A quick wander around Victoria Park Square, Brantford

Victoria Park is a quaint public square located in downtown Brantford. It is found in the square block bordered by Market Street, George Street, Wellington Street, and Darling Street. While the park is in itself interesting, the surrounding streets and sites make for an interesting wander through Brantford’s past and present, and colonial and indigenous roots.

Victoria Park Square, 2022.
Source: Google Maps

The square’s origins are from Lewis Burwell’s 1830 Town Plan of Brantford, a scheme that laid out the village’s original blocks. It provides the genesis for Brantford’s central grid system and lays out its street names as well as some of the city’s original landmarks.

1830 Brantford in the Gore District, U. Canada.
Source: Toronto Public Library

It was not the first survey of Brantford and white settlers were living in Brantford prior to 1830 along with Indigenous peoples, but it was still an important development. Victoria Park appears as Municipal Public Square.

Undated Plan of the Village of Brantford.
Source: Archives of Ontario

Although Victoria Park was laid out in 1830, it wasn’t fully landscaped until 1861. Its designer was John Turner and its diverging paths are intended to mimic the Union Jack flag.

1890s Souvenir of Brantford, Ontario – Victoria Park
Source: Toronto Public Library

A statue to Mohawk Leader and Brantford’s namesake Thayendanegea – anglicized name Joseph Brant – stands boldly in the centre of the park. The monument was unveiled in 1866 as a tribute to Thayendanegea’s allegiance to the British crown. The Brantford area was inhabited by the Haudenosaunee in 1700s. Brant himself is central to the city’s story in he ceded some lands for the place.

Facing the park on Wellington is the imposing Brant County Court House. The land was set aside in 1830 Town Plan and the building was designed later in 1851 by park designer John Turner.

1890s Brant County Court House
Source: Toronto Public Library

The Brant Court House dons the Palladian style and is notable for its grand construction, great columns, and amazing symmetry.

The court house property takes up an entire block backing onto Nelson Street. A Jail and Registry Building make up other notable parts of the complex.

Opposite the Court House on its Market Street side is the Bell Telephone Company of Canada Building. Brantford is the “Telephone City” and the childhood home of the famed Alexander Graham Bell who lived on the outskirts of the city. The Bell Building is quite imposing and is highlighted by its clean grey facade and large central. Reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial, a monument to the inventor sits at its entrance.

On the other side of the court house is a complex consisting of municipal and provincial offices at George and Wellington Streets. The impressive complex was built in 1967 in a textbook Brutalist style and offers a modernist layer to the old square. Until 2021, this was the location of Brantford City Hall; it has since moved to the 1913 Federal Building at Dalhousie and Queen Streets.

The corner has a plaque about the Founding of Brantford, which notes Six Nations ceded the land for the city and the role of railways, agriculture, and industry in the city’s development.

Prior to 1967, Brantford City Hall was located several blocks to the south at the historic Market Square. Like Victoria Park and the Court House, this square was included in 1830 Town Plan. The hall was also designed by Turner. Today, Eaton Market Square stands in its place.

1875 Bird’s eye view of Brantford, province Ontario, Canada.
Source: Library of Congress
1925 Brantford City Hall.
Source: Toronto Public Library

Finally, facing into Victoria Square on its eastern side is the former Brantford Public Library. Built in 1904, its erection was facilitated by a donation from the famed Carnegie family, who funded the construction of many libraries in Ontario in the early 20th century. Today, the building is a satellite campus for Wilfred Laurier University.

1910 Postcard – Public Library, Brantford, Canada
Source: Toronto Public Library

The stunning library somewhat echoes the Classical stylings of the Brant County Court House with its own great details, including a grand dome and large windows adorned with the names of iconic historical authors.

1910 Postcard – Public Library and Park Baptist Church from Victoria Park, Brantford, Canada.
Source: Toronto Public Library

Many other sites can be found in and around Victoria Park Square, including a historic water fountain on its west side, several churches — some converted and some modernized — with historic ties to Brantford on the park’s east and south sides, and a gorgeous Bank of Montreal building on the southwest side.

The square and its surroundings have been made and remade through its life. All these buildings — and even lack of buildings (i.e. parking lots) — were one-time additions which changed the complexion of the park at various times. The park’s purpose as a public square remains today, so that original piece of history stands today for Brantford.

A Quick Early History of Toronto’s First Traffic Signals and The ‘Right on Red’ Rule

In the first half of the twentieth century, automobiles had quite an impact on the streets of Toronto. In 1913, there were 17,000 cars in Toronto; by 1923, the number grew to about 50,000 cars. New rules and technologies were adopted to better manage and regulate how motorists behaved, especially concerning the other users of the road and their safety.

Traffic conditions, Adelaide and Bay, 12:10, (Executive Department), 1927.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Traffic Lights: A Most Beneficial System

On August 8, 1925, Torontonians were introduced to their first set of automated traffic signals. The new ‘semaphores’ were set up at the busy intersection of Yonge Street and Bloor Street on a trial basis and changed the history of Toronto’s streets forever. It was at least three years in the making, with Toronto Chief of Police Samuel J. Dickson advocating for and finally receiving the system in that time.

“Traffic Control by Lighting System” The Toronto Daily Star, August 8, 1925.
Source: Toronto Star Archives
“Traffic Control by Lighting System” The Toronto Daily Star, August 8, 1925.
Source: Toronto Star Archives

Before traffic lights, intersections were regulated by traffic policemen. In the 1910s, this was done largely through hand signals, whistles, and yelling. In 1920, a new ‘semaphore’ was piloted (again at Yonge and Bloor) which consisted of the officer controlling a staffed sign with the words “STOP” and “GO” written on them. The officer rotated the sign to control the flow of traffic. If one peruses archival photos of highly trafficked Toronto intersections, it is common to see a police officer amid the action.

Southwest corner of Yonge and Bloor streets, 1923.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“Semaphore on Trial”, The Toronto Daily Star, June 6, 1920.
Source: Toronto Star Archives.

The new traffic lights were an overall success. Automated signals were installed on major junctions along Yonge Street, Bloor Street, and Danforth Avenue, and in suburbs such as East York within the next few years after their introduction. As an example of the new semaphores’ impact, The Globe reported in December 1929, the intersection of Bloor Street and Keele Street had an average of 4 or 5 accidents a day before automated signals were installed there in 1927; there were no accidents after that point.

Police Chief Dickson even dreamed of a master tower at Yonge and Queen to control all the lights in the city. The idea became a reality at the end of 1926. There was even synchronicity within the lights: a motorist travelling straight on Danforth Avenue between Main Street and Broadview Avenue in 1928 was able to meet all green lights if he travelled at 19 or 20 miles per hour; any slower or faster, the driver would hit a red light (the speed was 18 miles per hour downtown).

Automatic traffic signal, King and Yonge, 1927. Traffic Lights were switched to a vertical orientation and a yellow/amber ‘warning’ light was formalized several years after 1925.
Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Of course, several early reports indicated that the new lights were not all good. Even the Mayor weighed in, saying to the Police Chief in October 1925 that officers were still stationed at the Yonge and Bloor ‘experiment’, seemingly defeating the Chief’s goal of having the technology free up more policemen from traffic duty. Sometimes they did not function properly or at all, as The Globe reported in July 1928 of the new, often “stuck” Dundas Street East signals. But despite these complaints, the lights were there to stay; 96 signals were installed in Toronto by the end of the 1920s.

Queen and Yonge, looking west, traffic, noon – 1 p.m., (Executive Department), 1929. Despite the functioning green light, an officer monitors the traffic.
Source: City of Toronto Archives
Bloor and Yonge streets, southwest corner, 1928. One compare the crossing to the earlier 1923 image.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The ‘Right on Red’ Rule

One of the most interesting impacts of the rise and success of traffic lights was a ‘new’ law that permitted a motorist to make a right-hand turn against a signal that would otherwise make him wait at the intersection. This is the ‘right on red’ rule. On March 22, 1927, Police Chief Dickson announced the reinstatement of the permission, indicating that it was actually in effect “some time ago” and the success of the new lights could now allow for it once more. It is unclear what period the rule was previously in place or why it disappeared, although reckless driving at unmanned intersections is a theory for its removal.

Corner of King and Yonge streets, 1910. Note the right-turning vehicle.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

The ‘right on red’ permission was not without controversy, even with the police itself. The organization vowed to watch right-turning drivers and warned them to prioritize the safety of pedestrians who had the right of way to cross the street.

In July 1928, new Police Chief D.C. Draper reiterated motorists were allowed to turn right at a “hostile” light, having “regard” of other cars and pedestrians who have the right of way. However, in March 1929, Draper advocated against the rule. In a report by the Traffic Committee, which monitored Toronto streets for more than a month for traffic improvements, the Chief suggested, among other items, the discontinuance of “the present practice of motorists making a right-hand turn against the red light” or “otherwise give them a warning that the pedestrians have the right of way, and that right-hand turns against a red signal are only allowed when care is exercised”. The Board of Control ultimately went against the Chief and retained the rule while reiterated motorists were responsible for pedestrian safety.

King and Yonge streets, northwest corner, looking west, 1912.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Interestingly, in Hamilton, which was the setting of Canada’s first traffic lights just two months before Toronto’s semaphores were installed, the Traffic Committee wanted to abolish the rule which allowed right-hand turns on red lights in 1933. Oddly, it was met with disapproval from the Ontario Department of Highways. The by-law ultimately remained.

Despite many calls in Toronto in the decades since to remove the permission for good, the Highway Traffic Act currently upholds it in Ontario:

s. 144 (19) Despite subsection (18) and subject to subsection (14) [Green Arrows], a driver, after stopping his or her vehicle and yielding the right of way to traffic lawfully approaching so closely that to proceed would constitute an immediate hazard, may,

(a) turn to the right; or

(b) turn to the left from a one-way street into a one-way street,

without a green indication being shown.

Traffic conditions, Adelaide and Bay, 1210, (Executive Department), 1927. Note the traffic light and police officer on horseback.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

To Stop or Not?

Another interesting question arose on the requirement to stop before turning right. In November 1927, a person writing into The Toronto Daily Star‘s “Voice of The People” section was puzzled by the different standards of when there was a stop sign at an intersection (which he interpreted as ‘stop means stop’) and when there was a policeman with a semaphore (which he interpreted as ‘stop means stop sometimes‘). The editor replied that when an officer was holding the semaphore, he supervises traffic and allows right turns without stopping. When there is no officer, all cars must stop.

Southeast corner of Bloor and Yonge streets (Imperial Bank of Canada), 1924.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Within Toronto City Hall, the issue of drivers legally passing through a red light to turn right was debated for several years. In July 1929, Toronto’s Traffic Committee suggested an amendment of certain by-laws to protect pedestrians, including motorists were to come to a stop before making a right-hand turn against the red light. It did not seem to have made an impact. In December 1933, the idea was raised again, this time proving more successful. The Board of Control favoured a change to the by-law so that every driver must come to a full stop before making a right turn at an intersection controlled by automatic traffic signals. The change seemed to be spurred by complaints that motorists were not heeding the way to pedestrians and “showing no consideration for the pedestrian”. City Council adopted the change on December 12th of the year, subject to approval by the Department of Highways.

“City of Toronto Traffice By-Laws”, The Toronto Daily Star, March 2, 1933.
Source: Toronto Star Archives

Inexplicably, the rule was changed back only four months later. In April 1934, the by-law requiring motorists to make a complete stop before a right turn at a red light was rescinded. The Board of Police Commissioners instructed police officers to safeguard the rights of pedestrians once more.

It is unclear when exactly the law reverted once again, but it seems the matter was not closed. The idea seemed to be backed in other circles, too. In a February 1934 meeting of the Ontario Motor League, a suggestion was advanced that those turning right in the province should come to a full stop at both a red land green light. In 1938, a reader of The Globe and Mail expressed his displeasure in the lack of pedestrian rights in motorists not having to stop before right turns. A decade later, in July 1948, the same newspaper rode along with Toronto Traffic Safety Council Inspector Vernon H. Page in a motor car as he pointed out traffic infractions, including those failing to come to a full stop before a right turn, meaning by this point the law was reinstated.

“Camera Catches Motorists, Pedestrians Breaking Rules”, The Globe and Mail, July 20, 1948.
Source: Globe and Mail Archives

Today, of course, a red light does indeed mean ‘stop’ in all contexts, as the Highway Traffic Act so states:

s. 144 (18) Every driver approaching a traffic control signal showing a circular red indication and facing the indication shall stop his or her vehicle and shall not proceed until a green indication is shown. 

Yonge Street and Queen Street, southeast corner, 1915.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Works Referenced

“24-Hour Operation Of Traffic Signals Proves Successful.” The Globe, 28 July 1928, p. 13.

“24-Hour Police Service, East York, Authorized; Other Changes Urged.” The Globe, 18 Jan. 1929, p. 13.

“Allow Right Turn Against Red Light.” The Toronto Daily Star, 22 Mar. 1927, p. 3.

“Automatic Control Of Central Traffic Assured InToronto.” The Globe, 20 Mar. 1926, p. 14.

“Automatic Control Of Toronto Traffic To Be Inaugurated.” The Globe, 5 Nov. 1926, p. 11.

“Automatic Signals To Be Installed At Fifty-Five More Intersections Controlling All Main Street Traffic.” The Globe, 10 Mar. 1928, p. 8.

“Automatic Signals Will Operate Today At Bloor And Yonge.” The Globe, 8 Aug. 1925, p. 13.

Bateman, Chris. “A Brief History of the First Traffic Lights in Toronto.” BlogTO, BlogTO, 3 Aug. 2013, https://www.blogto.com/city/2013/08/a_brief_history_of_the_first_traffic_lights_in_toronto/.

“Canada’s First Traffic Lights at Hamilton’s Delta.” Thespec.com, 8 May 2021, https://www.thespec.com/life/local-history/spec175/2021/05/08/canadas-frist-traffic-lights-at-hamiltons-delta.html#:~:text=On%20June%2011%2C%201925%2C%20the,lights%20was%20meant%20for%20them.

“Car May Turn Right Against Red Signal.” The Globe, 20 May 1933, p. 2.

“Cars In Toronto Now Number 50,000.” The Globe, 1923 Sept. 1AD, p. 8.

“Chief Draper Asks Co-Operation of Pedestrian And Motorist Of Solving Local Traffic Problem.” The Globe, 10 May 1929, p. 15.

“Chief’s Suggestions In Tabloid Form.” The Globe, 5 Mar. 1929, p. 15.

“City of Toronto Traffic By-Law.” The Toronto Daily Star, 2 Mar. 1933, p. 12.

“Civic Police Force To Be Augmented With Hundred Men.” The Globe, 9 Feb. 1928, p. 13.

“Flashing Lights Operate Traffic Bloor And Yonge.” The Toronto Daily Star, 8 Aug. 1925, p. 1.

Guillet, Edwin C. “Teeth in Traffic Laws.” The Globe and Mail, 13 Oct. 1938, p. 6.

“Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8.” Ontario.ca, 19 Nov. 2018, https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90h08.

“More Semaphores Soon.” The Toronto Daily Star, 14 July 1920, p. 19.

“More Traffic Signals.” The Globe, 8 June 1928, p. 17.

“Needs Larger Force, Says Chief of Police.” The Globe, 5 Nov. 1925, p. 12.

“New Traffic Signals Are Very Effective.” The Globe, 5 June 1920, p. 16.

“Of Interest to Motorists.” The Globe, 24 Oct. 1925, p. 9.

“Operate Semaphores.” The Toronto Daily Star, 31 May 1920, p. 2.

“Over 100,000 Ontario Cars.” The Globe, 22 July 1919, p. 9.

“Planning Scheme Will Be Discussed By Central Body.” The Globe, 5 Dec. 1929, p. 15.

“Police Chief Wants Automatic Control In Downtown Areas.” The Globe, 24 June 1925, p. 13.

“Police to Safeguard Against Right Turns.” The Globe, 26 Apr. 1934, p. 4.

“Police Traffic Squad Readjust Signal Systems.” The Globe, 10 Aug. 1928, p. 13.

“Remembering Toronto’s First Automated Traffic Lights: August 8: Snapshots in History.” Local History & Genealogy, https://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/local-history-genealogy/2019/08/remembering-torontos-first-automated-traffic-lights-august-8-snapshots-in-history.html.

“Return To Old Rule Of Right-Hand Turn.” The Globe, 22 Mar. 1927, p. 11.

“Says Light System As Traffic Signal Is Toronto’s Need.” The Globe, 10 July 1925, p. 9.

Schrag, Lex. “Camera Catches Motorists, Pedestrians Breaking Rules.” The Globe and Mail, 20 July 1948, p. 13.

“Semaphore On Trial.” The Toronto Daily Star, 1 June 1920, p. 1.

“Signal Set Against Police Chief By Board Of Control.” The Globe, 16 Mar. 1929, p. 18.

“Speed Limit Stays Unchanged At Present.” The Globe, 27 Feb. 1934, p. 4.

“Stop Before Right Turn.” The Toronto Daily Star, 12 Dec. 1933, p. 5.

“Stop Before Turn Against Red Light Urged In Report.” The Globe, 29 July 1929, p. 16.

“Stop Recommended Before Right Turn.” The Globe, 7 Dec. 1933, p. 11.

“Traffic Report By Chief Draper Goes To Control Board.” The Globe, 5 Mar. 1929, p. 15.

“Traffic Signal Urged For Danforth And Victoria Park.” The Globe, 16 Oct. 1928, p. 13.

“Traffic Signals Called Obsolete.” The Globe, 15 Feb. 1935, p. 11.

“Voice Of The People.” The Toronto Daily Star, 29 Nov. 1927, p. 6.

“When Lights Get Stuck.” The Globe, 7 July 1928, p. 6.

Scenes From Algonquin Park – Highway 60 Corridor

Ontario’s First Provincial Park

Algonquin Park was established in May 1893, the result of a Royal Commission to create “a wildlife and forest preserve, a health refuge, and field laboratory for scientific study.” It is the first provincial park in Ontario, a system with over 300 parks today. Algonquin Park is the province’s premiere location to take in fall colours, but more importantly, the park has an illustrious past and present to be discovered.

Algonquin Park. Source: Google Maps

Native Land

The Eastern Gate of Algonquin Park has an arched drive-thru entrance and a Parks Ontario store where permits are purchased here as well. It also has the Peace and Reconciliation Totem Pole. It was presented to Algonquin Park by the Algonquins of Ontario in 2015 and is beautifully carved from a century-old pine tree by Dan Bowers. The totem pole is traditionally associated with Nations in what is now Western Canada, but the artist wished to use the medium to pass on Algonquin culture.

It is a reminder that the park’s name is not just a name and should refer more to more than hiking, canoeing, camping, fall colours, or any other park activity or sight. It refers to the Algonquin peoples, a nation with rich culture and history whose traditional territory encompasses the park with active claims to the area.

An Industrious Past & Present

J.R. Booth was a logging baron who had a lot of activity in Algonquin Park’s rich forests. Logging in the Park stretches back to the 1800s and is a critical part in its history. To aid in transportation, Booth had a heavy hand in creating the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway (OA&PSR) in 1897. The route ran across central Ontario and the south portion of Algonquin Park.

The Algonquin Logging Museum is a main structure and a 1.5km trail of outdoor installations which the story of the people, events, technology of the logging industry, including the friction between preservation and industry. It is also a history that continues: logging is still allowed in the park today.

By Highway & Railway

Highway 60 winds its way through the southwestern portion of Algonquin Park over and between rivers, lakes, and hills. It runs from west to east from Huntsville in Muskoka to Renfrew near Ottawa. The Algonquin Park portion is named the Frank MacDougall Parkway. Highway 60 was completed through Algonquin Park in 1936. While there were smaller “roads” within the park connecting lakes, there was no main corridor passing across the park before the construction of Highway 60.

Before the main road, the main access to the park was the railroad. In 1905, J.R. Booth’s Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway was sold to the Grand Trunk Railroad (GTR). The GTR was in turn absorbed in the the Canadian National Railway (CNR) in the 1920s. The railway ran in a rough northwest-southeast orientation, crossing Highway 60 near Cache Lake, an area which served as the Algonquin Park Headquarters for many years and hosted a popular GTR hotel, the Highland Inn. The Park’s Highlands proved an challenge for the railway as many trusses over waterways were required as well as blasting through the Canadian Shield terrain. The railway survived until sections were abandoned by CRN between 1940 and 1959. A section of the old railway serves as a bike trail near Cache Lake at the Track and Tower Trail.

Algonquin Park in 1914. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to Algonquin!

The Algonquin Visitor Centre opened in 1993 to mark the park’s centennial. It has a shop operated by The Friends of Algonquin Park, a not-for-profit organization who purpose is to advance educational and interpretive programs in the park. They also publish self-guided tour books of the major trails in the park.

The building also has an exhibition which details the history of Algonquin Park. The lower level of the space details the natural history while the upper levels contains the cultural human history. It contains one of many references throughout the park to Tom Thomson, the famed early 20th century Canadian Painter who carried Algonquin Park as a muse for his works.

The Visitor Centre also opens up to a lookout spot and has a mini Fire Tower Trail, both which overlook Sunday Creek.

Boardwalking

The Spruce Bog Boardwalk Trail is a gentle, relaxing 1.5 km walk. It runs over boardwalk and forest and showcases the diversity of environments within Algonquin Park. A keen eye while walking this trail should produce some interesting flora and fauna, like mushrooms and the Spruce Grouse (in the spring months).

A Trail with a View

The Lookout Trail is a look through millions of years of pre-history of Algonquin Park. It is a grueling 2 km loop, the first half of which is a steep uphill climb. Along the way are giant boulders which were deposited in the last Ice Age as the ice retreated from this area and left this rolling landscape of hills, lakes, and rivers. For this reason, the topography gives the area the name “The Algonquin Highlands”.

The apex of the climb produces a worth-while, breath-taking view of the Park and the Lake of Two Rivers. The elevation and cooler climate of the Algonquin Highlands allow for this colour change much earlier than latitudes to the south around Toronto.

It’s Art!

The Algonquin Art Centre celebrates the artistic legacy of Algonquin Park. This of course begins with “The Legacy Path”, an outdoor exhibit about Tom Thomson’s life and time in the Park.

The museum building itself is a beautiful 1950s construction of wood and stone which actually served as the park’s first visitor centre. The indoor exhibition space in 2021 featured “The Spirit of The Group of Seven”, a collection of inspired works of the noted artists.

Tom Thomson & Canoe Lake

Canoe Lake’s modern association is in part with its namesake, day-long or multiple-day long canoe trips across its waters and between its islands. The facility at the lake outfits visitors with the essentials to make trips around the waterway.

Historically however, Canoe Lake is associated with the activities of Tom Thomson. The artist spent a good part of four years in Algonquin Park between 1914 and 1917. He spent his winters in Toronto (at the Studio Building) while exploring and painting the park during the more temperate months. Thomson arrived in the Park by train, getting off at the Canoe Lake Station on the north end of the lake.

Canoe Lake Station. Source: Friends of Algonquin Park

Thomson stayed in the milling town of Mowat on the northwest shore of the lake during the summers. He painted many of his artistic scenes from around Canoe Lake. He even took jobs in the Park, such as being a fire ranger in the summer of 1916.

Tom Thomson’s “Canoe Lake, Mowat Lodge,” 1914. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Thomson disappeared in the summer of 1917. His upturned canoe was found in the north end of lake on July 8, 1917 with no sign of the painter. Nearly week later, Thomson’s body turned up as well. Although the reported cause of death is by drowning, the events leading up to his death are a mystery even today as Thomson was an expert paddler and swimmer. Today there are several tributes to Tom Thomson, such a cairn (whose inscription is also viewed in the Visitor Centre) and totem pole near where he passed and a several plaques on the south shore of the park.

A visit to Algonquin Park is a sobering connection with the millions of years of natural history and the thousands of years of human history with the people who have inhabited, worked in, and enjoyed the Park’s many offerings.

Further Reading

“Algonquin Provincial Park: Ontario, Canada.” The Friends of Algonquin Park, https://www.algonquinpark.on.ca/index.php.

The Country Connection Magazine Story: Algonquin Park — Ontario’s Wilderness Legacy, http://www.pinecone.on.ca/MAGAZINE/stories/AlgonquinPark.html.

Kate, and Kate. “Paddling after Tom: A Canoe Lake Adventure.” The Great Canadian Wilderness, 27 July 2021, https://thegreatcanadianwilderness.com/paddling-tom-historical-canoe-lake-adventure/.

Mackay, Roderick. “Establishing Algonquin Park, a Place for Promoting Health and Recreation.” Toronto.com, 6 June 2019, https://www.toronto.com/community-story/9422828-establishing-algonquin-park-a-place-for-promoting-health-and-recreation/.

“Mowat (Tom Thomson Murder).” Ontario Abandoned Places, https://www.ontarioabandonedplaces.com/ontario/algonquin-park/mowat-tom-thomson-murder#:~:text=Unknown%20Ghost%20Town%20in%20Algonquin%20Park%2C%20Ontario%2C%20Canada&text=Mowat%20was%20a%20lumberman’s%20town,largest%20town%20in%20the%20Park.

“Riding the Old Railways Bike Trail.” Algonquin Outfitters – Your Outdoor Adventure Store, 6 Aug. 2017, https://algonquinoutfitters.com/riding-old-railways-bike-trail/.

ttlastspring, Author. Tom Thomson’s Last Spring, 23 Aug. 2020, https://ttlastspring.com/.

Vipond, Patti. “Wilderness Art in the Woods – the Algonquin Art Centre.” MuskokaRegion.com, 6 June 2019, https://www.muskokaregion.com/whatson-story/9423040-wilderness-art-in-the-woods-the-algonquin-art-centre/.

“Welcome to the Algonquin Park Archives and Collections Online.” The Friends of Algonquin Park : Online Collections, https://algonquinpark.pastperfectonline.com/.

Scenes From Newmarket

In 2021, Newmarket celebrates its 220th year of existence. Like many 19th century Ontario villages, its origin story lays in the establishment of a grist mill and a general store.

Illustrated historical atlas of the county of York, 1878. Source: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.

The Mill Pond

Fairy Lake stands south of Water Street, and is as old as the town. Despite its name, it is actually more like a pond. It is not naturally-formed either; it was created by damming the East Holland River to support early industry. This is why it was appropriately called Mill Pond. (It is unclear how or why Fairy Lake got its modern name.)

Newmarket Ont. Fairy Lake, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library.
View Across Fairy Lake, Newmarket Ont, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library

A recreation path entitled the Tom Taylor Trail follows Fairy Lake and the East Holland River down around to the Newmarket Municipal Offices (and beyond if one elects), through bridges, playgrounds, art installations, and gazebos. The Tom Taylor Trail is part of the larger Nokiidaa Trail which stretches from Aurora to East Gwillimbury. The area around Fairy Lake is also the Wesley Brooks Conservation Area.

A particularly interesting walk is the Tom Taylor Trail boardwalk. It has been adapted in 2021 to the pandemic with a single-direction going northbound.

Along the East Holland River

Across Water Street, the Riverwalk Commons provide for another interesting landmark. A plaque and a mural note the Roe & Borland Trading Post which stood at Main and Water Streets beginning in 1813.

A blue recreational path references the adjacent river. An installation likens the way to Newmarket’s living room. With a splash pad and a farmer’s market space nearby, it makes sense.

The East Holland River itself has gone through the impacts of urbanization and development. From Water Street, it is channelized and briefly disappears underground before emerging and following the Tom Taylor Trail north. The river was also straightened in sections, notably north of Queen Street.

Newmarket, 1878-2020. Source: Source: Historic Map Works & Google Maps 2021

A Quaint Main Street

Newmarket’s built heritage is scattered over several streets, across both sides the the Holland River. The History Hound, a prominent Newmarket historian, interestingly writes that before there were bridges across the waterway, the area actually developed as two competing communities: Newmarket, which was focused along Main Street, Water Street, and Eagle Street, and Garbutt Hill along Prospect Street and Gorham Street. Oddly, early maps seem to show a “street” running north-south between Main and Prospect Streets, which was “pencilled in” but never built or was erased from the street grid.

Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York, 1878. Source: Historic Map Works.

Main Street South is the obvious focal point in Old Newmarket. The quaint lower part of the road as well a few properties on adjoining street form a heritage conservation district, which aims to conserve and highlights the strip’s importance in the town’s commercial, institutional, political, and social development (taking over from Prospect Street).

A number of plaques in the sidewalk highlight some notable structures and explain their importance. Two markers write about Robert Simpson, who before opening his iconic department store on Queen Street in Toronto started off in Newmarket.

The Wesley Block at Main Street is a heritage structure built in 1902 as the Sovereign Bank, but its plaque references even earlier heritage, also connected to Toronto. William Lyon Mackenzie gave a rebellion speech in August 1837 from the balcony of the North American Hotel, which stood there since 1826. Newmarket was the “heart” of the rebellion as Mackenzie drew up a great amount of support for political reform and in opposition of the Family Compact.

The Old Town Hall, now an event space, stands on Botsford Street. It was built in 1882 with modern additions. As the town’s focal point, it is the backdrop of a number of themed plaques. Surrounding it is the appropriately named Market Square, a historical meeting place in Newmarket.

Facing the Old Town Hall, a parking lot interestingly hosts markers which seem to note the names of early Newmarket pioneers. The names are all over Newmarket’s street grid.

Tremaine Historical County Map of York County, 1860. Source: Ontario Historical County Maps.

By Railway

Nearby, a set of rail tracks are imbedded in the pavement of the lot of the Newmarket Public Library. The tracks and plaque references the The Toronto & York Radial Railway, which ran through this very spot and in Newmarket as a whole.

Radial Railway installation, Newmarket. Source: Google Maps, 2020.

The Toronto & York Radial Railway was an extension of the Metropolitan Street Railway, localized streetcar line which ran up Yonge Street from mid-town Toronto in the late 19th century and early to mid-20th century. It travelled north to communities like Lansing and Willowdale, Thornhill, Richmond Hill, and more. Unlike other notable towns in York County and later York Region, Newmarket’s commercial centre was not situated on Yonge Street, so the line had to move northeast — which it did at Moluck Drive. A Google Map shows its former route over modern landmarks.

Toronto & York Radial Railway. Source: Google Maps (as created by Scenes From A City)

The radial railway originally ran up Main Street, but in 1904 the tracks were moved west near the town hall where a station and shed stood (a local landmark references the station). It travelled diagonally to Queen Street, then east, before cutting north over the railway and the river.

Although the line was closed in 1930 and the tracks removed, an interesting leftover remains in a stone radical arch built in 1909 which stands just north of Queen Street at the East Holland River.

At the top of Main Street South at Davis Drive (which once served as the town line known as Huron Street) is the Newmarket Station. The station was built by the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1900, serving a passenger line which started as the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railroad in 1853, which runs throught the centre of the city alongside the Holland River. The Canadian National Railway now owns the right of way. This station building is not actually in operation as a rail structure today, with the GO station located directly across on the north side of Davis Drive.

Indigenous Links

Lastly, but certainly not least, although the modern look of Newmarket paints it as a very colonial town with obvious colonial links, the community produces surprising visible representations of the Aboriginal legacy of the area. On the Nokiidaa Trail at Fairy Lake, there is an artistic piece in the very distinct and beautiful Woodland style by Native artist, Donald Chretien. He also created a set of totem poles for the park. Their situation in the park is fitting: “Nokiidaa” is an Ojibwa term meaning “walking together.” (An Inukshuk also stands near the municipal offices.)

Next, the image of the trading post located over the East Holland River at Water Street depicts Chippewa families, and its plaque acknowledges the local indigenous community.

Finally, a carrying place trail used by Huron and Iroquois peoples once ran through Newmarket in its overall route from Lake Simcoe to Lake Ontario. There seems to be several accounts of where this ‘Main Trail’ ran, but one account states that it was the predecessor to today’s Main Street.

Further reading

“ABOUT Main St.” Main Street Newmarket BIA, newmarketmainstreet.ca/about-main-st/.

In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project, digital.library.mcgill.ca/countyatlas/.

“Metropolitan Street Railway (Toronto).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Aug. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Street_Railway_(Toronto).

Old Time Trains, http://www.trainweb.org/oldtimetrains/radial/Metro/history.htm.

“Richard Macleod.” NewmarketToday.ca, http://www.newmarkettoday.ca/writers/richard%20macleod.

“The Ontario Historical County Maps Project”, ArcGIS Web Application, utoronto.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=8cc6be34f6b54992b27da17467492d2f.

“Toronto and York Radial Railway.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 June 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_and_York_Radial_Railway.

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.