Highland Creek

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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