Zoo area

Rouge National Urban Park

The Zoo area is now a popular trail access point, but in the past it has been home to apple orchards, a landfill and several historic houses.

Apple orchards
Apple trees were first brought to the area by Mennonite settlers, but quickly became a common fixture on most farms. In the 1900s, the Rouge Valley was home to one of Canada's largest commercial orchards.
In the mid-1800s, apple orchards were a common sight in the Rouge Valley. Mennonite settlers who came to the area in the early 1800s brought apple seeds with them and by the 1860s almost every farm cultivated apples. Soon, apple processing became focused around central locations such as the Lapp Brothers Cider and Vinegar Mill, which was established by Harry and George Lapp in 1872. Local apple growers brought their harvests here to be pressed into cider or apple butter. 

The Rouge Valley was also the site of Maplewood Orchards, one of the largest commercial orchards in Canada. Maplewood was established on 600 acres of land purchased in 1921 by Dr. Joseph Burr Tyrrell, a geologist and explorer who became famous for discovering the skull of an Albertosaurus in the Red Deer River Valley in Alberta—a location now recognized as one of the richest dinosaur fossil-producing areas in the world. Tyrrell managed the orchards with the assistance of his son George Tyrrell and superintendent Headley Wood. 

Tyrrell was interested in grafting and breeding new apple varieties and the Ontario Agricultural College conducted research into crop improvements at his orchards. By 1930, Maplewood was producing significant volumes of apples, many of which were shipped to overseas markets in Britain and other European countries. After the start of the Second World War, international cargo shipping became limited. Fortunately for Tyrrell, the Canadian grocery chain Loblaws offered to buy his entire 1940 harvest of apples. Loblaws continued to purchase Maplewood's apples until 1956, when the orchard was sold. 

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority acquired most of the Maplewood Orchard lands in 1962 and in 1967 the site was selected to become the new Toronto Zoo. Some of the old orchard trees are still left on lands west of the zoo, which lies within Rouge National Urban Park. Remnants of other former orchards can also be seen along the Orchard Trail, east of the zoo.
Beare Hill
The large hill visible from the Cedar, Orchard, and Vista trails, is actually a former landfill. Since the Beare Road Landfill closed in 1983, the natural process of regeneration, aided by restoration work and tree-planting, has changed the site back into a natural area.

The landfill started out as a commercial gravel pit in the 1940s. Gravel and sand, deposited by ancient glacial lakes and rivers, was extracted for the construction of highways throughout the area. After the gravel was exhausted, the site was converted into a landfill, which operated from 1967 to 1983. Several ideas were proposed for the site after the landfill closed, which included giving the land to the zoo and creating a ski hill, but none of these plans were actually carried out. In 1996, a landfill gas collection system was built to collect methane from the decomposing garbage and convert it into electricity.

Restoration work was also carried out to promote plant growth and conservation groups helped plant trees and shrubs on the site. The land to the west, which was excavated to cover the landfill site, was converted into a wetland area, which is now home to a diverse array of frogs, turtles, birds, and other animals. You can visit these beautiful restored wetlands while hiking on the Cedar and Orchard trails.
Pearse House
Pearse House currently serves as the home of the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre, a local environmental education centre run by the Rouge Valley Foundation, but this historic home dates back to the 1800s.

The three Pearse brothers (James, John, and George) immigrated to Canada from England in the early 1830s. James Pearse leased a property along the Rouge River which would later become the site of the Pearse House. Sadly, James died in a carriage accident in 1846, just before the birth of his son, James Pearse Jr. His brother George later purchased the property in 1852.

In 1869, James Jr. bought the property from George and built a modest cottage on it. James Jr. married Amelia Stainton in 1875 and they had five children. In 1893, they completed major improvements and an expansion of the cottage, creating the Pearse House as it appears today--a 1.5 storey brick-veneered farmhouse. After James Jr. died in 1919, his youngest child Reuben inherited the property. Reuben sold it to Dr. Robert Jackson in the 1930s. Jackson, inventor of the popular Roman Meal bread, used the land to build his estate, Valley Halla, in the valley below the Pearse House.

More recently, the property was acquired by the Toronto Zoo. The Pearse family barns and carriage shed currently serve in the operation of the zoo, while the Pearse House was transported to its current location on Zoo Road and restored by the Rouge Valley Foundation.
Valley Halla
Valley Halla is the 17-room dream estate of the eccentric Dr. Robert G. Jackson, a Canadian physician, the inventor of the popular Roman Meal bread and cereal, and an early promoter of health food and active living.

Dr. Robert G. Jackson was one of the earliest promoters of health food in Canada. In 1912, he invented Roman Meal, a blend of whole-grain wheat, rye, bran, and flaxseed that he based on the diet of Roman armies. He also developed a coffee substitute made of roasted grains, called Kofy Sub. He started the Roman Meal Co. in Tacoma, Washington and later opened a second plant in Toronto, near Keele and St. Clair. In 1927, he sold the American company to baker William Matthaei. That company continues to sell Roman Meal bread, cereal and snacks today.

Jackson advocated a simple, active lifestyle – he slept with his bedroom windows open year round, exercised daily, and adopted a diet high in fibre, fruits, and vegetables. He wrote books, advertised his products in newspapers, and gave lectures on how he had cured himself of disease through physical exercise and healthy eating. His book How to Be Always Well, published in 1927, was one of the earliest Canadian books on healthy living.

His skill at marketing himself and his products made him very wealthy. In 1930, he purchased property in the Little Rouge River Valley and hired architect Charles Smith to design his dream estate. Unfortunately, the house burned down just before it was completed. Construction began again and the 17-room estate was finally finished in 1936 at a cost of $250,000. The mansion featured stained glass panels depicting sports, winter activities, and food. It also had a ballroom, a solarium, and a courtyard. Sadly, Jackson died in 1941, not long after the estate was completed. His mansion, known as Valley Halla, still stands and is located near the Toronto Zoo.

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