Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Don Valley - History of Homelessness?

I came across an interesting link this week. It is an audio presentation given by a historian named Jennifer Bonnell. The presentation which lasts near 17 minutes is entitled Toronto's Underworld: The Don River Valley as a 'Repository for Undesirables'. The talk is given as an historical perspective of the Don Valley and its use by various people especially in the early part of the 20th century. In the 1910s the valley was used by itinerant groups of Roma (then referred to as gypsies). They made encampments near Eglinton Ave. East on the East Don and near Yonge and York Mills on the West Don.

In the early 1930s, groups of unemployed men made encampments on the flatlands just north of the viaduct. This encampment which numbered 300-400 was broken up by the province by simply hiring the lot to work on the Trans-Canada highway.

Bonnell makes a rather tenuous connection between the historical events and the present situation of scattered homeless encampments that dot the valley in and around the downtown ravines. I can't say that she made a good case for the Don Valley as a backwater area of Toronto - a place where garbage was dumped - both regular and human. Still the talk is interesting to listen to especially if you are a local history buff.

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