Douglas Yardley’s Excellent Don Valley Adventure

On the Beltline Trail

Story and photos by Douglas Yardley

A bicycle is a great way to see more of the world around you. You can pause to watch wildlife, admire historic buildings, and make new friends. We have a little tour of historic sites and relics along the Don Valley bike trail for you this issue. Some of the sites I describe here can only be reached by bike, or on foot. This can be an enjoyable detour on your way home from work, or an afternoon excursion with a friend and a picnic lunch. The starting point is at the west side of the Brickworks on Bayview Avenue and the distance is about 7 km.

THE BELT LINE RAILWAY

This was started during an economic boom in 1890 as a commuter line to serve the then-suburbs. An elaborate station at Moore Avenue reflected the grandiose plans of the builders. The line operated for only two years, until the boom collapsed. The Moore Park station served as a home until it burned in 1945. The Belt Line Trail in Moore Park Ravine is mostly gravel, with some muddy spots. A  connecting trail leads to the Brickworks, avoiding Bayview Avenue.

THE BRICKWORKS

In 1882, William T. Taylor (1857-1944) was digging fence post holes when he found a deposit of fine clay. Samples tested at an earlier brickworks near the present Bloor Viaduct baked into beautiful red bricks. The Brickworks operated for over a century and was the source of bricks for many well-known Toronto buildings. Today it is recognized by UNESCO as a Heritage Site for its geological significance. The upper layers exposed in the north slope are Ice Age deposits. Below them is the Georgian Bay formation shale, 448 million years old, from a time when there were no reptiles, birds, or mammals, and little life on land. Between them is an “unconformity”, or a gap in the geological record at this location, caused by a long period of erosion.  The trails in the Brickworks Park are mostly gravel, with some wet patches.

Brickworks from the lookout

North slope of the Brickworks

TODMORDEN MILLS

Follow the Bayview Avenue bike lane north to Pottery Road. The concrete arch bridge was built in 1928. A bike trail leads along Pottery Road to Todmorden Mills,  the remnant of an early industrial community- the original Don Mills. There were mills here in the 1790s. The Taylor family, founders of the Don Valley paper mills and the Brickworks, took over the site in the 1820s. The buildings still standing are the Helliwell “mud brick” house (started 1825), the clapboard Parshall Terry house (1798), the Lower paper mill, and the Helliwell brewery, from the 1820s. Now backtrack along the Pottery Road bikepath to the bike crossing east of the Pottery Road bridge, and head north along the trail. From this point it is almost all paved, and separated from car traffic.

Todmorden Mills. Parshall Terry and Helliwell houses

SUN BRICK SITE

Where the railway crosses the river was another brick quarry, started in 1909 by William T. Taylor after the Taylors lost control of the Brickworks. It operated until the 1930s and filling of the pit started in 1938. On the south side of the site is another outcrop of the Georgian Bay shale, containing marine invertebrate fossils.

Georgian Bay shale at sun Brick site

THE MIDDLE PAPER MILL

On the east side of the trail as you continue north is a remnant of the channel of the Middle paper mill, started by the Taylors in 1856. It operated for over 100 years and eventually became part of Domtar. Further north along the trail is the site of the Middle Mill. Only one section of brick wall still remains.

Old channel of Middle paper mill

NORTH TORONTO TREATMENT PLANT

As you continue north along the bike trail  from the Middle Mill site you can see the green roofs of this sewage plant, started in the late 1920s. Photos and maps from a century ago show the river following a different course through this area. Continue along the bike trail, heading north.

CANADIAN NORTHERN RAILWAY

The Canadian Northern was started in the 1890s in Manitoba at a time of bullish optimism about Canada’s future. William Mackenzie and Donald Mann built a transcontinental line believing, mistakenly, that Canada could support a third major railway competing with the Grand Trunk and the Canadian Pacific. Parts of their railway are abandoned; the rest is part of the Canadian National. Between the Leaside Bridge (1928) and Don Mills Road is the site where the Canadian Northern’s line to Ottawa crossed the Don. On the east side, just yards away from the bike trail, an abutment still stands, half-overgrown at the foot of a hydro tower. On the west bank are the remnants of the other abutment and an embankment. From here the line continued along Taylor Creek Ravine and northeast through Scarborough. Now head north along the bike trail to the new bridge leading under Don Mills Road.

Old bridge abutment

FORKS OF THE DON

After passing under Don Mills Road, you arrive at the site of another early community. You are now on a roadway shared with cars. The old Don Mills Road concrete arch bridge was built in 1921. North of the bridge, a plaque honours the late Charles Sauriol, who lived here and fought for many years to preserve the Don.

[At the time of writing, the bridge connecting the Forks of the Don to Ernest Thompson Seton Park was under construction. Completion is planned for Winter 2013. Once finished, it will provide a direct route over the CN tracks for cyclists to enter Ernest Thompson Seton Park without a long detour.]

THORNCLIFFE

In the south end of E.T. Seton Park , at the circular parking lot, stood one of the Taylor family homesteads, “Thorncliffe”. Across the road was the Taylors’ Upper paper mill, started in 1847. From the modern concrete bridge, you can follow the dirt trail up the river to an old concrete wall in the river bank which is the only visible remnant of the Upper Mill. Upstream from here there was a large millpond.

Last remnant of Upper mill

HELP PRESERVE OUR CITY’S HISTORY

Old buildings and relics tend to disappear. You can help preserve the memories of the past by photographing these traces for posterity.

I have compiled a “Further Reading” list. Interested readers are welcome to contact me at dpy1951@gmail.com

Douglas Yardley is a 61-year old factory worker, and volunteer for various causes. He graduated from U of T in 1975 and has been biking through the winter for about 14 years.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Winter Bike Spotting “selfies”: Douglas Yardley

Coldest Day Ride

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