Sunday, December 23, 2007

Erosion Control Class EA

Project Site Location. This is very close to the "Rainbow Tunnel" which is visible from the northbound DVP.

This fall I participated in a Class Environmental Assessment Project on the East Don just south of Lawrence Ave. East in the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area. The purpose of the EA was to analyze options to control erosion along a section of the river that is adjacent to a CN railway embankment. The erosion problem manifested itself during the August 19, 2005 storm that deluged parts of the Don Valley. This was the same storm that blew out Finch Ave. West where it crosses Black Creek. That repair cost about $30 million.

In the case of the this site the erosion wasn't as critical but the TRCA realized it was an impending problem, thus this project was initiated. Part of the Class EA process is to obtain community input into the project. I attended three Community Liaison Committee meetings where we looked at different options.

There were two sites of interest. Site A is about 120 m long (later reduced to 90 m) and about 5-11 m from the CN railway embankment. Site B is about 75 m long but is much closer to the embankment. We considered three different bank treatment options, soft stabilization, hard stabilization, and channel realignment. Moving the CN railway line was not considered as it was too expensive. Channel realignment was also discarded as being too expensive/intrusive. Hard stabilization methods such as lining the bank with crib walls or stone were looked at but discarded because they would actually increase flow rates, effectively transferring the problem downstream. They would also be very poor for aquatic habitat.

Riverbank at Site A. Note the undercutting of vegetation on the left. The brush layering technique will cut away the top of bank at a 2:1 angle and infill with soil and plant cuttings.

Site A looking downstream. The moss covered bank in the middle of the picture was removed from Site A because it is a hard laminate clay which won't erode as fast as the sandy soil where I was standing for this picture.

That left soft stabilization methods. Everyone agreed that this was the way to go and was relatively low risk (all except the rep from CN who basically wanted a zero risk cement wall built). The two options chosen were live brush layering for Site A and vegetated riprap for Site B. Live brush layering consists of soil anchored with a biodegradable mat and plant cuttings imbedded in the mix at 10 cm intervals. The plants, Pussy Willows and Red-osier Dogwood, will grow quickly and their roots should provide an anchor for the soil. Vegetated riprap is similar but contain layers of stone intermixed with soil and vegetation which is more appropriate given the steeper nature of the bank.

My main concerns were construction road access and cleanup once the project is complete. Ten years ago, a similar project failed to complete a cleanup leaving the access road and staging area in place even though it was promised. This discussion is now included in the report. I also received a commitment for post construction monitoring of the site as well as watering of the plant cuttings in case of another dry summer.

Construction is set to proceed in late February, 2008 and be completed by the end of March. I hope to get to the site once or twice to monitor progress. There is still a 30 day viewing period for the report ending January 21, 2008. Copies of the report can be viewed at the Urban Affairs Library at Metro Hall or the library at 888 Don Mills Rd.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Don Valley in the Blogosphere

I've been busy with exams and Christmas stuff. What with the big winter storm I haven't been able to get into the valley. I'm working on a couple of longer posts which I hope to have up soon. In the meantime here are a couple of links to other blogs that have posted Don pictures.

A Walk on Earth posted pictures of the old Eastern Ave bridge south of Queen St. This blogger is also a cross country skier who took some shots from Taylor Creek Park while it was still good to go for a run.

Dodgeville posted a picture of the frozen pond behind the Science Centre. Apparently some enterprising skaters made a natural rink which the city quickly put the kibosh on (No one in legal services skates). There is also an interesting link about a forgotten section of Don Mills Rd before it's Don River crossing was expanded. Also some musing while taking a lunch time walk through E.T. Seton Park.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Charles Sauriol Article Contains Factual Errors

I came across an article in the East York-Riverdale Mirror written by Joe Cooper. It is entitled "The memory of Charles Sauriol must be preserved at Todmorden Mills". It talks about Sauriol, his Don River legacy and his connection with Todmorden Mills. Cooper wrote the article to emphasize his position that the Don Station now ensconced at Todmorden Mills should not be relocated to the Roundhouse down by the Skydome.

I am all for writing about history but he makes some important factual errors that I think are worth correcting. Last year I wrote Wikipedia articles on Charles Sauriol and Todmorden Mills so I know a few things about these topics.

Here's a rundown on the mistakes.

1. Cooper states that Sauriol formed the Don Valley Conservation Authority. It is true that he formed an environment group in 1949. However, it was called the Don Valley Conservation Association. The Don Valley Conservation Authority was formed in 1946 by the province through the Conversation Authorities Act. They have the same initials so it can be confusing.

2. Cooper claims that Sauriol's cottage in the valley was demolished due to the building of the Don Valley Parkway in 1961. In compensation he was made a member of Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA). Sauriol actually joined the Don Valley Conservation Authority as a board member in 1954. In 1957 it was merged with other local conservation authorities to become the MTRCA (now the TRCA). Sauriol retained his cottage until 1968. Part of his 40 hectares was expropriated for the construction of the DVP but he stayed on his land for a further seven years.

3. The Don Station was located at Queen Street further south in the Don. In 1969 CN decided to add another track to the Don line and the station was in the way. Sauriol raised some funds locally to relocate the station to Todmorden Mills. As far as I know the TRCA had nothing to do with it. The station itself has no connection to East York. I think Sauriol placed it at Todmorden Mills because it was convenient to do so. Cooper also wrote an earlier article about the Don Station on July 26, 2007. He stated that the Belt Line Railway went through Todmorden Mills. As far as I know Todmorden Mills has had only road connections. It has never been serviced by railroad and has never had any kind of railway depot or station.

Cooper also got a few dates wrong concerning True Davidson, mayor of East York but they are minor. Cooper's main contention is that the Don Station is closely tied to East York heritage and should remain at Todmorden Mills. If you know your history you'll realize that the station has little to do with East York. Its only connection is that it has been located at Todmorden Mills for nearly 40 years. Clearly it is part of Toronto's railway heritage. If the Roundhouse is ever restored as a railway museum than this is where it should be located.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stroll in the Park

Moccasin Trail Park in late October

What with all the dissing the Don River is getting this week, it's good to see some positive articles about the Don. Shawn Micallef of Spacing Magazine wrote a story about Moccasin Trail Park in the southeast corner of Don Mills. Shawn is right - it is a beautiful place. I was there a couple of times this year, just passing through to get to other places, but well worth a visit on its own merit. I haven't been in the winter, I imagine it looks a little different then my last visit.

How to get there: Moccasin Trail is a road that heads southeast off of The Donway East just east of Don Mills Rd and south of Lawrence Ave. East. Drive all the way to the end and you'll find the park entrance. Drive down the winding road. It ends in a parking lot.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Emerald Ash Borer Arrives in Toronto

We knew it was on the way but didn't expect it to get here so fast. An article in the Toronto Star says that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has found some ash trees infested with the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) in the Highway 401/404 area. This is in the northeast section of the Don watershed so it definitely concerns us.

I remember attending a seminar last year on forest pests and the talk was about the Asian Long-horned Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) which infested a large area in northwest Toronto. The Emerald Ash Borer had been found in Windsor and was advancing steadily east. The thinking was that the beetle would probably arrive in Toronto in about 5-10 years so it's a surprise to find it so soon.

Once it infests a tree it eats into the sapwood. This is the part of the tree that transfers water and nutrients to the top of the tree. When this is gone the tree dies quickly. If this finds its way into the Don Valley this could have serious implications for our forests. Ash trees constitute about 10% of the trees in our forests so this could have a big impact on our forest canopy.

Efforts are underway to contain the outbreak but there is little anyone can do. They are very difficult to detect. As an introduced insect it has no natural enemies and no pesticides are known to kill it. Unless a miracle fix is found, we may be looking at a permanent change to our forest.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Don Slagged as Ontario's Worst River

The Ottawa Citizen published a special report this past weekend on the state of Ontario rivers (reprinted on the Ottawa Riverkeeper's website). Included was a report that labels the Don River as Ontario's worst river. It scored 34.8 out of 100 on a water quality scale, the lowest in Ontario (as a comparison, the Rideau River received a "fair" rating of 74.2). The article is rife with quotes from local Don experts who all agree the river has gone to hell in a handbasket. Problems such as urbanization and sewage overflow from antique sewer systems are cited as major problems.

Of course the Ottawa River is nothing to write home about. Communities along that river still dump treated sewage into the river and they have a problem with combined sewer overflows just like the Don. Surprisingly many communities also rely on the river as a drinking water source (nobody I know still drinks from the Don :( ).

There were two additional articles in the special report, "Grave Waters", and "What's Not Measured". Both articles touch on the major issues affecting many southern Ontario rivers, namely stresses from agricultural and urban runoff are heavily impacting water quality everywhere.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Updated Brick Works Design

Evergreen has released two new photo mockups of their vision for the Don Valley Brick Works. These are the culmination of two years of effort, public consultation, and fundraising.

Evergreen's plans are based on the concept of adaptive reuse. In other words, taking an existing building on a brownfield site that is no longer being used for its original purpose and reconfiguring it for a new use. This is environmentally preferable than razing the structure and starting from scratch or by developing some new greenfield site. It should be interesting to compare these design photos with the buildings when construction is completed in a couple of years. Mouse click on either photo for a more detailed view.

View of buildings looking southeast

View of site looking north east

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wetland Site Inspected

Sign posted for proposed wetland. Work is supposed to start in fall 2007 but nothing has been done yet.

I decided to investigate the proposed site of the new wetland that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. It is located just west of Victoria Park Ave. in Taylor Park. The site is relatively flat except for some slightly raised mounds that are mostly planted with trees. The flat area is almost entirely covered with Cattails (Typha ssp.). Behind the mounds to the north is a shallow swale that is almost covered with grass. I dug a small test hole here and the earth is very muddy just below the surface.

I'm no expert on wet meadows but this doesn't look like a well functioning habitat. The Cattails form an almost complete monoculture. There is one native and one non-native variety which are hard to tell apart. Both of them are considered to be invasive in some habitats. My conclusion is that this is the case here. The proposed wetland will involve removing most of the Cattails and replacing them with a wetland habitat that will have considerably more diversity.

The unknown factor is whether the ground water source will be active enough to keep the pond feature wet. Once it is excavated water will flow in but evaporation will be increased. Whether the groundwater source can keep up with the loss is an unknown quantity. It may take a few years before a balance is reached. It will certainly be something to keep monitoring.

Nothing but Cattails are growing on this wet meadow

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Luminous Veil Promoter Honoured

Plaque in memory of Al Birney

A couple of months ago the city mounted a plaque on the Bloor Viaduct. The plaque is located on the north side of the bridge at the east end. The plaque is in honour of Al Birney who was in large part responsible for the Luminous Veil, the suicide barrier that now adorns both sides of the bridge.

The barrier became necessary as the bridge became notorious as a convenient place for people who wanted to end their lives. Between 1919 when the viaduct was opened until 2003 about 400 people jumped from the bridge. The placement of the barrier has effectively ended this practice.

Inside Toronto wrote an article on Al Birney and the plaque mounting.

View of the viaduct, looking west. The Luminous Veil is shown above the railing and the plaque can be seen in the lower right of the photograph.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lost Rivers in the News

The Toronto Star has a good article about Toronto's Lost Rivers, you know the creeks that have been buried in storm sewers beneath our streets. The article also includes a video about Taddle Creek including on the street descriptions by local historian and naturalist Ed Freeman.

There is also another article in InsideToronto about Evergreen's plan for the Brick Works.

Dodgeville has made a post about what E.T. Seton Park looks like after the first snowfall of the year.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Brick Works Announcement

Evergreen has just announced final plans for the Don Valley Brick Works. These plans have been several years in the making and it is good to see that all their hard work is finally paying off. The plan has undergone many changes, in part due to listening to public input from groups and individuals concerned with the Don. Work is due to begin in next year. Don Watcher will keep you apprised of future developments.

Note: these plans only affect the building complex. The quarry park and ponds will remain under the control of the Parks department.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Public Meeting Summary

Concept Plan 1. This plan calls for a major repair job to the bridge and an expanded parking lot at the back including a bus drop off area. There is also an improvement network of paths connecting the historic buildings.

Concept Plan 2. This plan adds a front parking lot and a road connecting to the back parking lot. The bridge would be turned into a pedestrian only bridge.

I attended the public consultation meeting on future enhancements to Todmorden Mills. The meeting was attended by about 40 people. The original impetus for the work was the need to replace a bridge that connects to a parking lot at the back of the site. The bridge used to cross the Don River when it meandered through the site. The meander was straightened when the Don Valley Parkway was built. The bridge now only crosses a shallow gully. Part of the original casements are now buried in the ground.

The current project includes two replacement options for the bridge, It also includes an increase in the number of parking spots, improved site lighting, formalized trails to allow for wheelchair access to the historical buildings and some limited improvements to the nature preserve.

I thought that most of the ideas were good although I don't like the idea of increased parking (who needs more cars?). One thing that surprised me was that the Don Station building will be moved to the Roundhouse down by the Skydome, er... sorry the Roger's Centre. That makes sense since it is railway related (Maybe they can use it as part of the furniture outlet?)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Todmorden Mills Public Meeting

Poster for public meeting

The city is holding an information session on Monday November 19 starting at 7 PM. The meeting is being held to talk about proposed changes to Todmorden Mills. Anybody interested in this historic site should consider attending.

Seems Artless Don Pix

Seems Artless is a photo blog that I follow. This week it has a good picture of the Don shrouded in fog. If you click on his Wholemap link you'll get a location map of where past pictures have been taken.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Toronto Trees are in Trouble

I've blogged about this before but Todd Irvine's article in the Toronto Star is very insightful. Reading it is an eye-opener into the plight of our urban forest.

Friday, November 09, 2007

City Documents - October 2007

I found a couple of documents on the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee agenda for October 31, 2007 that might be of interest to anyone who follows policy issues that concern the Don watershed, directly or indirectly.

PW 10.5 Mandatory Downspout Disconnection

The city has been trying to get homeowners to voluntarily disconnect their downspouts from the sewer system for the past 10 years with mixed results. Now staff are recommending that this program be made mandatory. Relatively speaking this has got to be one of the easiest ways for reducing wet weather flow to our sewers. Channelling rain water to the ground and allowing it to filter naturally through the soil is much better in the long run then pumping it quickly away through a sewer. No doubt people are worried about basement flooding but properly implemented this shouldn't be an issue. Is this literally a NIMBY issue?

PW 10.8 Wet Weather Flow Master Plan (WWFMP) Implementation Update Report

This report contains quite a list of ongoing improvements and updates. There are links to a wide range of issues from basement flooding to shoreline management to end-of-pipe implementation.

New Park Entrance for Crothers' Woods

New park entrance includes a kiosk and a garbage can

It took four years to get this done, but it's finally completed. Crothers' Woods now has a formal entry point. It is located at the south end of the Loblaws parking lot. For several years it has just been a hole in the fence which both the city and Loblaws have politely ignored knowing that the location was too well used for it to be shut down.

The new entrance includes an information kiosk and a garbage can which hopefully will be emptied by the city. The project was sponsored in part by Loblaws who donated funds and land. Kudos go to NECP staff who diligently kept this going.

View of entrance from just within the forest

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Karen Valovich - In Memory

Karen at a spring planting in 2003

News about the Don is sometimes depressing but it is rarely sad. Unfortunately, this is case today. I just learned that Karen Valovich, a long time volunteer for Bring Back the Don has passed away this week. Karen was a dependable volunteer who I often saw at tree plantings in the Don. I remember her well because she often rode her bicycle to events. Later on she joined my stewardship team at the Brick Works and regularly came out to do weeding and watering activities. She also helped out at Sherwood Park doing stewardship tasks since she lived in that neighbourhood in North Toronto.

She was soft spoken and somewhat shy but always had a smile when I talked with her. Once I got to know her I found she had a dry sense of humour. A couple of years ago she got married and disappeared from the volunteer scene. I figured she was busy with her new life but then I found out that she wasn't well. I didn't hear anything until today when another of my volunteers from my old stewardship team called up and passed on the news.

There's an obituary in the Toronto Star. I don't have it in front of me but I was told that there is a viewing tomorrow at the Newbigging Funeral Home at 733 Mt. Pleasant Rd. just south of Eglinton.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Swan Boats on the Don

During one of my regular blog patrols, I came across a bit of whimsy about the Don. Steve Munro writes a very insightful blog on Toronto transit issues. One of the things he has done (and I need to do) is categorize his posts. As I browsed through the list of categories I could have chosen some meaty topics such as "Waterfront", "Subway Cars", and "GO Transit". Instead I immediately clicked on the one entitled "Fantasy".

In this list is an item entitled "A Bold Initiative for Don Valley Transport". In it he describes a novel and unique form of transportation - Swan Boats (aka a kiddy ride at Centre Island). I suggest you read the accompanying story, it is very funny, especially the description of using a catapult to get boats up the hill from the river to Castle Frank subway station.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bird Banding Demonstration

Bird Banding Demonstration

Two weeks ago I attended a bird banding demonstration in Milne Hollow, a park in the Don Valley just south of Lawrence Ave. East. It was given by Seabrooke Leckie, a volunteer with the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station. Bird banding is used to track birds on their migration paths. If the bird is recaptured then its band information can be used to identify the bird and find out where it was first banded. This information is logged in a North American database managed by the USGS and Canadian Wildlife Service.

It was a fascinating demonstration and was worth waking up at 6:30 AM. During the 90 minutes I was there, they captured 2 hermit thrushes (Catharus guttatus), 1 black capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), 1 song sparrow (Melospiza melodia), and 1 immature male cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) (see video). The birds had their wing length measured, were weighed, and were aged and sexed where possible. They also were examined for fat content which is an indicator of where they are in their migration. Apparently birds only store fat during migration periods. A tiny plastic band was placed around one leg and then they were released.

The birds were caught in mist nets which don't harm the birds. They were transported to the banding area in cloth bags. The entire banding process took less than 5 minutes per bird.The process is designed to cause a minimum of stress on the birds.

Anyone can get their own bird banding demonstration if they visit the TTBRS station on the Leslie Street Spit. Check the website for details.

Note about the video: there's a lot a background noise due to the proximity of the Don Valley Parkway. Also Seabrooke's voice is very soft so you have to listen carefully to hear her explanation. Enjoy!

Seabrooke handles a hermit thrush

Spreading the wing feathers. This checks for age, signs of moulting, and general health of the bird

Placing a band on the leg

Birds store fat for long migrations. The fat is stored in the chest area. By blowing gently on the chest feathers, the fatty tissue is exposed. The amount of fat is rated on a scale of 1-7.

A Black-capped Chickadee is held securely in the hand as it awaits its measurements

A very scruffy looking immature cardinal waits his turn

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bridges for Bicycles Meeting

Councillor Paula Fletcher is having a public meeting regarding new bridges planned (or under construction) in east Toronto.

1) Dundas Bridge over the Don River,
2) A New Unwin Ave. bridge in the Port Lands
3) the Future West Donlands/Eastern Ave Bridge over the Don River

I think there may be some real opportunities cyclists, walkers, etc.

Thurs. November 1st, 7 PM
Dundas Public School
935 Dundas Street East (at Boulton Ave.)

For more information, contact: Paul Young, health promoter

South Riverdale Community Health Centre
955 Queen St. East
Toronto ON
M4M 3P3
tel. 416-461-1925 ext. 241

Saturday, October 27, 2007

New Wetland Proposal

Wetland Design Scheme (click to expand)

The Don is getting a new wetland this fall. Just west of Victoria Park Ave. in Taylor Creek Park is an open field that gets very wet. There is no apparent water source so it is likely that the water table is very close to the ground in this area. This is an important project for the Don Watershed. Only about 0.2% of the original wetlands have survived. Most have been lost to agricultural and urban uses. Anytime that this trend can be reversed it is a positive development.

Construction is due to begin sometime this fall. Backhoes will be brought in to excavate the pond which will be about 1.5 m at its deepest point. In the spring, planting and other landscaping will be started. As with any new project it will take a few years before it starts to look like anything substantial.

Feedback from local environmental groups and residents has been mixed. Friends of the Don East are generally supportive of the project yet rival group Taylor Massey Project supports it in principle only. In a letter to the city staff, they outline their reservations which appear to be centred around the fact that they weren't consulted. They claim not to have have seen a detailed design (see above) nor are they aware of the budget (about $300,000). TMP wanted a site visit as well but didn't get one. They are also concerned about fluctuating water levels.

The East York-Riverdale Mirror has published an article on the wetland. In the article local councillor Janet Davis said that a public meeting will be scheduled next month with environmental stakeholders to review the project. A local resident, Alyssa Diamond is opposed to the project mostly because she doesn't want a wetland behind her house. She says that it would be a source for mosquitoes. What she doesn't realize is that a functioning wetland would be less of a source for mosquitoes than the current wet meadow. She also says that a wet meadow provides valuable habitat. This maybe true but most of the habitat that a wet meadow provides is also available in a wetland. A wetland also provides a more diverse range of habitats including a place for fish, amphibians and reptiles. If you were to rate habitat value on a scale of 1-10 a wet meadow would be about 4-5 but a wetland is a solid 10.

Location of wetland site

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Road Takes Precedence Over Creek

Retaining wall construction on St. Clair Ave. East, just west of Birchmount

At the corner of St. Clair Avenue East and Birchmount Avenue, Taylor-Massey Creek flows west from the grounds of the Pine Hills Cemetery to St. Clair Ravine Park. Last week I was visiting as part of a planting event and decided to take a look at the creek. Along this section, the creek hugs the north edge of St. Clair. Just east of Birchmount it is encased in a gabion basket channel. The same thing lined the creek west of Birchmount but a couple of years ago the wall failed and the sidewalk started to subside into the creek.

Last year they erected some buttressing and I thought that was the end of it. But this year they are doing some more work. They have channelled the river into a culvert and have removed the steel girder buttresses. In its place they are building what looks to be a substantial retaining wall. I doubt that the result will be any more habitat friendly than the old wall but at least it should last for awhile.

Temporary steel buttressing erected in 2006, now removed

This is just another example where urban infrastructure takes precedence over natural function. At least the creek will be exposed rather than encased in a storm sewer which has been the fate of many downtown creeks (See for the whole sad story).

Taylor-Massey Creek relegated to a temporary culvert

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Snakes Also on the Move

Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnopis sirtalis) in Warden Woods

Salmon aren't the only creatures heading to a fall destination. During a bike ride on Saturday, I spotted four snakes, three garter snakes and one brown snake (Storeria dekayi). It appears that in the fall snakes are on the move searching for a hibernaculum where they can survive the winter. In our climate cold-blooded reptiles need to hibernate during the cold winter months.

All of the sightings were on the bike path. Presumably while crossing they pause to soak up some heat from the pavement so if you are out cycling in the next couple of weeks please keep a sharp eye out for these creatures so they don't become roadkill. If you're like me you might even pause to take some photographs. If you do please urge the snakes nicely off the path and on their way.

A close-up shot of its head. I was lucky enough to catch it flicking its tongue. A snake's tongue is very sensitive and can sense movement, odours and even temperature changes.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Salmon Running in the Don

Salmon in river just north of Pottery Road

The past couple of weeks I've noticed salmon swimming in the Don. I've also seen them in the Humber. These salmon aren't native to Ontario, they are actually Coho or Chinook Salmon from the Pacific Ocean. The Ministry of Natural Resources stocks them in Lake Ontario for the sports fishing industry. After a lifespan of about four years they follow some instinctive drive and start to swim up a river to spawn.

Unfortunately those that choose the Don River don't have much hope. They have to contend with flood control dams such as the G. Ross Lord Reservoir or weirs left over from 19th century industrial activities. Even if they do get far enough north the eggs won't last because of storm water that scours the river bed clear of most stones and gravel where they might lay their eggs.

The TRCA embarked on a barrier mitigation program which is slowly reducing barriers to fish travel. Some people have reported seeing salmon as far north as Highway 7 so it sounds like it is working. Optimistically it will be at least 10 years before the Don supports a fish population such as trout that travels upriver to spawn. Only the Credit River has reported such success so far. The Don will have to wait a bit longer.

If you want to see them yourself, get on the Lower Don Trail. Travel north of Pottery Road for about 500 m and you will get to a series of rapids. Just below the final weir you should be able to see some fins sticking out of the water. They are best viewed mid to late afternoon when the light strikes the water at the right angle to see them as they float just underneath the surface. If you see any leave a comment with your observations.

Dead salmon spotted in East Don River just south of Lawrence Avenue East. I smelled this one before I saw it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

St. Clair Ravine Planting

Planting a grassy slope in St. Clair Ravine Park

I attended a planting this morning in St. Clair Ravine Park. Sponsored by Friends of the Don East, its purpose was to extend the forest along a grass covered slope. The parks people approved this location because kids toboggan on this slope and there is a fence covered culvert across the path at the bottom of the slope which they could crash into. The planting here might prevent that. The neighbours at the top of the hill were a little non-plussed. They seemed chagrined that they might lose their view. In about 10 years or so, they'll appreciate the additional privacy.

I didn't actually plant anything. I spent the entire time filling mulch buckets. We got rid of an entire mulch pile which is quite an accomplishment.

FODE's rival group, the Taylor Massey Project will be hosting a planting in the same park, just a little east of here, next Saturday, Oct. 27.

All the plants in the ground, Choke Cherry, Trembling Aspen, and Staghorn Sumac.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Donora Ravine Restoration

Map of Donora Ravine

Donora Ravine is a small place as ravines go. But for some local residents it is now a big issue. Late last year the city began a restoration project of the degraded site. The controversy began when the city cut down all the Norway Maples (Acer platanoides) surrounding the ravine. While this is an important first step in the restoration process, cutting down mature trees is a touchy subject for city residents, especially if they don't realize the impact this species has on the natural environment.

Norway Maples are an introduced species that are commonly planted as a street tree. They grow fast, produce a dense canopy of shade and can tolerate a variety of urban conditions, ie. salt tolerance, drought resistance, and soil compaction. They also produce large volumes of seeds that readily sprout everywhere including our ravine parks. Left unattended they can out-compete the slower growing Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum).

While the result may be a little unsightly in the short term, in about 10-15 years the woodland will re-establish, this time with native species. Friends of the Don East have been busy this year planting native trees and shrubs. Already there are signs of abundant understory growth. The stumps of the maples were left in place because these will provide valuable habitat for tree dwelling animals including Raccoons and Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa). Woodpeckers also feed here on insects living beneath the bark.

In order to educate the public, the city erected an interpretive sign that describes the restoration project and its importance to the natural environment. It will be interesting to watch this site mature over the next couple of years.

View of ravine taken December 2006. Viewpoint is arrow #1

Donora Ravine, 10 months later. Viewpoint is arrow #2

Father and daughter read intrepretive sign beside ravine

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Don River Reroute Update

I've been busy with school lately so my posting has dropped off. Just time to do some cross-posting tonight. Val Dodge has done a story on the Don River so I thought I'd share the link with you. He (or she) has been kind enough in giving me links as well (a kindred Don spirit no doubt).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Crothers' Woods Trail Maintenance Session

Toronto Off Road-Bicycle Group and City of Toronto Trail Building Workshop

October 14th 2007

Please join the City of Toronto and the Toronto Off-Road Bicycling Group for a day of sustainable trail development in Crothers' Woods located in the Don River watershed.

We will be meeting on Sunday October 14th at 10:00am at the trailhead adjacent to Loblaws at #11 Redway Road (Redway and Millwood Rd). Events usually run until 4:00pm, or until the days tasks have been completed. Please bring a lunch (which can be purchased at the Loblaws) and come prepared for outdoor work (work boots, long pants, sunscreen etc).

Trail users, and anyone who would like to get out and do their part for the Don trail system, are all welcome to join our trail work sessions to assist with trail construction, stewardship and maintenance. Activities can include re-routing trails away from badly eroded hillsides, rock armouring over exposed tree roots, building water crossings, installing interesting trail components and planting native trees and shrubs to increase forest health.

A short introduction, training and safety session will conducted before the event for everyone in attendance.

Please email Jason at or call 416-338-DIRT for more details.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Attack of the Giant Woolly Bear!

Woolly Bear (Pyrrharctia isabella) caterpillar [click photo for a really close-up view]

Ha, ha, just kidding. This is just a close-up photograph with no frame of reference. I was cycling in the Don on the weekend and came across many of these making their way across the bike path, unfortunately some of them have been squished by inattentive (or very attentive) cyclists.

These creatures are the larval form of the Isabella Tiger Moth. Most moths lay their eggs in the the fall which then hatch in the spring. With this species, the eggs hatch in September and the caterpillars feed up until the first frost when they go into hibernation, usually under a rock or a log. When spring arrives they wake up and start to feed. I've seen them crawling across melting banks of snow in March when the first warm thaw hits. This adaptation gives them a bit of a head start on the rest of the bunch as they get first crack at spring vegetation.

According to Wikipedia, they are celebrated in Ohio during an event called the Woollybear Festival. I suppose their fuzzy appearance makes them kind of cute. I wonder if they hold woolly bear races?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cedarvale Park Restoration

A former grassy ditch gets a makeover

I went to a planting last Sunday in Cedarvale Park. Cedarvale Park is just south of Eglinton West Subway station and sits atop the Spadina subway line. Most of the park is grassy field, underused except by dog walkers and a nearby cricket pitch. The location of the planting was a ditch formerly lined with grass. In the spring it fills with meltwater but is dry most of the summer.

This project was started by ex-city employee Trisha Kaplan-Freed who has since moved out to Vancouver Island. Her efforts to make the most of poor habitats like this in Toronto will be sorely missed. The ground is some of the worst digging I've encountered. Just underneath the grass the soil is heavily compacted and as hard as concrete. I expect that there will be a low survival rate unless these trees and shrubs are watered and tended for the first few years.

Still it is a worthwhile project. Hopefully in 5-10 years enough material will survive to start providing habitat for birds and small mammals. Perhaps I will make annual treks out here to check it's progress to see if my prediction holds true.

Schematic diagram of the project

Don Watcher manages to plant eight Eastern White Cedars (Thuja occidentalis) in hard packed soil.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Clearcut Culprits Revealed

Restoration site bulldozed for pipeline repairs.

Last May I reported on a puzzling circumstance of a grove of mature willows that had been chopped down across Bayview Ave. from the Brick Works. I wasn't able to ascertain the reason until now.

It turns out that an Enbridge (formerly Consumers Gas) pipeline runs directly underneath the site. When I visited the site last week I found a construction road had been plowed directly through the site cutting a swath through a patch of Dogwood and Nannyberry bushes. What had been a successful restoration site is now an ugly mess.

With Enbridge digging up pipelines for repairs, Ontario Hydro chopping trees under power lines, and the city digging up ground for sewer repairs (and new sewers), it just demonstrates how difficult restoration activities in the Don Valley can be.

Construction road continues to the west. On the left is a pile of what used to be the trees growing on this site.

I guess it should also say, "Call before you plant".

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Odd Construction at the Brick Works

Newly built huts on Quarry Ponds patio

I was passing by the Brick Works the other day when I came across this odd scene on the patio next to the quarry ponds. Someone had built little huts and placed them on blocks. Underneath the main canopy where most of the main events are held, there were obvious signs of some sort of movie or TV show in the progress of being filmed.

I found out later that the production was Holmes on Homes, a Canadian home improvement show. The little buildings were only temporary as they were removed after a couple of days. Yet the scene of them beside the ponds just made for a lesson in incongruity.

One of the huts framed against the backdrop of the ponds and the forest.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Adopt a Street Tree

This tree died this year. Yonge Street just north of Davisville.

Recent articles in the Globe & Mail and Eye Magazine have highlighted the plight of Toronto street trees. While the summer was warm, sunny and not too humid, this has also meant that there hasn't been much rain. In fact this has been the driest summer in more than 50 years. While the trees in the valley have fared pretty well, I can't say as much for our street trees. Garbage, dog pee, constricted roots, winter salt, and now lack of water have all taken their toll on our street trees. The average life span of a street tree is 5-7 years while trees in the Don can last ten times longer. We seem to take their pleasant shade for granted, and tsk, tsk, if one should die. But this summer they are dying in droves.

So what can we do about it except lament about the city's laissez-faire attitude to maintenance and watering? How about adopting a nearby city street tree. Every day this summer on my way home, I stopped and dumped the contents of my water bottle on a street tree. While this may not be much (my water bottle is only about 600 ml) it may represent the only water this tree gets this year. But if more people did it then our street trees might last longer.

So how about it? Choose a tree, then once per day as you walk by empty your water bottle on the roots of your adopted tree. If it's convenient, say you live on a main street or you have a business with a tree outside fill a bucket of water in the morning and water your tree. It may be enough to keep that tree alive for another year.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

CBC Reports on Evergreen's Plans

I found this video on the CBC website. Mary Ito a community reporter talks to Geoff Cape about Evergreen's plan to transform the Don Valley Brick Works into an interpretive education centre. The video is pretty good although it's a bit of a puff piece for Evergreen - not real journalism. It doesn't address any of the challenges of the site nor any of the concerns that have been expressed by local groups about the make-over plans. Nevertheless it does showcase the Brick Works park nicely. Worth a look.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bird Watching at the Brick Works

Cedar Waxwing at the Brick Works

If you're into bird watching, spring and fall are the best times to be out looking for birds. That's because many species that migrate are passing through on their way to breeding grounds or winter resting places. If you can't get out of the city to known bird watching places such as Long Point or Point Pelee then the Don Valley Brick Works is not a bad alternative. The quarry ponds are a good place to find birds that are looking for a rest stop.

My camera isn't the best for taking bird photos but there are several examples around of birders who have better cameras and know how to take bird photographs. I found this website called Canada Bird Photography and they have a recent entry about the Brick Works.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fall Planting Season has Started

The city has posted a schedule for tree planting this fall. There are 12 events including 10 tree plantings, one bird banding, and one trail building workshop. Eight of the events are located in the Don River watershed, one in the Highland Creek watershed, one in the Rouge River watershed and two on the Toronto Islands.

I hope to get out to a few of the events and take some pictures. If you come out to a tree planting you may be featured in an upcoming Don Watcher post!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Trail Work Pictures

Last weekend the city, together with a few stalwart members of the mountain biking community did some more trail work in Crothers' Woods. This job meant to reroute trail around a degrade section was partially completed. Jason Murray, the Durham IMBA rep, posted some pictures of the work on Flickr. You can also follow the discussion of the event on the biker forum Drop Machine.

The work was only partially completed. Another work event is scheduled for Oct. 14 so if you missed your chance, book your calendar now to help out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Another Brush Fire

I've been out of town for a few days so I missed this fire which was reported on Torontoist. While they don't say where it was it looks like a section of the DVP embankment just north of Pottery Road. While Toronto always experiences a dry period in August, this summer has been the driest in 50 years (2005 wasn't much better - see comments by Toronto forester Richard Ubbens). So incidents like this should be expected.

Interestingly, I started this blog over two years ago with a blog post about a brush fire (with pictures and also followup a year later) .

Sunday, September 09, 2007

News story on Taylor-Massey Creek

An outfall in Pine Hills Cemetery - known to be one of the worst pollution sources on Taylor-Massey Creek

This story appeared in the Scarborough Mirror. Environmentalists have known for years that Taylor-Massey Creek was little more than an open sewer. But this knowledge hasn't percolated down to local media until recently. The story hits all the major creek highlights: ecoli levels are sky-high in some places; it's not an easy fix; and it's not going to be cheap or quick.

On the bright side, education about the creek's troubles is starting to get the public asking questions. Councillors are also getting on the bandwagon and this is moving city staff to focus more resources on some short term fixes. A long term fix is still several years down the road.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

FODE's Fall Fundraiser

Friends of the Don East (FODE) are holding their fall fundraising dinner on Monday Sept. 10, 7 PM at Allan's Restaurant on Danforth just west of Broadview. Tickets can be had by calling 416-657-2800. I was there last year and dinner was pretty good. There are also some prizes to be won. $65 may seem like a lot but it includes a three course meal with beer or wine. The gratuity for the the wait staff is also included. A pretty good deal!