Category Archives: Ontario

Scenes From York Regional Forest – Robinson Tract

The York Regional Forest is a collection of wooded properties in the Oak Ridges Moraine. It was created in 1924 to restore degraded and deforested lands impacted by colonial farming in the century prior. The Robinson Tract is a 43-acre greenspace within that network.

Source: Google Maps, 2020.

The Robinson Tract is located on Warden Avenue between Vandorf Side and Aurora Road in Whitchurch-Stouffville. The surrounding area is filled with farms and golf-courses dotted with residential and commercial areas — and several tracts of the York Regional Forest Enticing road signs on Warden Avenue heading north towards the woods associate the Robinson Tract as a Greenbelt Walk on the Oak Ridges Trail.

Source: Google Maps, 2019

The history of the area in which the Robinson Tracts sits on is largely untold or unknown. While there is some evidence of Indigenous presence in the Oak Ridges Moraine as a whole, the tract in particular does not seem to have pre-contact activity in itself. The tract is historically associated with a Jesse Thomson, who owned several plots in the area in the 19th century. Jesse Thomson Road, which runs from Kennedy Road east of the park, references him.

Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto.

By 1878, the 150-acre Thomson plot was subdivided further into 3 smaller plots. These were 50-acres of the Risebrough & Tutcliff Company (little information is available on the entreprise) , 50-acres of John Williamson, and, most curiously, 50-acres of a “Non Resident”. York Region/County presumably acquired and began reforesting the first 2 of these properties in 1948 to create the Robinson Tract. It is unclear if “Robinson” was the last owner or if the name derives from somewhere else. The Greenbelt Foundation states that before reforestation the Robinson Tract once had a “blowsand area”. This coincides with a 2019 York Region Report which characterized the York Regional Forest as whole before transformation as being a “virtual desert” because of farm clearing and abandonment. 

Source: Google Maps, 2020.

Illustrated Atlas of York County, 1878. Source: Historical Maps of Toronto.

The Robinson Tract begins at Warden Avenue off a tiny parking lot for only a few vehicles. Signs warn of ticks and Lyme disease as well as prohibited activities such as overnight camping and hunting, which a few other tracts in the York Regional Forest allow.

The Robinson Tract winds around on two paths: the Oak Ridges Trail and the Robinson Side Trail. White blazes on trees provide wayfinding for the main trail and blue blazes correspond to the side trail. Although there are no posted maps, signs containing QR codes allow one to download one from the Oak Ridges Trail Association website. They may be needed as the the trails can get confusing! There are a total of 4.3 km of trails in the space.

The natural ecosystem in the York Regional Forest is notable. A mix of coniferous and deciduous trees make up the Robinson Tract. The colours in autumn in particular make for a spectacular scene. There are many fallen or cut trees, as well as many marked to be chopped down because of damage via the emerald ash borer or other reasons. Animals include foxes, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, birds, and more.

At the southern and eastern edges of the tract, subdivisions of houses are visible from trail. These size of these properties correspond to earlier divided farm plots. Access points lead to and from the streets, although are closed between October and April.

The Robinson Tract can be accessed year-round and makes for an excellent hike. It borders on the Stouffville Conservation Area as well as other York Regional Forest Tracts.


Sources

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

The Greenbelt Foundation – “Robinson Tract”

Liliana Usvat – Reforestation and Medicinal use of the Trees – “Robinson Tract Stoufville Ontario Canada”

York Region – “An Everyday Guide to the York Regional Forest”

York Region – “It’s in our Nature – Management Plan for the York Regional Forest 2019 to 2038″

Scenes From York-Durham Heritage Railway

The York-Durham Heritage Railway (YDHR) was established in 1987, but as its name suggests, the history stretches beyond. Making use of a discontinued rail line between Uxbridge and Stouffville, the entirely volunteer-run organization offers seasonal weekend train rides between the towns.

The YDHR operates out of Uxbridge, using its 1904 train station as a tiny railway heritage museum. The structure is distinct for its ‘witch’s hat’ roof. At one time its waiting rooms drew would-be rail travelers. Today, the station houses railway artefacts inside and an impressive stock of engines and cars outside. Of note is a passenger car of the Ontario Northlander.

The selection of Uxbridge as the YDHR’s headquarters is appropriate as the Toronto & Nippissing (T&N) Railway housed their main yards there. The T&N Railway established the rail line in the 1860s. George Gooderham was a main investor who used the line to bring raw materials from Ontario’s northern reaches to the Gooderham & Worts complex on the Toronto waterfront. In 1871, a ceremony opened the line in Uxbridge.

Map of the Township of Uxbridge, 1877. The Township was once part of Ontario County which merged with other local counties to create the Regional Municipality of Durham. Source: Canadian County Altas Digital Project.

Gooderham & Worts, Ltd., Toronto., 1896. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Uxbridge itself is a suburban town which retains its 19th charm. It is perhaps most famed for the mausoleum of Thomas Foster, a Toronto mayor from 1925-1927, which was inspired by a trip to India.

The YHDR’s main train is the 1956 Locomotive 3612, complete with dining and bench seating passanger cars for a relaxing trip and an open-window snack/baggage car for a more scenic opportunities.

The Fall Colours Train showcases the diverse landscapes of forests, farm fields, golf courses, and gravel pits of the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM), an environmentally protected and sensitive corridor north of Toronto between Caledon and Peterborough. Elevation in ORM reaches as high as the CN Tower.

The Town of Goodwood is the mid-way point of the trip. At one time the T&N Railway served it; its station now replaced with GO bus transit. Interestingly, Goodwood doubles as the TV town of Schitt’s Creek. Just south and west in Licolnville, the train crosses into York Region.

Stouffville too is a train town. While the current GO station dates to 1995, the arrival of the Toronto & Nippising Railway brought the first station on south of Main Street to the town. It in turn spurred commercial and industrial development.

A brief history includes town founder Abraham Stouffer settling here in 1804, naming the hamlet “Stoufferville”, which was later shortened. Along with the Toronto & Nipissing Railway, there was also the Lake Simcoe Railway running to Sutton, Ontario, making Stouffville into a railway junction.

Map of the Township of Whitchurch, 1878. Note the lands around Stouffville belonging to the Stouffer family. Source: The County Atlas Digital Project.

After financial difficulties which saw the T&N railway transferring between rail companies, the Canadian National Railway eventually came to own the line in 1920. Northerly sections of track fell out of use gradually through the 20th century. Today, the original T&N right of way transports passengers through the Stouffville Go Line, passing through stations at Markham, Unionville, Agincourt, and Scarborough. Whereas a small station in the Distillery District once served as the the southern terminus, Union Station expectedly takes that spot today. The York-Durham Heritage Railway began operations in 1996. Metrolinx still owns the YDHR track and is considering returning service to Uxbridge.


Useful Links

Rails Across Ontario: Exploring Ontario’s Railway Heritage by Ron Brown

Stouffville Sun-Tribune – “From 75 inhabitants to 45,000; a brief history of Whitchurch-Stouffville”

Torontoist – “History is Fun! Toronto’s Mayors in Short” by Patrick Metzger

Transit Toronto – “GO Transit’s Stouffville Line”

Scenes From Elora

A venture through the town of Elora and its surroundings produces nothing less than beauty and awe. There’s beauty in its more-than-a-century-old streetscapes. There’s awe in its more-than-ten-thousand-year-old limestone cliffs. The allure of the area is the marriage of built and natural, which makes it well worth a visit.

Aerial view of Elora, Ontario, ca. 1950. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

The town is located in Wellington County on the banks of the mighty Grand River, a waterway that historically provided sustenance to the Attawandaron or Neutral Confederacy. The wide river and its majestic walls has a history far beyond even those inhabitants, being carved out of the last ice age 14,000 years ago. The water provided the power for early industry while its cliffs were source for the towns early constructions.

One such structure that falls into both categories – stone walls and industry — is the Elora Mill on the west end of the aptly named Mill Street. It was established in the 1850s by J.M. Fraser. In recent memory, it was closed for many years awaiting redevelopment. As of July 2018, it is reopened as a multi-faceted hotel and hospitality venue.

Elora is full of quaint boutiques, sweet shops, and galleries, such as those at the Elora Mews and the main strip of shops at the juncture of Metcalfe and further north.

           

As modern are the enterprises and restored are their exteriors, Elora still maintains its historic character. They are seen in the 1865 Gordon’s Block (otherwise known as the Flat Iron Building because of the triangular junction at Geddes and Metcalfe), the Elora Public Library (funded by Andrew Carnegie in 1909 and built the following year), the 1911 Post Office, and further up, the 1889 St. Mary’s Schoolhouse.

Dalby House/Gordon’s Block. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

One geography that has not completely survived is the old red bricked Elora Town Hall on Geddes Street next to the Post Office. Its history goes back to 1874 when it was built as a market building. The space in front of it was once known as Market Square. A cenotaph honouring the town’s contributions to World War I was added in the square in 1929. The Town Hall was demolished because of its deteriorating state and new civic offices were constructed in 1992 near the old hall.

Geddes St., Elora, ca. 1910 Postcard. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

Town Hall [left] and Post Office [right], ca. 1910.  House on Henderson Street and St. John’s Anglican Church visible behind Post Office at centre. Credit: Wellington County Museum & Archives.

A punt ride on the Grand River allots a great way to view the town’s waterfront. Through Elora Raft Rides, one takes in the history and geography of the town — including neat views of ancient fossils in the limestone cliffs.

A curious sighting is a stone abutment located near the Mill, which is the phantom remainder of the former Victoria Street Bridge. A structure spanning the river has been since 1842, but last incarnation of the bridges was closed to vehicle traffic in the Sixties following the opening of the adjacent Metcalfe Bridge and subsequently demolished. As a part of the Elora Mill redevelopment, Victoria Street Bridge might rise again.

Outside of the town’s built environs, one finds himself in the phenomenal landscapes of the Elora Quarry and Elora Gorge. Both fall under the management of the Grand River Conservation Authority which protects the surrounding watershed while providing recreational activities. The Quarry itself is a sensational post-industrial swimming hole with hiking trails which came under the GRCA in the 1970s. 

Elora Gorge Conservation Area offers neat nature hikes and thrilling (and calming) tube rides — seriously, try it! Through Victoria Park, one can access part of the rocks through a set of stairs, as well as gaze over the Grand & Irvine Rivers with lookouts like the Elora Falls & Tooth of Time, Lover’s Leap and toward the gorge and David Street/Irvine River Bridge.

Exploring the town and environs, Elora’s identity of the merger of culture and nature then becomes truly apparent. Its many plaques tell the story of its shakers. It’s also a great arts & culture town with references everywhere to musical showcases like the Elora Festival and Riverfest at Bissell Park. Culinary and historic walking tours guide visitors through the significance of the town.

       

Other landmarks like the Wellington County Museum & Archives – a former House of Industry and keeper of Elora’s past – and the Elora Cataract Trail – a lost railway turned scenic recreational path – also are major draws. For a small town like it and its neighbour Fergus, Elora does an excellent job at marketing itself as a true tourist destination with dual appeal.