Posts Tagged ‘Brockville’

After running some errands in Brockville on Friday, RailGuy and I visited the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area, located on the northern edge of the city, and enjoyed a short hike. The day was a bit overcast, but it was mild and there wasn’t much wind. The main feature of the wildlife area is a large lake and wetland, and several trails follow the shore of the lake and wind through mixed woodland.

We followed the Railway Trail, which is so named because about half its length follows the abandoned bed of a railway track. It was quiet in the woods, as is usual at this time of year. Apart from a troop of chickadees, we didn’t see any wildlife stirring. However, there were signs of summer activity.

Close to the trail, I noticed this nest, still in good shape for so late in the winter. The weather has taken a toll on many nests by February. From the trail, it looked like a woven ball, but by pulling the branch down a bit, the interior of a nest was revealed. It was probably constructed by a red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus). Red-eyes are common woodland birds, but they are more often heard than seen as they usually sing from perches high up in the canopy of the forest. They are about 6 inches long, a bit bigger than chickadees, and rather plainly dressed in olive grey. They really do have red eyes. Their song always reminds me of a hyper robin.

The nest, constructed by the female, is typically deep-cupped and suspended in a horizontal fork of a slender tree branch. She uses grasses, paper, bark strips and rootlets. It may be bound to the supporting twigs and covered on the outside by spider webbing.

Another tree showed evidence of yellow-bellied sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius). Sapsuckers drill holes in trees in spring and drink the sap, usually early in the year when insects are still scarce. Their handiwork, or maybe billiwork is very distinctive. The small holes are drilled in orderly rows. These holes may have been a couple of seasons old. They were perhaps drilled in 2008.

This snag had been well-worked over by a piliated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). Piliateds are very large woodpeckers, about 18 inches in length. They are year-round residents, but it is more usual to find their excavations, sometimes very large, than to see the birds themselves.

The rail path leads down to the waterfront. Looking out over the lake, we spotted a paraskier near the far shore. He/she was moving along quickly…until a tumble.

Close to shore, there were a few muskrat lodges.

Farther along the trail, this pile of branches suggested a beaver had been at work at some time, but the lodge didn’t look occupied. In fact, the long stems and seed pods of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) were springing from the branches.

On a section of the lake near the parking lot, ice had been cleared for an outdoor skating rink, and there was even a heated cabin for changing into skates available. Probably the ice is busy on weekends, but on a Friday afternoon, there were no skaters on hand. The park is a nice spot for dog-walking and is probably popular, being close to the city. We just met one dog and his walker, as we were returning to our car. Samson was delighted to meet RailGuy. Mac Johnson Wildlife Area offers Brockville residents a great spot to enjoy nature close to the city.

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There was a time when Brockville was one of the richest cities in Canada. In the 1890s, millionaires were building vacation homes along the St. Lawrence River. One of the most famous of these was Boldt Castle, constructed on a 5 acre island in the 1000 Islands for the American businessman’s wife, Louise. Construction began in 1899 and was discontinued upon her death in 1903. Farther east, one of Brockville’s native sons, George Taylor Fulford, also began construction of his new vacation home in 1899. Built on 11 acres overlooking the St. Lawrence at the east end of the city of Brockville, the mansion was completed in 1901.


Fulford Place was designed by Albert W. Fuller, an architect from Albany, New York. The house features 35 rooms and is about 20,000 square feet in size. An example of the Beaux-Arts style, the house is designed for entertaining, with a dining room to seat over 50 guests, a billiards room with an adjoining moorish smoking room, a rococo-style drawing room for the women, and a gracious veranda overlooking the river and grounds.


The marble facing the house was brought across the frozen St. Lawrence in the winter by sleigh from Gouverneur, New York. The house was bequeathed to the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1991 after the death of George T. Fuller II. Restoration work is ongoing, and stained glass windows are currently being refurbished. The house is now open to the public, with a tea room and tours available.


Landscaping work began before the house was even built. In 1895, Fulford hired Frederick Law Olmstead and his brother John to lay out the gardens. Olmstead is famous for his design of New York City’s Central Park and Mount Royal in Montreal. The remaining Italianate garden is a rare example of a privately-owned Olmstead-designed garden. The rest of the grounds were sold off in later years in order to maintain the house.


George Taylor Fulford (1852-1905) was born in Brockville to a family of United Empire Loyalist stock. After finishing school in Brockville, he went on to Business College in Belleville before apprenticing with his brother, a dispensing chemist in Brockville. Fulford took over the modest apothecary in 1874 and developed it into a successful business.


Fulford’s stroke of genius came in 1890, when for $53.01 he purchased the rights to a patent medicine from a local McGill-trained physician, Dr. William Jackson. At a time when medical care and medications were beyond the financial reach of many, patent drugs promised affordable relief for a variety of conditions. Fulford was a brilliant marketer. He advertised widely, relying on testimonies submitted by customers attesting to miraculous cures. The advertisements were placed in newspapers in a manner that made them look like news articles. The pills were marketed in 87 countries worldwide and Fulford became a self-made millionaire. The name of his product? Dr. William’s Pink Pills for Pale People.


The pills contained mostly sugar, starch and iron sulphate. Anemia was a fairly common complaint, and the pills did likely do some good as an iron supplement, although they were not the miraculous cure-all advertised. Fulford married Mary Wilder White in 1880 and they had three children, including George II. Fulford was elected to the town council in 1879 and served as an alderman. He was involved with the Liberal Party of Canada and was friends with the prime minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier. In 1900, he was appointed to the Canadian Senate.


George Taylor Fulford died in 1905. He is considered the first Canadian to die in an automobile accident, although the event happened in Newton, Massachusetts, when his chauffeur-driven car was side-swiped by a streetcar. At the time of his death, Fulford was the largest single shareholder in General Electric and was reputed to be considering buying General Motors. It has been suggested by relatives that Fulford was killed in a conspiracy by the Rockefeller family. Fulford was only 53 years old at the time of his death.


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