The blistering heat of New Delhi, India, is forgotten in the ‘winter in disguise’ summer of Toronto (11 degrees C ). It is a clear azure-sky day and we are out on our first outing of the season, something we had missed on our previous visits, the Lower Don River Valley park.
The re-invented Valley is a hikers/bikers bonanza and we Ubered straight to the EverGreen Brick Works (550 Bayview Ave, Don River Valley), the rich industrial heritage kiln buildings transformed into urbane spaces for environmental preservation, events and exhibitions, Children’s Garden and Garden Center for purchase and tutorials.
In 2010 the Evergreen Brick Works took over the deteriorating old brick buildings transforming them into ‘a global showcase for green design and an award-winning public space’. The 16-hectare Don Valley Brick Works Park includes wetlands, hiking trails, wildflower meadows, public markets, conferences and events facilities, outdoor learning and nature play, public art displays in the heart of Toronto’s ravine system.
Brief Introduction (Wikipedia): The Don Valley Brick Works, referred to as the Evergreen Brick Works, is a former quarry and industrial site located in the Don River Valley in Toronto, Ontario. The Valley Brick Works operated for nearly 100 years providing bricks for many well-known Toronto landmarks, such as Casa Loma, Osgoode Hall, Massey Hall and Ontario Legislature. On closure of original factory the quarry was converted into a city park including naturalized ponds, hiking and biking trails, Children’s play area and the buildings restored as community and cultural centre by Evergreen, a national charity dedicated to restoring nature in urban environments.
The Don Valley Brick Works, started in 1889 by the Taylor brothers, was initially meant for a paper mill. While digging post holes, for a fence, good quality clay.was discovered and sample sent to local brick works where it was confirmed that the clay is suitable for high quality bricks. A quarry was established at north end, of the site, and a brick kiln at south end of the property near the Don River.
Our Walk …. We enter the premises from the main entrance and our first stop is the Evergreen Garden Market with its native and heritage plants, garden accessories, fruit and vegetable products. The smell wafting from the cafeteria, Cafe Belong, in the premises made us cut short our walk for brunch first. We managed a table with a fifteen minute wait, had forgotten reservations, and enjoyed our simple repast, cocktails and Cider. One can do take-always too.
From Young Welcome Center to collect information and maps on forthcoming events we move on to TD Future Cities Center that showcases urban development in Canada and around the world. It is also a place for weddings and conferences. There are machines and kiln showpieces, informative and interesting, and we walk out towards the hike trails and Lookout Point for a spectacular view of the Toronto skyline. Near the Toddlers Garden is the Watershed Wall, largest living green map depicting the rivers flowing through Toronto.
The Children’s Garden …walked past children’s sensory play area with wood fired oven and green house and judging by the shouts a fun place for the young. Near the Quarry Garden, a 100 year old shale quarry transformed into green spaces, is the park area with three ponds, a large meadow and a small forest managed by the City of Toronto. The ponds are fed by a diversion pipe running from Mud Creek which flows just to the west of the Brick Works.
It was noon and place was over flowing with visitors, families, serious hikers and bikers, pets in toe lazing around different sections soaking in the summer sun. The reverie was broken by a collective scream, a kid had dropped his mother’s cell phone through the rafters into the pond below. Wonder whether they managed to retrieve it.
A wedding shoot is in progress, apt destination for summer wedding, we turn back, following the looped trail weaving around gardens filled with native trees towards the main entrance through the outdoor skating rink, past Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop to the Garden Center to pick up few plants including chocolate mint plant. Rub a leave between your thumb and index finger, the chocolate smell assails your senses. There were more flavors including orange mint. A Farmer’s market, started in 2008, is held on Saturdays and we missed it by few minutes having reached after 12 pm. Further ahead is the Weston Family Quarry Garden and Don Valley Brick Works Park.
Of the four separate chimneys that had been decorated with a word to spell out the Don Valley Brick Works name and connected to downdraft kilns, only the ‘Valley’ chimney remains. Looking at it intently it gives a tilted appearance with slanting top three letters. The area is now a play space for children.
The Brick Works wetland is connected to surrounding nature reserve areas via forest trails to establish the Don Valley watershed. Geologically the area is important for discoveries along the North quarry wall, for information on glacial history of southern Ontario.
A not-to-be-missed exhibit is the ‘John Price Brick Press’, a prized possession of the Evergreen Brick Works’ historical heritage and described by The Ontario Heritage Trust as ‘the most significant artifact located onsite’. The brick press located at the Young Welcome Centre is a homage to the site’s industrial past. Originally used at a brick plant on Greenwood Avenue, the press was shipped over to the Don Valley Brick Works in the early 1960s. At its peak, the press could churn out 3,000 pressed bricks per hour.
The remnants of rails built in the late 1800s by the Canadian Pacific Railway can still be seen today during a walk in the Valley and through the Park.
A few more hours spent relaxing by the pond we called it a day… a day well spent soaking in nature at its greenest best.