Monday, January 26, 2009

Twitter Posts Jan 2009

Until interest picks up in my Don Watcher Twitter account, I will be using the regular blog to cross-pollinate some of my Twitter updates.
  • Found a photo blogger who posts pictures of the Don, although not much commentary.
  • Spacing Toronto publishes article on little known historic building in the Don.
  • Evergreen Brick Works is once again the target of vandals. See their journal.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Don Watcher on Twitter

I've recently started using Twitter. Twitter is a micro-blog that allows you to send messages of 140 characters or less. Presumably this was designed for use by mobile devices such as cell phones and Blackberries. Although I have neither, I think there might be some value in using it. For now I will use it for posts such as meeting alerts, pointing out an interesting blog about the Don. Occasionally I might use it to plug this blog, especially for significant posts.

For anyone not on twitter, you need to sign up for the service. Once logged in you can start to 'follow' a twitter feed. So if you start 'following' donwatcher on Twitter, anything that I post will show up in your list of posts which you can read and take note of.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Peter Lynch and the Don River

I found this odd posting by Peter Lynch. In the article Lynch talks about his childhood adventures in the Don Valley near Thorncliffe Park and how it inspired him to think creatively about the world.

Lynch is a Canadian film director who created the minor cult classic Project Grizzly. Worth a read.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Inaugural Meeting Held for the BWCAC

The Brick Works Community Advisory Committee met for the first time last night. This group was created by Evergreen at the behest of the local community. There are about dozen committee members made up of reps from environmental groups, neighbourhood groups and individuals interested in the project. In our initial introductions, I learned that the group includes a retired marketing exec, an elementary school teacher, and a chiropodist.

This committee grew out of a previous committee called the Brick Works Public Advisory Committee which was created by the city. It's purpose was to advise city council and staff on issues concerning the Don Valley Brick Works site. When Evergreen started to manage the site, the committee was disbanded. To provide some continuity, Evergreen agreed to create the new body.

The purpose of the committee is to act as a liaison between Evergreen and the local community. At this stage it's unclear how this will actually work but we agreed that meetings should start with an update on how the project is proceeding. This will be crucial during the construction period which will continue over the next two years.

The first meeting was taken up by introductions and orientation. We didn't get much of a chance to interact so it is hard to gauge how effective the group will be. Someone mentioned that all groups go through a process of forming, storming, norming, and performing. Based on this formula we did parts of the first and second stage but it looks like the 'performing' part may be a ways down the road.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Don River Frozen (Barely)

Skaters and sledders using the Don for winter recreation in 1910 (Toronto archives).

100 years later. Only a thin sheet of ice covers the Don after a week long cold snap.

When I was younger, I used to hang at downtown Blues bars such as Grossman's Tavern. The Sunday evening open jam session was my favourite. One of the local musicians was Mike Macdonald. He never made it big but was well liked and was a mainstay of the Toronto club scene for many years. He mostly sang covers but he did compose a few songs including one that mentioned the Don River. I can't remember the entire song but the verse about the Don goes like this:
Why don't the Don River freeze?
Tell me, tell me, tell me if you please.
The weather here is freezin',
People are coughin' and sneezin',
So, why don't the Don River freeze?...
this was before I got heavily involved in the Don. Of course if I knew then what I know now, I could have answered him. The answer is that changing land uses in the Don watershed over the past 100 years have seriously impacted the Don River. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Don watershed was mostly rural. It still had large tracts of forests and wetlands. Nowadays, most of it has disappeared, replaced by urban land uses. At 80%, the Don watershed is one of the most heavily urbanized in the country.

When rain lands on forests, the trees and other vegetation absorb part of it and much of the remainder is absorbed into the ground. Slowly over time the water makes its way to the river and down to the lake. This water is relatively clean and cold. When water lands on rooftops and roads, it quickly drains away into storm sewers which often empty directly into our local rivers. This water is still fairly warm. One of the impacts has been to change the Don River from a cold water stream to a warm water stream. In cold water streams the water will be between 4-10 C year round. These days the Don can get as high as 23 C in the summer.

Since the water is so warm, this means that the river rarely freezes. It only happens when there is a deep freeze in January (such as the past week) and even then it is only thin surface ice. One result is that winter activities such as skating on the river (as can be seen from the archival photograph) are now no longer possible.

Unfortunately, I don't think that the Don River will ever return to a point where we can skate on it. The urban land uses are here to stay and that will have a permanent impact on the temperature of the river.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Waterfront TO January Newsletter

Waterfront Toronto has published their January newsletter. In it are a few Don related articles including:
  • an award for the MVVA design of the Lower Don Lands,
  • West Don Lands construction update,
  • Lower Don Lands infrastructure EA update.
If you want to subscribe to the newsletter, proceed to this link and fill out the online form.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Strange Sounds in the Valley

The sounds of the Don Valley Parkway dominate the lower part of the valley so you might be forgiven for not hearing the sound of a flute. The author of the Urban Flute Project apparently thinks that the bridge over the Don River at Pottery Road (or at least under it) has good acoustics. The author (composer?) has posted a short audio recording which unfortunately isn't very good quality. Still, it is unusual.

I haven't given much thought to the Pottery Road bridge. It's only distinction is that it's one of the few bridges that cross the Don right down in the valley. Most other bridges, such as the Bloor Viaduct are so high up you hardly notice the river at all.

Safe pitched into river at Pottery Road

The only time the bridge has come to my attention was a couple of years ago when I noticed that there was a safe sitting in the water just below the bridge. Someone apparently pitched it over the side of the bridge into the water. Perhaps they thought that it would sink into the depths, however the water here is only about 30 cm deep. Alas, the safe appeared open and empty. The city removed it a few days later.

Back to the music. Now that I know about the Urban Flute Project I'll be sure to slow down next time I cross the bridge and listen carefully. You never know what you might hear.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Brick Works Flickr Show

Flickr is a popular photo library. I have used it myself for some sets of photos. I have come across numerous collections of Brick Works photos, mostly interior building shots of decaying industrial scenes. Until I get my own act together and organize my own photos, I bring you another set taken by "picsnapper".


I removed the iframe because it always wants to grab the attention of the browser regardless of which post your looking at. Until I find something better (maybe a flash player?) I will just replace with a link to the slideshow.

**End of Update**

I found a way to imbed the slide show in a blog posting (for any geeks out there the HTML tag is called an 'iframe'). This dialogue will run a slideshow which you can watch in the small screen within the blog or if you click on the button at the lower right you can see the photos in full screen mode. If you want to see more photos by this photographer you can switch to his/her profile.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Loblaws Starts Charging for Plastic Bags

I saw in a Loblaws grocery flyer that as of January 12, 2009, they will start charging 5 cents for each plastic bag. How does this relate to the Don? For the past few years I have attended the Todmorden Mills Cleanup Day in April. We regularly remove a large amount of garbage from the site and much of that comes in the form of plastic bags.

A recent bylaw passed by the city says that all stores will have to charge 5 cents for each plastic bag after June 1, 2009. This provides a small incentive for shoppers to bring their own bag. If plastic bag use is reduced in the city this will also reduce the number of bags that find their way into the Don Valley and other natural areas.

Kudos to Loblaws for being an early adopter of this policy.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Winter Walk in Crothers' Woods

I had some time before classes this week so I went for a hike in Crothers' Woods. I was pretty busy this past fall so I hadn't yet had the chance to inspect the new advanced trail that was constructed behind the sewage treatment plant. The forecast was sunny and cold but I found that I had to strip off layers as the hike warmed me up. Here are a few pictures from my travels.

New advanced trail. This trail was built specifically for bikers

There were plenty of footprints on the new trail so it's apparent that hikers have also adopted the trail

Care has been taken to bridge a gully but there is some construction debris that needs to be removed

New trailhead just west of the Leaside bridge

Noticed this fellow having a mid-day snooze at the top of a snag

Oops! Part of a red oak has fallen across the trail

I did a loop back along the "Flats" trail. The mountain bikers 'sneaky' underpass is still in good shape

The Don River winds sinuously through the valley

Friday, January 02, 2009

Don Watcher Predictions for 2009

Predicting the future is always fraught with peril but I think I can make a few educated guesses about what might happen this year. I won't be forecasting any big events. There's always the possibility of some mother of a storm causing all sorts of bad things but these are are hard to predict. What I can say with some certainty is that work will proceed on some projects. At least one project will finish, some other projects will continue through the year and one or two more will get started.

West Don Lands. I expect that the "flood protection landform" or berm that is currently being constructed south of Queen will be finished this year. I predict an official opening of Don River Park (which will be situated on top of the berm) will happen fall 2009. Construction of the West Don Lands neighbourhood will likely begin in 2010.

Don River Mouth. The Environmental Assessment will finally be completed this year. It's been a long haul since 2005 but full EAs are expected to last this long. What will happen after the TRCA hands in its final report is anybody's guess. Some rumours circulating now predict that funding for this project have been diverted to other priorities so work may not begin until 2014.

Coxwell Trunk and Don River Stormwater Diversion. This one has a lot of names only because it is a colossal project. Basically the city wants to build a huge holding tank underneath the DVP similar to the ones underneath the eastern and western beaches. This one will capture stormwater currently running directly into the river. If that's not enough, they're also tackling a sewer replacement as well. This project wants to 'twin' one of the of the main conduits of Toronto sewage. This sewer is a single pipe running deep underneath Coxwell Avenue. It collects all the sewage for 750,000 Torontonians and funnels it to the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant. This one was expected to be a multi-year project but may be fast-tracked. It was reported in the news this week that an investigation within the sewer revealed cracks in the inner lining of the pipe. The pipe is approximately 50m underground so it will be very difficult to ascertain the extent of the damage. However, a failure of this pipe would be catastrophic since there is no alternate route. A failure would start dumping millions of litres of raw sewage directly into the Don River.

Don Watershed Plan. The TRCA will release its plan for the Don Watershed. Parts of the plan are currently available in draft form. This is a mammoth undertaking that hasn't received a lot of press. I'm going to try and review parts of the draft this year since I expect to have more free time to spend on Don issues.

So there's a rundown on what I expect to see for 2009. Of course there all sorts of other interesting events going which I am sure I will get to throughout the year. Some of my guesses for 2008 turned out to be pretty close to the mark but we will have to wait another year to see how these pan out.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008: Year in Review

2008 saw quite a few projects underway in the Don but no major milestones occurred. There were quite a few little things that happened but most of the major projects just continued on. This was expected since the big things take many years. Last January I posted a list of what was in store for 2008. Let's run down that list and see where things stand.

West Don Lands Berm. As you drive up the DVP from the Gardiner glance to your left and you might notice a slowly rising mound of earth. Indeed this project has gotten underway. It appeared that not much was happening for almost a year but there was some serious groundwork to do before they could begin building the berm. This involved relocating and/or rebuilding sewers, gas, and electrical utility underground conduits. Work needed to be done to ensure they could withstand the extra weight of the berm on top of them.

The berm project looking southwest from the Queen St. East bridge over the Don River.

Don Mouth EA. There was a well attended public meeting on March 29, 2008 to present options for this project. The project is currently in its last stages. A preferred alternative was to be presented this fall but it looks like this will be postponed to early 2009. I heard some disappointing news though. The TRCA is responsible for the completion of the environmental assessment but it is Waterfront Toronto who is responsible for the implementation. They've indicated that their priorities are currently elsewhere, namely the east bay precinct plan. So it looks like there won't be any action on the mouth of the Don until at least 2014.

Evergreen Brick Works. Evergreen had their official ground breaking ceremony in early December. There is some prep work going on but major construction won't happen until early 2009. They've only raised about 60% of their financing goal so they are currently looking at a phased implementation.

Crothers' Woods. This past summer saw some major trail improvements. Not only did several community trail builds occur but the city also hired a contractor to blaze some new trails. I helped out on some of these builds so I know first hand how much hard work went into this project.

Stormwater Cistern underneath the DVP. A meeting was held in July to kick this project off but not much has been publicly apparent since. This doesn't mean that nothing is happening. In fact there is a lot of studies underway. In addition to the stormwater containment issue there is also a proposal to replace an aging sewer line that runs underneath Coxwell Avenue. This sewer line funnels nearly half of Toronto's sewage to the Ashbridge's Bay treatment plant. If this pipe fails we'd be in deep shit and that's no pun!

Other things worth mentioning.

Snow dumps in the Don. There are two snowdumps in the Don. We've been pressing the city for years to close one of them down but it is still technically on the books as active. However you may recall that last winter, Toronto received a near record amount of snowfall. A lot of that was piled at the snowdump just north of the Bloor viaduct but the Pottery Road site wasn't used. So we are heartened by this fact and we remain optimistic that this site can be returned to a more natural use sometime in the near future.

Looks like dirt but it's just grubby snow. This photo was taken late February, 2008 from the Bloor viaduct.

DVP Stormwater Remediation. The city surprised us this year by starting a Class EA on this project. This project has been sitting on the shelf since 1993 when a study was done by Paul Theil Associates Ltd. After a couple of false starts they have done a fairly good job on this project. Their proposal includes creation of a stormwater management pond in the middle of a DVP on ramp adjacent to Todmorden Mills. This project should wrap up soon. No word on when it will be implemented.

Taylor Creek Wetland. The Don got a new wetland this year. This has been under development for over a year but it finally went in this fall. Expect to see all sorts of planting events around here in the spring.