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Bathurst Street gap, Holland Marsh/East Gwillimbury

Lone Primate

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Aug 16, 2007
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Don Mills Willowdale Park Forest something I dunno
I don't think I'll have time to do this justice this evening, but I thought it might be fun to start a new thread... one that I've neglected for years.

On April 27, 1995, York Region decided to close a half-kilometre stretch of Bathurst Street just south of where it meets Yonge Street at Holland Marsh. It never opened again, and was superseded by a major bypass that opened in 2017. The part that was closed was a little muddy track only a lane wide that (heading north) zigzagged down to a little creek, crossed a decrepit bridge that was falling apart, and climbed back out before dropping down a hill back into the open plain before meeting with Yonge. It was thought wise to close it because the stretch was badly deteriorated and there'd been an increase in traffic that outstripped the capacities of a badly-kept, unimproved country lane. I've recently read elsewhere that this closed part had been popular with young people in the area for testing their sports cars in the 70s and 80s, and they called it the Devil's Elbow. I can tell you from the couple of times I walked it, once in the rain, that it was tough enough going on foot. In anything less than ideal conditions, it must have been hair curling. Certainly the little bridge at the bottom took a beating from the traffic, that was self-evident.

I'd like to start tonight with a set of dash cam videos I took of the driveable portions shown in tandem for comparison. These were shot in 2013, not long before construction of the bypass began, and 2017, after construction was completed, respectively. Photos of the closed section and construction to follow, hopefully this weekend.

Our first trip to "the Devil's Elbow" was on July 7, 2013, shortly after reading a story about the stretch in The Star, and about how York Region was planning to finally re-open the road. We thought we'd go see what it looked like before they did.









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Below: our first glimpse of the little bridge. I don't believe we were even expecting to see one, so this came as a pure delight.


Below: as you can see, this little bridge was in almost unbelievably bad shape. Nearly all off its barriers had been knocked away. At some point, to enhance the safety of the bridge and extend its lifetime, K barriers had been placed along its edges. I don't know how old this bridge was. It was made of rebar-reenforced concrete, so at a guess, it probably wasn't quite a century old, but probably not that much shy of it. Clearly, it saw a lot of action in its time, and a lot of it not so good.


Below: given that the road had been closed for over 18 years at the point we were taking these photos, I'd really love to know just what was making these deep ruts all over the place.


Below: my buddy took this shot. I think it's probably the loveliest of the entire lot. I'm glad we got it. This view no longer exists.



Below: I'd love to know the exact story of how this Sun paper box came to be here, wouldn't you?



Below: not part of the road, but the former driveway to one of the properties now serviced off Yonge Street.




Below: nearly there... you can see the telephone poles of the north end of Bathurst; the part that remained open. Around this time, it had begun to rain again, and we didn't like the slippery look of the descent, so, like Apollo 10, we turned around without attempting a landing.

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In the previous shots, we were driven back at about the 95% mark by a couple of factors. The first was that it had been raining previously and the road was extremely slippery and we didn't care for the look of the descent back down to the extant part of Bathurst to the north. The second factor was that just about at that point, it began to rain again; lightly at first, but by the time we reached the bridge again on retreat, it was literally torrential. We did out best to stow the cameras to keep them from being damaged. I honestly can't remember being outdoors in a more powerful downpour.

I went back about two months later on my own to have a look at the part we'd missed... the approach from the north, to as far as the bridge. Given that this was the last time I got to see the road in its original, primordial state, I wish I'd gone further. But I didn't know then how soon they'd be starting work. I figured we had plenty of time. Oh, well.










I neglected the road all through 2014, unfortunately. By the time we got back, just kind of on a whim, we were surprised to see how advanced the work already was. We didn't really go anywhere; it was March, still pretty cold out. These shots are actually just a couple dozen metres to the west of the original road. For the most part, the next stretch bypasses the old, while simultaneously being wide enough to have obliterated almost all of it at its fringe. These shots are at the north end of the closure.



We came back again in July to have a look. Aside from the huge wound the new construction appeared to be, the thing that was most striking to me was that the bridge was mostly denuded of cover on its west side. It was no longer sort of lost in the woods, but had had most of the curtain pulled away. Only a cover the thickness of two or three trees was still available to it.




We also came in from the south as well that day. There wasn't much to see, really, aside from dirt. My friend had the prescience to take a screenshot, though, of where we were standing in the midst of construction as overlaid on Google's obsolete aerial view of the location. The bridge, for what it's worth, would be up at the top, hidden by the Google search bar.
So September; almost exactly two years since my solo hike from the north end. The principal change now is the installation of a huge culvert. This was to serve the little creek, no matter how much water it shed in flood, and also to provide a means for wildlife to easily come and go along the course of the creek and without crossing the surface of Bathrust Street, due to become again a throughway, and one with far more traffic than whatever had prompted is closure 20 years before.


Below: can you see the fractured little bridge, there, through the trees?




In the pano below, you can still see some of the original Bathurst road course there at the left; the north rise from the bridge, which is out of sight on the left at the bottom of the hill, but roughly hinted at by the culvert pipe.


Below: pano of the bridge on its west side. It's funny, but until a couple of night ago, the significance of the car parts hadn't occurred to me. Like the Sun paper box, my mind simply accepted them as garbage people had tossed there. Well, tires, maybe. But car doors? Front end grills? I feel foolish now, but it's only just dawned on me that these are probably the detritus of accidents that happened here over the years, taking out the side barriers as well. Given the state of the road, and the idea that folks used to thrill ride sports cars on this stretch, little wonder now the safety factor brought about the closure of this part of Bathurst Street.



And so, finally, October, 2016; our last excursion before the road actually re-opened in 2017. The most startling thing for me was that the deck of the bridge had been removed. This kind of upsets me. It was off to the side; no one was going to drive on it again; it was a little piece of our history. They could have left it alone... a charming little bit of our past for the odd hiker to stumble upon and wonder about. I suppose it was removed for the facility of wildlife using the culvert, and that would at least be a good justification. Still. I would have liked to have been able to visit it in the future and think back to what was.

Some of this stretch is, apparently, still in existence. I think I'd like to go back this summer, skirting the new road, and see what what's left looks like.





Lone, you've taken us on an amazing trip, thanks.
Appears to be a wonderful exercise in exploration.
Just like pioneers in the "new world" following native trails.
Awesome. I live in Newmarket, and sadly never explored there.
I wish I'd known about it early enough in the 90s to have actually driven it. Well, at least I walked it and saw it. The only reason I did is that I happened across an article in The Star (kind of ironic, because of shots of a Sun box dumped on site) back 7 or 8 years ago. Got out there only just in time. A year later, the work was pretty much underway.
Here's a follow-up from last summer that I forgot to post. An accidental and serendipitous pair of shots taken from nearly exactly the same spot... I didn't plan this at all; I only noticed the conjunction of the views when I was going through the old photos to compare them to the new. This is standing on the closed section of Bathurst Street part way up the hill, heading south and looking somewhat toward the west. The first shot was taken in the summer of 2013 before the new bypass began construction, looking up a curve with a treed field beyond. The second shot, taken in the summer of 2020, shows almost exactly the same view, but now looking to where the curve has been removed, into the open space over the trench carved out to carry the new course down to meet the old.