Claremont, Glen Major & Walker Woods


March 12, 2016: I face the prospect of a 30k hike with unfounded optimism. Since this series of walks began on Yonge Street last November, I have connected with the Trans Canada trail by public transit, taking the subway, bus or GO train to and from each successive trail segment.


As I leave the greater Toronto area, the transit connections are getting thin on the ground. It’s 30k between the GO bus stop on Hwy 7 north of the Greenwood Conservation area where I wrapped up the last walk and the GO bus stop near the old train station in Uxbridge. Being a historian, I reason that since Laura Secord walked more than that distance in Niagara to warn the British forces of an impending American attack in 1813, it must be a manageable day’s outing.

Nothing goes according to plan. The commute by subway to Toronto’s Union Station, GO train to Oshawa and GO bus to Greenwood takes up most of the morning.


When the bus finally unloads me on the shoulder of Hwy 7, I discover that the trail doesn’t quite match the map. At Pickering Museum Village (sadly closed for the season) the trail turns northward along Paddock road where there is a massive gap to accommodate the extension of Hwy 407 eastward.


I walk under the partly built highway through what I first assume is mud. The smell and the signs for the nearby Pickering horse centre soon make clear that I am ankle deep in something else.


I then proceed to get lost in the Claremont Conservation area.


Claremont, originally called Noble’s Corners after general store owner Thomas Noble, was settled by English immigrants in the 1830s who were drawn to the fertile farmland in the area. The community expanded when the Canadian Pacific Railway opened Claremont station in 1884, which stood until the 1960s.


The local conservation area is attractive but poorly signposted and I wander around in circles and get hit in the face with a tree branch before emerging near Sideroad 12.


After a pleasant chat with local dog walkers in Claremont conservation area, I do not encounter another person on foot. Sideroad 12 is eerily deserted.



A lone local resident on horseback remarks that she does not recognize me and is curious to know how I came to be walking in such a remote place. “I have a Trans Canada Trail blog,” I declare. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a published author in possession of a blog must be forgiven eccentric behaviour.


Sideline 12 leads to the Uxbridge-Pickering townline but I realize that I’m still a long way from Uxbridge. I plunge into the Glen Woods, hoping to make it through the Glen Woods and Walker Woods before the sun goes down. The views are spectacular.


Unlike the Claremont conservation area, there are plenty of numbered signs posted along the trails but I still manage to get throughly lost because so many trails intersect there including the Trans Canada Trail and the Oak Ridges Morraine.  I wander off the edge of my maps.


I emerge in a remote parking lot containing just two cars. It seems to grow dark and cold all at once. My cell phone battery dies. I’m stranded.

Two families emerge from the forest with headlights on their bicycles, chatting with each other in Mandarin. The cars belong to them. One of the mums approaches me and says “You need help.” It’s a statement not a question. They offer me a ride to Markham, where I can catch the GO bus back to Toronto. I am profusely grateful. They tell me how they all immigrated from Shanghai recently and are enjoying Canada’s parks and trails.

For me, however, the Trans Canada Trail has lost its appeal. I think of everything that went wrong that day and all the other things that could have gone wrong. I decide to quietly abandon the walks and stop updating this website.

April 17, 2016: The Toronto Bruce Trail Club is chartering a bus to the Walker Woods, the next segment of the Trans Canada Trail after the Glen Woods where I lost my way a month ago.


The trip description promises an easy hike followed by refreshments. I dust off my membership card and book a seat on the bus. I have been spending too much time in indoors and jump at the chance I decide to revive the walks and this website.



Everything goes according to plan.  After an April of snow and freezing rain, the skies are blue, there are buds on the trees and the wildflowers are sprouting.


The extremely efficient hike leader starts the walk in the northeast corner of Walker Woods.


The woods were the site of an aggregate quarry that is now being transformed into a bluebird sanctuary.


In the company of fellow hikers who are familiar with the area and know where they are going, Walker Woods and Glen Major forest are indeed a straightforward hike, passing by a pond full of frogs jumping.


After a few hours of hiking, the bus makes a stop at Annina’s bakeshop and cafe in Goodwood and I come home with the best apple pie I have ever tasted. My fellow hikers are good company. My enthusiasm for the Trans Canada trail is restored.


My next walk will cover the segment from Walker’s Woods to Uxbridge. It’s only 10k. What’s the worst that can happen?

Getting There by Public Transit: The Toronto Bruce Trail Club runs regular bus trips to trails outside Toronto. The hike schedule is available here.

Further Reading: Backroads of Ontario by Ron Brown

Next: Uxbridge


Pickering Village and Greenwood

Before you ask, I am not walking around in circles, at least not yet. East of Toronto, the Trans Canada Trail continues along Lake Ontario through Pickering then turns inland through Ajax to Pickering village. As this helpful blue plaque explains, the creation of the modern town of Ajax in the 1970s separated Pickering from its 19th century centre.


Today’s walk begins at the Annandale Golf and Curling Club, near the Ajax GO Train station. It’s a chilly day in February. The wind chill was -9  when my train left Toronto in the morning and the ground will be muddy in some places and icy in others over the course of the hike. Nevertheless, there are a few determined golfers on the course, bundled up in jackets and caps.


Around Annandale, the route is less than inviting. Despite the plaintive “don’t litter” billboards, there is a trail of empty Tim Horton’s cups alongside the actual trail.


Once the path turns toward the northern stretch of Duffin’s Creek, beyond throwing distance of the road, the litter and the traffic noise disappears.


While the creek is stagnant near Lake Ontario, the ice moves along the water near Pickering Village. There used to be abundant salmon in Duffin’s Creek and the fish are being reintroduced.


There are plenty of signs in this section of the train, explaining how far the walk is to Pickering Village…


…and where you can safely portage your canoe around the dam on Duffin’s Creek.


Pickering Village is visible from the trail. There’s a Tudor style shopping plaza that contains a few shops that would not have been out of place in Tudor times: an English pub and an astrology themed bookshop.


The village follows the Old Kingston road, which last crossed the trail at Highland Creek in Scarborough. The Art Gallery is closed for “renovation and relocation” but there a series of shops, restaurants and historic plaques explaining the development of the community. Pickering College existed in this area from 1878 until it burned down in 1905.



Beyond Pickering Village, the trail meanders along Duffin’s Creek, past the remains of a nineteenth century mill.


The trail emerges alongside the gated community of Riverside near the Riverside golf course (which is not open to cold weather golfers). Riverside is the site of development with billboards advertising newly built semi-detached homes that seem suspiciously affordable by Toronto standards. The developers are not the first people who thought Riverside was a promising place for houses. A thirteenth century Huron-Wendat settlement existed on the site and the remains of six longhouses were excavated in the 1950s.


At Riverside, I reach the edge of suburbia. On one side of a path that resembles the Toronto section of the Gatineau Hydro Corridor are the backyards of newly built houses. On the other side is farmland.


As I continue north, the billboards promising new townhouses gradually fade away and the paved road turns to a dirt road as I reach the Greenwood Conservation Area. The lower section of Greenwood has not yet been incorporated into the trail and the signage is patchy. The area is a popular off leash dog park so there are plenty of owners of friendly huskies, retrievers and German shepherds who point me in the right direction and warn me about icy stretches of the path.


The upper section of the Greenwood Conservation area has been full incoporated into the Trans Canada Trail and there are many signs marking the route.


I stroll along this last section of the day’s walk with a canine trainer and her two enormous, friendly German shepherds. She points out all the places where coyotes and wolves have been sighted in the Conservation area and I am glad to have the company. The spread of the Riverside development northward has brought the wildlife out of the woods and threatened historic farms. Other plans for changes to the area including restricting the off leash area and installing a bicycle path are equally controversial with the local dog owners.


The next town along the Trans Canada Trail is Uxbridge and the next walk will take me there.

Getting there by public transit:

Start: Ajax GO Train Station

End: GO Bus at Hwy 7&Westney Road

Further Reading: From Quaker to Upper Canadian: Faith and Community among Yonge Street Friends, 1801-1850 by Robynne Healey

Next: Uxbridge




The town of Ajax, a forty-five minute GO train ride east of Toronto, is a product of the Second World War. In 1941, Canadian Defense Industries Limited established a munitions plant in what was then a sparsely populated region of Pickering township. At its peak, there were 9,000 workers employed filling shells for the plant, which became the largest munitions factory in the Commonwealth.  The GO Transit line (discussed at the end of the Highland Creek walk) had not yet been built so getting workers to the factory was a challenge.


Those who lived in Toronto or Oshawa boarded the bus between these two cities, which let them out near the location of the present day GO station where overcrowded wooden seated “cattle cars” waited to take them down to the munitions plant. Many workers became frustrated with the wait and simply jogged down Harwood Ave to ensure that they punched in at the shell plant clock on time.


In these conditions, dormitories were established for male and female workers, who eventually came from all over Canada, and a town grew up to provide amenities for them. After the war, the munitions factory temporarily became a became a satellite campus of the University of Toronto, offering engineering programs for returning veterans. Demand for affordable housing within commuting distance of Toronto meant that the town continued to grow to its present population of 109,600.

I am walking the South Ajax portion of the Trans Canada Trail in reverse from the GO station to the lake front where I wrapped up my Pickering walk a few weeks ago.


Today (February 20), is unseasonably warm, which also means unseasonably muddy as I set off along Duffin’s Creek, named by surveyor Augustus Jones in 1791 for an early pioneer who may not have actually existed.


According to legend, Duffin lived in a cabin on the creek that was always open to passing travelers. One day, a visitor stopped by to find the cabin door ajar, blood on the floor and signs of a struggle. Duffin was never seen again.


After determining that my new hiking boots are indeed mud proof and waterproof, I join the main gravel trail.


At first, there is the same dull roar of traffic in the distance that reminds me of my walk on the Lower Don Valley trail in Toronto. The water quality of Duffin’s Creek is also similar to the Lower Don – the local sewage treatment plant empties into Lake Ontario along the creek.


The trail becomes quieter as it nears the lake, winding its way along the backyards of residential Ajax and ending at Rotary Park.


I have little interest in turning around and walking back through the mud along the shores of Duffin’s Creek so I stroll east along the waterfront trail and enjoy the view of Lake Ontario.


The Ajax Waterfront Trail leads to the ship shaped Veterans Point Gardens.


Ajax is named for the HMS Ajax, the flagship of the British naval squadron that defeated the German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate, the first allied naval victory of the Second World War.


Under the command of Admiral Sir Henry Harwood Harwood (a fourth cousin three times removed of mine, if I am reading the family tree correctly), the HMS Ajax, the HMS Exeter and the HMS Achilles critically damaged the Admiral Graf Spee, which was disrupting allied shipping routes in South American waters. In 1956, the Battle inspired a movie, The Battle of the River Plate with Anthony Quayle in the role of Commodore Harwood.


From Veterans Gardens, I follow in the footsteps of the 1940s munitions workers at the end of a long day at the factory, walking along Harwood Road back to the GO train station. The next segment of the Trans Canada Trail continues north from there, toward the town of Uxbridge.

Getting There By Public Transit: Ajax GO Station

Further Reading: The Royal Navy Since 1815: A New Short History by Eric J. Grove

The Globe and Mail, Deeds of Ajax defined an era at U of T, Anthony Reinhart, November 7, 2005

Next: Uxbridge




A Long Walk from Toronto has left Toronto. Aside from a “Pickering” stone marker  there is no dramatic transformation of the Trans Canada Trail at the city’s edge. I am still on the Waterfront Trail, following the shore of Lake Ontario. The biggest change from the last walk is the drop in the temperature. There are fewer patches of snow and ice on the ground but a brisk -8 wind chill.


Since I will be spending several hours outside, I dress as though I am going to the Arctic. I start with a series of layers reminiscent of a frugal airline passenger attempting to avoid a checked baggage fee by wearing all their clothes for the flight.


The bulky ensemble is topped with a hat, gloves, infinity scarf, oversize sunglasses and my knee length, puffy down filled blue parka that makes me look like an upright sleeping bag on snow booted legs. A more experienced hiker would no doubt have a more stylish ensemble but the layers serve me well, making it possible for me to stop moving at a brisk pace and admire the view now and then.


As chilly as it is here in January 2016, the weather in what is now Pickering was once far colder. Just east of Rouge Beach, beyond the Petticoat Conservation Area (which is a park not a costume museum) is Frenchman’s Bay. There, Francois de Salignac de Fenelon established a mission school in 1669-1670, one of the coldest winters on record. The ground remained frozen until June,  causing devastation for the Iroquois inhabitants of the nearby village of Ganatsekwyagon (now an archaeological site in Rouge Urban National Park).


The village of Pickering – named for the town of the same name in North Yorkshire – grew in the early nineteenth century as “Late Loyalists” from the United States traveled north in search of free land. Pickering attracted Quaker settlement and by the War of 1812, the town had 140 residents. Frenchman’s Bay harbour expanded in 1875, exporting local barley to American breweries until tariffs sent the community into a decline that lasted until the explosion of demand for housing within commuting distance of Toronto after the Second World War. Pickering now has a population of around 90,000.


Despite the fact that the entire Pickering section of the Trans Canada trail is part of the Waterfront Trail, the views of the lake come and go over the course of the walk. The Petticoat Conservation Area looks out over the water and the west side of Frenchman’s Bay is filled with parks that provide a nice view of the skating and ice fishing on the frozen Bay.

Pickering Jan 27.jpg

Unfortunately, the “Waterfront Trail” on the east side of the Bay is mostly sidewalks through nondescript residential areas. One constant throughout the trail are long narrow signs listing all that is forbidden while walking across Pickering from fireworks to golf to “annoying or obnoxious behaviour.”


The lake reappears at the Nautical Village, a collection of shops that are mostly closed for the season.


There’s a particularly appetizing looking ice cream parlour that seems to sell both Chapman’s ice cream and Kawartha Dairy ice cream but sadly, only from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving.


The village leads to attractive beach boardwalk that is filled with warmly dressed families out walking and admiring the Canada geese.


The beach doesn’t last for long. The boardwalk comes to an abrupt end and the trail disappears behind the nuclear plant. Instead of the lake, there is a long stretch where the only sights are these cheerful signs reminding passing walkers to stay on their own side of the fence.


At Squire’s Beach, the Trans Canada Trail leaves the Waterfront and turns inland. I had low expectations for the final stretch of the day’s walk because when I typed “Squire’s Beach” into Google, one of the top result was the Squire’s Beach dump where you can unload a van full of waste for $20. Thankfully, the dump or “waste depot” is far from the waterfront and there is a nice bridge for admiring the sunset over the lake.


Squire’s Beach is on the border between Pickering and the town of Ajax, where this series of walks will resume, weather permitting, in February.

Getting there by public transit:

Start: Rouge Hill GO Station

End: Durham Regional Transit to Ajax GO Station

If you run out of steam in the middle: Pickering GO Station

Further Reading: Hidden Ontario: Secrets from Ontario’s Past by Terry Boyle

Next: Ajax

Rouge National Urban Park


The GO train pulls into Rouge Hill station and I’m back where I left off in December. It’s a balmy zero degrees and the sun is shining over Lake Ontario. The Waterfront Trail continues east past Scarborough bluffs from Port Union to Rouge Beach, where a flock of Canada geese and a lone swan have found shelter from the winds coming off the lake.


The beach is a tiny piece of the Waterfront Trail but it is one of the entrances to Rouge Park. It’s time to explore the first National Park that intersects the Trans Canada trail route east from downtown Toronto.


Since I began this series of walks from Yonge Street in November 2015, Toronto amenities have never been far away. Even when I have been at the bottom of the Don Valley Ravine or in the parks along Highland Creek, the trail has led eventually to food, water and even an entire cookie factory. The conditions get a little more rustic this week. Rouge Park may be an urban national park accessible by public transit but it’s still a wilderness area. The New Year will begin with the transition from city walking to hiking.


Of course, I will not be hiking the entire park in an afternoon. When Rouge Park  is complete, it will be 79.1 square km and will stretch from Lake Ontario to Uxbridge. (Here’s the map). Instead, I make my way up Rouge Hill Drive then down into the ravine and under Hwy 401 to Glen Rouge campground and the start of the Mast trail.



The Mast trail is a 200 year old logging route. The timber floated up the Rouge River for use in shipbuilding including mainmasts. The path through the woods goes up and down hills and has some icy stretches this time of year. More experienced hikers than myself have crampons attached to their snow boots. When I encounter a particularly treacherous looking slope in my travels, I sit down and slide to the bottom, using the back of my knee length parka as an impromptu toboggan.




At Sheppard Ave, the Mast Trail comes to an end and the Orchard Trail begins.


This trail provides spectacular views of the Rouge River, flowing under a thin layer of ice. There are few people out walking in this weather – the most recent issue of Macleans Magazine claims that Canada has become “A nation of winter wusses” –  but this area was once filled with activity.


The Rouge River valley was charted by Louis Jolliet (1645-1700), royal hydrographer to King Louis XIV of France. Jolliet’s 1680 map was one of the first to use the word “Toronto” – an Iroquois term for “where the trees are in the water” – to describe the area. While past generations of explorers of what is now Canada had crossed the Atlantic from France, Jolliet was born and raised outside Quebec City. In 1673, Jolliet, Jacques Marquette and a team of Metis voyageurs paddled and portaged from Lake Michigan to the mouth of the Arkansas river, exploring the upper Mississippi. One of Jolliet’s descendants, Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché became a father of Canada’s Confederation.


The Rouge River valley had been inhabited for thousands of years before Jolliet arrived. Rouge Park contains the site of Bead Hill, the 17th century Seneca village of Ganatsekwyagon, that was a key site in the fur trade. Correspondence between the Comte de Frontenac, Governor General of New France from 1672 to 1682 and Louis XIV reveals French concerns that the inhabitants of Ganatsekwyagon were trading with the Dutch, based in New Amsterdam (New York). These disputes over trade and territory erupted into open warfare. The village was abandoned in 1697 during the French and Iroquois Wars. Today, the site is archaeologically sensitive and not open to the public. 


The Orchard Trail ends at Zoo Road. The Rouge Valley conservation centre is located near the trailhead, in a house built for local sawmill owner James Pearse Jr. and his family in 1893.


There’s another hiking trail – the Cedar Trail – that continues north of Zoo Road but it’s nearly sunset, time to wrap up the walking for the day.  The corner of Zoo Road and Meadowvale Road is on the bus route back to the city from the Toronto Zoo.

Next time, we’ll leave Toronto and follow the Waterfront Trail around Frenchman’s Bay through the nautical village in Pickering.


Getting there by public transit: GO Transit to Rouge Hill for Rouge Beach, Subway to Kennedy then 86A bus to the Toronto Zoo for access to the Orchard and Cedar trails. 

Further Reading: The Rouge River Valley: An Urban Wilderness by James E. Garratt

Next: Frenchman’s Bay, Pickering

Highland Creek


The entrance to the Highland Creek Ravine at Lawrence Avenue is marked by a distinctly Canadian warning sign. “Skiing, tobogganing and sleigh riding are hazardous and are prohibited on this slope.” As a historian specializing in Europe’s royal families, I don’t dispute that. Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter Princess Louise suffered a concussion in an Ottawa sleigh accident in 1880. Winter sports can be dangerous.


The painful toboggan injury is a fixture of so many Canadian childhoods – including my own – that it has made its way into Canadian literature.

“He did not see the collision coming, only the second sled’s slanting path from the darker, less frequented south ridge, and that it would surely intersect with the toboggan now hurtling in a straight line toward the ramp. When the slight human snap registered in his muffled hat-covered ear half an instant after the two sleds actually met, he began down the hill before anyone else knew what had happened, and soon was kneeling in the snow by her side, holding her squarely by the shoulders. She was crying.

He touched her leg gently, feeling for the break. “Does it hurt here?” He moved down the thigh to the shin. “What about here?” — Dennis Bock, The Ash Garden

What makes the  winter sports warning sign seem out of place is the weather, which remains unseasonably warm for December. The temperature dropped to zero for the day but there is no snow on the ground. A white Christmas is unlikely.


There will be no further signage along the Highland Creek trail until we reach the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. Those helpful Pan Am path direction notices that announce how many metres or kilometres until the next major road or trail exit are almost entirely missing from the Highland Creek section of the trail. Therefore, the first direction we will take is the wrong one, away from the Trans Canada trail and south into the Highland Creek community park. The scenery is so spectacular that the wrong way feels like the right one, following the meandering creek. This narrow waterway used to be far wider than it is today. In the 1830s, a ninety-five ton schooner traveled one mile up the creek from Lake Ontario.


Somewhere near Guildwood, I remember that maps are not just colourful images for this blog but are meant to be consulted now and then and I retrace my steps back along Highland Creek to the Pan Am path.


The scenery grows even more imposing and you can see why this site, with its fresh water and towering bluffs, has been inhabited for thousands of years. The name Highland Creek comes from Yat-qui-i-be-no-nick, the Mississauga First Nation word for “creek comes out under high [lands]” and archaeological excavations have uncovered evidence of settlement dating back to 3500 BCE.


The water is less inviting today – a sign sternly warns against swimming and wading because of pollution.



The Highland Creek trail loops around the tennis courts at the University of Toronto Scarborough. This part of the University was once the summer estate of Toronto businessman Miller Lash, whose house remains a popular wedding venue. The University of Toronto bought the land in 1963 as part of its expansion plan. Enrollment in post secondary institutions increased dramatically in the 1960s with the coming of age of the post-war baby boomer generation.


After leaving the campus, the trail passes under the Old Kingston Road, which was built as a stagecoach route between Toronto and Kingston and remained the main roadway between the two cities until the completion of the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway (Highway 401) in 1965. As the creek meanders through Colonel Danforth park (named for Asa Danforth Jr, a land speculator who acquired vast tracts of property in Upper Canada in the 1790s then upset Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe by not recruiting further settlers as promised), we encounter our first wild animal warning in our travels on the Trans Canada trail.


At first, I am not concerned. I have seen numerous coyote warnings in Toronto’s ravines but never a single coyote. But as the sun begins go down, I pick up the pace and begin singing along with my iPod, trying to simulate that “noise maker” effect recommended by the coyote warning sign.


“Say what you will, I will miss you my friends. Let me move along for the road never ends…” — Gordon Lightfoot


The only wildlife I encounter is a lone raccoon, who looks singularly unimpressed with my off key musical efforts.

I emerge onto Port Union beach, in time to join a group of dog walkers on the Waterfront Trail for a spectacular sunset over Lake Ontario.




The beach brings the Pan Am Path to an end and its signs provide a quick recap of the walks since this journey began.


The Waterfront Trail leads to Rouge Hill GO train station, which was built in 1967 as the first station of a new regional public transit system for southern Ontario. The rapid expansion of Toronto and the surrounding communities after the Second World War increased demand for commuter transit beyond the capacity of the Canadian National Railway Company.


The GO transit system was popular from the start – 1 million people rode the trains to and from downtown in Toronto in the first four months – and the modern double decker trains were introduced in 1979 in response to ever growing number of commuters in the region. From Rouge Hill to Union Station, a couple blocks away from Yonge Street where this series of walks began, the GO train journey takes 30 minutes.

Getting there by Public Transit: GO Transit to Rouge Hill on the Lakeshore East line.

Further Reading: Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage by M. Jane Fairburn

Next: Rouge Park

Scarborough Museum and the East Corridor


We’ll begin today’s walk at the Scarborough Museum, near West Highland Creek, which we crossed during our stroll along the Gatineau Hydro Corridor last week. There is currently an exhibition about the life and diaries of Frances Tweedie Milne and I am reliably informed by The City of Toronto that there will be “baked holiday goodies.” Victorian women’s history and Christmas treats sounds like my kind of December afternoon and so we will start there, just after noon, the time of the museum opens on winter weekends then finish the Hydro Corridor and walk along the Highland Creek section of the Pan Am path until dusk.


Frances Tweedie Milne was born and raised  on a farm in Whitby where she began keeping a diary in 1866, at the age of eighteen. In 1869, she married and moved to Scarborough with her husband, continuing to keep a record of her daily life. The exhibition includes her account of celebrating the first Dominion Day – Canada Day – after Canada achieved Confederation in 1867 by attending fireworks and military parades.

“Eventful Day Saw the eleph. go away, the Cavalry come in 9 a.m. Nick called at Campbells. We went to review. G. Rumsey came down to Hall with me. Went home, Em came to fireworks. Mack and I promenade around. Came home with Dave in new buggy.” — Diary of Frances Tweedie Milne, July 1, 1867


The museum imagines what Frances’s Facebook page might have looked like if she were alive today. Likes include the novels of Paul Clifford – the writer who coined the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” – ice skating and the public library on St. Andrew’s Road.


The Scarborough museum is a collection of historic buildings from around the area that were brought together on the site of Thomson Settlement, which we visited near the end of our walk through the west and central sections of the Gatineau Hydro Corridor last time. The main house, Cornell house, belonged to a family of apple farmers and it’s decorated for Christmas in early 20th century style.


The log cabin, McCowan house, was located near the current site of the Toronto zoo, which we will be visiting in a future walk. It was the home of sheep farmer, William Porteous McCowan who emigrated from Scotland in 1833 and gave his name to one of Scarborough’s main roads.


Frances’s diary contains numerous references to dressing in tartan – in case the names of the settlers and the proximity of St. Andrew’s road and Highland Creek are not evidence enough that this community used to be more Scottish than Scotland.  In the mid 19th century, much of the political elite in English Canada was of Scottish descent and Frances Tweedie Milne and her neighbours had every reason to display their heritage in their homes, clothing and celebrations.


After enjoying the hot apple cider and apple cinnamon muffins at the Scarborough museum, let’s continue east along the Gatineau Hydro Corridor. The hydro lines in the east end of the corridor look the same as they did in the west end that we visited last time but the terrain is very different. Instead of a flat prairie, there are rolling hills and you begin to understand why Elizabeth Simcoe was inspired in the 1790s to name the area Scarborough after the town in North Yorkshire.


The landscape is different at the east end of the Gatineau hydro corridor as well. Instead of vast expanses of browning grass that encourage visitors to cycle or walk though as quickly as possible, the east corridor is filled with community garden plots and meadow restoration projects that carpet the land with wildflowers in the Springtime. Here, visitors are encouraged to linger with only the signs prohibiting kite and model airplane flying reminding us that we are in a hydro corridor rather than a traditional park.


The east corridor ends near Military Trail, which used to be the only way to cross Highland Creek. The ravine surrounding the creek acted as a natural barrier to settlement further east just as the Don Valley, which we visited in a previous walk, inhibited the growth of the city before the building of The Prince Edward Viaduct.


A short walk through a Scarborough residential neighbourhood takes us to the entrance to Morningside Park at Lawrence Ave, which provides access to the Highland Creek ravine that we will explore in the next part of the walk.


Getting to the Scarborough museum by public transit:  54A Lawrence East bus eastbound to Brimley road

Further Reading: Much to Be Done: Private Life in Ontario From Victorian Diaries by Frances Hoffman and Ryan Taylor

Next: Highland Creek


The Gatineau Hydro Corridor


Before you ask, we are still in Toronto. If we continue walking in this direction along the Trans Canada Trail, we will eventually arrive in Ottawa and stroll across the Ontario-Quebec border into Gatineau but that day has not yet arrived. The Gatineau hydro corridor that traverses the former municipality of Scarborough (amalgamated with Toronto in 1998) is named for the Great Gatineau Power Station that was built in Leaside in the 1920s. The electricity generated by the Chaudière Falls was transmitted to the power station along the Gatineau Hydro Corridor, the longest 220,000 volt line in Canada.


The Gatineau Hydro Corridor acts as a linear park, taking us from the industrial warehouses of Bermondsey, where we left off last week, to north of the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. By this time of year, I expected the corridor to resemble a snow swept prairie but the weather remains curiously above zero. The Doctor Zhivago inspired landscape shots will have to wait for later in the season. Instead, there is browning grass and the occasional overturned shopping cart.


For our previous walks, I’ve had a good sense of where I am going but the Gatineau Hydro Corridor portion of trail meanders in and out of parks, through residential areas of 1950s bungalows that all look remarkably the same, over bridges and past deserted playgrounds. I know I’m walking vaguely northeast but there isn’t the same sense of consistent path as there was on The Lower Don Trail or Taylor Creek Park. The signage comes and goes and is often a recent history of Toronto itself, announcing both the Pan Am path established this year and “Metro Toronto,” which existed before amalgamation.


As a result of the meandering path and unfamiliar terrain, I am reluctant to go looking for interesting places off the trail as I did downtown but no historian can resist the giant sign that says “Historic Site” on St. Andrews Road. Here is one of the oldest parts of Scarborough, named by Elizabeth Simcoe in 1793 because the terrain reminded her of the town of the same name in North Yorkshire.

“The shore is extremely bold, and has the appearance of chalk cliffs, but I believe they are only white sand. They appeared so well that we talked of building a summer residence there and calling it Scarborough.” — Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary, August 4, 1793

St. Andrew’s Street is site of the Springfield farmhouse, Scarborough’s first brick house and a reminder that this busy region of Toronto was a rural area until comparatively recently. The first settlers here were David and Andrew Thompson, stonemasons and mill owners who established a community that became known as “Thompson settlement.”



Past Springfield farmhouse is St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and Scarborough’s first public library, which was in operation from 1834 until 1861. James Thompson, the owner of the Springfield farmhouse (and son of original settler David Thompson) was also one of the founders of the public library. In keeping with nineteenth century ideas about libraries as places of intellectual and moral improvement, book acquisitions were strictly censored to ensure that “No book of a seditious, deistical or licentious character was to be allowed on the shelves on any pretence whatever.”





The sun is going down and soon the light will not be strong enough for photos. We’ll wrap up here for the day and start the next walk at the corner of St. Andrews and McCowan road, continuing along the eastern portion of the Gatineau Hydro Corridor to West Highland Creek.

Getting there on public transit: Subway to Warden, McCowan 16 bus northbound to St. Andrews St. 

Further Reading: Leaside by Jane Pitfield

Shawn Micallef, Scarborough is wild, historic and steep, Toronto Star, March 28, 2014

Next: Highland Creek

Bermondsey and the Cookie Factory


The gingerbread dough needs to return to room temperature before I can sprinkle the rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough in sections until it’s only a quarter inch thick, ready for cookie cutter that will it turn it into a troop of gingerbread men, sent into the oven by the dozen. I made the dough on Sunday, slowly melting butter into a pot then adding the sugar and molasses, stirring until the sweetness dissolved into a gooey brown paste.


The dry ingredients went into the silver bowl of the stand up mixer: flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, whisked together and shaped into a well to receive the lukewarm mixture of butter, sugar and molasses. I beat everything together with the mixer into a thick brown dough. The dough came out of the bowl as a heavy round ball to be kneaded on the counter then kept in the fridge to allow the spices to fully settle in. Leaving the dough to slowly lose its chill on the counter, I walk the next segment of the trail, up Bermondsey road in East York, which passes very close to the Peek Frean cookie factory and outlet store.


Until James Peek and his nephew-in-law, George Hender Frean established their business, Peek, Frean & Co. Ltd, in 1857, most cookies were homemade in small batches like my gingerbread men. The most common way to create a cookie base, creaming together softened butter and sugar, was perfected in the eighteenth century and required a wooden spoon and a strong arm before the invention of electric mixers for home kitchens in 1919.

Peek Frean pioneered the production of mass produced cookies that remained dry, fresh and edible after weeks or months in transit or on the shelf. They traveled across the British Empire from Australia to India to Canada  and supplied French soldiers fighting the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. Bermondsey, in south London, where the Peek Frean factory was located became known as “biscuit town.” (The word cookie came to what is now the United States and Canada via the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam – New York – who baked small cakes called koekjes).  The public was so fascinated by the mass production of cookies that the Peek Frean factory became the subject of one of the first documentary films, A Visit to A Visit to Peek Frean and Co.’s Biscuit Works (1906).

In 1949, Peek Frean established its Canadian cookie factory on the appropriately named Bermondsey road in East York. The factory was at the centre of a newly developed industrial neighbourhood. Before the Second World War, most goods traveled to market by train or ship, which explains the lakefront location of the St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery District, which we visited on previous walks. By the late 1940s, trucks were assuming the role of trains and factories and warehouses were built in what had once been rural areas outside the city. The apple orchards of East York were replaced by industrial buildings as well as new residential neighbourhoods for the families of returning veterans.


Aside from the occasional sign reminding us that we are on the Pan Am Path, there is little evidence of a trail near the cookie factory between Taylor Creek Park and the Gatineau Hydro Corridor. There is a sidewalk and a clearly marked bike lane but few pedestrians or cyclists and the scenery is just out of view. As you walk out of the Parkview neighbourhood along Northline road past industrial warehouses (and a church that looks like an industrial warehouse) take a peek through the dense curtain of trees on your left for a last view of the Don Valley ravine that we are leaving behind.


Once you reach the corner of Northline and Bermondsey, the cookies are easy to find. All you have to do is follow the smell of a freshly opened box of jam centered Fruit Cremes to the factory (now run by Mondelez International) and the outlet store across the road. After the overpowering aroma, my visit to the cookie outlet store is almost anticlimactic. I have been baking cookies all week and I have little need for more of them. The pair of shoppers calling out trans fat amounts mournfully as though they are reading failing grades off a report card, “40 percent…40 percent here as well,” is not making the experience any more appetizing.


Then, I see the giant boxes of Toblerone bars, the only display policed by an intimidating looking security guard. I reach for a giant box, imagining myself attaching a Toblerone bar to every Christmas present, putting out platters of Toblerone bars for guests and generally treating the next month as one long old school Swiss Chalet festive special. As soon as I pick up a box, the security guard scowls and a watching cashier gently explains, “You’re not allowed to buy that many Toblerone bars, dear, only the small boxes are for sale and there’s a limit…” I settle for a small box of Toblerones, a box of fruit cremes and a club pack of triscuit crackers then go home to finish making my gingerbread cookies.


There’s a Tim Hortons at the corner of Eglinton and Bermondsey. We’ll start the next walk from there and explore the linear park along the Gatineau Hydro Corridor.

Getting there by public transit: Subway to Eglinton then the 34 bus eastbound to Bermondsey road.

Further Reading: The Edible City: Toronto’s Food from Farm to Fork edited by Alana Wilcox and Christina Palassio

Next: The Gatineau Hydro Corridor

Taylor Creek Park


There is little of Taylor Creek Park on the Pan Am Path that comprises so much of the Toronto section of the Trans Canada Trail. The map encourages you to leave the Lower Don Trail by walking under the Don Valley Parkway, past a curious art installation of half submerged canoes, enter the park then almost immediately leave it by climbing the Alden steps into the Parkview neighbourhood of East York.


Bypassing Taylor Creek Park is a mistake because it is the first place on the Trans Canada trail east of Yonge Street where it feels as though you have left the city behind and you are surrounded by nothing but trees and rushing water.


The land along Taylor-Massey creek used to belong to some of Toronto’s most prominent families. The Taylor family, which arrived in Upper Canada from Staffordshire, England in 1821 acquired the land closer to Lower Don Trail and founded the the Don Valley Brick Works and Todmorden mill along the Don. John Taylor achieved the first major breakthrough in paper-making in 1700 years when he substituted wood pulp for rags as the raw material, winning a £1000 reward.


On the other side of the O’Connor Bridge, named for the founder of Laura Secord Chocolates, is the site of the Massey family estate. The Masseys immigrated to Upper Canada from Vermont in the first decade of the nineteenth century, part of a wave of “late loyalist” settlers who followed the promise of free land to British North America. In 1847, Daniel Massey, a blacksmith, opened a farm equipment workshop and his company eventually developed into Massey-Ferguson, a multinational producer of agricultural implements. The family founded Massey Hall in 1894, one of the most significant cultural venues in downtown Toronto. The future King George V and Queen Mary visited Massey Hall with Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1901 and musicians and world leaders from Gordon Lightfoot to the Dalai Lama have taken the stage since then.


It’s the beginning of December but it feels more like March with mud on the paths and water rushing over the lower section of the trail that passes along Taylor-Massey Creek through the park. (There are signs reminding pedestrians, joggers and cyclists to quite literally take the high road).


Taylor Creek park is popular with dog walkers. Even on fall evenings when the park is lit by the windows of far off apartment towers, there are dogs and their owners out for a stroll. Only on overcast weekday afternoons is the park nearly deserted, perfect for anyone seeking a solitude in a busy city.


The path through Taylor Creek Park leads to Victoria Park station, near a recently revitalized wetland, and you may be tempted to get on the subway and go east a few stops to rejoin us at Highland Creek, the next scenic part of the trail. I am going to make a compelling argument for why we should retrace the path to the Alden steps and walk through residential and industrial neighbourhoods of East York as the dotted line on the Trans Canada trail map instructs. You see, I have been reliably informed by The Torontoist that there is a giant Peek Frean Cookie outlet store selling equally giant bags of discount cookies within steps of the Pan Am Path…


Getting There By Public Transit: Subway to Victoria Park Station

Further Reading: Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests: Their natural heritage and local history by John Ramsay-Brown

Next: Bermondsey and the Cookie Factory