**Rediscover the Lost Rivers beneath our feet
A new way to find out about hidden nature in your backyard! **
Look carefully at your street. If you poured a bucket of water on the ground, where would it go? Since September 1995 the Toronto Green Community has been offering a popular series of walks in conjunction with the Toronto Field Naturalists. They might help you find the answer to this question: our walks trace the courses of the creeks that once flowed through Toronto, and may be a hidden part of your own neighbourhood. On this we have concentrated on central Torono, between Downsview and the Bay and between Duffern Street and the Don River.
How Lost River Walks Got started
Helen Mills was the driving force in the establishment of Lost Rivers Walks.
Helen Mills July ‘03
Lost Rivers had its beginning in a few different places. This is the long story
It often happens in the city that we encounter some small anomaly in the regular grid of city streets - a curve, a wiggle, a dead end street that seems to be there for no reason. This usually happens as a ripple of awareness, barely there, and we quickly go on to other things, accepting that this is “just the way it is”. In Toronto, it turns out that these little perturbations of the grid are actually deeply meaningful symptoms of a buried past: a landscape of deep ravines, bubbling brooks and primordial forest that has been obliterated by the building of the city, as well as even older deeper stories of great ice fields, of glacial lakes that formed as the ice melted, of the ancient rocks that lie beneath the work of the glaciers, a romantic and fascinating tale of the past landscapes of the city. Perhaps this is a story that can inspire a new understanding of what might be possible in a future city, built with an understanding of living ecosystems that might allow us to create a whole new kind of urban ecosystem.
From my first encounter with Toronto, I can remember having these odd little experiences of strange bits of the city grid and setting them aside as “just the way things are”. I first discovered that there was more to the story in a first year Physical Geography course at U of T.
We had a lab assignment about urban form and physiography for which I read a paper by J. K. Spelt - “A look at an Airphoto”. This was a study of the area round Moss Park at Queen and Sherbourne in which he talked about the curve on Britain Street as the last piece of evidence for the ravine of Taddle Creek.
Having spent a number of years as a courier, I was particularly familiar with that area. I had filled up with gas a few thousand times at the corner of Richmond and Sherbourne Streets. Each time I did this, I got whiplash from driving away from the tanks kerplunk down into a small curved alleyway (the curve has since been obliterated by the installation of new propane tanks).
As I read Spelt’s article, it dawned on me that this little bit of topography and the curving alleyway, must in fact be a remnant of the old river system. That this was the last relic of a ravine bank.
I was mesmerized, galvanized, horrified, as I realised what we had done, what we had lost through the burial of this and other creeks. I wanted to do environmental art, though marking the presence of these creeks with blue lines running up and over highrises, and to name them, to bring them back to the surface of our collective awareness. In this I was partly inspired by James Brown’s mesmerizing drawings of Garrison Creek superimposed on the grid of city streets, as well as AP Coleman’ map of Toronto with the old Lake Iroquois superimposed on the City Grid.
This project sat on my back burner for about ten years, until one day in early 1995 when I was buying Yuppie food at Pusateri’s. I saw a hokey little green poster on the door that said “The Greening of North Toronto. Come to a Community Meeting & share your dreams and ideas”….
I stopped, turned around three times and said, “That’s for me”. I actually made a special trip back with a pencil to take down the details of the meeting.
And so, on a frigid evening in February 1995, I found myself at the inaugural meeting of NTGC, now TGC, and got into a group talking about water. Two things happened:
- I was handed a copy of “40 Steps to a New Don” and read their vision statement, all about restoring the Don River to a state of natural health and beauty. I thought to myself “What? Are these people crazy? This cannot be done. If they are that crazy, I’m with them - I want to work with these guys”.!!
- I mentioned that I thought we should find out what creeks once flowed through the neighbourhood, and that we were probably sitting on one at the moment. The response was “OK” and a whole network of contacts was suddenly turned on, among them, Peter Hare, who I was told, “knows everything about Toronto’s buried creeks”.
Soon a small group of people was busily exploring and mapping creeks, and the first lost rivers walk was held in the fall of 1995, in partnership with the Toronto Field Naturalists. We have been going strong ever since.
“Watershed thinking,” or recognizing the relationship between humans and their natural environment ‒ even in the city ‒ is a new way of appreciating the importance of healthy natural systems to healthy human communities. Our Lost River Walks help people appreciate their intimate connections to the water systems that form an essential part of their lives. Come join us as we trace the courses of such forgotten streams evoking images of old mills, grand houses and native settlements as we go. You’ll find a way of looking at your neighbourhood in a whole new light.
Few of us make the connection between dead end streets, wet basements snaking streets, parks with steep banks ‒and the now buried rivers that flow through the city. To date Mud Creek, Burke, Yellow Creek, Walmsley Brook, Cudmore Creek, Castle Frank Creek, Lavender Creek, Taddle Creek Garrison creek Mashquoteh Creek, and others have been explored and discovered through these neighbourhood hikes. We have visited many other streams, existing and buried. Thousands of people have participated in the walks which have attracted as many as 257 people but more often have somewhere from 15 to 60 participants.
Now you can find out about the lost river in your back yard on this website, and take a virtual tour of Mud Creek, Yellow Creek, Castle Frank Brook, Burke Brook, Walmsley Brook, Cudmore Creek, Garrison Creek, The Market Streams, Taddle Creek or Russell Creek. You can use the information to take yourself on a self guided walking tour of your own neighbourhood creek. The intent is to help people understand our past and, it is hoped, to encourage them to work towards a better future,
Who We Are
Working to restore the health of our local natural systems is one of the goals of the Toronto Green Community. It begins with the discovery of the natural world that lies between and beneath the human-built elements of our orderly urban environment. Under our streets and neighbourhoods flow the waters of forgotten tributaries of the Don. Sadly, years of human activity have taken a serious toll on this river system, reducing it to a polluted storm-drain system.
We are one of many community groups committed to restoring the Don River watershed to the state of a healthy vibrant living habitat. We’ve learned that getting to know our watershed is the first step to protecting its health. It’s also a fascinating journey into our own neighbourhoods, discovering the surprising among the familiar.
“Lost River Walks” is a joint project of the Toronto Green Community and the Toronto Field Naturalists and community partners including Hike Ontario. “Lost River Walks” is an official Ontario Legacy Trail, and has been voted one of the twenty-four best walking programs/trail systems in the province.
The Toronto Green Community (TGC) is a grassroots organization founded in 1995 with a mission to engage Torontonians in environmental initiatives where we live, work and play. Our vision is for people to live in sustainable communities with clean air and water, access to local, organic food, abundant green spaces, and minimal waste. For more information email: email@example.com or visit us at: www.torontogreen.ca.
The Toronto Field Naturalists, a non profit charitable organization, was founded in 1923 to encourage the preservation and enjoyment of Toronto’s natural heritage, and to provide opportunities for members to share these interests with each other and the public. For more information about TFN, write: The Toronto Field Naturalists, 2 Carlton Street, #1519, Toronto, ON. M5B 1J3; or phone (416) 593-2656. Web Site: http://www.torontofieldnaturalists.org
Comments on the Lost Rivers Walks web site should be sent E-mail to The Streamwalker.
The names used for the streams are those most in use today. Where we know other historical names, they are mentioned in the lead paragraph for each stream or reach. The primary tributaries of the Don River are called creeks or brooks. Secondary or tertiary tributaries, (with some exceptions) are just called streams. Where we did not have a name, one was given arbitrarily. If you know of an accepted name please let us know.
The primary tributaries have been divided into reaches, comparable stretches of the former streams, most of which can be walked in a comfortable interval. Frequently they are broken at the boundaries of historical towns and villages. Reaches are named for some street, park or other local feature and have not been repeated, so each reach name is unique in this account. The first paragraphs for each reach is a summary which is followed by a detailed description with points of interest, tree cover and comments, supplemented by a street map. It should be noted that we frequently refer to historical locations of streams, houses, etc. in terms of the location of present roads, etc. without temporal modifiers. It is expected that the reader is aware that they are not contemporary. Distances mentioned are approximate. They are intended for general guidance only.
The maps are schematic and intended to be a guide showing the general relationship between the street system and the landscape. We hope they will be helpful for those who want to go out and trace the streams on the ground. There is a link to the legend page on or beside each map; not all maps follow the legend exactly, but should be understandable. The locations shown for streams, sewers and other points of interest are diagrammatic. Most reach maps are oriented either to true north or street grid north. Where other orientation is used a north arrow is included.
The former municipalities mentioned here include The Towns of North Toronto, Leaside and Parkdale the Villages of Forest Hill, Yorkville and Brockton, the Borough of East York, and the Cities of York, North York and Toronto before 1997 and The Town of York (Incorporate as The City of Toronto in 1834).
This website has been made possible by grants from the Sustainability Network and Mountain Equipment Co-op. We are grateful for the help and encouragement we have received from: The Don Watershed Regeneration Council, The Task Force to Bring Back the Don, Waterfront Regeneration Trust, Toronto Region Conservation Authority, Hike Ontario, Festive Earth, The North Toronto Historical Society, The Community History Project, City of Toronto: Parks, Archives, & Healthy City Office, Ashbridges Bay Group, Toronto Bay Initiative, Evergreen, Greenest City, Leaf, Grassroots Albany, the Taddle Creek Initiative and many others.
Most of the work on this site was done by Peter Hare, who would like to thank the following for their contributions, encouragement and support: Helen Mills, the founder of “Lost River Walks” has been of particular help especially for her encouragement and the vision expressed in the introduction. Ed Freeman gave considerable help in the geological and brick industry parts. Others that have helped in a number of ways include: the members of the NTGC, IT Committee, Dick Watts, Don Cross, Terry McAuliffe, the staff of City of Toronto’s Works & Emergency Services Dept. Water & Wastewater Services Div.
The Colour Photographs were all taken by P. J. Hare. Most of the historical black and white pictures are from pictures on file in either City of Toronto Archives or Central Reference Library. The picture of the pond in Mount Pleasant Cemetery is from a postcard in the possession of Don Cross. The line drawing of the community garden was done for the NTGC by Maggie Dickson; the colour was added. Others missed will be added, but are not forgotten nor unappreciated.