Monday, April 27, 2009

Stewardship 2009 Season Kickoff

2009 Poster

The 2009 stewardship season is kicking off with an orientation meeting at Riverdale Farm tomorrow night, April 28, 2009 from 7-9 PM (enter by the gate on Winchester Street). The 2009 season is the most ambitious yet with 10 sites, 7 of them in the Don Watershed.

The program is entirely volunteer. Each team visits their site once a week to perform maintenance and monitoring activities. These include removal of invasive plants, planting and watering of native plants and trees, and monitoring of various biological indicators. Last year, monitoring included flower pollinators, benthic invertebrates and water quality. All training is provided through the program.

If you're interested in this program, you can find out more information by coming to the meeting tomorrow or you can call 416-392-5323 or send an email to

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Don Watershed Sign Launch

Sample signs of the watershed. Left to Right: Tom Boudreault, City of Toronto; Phil Goodwin, Chair, DWRC; Adele Freeman, TRCA; Jack Heath, Deputy Mayor, City of Markham; Janet Davis, City of Toronto Councillor, Peter Heinz, DWRC; Amy Thurston, TRCA.

I attended a small gathering today on Victoria Park Avenue where there was an official unveiling of a Don Watershed sign. It was at the east end of Taylor Creek Park across the road from Dentonia Golf Course. This is one of eight signs on along the length of Taylor-Massey Creek where it goes underneath major roads.

About 65 signs have already been put up throughout Toronto and a further 50 are being put up in Markham, Vaughan, and Richmond Hill. Each sign will denote the name of the river or creek. The name of the city is in the lower left corner and the Don Watershed symbol in the upper right. It is hoped that the signs will help to educate the general public about the Don River and its tributaries.

Jack and Janet officially unveil the sign...

... and there it is.

Peter Heinz with his watershed sign map. Peter came up with the idea ten years ago and this launch is the culmination of his efforts. Well done Peter!

Close up of the map. Over 100 signs will be posted throughout the watershed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Riverdale Roosters and Chickens

This breed is called Light Sussex.

Earlier this spring I stopped by Riverdale Farm one quiet afternoon and stepped into a small barn containing a variety of roosters, chickens, and a couple of rabbits. As I was standing there, I was greeted by a chorus of rooster calls. I caught some of them on video. Listen carefully and you can hear three different voices.

Riverdale Farm is one of those little known secrets of downtown Toronto. Created on the former grounds of the first Toronto Zoo, it is an active farm that specializes in pioneer farm animal breeds Ontario. Favourite animals include Dusty the Donkey and Ginger the Pig. You can also see horses, cows, sheep, and goats.

It is well used by the Cabbagetown neighbourhood but is open to all visitors, and it's free! It is open from 9 AM - 5 PM every day. It is located east of Parliament Street and north of Gerrard Street at the end of Winchester Street.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys

X-ray image of a broken clavicle bone

OK, OK, there might actually be a girl or two but it's mostly a male crowd. They've occupied a spot in the Don Valley for several years nicknamed DJ's which is short for Dirt Jumps. In this scrubby area nestled between the river and the CN rail line they have fashioned a bicycle skills park crowded with earthen jumps. These jumps are sculpted in such a way that allows them to jump their bikes over them. Sometimes they are single and sometimes they are multiple jumps.

Earlier this spring someone shoehorned a new series of jumps into the park. This new line of jumps has led to much discussion with mixed reviews. As can be seen from this video posted by one of the bikers, they can jump pretty high into the air on these jumps.

Unfortunately, it's not all clean and safe fun as can be seen from this x-ray posted by one of the bikers, and he is one of more experienced bikers. He also suffered a broken wrist.

Incidents like this makes the city cringe. Legally the land is owned by the conservation authority but managed by the city's Parks, Forestry & Recreation Department. Technically speaking, the city could be held liable for accidents such as this. However the biking crowd is not really very litigious so the victim in this case only crawled home to lick his wounds. His parents might be another matter.

Due to this type of issue and other related matters concerning this section of the valley, the city created a management plan for the area. Part of the plan is to close the skills park because it is inaccessible to ambulances in case anybody gets seriously hurt (I suppose this accident doesn't qualify). Not part of the plan is where to relocate the bicycle skills park. The management plan recognizes this problem but it doesn't say much about how to fix it. The bikers and the city are slowly working on it but really haven't tackled the issue seriously. There are only two bike parks in the whole city (one near Finch and Bayview, the other near Dufferin and Dupont) where this activity is condoned neither of which is close to downtown. Even if the city succeeds in closing this site, the bikers may just move to some other area which will no doubt be even more secluded.

Let's hope that the city starts creating good bicycle skills parks that allows these youngsters to build jumps to their heart's delight, preferably in a place that doesn't impinge on a natural space and is also accessible to ambulance services.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bathroom Mural Vandalized

Mural on the side of a bathroom building in Taylor Creek Park, Fall 2008

Last fall, I was cycling through Taylor Creek Park. Just east of the O'Connor bridge is a bathroom building. I noticed that the walls had been painted with some interpretive murals. I learned later that it was a local school group. Then last week I was going by again and I noticed that all the murals had been spray painted with graffiti. It's a sad statement on our respect for art in this world.

I've heard that the building is likely to be torn down since it is situated in an area of poor drainage. A marshy area is just to the rear of the building and the floor is often flooded. So it is unlikely that the graffiti will be cleaned up.

Authors and a little bit of graffiti.

Murals vandalized, Spring 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

First Invasive of Spring

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica)

It's still pretty cold in the Don. Things are slowly budding but not much blooming yet, except for the non-native stuff. This was the only thing I saw in bloom on a trip to Todmorden Mills (of course I didn't do a full inspection so the Skunk Cabbage could've been flowering as well).

Scilla siberica is a hardy spring perennial that can dominate forest understorey, according to the SER handbook on invasives although according to Bootstrap Analysis it doesn't seem to affect other spring ephemerals such as Trillium and Mayapple. The Invasive Species Weblog doesn't even mention it.

It appears the jury is still out whether this is a harmless garden escapee or something to worry about.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Todmorden Mills Cleanup Day

The morning crowd

A group of about 50 people came out on Saturday to help cleanup Todmorden Mills. This is an annual event and it helps keep the garbage and litter in this Don Valley forest preserve down to a minimum. The event is co-hosted by Friends of the Don East and the Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve.

Garbage pickers clean the ravine slope

A pile of garbage collected

Someone found a bowling ball

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Signs of the Don

Sign at the Pottery Road bridge denotes "Lower Don River"

Drivers passing through or over the Don Valley may have started to notice a bevy of new signs posted on bridges that cross ravines and valleys. This is a new initiative started by the Don Watershed Regeneration Council to let the general public know that they are going over a watercourse associated with the Don River.

These signs will go a long way to educating the general public about Toronto geography. The signs will only be placed at obvious bridges and culverts. There is unlikely to be any signs posted over long buried creeks such as Taddle Creek.

Sign on Dawes Road. This bridge already had an existing sign placed by the old Borough of East York which is still in place.

Not all signs are in the right place. This sign on O'Connor Drive just west of the intersection with St. Clair Ave. East is actually at a small ravine containing a tiny tributary of Taylor Massey Creek called Curity Creek. The main bridge just to the west that actually crosses Taylor Massey Creek has no sign yet. Ah well, the city workers who were placing the signs aren't expert geographers. There may be a few hiccups like this until it the sign program is finished rolling out.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Twitter and Me

I've been on Twitter since Jan. 25, 2009. I've managed 45 twitter posts in 74 days. That's roughly 6 updates every 10 days. That out paces my Don Watcher posts, which I've done approximately 2.5 every 10 days. I have 30 followers and am following 6 other "tweeters'' (twitterers?).

Of course it is so much easier since you're limited to 140 characters per tweet. I've used it almost solely for advertising events or links to Don related web sites or newspaper articles. Only one or two were for current conditions of the Don.

My Twitter use will likely continue in the same vein. I won't be cross-posting anymore since I've now added a widget that displays my latest five tweets. Just look down on the right side below links to see the details. My use of twitter may actually reduce the number of Don Watcher posts since I used to dedicate posts to advertise a website. The benefits of technology!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Spinning Sewage

As a member of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don, I participate in the semi-annual chore of putting our newsletter together. For the Spring 2009 issue I was responsible for collecting articles and submitting them for publication. Since the Task Force is a City of Toronto organization, we have the advantage of using in-house services to get our newsletter designed, printed and mailed out to the public. The downside of this is that we can't publish anything unless is gets city approval. So nothing too radical and we can't criticize the city.

This imposition arose for one of the articles that we submitted for publication. I thought it would be nice to write an article on the problems with the Coxwell Trunk Sewer which were discovered in January. I asked someone to write an article on the subject. She dutifully researched the article, wrote and submitted a short article.

The article was entitled "Up Shit Creek", a gutsy title that certainly portrays the disaster scenario. I thought this was a little risqué for the Task Force newsletter so I changed it to "Problems Beneath Our Feet".

Subsequent to submission of the article for publishing, we had a response from the city. Toronto Water, who is responsible for the sewer didn't like certain parts of article. In particular was the title and the first paragraph. Staff thought that the title might cause panic amongst East York residents so they rejected that wording. Eventually we decided on "Coxwell Sanitary Trunk Sewer Damage" as a revised title. Maybe I should have left it as "Up Shit Creek".

The first paragraph read: "The Task Force to Bring Back the Don has spent the last 20 years working to make the watershed more clean, green and accessible, but all those efforts may be undermined by a threat that has been growing unseen underneath our very feet."

Staff took exception to the italicized portion and asked for its removal. We decided to revise it to "but these efforts may be undermined by damage to a major sewer line."

Most of our articles get published with little revision but occasionally we ruffle a few feathers in the city bureaucracy. It's not so much a game of give and take but trying to live under the same roof, a relationship we sometimes forget about.