Tag Archives: natural heritage

Scenes From Evergreen Brick Works

Toronto was a brick-making town. Going through the city today, you would not realize it right away. This lost and remade industrial and natural geography is remarkable. Great clay refining enterprises from the Don Valley to Leslieville to Yorkville to North Toronto to the West Toronto Junction now carry transformed greenspaces or residential communities. The Evergreen Brick Works is one of those spaces.

Don Valley clay pits, part of Don Valley Brick Works (Toronto). James Blomfield. June 10, 1939. Credit: City of Ontario Archives.

The Don Valley Brick Works began operations in 1889 and lasted quite a long time, providing the literal building blocks for the city of Toronto until 1984 — not a long time ago. One can think of the Brick Works as the last bastion for smokestack-raising, pollution-spewing, heavy manufacturing in Toronto.

Don Valley Brick Works, Bayview Ave., w. side, s. of Chorley Park in Don Valley; looking s. from Chorley Park, 1952. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Following its closure, much like a lot of discussions then and now in how to imagine the post-industrial metropolis, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and City of Toronto looked to expropriate former brickyard as public space. During this ‘transition’ time, the abandoned factory became a haven for urban explorers.

Don Valley Brickworks, 1986. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brickworks, 1990. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

What came out of it was a rejuvenated community hub and parkland with a mandate for environmental sustainability and conservation, led through the efforts of Evergreen. Much of the complex still stands, showing off ovens and other former operations of the Don Valley Brick Works. Today, they make great event and exhibition space which house among other things a great farmer’s market. Only one of the four chimneys remain, though.

The Evergreen Brick Works is a locale full of discovery, starting with its artistic displays. A favourite of mine is “Watershed Consciousness”, which neatly showcases Toronto’s ravines as the sort of veins and life blood of the city. Fitting.

One quizzical installation is a giant pair of metal shoes. This is “Legacy (the mud beneath our feet)” by David Hind, an homage to geologist Arthur Philemon (A.P.) Coleman. Mr. Coleman got his boots dirty many times over at the Don Valley Brick Works, using the quarry’s north cliff to research Toronto’s Ice Ages. A nearby display, “A Rare Geological Study”, presents Coleman’s notes.

Coleman was instrumental in understanding the literal layers and pre-history of Toronto. He noted ancient beavers, moose, and bison that roamed Pleistoscene Toronto, and also mapped out the old shore of Lake Iroquois.

Map of Toronto and Vicinity To accompany part 1, Volume 22, Report of Bureau of Mines, 1913. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The Pleistocene of the Toronto region Including the Toronto interglacial formation, 1932. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The allure of the Evergreen Brick Works is its physical landscape. Each step offers more discovery and new vantage points. Wandering deeper into the Weston Family Quarry Garden and its tall reconstructed wetland, the factory behind disappears, aside from the chimney.

Running between the handsome factory buildings is a channelized Mud Creek (which might be the best and worst name for a waterway in Toronto). There’s a more naturalized version of the stream as well, running under the great Governor’s Bridge as one moves out of the park.

Veering away from the marked trails, there is the abandoned Don Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway, last operating in 2007. With the Belt Line Trail also nearby it’s the second ghost line of sorts at the Brick Works. Following the CPR tracks takes one to the Half-Mile Bridge, seen as one enters the Evergreen Brick Works.

Don Valley Brick Works, Bayview Ave., w. side, s. of Chorley Park in Don Valley; looking w. from Broadview & Mortimer Ayes. 1955. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Perhaps the most inspiring experience of the Brick Works is the view from above. Moving up the cliff one takes in the awe of the full expanse of the site, its winding trails and ponds below, and the houses of Rosedale overlooking the valley.

One can only take in this reclaimed natural landscape and think of its layered makeup. The intersection of industrial, geological, and environmental history make the Evergreen Brick Works make it a special place. A walk around it only proves that.

Scenes From Warden Woods Park

Warden Woods is undoubtedly a gem. It’s a gem as a piece of natural heritage in Toronto, and it’s a gem along Taylor-Massey Creek. I’m here as a part of a Heritage Toronto tour, led by Andrew McCammon of the Taylor-Massey Project, a volunteer effort dedicated to preserving the Taylor-Massey watershed.

Warden Woods 1

We gather at the corner of the Warden and St. Clair Avenues opposite Warden Subway Station and descend into the park.

A bit of background on the Taylor-Massey: it feeds into the River Don, flowing from the Forks and concluding at Terraview Park near Victoria Park & the 401 in Scarborough. Its real headwaters, though, are actually buried under the highway and just north of it. Also, like its name suggests, it consists of two branches named for prominent Toronto families.

The first thing that strikes me about the creek is how naturalized it looks. There’s actual flow to it! Whereas other creeks in the city (including parts of the Taylor-Massey) have been channelized and filled with concrete beds, there’s nothing of the sort with this ‘reach’ of the ravine.

We get our first look at the creek and see also a far off cliff – a mini-Scarborough Bluff, as I like to think of it. Both are glacial remnants of the last ice age.

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As Andrew explains, the TMP is trying to make the watershed into a functioning, vibrant ecosystem. That has meant no washrooms in the park (although I don’t see why any would be needed) and no night lights. Curiously, there’s only one bench in the whole park, too. Warden Woods is home to many bird sanctuaries and serves as a stop over for migratory species.

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But it doesn’t mean the creek isn’t without its challenges. That same great view shows that its banks have been fortified with armor-stone bricks to prevent erosion. Other parts lack the armor-stone, though.

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The trail itself begins as a gravel path. Unlike other parks of its size and larger, it doesn’t branch off. To the right is the creek, to the left is thick forest. It is a serene stroll – if you don’t mind the rattle of nearby subway cars.

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Warden Woods Park also faces issues of storm water and sewage water draining into the creek. Andrew brings us to a bridge over a tiny tributary and has us note the smell. Pungent stuff it is.

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The problem with coordinating a plan of ‘attack’ to tackle these issues is that there are a couple of bodies – Toronto Parks, Toronto & Region Conservation Authority, as examples – that have some jurisdiction over Warden Woods and similar areas. Sadly, they don’t talk to each other as much as they should. With the City’s Ravine Strategy,  perhaps a concentrated effort will be in place.

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The other issue within Warden Woods – and in most natural settings in Toronto – is invasive species. Particular to both is the prevalence of garlic mustard, which impedes the ability for any other plant to grow in its vicinity.

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We come to a large bridge, which Andrew says at one time had a plaque dedicated to the Thompson Brothers. Across it is a path that once led to a mini BMX course and today is a great spot for bird watching. Serendipitously, at that very moment a hawk (red tailed, maybe?) flies high above us.

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Further past the bridge, the now paved path curves and meanders at about the spot where the shores of ancient Lake Iroquois once stood.

At the end of the trail, Warden Woods Trail curiously becomes a parking lot, which is unfortunate because if one where passing through on Pharmacy, he/she would have no clue that a great natural escape exists down the way.

Scenes From Leslie Grove Park

Leslie Grove Park sign

After climbing off the 83 bus at Queen Street, I walk back to the north end of Leslie Grove Park and start exploring from there. I’m immediately greeted by a series of trees lining the east side of the park (located at Jones and Queen in Leslieville) which I learn later on relate to the site’s history and founder.

Trees lining Leslie Grove

Looking south at park

Moving past the baseball diamond, I am led to a splash pad with chalk designs. Beside that, a playground and a clubhouse beyond that. Like most parks, this is a very family-friendly environment.

Leslie Grove Park

Leslie Grove Splashpad Closeup

Leslie Grove Clubhouse

At corner of Jones and Queen, I come across a flowery path and commemorative plaque by Heritage Toronto. Its subject: the park’s namesake, Mr. George Leslie, and his tree nurseries which were once hosted by this site. Across the street is the much photographed mural of the neighbourhood also named for him. Highlighted within it is another local hero, Alexander Muir.

Heritage Toronto George Leslie Plaque

Heritage Toronto George Leslie Plaque Closeup  Leslieville Mural

On the way out, I take a final closeup of the trees towering over the park, which is the apt location for an annual tree festival organized by LEAF, Toronto Parks, and the local City Councillor Paula Fletcher.

Leslie Grove Fruit Tree

Looking North to Park

Scenes From Smythe Park

Located on the west side of Jane Street between St. Clair and Eglinton is Smythe Park. Somehow this park fits into Toronto’s sports heritage, industrial heritage, and natural heritage.

The naming of this park was intriguing to me. Any hockey fan will recognize the surname Smythe as synonymous with the National Hockey League and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Indeed, Mr. Conn Smythe was at one time the Leafs’ coach, general manager, and owner, and the man who built Maple Leaf Gardens.

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Unknown to me was the fact that, along with running the Toronto Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe had several business operations in Toronto. Beginning in the 1920s, one of these was a sand and gravel enterprise on Jane Street – a very lucrative one at that. Smythe Park sits where that operation once was.

East Side of Jane Street, north of Alliance Avenue. Jane Plaza is located here today. Source: Toronto Public Library

East Side of Jane Street, north of Alliance Avenue. Jane Plaza is located here today. Source: Toronto Public Library

Following a descent north of the creek, I follow the path – the aptly titled Black Creek Trail – into the park. To my right there is a baseball diamond. To my left, a bridge (the first of two in the park) across Black Creek is gated up and inaccessible.

Smythe Park 2Smythe Park 4

Smythe Park 3

The downpour from earlier in the day has left the path wet and puddled, but it is an otherwise a nice walk. The willow trees that hang adjacent to the creek make it somewhat scenic.

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I come to a second bridge, which at first glance are marked with two randomly placed giant rocks at either end. At closer inspection and deliberation, they are tributes to the industrial heritage of the area – and a reminder of the remarkable transformation from a quarry to a park. I look through the bridge’s unexpectedly high railings and see the muggy, depleted, manipulated, flowing creek.

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A look on the other side of the bridge produces a view of the park’s outdoor pool facility. I follow the path up a very windy climb back to Jane Street, stopping to look down into valley – no doubt dug in from the gravel quarry.

Smythe Park 14