Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Don

Winter scene of the Don River

No this picture is not from this year. There has been no significant snowfall this year yet. This photo is from last February so technically it is from 2009. This fall has been relatively quiet in terms of developments and events in the Don. Several big projects are ongoing and expect to be finished on 2010. I hope to be there and report on them. Until then, have a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Update on Don Mills LRT

Steve Munro, a local transit advocate, has recently commented on progress of Toronto's Light Rapid Transit plans. Among the mentioned updates is the Don Mills LRT plan. A few years ago this plan included an option that would run straight through the Don Valley but this idea appears to be less of a possibility (ie. dead in the water?) According to Munro, not much is happening with this plan which is currently unfunded. Current efforts are now concentrated on the Sheppard East LRT.

So for the near future, it looks like the valley will be spared any new infrastructure. Preliminary planning on the DMLRT is expected to be finished spring 2010 so we will see what the TTC staff have come up with.

P.S. A more detailed review of the Don Mills LRT is available here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Construction at Todmorden Mills

Road and parking lot construction at Todmorden Mills

There is quite a bit of activity at Todmorden Mills these days. Construction has started on a new road access to the rear parking lot. This has been deemed necessary because the old bridge that was used to get to the parking lot has been condemned. The bridge was built in 1931 and used to cross the Don River when it ran through this part of the valley. When the Don Valley Parkway was built this section of the Don River was cut off and the bridge no longer served a major purpose. It has gone down hill ever since and now stands cut off and disused.

The new access road is being built next to the DVP embankment. Steps have been taken to protect trees near the construction site but other sizable trees were taken down that were in the way. I suppose it will look a lot better when it is finished. It's too bad they couldn't do anything with the old bridge since it is a part of the Don Valley's heritage and many of those are disappearing.

Tree protection fencing erected around large tree.

What the sign on the fence says

Straw bales have been placed to trap runoff from the parking lot during construction

Temporary catchment pond for water running from the pond and ditches.

The old bridge. On its way out?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Beechwood in the Fall

Beechwood Wetland. Marnie's Point is covered in brown headed goldenrod stalks.

I visited Beechwood Wetland a couple of days ago. It's mostly been put to bed for the winter but there are still a few signs of life. Here are a few pix.

A small tree which I think is a hawthorn is covered in red berries

A small moss still bright green on the muddy ground

A white fungus protrudes from the end of log

Monday, November 16, 2009

Celebrating a Dubious Anniversary

Poster announcing funeral for the Don River

40 years ago today a group of students from the University of Toronto held a mock funeral for the Don River. Organized by the then nascent Pollution Probe, between 100-200 people gathered underneath the Bloor Street viaduct on the east bank of the river to lament the state of the river.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to mourn the passing of our late dear friend, the Don River",
intoned organizer Martin Daly. A woman dressed up as Lady Elizabeth Simcoe read exerpts from her diary which extolled the virtues of the Don as Toronto's main salmon stream. At the end of the service a wreath was tossed into the muddy waters of the river.

Photo from Toronto Star, November 18, 1969

The next day another 100 or so people gathered on the steps of Queen's Park and sang a requiem mass for the "dead Don River".

Oh, but the 1960s were great for colourful protests. So here we are 40 years later and I am trying to think of what has been accomplished to improve the state of the river. The bad news is that the river is still polluted and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. In 2007, a provincial report listed the Don River as "Ontario's worst waterway". While the river's polluted state hasn't changed the nature of the pollution has. In 1969, eColi levels topped 61 million per 100 ml. These days those levels have been significantly reduced through a combination of sewage plant closures, a plan to capture sanitary sewer overflows, and a program to repair improper/illegal cross connections between sanitary and storm sewers.

In the late 19th century, the lower Don was heavily industrialized and effluent dumped into the river caused pollution in the Ashbridges Marsh which eventually resulted in the marsh being filled in to create the Portlands. Subsequent neglect of this area has resulted in most of it being turned into an indutrial wasteland of abandoned brownfields, but I digress. The industry is long gone and so has its pollution. Today's pollution is mainly due to runoff from roads, parking lots, and other hard surfaces. Whenever it rains the water quickly runs into the storm sewers and into the river. On its way the water picks up sand, grit, oil, salt, and whatever other urban residues are lying around. The river which often takes on a muddy hue after a rainstorm reflects this urban runoff. Annual dredging of the Keating Channel at the mouth of the river where all this runoff is deposited amounts to 35,000 m3 of material!

Solving this problem is no easy fix. The Don watershed is now over 80% urbanized and there's not much that can be done about that. The Don River flows through the world we live in. However the structure of our built environment can be modified. One such plan seeks to change how we design and build structures and also retrofit older buildings so that they have less of an impact on the watershed and the river. The TRCA has recently created the Don Watershed Plan which lays out planning and design methods that could lead to a better built city, one that has a lower impact on the environment. Implementing these methods requires changes in the way we think about development. While it may require more short term expenses, in the long term it will pay us back with a cleaner river.

On the face of it, this 40th anniversary isn't much to talk about. The river is still polluted but in the interim people who care about the Don have put in place a framework which could lead to an environment which will allow the river to flow a lot cleaner than it has for sometime. Who knows, maybe the Don will one day again be known as Toronto's best place to fish. I just hope I don't have to wait another 40 years to see it happen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why You Should Follow Me on Twitter

You may have noticed that my posting frequency is down this fall. This is a combination of work, school, renovations, but also Twitter. When I started blogging I did it mostly to publish pictures and stories about the Don. But I also made fair number of posts that just gave links to events, news stories, and public reports.

I now do these types of posts through my Twitter account. I've noticed some people cross posting on both their blog and on Twitter but I have stopped doing that. While there is a sidebar on this blog that lists the twitter posts, you can also sign up directly on Twitter to get these without having to use the blog.

So whatever works for you, I hope the combination of blogging and tweeting keeps you up to date on the Don.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ghost Bike Visits the Don

A 'ghost bike' chained to the railing near the accident location

The hill where the accident occurred

Just south of Pottery Road on the Lower Don Trail, the path rises over a small hill and then descends down a fairly steep slope going underneath a disused railway bridge. It was here on October 20 that a man was killed in a head-on bicycle-bicycle crash.

You can get going pretty fast along this stretch and it can be difficult to pass someone at speed. This accident can be chalked up to carelessness. A memorial ghost bike has been chained to the railing to mark the spot of the accident.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Prince Charles Visits Brick Works

Prince Charles visits the Don

This picture is actually from 1991 when Prince Charles attended one of the earliest Task Force to Bring Back the Don events in Riverdale Park. I include it here because I wasn't able to see him when I went to the Don Valley Brick Works yesterday where he was attending an event. It turned out to be an invitation only event and members of the public weren't allowed in. This little piece of information wasn't well communicated which may tarnish Evergreen's public opinion somewhat on a day when it was the host to what was in all respects a successful day.

A few royal watchers wait in vain for a glimpse of royal couple from the Belt Line Trail.

The closest I could get was viewing the entrance from the Belt Line trail. Even from there I only caught a brief glance of the motorcade as it sped into Evergreen Brick Works compound. This disappointed the dozen or so people who came by foot to see the Prince. According to the cop at the front entrance many people who came by car were also turned away.

Oh well. At least I got to see the park which I haven't visited much this summer. Here are a few pics.

Muskrat Pond in fall

Buttonbush Pond at the Brick Works

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Public Meeting on Taylor Creek Park

Councillor Janet Davis speaks to the audience

I attended a meeting on Taylor Creek Park which is the lower reach of Taylor-Massey Creek. City Councillor Janet Davis hosted the meeting to let members of the public know what is happening with the park. Other speakers included Adele Freeman from the TRCA, Janette Harvey from the Parks & Forestry Department, Tracy Manolalakis and Joanne di Caro from Toronto Water.

Some updates were provided on current projects such as the Coxwell sewer diversion and the ongoing testing of sewer outfalls but there was nothing new to report. About 60 people attended so there appeared to be a lot of interest on what was a miserable drizzly night.

One good aspect of the meeting was that instead of a Q&A following the presentations, Davis said that participants could ask questions from staff who had setup information tables around the room. This prevented anyone from holding the meeting hostage while they ranted about a personal issue.

While nothing new was presented it's good to give the impression that the city at least cares about these places. Kudos to the Councillor Davis for making this special effort.

Aerial maps of the valley provided a good place to make comments of suggestions.

Booths setup at one side of the room allowed people to ask questions or pickup pamphlets.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Trail in East Don

Trails in the East Don
Red = Existing trails
Green = Trail under construction
Yellow = Bridge locations

Since the summer the city has been busy creating a new trail in the East Don. The new trail will link a park known locally as Milne Hollow which is accessible from Lawrence Ave. East just east of the Don Valley Parkway and an unnamed park at the north end of the Wynford Park neighbourhood. So far they have completed clearing the trail (see green line). There is a plan to place a bridge at location #1 (see map) that will cross the river and create the link.

Sign detailing trail construction plans

What is not in the plan but makes sense to me is a similar link to Moccasin Trail Park. That trail would link to the southeast corner of the Don Mills neighbourhood which would be a easier access than through Milne Hollow which doesn't actually exit anywhere. So far there aren't any bridges crossing the river so you can't (legally) cross the river. I'll let you know when they do install a bridge which will make this trail much more usable.

The sign says that the eventual plan is to have the trail link up all the way south to the Forks of the Don although it may be a little tricky finding space south of Eglinton Ave. East since there is little wiggle room past the Flemingdon Park Golf Course. Here a few pix from the new trail.

Trail just south of Milne Hollow lined with limestone gravel

A little farther south the path lining changes to wood chips

The path as it goes under the CPR main line just north of Wynford Park

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Found Objects III: Multi-coloured Feather

Bird feather

One day in late August I picked up this feather in the Don Valley. I kept it because it has such an unusual colouration. However, I put it away and only recently remembered it.

The feather has a white tip, long black feathers on one side and short blue-black feathers on the other side. Its length from tip to tip is 9.5cm. I am no expert on bird physiology but my guess is that the short blue-black feathers are the ones that show up on the outside of the bird's body with the black feathers lining its skin.

I did some searching but couldn't find any good source on how to identify birds based on feathers. Anybody out there who knows what type of bird it belongs to?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Found Objects II: Crash the Diamond

Self-published novel: Crash the Diamond

One day this summer I was caught in a sudden downpour and sought shelter underneath a bridge. While waiting out the storm, I crawled onto a ledge to sit down and discovered a heap of books scattered on the ground. They were all copies of one book called Crash the Diamond: Free Democracy by Cheng Wan.

I picked one up and leafed through it. It appeared to be a self-published novel. It doesn't appear to have been edited as the language is quite atrocious. For example, the novel summary on the back cover reads:
The once newcomer, then new Canadian, Fox One had been stuggling (sic) for surviving while Kruel (CSIS agant) and Fantianlo (police) had been pressing him at the bottom of society.
I tried to read a page pages but gave up. The poorly written text makes it almost incomprehensible but it appears to be some sort of conspiracy suspense thriller. It's possible that it is a poor translation from Chinese but I couldn't make heads or tails of the story.

The publisher is listed as One Publisher in downtown Toronto. Their website lists a series of comic books and books on Chinese cuisine but this book is not to be found.

Books scattered about, free for the taking. But, alas, park staff has picked them all up and put them in the trash.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Found Object: Glass Bottle

Glass bottle with the words "F.W. Fitch Co. Ltd. Canada" etched in the glass

Doing work in the Don Valley means that you invariably come across all sorts of garbage. Most of it is the of the mundane sort such as plastic bags and water bottles, beer cans, and other discarded junk. But occasionally you come across something unusual. One such thing was a glass bottle with the writing embossed on the glass "F.W. Fitch Co. Ltd. Canada". It is unusual to find a glass bottle that has been made with the logo part of the actual glass bottle. Most labelling is painted on which wears away over time.

I picked this bottle up and rather than toss it in the recycling I took it home and cleaned it up. It didn't take much research to find out what it contained. F.W. Fitch was a maker of shampoos and hair tonics. I was unable to find any history of the company other than they were in business in the 1960s.

So why was the bottle in the Don Valley? It's possible that it was discarded in one of the many informal garbage dumps that can be found in our ravines. Another possibility is that it had an alcohol content and somebody might have drank from the bottle. I suppose I'll never know. I'll just add it to the list of curiosities one comes across in life. In this case another small story about the Don.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Elevated Wetlands

Elevated Wetlands

This summer I had the opportunity to work on the Elevated Wetlands. The company I have been working for this summer, Urban Forest Associates, has a maintenance contract with the city to service the equipment and take care of the pods.

Their position next to the Don Valley Parkway makes them very prominent. Of all the things in the Don they seem to evoke the most questions and comment. People wonder: what are those things? I have heard them described as giant teeth stuck in the ground, giant polar bears or strange grey elephants. In fact, the Elevated Wetlands are an art installation, created by an artist named Noel Harding. They were commissioned by the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and are made entirely from recycled plastics. In his words, "the Elevated Wetlands are a symbol of the interface between urban and wilderness forms". In one sense it is good that they get conversations going. It makes a good starting point when talking about other Don issues.

Schematic diagram of the Elevated Wetlands

Water is pumped from the Don River using solar power into the highest pod. It then flows through each pod, falls to the next one and then eventually drains out into a wetland at the base. There are three pods on each side of the Don Valley Parkway. Eventually the water flows back into the river. Whether it is much cleaner is hard to say since I don't believe it has ever been tested. However, two wetlands exist where none were before so that is definitely a bonus.

Water pours into base wetland. The wetland provides habitat for a variety of flora and fauna.

It turns out that the pumping equipment installed is quite finicky and breaks down regularly. Not only that but the some critical pieces are German made and parts have to be ordered from a company in Chicago. Another problem is that since the system is solar powered the water doesn't flow at night or during cloudy days. On the east side the solar panels are obscured by trees which don't get sun until about 10:30 AM.

One of the jobs to be done is weeding the pods. this requires clambering up a ladder to get into the pods. To get from one pod to the next you can climb up over the spout which can be a little precarious. This is additionally tricky because wasps like to nest in the crevices that line the walls of each pod.

I was under the impression that the pods were miniature wetlands, brimming with water and filled with aquatic plants. Upon climbing into the pods I was disappointed to find the surface is actually regular soil and the pods are not wetlands but miniature forests. They are really just glorified flower pots. From the ground the water looks like it is falling freely into each other from one to the other but in fact it falls into hidden buckets that route the water underground to the next one. There are drip lines that water the plants so that they are not totally isolated from the water system.

Spout above aimed at bucket below

Water pours from spout into a receiving bucket

The wetlands at the base are small but functioning. While we were weeding I noticed green frogs amongst the reeds. Cattails and and the invasive phragmites grass dominate the edge but there are also swamp milkweed, water plantain, and water lily.

Fellow worker, Laura, cleaning the solar panels in the upper pod

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hiking Series Finished

Last Sunday I led the last of my afternoon hikes. The format of these hikes was 3-4 hours along a distance of 10-12 km. Each hike started at 1 PM on a Sunday. All the hikes took place in the Don Valley or its tributary ravines. I had between 12 and 55 hikers for each hike. I think it was a successful format and I hope to do it again next year although I may rejig some of the routes.

The last hike was another successful outing with about 45 hikers. We hiked from Lawrence and Bayview (the Glendon College campus) to Pottery Road and Broadview. Personally I liked this hike the best because the paths lead through some of the best areas of the Don Valley. Here's a few photos (courtesy of Ken Peters) from the hike.

Hiking through a gully

A rest stop in Crothers' Woods. Ed Freeman (right) was a regular participant on the hikes

Passing through a wet patch on a slope. Note the cattails growing on either side of the path

One duty of hikers is to 'post' at path intersections to let others know which is the right way to go.

A view of some of the hikers as they make their way down a steep switchback trail in E.T. Seton Park.

If you are interested in seeing all 107 photos from the hike, send me a note and I will forward you the link.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Candy Floss Flower

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

I've seen this flower in a couple of places in the Don. This one I found growing at the Elevated Wetlands. A member of the milkweed family, it is usually found growing beside ponds, marshes or other wet areas.

I call it the candy floss flower because the scent reminds me of that sweet fragrance of candy floss which is one of the aromas from my childhood, a fond remembrance of our family's annual trek to the CNE in August. I was wondering about this particular scent and did some investigation. The active ingredient is linalool which is a naturally occurring chemical that is used in perfumes. One study found that inhaling linalool can reduce stress. That makes sense since it is a very pleasant aroma.

Not many studies have specifically studied this species but there are several references in studies of the milkweed family since this plant shares characteristics with similar plants in the genera such as Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). Unless you are an asclepiadologist(!), such things as self-pollination success, pollen grain coherence, and sympatrically flowering systems won't interest you.

The one thing that most people will relate to is that the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) needs plants like this to survive. It feeds on the nectar, lays its eggs on the leaves, and the caterpillar feeds on the leaves. Since this species appears to be in decline it is important to leave this plant where you find it and take away only the memories of the fragrance.

Monarch Butterfly on a Swamp Milkweed at the Don Valley Brick Works (I wonder if it can smell the flower?)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Places in the Don

Can you tell me where this is?

This is the start of a semi-regular series of posts. I will post a picture from somewhere in the Don Valley and let you guess where it is. This one should be fairly easy as it is from a distinctive structure.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Garbage Miners Leave Big Hole

Treasure hunters leave big mess just south of Chester Springs Marsh

An alert from a fellow Don Watcher led me to investigate an area near Chester Springs Marsh, one of the Task Force's earliest restoration sites. When I arrived on site, I was surprised to find an area about 5x10m strewn with rubble and debris. In the centre of this mess is an impressive hole about 4m deep. At the bottom of the hole a shovel is visible. Although well off the path, the hole would be difficult to climb out of even for a tall guy like me.

It's a well known fact that this area is was a former dump from the days of the Don Valley before organized municipal garbage collection. Chester Springs Marsh has had treasure seekers digging before and signs have been posted warning that such activities are illegal. I suppose the diggers took advantage of the civic worker's strike and did their excavations when there were fewer eyes to keep watch over the site.

The site is a hazard and will be expensive to cleanup. I find it ironic that during a time when the Don is once again the repository for new dumps that somebody would take it upon themselves to remove some garbage.

4 metre deep hole is pretty impressive. Warning: don't get too close because the sides of the hole at the bottom are collapsing.

Discarded bottles and other detritus litter the area. I wonder if they found anything valuable?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Power of Water

Damaged bridge in Wilket Creek Park

The storm from this past weekend was strong enough to severely damage a pedestrian footbridge in Wilket Creek Park. Just south of Edwards Gardens, the storm water washed away the stone and gravel from around the footings of the bridge. The bridge is anchored by 4 steel pillars and that is all that is left standing. The power of the water flow is evident in how the armour stones placed along the stream banks were knocked around like pebbles.

All but the bridge footings have been washed away

2 tonne armour stone blocks tossed around like pebbles

A similar bridge just downstream shows where the armour stone is supposed to be

This type of storm damage now occurs about once a year. About a year ago, a similar storm caused similar damage to bridges in this ravine. Fortunately the bridge is well anchored so it's only a matter of reconnecting the bridge to the path to fix it up. However, problems like this are likely to reoccur until the underlying problem of too much stormwater runoff is resolved.