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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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Ajax

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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