Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30, 2011: Moore Park Ravine

A great trail runs south from Moore Park Avenue (across the street from the Mount Pleasant Cemetery Visitation Centre), winding its way down to the Brick Works. It's a really interesting little hike in many ways, not the least of which are the opportunities it affords to stroll through a bit of local history.

The trail runs along Mud Creek, following part of the old Belt Line Railway route, a commuter rail service that once connected downtown with Toronto's growing "suburbs," areas that today we call Moore Park, Rosedale, Forest Hill and Swansea, among others. The Belt Line was a short-lived dream, running only from 1892 to 1894, thanks to economic recession and the dawning of the age of streetcars. Descending to the trail from the stairs on Moore Park Ave, you'll find yourself at an epicenter of this experiment.

Just as the trail levels out, the flat area on the western side is the former site of Moore Park Station, the showpiece of the Belt Line Railway. Far more interesting, however, are the wetlands on the eastern side of the trail: Belt Line Pond. This pond was formed over a century ago, likely due to the construction of the Belt Line. It has since become a vital part of the Don River watershed, filtering pollution and contaminants carried in by stormwater run off and groundwater. A restoration project began in 1998, and saw the introduction of a variety of native trees and plants, including Hemlock, White Vervain, Marsh Marigold and Duckweed.

Further down the path, you'll soon see the Heath Street East pedestrian bridge overhead. Rumours abound that the original bridge was financed by John Thomas Moore, the gentleman responsible (in part) for the Belt Line Railway, and a land speculator so instrumental in the development of the area that the neighbourhood to the west of this ravine now bears his name. This is not the case. Moore was responsible for financing the construction of two bridges in the area: the first spanning Moore Ave (where the trail begins) and the second spanning the Vale of Avoca in Rosedale Ravine. Both have long since been demolished. Back in Moore's day, a timber trestle carried Heath St. over Spring Valley ravine (as it was called then). A cement bridge replaced this around 1960, and the bridge you see now was erected in 1999.

The Heath St. bridge is only the first of three bridges you'll encounter along the trail. The next is a pretty typical CPR railway bridge, virtually unremarkable save for its location. During the last ice age, what we now call Lake Ontario was a significantly larger body of water, Glacial Lake Iroquois, which formed thanks to the impact of the Laurentide ice sheet on the rivers of the St. Lawrence valley. The CPR tracks, which carry east/west traffic across the city, is built upon what was once the beaches of the Iroquois Shoreline.

The third bridge is Governors Bridge, first erected in 1923 to connect Rosedale to an undeveloped parcel of land which had been subdivided around 1911/12. The early homes built in the Governors Bridge neighbourhood followed popular architectural trends in California at the time, and earned it the colloquial nickname "Little Hollywood." The area had its deepest roots in the political culture of the time, however. The subdivision was part-owned by Wallace Nesbitt, Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Its name was inspired by the bridge's proximity to Chorley Park, the Fourth Government House, vice-regal residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.

Past Governors Bridge you begin the approach to the Brick Works. A bit of caution is warranted around this area, as poison ivy is known to lurk off trail. The city has erected a sign in the highest-growth area, but it's advisable to keep your eyes peeled all along this stretch of trail, especially as wild raspberry bushes can be found nearby, a definite lure to little hands!

There are a few paths and staircases leading down to the Brick Works, while the trail itself continues on, eventually looping back up along the Rosedale Ravine. We took the first path in to the Brick Works, which leads almost immediately to what is perhaps the most interesting feature of the ravine: the old quarry. Now a park, the site contains three little ponds, fed by a diversion pipe running from Mud Creek, which form an important cornerstone in ongoing efforts to re-establish and improve the Don Valley watershed. The meadow and forest that surround the quarry have been subjected to significant renaturalization efforts as well, and now host a wide variety of native Ontario flora.

What makes the quarry most interesting, however, is not the beauty it enjoys today, but what happened as it was dug out roughly century ago. The quarry was started in the late 19th century, and over the next few decades workers accidentally exposed geological evidence of great importance. The exposed north slope of the quarry revealed two different layers of ice age sediment sandwiching other layers of material which proved that a warmer climate had existed during the time in between. This may not sound like much, but typically the enormous pressures of glacial ice sheets scrape away all evidence of these warmer periods. As a result, climatologists of the time had argued that there had been but a single ice age. The north slope of the quarry was physical evidence to the contrary, and geologist A. P. Coleman would go on to use the site to help ensure himself a page or two in the annals of history.

Even without the quarry, the history of the Brick Works itself is rather interesting. On the other side of Bayview from the Brick Works is Todmorden Mills, a paper mill operated by the Taylor family throughout the 19th century. Around 1882, a young William Taylor was digging post holes for a fence and discovered the area was atop a wealth of clay, perfectly suited to brick making. Seven years later the Taylor family started the Don Valley Pressed Brick Works Company. The bricks made here were apparently of outstanding quality, winning awards at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the Toronto Industrial Fair of 1894. Over its 123 years of operation, the company furnished bricks to a multitude of Toronto construction efforts, including Massey Hall, Old City Hall, Osgoode Hall, Casa Loma and the Ontario Legislature.

Today, the site is known as the Evergreen Brick Works and was named a top ten finalist in the 2010 National Geographic Geotourism Challenge. The season was just gearing up the day we visited, but during the summer it's a pretty busy and exciting place, well worth the visit with or without the hike through Moore Park Ravine!

Total Distance: Approx. 1.94km
Trail Map: Google Earth | Google Maps
Start Coordinates: +43°41'41.01" N -79°22'50.22" W
End Coordinates: +43°41'01.62" N -79°21'58.55" W

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