The Newmarket Canal

Standing in front of the middle lock

There’s an interesting piece of history hiding in the outer reaches of the GDA (Greater Dodgeville Area, loosely defined as any place I can reach by bike) just north of Newmarket: the scattered remnants of the Newmarket Canal.

This never-finished canal was to be a southerly branch of the Trent-Severn canal from Lake Simcoe to Aurora via the Holland River. This was not a trivial undertaking for many reasons, not the least of which was that there just wasn’t enough water in the river to operate a canal. The initial plan for the canal called for reservoirs to be fed by water diverted from Lake Wilcox, the source of the Humber River. That plan was later shelved as being too expensive and politically unpopular, and was replaced by a scheme to pump the necessary water uphill from Lake Simcoe to the top of the Oak Ridges Moraine at Aurora.

Work on the canal was to be done in three stages: the first required that the river be dredged from Lake Simcoe to Holland Landing. The second required three locks to be built between Holland Landing and Newmarket (the second of those locks is pictured above). The final phase, from Newmarket to Aurora, would require an additional five or six locks depending on the final route, which still hadn’t been finalized when construction began.

Even as the work on the canal began in 1906 and continued for five years, there was still no clear plan for keeping enough water in the canal to keep it navigable during any period of the year outside the spring thaw. Increasing public opposition, escalating costs, and a change in government ultimately doomed the project in 1912 after years of political shenanigans, interference, and scandals that would make most modern politicians blanche. At that point, most of the work on the canal through Holland Landing and up to Newmarket had been completed. The three lock structures and the base of one swing bridge that had been built before the project was called off still stand along the east branch of the Holland River north of Newmarket.

James T. Angus’s comprehensive book, A Respectable Ditch: A History of the Trent-Severn Waterway 1833–1920, details the tortuous political and physical paths of the entire project’s 90 years of debate, design, and construction. It devotes a chapter to the Newmarket Canal debacle and is well worth reading.

This was at least the second planned canal along this route. The other would have gone straight through the Oak Ridges Moraine and connected to Lake Ontario via the Humber River.

I first visited two of the abandoned lock structures almost 20 years ago, shortly after learning about the Newmarket Canal in Ron Brown‘s excellent guidebook, 50 Unusual Things to See in Ontario. I finally visited the third lock and the swing bridge just this past September.

Looking back now, 50 Unusual Things was probably what set me off on my habit of exploring the GDA and finding unusual sights and abandoned bits of the city. Damn you, Ron Brown!

My most recent cycling visit to the canal was on Saturday, during which I was trapped under a sheltering bridge for an hour and a half by that big storm that whipped across southern Ontario. I eventually called Risa to rescue me with the car after giving up hope that the lightning, rain, and wind would let up in time for me to get back home at a reasonable hour.

The irony here is that I was stuck within spitting distance of the East Gwillimbury GO station. I could easily have gone home by train, but the next one was 36 hours away on Monday morning and I wouldn’t have been able to take my bike on it. Hello GO? Weekend service, please.

More pictures below the fold.

Read More …

Things you can move with your bike #1

Carrying a full load on my bike trailer

A lot of people think that you need a car to carry big packages and are surprised at how practical bikes can be for pulling heavy loads. Whenever I’m pulling something in my trailer, someone along the way will ask me questions about it or commend me for being innovative/brave/green/crazy. In truth, I’m just too lazy to use the car.

I think that every city cyclist should have a bike trailer of some description. Trailers make bikes so much more functional for running errands and hauling gear that I don’t know how I lived without mine. I’m currently looking at options for a flatbed cargo trailer that will be even more versatile for use in the city.

Last week’s cargo was a new vacuum cleaner and accessories. Total weight was about 35 lb, a pretty small load compared to some of my previous hauls. The big box was a little too large to sit flat in the trailer, but it was easily secured with an adjustable bungee cord. Distance travelled with the load was about 4 km, mostly uphill.

Oh, and yes, Dyson vacuums really do suck like nothing you’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.

Bridge from the past

Concrete bowstring bridge outside Guelph

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you see something at the side of the road that you just have to stop and check out. This is a prime example from last year: a concrete bowstring bridge beside the current alignment of Stone Road outside Guelph. According to the crossbar, it was built in 1916.

Concrete bowstring bridge outside Guelph

The modern bridge that carries Stone Road today was built in 2005, but it’s difficult to believe that the old bridge was still carrying cars just four years ago; it looks like it’s in pretty rough shape.  The bridge was designated as a heritage structure in 2003 (PDF) and became part of a walking trail along the Eramosa River after Stone Road moved a few metres north to the new bridge.

Concrete bowstring bridge outside Guelph

Concrete bowstring bridge outside Guelph

I don’t know when we stopped building this kind of bridge, but I think the two that still exist in the Don Valley date from around the same era as this one. The sight of a concrete bowstring bridge always makes me smile; they seem to strike the perfect balance between elegance and industry.

Report Card, 1935

Report card from Ryerson Public School

I can tell you one thing for sure: if I’d gone to Ryerson Public School in the 1930s, I would definitely have failed sitting, standing, and walking correctly and coming to school well rested. But I would have aced making an effort to control my temper. All of the other qualities of a good citizen could have gone either way. Check out the full-sized scan to see all of the things they don’t teach in school any more.


Winks Eyelash Boutique

As a man, it’s pretty difficult for me to imagine anyone needing to go to an eyelash boutique. I think of salons as being fairly specialized businesses already, with further specialization being unnecessary. But the Winks Boutique web site claims—and I have no reason to disagree—that it is the city’s “first salon specializing in semi-permanent eyelash extensions” applied by “experienced lash stylists.” The price list includes fake eyelash installations ranging from “Natural” to “Fabulous,” with flares (lash clusters, as opposed to individual lashes) available by the quarter-set or as refills. Do people really take their eyelashes (fake or otherwise) this seriously? I think I’ll just file this away under “things I don’t understand.”

The death of logos #1

The warmer weather of the last few weeks means that I’ve resumed my lunchtime explorations of Mount Pleasant Cemetery. One thing I’ve been noticing is that some people’s monuments are marked by the logos or wordmarks of the companies they ran, owned, or founded. The first example is W. Garfield Weston, son of eponymous company founder George Weston.

Garfield Weston's monument in Mount Pleasant Cemetery

Weston's wordmark on a bakery in Toronto

Doublespeak deluxe

“ISPs are the underlying telecommunications facility that customers use to access the Internet and that content providers, including broadcasters, use to transmit their content. ISPs do not buy, package or sell programming or any other Internet content.” [Emphasis mine.]

Rogers VP for Regulatory Affairs Ken Engelhart giving a presentation to the CRTC, quoted in the Star.

Oh, really? Selective memory is just so convenient, isn’t it?

I think what Rogers really wants to say to the CRTC is, “How dare you fleece our customers! That’s our job!”