photos
September 30th, 2014
Lost Rivers

Lost Rivers of the Beach

Q3. Where did Mr. Ryan, former owner of Ryan’s Hardware Store find a lost river?
Q4. What is the Baymouth bar? (hint, it is not a restaurant!)
Q5. Where might you find signs of a lost river at Kew Gardens?
Q7. Where would you look for houses in the Beaches designed by Eden Smith of Arts & Crafts fame?

There are some very good reasons why the Beaches is unique compared to the rest of the city. Streets and parks are distinguished by curious topography; steep hills, small gullies and deep valleys. There are back yard ravines and steep walls around gardens. Many streets are curved, twisted or dead ended, and some ravines reach as high as 60 – 100 ft.

The Beaches landscape is built on a sandbar (Baymouth) that existed over 11.5 million years ago as part of ancient Lake Iroquois. When the last glacier melted, carving up the land, a multitude of rivers, ponds and small creeks seeped through the sandy soil to create an area similar to today’s Toronto Island.

Most of these rivers have been “lost” — either dried out, directed underground, or filled in as the area developed. But evidence of the former topography is still apparent. Feel the sandy garden soil in your back yard and think of the Don River or perhaps prehistoric beaches!

It is this neighbourhood of ponds, creeks and rivers that long-time Beaches residents remember from the early 1900’s. Although three large major ravines in the Beaches still exist, only a few above ground waterways remain. We can still uncover the location of many lost rivers and creeks through landforms, local history, and place names. See if you can find an older map that shows topography and watercourses. Look for low spots that mark the remnants of former creek beds. Walk about and observe the lay of the land along city streets, city parks, vacant and private lots (where possible!)


Let’s start our own discovery walk!

FALLING BROOK

View at bottom of Fallingbrook Road

Starting from east of Victoria Park we find Falling Brook. This waterway used to run alongside the dramatic ravine that sets off the Hunt Club and the estate homes on Fallingbrook Road. It emptied over the cliffs, forming a cascade down to the Lake.

“What a delightful name and what a merry little brook it was! Years before this area east of Falling Brook was developed, hikers who traveled along the waterfront … were greeted by a pretty little waterfall.”


NEVILLE PARK RAVINE AND ‘CUL-DE-SAC’

Stairs on Neville Park Ave.

The next lost creek started just to the north east of Neville Park Blvd with a spring on the site of where old St. John’s School stood, what is now Neil McNeil School.It flowed due south down the east side of Neville Park Blvd. on the north side of Queen St., and through to the ravine south of Queen St. between the houses on Neville Park and Nursewood Rd. It may have been filled in at the spot where Victoria Park turns east. Several local residents have described the beauty of this ravine, the birds, butterflies and wild flowers there, while remembering the kindness of the local farmers at the school.

Everyone who walks along Neville Park north of Queen St. notices the stairway that reaches the houses on the west side of the street. This is because houses on the west side were built on two layers, but three layers on the east side. The middle layer of houses on both sides of the street has no direct street access.


One long time Beaches resident remembers throwing bread to swans swimming in a pond that was a part of the Glen Manor Ravine sometimes around 1930.

“The pond at Glen Manor and Queen Street certainly was one of the most picturesque of the Beach ponds and its location alongside the Queen Street sidewalk gave it prominence”.


NO NAME CREEK

Proceeding west, we find evidence of a very small creek that created a shallow ravine between Beech Ave. and Willow Ave. on the south side of Cedar Ave. Mr. Ryan, owner of Ryan’s hardware Store at Queen and Willow, swears there was an underground stream beneath the foundation of his store. Some local residents still remember crossing a plank bridge on Sundays in order to reach the east bank and attend St. Aidan’s Anglican Church.

GLEN STEWART RAVINE

View of Glen Stewart Ravine

The large and beautiful Glen Stewart ravine is a local gem. A stream still exists here, creating a sylvan retreat in the midst of the city. Some of the most desirable houses in the neighbourhood are perched atop its walls, many designed by Eden Smith, famous architect of the Arts and Crafts movement.

City of Toronto Archives, Glen Stewart Park, 1912

“Another pond a half acre in size was created by a picturesque dam located just east of where the creek goes underground. The dam existed until a local boy drowned and public protest forced its removal.”


KEW GARDENS BROOK

Kew Gardens

The lost creeks west of Glen Stewart flowed into Ashbridge’s Bay, once the “bottom” of Toronto harbour. These include a tiny stream that sprang from the hillside at Lee Ave. and flowed past the Beaches Library. The only visible remnant of this tiny brook is a low spot of land in Kew Gardens where the bandstand now sits.


NORWAY CREEK (TO BE NAMED) AND AMES POND

The main creek that joined with the Lee Ave Creek flowed out of Ames Pond, east of Lee and Juniper, from its cul-desac on Long Crescent, down Norway and along the twisting Kenilworth Ave., to Pantry Park near the waterfront. Here it joined Kew Gardens Brook and entered the farthest easterly finger of Ashbridge’s Bay. One of the tiniest lost streams crossed Queen St. between Lockwood and (wait for it!) Brookmount Rd.

Tom use to fish for catfish at the end of Ashland Ave in the 20’s in a pond that was gradually filled in with furnace ash.

Beam supported house on Coxwell Ave.TOMLIN’S CREEK, SMALL’S CREEK, CAIRNS BROOK AND SERPENTINE

No history of the Beaches is complete without stories about Small’s Pond, located in the present Orchard Park on Dundas, west of Kingston Rd. The easterly arm of the pond is what was frequently referred to as the Serpentine, presumably because it was long and sinuous.

Three streams fed the pond: Tomlin’s Creek, which flowed down from a Cul-de-dac on top of Glen Davis Crescent, then along Love Crescent, Corley Ave., through the Norway Public School grounds the low lying land of St. John’s Norway Cemetery, then into the Serpentine.

Small's Creek (live) at Gerrard St.

Small’s Creek, which still flows freely through Williamson Park ravine at Wembley and Gerrard.

City of Toronto Archives, Edgewood Ave Bridge, 1916

Tiny Cairns Brook, between the two, to be found at the south end of Highcroft Road, where it meets Cairns Ave. trickled south from Eastwood Road in a small ravine between Highcroft and Edgewood Roads.

“I recall, perhaps about 1920, crossing a wooded footbridge, spanning a creek and watching young couples skating on the frozen surfaces on Small’s Pond.”

ASHBRIDGE’S CREEK

City of Toronto Archives, Pond East of Glenmount Pk. Rd., 1934

The last lost creek crossed Queen St. on the grounds of the lovely gingerbread Ashbridge family estate at 1444 Queen St. East, just east of the family house. Not surprisingly, it has been dubbed Ashbridge’s Creek, and is most remarkable. It once drained much of East York from East General Hospital to Donlands Ave. One branch flowed through Monarch Park, another through the current Torbrick development off Greenwood Ave. The branches met at Gerrard St., just west of Little India.

View of Brookside Dr. from Corley Ave.

Discovering the lost creeks of the Beaches not only helps us understand the landscape in our neighbourhood but through it we also learn how our city and many communities were built. Admire the large houses that back onto magnificent ravine lots and once and overlooked bubbling brooks and forest trails. Lower lands, on the other hand, were often designated for building schools, churches, and working class homes. For this reason, many houses in the neighbourhood still do not have basements. We also find that churches and schools were built between water channels, creating their own small communities in the valleys.

These are just a few of the rivers and streams “lost” now as waterways, but forever forged into the history of the area. If you are curious about the ancient topography of the Beaches and many other areas in the Greater Toronto Area, there are some excellent local resources available, including Lost River Walks, www.lostrivers.ca.



Information in this article was provided by John Wilson, Chair of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don and Helen Mills, the founder of “Lost River Walks”. Both John and Helen have done extensive research on the creeks that once flowed through our neighbourhood.

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