Scenes From Deerlick Creek

Deerlick Creek is located in the post-war Parkwoods-Donalda neighbourhood of North York. The stream runs roughly 3 kilometres from its northern point its mouth at the Don River, making it a tributary to the larger river and part of its watershed. Deerlick Creek passes through a couple of parks — Brookbanks Park and Lynedock Park — and crosses several streets. It is an interesting stroll through nature and suburbia, and through the layers of pre-contact, colonial, and post-war Toronto.

Deerlick Creek, 2023.
Source: Google Maps

Deerlick Creek was given its name in the 19th century (as early as 1841) by farmers of the area, when deer and salmon could be found in the ravine. Unlike other colonial-era waterways in Toronto, there does not appear to have been mills or industry built on the stream, which suggests it was not a forceful current.

Deerlick Creek in the 1860 Tremaine’s Atlas
Source: Old Toronto Maps

The current headwaters of the creek are in Lynedock Park, a locale which also has a middle school. The neighbourhood north of York Mills Road around the creek dates mostly from the early 1960s and is dotted with mostly post-war bungalows.

Deerlick Creek and community, north of York Mills Road, 1992.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Curiously, these houses were not the first to be built here. In the 1950s, there were at least six houses built before the current neighborhood.  Driveways curled up from York Mills Road, branching off to the houses. Deerlick Creek ran in the middle of them. In 1965, most of the houses were integrated in the neighbourhood. Beginning in the 1970s, more of the houses were razed for other homes and apartment buildings. Possibly two houses remain today — one house for certain and a potentially altered house. Both homes are identifiable through through their odd orientations compared to the street. Their garages face away from the street, pointing to the repositioning of their driveways, as well as a front door placed to the side in one.

Deerlick Creek and community, north of York Mills Road, 1956 & 1965.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Deerlick Creek was channelized and straightened beginning around 1960 when the neighbourhood was under construction. At its most northern point, the stream disappears into a culvert at Roywood Drive. A footbridge connects the park and schoolyard to the neighboorhood. There are improvements happening along the creek to combat area basement flooding.

Deerlick Creek ventures south under Lynedock Crescent. It is not clear how wide and powerful it might have been historically, but today, it is a narrow, shallow, and murky-looking waterway. Then, it disappears briefly under York Mills Drive.

On the other side, the ravine is part of Brookbanks Park. Deerlick Creek snakes around the park with paved and unpaved paths on either side of it and bridges crossing the creek. The stream is narrow here too and not fast flowing. Evidence of erosion is visible with some retaining walls. While a ‘wild’ element remains on a small level, sections have likely been straightened

Brookbanks Park is the physical heart of the Parkwoods-Donalda neighbourhood. It has multiple entry points and is a well used and valuable greenspace for the surrounding community. This interconnectedness is also present when one looks up from the ravine to see the backs of houses. The neighbourhood was built beginning in the 1960s. A by-product of the development was a lot of of the tree canopy in the ravine was lost. One would think its bio-diversity was also negatively impacted too.

Deerlick Creek and community, south of York Mills Road, 1956 & 1965.
Source: City of Toronto Archives

Deerlick Creek passes under Brookbanks Drive. Like its similarly named park, the street also slinks through the neighbourhood. There is a great vista of the Brookbanks Ravine on the south side of the street which highlights its contours and the tree canopy.

Interestingly, this area has some tangible pre-contact history. Dr. Mima Kapches conducted digs in Deerlick Creek ravine in the 1980s and 1990s. The digs resulted in the discovery of a Meadowood cache blade from 1000 BCE and a small pebble containing a human face in effigy believed to be from 4700 BCE. Jason-Ramsey Brown writes that the discoveries have some archeologists believing the area of Deerlick Creek may have a season pottery production and firing campsite.

In the 1970s, the Toronto Field Naturalists surveyed Brookbanks Ravine and Deerlick Creek and noted 105 species of birds and 167 species of trees could be found in the valley. It also noted that while deer may have roamed freely a century ago, now the largest animal groups were squirrels and skunks. The Naturalists also noted the ravine was threatened by “tidying by the parks department and construction on the edge of the ravine by homeowners.”

Brookbanks Park ends at Cassandra Drive where a narrow path leads one to and from the park. Deerlick Creek veers southwest, under the highway, and flowing into the Don River at a golf course. An unpaved path seems to run next to its course, although it is unclear how far it stretches.

North from Brookbanks Drive, Valley Woods Drive is an interesting street sandwiched between the Don Valley Parkway and the ravine. Valley Woods itself was laid out beginning in 1965, much like the rest of the neighbourhood. At the foot of the street is Citadel Village, which at the time of its construction was a representation of idyllic, post-war, suburban living.

Citadel Village was designed by Tampold & Wells and was completed in 1967. It is a collection of townhouses surrounding a circular apartment — presumably the “citadel”. A 1966 promotional advertisement described Citadel Village as a “southern European village on a mountaintop with a thickly wooded ravine on the east and a panoramic view of the city to the west.” Other selling points in ads in the following years highlight the family-friendly development particularly in its spaciousness and lack of traffic, comfort, and proximity to local amenities and downtown (15 minutes by the new Don Valley Parkway!). Citadel Village is listed as Toronto heritage property.

Citadel Village, 1968.  1                                 Source: Toronto Public Library

Valley Woods Road slinks up the side of the ravine with connections to the park. It also has a bus serving the street. At the top of the street at York Mills Road, a new condominium and planned community are under construction, named “The Ravine”. The development will consist of several towers and homes, and replaces rental townhouses previously on the site. It is the next layer in the history of Deerlick Creek and its surrounding communities.

Works Consulted

“The Biggest Townhouses In Town.” The Toronto Daily Star, 9 Nov. 1968, p. 59.

“Brookbanks Park and Deerlick Creek.” Greck, https://www.greck.ca/Projects/Brookbanks-Park-and-Deerlick-Creek.

“Citadel Village.” The Toronto Daily Star, 22 Aug. 1966, p. 31.

Donvalleygirls. “The History of Brookbanks Park and Deerlick Creek.” Exploring Toronto’s Don Valley, Lake Ontario, and Green Spaces in between., 29 Feb. 2016, https://donvalleygirls.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/the-history-of-brookbanks-and-deerlick-park/.

“The Easy Life of Citadel Village.” The Toronto Daily Star, 20 July 1968, p. A50.

“Friendly People.” The Toronto Daily Star, 31 Dec. 1971, p. 40.

L, Mishy. Brookbanks Park and Deerlick Creek, https://mishylainescorneroftheworld.blogspot.com/2013/04/brookbanks-park-and-deerlick-creek.html.

Lakey, Jack. “Brookbanks Park Still Plagued by Damage from 2005 Flash Flood.” Thestar.com, Toronto Star, 1 Sept. 2014, https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/the_fixer/2014/09/01/brookbanks_park_still_plagued_by_damage_from_2005_flash_flood.html.

Little, Olivia. “Brookbanks Park in Toronto Comes with Plenty of Natural Beauty and a Rich History.” BlogTO, BlogTO, 14 Jan. 2021, https://www.blogto.com/city/2021/01/brookbanks-park-toronto-comes-plenty-natural-beauty-and-rich-history/.

“Metro Naturalists Set Plans to Preserve Area Ravines.” The Toronto Star, 26 Feb. 1975, p. C15.

“Parkwoods Donalda.” StrollTO, https://www.strollto.com/stroll/parkwoods-donalda/.

Quinter, David. “Toronto Butterfly Habitat Urged.” The Toronto Star, 6 July 1976, p. B1.

Ramsay-Brown, Jason. Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests: Their Natural Heritage and Local History. James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers, 2020.

“The Warmest Townhouses in Town.” The Toronto Daily Star, 1 Feb. 1969, p. 25.

Yu, Sydnia. “Master-Planned Community in the Middle of Mother Nature.” The Globe and Mail, 2015 May 1AD, p. G2.

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.

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 Mono Cliffs Provincial Park

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 topographical map of Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, 2021. Source: Google Maps.

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.

Further Reading

“Heritage & Natural History.” Town of Mono, townofmono.com/about/heritage-natural-history.

“Mono Cliffs Provincial Park Management Plan.” Ontario.ca, http://www.ontario.ca/page/mono-cliffs-provincial-park-management-plan.

“Mono Cliffs.” Welcome to Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/monocliffs.

“The Niagara Escarpment.” The Bruce Trail Conservancy, brucetrail.org/pages/about-us/the-niagara-escarpment.

Scenes From Leaside Spur Trail

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.

The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway before the Leaside Spur in the Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

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.

Leaside Spur Line in The Pleistocene of the Toronto Region, 1932. Source: University of Toronto Map & Data Library
Leaside Spur Line in the Topographical map, Ontario, circa 1942. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

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.

The former Oriole Station in an undated photo, likely the 1960s or 1970s. Source: Toronto Public Library.

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.

The second Oriole Station in 1955. Source: Toronto Public Library.
Toronto Transit Commission System, 1954. Source: Transit Toronto.

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.

The approximate former location of Oriole Station in 2021.

Further Reading

“Don Mills.” Google Books, Google, http://www.google.ca/books/edition/Don_Mills/E_vuCwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0.

“Don Mills Trail.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Mills_Trail.

“Oriole Station.” Toronto Railway Historical Association, 28 Jan. 2021, http://www.trha.ca/trha/history/stations/oriole-station/.

“Toronto’s Lost Villages.” Google Books, Google, http://www.google.ca/books/edition/Toronto_s_Lost_Villages/ummlDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0.

Scenes From Tommy Thompson Park and The Leslie Street Spit

Tommy Thompson Park and The Leslie Street Spit contain some of the most interesting and oddest landscapes in Toronto. They’ve been called an Urban Wilderness and an Accidental Wilderness. Exploring their history and geography, one can see why. They embody Toronto as a whole: the intriguing and sometimes unexpected intersection of nature and city.


Many Paths, Many Landscapes

First, there’s a careful distinction to be made of the two places. Tommy Thompson Park and the Leslie Street Spit (or the Leslie Spit or just The Spit) are used interchangeably by many people. The reality is one is located within the other. That is to say, the Leslie Spit is a geographic feature and Tommy Thompson Park is the recreational area housed in it.

The entrance of Tommy Thompson Park and the Leslie Spit is located at Unwin Street where it meets the bottom of Leslie Street. If travelling south from Lake Shore Boulevard by road, one is struck by how bizarre a stretch it is. A streetcar barn, a mail facility, a concrete plant, tool and equipment rental place, and most curiously, an allotment garden all make up the scene. At the same time, the Martin Goodman Trail also passes through the area, making bicycle traffic a natural thing for the Spit (the park’s car lot also has a BikeShare station.)

The Baselands just off the entrance is Tommy Thompson Park’s first landscape. This is a thicket of bushes, shrubs, and trees — and rubble. The red-osier dogwood offer some colour in the spring-time grey and brown.

One emerges from Baselands to meet with the Multi-Use Trail, a paved path used by walkers, runners, cyclists, and sometimes park staff vehicles. The trail runs the course of the Spit from the entrance to its most southern tip. If one doesn’t pass through pedestrian bridge nearly half-way through the 5-kilometre length, one can branch out to the north of the cell bays and pass through the Flats and Headlands. The lighthouse is a natural goal and following the multi-use trail to the end offers a great reward. But the side-trails are well worth it too.

The Spit splits into the three paths. Along with the Multi-Use path, there is a Nature Trail and Pedestrian Trail. If on foot, these quiet and more slower-paced alternatives allow one to take in the Spit in a truly unique way.

The Nature Trail on the north side of the main paved path hugs the north shore of the Spit. It offers views of the marina, embayments, and the great skyline of Toronto beyond them all along the way. Numbered trail markers show the way. It is also on the way to the Ecological Bird Research Centre, one of a few scientific and educational functions of the park.

The Pedestrian Trail runs south of the Multi-Use Trail. It offers clear blue lake views, along with views of Cell 1 where wildlife undoubtedly lives. The shores along this trail also show the most interesting debris.

A History of Many Names

The curious history of the Leslie Street Spit started in the late 1950’s and continued into the 1960s. It was designed to be a breakwater for Toronto harbour. For this reason, the official name for the Leslie Spit is the mouthful-ish “Outer Harbour East Headland”. By 1970, a 5-kilometre “arm” made of infill and construction materials extended into the water. The main road on this landform is now the Multi-Use trail. Over the next several decades, several “branches” would be made to jut out from this “spine”, creating endikements and bays. For this reason, the Leslie Spit is better labelled as a man-made peninsula rather than a naturally-occuring spit.

A pre-Leslie Spit eastern Toronto waterfront, 1950. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“Harbor Headland Ahead Of Schedule” The Globe & Mail, Oct 3, 1968. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.
“The big key to waterfront development”, The Globe & Mail, May 27, 1971. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.

By the early 1970s, the anticipated port activity in Toronto’s waters never materialized. The East Headland became obsolete as a commercial project. As the decade progressed, a curious thing happened. Nature took over. Birds used the peninsula as migratory stop. The potential of the Spit as a recreational area, namely sailing and boating, also entered the conversation. So much so that the area was known as “The Aquatic Park”.

“New park: Do we want wall-to-wall boats?”, The Globe & Mail, Feb 4, 1977. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.

In 1977, a client group consisting of Metro Toronto Regional Conservation Authority and Metro Toronto Park Commission members hired a consultant firm to report on the possibilities of the peninsula. Ideas included a sailing school, marine hotel, camp grounds, a hostel, and a wildlife and nature preserve. Curiously, the north shore of the Spit, already used by recreational boats, was not included in the report. The report put naturalists and recreationists at odds — a theme that continues today. In 1983, the Leslie Street Spit was named “Tommy Thompson Park”, after the longtime Toronto Parks Commissioner. The Toronto & Region Conservation Authority manages the parkland today.

The Leslie Street Spit, 1992. Source: City of Toronto Archives.


Trash or Built Heritage?

A common sight of The Leslie Spit is the piles of bricks, cement blocks, rebar, scrap metal, and more on its trails and on its shores. People have combined two of these elements — the rebar and bricks — to make some makeshift art installations.

It has been said that because the Spit is in a way akin to garbage dump, it is a valuable asset in that it literally is the “archaeology of Toronto”. Indeed, debris excavated to build the downtown subway lines is said to rest at the peninsula. Beyond that, is any of the rubble of the headland actually important?

One brick has the pressing of “F Price” and it may provide an insight into Toronto history a whole. The Prices were a family of brick makers on Greenwood Avenue. The most famous of them are perhaps brothers Isaac Price and John Price — the latter who ran last brickmaking entreprise on Greenwood.

The identity and origin of this “F Price” on this particular brick is a mystery, but may refer to a Fred Price, who was in business in the 1920s. He may have been a brother or son or nephew to the Isaac and John. Fred Price looks to have partnered with a George J Smith. Together they formed Price & Smith, which operated on the west side of Greenwood Avenue north of the railway tracks (where the subway yard now sits). By the mid-1930s, the establishment ceased to appear in the city directories. The historical significance of Price & Smith and brickyards from the same period is in providing the bricks which made the housing stock of Toronto in its growth period after World War I.

“Price & Smith”, The Globe, April 18, 1924. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.

Urban Wilderness

Today, the Leslie Spit is an intriguing refuge for many plants and animals. Some of these are species found in other parts of Toronto, like cattails, goldenrod, trumpeter swans, red-wing black birds, and beavers. Some are to the city as a whole, like bats, owls, and cottonwood trees, which are threatened by the pesky cormorant. The Leslie Spit’s importance as a migratory bird stopover led to it to being declared an “Important Bird Area” by Birdlife International in 2000.

There are two main rules to Tommy Thompson Park: no motorized vehicles and no dogs. Both are to safeguard the peninsula as a habitat to seen and unseen wildlife. The lack of cars is an obvious rule with the exhaust fumes and loudness among other threats providing obvious disruptions. Bikes are allowed and are popular on the Spit, but speeds are capped at 20 km/hour to protect not only pedestrians but wildlife like turtles that may wander onto the path. The dogs or pets policy dates back to the 1980s. Dogs can be a threat to ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. With a population of coyotes on the Spit, pets themselves can also be at risk too.

The balance between human use and environmental respect remains today. With new controversies and challenges arising (like filming), careful stewartship should perserve the Leslie Street Spit for decades and centuries to come!

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 The Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens

The Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens is a beautiful park in midtown Toronto which dates back almost ninety years. The cause to memorialize its namesake Alexander Muir was so great that he had the gardens dedicated to him twice.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 2020. Source: Google Maps.

The first Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens was located near Lawton Boulevard. It was in a triangular plot of land caused by the unusual eastward veering of Yonge Street near Heath Street. The “correction” was made to directly align Yonge Street in the original Town of York with Lake Simcoe when the street was originally surveyed in the 1790s. Yellow Creek flowed through the park.

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

With construction beginning in 1933, the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens were officially opened on August 6, 1934. It was established 24 years after Muir’s death on June 26, 1906. The Gardens were located directly across Mount Pleasant Cemetery — his final resting spot.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1934. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

“Alexander Muir Memorial Garden Officially Opened”, The Globe August 7, 1934. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1947. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The entrance to the gardens featured an ornamental gate at Yonge Street. This led to an impressive stone wall and terrace with a carving of a verse of ‘The Maple Leaf Forever” — Alexander Muir’s best known work. In the garden were 1,000 rose bushes and a well-manicured lawn. In the north of the park was a sunken rockery garden and lily pools below a willow tree. Other ‘Canadian’ trees and Japanese cherry trees were also planted.