Excerpt from The Toronto Carrying Place, "Town and country: from Woodbridge to Nobleton", pp. 100-101
When I was living in Toronto, forty years ago, I made a miniature version of this trip, walking beside the Humber as closely as possible from Rexdale to Kleinburg and back. It was March Break. Winter was pretty much over, but the ground was still frozen, and there was still snow in shady spots. I have vivid memories of walking into a deserted landscape, with the river winding ahead of me, and only the stark skeletons of hydro towers and railway trellises above me. For a kid from Toronto, it felt like trekking through the Barren Lands.
It was an easier walk in those days. Steeles Avenue was a dirt road which didn’t even cross the Humber. The 407 had not been built. There was little traffic on Islington, north of Toronto. Woodbridge had not yet become the fuel-injected boomtown that it is now. I was less scrupulous about trespassing on privately owned land. Today, rather than squeezing under the 407 along the banks of the river, and clambering over fences into railway lands, I think I’ll stick to Islington Avenue.
A bit further along, the road drops into the valley of the Humber, and it is much easier to see the river coiling through flat and open farmland. These are the first farms I’ve seen on this trip. It’s not clear what they’re growing–berries perhaps, or garden vegetables. The fields look perilously close to the river, and I’m thinking that they must flood every spring, even without a hurricane. Behind a closed gate, an access road leads away to one of the landmarks of my earlier trip, a boxy railway bridge. Its sister bridge–a high and hauntingly beautiful thing, all elegant steel girders and slender concrete struts–strides across the river two kilometres downstream. It’s the late Industrial Revolution at its most romantic.
No time for that now. The many “No Trespassing” signs and the thought of the kilometres ahead discourage me from a nostalgic detour. I keep going and pass an older man who is doggedly ignoring the signs and fishing at a bend in the Humber. “Any luck?” I ask. “Nothing,” he replies; “I don’t think there is fish in this river. I spend three hours–nothing!” Actually, he just has to be patient. Plans to restock the Humber with Atlantic salmon are going ahead, and biologists predict that the salmon may be re-established and thriving by 2030. Even today, the upper reaches of the Humber are supposedly full of brown trout, but I doubt this fisherman will ever believe that.
Classic little cottages begin to appear on the river side of Islington, and the valley escarpment looms over the other side. Islington has a nice authentic curve to it, but I’m betting that the Carrying Place stuck to the higher ground to the east. The road is simply too close to the river, and even though Dr. Austin believes this branch was used only during dry seasons, it’s not like the trail to choose low ground when drier heights are available. Either way, the Carrying Place would have roughly followed this same route up to the intersection with Highway 7, which proves to be just as dangerous as when my father drove through it to work in Concord every day.