Sustainable Family Fun in Toronto: The Evergreen Brickworks

by Richard Carmichael on May 3, 2010

Brickworks_DV107, originally uploaded by HeadsUp_Dad.

The weatherman was not so sure about how the day was going to unfold, but this gang of boys and one girl was not to be dissuaded by the weather map’s ambiguity.

It was Saturday afterall, and the weekend warrior’s eco-adventure awaits. Another opportunity to seek out a deeper connection to the world we live in, in a spectacular natural environment. Today, we were heading out to hike, climb, walk, scramble up, slide down and get as dirty as we could in pursuit of fun and frolic in the urban Jungle. Destination: The Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto via the Don Valley Ravine.

The Don Valley Brick Works Park is awe-inspiring: a haven for wildlife and naturalists alike, it is at the heart of Toronto’s ravines. Opened in 1996, the park is managed by Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation. The Don Valley Brick Works Park is worth a visit in any season.

Here is how the day unfolded…

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Evergreen Brick Works is a community environmental centre that inspires and equips visitors to live, work and play more sustainably.

Free and open to everyone, Don Valley Brick Works Park is the back garden to the revitalized industrial pad that is now Evergreen Brick Works. Spend an afternoon with your kids, bring your dog and a few friends. There is room for everyone. It feels more like a walk in the country.

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From 1889 to the 1980s the Don Valley Brick Works was one of Canada’s pre-eminent brickyards. At its peak more than 43 million bricks a year were manufactured for use in the construction of homes and buildings across Canada. Many of Toronto’s most prominent buildings were made from Don Valley brick – Massey Hall and Old City Hall are two examples.

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On Taking Risks…
When I see a pack of 3 and 4 years old boys and girls eagerly climbing over tree roots, walking through riverbeds, over stumps, under fallen trees, scrambling up and down steep inclines, it gives me a sense of gratitude. To know that my boys are taking on these small challenges head on with such enthusiasm tells me that they are going to do ok in life. These same photos may however cause some parents to stir uncomfortably in their seats. Isn’t that too risky? They are only four years old. Couldn’t they get hurt?

Risk is part of life.

We encounter it every day. We can avoid it entirely or we can learn how to manage it. Children need to learn about risk in moderated ways: One of the best ways to help children learn about risk is to teach them how to deal with difficult and tricky situations by allowing them to experience them in controlled conditions. How can kids, who are part of nature themselves, come to be fully aware and alive if they are not allowed to engage complicated situations and challenges outdoors? Everyone of those tree stumps, river beds, steep inclines and dirty bum adventures sliding down the big hill is an opportunity for your child to encounter, experience and manage risk for himself in a relatively safe, controlled and supervised natural environment. Your kids will emerge stronger, more capable and more confident with each new obstacle and a will to go on to the next one with renewed enthusiasm.

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Ravines

Evergreen Brick Works is situated in the heart of Toronto’s ravine network. Citizens and government agencies have been working to protect the city’s ravines from development since the late 1960s. Toronto’s network of ravines is much loved by city residents – for viewing nature, for hiking and biking. Author Robert Fulford once said “the ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice, hills are to San Francisco and the Thames is to London. They are the heart of the City’s emotional geography, and understanding Toronto requires an understanding of the ravines.” Evergreen Brick Works features programming related to and connected with the exploration of Toronto’s ravines.

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Watershed

The Don River Watershed is 38 km in length and 360 square km in area. While you were walking through here, you would not know that over 800,000 people live near here in and around the Don Valley – it is Canada’s most urban watershed. Citizen groups and government agencies have been working to “bring back the Don” since the late 1980s. Through Evergreen Brick Works, Evergreen is proud to be a contributor to the restoration of the Don.

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Nature right in our own back yard
Many of us are blind to the nature that is all around us. We are a windshield generation. We see everything these days through the lens of a windshield. Time is so tight, and we are so busy that we rarely take the time to stop to smell the roses anymore. City dwellers often drive past it every day and never even know what is there just on the other side of the guard rail. We urbanites go about our daily routines and rituals barely aware that we live next door to the nature that is all around us.

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Brickworks_DV45Just over there on the other side of the Guardrail

The Brickworks park in Toronto is a fine example. It is what exists just over the guardrail from the Don Valley Parkway as millions of commuters travel up and down it each and every day, with nary a moment thought about what exists down there. Well, as you can see, there is an awful lot to see and do. Stuff most people would not equate with the presence of a major commuter highway.

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We are blind to what is just under our noses because we expect nature to be much wilder, and grander, farther away—a place we have to travel great distances to get to. Somewhere you can only go on summer vacation once a year.

To your children, the local ravine behind your subdivision or a mile away is its own special universe. So much to see, to do, to touch, sense and feel. Taking the time to walk through these areas, to stop, to notice and reflect on what you see around you—trees, plants, animals, streams, ponds and pools, rock formations and wildflowers can be very rewarding and highly restorative. Let yourself go, and give your kids the time to stop and listen. Just be. There is nothing more calming, more relaxing, more rejuventating. Feel the warm spring breeze, smell the freshness of the air, soak in the sunlight as it filters through a canopy of green, leafy treetops. Slow down. Pay attention and just breathe.

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Schools can teach kids about trees, plants, wildlife, rivers, lakes, oceans and marine life in textbooks and encyclopedia’s. They provide education about geography, history and the environment, but it is personal connection to our natural environment that leads to an appreciation for the importance of and why we must sustain these spaces in our lives.

At HeadsUp Dad, we would like to encourage you to take time out this spring and summer to get outside, wander in the ravines, hike around your local park, drive out to the country and experience the healing powers of nature. Your kids just might (make that definitely will) come home dirty, with skinned knees and scraped elbows, but they will also most certainly have grown that much stronger, healthier and happier. They will come home glowing but tired, hungry and eager for a good home cooked meal and in the end a long, restorative night of deep sleep and endless dreams of adventure in the wild.

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Follow the meandering paths up the North Slope and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the Toronto skyline. Your kids will want to slide all the way down on their butts squealing with delight every inch of the way.  At the bottom of the hill, there is a wetland area that offers a completely different experience. Walking along the boardwalks you are likely to spot a turtle or three sunning on a log and fish swimming in the ponds. Look for a great blue heron in the reeds, a family of ducks paddling along and songbirds too.

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Evergreen is proud to continue to protect and restore this important ecosystem. They can not do this important work alone. Why not consider rolling up your sleeves, diving in and helping out. You and your kids would have a great time and they would learn all kinds of wonderful things about plants and wildlife and the eco-system we all share. You could spend a morning tidying up the path and waterways, planting native species, caring for our plantings and removing invasives. 

No experience required, just a willingness to get your hands dirty and enjoy nature in the heart of the city. Their Garden Group meets twice a week.

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Heron and painted turtles in the Quarry Pond Water is central to the site. Evergreen Brick Works is adjacent to the lower Don River and within its watershed and floodplain. Mud Creek runs through the site and four ponds filter stormwater and provide habitat in the Don Valley Brick Works Park.

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Plan to Visit

Evergreen Brick Works is open year-round. Summer activities start in May, and in September 2010 they will celebrate the grand opening with a suite of new features.

View on Google Maps

Location

550 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario
Located between the Prince Edward Viaduct (Bloor/Danforth) and Pottery Road, just north of the Bayview exit from the Don Valley Parkway. Please note there is no access to Bayview from Bloor Street.
Bus. Bike. Walk.

Leave your cars and cares behind. They have limited parking until construction wraps up this summer.

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Margaret Antkowski December 20, 2010 at 8:37 am

What a fantastic blog post – I love all the photos of the kids enjoying the natural setting. Giving children a taste of nature on a regular basis only helps them understand the environment beyond the concrete city. I haven’t been to the Brickworks yet, but plan to visit next summer. Thank you for sharing your experience there and the info.

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