Tag Archives: Don River

Scenes From East Don Parkland

It’s all about the layers in the East Don Parkland. The residual landscape from the last Ice Age, the ravine, which stretches from Leslie and Steeles to Don Mills and Sheppard, has come to see pre-contact wilderness, colonial farming and industry, and post-war revitalization and reconfiguration.

But ‘East Don Parkland’ is a bit of a misnomer if only because it encompasses not only the east branch of the Don River but another – albeit smaller – tributary waterway.

German Mills Creek originates just to the north of Steeles in its historic namesake Markham community (sadly, now lost). The label is pretty literal, too: German Mills was once an industrious village along John Street founded by Bavarian-born William Berczy and a group of his countrymen and women. In addition to being a prosperous settlement, the community was instrumental in the early development of York too. The goods supplied by the mills aided in constructing the actual built form of the young town. The German Mills pioneers also cleared Yonge Street from Eglinton to Thornhill before the Queen’s Rangers finished the job.

East Don Parkland became part of Toronto’s parks network in the 1980s after efforts to remediate and rehabilate a river that had been worn out by European activity. Today, it is home to a number of flora and fauna, most notably salmon and white-tailed deer, the latter which are prominently displayed on the park’s signage. A neat tidbit: the deer’s precense in Toronto dates back to around 9000 years after the end of the last Ice Age.

Cummer Avenue bisects (or trisects?) East Don Parkland and offers more history. Unsurprisingly, the street’s name plays homage to the family who toiled around and built it – although to different designs.

Jacob and Elizabeth Kummer (the name was inexplicably changed to a ‘C’ around 1820), like the pioneers of Markham were of German descent, and came to the Toronto area in 1795, first settling near Yonge and Eglinton. They would relocate further up the main street to Willowdale where they would amass an extraordinary fortune. Their original property was a 190-acre lot fronting Yonge and stretching to Bayview. With subsequent generations of Cummers, their holdings grew to encompass not only large plots fronting Yonge but portions of the East Don Valley too. Whereas the former real estate was good for farming and commercial activities, the power of the river allowed the Cummers to engage in some industry. In 1819, they built and began operating a sawmill.

The Don property was interestingly significant in that early settlers as well as First Nations peoples took part in church and camp activities there. Through the meetings, the area was famously known as “Scripture Town” and “Angel Valley”.

East Don from Tremaine’s Map, 1860. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

Around the 1850s, Jacob III, grandson of Jacob Kummer, built a farmhouse to overlook the valley. The home isn’t perfectly parallel to the street it rests on, making it a bit of an intriguing anomaly with the surrounding post-war subdivision.

To connect the Cummers’ Yonge and East Don holdings, a side road was constructed. Today, we know that road allowance as Cummer Avenue. Where the street crossed the East Don, it veered south to follow the curve of the river on its way to Leslie Street. The aforementioned mill was also located near this junction.

East Don River and Old Cummer, 1950. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

In the mid-1960s, Cummer was re-oriented away from the valley. A bridge that used to carry car traffic across the river serves as a reminder of its former course. One has to think of the vehicular ghosts when traversing the recreational trail that replaced the street.

A paved portion also leads to Old Cummer GO Station, where the street once passed through before the station’s construction in 1978. For years I puzzled about the station’s name. 

South of Finch Avenue, with golden foliage of fall to accentuate the walk, the trail winds on. 

So does the river, although not as it once did. Like Cummer Avenue, the Don’s history has come with some alterations. Along the way is at least one algae-covered oxbow – an orphaned or even ghost segments separated from the river’s course. This particular one was severed around the early 1950s.

East Don River, 1950. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

East Don River oxbow, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

One has to note the monstrosity of human construction that is the CNR Richmond Hill GO line looming above the park.

A fallen tree trunk spanning across the river instantly urges me of more pioneering connections. It reminds me of an Elizabeth Simcoe depiction of an early bridge across the Lower Don River.

Winchester Street, bridge over Don R. (Playter’s bridge), 1794. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Finally, at the park’s southern end is Old Leslie Street. Just like Old Cummer, Leslie used to take on a different route. Heading south, the street used to jogged west at Sheppard before continuing south, all presumably to avoid crossing the Don River.

Sheppard and Leslie, 1961. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The junction of Old Leslie and Sheppard was the nexus of the tiny, lost mill community of Oriole, named for George S. Henry’s homestead located off the Betty Sutherland Trail

Old Leslie Street and Sheppard, 1956. Source: Toronto Public Library. Oriole Wesleyan Methodist Church stood on the southwest corner from 1873 to the 1950s.

By 1969, the street was rerouted directly through Sheppard. Old Leslie remains mainly as a service road for the Leslie TTC Station, terminating across from North York General Hospital.

Useful Links

City in the Trees – Retrospective: Sheppard, Leslie, and the Don

Discover the Don – Walk The Don – East Don Parkland 

City in the Trees – Treasures on the Doorstep

Hiking The GTA – Old Cummer Road 

Lone Primate – Closed Old Cummer Avenue

Patricia W. Hart – Pioneering in North York: A History of the Borough

Richard Fiennes-Clinton – Muddy York: A History of Toronto Until 1834

Scott Kennedy – Willowdale: Yesterday’s Farms, Today’s Legacy 

Scenes From Crescent Town

I have a borderline obsessive transit habit. Whenever I travel out of Kennedy Station, I have to sit on the north side of the subway car. Doing that gives me a good view of Warden Woods going by Warden Station and of the Don Valley as it passes under the Bloor Viaduct.

But sitting on the north side of the train presents another sighting: the pedestrian bridge at Victoria Park Station. For the longest time, I never knew what it looked like inside. Or where it went. Or if people use it.

Crescent Town Pedestrian Bridge (1)

Now, walking through it for the first time, I know the sky bridge over Victoria Park Avenue leads to Crescent Town, the towered community in the southeast corner of East York. And yes, people use it. It’s an important link for them and their main transit hub.

Crescent Town Pedestrian Bridge (2)

My introduction to Crescent Town comes with a neat mural that summarizes the neighbourhood with beautiful scenes of its past and present. Funded through the city’s StreetARToronto program, it’s entitled ‘Tempo, Toil, & Foil’ and was created by artists and community members.

Crescent Town Mural (1)

Crescent Town Mural (2)

Crescent Town (1)

This is Dentonia Park, the 6-acre athletic field that fronts a courtyard and its surrounding apartment towers. It’s named for Dentonia Park Farm, the dairy farm established here in 1896 by Walter Massey of the famed Toronto family of benevolent industrialists. It was named after his wife, Susan Denton Massey. Dentonia Park Farm stretched from Dawes Road to Pharmacy Avenue and Dentonia Park Avenue to Medhurst Road.

CrescentTownAerial1924

Dentonia Park Farm, Goads Fire Insurance Atlas, 1924. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

CrescentTownAerial1956

Dentonia Park Farm aerial, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives. The section of Victoria Park running adjacent to Crescent Town was built when the community was built.

Dentonia Farm Postcard 1910 (2) East York Then and Now

Dentonia Farm Postcard, circa 1910. Source: East York Then and Now.

Despite the continuity of open space, it’s hard to imagine what this land would’ve looked like a hundred years ago. But I get a little sign of it through the unusual rolling contours in the otherwise flat park. I don’t know it for sure, but my hunch is that the dip in the land hides a former creek valley.

Dentonia Park (1)

Dentonia Park (3)
At the far west end of the park, a tree lined path shields a bit more history about Dentonia Park Farm. The ‘Crescent’ in Crescent Town also goes back to the Masseys, who gifted land for Crescent School, once located here.

Dentonia Park Farm plaque

Dentonia Park Hydro Corridor

Following a corridor of hydro towers (more on that later), I circle back around to the main path and find a way down to Crescent Town Road and Massey Square. Ringed around the streets is the second group of towers in the community.

Massey Dairy Farm was bought by developers in 1969, and by 1971, they constructed apartment towers and marketed the area as Crescent Town, a new way of living in the city.

Crescent Town (2)

Crescent Town

Crescent Town construction, September 16, 1971. Source: Getty Images.

Crescent Town Massey Square Pedestrian Bridge

This development wasn’t isolated to Crescent Town. Across Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s, tower living became the planning focus of the city. Communities were created out of former farms, and then marketed as having onsite amenities  – laundry, shopping, recreation – and conveniently located near transit or highways. The objective of these high-rise towers was to make a profit out of low-cost social housing.

CrescenTownAerial1965

Crescent Town Aerial, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

CrescentTownAdDec311971

Crescent Town Ad, Toronto Star, December 31, 1971. The sky bridge was a vital part even since the neighbourhood’s inception. Source: Toronto Star Archives.

But the problem with communities like Crescent Town and St. James Town (and Regent Park, for that matter) was that as much as they were made to be their own self-contained ‘towns’, it instead made them isolated from the city around them.

CrescenTownAerial1973

Crescent Town Aerial, 1973. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

As I approach the towers of Massey Square, I’m reminded of a fortress. My goal is to get to the creek trail I know exists on the other side, but I’m not sure if I can get there through the wall of highrises. It’s a definite physical and psychological barrier. Instead, I walk to Victoria Park to get there, passing Crescent Town Elementary School.

Crescent Town Elementary School (1)

Crescent Town Elementary School (2)

One isn’t cognizant of city borders while traveling them (or, at least, I’m not), but across the road is Dentonia Golf Course (also once part of the Massey property) and Scarborough. I’m standing in East York. Further south is the Old City of Toronto. It’s a neat crossroads. It’s our local Four Corners USA.

Dentonia Golf Course

A long stairway leads into the valley of Taylor-Massey Creek. With winter approaching, it’s a rather dead and haunting scene. But even so, it’s easy to see this is a great space.

Massey Creek Trail (1)      Massey Creek Trail (2)

There’s a constructed wetland, and several paths that traverse the rolling topography of the park. By a lookout point, there’s the remnants of a little fire, freshly extinguished and filling the air with its ashy aroma.

Massey Creek Trail (3)

Massey Creek Trail (4)

Massey Creek Trail (6)

Massey Creek Trail (7)

At the park’s highest point, I find the Massey Goulding Estate house, otherwise known as Dentonia. Constructed here in 1921, the cottage is built in a very distinct Tudor style. I struggle to think of other examples of Tudor architecture in the city – there seem to be very few, so this is a treat. Perfectly positioned to overlook the farm once upon a time, Dentonia is its last remaining structure today.

Children's Peace Theatre Dentonia (1)

Dentonia Farm Postcard 1910 (1) East York Then and Now

Dentonia Farm Postcard, circa 1910. Source: East York Then and Now.

Dentonia Park Farm Library Archives (1)

Dentonia Park Farm, undated. Source: Library & Archives Canada.

After the dairy enterprise ceased, the house and park came under the ownership of the Borough of East York and then the City of Toronto. Children’s Peace Theatre – celebrating its 15th year in 2015 – now makes its home inside (and outside) Dentonia.

Children's Peace Theatre Dentonia (2)
Children's Peace Theatre Dentonia (3)

Descending some ancient narrow stairs back down, I follow Taylor Creek Trail under and past Dawes Road. Taylor, by the way, is the other old, industrious Toronto family, who owned mills along the Don River, including Todmorden Mills.

Taylor Creek (1)      Taylor Creek (2)

Taylor Creek Trail continues westward until it meets the Don River near the Forks of the Don. Tracking the trail the entire way sounds like fun, but I opt to take that adventure another day. Instead, I make towards the trail’s entry/exit point towards Lumsden Avenue.

 Taylor Creek Trail (1) Taylor Creek Trail (2)

Lumsden isn’t my goal, however – the Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor is. I’m fascinated by this informal path because of its former incarnation as a railway corridor. Looking at the dead vegetation lining it only increases the thoughts of ghosts and past lives.

Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor Canadian Northern Ontario Railway (1)

Yes, Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor once housed tracks for the now defunct Canadian Northern Ontario Railway, which ran from the also lost Todmorden Station on the north side of Don River, through Taylor Creek valley, and northeast into Scarborough and beyond. It bisected Dentonia Park Farm (now at the north end of Dentonia Park).

CanadianNorthernOntarioRailwaySubway1913

Canadian Northern Ontario Railway, 1913. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

The Bloor-Danforth subway tracks between Kennedy and Victoria Park Stations are the only tangible remnants of the CNOR’s former corridor in Toronto, which was out of use in the city as early as 1925. (And here I thought the subway was carved out of farmland and expropriated homes). The rest has been swallowed up by the city around it. If one looks, however, the signs of existence are there. (Note to self: take on this adventure).

CanadianNorthernOntarioRailwaySubway2015

Canadian Northern Ontario Railway, 2015. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

Following the hydro corridor east would bring me back to Dentonia Park, but I make my exit at Eastdale Avenue. Concluding my travels, I find my way back to Dawes Road and follow its odd diagonal routing down to The Danforth. That too is something to explore.

Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor Canadian Northern Ontario Railway (2)         Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor Canadian Northern Ontario Railway (3)

 

Useful Links

Edward Relph – Toronto: Transformations in a City and Its Region – ‘Chapter 5: A Post-suburban Skyscraper City’

ERA Architects – Toronto Tower Renewal: Lessons From Crescent Town

Globe and Mail – “A Toronto subway station redesign links neighbourhood and nature” by Dave LeBlanc

Ron Brown – In Search of the Grand Trunk: Ghost Rail Lines in Ontario – ‘Chapter 19: The Canadian Northern Railway: Ontario’s Forgotten Main Line From Toronto to Hawkesbury’

Scenes From Warden Woods Park

Toronto Neighbourhood Walks Project – Crescent Town

Toronto Star – “Once Upon a Time: Dentonia Park born of Massey’s dairy dream” by Valerie Hauch

Torontoist – “Historicist: ‘If It’s City Dairy It’s Clean and Pure. That’s Sure.'” by Kevin Plummer

Train Web – Canadian Northern Ontario Railway – Toronto to Ottawa Line

Urban Toronto Forum – ‘Rare Maps of Toronto’ Thread | Page 12

Scenes From East Don Trail

The East Don Trail goes by a few names, each having something to do with its layered history. Entering from Wynford Drive, the path begins with a long corridor and a steep enough descent.

East Don Trail (2)
East Don Trail (3)
It’s not long before a railroad – the Canadian National Railway, to be specific – runs its course overhead.  Under it, there’s an installation by Robert Sprachman entitled ‘High Water Mark’ which presents a message about the Don’s changing water levels over the years.

East Don Trail Canadian National Railroad 1

East Don Trail High Water Mark (1)
Not a short while later, another towering railway intersects the way. This is the Canadian Pacific Railway. It’s the same one that stretches to British Columbia and the same one that was promised to the province in exchange for joining Confederation. It started operation in Toronto in 1884. On the other side, there’s some more art.

East Don Trail Canadian Pacific Railroad 2 (2)

East Don Trail Art (1)
Past those, there’s a man made wetland. I’ve seen them in other Toronto ravines. They’re meant to ranaturalize the spaces with birds and other wildlife.

East Don Trail wetland
Speaking of, as I’m examining it, a smiling traveler alerts me that it’s my lucky day: the heron is out! I have a long look at the spot he points me to, but there’s no heron. Darn.

East Don Trail look out
The path splits off and I make a left, passing a bridge over looking the Don. This leads to the famed Rainbow Tunnel, a Toronto landmark in my eyes. Anyone that uses this stretch of the Don Valley Parkway, which opened here in the 1960s, knows the Rainbow Tunnel.

Rainbow Tunnel (1)

 Rainbow Tunnel (2)
The inside is immaculately painted with streetscape and winter scenery.

Rainbow Tunnel (3)

Rainbow Tunnel (6)
There’s a second tunnel too that passes under the DVP, although this one is less ornate. It does offer some political insights, though.

DVP Tunnel (2)

DVP Tunnel (4)
Past the tunnel is the Moccasin Trail. I’m not sure about its naming, but it’s here I pause to have my lunch as I watch as joggers traverse the path.

Moccasin Trail
Circling back under the tunnels and over the bridge to where I came from, there’s a staghorn sumac to greet me.

East Don Trail Sumach (2)
As the path curves with the river on one side and fortifying armor stone on the other, this might be a good time to mention that the East Don Trail bookends the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area, a natural preserve that stretches from Lawrence Avenue to the Forks of the Don.

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area (5)
Its namesake was a fierce environment advocate who actually had a cottage at The Forks. Sauriol’s story and the grand story of the Don is recounted in excellent detail in Reclaiming the Don by Jennifer Bonnell, which is a 2015 Heritage Toronto Award recipient. (And while I’m plugging books, Jason Ramsay-Brown’s Toronto Ravines has a great chapter on the East Don Trail.)

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area (2)
A highlight of the trail is a tranquil little rest stop overlooking a pond. There’s a couple of few bird-themed markers leading up to it.

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area (9)

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area Toronto Bird Flyways

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area Owl
Charles Sauriol Conservation Area pond
To add to the name game, this part of the East Don Trail is known as Milne Hollow or Milneford Mills, a one-time 19th century industrial community. Two Heritage Toronto plaques tell the story of the area’s rise & fall.

My mind draws comparisons to Todmorden Mills further down the river. It too was a former industrial community with mills running along the Don. Both sites have been renaturalized too. But whereas (some of) Todmorden’s structures survive, there’s practically nothing left of Milne Hollow.

Heritage Toronto Milne Hollow Plaque 1

Heritage Toronto Milne Hollow Plaque 2
A short while later, at the end of the trail, a long green pathway leads to the Milneford farmhouse, one of the last historical remnants of Milne Hollow. It’s looking worse for wear, and, because of it, is surrounded by chain-link fence. The Gothic Revival house dates back to about 1865 and is undergoing restoration (I hope). Perhaps its new life will it see as a community museum, in the same vein as Todmorden Mills.

Milne Hollow

Milneford House (2)
Old Lawrence Avenue winds up to the main street and is my exit point on this hike. This excellent Urban Toronto piece recounts its past as the original route of Lawrence Avenue, including the original bridge that spanned the Don.

Old Lawrence Avenue

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area fish

Note: These adventures were had late September.

Useful Links

Walk the Don – Milne Hollow Self-Guided Walk

Scenes From Riverdale Farm

My welcome into Riverdale Farm comes with a new-ish, yet old-timey looking gate, however I bypass it to round around to the Winchester Street entrance.

1 Riverdale Farm sign
The farm’s main building, the Victorian-style Simpson House, is home to the Cabbagetown Regent Park Museum, which is open for business today. It’s unique in that it’s the only museum in Toronto devoted to telling the story of a specific city neighbourhood. I have a soft spot for the museum for the time I volunteered there.

2 Riverdale Farm Simpson House
My time at the museum has taught me of the Riverdale Farm area’s long past: From the pristine valley the Aboriginals encountered (the Algonquian word for the Don itself was Wonscotonach, meaning ‘burnt back grounds’), to the land granted to John Scadding by Mr. John Graves Simcoe which was eventually purchased by the City for parkland, to the zoo Daniel Lamb (whose family is buried in the neighbouring Toronto Necropolis) established here in 1888, and finally, to the heritage farm we now know and have enjoyed since 1978. Walking through the farm, I get a sense of each layer.

4. Riverdale Farm
My first stop is the Pig Barn to take in, among others, some turkeys and bunnies that would have existed in a farm around the turn of the 20th century.

5. Riverdale Farm bunny

6. Riverdale Farm turkey
From there, it’s off to see some goats and sheep, although the latter are sadly M.I.A.

8. Riverdale Farm goats
9. Riverdale Farm
Following the path all the way down, I come to the Residence. This is the first of a handful of remaining buildings that are original to the zoo. This one was, in fact, the keeper’s home. It was also a morgue and an animal hospital as well during its tenure.

11. Riverdale Farm Residence
My favourite feature and tidbit of the Residence is the use of clinker bricks in its construction, which incidentally was conducted by Don Jail inmates as a work project. I’ve heard stories of prisoners interacting with children, and how it was the happiest time for the inmates during their sentences because of it.

12. Riverdale Farm  Residence clinker bricks

13. Riverdale Farm Residence
Backtracking, I do some wayfinding and try to determine whether north is actually north (it isn’t), before finding myself at the cows.

14. Riverdale Farm directions

16. Riverdale Farm cows
Above the cow paddock is the Donnybrook Ruin, a towering structure whose original purpose, as far as I know, is a mystery. I was delighted to spot some clinkers in its walls too.

17. Riverdale Farm Donnybrook ruins

18. Riverdale Farm Donnybrook ruins clinkers
I forge on down the Lower Road and come to the Riverdale Farm Ponds. These  algae covered water bodies are important bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and serve as vibrant ecosystems. They also help in renaturalizing the Don River Valley and bring it back to a time before the river was channelized and rerouted.

19. Riverdale Farm  ponds

20. Rivedale Farm pond
Before meandering across a bridge, I note a barrier to the side which warns of the crossing’s occasionally flooding. Yuh oh. Although I can’t be sure, the bridge itself looks like a left-over from the zoo days.

22. Riverdale Farm bridge

29. Riverdale Farm  bridge
The monkey cage is most definitely a relic, however. Much is made of the ethics of keeping animals in cages for viewing pleasure; even more is made of the state of early zoos and the sizes of the holding cells. The Riverdale Zoo closed and moved to Scarborough in part because its very inadequate facilities. (Also, a zoo next to a growing metropolis isn’t the best of ideas.)

25. Riverdale Farm monkey cage

26. Riverdale Farm monkey cage
Mustering the uphill climb back, I take a peek down the Middle Road, which doesn’t really lead to anything, but allots for a good view of the Meeting House.

31. Riverdale Farm                33. Riverdale Farm

My exit from the farm includes some horse-inspired art outside of the Simpson House. I quizzically study it for a second, eventually giving my due to the effort that must’ve went into its construction. Then, I’m off on my way, this time passing under the new-old sign I shunned before.

34. Riverdale Farm  horse art
This isn’t the end of my Riverdale Farm themed encounters, however. This charming little Bell Box Mural located Parliament on Winchester boasts a great tribute to our barnyard friends.

35. Riverdale Farm Winchester Bell box mural