves will come out for the summer.
Having covered about one third of the Elora Cataract Trailway we intend to return a couple more times to complete the trail in its entirety.
A fresh fall of snow overnight left us with white trees which are always beautiful, even as we look forward to getting some warm weather. One of the great places to view something like this is the Doris McCarthy Trail in Scarborough. This trail follows Gates Gully down the side of the Scarborough Bluffs and gives you access to the lake. Just to the west of here a cottage is slowly slipping over the edge and it was time to have a look and see what was left of it. I parked on Ravine Drive just off of Kingston Road and made way down the side of what was once Doris McCarthy’s property.
The ravine, like the Leslie Street Spit, is a migratory route for over 100 species of birds but today there were only cardinals and a few robins.
At the bottom of the gully is a sculpture designed to look like the rib cage of a fish or canoe. Perhaps it looks more like eye lashes from this angle.
The water in Lake Ontario was very calm as you look toward the east and the sunken wreckage of The Alexandria.
Belamy Ravine Creek drops 90 metres as it follows Gates Gully to the lake below. In several places blocks of armour stone have been added to the creek bed to slow down erosion. The Doris McCarthy Trail runs along the lake in both directions. We turned to the west and crossed the creek and carried on along the beach. The trail through here was very muddy and partially under water that was running off the bluffs in a few places. I was glad for my winter boots, now serving as my mud boots.
Keep an eye on the top of the bluffs as you walk along. Not only might you see some wildlife but you may also notice man made objects that are in the process of being sucked over the edge as the sand is carried away from underneath them. Here a wall is being broken away, section by section.
On a previous visit only the top portion of this pipe stood out of the sand. Since that time four more sections of corrugated steel pipe have been exposed. I’m interested to see what is in there.
If you grew up in Ontario in the 1970’s you likely remember The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein. The comedy show was aimed at children and featured short educational skits as well as comedy. All 130 episodes were filmed at CHCH in Hamilton in 1971. Toronto comedian Billy Van won the lead part as Count Frightenstein. He also played eight other recurring characters and several minor ones.
Billy Van owned a cottage on lakefront property on the former McCowan estate which looked out from on top of the Scarborough Bluffs. At one time this blue cottage sat a good distance back from the edge of the bluffs but by 2008 it was starting to fall over. Most of the cottage has collapsed now and wood and doors fill a small ravine below the house. Inside, the concrete blocks in the basement are exposed and have been cracked in several places. Billy Van’s cottage is one of the last original homes along this stretch of the bluffs. This is The (not so) Hilarious House Of Frightenstein.
Several times I heard the rumble of the sand as additional parts of the bluffs broke away in the ongoing erosion. Ground water seeps out of the sand and flows across the beach carrying more of it away and destabilizing the rest. In the picture below, a fresh slide has covered over last the fresh snow from last night. A previous blog looked at the effects of weather and water on the bluffs and shoreline at the Cathedral Bluffs.
The full magnitude of the Scarborough Bluffs is a wonder to behold at any time of the year. With the fresh snow on the trees above and the slopes below it was well worth the kilometre hike down the hill and back. Geologists around the globe recognize them as one of the most valuable records of glacial sedimentation available. More of the geology of the Bluffs can be found in our story Sand Castles.
The fourteen kilometre stretch of bluffs will continue to be interesting for generations to come because of the change it represents and the constant reminder that we really don’t control everything. Places where the shoreline has been hardened with armour stone or construction rubble only serve to separate the lake from the bluffs. They continue to recede at their own pace anyway.
When we last visited this cottage in May 2016 for our post Gates Gully the walls were still standing at the back of the house. Trevor Harris owned the cottage in 2002 at which time he was able to drive a lawn mover in front of it however the city decided that demolition was unsafe and made Harris fence the area off and post it. Later that year he lost 10 feet of property in a single drop and it looks like one more event like that and the whole thing will be gone.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was nice to see so many birds this weekend along with the other wildlife. It’s a certain sign of warmer days ahead.
When we previously visited The Devil’s Punchbowl we had noted the Dofasco 2000 trail that runs east from the falls. With all the rain and melting snow it seemed like a good time to revisit the falls and hike a section of the Dofasco 2000 Trail.
For parking you have several options. The Devil’s Punchbowl Conservation Area has parking for $5.00. Alternately, there is parking for at least a couple of cars where the Dofasco 2000 Trail crosses each of the four roads east. Depending on the length of walk you desire you can continue on Ridge Road as far as Tapleytown Road. Second Road East has the most parking places. We decided to walk the full four side roads to the Punchbowl and back.
This was our final hike of winter and the day wanted to prove that the season wasn’t over yet. The trail was hard packed with ice in a few places and open in others but the fresh snow made the walking challenging. The trail follows an unopened road allowance and was pretty much ours alone with the exception of a couple of dog walkers. While we’re on the subject of dog walkers, do people really think that dog poo will just melt away with the snow? This trail was marked with several months of deposits as well as dozens of Tims cups. Certainly one of the messier trails we have visited in recent times.
An old building stands in the woods along the side of the trail made out of prefabricated concrete blocks that were designed to look like cut stone. There is a date of 1943 etched into the concrete in the doorway and inside it appears to have been used to house a generator. More recently it housed someone who slept in one corner and kept a small fire in the other.
Sections of the forest have been tapped for maple syrup production and both new and old equipment is strung through the trees. Nature has a way of adapting and has started to grow around this old metal sign on this tree. We saw plenty of evidence of last year’s fungi which suggests a healthy forest as this is the natural way of breaking down the wood as it begins to decompose.
As we continued along we were treated to patches of blue sky and sunshine. Spring is just around the corner and the weather was attempting to give us a preview of the new while reminding us of the old season.
Half a dozen old tires are rotting on the roadside with rusted rims and degrading rubber. The rubber will take between 50 and 80 years to disappear but the metal rims are destined to be there for up to 200 years.
The path runs through a vineyard with rows of grape vines stretched out on either side of the trail. Ridge Road is home to several wineries as is the entire southern portion of the Niagara Escarpment. There are an average of 205 frost free days per year in the region allowing production of 71,000 9-litre cases of wine annually.
A small bridge carries you across Stoney Creek. This is only a short distance above the waterfalls at The Devil’s Punch Bowl and the high water levels in the creek suggest that the falls might have a good flow of water going over.
The Devil’s Punch Powl Conservation Area provides the most scenic point on the trail. Recent weather conditions suggested that the water flow might be near the peak level. It turned out that there was quite a bit more water plus a bonus ice formation in the bottom of the cone. The falls are interesting from a geological point of view because they expose all the layers that make up the Niagara Escarpment. The geology of the falls along with plenty of other pictures, including the lower falls, can be found in our story The Devil’s Punch Bowl.
Given the 37 metre height of the falls, the ice cone at the bottom has to be about 20 metres tall. This is truly spectacular to behold but is limited to late winter and early spring viewing, depending on the type of winter season that we get.
The Dofasco 2000 Trail continues east of the fourth road on pavement for one concession before entering a closed road allowance again for another five side roads. It passes through the Vinemount South Swamp on a 1.7 kilometre boardwalk that likely needs to be explored before or after mosquito season.