Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Pesticide Story

Recently, no doubt as an election ploy, the provincial Liberals announced that they would impose a province-wide ban on pesticide spraying for cosmetic purposes. This is good news, assuming of course that they get re-elected (which is not the subject of this post).

It brought to mind an incident that happened to me earlier this summer. On June 29th (coincidentally the day before the long weekend) I was cycling through Mt. Pleasant Cemetery and came across a sign announcing a pesticide spraying. It said the spraying company was Weed Man, and they were using a chemical called Par III (Killex) to treat "weeds". This is a pretty toxic compound according to the literature. There were additional signs throughout the eastern portion of the cemetery (east of Mt. Pleasant Road).

Being a concerned citizen, I noted down the details and called up the listed phone number. This led me to the city's Dept. of Public Health. I talked to Heather Richards, who is employed as an environmental health inspector. She said that cemeteries are allowed to spray once they reach a threshold of 20%. I checked the pesticide bylaw (page 4) and sure enough there is an exemption. It says that cemeteries are allowed to "spot spray" when weed cover reaches 10-15%.

I then asked Heather who makes the determination on whether weeds exceed the 10-15% range. Is it a city inspector? Is it cemetery staff? Neither, it is the spraying company that makes the call! I then asked her doesn't this constitute a conflict of interest? She refused to comment. She directed me to contact the Board of Health which deals with policy matters vis a vis the pesticide bylaw which apparently is a different department than Dept. of Public Health. I got no further than this call.

To me it makes sense that a city inspector needs to be involved to make the determination rather than the spraying company. They will no doubt always say the threshold has been reached since they don't get paid if they don't spray. Also, there needs to be some oversight on the pesticide application because it would be pretty difficult to spot spray half the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. I don't trust the lawn care companies to police themselves in this regard.

This fall I will ask the Task Force to have city staff review this clause of the bylaw and its implementation. I'll keep you posted on any updates.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Now you see it, Now you don't

Even though the Lower Don Trail is open, work is continuing on the finishing touches. The old dock wall that used to line the river before the channel was widened is sticking out of the water in places. They are slowly removing it piece by piece.

Old dock wall sticking out of water

Dock wall now removed

Just so much metal junk now

Just last week I noticed a mess of graffitti had appeared on the wall facing the trail. It took about a week before somebody decided they needed to put their personal stamp on the project. Fortunately it was quickly removed.

New cement wall vandalized...

... and a quick cleanup

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Studying Benthic Invertebrates

A collection of clips from the Benthic Invertebrate study at Riverdale Farm Ponds

This week I went by Riverdale Farm Ponds to participate in a study to monitor pond organisms. The point of the study was to collect benthic invertebrates from the bottom of the pond. Benthic invertebrates are a group of creatures that live in an aquatic environment and include fully developed insects; insects in a larval stage; some crustaceans; and worms and leeches. Benthic Invertebrates can be used to measure the health of a pond. Since some species are more tolerant of pollution, the presence or absence of them can be used as a general water quality gauge.

The collection process involved donning hip waders, wading into the pond and collecting samples from the bottom muck with a special scooping net. Once the samples were collected, we went up to one of the buildings and sifted through the debris looking for different creatures. During our investigation we encountered aquatic sow bugs, midges, aquatic worms, scuds, leeches, and snails. All of these are mostly pollution tolerant and the species found indicated that water quality was low, about 7 on a scale of 10 (1=pristine water, 10=absence of life).

However, there is some good news. Last year an aerator was installed to inject air into the water. Due to several longterm problems, the ponds suffer from anoxic conditions which means that not much can survive here. A similar study was done before the aerator was activated and a grand total of 8 creatures were found. This year between 50-100 organisms were found. So things are looking up for the ponds.

Nathalie and Heather from Citizens' Environment Watch help facilitate the collection process

Looking for bugs in mud

A closer inspection reveals...

...a blurry image of a bloodworm

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Poll for the Don

The newest blogging gizmo that I've seen is a tiny app that displays a polling question and logs all the answers. It is hosted by a website called It is a free service (for now) so I thought I'd try it out. I threw this question together in five minutes. When I give it some more thought I may try another one. Or maybe someone out there can suggest a question. If anyone comes up with a deep thought, I'll post it on Don Watcher.

What's the most pressing problem confronting the Don Valley?
Water pollution
Invasive species
Roads, sewers, power lines, etc.
City indifference free polls

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Crothers' Woods Management Plan Released

The long awaited management plan for Crothers' Woods has been released. It is entitled "Crothers' Woods Trail Management Strategy" and it is now available online on the city's website (Note they misspelled the filename of the PDF). The PDF is 17.6 Mb in size so be warned if you have a slow connection. You may be able to order paper copies. If I find out anything on this I'll let you know.

The report outlines options for the city on managing the burgeoning trail system. It recommends new signage and increased enforcement of by-laws; the closure of some trails; and a continuation of enhancement of the main trails to make them sustainable and long-lasting. There is also a natural heritage inventory and a plan on how to manage invasive species.

The city is currently looking for a consultant who can recommend implementation strategies although the trail improvement program has been underway for quite some time.

Monday, August 20, 2007

New Invader for the Don?

Seed pods. They are covered with bristly hairs that stick to your clothing

Seeds line stalks that appear at opposite sides from leaf axils

Typical leaf from plant

This summer I've noticed a new plant in several places in the valley. I am not sure if it is new or maybe I am just more observant. One thing that leads me to believe it is new is that I can't find a listing for it in my Peterson's Field Guide to Wildflowers.

I have taken several pictures of the plant, some of them shown above. I took some pictures of the flower but none of them turned out. Here is my list of features:
  • the plant grows about 40-80 cm tall
  • leaves grow opposite each other and alternate in pairs up the stem
  • a typical leaf is about 8-10 cm long and 4-5 cm wide
  • leaves are dark green in colour and roughly toothed
  • flower stalks grow from leaf stalks on opposite sides
  • flowering period was for the month of July
  • flowers are small (about 5 mm wide), white, with 4 petals and 3 stamens
  • the seeds each about 5 mm in length appear along the flower stalks, alternately placed
  • each seed is covered with fine hairs which stick to clothing or fur like velcro
If anybody has any clues as to what it might be, please let me know.

** Newsflash! **

Thanks to a tip from Michou, this plant is not an invader but is actually a native perennial called Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea quadrisculata). It is listed in Peterson's guide. I was misled because the plant is not listed on a page with flowers of 4 petals. This plant has only 2 true petals. But it also has 2 reflexed sepals which look a lot like petals. Only a botanist could figure this one out!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

History of CP Rail in the Don

Train crossing the railway bridge next to the Brick Works, c. 1935. The original four smoke stacks with the words Don-Valley-Brick-Works emblazoned are clearly visible. Only the "Valley" smokestack remains standing today. (click to expand the photo, it's kind of grainy)

I came across an article in a local history magazine called "CP Tracks". It is a publication of the Canadian Pacific Historical Association. The article is entitled "The Canadian Pacific Railway in Toronto's Don Valley". It details the history of railways in the Don, specifically on CP railroads. The article is quite fascinating, especially since I'm a secret railway buff. One of my contributions to Wikipedia was the article on the Belt Line Railway. I also wrote Wikipedia articles on the OA&PS, the NS&T, and the H&LBTC.

The author, Derek Boles, claims that the station house now residing at Todmorden Mills was not actually built for the Belt Line Railway. While the Belt Line did have a station at Queen Street, the actual building wasn't constructed until 1896, two years after the Belt Line Railway suspended operations. There are also several archival photos of train operations in the Don including the one above. I like this photo because it also shows the original four smokestacks at the Don Valley Brick Works.

If you're interested in reading the article, you can pick up a copy of the magazine at George's Trains, a local hobby shop on Mount Pleasant and Millwood. A fascinating store on its own - if you're a train lover you could get lost in there or worse yet, drop a couple of thousand dollars on equipment for your own train layout. Fortunately, I was able to extricate myself with only the magazine purchase.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Another Blog for the Don

Another blog has appeared with Don Valley related material. Not entirely focused on the Don, "the garden route" features a mix of posts about natural gardening, something called horticultural therapy and community stewardship. From the looks of things this blogger is a member of the Nordheimer Ravine Community Stewardship team. So far I have found all of the posts interesting. Keep up the good work!

Moccasin Trail Park

On my way to inspect the site of the erosion control project (more on this later) in the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area, I passed through Moccasin Trail Park. This park is one of those obscure little places in the Don valley that is tucked in behind Don Mills. The park access road is almost hidden so you wouldn't know it existed unless you knew about it. The park used to be just a grass and swings park with a bit of natural habitat. It's only use was by local residents and a few naturalists.

About six years ago, the city and the TRCA got together and decided to construct a storm water treatment pond. This was due to a new development that was happening next to the CP rail tracks and they needed somewhere to collect the stormwater that would drain from the development. This approach contrasted from previous procedures where stormwater was sent directly into the river.

I visited the site while it was under construction. At the time it was not much to look at. From the before and after pictures you can see that the result is quite satisfying. I haven't visited it during a rainstorm but it appears to be functioning as designed.

Pond under construction, 2001

Pond today

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Kodak Moment

View of the Don River as it lazily flows around a meander

I had a Kodak moment yesterday. I went for a hike in the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area to inspect the area affected by an erosion control project initiated by the TRCA. This photo is from an area just south at the west end of Anewen Park. As I sat down for a rest beside the river I was struck by the beauty of this location so I took this picture.

I am going to a meeting tonight about the project so I will report on it shortly.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Lower Don Trail Reopened

This morning I went down to see the new trail. What I saw was pretty neat. The new asphalt is so smooth, you really notice the transition between the old stuff and the new. I took a short video cycling along the new section of trail. I apologize for the jerky quality. Since I don't have a helmet cam, all I could do was hold my camera in front of me while I cycled slowly along the path.

Along side the trail is the widened river course already filled with river water. The TRCA has added some submerged boulders beside the concrete wall which should provide some habitat for any fish that inhabit the river. You can also see some corrugated metal sticking out of the water. This is part of the original dockwall. Over the next couple of months, workers will dismantle this structure and remove it.

The path is currently demarcated by orange fencing. This will be removed when they finish landscaping, some time this fall. Also there is a plan to add a viewing platform beside the river which should complement the future Don River Park when it is completed sometime in the next couple of years.

I cycled up to Queen St. and noted that the path is still blocked. I presume this will be removed later in the day.

View of bridge looking north. The new trail is on the left, the corrugated metal on the right marks the old edge of the river. This was where the old trail went under the bridge through a metal cage catwalk structure.

Submerged boulders will provide habitat for fish in the river

Friday, August 10, 2007

Fire on the Don River

Yesterday I had an eventful trip on the Lower Don Trail. In addition to the pictures I took of the construction zone near Lakeshore Blvd. East (see previous post), I also witnessed the river on fire. Well, not quite a burning river such as the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland but a pile of woody debris piled against a CN rail bridge abutment caught fire. As I was cycling down the trail just north of Riverdale Park, I noticed a plume of smoke. I went for a closer look and took a few pictures as well as a couple of video clips.

While I was watching, two men (who were likely valley residents) came by. They said that earlier that day they saw a couple of other men who had waded out to the sand bar to drink beer all afternoon. One of them started a fire which got out of control. The resulting bonfire was too much for them so they high-tailed it out of there.

Location of fire

The resulting fire could be seen for quite some distance and the Toronto Fire department soon responded. They parked on Bayview Avenue. With the assistance of an aerial ladder which stretched over the CN rail lines, they were able to pump a stream of water that reached the fire and reduced it to a smoldering pile of wet ash. There was no real danger of it spreading since the log pile was in the middle of the river. Still it was an interesting sight and I caught it all on video.

Fireman on aerial ladder just before dousing fire

It was just over two years ago that I made my first Don Watcher post on another fire in the valley. Then it was just pictures. Now my camera does video as well.

Just before seeing the fire I also stopped beside the trail when I saw a deer just north of the viaduct. A female, it was munching on crab apples. I took a few pictures but none of them came out too well since it was moving around.

Who's that peeking out of the trees?

Lower Don Trail Almost Ready

Last night I went down the Lower Don Trail to see how the construction was progressing. Even though there is still a fence across the path just south of Queen St., part of the fence has been knocked aside allowing for egress to the south. As I cycled along this part of the path I noticed that it has temporarily been adopted by street people who are literally camping beneath the Eastern Ave. bridge. They may be in for a surprise when cyclists start breezing by en masse next week.

I continued south to the north end of the construction site. It had previously been cordoned off but the barrier has been removed. The site was deserted so I couldn't resist sneaking in for a quick peek at what was happening and snapped a few photos. The site has been graded prior to landscaping and the path itself hasn't been repaved. I expect that to happen in the next couple of days. The new at-grade underpass was visible as well as a widened river channel.

I noticed that Val Dodge has also blogged about the reopening on Torontoist. While the powers-that-be have agreed to allow traffic to resume along this section, there won't be an official opening ceremony until things look nice. Maybe VD and DW will get together for an unofficial opening ceremony!

Old path looking south towards railway bridge

New trail underpass on right, newly excavated river channel on left

Tunnel to Don River Park won't be opened for another year

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New Volunteer Opportunity

If you are interested in getting involved in the larger issues that confront Southern Ontario, then you might be interested in this opportunity. A new provincial law called the Clean Water Act was enacted on July 3, 2007. One of the provisions of the act was to create a series of regions across the province. Each region is responsible for protection and monitoring of sources of water. In the Toronto area the new body is called the CTC Source Protection Region (this is an amalgam that includes watersheds from the Credit River east to Soper Creek in Clarington).

This new body is creating a new committee called the CTC Source Protection Committee. Members are being drawn from government bodies and Environmental NGOs but also from the general public.

If you are interested in applying please read the website PDF for details. Applications must be received by September 28, 2007.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Wetland Planting at the Brick Works

I attended a workshop at the Don Valley Brick Works on how to plant in a wetland or a pond. It was attended by about 25 people from the Community Stewardship Program. Paul Morris of Acorus Restoration gave a 30 minute presentation followed by a hands-on demonstration of planting techniques in the quarry ponds.

Paul Morris talks about the different kinds of wetland plants

The proper technique is to stick your trowel into the mud, push once away from you then pull towards you. Then you place the seedling into the hole behind the trowel. Remove the trowel and then give it a kick (unless it is underwater). The kick removes any air pockets under the surface which can cause growth problems.

For an emergent or underwater plant you can also take some clay and form it into a ball around the roots and drop the whole thing into the water. This will quickly take root where it is dropped.

I nominated myself as event photographer. I also shot some video of the action which I cobbled together in a short video which I have posted on YouTube.

Girls in hip waders - oh yeah!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Update on TRCA Erosion Control Project

Location of the Erosion Control Project

Last month I reported on a new Class Environmental Assessment being initiated by the TRCA. This is to control erosion of an embankment on the CN rail line adjacent to the East Don River in the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area. I contacted the project supervisor, Moranne Burnet-McDonnell and received more information. The displayed map shows the location of the project. I also received a copy of the Class EA document which I have made available here.

If anybody is interested in joining the Community Liaison Committee (CLC) for this project, you can contact:

Moranne Burnet-McDonnell
Supervisor, Project Planning
Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
1 Eastville Avenue
Scarborough, ON M1M 2N5
Phone: (416) 392-9725
Fax : (416) 392-9726

Update on Crothers' Woods Bike Race

The Ontario Cycling Association has posted results of the July 1st race in Crothers' Woods. The winners of 10, 20, and 30 km races were respectively David Kurzawinski, St├ęphane Marcotte, and Scott Lutscombe. Complete results are published on the OCA website.

The race promoter Ziggy Martuzalski has also been given permission to hold another event on September 2nd in the same location. If you missed the July event, now is your chance to sign up to race on the excellent trails in the Don Valley.