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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mono Cliffs Provincial Park is located about 15km north of Orangeville, Ontario. Established as a park in the 1970s, the area is a mixed landscape of plains, hills, lakes, old-growth forest, and of course, tall rock formations. It is also part of the Bruce Trail, which stretches between the Niagara Region and the Bruce Peninsula.
The path taken on this round-trip was the Carriage Trail, Spillway Trail, Walter Tovell Trail, Cliff-Top Side Trail, and the Carriage Trail once more complete the loop. It is about 5km altogether.
The trails of Mono Cliffs are numerous and multi-use, including horseback riding, hiking, and cycling. The park’s entrance at 3rd Line EHS starts one off with the Carriage Trail. It is a relatively easy hike through fields and forests.
The Spillway Trail continues through much of the same environment, entering a forested area at its north end as it meets the Walter Tovell Trail. From here the trail curls south.
The Cliff-Top Side Trail is the most popular of the Mono Cliffs trails and for good reason. It ascends an incline and eventually reaching the top of the cliffs. A set of wooden stairs takes one into the crevices of the impressive formations.
The Mono Cliffs themselves are part of the Niagara Escarpment, a geological wonder that curves through New York through southwestern Ontario to Illinois. The Niagara Escarpment formed about 450 million years ago.
A lookout point marks the second attraction of the Cliff-Top Side Trail, providing an impressive vista.
The trail has interpretative plaques along the way about the built and natural heritage of the Mono Cliffs area. One marker tells the story of the Village of Mono Centre, which one can reach at the southern end of the Cliff-Top Trail. Aboriginal peoples had visited the cliffs and area for thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1820s. Mono Centre itself grew from this point, reaching a notable level of activity in the 1850s and 60s.
To descend the escarpment, the Cliff-Top Side Trail meets up with the Carriage Trail which then reaches a long set of wooden stairs, showing off just how pronounced the elevation change is in the Mono Cliffs.
From here, the Carriage Trail returns back to the entrance, completing what is an interesting walk through millions of years of history.
“Heritage & Natural History.” Town of Mono, townofmono.com/about/heritage-natural-history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
University Avenue and College Street have obvious scholarly connotations. Although the main landmark where these two streets intersect is a political institution, what once stood at the site gives us a fascinating insight into their history, including the lost streets within them.
A New University
In 1827, John Strachan, the archdeacon of the Town of York, was looking for a university for the new colonial settlement. After visiting England, he received a charter for a new school, naming it King’s College, in honour of the monarch of the time. About 150 acres of land was acquired, consisting of park lots 13, 12, and 11 of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe’s land division system.
Along with that 150 acres, two private paths were also laid out: one extending from the property to Lot Street (later Queen Street) — known as The Queen Street Avenue in news articles and maps — and the other to Yonge Street — known as The Yonge Street Avenue. Collectively, these were known as The College Avenue.
Famed architect John Howard was charged with the designing the campus for the new King’s College. The palatial-like structure was intended to evoke grandure. Although his design was ultimately not used, Howard contributed to the would-be campus in 1832 with entrance gates and lodges at Queen Street, controlling access to the university property. Gates were also installed at Yonge Street in 1842 but a gatehouse did not go up until 1852. It is unclear if there were barriers on the western end of the Yonge Street Avenue near modern-day Beverley Street.
The End of King’s College & the new University of Toronto
King’s College finally opened in 1843, although Thomas Young rather than John Howard was responsible for the final design. This was the eastern wing of what was intended to be a larger structure. The building was used as a residence with classes being held on Front Street. Much debate plagued the university specifically on whether it should be religiously affiliated.
The only-five-year-old structure shut its doors in 1848. The following year, King’s College was no more, becoming the University of Toronto on January 1st, 1850. In the following decade, the unused residence became a Lunatic Asylum for Women. In a search for a site for the national government, a plan fell through in the 1850s to use the Queen’s Park grounds for Parliament Building and Government House. The King’s College building was not part of the plans.
The University of Toronto established University College in 1853, opening just west of the King’s College site along with a Medical School and Observatory. In 1859, the University of Toronto leased the land around the building to the City of Toronto for 999 years for a public park. This became University Park — or Queen’s Park — as opened by the Prince of Wales in the following year. A provision allowed for a potential future site for the Ontario Parliament, which at the time met at Front Street and Simcoe Street.
Campus Map of area bounded by College, St. George, Bloor and Surrey Place [Plan of the University Park], c. 1859. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto
A Long, Tree-Lined Avenue
The original laying out College Avenue in 1832 consisted of trees and shrubs were mingled together as a sort of wildwood. Famed American landscape gardener André Parmentier designed the road and grounds. Beginning in the 1840s, maps depict trees lining both College Avenues, creating a grand yet exclusive path to the university. Newspaper publisher John Ross Robertson wrote that a Mark Fitzpatrick, the gatekeeper of the College Avenue gatehouse, was responsible for planting the chestnut trees, which had to be brought in from the United States of America. On his visit to Canada in 1842, author Charles Dickens wrote positively on College Avenue: “a long avenue, which is already planted and made available as a public walk.”
Park Lane, University Street, and Avenue Street
In 1842, Park Lane (named after the scenic London street of the same name) was laid out adjacent to College Avenue on its east side from Queen Street to King’s College. Unlike College Avenue, this parallel road was public and largely residential. Park Lane seems to have also had a small right of way running eastward to opposite Surrey Place. It is renamed at some point to Avenue Street.
By 1861, Park Lane was renamed to University Street. Avenue Street kept its name, however.
In 1873, the Canadian Journal of Science, Literature, and History lamented the change in name from Park Lane to University Street. The journal wrote that the street was originally named ‘Park Lane’ by the donor of the land to make the street and was analogous to the London street of the same name. The street would have invoked thoughts of ‘noble and interesting part’ of Toronto. The naming to University was uncalled for and unfitting, especially as there was a much wider, adjacent street with almost the same name.
In 1881, at least one reader in The Globe was unhappy with the shabby state of the chestnut trees along College Avenue. He also angrily lamented over Toronto Council’s decision to replace the gate between College Avenue and University Street with post and bars.
In the same decade, the Ontario government proposed a new site for the Legislative Buildings on Queen’s Park. A map from 1880 labels the former Lunatic Asylum and King’s College building as an “old building to be demolished”. It was indeed razed in 1886 and the current Ontario Legislature were opened on the site in 1892.
In the same year of King’s College’s destruction, property owners with land abutting onto the Yonge Street Avenue complained of the gate separating their property from the street.
A New University Avenue and College Street
In 1896, the College Avenue was renamed and separated into two differently named streets. The Queen Street Avenue became University Avenue, merging the wider College Avenue and the narrower University Street. A row of trees separated the two former roads.
The Yonge Street Avenue became part of an existing College Street which existed to its west.
There was also a proposal in the 1890s to run electrified streetcar lines up University Avenue, replacing horse-drawn cars on parallel McCaul Street. The scheme did not go through, although rapid transit would come to the street some sixty years later.
Improvements, Loss, and Renewal in the 20th Century
By the first decades of the 20th century, College Street and University Avenue maintain some of their chestnut trees planted many decades ago. The fences that separated the old University Street and College Avenue, along with the barrier blocking properties on the old Yonge Street Avenues, are removed. The gatehouse at Yonge Street disappeared on maps in the 1890s and the gatehouse at Queen Street are removed by 1910. College Street ran a horse-drawn streetcar since 1887, which was electrified in the following decade under a Carlton streetcar route.
In 1930, changes came to both College Street and University Avenue. In the former, College Street from Yonge Street to Queen’s Park was widened to match with the section further west. University Avenue was also extended south of Queen Street to Front Street in that same year.
In an early attempt of commemoration, The Globe remembered Toronto’s past in 1934 by displaying the history of College Street and the gates leading into King’s College.
University Avenue itself was also widened in 1948, particularly the old University Street. Traffic was separated in north-south directions on either side of the median with the old College Avenue taking southbound vehicles and the old University Street taking northbound vehicles. By this point, most of the original trees from the prior century were gone.
By the 1960s, University Avenue was unfortunately reduced to a shabby state. A firm re-landscaped the central median of the boulevard with internal gardens and planters. In 1963, the University Subway line opened under the avenue.
University & College Today
Today, the view up University Avenue from Queen Street presents a great lead-up to the majestic Queen’s Park. In this way, it invokes its past as a grand corridor. Although times have understandably changed, lost are the gatehouses, fences, and trees that marked the 19th century. The busy intersection of College Street at Yonge Street contains fewer signs of its past as a gateway to King’s College.
Arthur, Eric. 2017. Toronto, No Mean City. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
“Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto: Fire Insurance Maps from the Victorian Era.” 2020. Goad’s Atlas of the City of Toronto: Fire Insurance Maps from the Victorian Era. Accessed March 26. http://goadstoronto.blogspot.com/.
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.
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.
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.
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.