Back in the mid 1980’s, I was curious about a road in Etobicoke that appeared to have vestiges of an original alignment that was barely visible. At the more northern end, where Humberline Drive came to Finch Avenue, in exact alignment with the more northerly portion of Humberline Drive, was a clear opening through the trees. (Photo from 2018 – In the 1980’s Humberline stopped at Finch Avenue.) I worked in the area, and explored the woods there, finding some old Bee Hives in the woods, as well as seeing that the road clearly went straight in the past.
In 1987, Finch Avenue construction and the development of Humberline south of Finch took place. This photo I took in 1987 is from the brand new Humberline Drive looking north showing the old alignment.
The same view today:
This shows where these photos were taken and the orientation:
It was clear that the road aligned in a perfect straight line from the north all the way to the road matching up at Woodbine Race track. In fact, there was evidence that it lined up perfectly with Carlingview Drive, which was interesting, because I always found it curious how Carlingview Drive entered right into Woodbine Racetrack with a level crossing across the railway tracks.
This road was historically called 4th Concession.
I was especially curious about whether or not the road actually crossed the Humber River, and if I could find evidence that it did at some point in history, at the point marked here:
The following information is from a blog post that I posted back in April 2009, after a field trip to gather evidence:
April 21, 2009: Friday was a gorgeous spring day, with the sun shining and temperatures getting close to 70 degrees so it seemed like a great day to head out on our first field trip of the season. Our goal was to follow the old Humberline Drive / 4th Concession road from Rexdale Boulevard north to see if we could find any evidence that the road ever bridged the Humber River.
Our research with old maps and aerial photos seemed to show that the 4th Concession as it was known originally did in fact at some time bridge the Humber River, but maps are not always accurate, and can show either planned roads that never existed or road allowances that also may not have been there in reality. In any event, we made the assumption that if Humberline Drive DID ever bridge the Humber, it would have been prior to October 1954, as Hurricane Hazel hit in 1954 and destroyed many Humber River bridges. The assumption would be that if a bridge did exist at that time, it would have likely been destroyed and never rebuilt.
We drove along Airport Road / Dixon Road, past the Regal Constellation Hotel at the corner of Carlingview & Dixon Roads.
I could not resist taking a photo. There is something so cool about the retro sign on the top that you just don’t see anymore. The Regal Constellation is closed now, and demolition stopped after part of the hotel complex was taken down. The ownership of the hotel is in limbo after the company that owned it was split off and restructured. Will the Constellation be the next Bayview Ghost? Everyday I drive by it on the way to work, I wonder.
On to our destination, we head up Highway 27 and turn left on to Rexdale Boulevard.
The old Ascot Inn is now the Ascot Downs Apartments and the BP Gas Station is now a Petro-Canada station as you can see the change from 1960 to now.
At Woodbine Racetrack, there is an entrance road that has a large sign over it.
This road is the south extension of old Humberline Drive / 4th Concession. From Rexdale Boulevard heading south the road went in a straight line south through where the Racetrack is today, and into what is now Carlingview Drive. At one time it was Renforth Drive which continued straight south into the current Renforth Drive. Renforth Drive was re-aligned when the 427/401 interchange was built so it now runs to the west of 427 north of the 401.
We turn 180 degrees to face the north to explore where Humberline Drive once went down the slope from Rexdale Boulevard toward the Humber River.
From ground level, you can’t see the road, although it is clearly visible in Google Maps Aerial View:
A steel guardrail is there, which seems oddly out of place, yet indicates clearly that at some point this was a road that vehicles traveled on, and that it ended here at some point in the past.
Turning around to look back up the slope, you can see that although it is steep, a road could have run down here, unlike the drop off just a little west of here, where there is a bluff with a drop of a hundred feet or more!
Looking north across the river, there is really no evidence that the road crossed here, although at the road allowance, there are no trees that appear to be older than 50 years old. While this is not proof or evidence that the road bridged the river, if we had found trees older than that on the road allowance, it would be clear that the road likely never bridged the river.
On the north bank, the road is not visible at all, but this bank is low and susceptible to the frequent flooding of the Humber River, so any evidence would have been lost years ago.
We did find a piece of concrete at the edge of the river, but it could have been placed there anytime to reduce erosion, or be debris dumped there. On the other hand, it is a large piece to dump, and likely people would have dumped it somewhere with easier access, as we found a lot of debris closer to Rexdale Boulevard that had obviously been dumped. The rocks that we found here that we feel were placed to reduce erosion do not appear to be large flat pieces of concrete either, so maybe this was a clue. Is it possible that this piece of concrete was part of a base to support the end of a bridge? Would it still be here over 50 years later?
Here is where we may have found our most tantalizing clue. On the south bank of the river right where the road allowance was, we found a piece of concrete embedded in the dirt several inches below the surface. It appeared to be broken off. Could the piece in the river be broken off this section? Why was there concrete under here? There is a storm drain just to the east side of the road allowance right at the bank of the river, built at some point after Hurricane Hazel to divert storm runoff. The storm drain construction may have disturbed the concrete pad under the surface, breaking off some of it. There is only one reason there would be a poured concrete pad at the edge of the river – to provide a stable surface for bridge supports.
Buoyed by the prospect of some evidence that Humberline Drive may have once crossed the Humber River, we were excited to find what looked like a timber bridge support.
The timber was creosote preserved, yet decayed enough that it was obviously quite old. Bridges did use creosote preserved timbers, however it is much more likely that we had found an old railroad tie that had washed downstream.
A closeup of the timber/tie. The S shape is a metal anti-splitting device commonly hammered into the end of ties to reduce splitting. With no other pieces of timber around, we are pretty confident that this is not part of the old bridge, which would likely have been ripped from its supports and completely washed downstream during Hurricane Hazel.
We climbed up the embankment just a few hundred meters west of the where the road would have crossed the river, and from the top looking back in a North-East direction, it is amazing the difference in height. No road could possibly cross at this point, nor further west as the steep bluff continues. Our trip was a success, and although we did not get any absolute proof that Humberline Drive crossed the Humber, we are pretty confident that at some point it did. We will continue to look for evidence to prove that it did, whether photographic, or perhaps a first-hand account from someone who remembers it.
Update: January 15, 2021
Some mysteries just keep bugging you. For me, this is one, and with all the time at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown, I dug back in to online research on this, exploring aerial photos of the area that Concession 4 would have crossed the Humber River.
Good aerial photos go back to 1947. Hurricane Hazel stuck in 1954, which altered a lot of the landscape, and work was done after that to try to prevent future flooding, including building the Claireville Dam in 1963/4 which I discuss in another post about Indian Line.
From the 1947 aerial view, it is clear that the road crosses Rexdale Blvd, then appears to turn into a fairly well traveled path to the river and on the other side. At this point the river is at one of the most narrow and shallowest points, so it conceivably could have been forded without much trouble. There is no evidence of a bridge. The 1953 view does not seem much different, but it’s important because this is the last image before Hurricane Hazel.
The 1956 view after Hurricane Hazel clearly shows the impact of the flooding as well as evidence of some heavy machinery likely clearing debris etc.
The 1959 view does not seem much different, although it more clearly shows a different diversion of the river, which is visible in the 1956 and 1947 views. That likely means that previous flooding and debris may at times change the course of the river at this point.
By 1960, a lot of work is underway for flood control as a result of the devastation from Hurricane Hazel in October 1954. You can see a large holding pond which I often drive by today. It’s a bit eerie, but I presume it’s part of the flood control systems.
The 1961 view is pretty clear.
Based on these views, I draw a few conclusions that I think are reasonable:
- There is no evidence of a bridge across the Humber River at this point, at least in the recent past (as far back as the 1940’s)
- There is evidence that it was used as a path and that it likely was a ford at that point.
- The debris found on my 2009 field trip was likely a combination of debris washed down from Hurricane Hazel and other storms, debris dumped there, or debris from post-Hazel flood control work. The steel guardrail may have been installed to discourage dumping. I can’t imagine any other reason for it.