Monday, May 06, 2013

New path for the Don Valley

The new trail looking north from Gerrard Street East

Now that the new Bridgepoint Health Hospital has opened up and landscaping is almost finished, a long promised connection along the west side of the property is now open for use. A new path has been established that runs between the new hospital building and the Don Valley Parkway. The path starts at Gerrard St. East at a new light just east of the bridge that crosses the DVP. The path starting at the NW corner of the intersection proceeds north along the edge of the fence and provides a new access point to Riverdale Park East. Currently the path just ends at the grass. The city has yet to build a connecting path so for now you'll have to traverse about 50m of grass and dirt before you get to the paved path that provides access to the park and the pedestrian bridge that connect to the west park and to the Lower Don Trail.

The path is an easier grade and is more convenient to park users who need to get to Gerrard Street and the local neighbourhood.

Please note that landscaping along the trail is not yet finished so the trail may be temporarily closed while work is being done. Official opening of the trail has not yet been announced but already people are using it so it should be OK for use most of the time.

The new trail at St. Matthews Road and Gerrard Street East, looking northwest

The trail is right next to the new hospital

Looking south along the trail. Note that the landscaping is not yet finished

The place where the trail enters Riverdale Park East

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Don Species: Trout Lily

Trout Lily
Scientific Name: Erythronium americanum
Status: native, common throughout southern Ontario
Where is it found: rich woods, usually in vicinity of sugar maple or beech trees
Where was this photo taken: Crothers Woods
Blooming period: March - May
What's its place in the world: belongs to a class of plants called spring ephemerals. It blooms in wooded areas before the trees leaf out allowing it to flower and seed within the shelter of the forest. An interesting study done in 2002 showed that it can form symbiotic relationships with soil fungus and neighbouring sugar maple trees. I've also seen it near the base of beech trees so it is likely the relationship is there too.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

West Don Bridge/Walkway Replacement Still Ongoing

Bridge is closed. To open in May?
In January I blogged about the status of the walkway/bridge replacement project that links E.T. Seton Park and the West Don parklands with the rest of the Don trail system. The prognosis back then was that the new walkway would be installed by early March. Sadly that is not the case. The walkway is partially installed but not linked up. It looks like decking still needs to installed in the metal frame as well as the bridge across the railway tracks. It appears that the bridge itself will not be replaced only the decking on top will be replaced. Signs on the bridge now say that the project will be completed by May 2013.

This project which started back which started last August has now lasted 7 months and is still counting. Work is proceeding at what looks like a glacial pace. Project management is obviously not one of the Parks departments strong suits. If we're lucky it will be open by August.

Metal walkway in process of being installed. Parts are not yet linked together

New walkway has metal bottom and sides. It looks like there will be some sort of wooden decking.

Despite fencing and signs, trail users are still scrambling through the construction site.

The good news is that the Lower Don Trail is now completely free of ice.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

East Don Trail Environmental Assessment

A public meeting was held in a school gym close to the east Don in Flemingdon Park. It just happened that I captured two of the three councillors who attended this meeting in this picture. Can you spot them?

I attended a public meeting this week that was the first in a series to talk about a proposed trail through the East Don Valley between Lawrence Ave. East and the forks of the Don. The forks are roughly where the east and west Don River branches and also Taylor-Massey Creek join together. The trail will be built to the standard size of about 3-4m in width paved with asphalt. This is necessary to meet accessibility standards and coincidentally wide enough to accommodate Parks and Rec vehicles.

This meeting kicks off the Environmental Assessment process. These public meetings are a part of that process (the city must hold them). The EA will investigate alternatives and eventually recommend a preferred solution. When the EA is finished then construction can commence, conditional on funding of course.

With all projects of this sort there are pros and cons. On the plus side, this trail will connect the north and south ends of the valley and significantly extend the Don trail network. Right  now the valley is used almost exclusively by mountain bikers on a series of quite challenging single track trails and by people living nearby who use it for dog walking and such activities. There are also a few connecting parks linking the valley to neighbourhoods. The trail will open up the valley to a larger section of the populace.

On the down side, the trail will inevitably lead to a decline in the quality of the habitat for animals and plants living in the valley. When people move in other things get pushed aside. The trail will likely negatively impact vital habitats such as wetlands and forest fragments that still exist within the valley.

In addition there are several challenges in building a continuous trail. Just south of Eglinton, the Flemingdon Park Golf Course covers a large swath of the valley. There is not much left of the valley to build a trail unless it takes away part of the golf course. There is also the CN railway which snakes through the valley. Building the trail will require it to go over or under the tracks (a level crossing is a non-starter) which is vary expensive. Then there is the river. In several places the river is actively cutting away at the edge of the ravine wall. There is no space in these sections for a trail. This will entail further expensive bridges to cross the river.

How these challenges are to be addressed is as yet unknown.  A feasibility study done May 2012 is not yet available. The website says that it will be posted shortly but hasn't been. Nor is there any indication of how to get a print copy. The material posted at the meeting is now available on the website.

The city is accepting comments up until February 28, 2013. You can submit comments to

A map displaying part of the valley. Participants were encouraged to use post-it notes to make comments.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Legacy of Bring Back the Don

Now that the Task Force to Bring Back the Don is for all intents and purposes a dead duck, it's worth taking a few moments to look back over the 20 odd years of its existence and wonder what if any legacy came from it.

The Task Force started in 1989 at a conference held at the Ontario Science Centre organized by a groundswell of interest about the Don River and the surrounding valley. Long neglected and even declared dead (there was even a funeral!), there were still a few supporters for this hard to access natural space. After the conference which included such luminaries as Jack Layton, the Task Force was formed officially as a city committee in 1991. It was not without difficulties though. It didn't receive any stable funding because conservative forces were opposed to its existence. Alderman Tom Jakobek (he of the MFP leasing scandal) at the time said "The Don River may be dirty but I don't want to see it become an NDP sewer for capturing endless public funds."

This didn't stop them from raising funds for projects from a variety of public and private sources. One of their first projects was to create a book called "Bringing Back the Don". Published in 1991 by the City of Toronto,  it sketched a vision for how the Don could be revived. It included many ideas that were revolutionary at the time but now seem quite ordinary. It has been cited many times by students, urban planners and landscape architects. It helped influence a generation of thought on environmental restoration.

The Task Force was instrumental in creating "Chester Springs Marsh" in 1996. It was called a 'demonstration wetland'. While it didn't work quite as well as planned it did highlight the value of wetlands. In the ensuing years at least half a dozen small wetlands were created or enhanced.  Tree planting was a big activity in the early days and this was how I became involved in 1998. Back in those days the Task Force was one of the few groups doing it but now it seems everyone is doing it. For environmental groups, tree plantings are an easy way to get volunteers involved and act as a springboard for other activities.

While creating wetlands and planting trees were physical legacies of the Task Force, I think an even more important legacy was influencing thinking. The Task Force acted as an advisory body to city council in matters concerning the Don Valley. While this might appear to be a narrow mandate, the Task Force sought and achieved a broader reach by commenting and advising on broader issues such as the Wet Weather Flow Master Plan, the Sewer Use bylaw, the Private Tree bylaw, and the Ravine Use bylaw. All of these issues affect not only the Don but all parts of the City of Toronto. 

Informally we were seen as a kind of think-tank for urban environmental issues. City staff in departments  such as parks, forestry and planning sought our advice for a wide range of topics. I think we were able to educate them and help them learn about the needs of the valley. This knowledge (I hope) is still retained by the city and will continue to influence function and policy well beyond the term of the Task Force. Many of our members participated in other places such as advisory committees, environmental assessments, and other non-profit organizations. I know several of our former members who are involved with or founded such groups as Lost Rivers and Park People.

So the Task Force to Bring Back the Don is done. Did we succeed in bringing back the Don? I would say a little bit of yes and more than enough of no but we started it on its way. The issues concerning the Don are complex, difficult, and costly to fix. The Wet Weather Flow Master Plan started in 2005 and has a 30 year plan. If everything in that plan is accomplished than the Don will be in much better shape. However, the Don Watershed is the most urbanized watershed in Canada and that is the biggest driver of Don issues. The river has been permanently affected by our activities and we will never restore it to its former glory. But if we keep thinking in terms of the river and its needs we have at least changed neglect into respect.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

E.T. Seton Bridge Project Status

E.T. Seton Bridge Project.

Map Legend
Green: open trails (not plowed)
Red: wooden ramp removed, access extremely limited
Black: approximate placement of temporary fences
Blue: informal detour (use at own risk)

I visited the bridge replacement project site at the south end of E.T. Seton Park. It looks like the construction company has abandoned the site for the winter. Some fences are still up but all is not lost. The bridge across the railway tracks is still usable and if you are coming from Don Mills and Overlea (Flemingdon Park) you can still access the bridge via a narrow set of stairs. However the access ramp from E.T. Seton has been removed and is impassible except for the most intrepid of hikers. Getting a bike through here is next to impossible. There is an alternative informal path but it involves crossing the CN tracks and I can't recommend that but it appears that some people are using it. So despite the signs and fencing there is currently limited access. 

I heard through councillor Jaye Robinson's office that a metal ramp will be installed late February, early March. It was my understanding that the Bailey bridge crossing the tracks would also be replaced. There is no word on when this will happen.


Project sign. The recommended detours are laughable at best. I doubt anybody bothers with them.

The bridge is still up. The former wide wooden stairs at the north end have been replaced by a set of narrow stone stairs. Not very bicycle friendly.

The old wooden ramp has been removed. Cement foundations have been put in place in preparation for a new ramp which has yet to be installed.
A look at the bridge with some interesting graffiti/art on the right.