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11 ACO Route History Stories for 2019

Compiled by Past President, Catherine Nasmith

DAY 1

Danforth Avenue/Danforth Road/Kingston Road (HWY2)

The ride out from Toronto passes along all three of the above roads, which have an interconnected history.

To facilitate Loyalist settlement after the American War of Independence and after the signing of the first treaties with the Mississauga, the first connecting road between York and Kingston (Catarqui) was laid out by Asa Danforth Jr., starting in 1799, an American entrepreneur (some might say carpetbagger). He took major financial risks signing contracts with the British governors to deliver several early roads. He was paid $90.00/mile, completing 106 miles in just over a year. The contract(s) completion was disputed by the British, nearly bankrupting Danforth. His trail, which followed indigenous routes in places, proved to be poorly located and unpopular with settlers. On Day 1 we ride along it as Lakeshore Road between Newcastle and Port Hope. Danforth’s road was used for military purposes during the War of 1812. It was replaced further north with a straighter Kingston Road (HWY 2) in 1817. The Kingston Road was on the same alignment in several sections as Danforth’s road. Much of our route on Days 1, 2, and 3 follow either Danforth’s road, or the later 1817 Kingston Road.

Just to totally confuse you, Danforth Avenue is NOT part of the 1799 road, nor the Kingston Road (1817). Danforth Avenue was named after Asa Danforth, because it was one of the roads he had planned but never executed. Danforth Avenue was built circa 1850.

Kingston Road, 1830 

This painting gives a sense of the quality of early unpaved roads. As a condition of land grants, settlers were required to maintain the road in front of their property, i.e. keep it clear of brush and tree growth. Large land grants to the church posed problems as they often failed to meet the road maintenance conditions. 

Prince Edward Viaduct/Luminous Veil, 1910-18

Generally known as the Bloor Street Viaduct, 1910-1918, Edmund W. Burke Architect. This bridge was built following a public referenda in 1910 and was critical to expanding the city across the Don River. Public Works commissioner R.C. Harris prevailed in having space for future public transit designed into the bridge, as well as ensuring that this significant public work was more than functional. Harris was also responsible for the grand construction of the waterworks. The viaduct was made famous in Michael Ondaatje’s “In the Skin of a Lion”. The Luminous Veil, the wire structure at the edges, was completed in 2003, as a suicide barrier. Given the significance of the structure, Toronto architects argued that the landmark bridge deserved a landmark barrier, succeeding in having the City hold a design competition to achieve a better solution than the chain link barrier initially proposed.

The lighting, part of the winning design by architect Derek Revington, was not completed until 2015. The Luminous Veil won a Canadian Architect Award of Excellence in 1999.

Photo of Viaduct under construction

Intrepid Park, Camp X – Whitby  

Along the Waterfront Trail in Whitby we ride through Intrepid Park, established in 1976 to commemorate the site of Camp X, the second World War spy training centre that was operated by the British Special Operations Executive. Established in Canada to co-ordinate British efforts with American involvement prior to the U.S. entering the Second World war, intelligence officers for Britain, Canada and the U.S. were trained here. The land (a farm) for the camp was bought from the Sinclair family, and the location of the camp was highly secret. To the north of our cycle route at 1313 Boundary Road (how’s that for a mysterious address) is a monument to Camp X and Sir William Stephenson, Director of British Security Co-ordination from 1941-6, as well as a historic plaque 

Ian Fleming trained at Camp X for a period, and Stephenson, is reputed to have been the inspiration for James Bond. Apparently, to this day, the CIA refers to its training camps as “going to the farm”. The camp buildings were demolished in 1969, but many books have been written about it. There is a movement to establish a museum in Whitby. There is also a small collection of Camp X artifacts at Casa Loma in Toronto. Camp X inspired the 2017 CBC drama series X Company.  

Photo, Camp X 1943

Carrying Place

The name says it all. Carrying Place was the traditional portage point between Lake Ontario, Presquil Bay and Bay of Quinte. The portage route became the road route. The text that follows is from the National Historic Site Plaque located at the intersection of Loyalist Parkway and Old Portage Road, Carrying Place, Ontario. The Loyalist Parkway more or less follows the route of Asa Danforth’s 1799 Road, generally Highway 33.

Carrying Place of the Bay of Quinte National Historic Site is located on the isthmus at the west end of the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario. The site, at the intersection of the Trenton and Carrying Place roads, marks the location where Sir John Johnson and the Chiefs of the Mississauga negotiated a treaty in 1787, known as the Gunshot Treaty, that permitted settlement as well as guaranteeing Indigenous Peoples water access, hunting and fishing rights. The site is comprised of a small plot of land owned by Parks Canada containing a solitary Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada cairn and plaque. Official recognition refers to the property owned by Parks Canada.

The significance of these early treaties cannot be underscored enough, they were signed at a time of massive refugee migration after the American War of Independence. Loyalists came with little more than their experience and a few tools, they were blacks, former slaves who had fought with the British and been guaranteed freedom, people of German, British and Dutch extraction, and large numbers of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy who were British allies, principally Mohawk. They were signed in peace. John Ralston Saul has suggested in his book A Fair Country that the Canadian tradition of welcoming newcomers arises from Indigenous traditions. Others suggest it was more complicated than that, but what is certainly true is that this part of Ontario was settled peacefully. Betrayal of the agreements came later.

Glenora

Not surprisingly, the histories of Glenora and Adolphustown are linked by people as they continue to be linked by the ferry which has operated in different forms for over 200 years. The key figure in the story is Peter Van Alstine, a Dutch American who served the British in the Revolutionary War, landed with a large group of loyalists in 1784 at Adolphustown. He built the early mills at Lake of the Mountain, as well as the stone mills by the ferry dock, owning and operating the first ferry. The settlement was first called Van Alstine’s Mills. The ferry was critical to the success of Danforth’s road connecting Kingston to Toronto. Once the better Kingston Road (HWY 2) was established after the War of 1812, demand for ferry service dropped. Subsequent owners operated the ferry and ran taverns to make a better living. A second ferry operated on the same route from the opposite shore by the Dorland family. If you want to read about feuding ferry owners that reached discussion at the Legislative assembly click here, but suffice to say it was not a peaceful history and some of the craft used were not up to the task. The present ferry is operated by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

DAY 3

Adolphustown:

We stop for the night in Adolphustown Park, (UEL Heritage Centre and Park) which is privately owned and operated by the Bay of Quinte Branch of the United Empire Loyalist Association. The town was named after one of George III’s sons. The park was established by the St. Lawrence Park Commission but transferred in 1992. The park includes a museum, in Allison House, and a Loyalist burying ground. Here, in 1784, at the western end of the park, (Hagerman’s Point), a large contingent of loyalists landed. While there is little trace of the town, the land was surveyed for town lots. The park is on the National Register of Historic Places, is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, and has an Ontario Heritage Foundation Easement in place. The house was built in 1877 by David Wright Allison, who later served as MP. Allison House has been restored, and has an interesting small museum with a collection of Loyalist materials, including biographical information on Sir William Johnson, Sir John Johnson and Molly Brant, all key figures to the attainment of peaceful negotiations and treaties with First Nations that allowed Loyalist settlement.

From Ron Brown, “Despite the influx of settlers, Adolphustown failed to develop beyond a small nucleus of buildings along the Bath Road [Route 33]. Two general stores faced each other, while a hotel stood across the road from the town hall, one of two located on Adolphustown’s small main street. Two churches stood on the north side of the road, as well, St. Paul’s and St. Alban’s. while a sawmill operated on a creek a short distance away. From the Bath Road, a lane led to the village’s two wharves.

View of Adolphustown and UEL Heritage Centre and Park from Prince Edward County, relatively unchanged since 1784

Route 33/Bath Road, Loyalist Parkway

Route 33, which begins in Prince Edward County, was christened the Loyalist Parkway by Queen Elizabeth in 1984, the Parkway includes sections of the first “crude trail” laid out by Colonel Asa Danforth in 1793 linking Kingston to York, the first British Road (see Day 1). The section of the route called the Bath Road was the first road built by Loyalists, out from Kingston, then called Catarqui.

Bath

Bath was one of the first settlements laid out in anticipation of Loyalist refugees in Ontario. Its population quickly reached 850 with forty-six shops, five inns and taverns, success due to its location on the York-Kingston highway and its harbour, sheltered by Amherst Island. It boasts several Ontario firsts. The steam ship, the Frontenac was built here and launched in 1816 from Finkle’s shipyard, now Finkle’s Shore Park. Bath also boasts the first library in Upper Canada along with the first grammar school, the Bath Academy, 1811. By 1817, a new Kingston Road had opened further north (Hwy 2 more or less) ending Bath’s growth. The railway bypassed Bath as well in 1856. It was incorporated as a village in 1859. Population dropped from a high of 2000 to 400. It continued as a shipping centre. As you ride through along Main Street: Note the Bath Road was built out from Kingston, hence the numbering in the town goes from east to west.

DAY4

Highway 2

We spend quite a bit of time on what was once The Kings Highway 2, or just Highway 2. 2 is the lowest numbered road in Ontario, there is no Highway 1.

The highway’s early history is tied to the provision of military routes between Detroit and Montreal. Sections west from Dundas were started as the Governor’s Road in 1794. The Kingston Road, surveyed in 1815 was the second road from Toronto to Kingston, built to provide a more direct road, further inland than the 1799 road constructed by Asa Danforth.

Until the 401 was opened in 1968, Highway 2, some 837 km. was the main route from Windsor to the Quebec border, called the Trans Provincial Highway. The QEW was the first divided highway in Ontario; Highway 2 also was upgraded to a divided highway in some sections, for example just west of Brockville. Parts of Highway 2 were flooded as part of the St. Lawrence Seaway construction; in fact the section we ride on out of Morrisburg was relocated to higher ground.

Highway 2 is one of Ontario’s most scenic routes, linking many of Ontario’s early settlements and towns. The whole linked road system was organized as The King’s Highway 2 in 1917. Later the King’s designation was dropped but persists in the crown shield on provincial highways. In places you can see Kings Highway signs as well as faded brown wagon wheel signs, which allude to a Centennial tourism program between Ontario and Quebec called Heritage Highways. Some images can be found here

In 1997-8 most of Highway 2 was downloaded to municipalities. There is just one, 1 km., section which is still provincial, from Gananoque to the point where it joins the Thousand Islands Parkway. (We ride on it)

Kings Highway Sign and Faded Heritage Highway Sign, Wikimedia

Diagram comparing Hwy 2(Red) to 400 series Highways. Wikimedia Commons

Day 4, Brockville’s Railway (Rainbow) Tunnel

At our afternoon break on Day 4 we stop in the park right in front of the entrance to Brockville’s Railway Tunnel, one of the most interesting new (old) attractions in Ontario. In 2017, the whole length was re-opened to the public, complete with an LED lightshow which, fittingly for the Bike Rally, includes lots of rainbows. It is divinely cool inside, and I look forward to riding through it.

Brockville’s Railway Tunnel is Canada’s oldest, built between 1854 and 1860 to link the Grand Trunk rail-line between Ottawa and Brockville with Brockville’s waterfront. Even if you have a railway to haul away the debris from digging a nearly ½ km tunnel through soil and granite under the city, it was a major undertaking. No subway boring machines then, it was largely hand hewn. It did open create an industrial boom on Brockville’s waterfront, and was in use up until 1969. Ownership transferred to the City of Brockville. It was partially restored as an historic site between 1974 and 1988, with an 85’ length opened, but it was maddening not to be able to go further.  It took a lot of local energy to see this great new attraction realized. Congrats to Brockville.

DAY 5

  1. LAWRENCE SEAWAY

Much of Day 5 and 6 is spent riding along the St. Lawrence Seaway, stunningly beautiful and full of poignant buried memories.

As early as 1783 work was started on a series of draft canals and locks to move ships from the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, but the scale of ships was limited. Upgrades continued over the next century and a half to keep pace with ever-increasing ship size and volumes.

After nearly 50 years of discussions and planning, in 1954 the St. Lawrence Seaway and its accompanying project were started jointly by the U.S. and Canada. 50 years on we take this monumental construction project for granted, yet it is hard to imagine Canada and the U.S. embarking on such a massive shared international project in current times.

It was a critical improvement to the shipping routes from Duluth to Montreal. Just below Cornwall, (not visible from our route) the international Sanderson/Moses Hydro Powerhouse and damn was built, and lands west were flooded. The Seaway opened in 1959, attended by President Eisenhower, Prime Minister Diefenbaker and Queen Elizabeth II.

The construction project had monumental environmental and cultural impact. 15,400 hectares of land were flooded, requiring the relocation of 6500 people, flooding of parts of the towns of Morrisburg and Iroquois. Everywhere along the route there are oddities created by the construction, such as no main street in Morrisberg…it was flooded. Some buildings were relocated to Upper Canada Village, which marks the beginning of heritage conservation practice in Ontario. The towns of Ingleside and Long Sault were built to accommodate displaced families. Eight Akwesasne Mohawk villages were flooded and the traditional fish habitat and fishery that sustained them was destroyed.

The Long Sault Parkway is along the high points left after the flooding, and to either side are the sites of the Lost Villages, communities that are still underwater and visited by scuba divers. People still row out to see their former homes or family graves left behind underwater.  500 buildings were relocated, many to Upper Canada Village.

It took four days for the flooding to gradually bury the communities. We ride past the Lost Villages Museum, just south of Vincent Massey Drive, west of Cornwall, which is operated by the Lost Villages Historical Society. A map showing the former St. Lawrence and the locations of the lost villages can be found on the Lost Villages website.

For a poetic take on what such loss of place means to people, read Anne Michael’s book The Winter Vault, which links three places of such loss, The St. Lawrence Seaway, the destruction and reconstruction of Warsaw, and the relocation of pyramids to permit the flooding for the Aswan dam project.

Map from the Lost Villages website showing the course of the St. Lawrence pre and post Seaway Construction

As we make our way along the St. Lawrence to Montreal we will pass through a series of abandoned shipping canals which were superceded by the St. Lawrence Seaway construction, the two major ones are the Soulanges east of Cornwall and then the Lachine Canal between Lachine and Montreal harbour.

DAY 6 

Lachine Canal

The Lachine Canal is a National Historic Site. While a canal to bypass a series of rapids on the St. Lawrence River had been dreamed of since the early founding of Montreal, and construction had been attempted between 1689 and 1700, the Lachine Canal was not realized until Montreal merchants pushed the project ahead between 1821 and 1825. The first canal had capacity for small flat-bottomed sailboats. (batteau, see Day 5) It was enlarged twice, between 1843 and 1848, and 1873 and 1884 to adapt to changes in shipping demands and technology. Running for 14km it became the spine of the most important and diversified industrial area in Canada, home to many industries and industrial workers. At its peak just before 1929, almost 15,000 ships per year passed along canal. St. Lawrence Piks has some interesting pictures of the canal and industrial environs during their busiest times. Along its length are many industrial buildings which have been converted for tourism or residential purposes. The Canal fell into disuse with the opening of the two larger channels built as part of the St. Lawrence Seaway. It was abandoned and fell into disrepair until it was taken over by Parks Canada to develop for tourism and recreational purposes. After many years of restoration it was re-opened in 2002 for recreational boating. The cycle path we are riding on is one of the many tourism and recreation projects that have been undertaken by different levels of government and community organizations along the length of the Lachine canal.