Mono Cliffs Provincial Park is located about 15km north of Orangeville, Ontario. Established as a park in the 1970s, the area is a mixed landscape of plains, hills, lakes, old-growth forest, and of course, tall rock formations. It is also part of the Bruce Trail, which stretches between the Niagara Region and the Bruce Peninsula.
The path taken on this round-trip was the Carriage Trail, Spillway Trail, Walter Tovell Trail, Cliff-Top Side Trail, and the Carriage Trail once more complete the loop. It is about 5km altogether.
The trails of Mono Cliffs are numerous and multi-use, including horseback riding, hiking, and cycling. The park’s entrance at 3rd Line EHS starts one off with the Carriage Trail. It is a relatively easy hike through fields and forests.
The Spillway Trail continues through much of the same environment, entering a forested area at its north end as it meets the Walter Tovell Trail. From here the trail curls south.
The Cliff-Top Side Trail is the most popular of the Mono Cliffs trails and for good reason. It ascends an incline and eventually reaching the top of the cliffs. A set of wooden stairs takes one into the crevices of the impressive formations.
The Mono Cliffs themselves are part of the Niagara Escarpment, a geological wonder that curves through New York through southwestern Ontario to Illinois. The Niagara Escarpment formed about 450 million years ago.
A lookout point marks the second attraction of the Cliff-Top Side Trail, providing an impressive vista.
The trail has interpretative plaques along the way about the built and natural heritage of the Mono Cliffs area. One marker tells the story of the Village of Mono Centre, which one can reach at the southern end of the Cliff-Top Trail. Aboriginal peoples had visited the cliffs and area for thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1820s. Mono Centre itself grew from this point, reaching a notable level of activity in the 1850s and 60s.
To descend the escarpment, the Cliff-Top Side Trail meets up with the Carriage Trail which then reaches a long set of wooden stairs, showing off just how pronounced the elevation change is in the Mono Cliffs.
From here, the Carriage Trail returns back to the entrance, completing what is an interesting walk through millions of years of history.
“Heritage & Natural History.” Town of Mono, townofmono.com/about/heritage-natural-history.
Note: The City of Toronto refers to the Don Mills Trail as running from York Mills Road to just north of Eglinton Avenue. Google Maps labels the path north of Bond Park as the Leaside Spur Trail. These two names are generally used interchangeably. As this article will focus on the northern part of the trail, Leaside Spur Trail will be primarily used.
The neatest feature on the Leaside Spur Trail is also the most visible sign of its history. This is an elevated bridge with a narrow tunnel connecting Bond Avenue and the linear parking lot of Bond Park.
The bridge was built in 1912 in preparation for a new railway spur. This line, built by the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway (CNOR), linked two existing railways to the north and south, with the failed idea of moving passengers to North Toronto Station. The spur line also travelled down to the Canadian Northern’s shops on Laird Drive in Leaside, explaining the Leaside name despite being nowhere near that community.
From the Bond Avenue bridge, the spur trail travels parallel to the adjacent Bond Park. The park has existed since at least the 1960s and its triangular footprint is shaped by the two railways. The street and park are named for the Bond family which farmed the area historically. On the other side of the trail are the industries of Scarsdale Road. There are unofficial entries points on both sides.
The Leaside Spur Trail then runs parallel to the existing railway. The path briefly travels under the York Mills overpass with exits points at Scarsdale and the Longos parking lot at York Mills Gardens. Cyclists can continue north through the Lesmill Business Park to the Betty Sutherland Trail and beyond.
The Leaside Spur Line finally opened in 1918, but the CNOR did not operate it. The CNOR folded in that year, and its assets fell to the Canadian National Railway (CNR or CN). The CNR used the right of way to move freight. It ceased operations altogether on the Leslie Spur Line in 1999 and the tracks were subsequently removed.
In the early 2000s, the City of Toronto purchased the former Leaside Spur right of way. In 2011, construction began on the Don Mills Trail. The section south of Bond Avenue was completed first. The future of the century-old Bond railway bridge was nearly in question. The section north of Bond Avenue, which before paved was previously a gravel path that dead-ended at a fence where the rail bed once met the CNR line, was finished in 2016 — fortunately with the restored rail bridge intact.
At the north end of the Leaside Spur Trail, there is a great piece of hidden history. For the majority of the 20th century, there was a railway station on the south side of York Mills Road where it met the CN line at a level crossing. Built in 1905, this was Duncan Station (later addressed at 845 York Mills Road). The station was named for the Duncan family. It served the farmers of Oriole and, later, the community of Don Mills. Duncan Station was later redubbed Oriole Station, possibly to avoid confusion with another Duncan Station on the line and to reference to the community to the north at today’s Leslie Street and Sheppard Avenue. For this reason, the Leaside Spur Line was also known as the Duncan Cut-Off and later the Oriole Cut-Off. Oriole Station was a two-storey structure and was notable in that it was a third-class Canadian Northern Railway station typically found in rural Western Canada.
By at least the 1950s, Oriole Station was moved away from the tracks and replaced a smaller flag stop. The original station became a private residence. In 1954, the station briefly served as the northern terminus of the new Don Mills bus line during rush hour (permanent service was extended to the area a few years later). In 1970, the York Mills Road Overpass was completed over the railway, replacing the level crossing. Finally, CNR closed Oriole in 1978. In that year, GO transit opened a new transport hub further north on the corridor nearer to the historic location of Oriole at Leslie Street and Highway 401. It was called Oriole GO Station.
In the 1980s, CN intended to demolish the surplus station over safety concerns. By this time, the abandoned station (vacated in 1984) was in a poor state and vandalized several times. In 1985, the North York Historical Board recommended the station to be moved to Moatfield Park at Lesmill Road and Leslie Street, restored, and then repurposed to a soccer clubhouse. Unfortunately, North York Council did not like the $100,000 price tag. The interest in saving the building lay in the former station being the oldest remaining railway station in North York and the last remaining third-class CNOR station in Ontario.
Reprieves and deferrals were granted in 1986, delaying the demolition while a solution could be found. CN was reported to be willing to lease the land to North York (to leave open the possibility of employing the land for future industrial uses) and keep the old Oriole Station in its historic location (albeit moved 20 feet away). At the same time, a North York teachers’ group expressed interest in buying the building and using it in situ as a clubhouse. The agreement was CN was to rent the property to North York for $9,600 a year, who would then sublet to the newly formed North York Railway House Faculty Club for the same price. The only caveat was the faculty club needed to raise a $100,000 letter of credit to cover rental payments if the club went bankrupt. In March 1987, with the teacher’s group unable to secure the financial requirements, North York advised the railway to proceed with demolition. The old Oriole Station was razed shortly after.
No markers or plaques currently stand to honour the Bond Avenue bridge, the Oriole Cut-off/Leaside Spur Line, or the former Oriole Station. They would likely have a decent audience as many walkers, cyclists, and joggers frequent the Leaside Spur Trail today.