About the Author

Ron Brown

Ron Brown is a freelance travel writer and photographer. He has published twenty books on the visual heritage of Ontario, including The Lake Erie Shore: Ontario's Forgotten South Coast; Behind Bars: Inside Ontario's Heritage Gaols; The Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More: An Illustrated History of Railway Stations in Canada; Ontario's Ghost Town Heritage; and Top 100 Unusual Things to See in Ontario. He is past chair of the Writers Union of Canada, and is active with the Travel Media Association of Canada, Access Copyright, where he sits on the board of directors, and the Book and Periodical Council. He lectures and directs bus tours based on his book topics. He lives in Toronto.

Books by this Author
Behind Bars

Behind Bars

Inside Ontario's Heritage Gaols
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Canada's World Wonders
Excerpt

CHAPTER TWO
THEY CAME FROM OUTER SPACE: THE CHARLEVOIX METEOR CRATER AND BIOSPHERE RESERVE
The Meteor
Every year tens of thousands of alien objects invade the earth’s atmosphere. They are not, however, living beings guiding their spaceships to invade our planet; rather, they are massive space rocks known as meteors and range in size from a few centimetres to hundreds of metres across.

Few make it to the earth’s surface, and those that do are called meteorites. In a few cases, they are large enough to explode and open up a crater in the earth’s surface. The result is known as an impact crater. The largest impact crater in the world, the two-billion-year- old Vredefort crater at three hundred kilometres across, lies in a field in South Africa, but Canada can count more than two dozen impact craters of its own. None, however, has had the earth-altering impact of the fifteen-kilometre-wide asteroid that blasted into the shallow seas off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula sixty-six million years ago, sending massive volumes of sulphur dust high into the atmosphere. The thick, poisonous cloud created a long, dark winter that wiped out the earth’s food supply, starving the dinosaurs into a mass extinction.

Not all impact craters can be easily identified from the ground, including the one that plummeted into the Yucatan. Most require an aerial vantage or geological survey. Their evidence, however, is sometimes plain to see. A few even boast historical plaques to celebrate their locations.

Canada’s largest meteor blew open the earth in today’s Sudbury region of Ontario. When the massive object smashed into the earth 1.8 billion years ago, its fiery collision created a crater that originally measured 150 kilometres across and altered the region’s chemistry enough to create an array of minerals, such as nickel and copper, that have made Sudbury the mining giant it is today. However, prolonged erosion and surface alteration has removed any visible crater formation, and only geological maps can reveal the shape and extent of the impact. Recent analyses have determined that the space intruder was, in fact, a comet and not the long-presumed asteroid.

One impact crater has become a major tourist attraction: the one near Flagstaff, Arizona, about two hours from the Grand Canyon. Exposed in a treeless desert, unobstructed by water or vegetation, it remains one of the world’s most clearly identifiable craters and likely one of the most visited. That explosive collision occurred a mere fifty thousand years ago and blasted open a circular depression that is 1,300 metres wide and 130 metres deep. The visitors’ centre contains a fragment of the fiery rock.

A popular hiking trail in eastern Algonquin Park leads to the small 3.8-kilometre-wide Brent crater, largely filled in with small lakes. Even smaller is the Holleford crater, little more than a ninety-metre-wide depression in a farm field north of Kingston. Yet, both are the subject of nearby historical plaques.

And then there is the Charlevoix impact crater. At fifty-four kilometres across, it is the eleventh-largest crater on earth and has been described as the eighth wonder of the world. When the two-kilometre-wide monster meteorite roared into the earth 340 million years ago, it totally reconfigured the geology of the region, exploding upward with a force thousands of times that of the American atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The core of the upthrust is the visible Mont des Éboulements.

The southern half of the crater lies beneath the waters of the St. Lawrence River, while the northern portion is defined by the rugged Laurentian Mountains. The interior ring surrounding the upthrust is relatively level and remains home to a rural population, making it the earth’s only inhabited impact crater. The outer ring consists of a higher ridge of largely Precambrian-era rocks.

The crater remained unknown until 1965, when Dr. Jehan Rondot studied a rock cut on the summit of Mont des Éboulements and saw the unusual shape of a shatter cone, literally a cone-shaped rock lined with clearly identifiable shatter lines.

The crater also has its own interpretation centre, the Observatoire de l’Astroblème, created by Professor Jean-Michel Gastonguay and located adjacent to the luxurious Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu hotel at La Malbaie, Quebec. The building is actually the former golf clubhouse for the Manoir. Throughout the Charlevoix region, geological evidence of the huge explosion lies everywhere, from suevite beds (looking like grey lava flows) on the shores of the St. Lawrence River to fractures in limestone cliffs near La Malbaie.

From a distance, especially from the parking lot at the Observatoire, the level plain that surrounds the peak and the cone-shaped apex of the upthrust itself are all readily identifiable. Another fine view of the depression encircling the cone is that from Mont de la Croix at Saint-Hilarion.

Satellite imagery continues to reveal previously unknown craters in Canada, such as the twentyfive- kilometre-wide crater discovered on the Prince Albert Peninsula in the Arctic in 2012 and a buried crater in southern Alberta identified in 2014.

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Dundurn Railroad 5-Book Bundle

Dundurn Railroad 5-Book Bundle

In Search of the Grand Trunk / Rails Across the Prairies / Rails Across Ontario / The Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore / Rails to the Atlantic
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Dundurn Railroad 6-Book Bundle

Dundurn Railroad 6-Book Bundle

Rails Over the Mountains / Rails to the Atlantic / Rails Across Ontario / and 3 more
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Dundurn Railroad Bundle

Dundurn Railroad Bundle

In Search of the Grand Trunk / Rails Across Ontario / Rails Across the Prairies / The Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore
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From Queenston to Kingston

From Queenston to Kingston

The Hidden Heritage of Lake Ontario's Shoreline
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In Search of the Grand Trunk

In Search of the Grand Trunk

Ghost Rail Lines in Ontario
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Menopause Breakthrough

Reclaim Your Life (Safely) with Hormones
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Rails Across Ontario

Rails Across Ontario

Exploring Ontario's Railway Heritage
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Rails Across the Prairies

Rails Across the Prairies

The Railway Heritage of Canada’s Prairie Provinces
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Rails Over the Mountains

Rails Over the Mountains

Exploring the Railway Heritage of Canada's Western Mountains
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Rails to the Atlantic

Rails to the Atlantic

Exploring the Railway Heritage of Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces
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The Lake Erie Shore

The Lake Erie Shore

Ontario's Forgotten South Coast
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The Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore

The Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore

An Illustrated History of Railway Stations in Canada
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Toronto's Lost Villages
Excerpt

1. Along the Lakeshore

Toronto’s First Vanished Villages
TEIAIAGON AND GANATCHAKIAGON

As the glaciers that covered the Toronto region melted northward, humans followed. The first were nomadic hunters searching the then tundra for roving herds of elk, caribou, and other subarctic wildlife. The growth of forests saw succeeding cultures replace the earlier occupants. The oldest prehistoric artifact found in the Toronto area is a chert spear point discovered by a school student and dated to eight thousand years ago; other artifacts of similar age have been few.

By the 16th century, the sedentary Hurons and Petuns occupied the fertile lands south of Georgian Bay, away from their traditional enemies, the Iroquois Confederacy, who occupied the Finger Lakes region of New York state. South of Georgian Bay, the Hurons and Petuns established large village compounds of longhouses, surrounded by sturdy wooden palisades. They came to the Lake Ontario shores to hunt in the Rouge and Humber marshes and fish around the Toronto Islands, but established no villages on those shores.

Through the 17th century as the Europeans arrived, mainly in search of the beaver, the lifestyles of the Indigenous Peoples shifted. Now they concentrated on hunting the valuable beaver pelts to trade for tools, guns, and liquor. Alliances were formed, the Iroquois aligning with the Dutch and English traders, the Hurons with the French. The main trading route between Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario was known as the “Toronto Carrying Place,” following the Humber River and over a height of land before descending to Lake Simcoe. (At the time, the early French knew our “Lake Simcoe” as Lac Toronto.)

As the fur supply became depleted south of Lake Ontario, on what is now the American side, north of Lake Ontario the Iroquois launched a string of deadly raids that either killed off or chased away the Huron and Petun populations. The missions established by the French missionaries to “Christianize” the “savages” lay in smouldering ruins. Fort Ste. Marie near Midland is a reconstruction of such a mission complex, which had lain on this site.

Following their violent dispersal of the Petun and Huron in 1650, the Iroquois built a string of seven villages along the north shore of Lake Ontario. Two of these were within today’s Toronto region. Each was to protect one of the two southern termini of the Toronto Portage, one branch of which followed the Rouge River, the other the Humber.

The village overlooking the Rouge was Ganatchekiagon, built by the Seneca (of the Iroquois Confederacy) on a high promontory upstream from the river’s mouth. This strategic position allowed the Seneca to control the trade routes east and west along the north shore, as well as the main route along the Rouge. Archaeologists now know the location as the Bead Hill site. The site overlooking the Humber was Teiaiagon, and is known now as the Baby Point site. Both were palisaded compounds of longhouses, in which an estimated six to eight hundred people would live. The river-mouth marshes provided ample fish and fowl.

Then came the pushback. Anxious to regain control of the fur trade, in the 1690s the northern Anishinaabe tribes, including today’s Ojibwa and Mississaugas, raided the Seneca villages, pushing the Iroquois back across the lake in what are known as the Beaver Wars. By 1700 the Seneca villages lay vacant — becoming Toronto’s first vanished villages.

In 1991 the Bead Hill site was designated a National Historic Site. Excavations have unearthed a bone haircomb decorated with figures drinking from a goblet, which indicates European contact. Other finds include stone tools, effigy pipes, burial artifacts, ceramics, and the remains of many meals — as well as countless beads typical of a Seneca village of significant size.

The site lies within and adjacent to the newly created Rouge National Urban Park, the world’s first national urban park, and remains the Toronto area’s only undeveloped First Nations archaeological site. Although many artifacts have surfaced, Parks Canada has yet to publicly mark the location. There is as yet no plaque nor interpretation centre, although both are in the works. The park entrance lies along Kingston Road in the Rouge Valley.

By contrast, the Baby Point site (named for Jacques Baby, Inspector General for Upper Canada) has been known for many decades, and now lies buried beneath housing. Below the site, on the floor of the Humber Valley, two prominent historic plaques within a Story Circle recount the story of Baby Point and of the lifestyles of the early Indigenous Peoples.

The Europeans Arrive, in Numbers
The year was 1793, and the shore of Lake Ontario was heavy with forests. The few clearings were hazy with smoke from the campfires of Indigenous hunters, while ducks flapped across the little lagoons that hid in the frequent river mouths. Well-worn foot trails and portages wound through the dark woods linking the all-important rivers and lakes. To the inhabitants of the day, the rivers were their highways.

Those routes were as important to the lakeshore’s first non-Indigenous settlers as they were to the Indigenous populations. Eastern Ontario and the Niagara Peninsula already had a few crude villages ringing some little harbours, but with the arrival of John Graves Simcoe in 1793, that pattern began to spread, and that spreading, two hundred years later, would be the seemingly endless sprawl of the Greater Toronto Area.

Old York
This, the oldest of European Toronto’s “lost villages,” has undergone many transformations. From the earliest “Toronto,” a cluster of wooden huts in a dark forest clearing in the 1790s, “York,” as it was renamed by Simcoe (who disliked using Indigenous names), had evolved by the 1830s into a handsome, if muddy, provincial town of banks, churches, and stores. In the 1850s the railways began to transform what was by that time again called Toronto into a smoky and industrial city. And yet another transformation since has removed most of the old industries, replacing them with condos, townhouses, and soaring glass skyscrapers.

The enormity of the changes belies the scant time in which they have occurred: 1793, after all, is only a little more than two centuries ago. Yet it was in July of that year that John Graves Simcoe, commander of the Queen’s Rangers, landed in the schooner Mississauga on the low shore of “Toronto,” to a silent woodland. His job was to find a site for and to lay out a new capital for Britain’s new province of Upper Canada. The existing capital, Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), was too exposed to the Americans, with whom Britain had just fought the War of Independence. With him were chief surveyor Augustus Jones and his deputy, Alexander Aitken.

Rather than choose the grounds around the old French Fort near the foot of today’s Dufferin Street, as proposed in a plan prepared by a Captain Gotherman five years earlier, they chose instead the head of the swampy harbour where a creek they named the Don River flowed into the bay. Here they laid out ten square blocks, five along the shore, and two deep.

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