Sunday, August 30, 2009

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TORONTO'S WOODS





Like the city itself, the woods situated along the Gem City's southwest border has a history, deep, rich and mysterious.
Foremost amongst the deep green forest was Camp Crumb. It stood upon a plateau where Sloane's Run forks west to Wallace Heights and northeast to Rock's Farm. A dirt road once twisted along Sloane's Run, but has long been covered with the natural erosion of the steep gully through which it passes.
Walter M. Kestner, in his book, The Era of Elegance, mentions Toronto's early park: "The log cabin and the rustic pavilion for dining up Sloane's Run hollow called Camp Crumb where clambakes and corn roasts were regularly held. My first picnic in Toronto was held in the second grade when Miss Nora Yingst, our teacher, escorted us out the Pike to Camp Crumb, and I ate my lunch on the way but dined elegantly on the bounty of the others who were not as voracious as I was.
The Boy Scouts of America began operation in 1910, and the local troops found Camp Crumb and its environ of beeches and oaks, huge boulders, rock shelters and cascades an ideal place for scouting activities. If the initials carved in the rocks and towering beeches are any indication of its usage, then the 1940s was the peak period for Camp Crumb.
Local lore reports that this bucolic getaway fell into disuse after a distraught Toronto man hanged himself from a beech tree overlooking a cliff. Legend also hints that he carved his initials into the tree prior to committing the act. Some old-timers say the grounds are haunted.
Another long forgotten piece of the Gem City's woodland past is Slaughter Hollow, which today is just west of the state's access gate along Route Seven near the south end ramp.
"One of the favorite Sabbath afternoon walks," Kestner wrote, "was out the Knoxville Pike to Sloane's Run then up the left fork to slaughter house hollow where the crumbling remnants of the old abattoir still sheltered the grisly implements of its former operations. Along the way at the base of the hollow huge limestone rocks produced a prolific harvest of sea animals which offered mute testimony that the waters of the distant seas had once laved these shores."
The Gem City author was certainly correct regarding water once encircling the Toronto we know today. In Roadside Geology of Ohio, Mark J. Camp wrote about Mount Nebo. "On the south edge of town the highway swings around a large hill that is separated from the Pennsylvanian (an era 320 to 286 million years ago) escarpment by an abandoned channel of the Ohio River. During Wisconsinan (90,000 to 10,000 years ago) time this was a bedrock island in the Ohio River. At some point sandbars cut it off and the river assumed its present course."
Modern man has also left signs of his presence in the surrounding forests. A couple of anomalies are rock piles appearing to be funeral cairns, one each on both sides of the hill upon which Fairview Heights stands.
In Greater Toronto 1899, author G.H. Stoll noted that before the inception of Union Cemetery, people sometimes buried their deceased in the hills above present-day Toronto.
Another mystery is an abandoned well, or cistern, concave and still open, which sits approximately 50 yards west of Route Seven above Daniels Street. An 1878 map indicates that the property once belonged to an R. Lee, an 1871 map to an H. Gaston.
Lesser oddities include rock carvings of a snake, an eagle and an oak leaf upon different boulders scattered throughout the woods and Indian Rock, named such for the collection of arrow heads near it.
PICTURES top to bottom: Indian Rock.  Open Well.  Winter Scene of Rock Shelter.  Oak Leaf Carving by JMW.