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East Don Parkland

Duncan Mills Ruins

On the eastern side of the small bridge that carries Duncan Mills Rd. over the East Don River there's a small path heading north that leads to an intriguing mystery. Hardly a couple hundred meters from the road you'll find two small, long-abandoned buildings that flank the trail. The buildings are very different from one another in craftsmanship and architectural style, likely indicating they were constructed at different times. The western building appears much older, built primarily from irregularly-shaped natural stone, typical of what I have seen of mid-19th to early 20th century Ontario farm buildings. The roof is now missing almost entirely, and sections of the building have been repaired with more modern materials. The eastern building appears to have been made with prefabricated cinder blocks, and is fully in tact.

Since first visiting the site in 2011, I've been able to locate surprisingly little authoritative information about what's there. The North York Historical Society has taken a stab at researching the site, as have a few amateur historians, but results have been contestable and many leads have turned cold. No doubt answers do exist out there somewhere, but for now the site remains a bit of a mystery.

Investigating the building interiors is downright fascinating. The building on the eastern side of the trail contains a variety of pipes and pumps likely related to water distribution, with two rusting circuit panels adorning the northern wall. The western building is even more interesting, containing what appears to be a large and very old oil tank, and a collection of other equipment that I couldn't really identify except to say that they appeared to be related to electrical power generation. The equipment sports little in the way of identifying features, save for two devices attached to the southern wall of the building imprinted with "G&W H4C" on their fronts.

After my first visit here, I spent a bit of time poking around online using these cryptic markings as a foundation for my queries. In time, I located a piece of equipment called a four-conductor pothead in the history section of the website of G&W Electric Company in Blue Island, IL. It looked suspiciously like the equipment in the Duncan Mills ruins, so I sent an e-mail to their after-market support group with a photo of the object attached. Much to my surprise, I received a reply from a gentleman named Roger no less than an hour later.

Over the next 24 hours, Roger and his associate, Tony, kindly provided me with a surprising amount of information. The device is indeed a four-conductor pothead, used in electrical systems with low-pressure gas or oil insulated cables. G&W Electric Company started manufacturing this type of equipment in 1940, but a page from their January 1951 catalog shows this exact pothead: H4C, style 4 bracket, shape B. According to the catalog it could have supported 2500, 5000 or 7500 volts of current, depending on several factors. So two things are clear: The western building was used in the generation of electricity, and it was certainly in use in the 1950's.

There are a few possible historic scenarios for these derelict buildings. They could have once been part of the Duncan family estate and mills, established nearby in the early 19th century and in the family's possession until the 1970. They may have been part of the Hunter family farm (ca. 1840) and/or the subsequent "Green Acres" farm constructed in 1962 by Alf Anderson. The most likely theory, however, seems to be that they were once served as a pumping station for nearby Graydon House.

In 1934, a broker and financier by the name of Henry Rupert Bain used the fortune he had earned backing the Pickle Crow gold mine to purchase one-hundred acres of the surrounding area on which to build his estate. Two years later, he contracted architects Allan George and Walter N. Moorhouse, who were actively working on the new Toronto Stock Exchange building, to design his residence, "Graydon House." The original estate sported an intricate array of gardens, fountains, ponds and other water features.

Whatever their history, the buildings are absolutely worth a visit should you find yourself trekking the nearby Betty Sutherland Trail (which, I believe, was considered part of the East Don Parkland until 1988). If you discover something new about the ruins, please drop me a line and let me know what you learn!

Posted on: June 3, 2015