Old Faves & New Finds

15 June 2014 — This first photo has nothing to do with Saturday’s walk, but it does qualify as a new find… and I can’t resist it.

bike/bike art on McCaul St.

Bike. Bike art. Perhaps both. Anyway, neatly arranged on McCaul St. just outside OCAD U, so probably the work of one of those Art & Design students. I was moving fast, almost late for a meeting, but stopped for this. Wouldn’t you?

Some “new finds” on Saturday’s walk as well, though old favourites probably outnumbered them. On the other hand, each time you visit something, you enjoy it a-new, right? “This river I step in is not the river I stand in,” says the Heraclitus quote on the Queen St. bridge over the Don River, and the Proust quote on this blog’s home page reminds us that the voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

And, and… quite apart the wisdom of the ancients, there is seasonality to consider. The late spring view will be so different from the one in mid-winter!

This laneway home, for example, which I remember appreciating for its tidy cheer last December, despite the weak sun & piles of snow & ice. Now look at it, basking in the warmth of almost-summer.

laneway home nr Sherbourne & Gerrard

I don’t know what charms me more: the container gardening (including that barrel of herbs), the canoe, or the lovely old bricks of the structure itself.

More warm old bricks nearby, in St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Carlton & Bleeker streets.

St. Peter's Anglican, 188 Carlton St.

Built in 1863, the work of architect Henry Langley (who also designed the Toronto Necropolis), it is another example of Victorian Gothic Revival. I tend to think of Gothic Revival as being more ornate than this — the Necropolis stuctures certainly are — and what I love here are the relatively calm lines, in the two-tone brickwork characteristic of the era, and that final stretch to the sky.

Another stretch to the sky by another Victorian brick building, this one in a whole line-up farther north on Glen Rd. just south of Bloor St. & the Rosedale Valley.   This scenario is entirely secular in nature, real estate to be precise, and here salvation is due to bottom-line considerations.  Prettied-up Victoriana sells.

awaiting redevelopment, Glen Rd South

See? The façades are being saved, new construction will go behind, and this line of derelict buildings — latterly home to people of very modest means — will be rebuilt, repackaged and moved sharply up the socio-economic scale when seeking new owners.

I scoot on by, cross the pedestrian bridge over Rosedale Valley Rd., and — as I pass the spacious brick homes of well-to-do Rosedale — realize that bricks and brick work strike exactly the right note for this walk.

After all, I’m headed for Evergreen Brick Works. The reinvention of the old Don Valley Brick Works site down by the Don River, EBW is now “a community environmental centre that inspires and equips visitors to live, work and play more sustainably.” (Their words, admirably concise & accurate.)

There are various ways to get there, including car, bike & TTC shuttle bus, but I’m close enough to do it on foot — north into Rosedale, curl around onto South Dr., drop down Milkman’s Lane (great name) onto a walking trail & then north again to EBW.

I’m on South Drive when I see signage — and wonderful gates — for a park I never knew existed. Craigleigh Gardens.

Craigleigh Gardens Park, 160 South Dr.

It is extremely peaceful: rolling field of grass, many mature trees, lovely old benches. That’s it. And it’s a gem, tucked away on ravine-edge, in the heart of the city. It had been the estate of Edmund Boyd Osler — politicians & a key figure behind the creation of the Royal Ontario Museum — from 1877 to his death in 1924, and was given to the people of Toronto by his widow. (He was one of an illustrious trio of brothers: one, Britton Bath, was a founder of the law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt; the other, Sir William, was one of the four founding professors of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the USA.)

I wonder for a moment if there might be a direct path down the slope to the trail, but see none & head back to South Drive, to look for Milkman’s Lane.

I don’t see an official sign for the lane, though one may be lurking in the foliage somewhere. But I do see this sign!

near Milkman's Lane, on South Dr.

Totally unofficial & somewhat incorrect (it should be “Works” plural)… but it does the job. I follow the arrow, dropping onto a broad, steep, soft-surface trail, the slope well-maintained but daunting enough that marathon runners use it for training purposes.

I walk gently down, thank you, sharing space with adults & kids & dogs (on & off leash) and cyclists (on & off their bikes). One woman, her hair neatly hidden by her head scarf, encourages her child’s curiosity in a language I don’t know, but whose warm tone is perfectly clear. Soon after, another woman, her English clear and tone even more so as she discourages her off-leash dog’s curiosity about something smelly. As I pass, she rolls her eyes in mock dismay, and snaps the leash onto his collar.

Past wild roses (with lanes of traffic behind, we are close to, but screened from, Bayview Avenue), and a left turn into Evergreen Brick Works.

I always visit Ferruccio Sardella’s masterful wall map of Toronto’s watershed when I come here. It is a showpiece in the Tiffany Commons part of the site, along with mounded gardens, each one demonstrating a different theme (e.g. Native Grasses, Butterfly, Fall Flowering, Aspen, Fragrant…).

Toronto's Watershed, by Ferruccio Sardella, EBW

Ferruccio was lead artist with Evergreen while they reinvented this old industrial footprint, helping them carry out their objective of integrating art with nature throughout the site. (See also my 15 December 2013 post about Ferruccio & art on-site.)

I’m torn. Which way to go next? I opt for the Weston Family Quarry Gardens and Don Valley Brick Works Park. (Phew. You practically have to stop for lunch halfway through the name…) Evergreen is reseponsible for the old industrial-site footprint; the quarry gardens behind come under City Parks.

Remember, all this was once a brick works operation, using Victorian technology (and environmental & safety standards) to claw clay from the valley and turn it into the bricks that — literally — built the Toronto skyline. This land became this city.

A poetic thought, but not a pretty sight. Quarries weren’t. This one no more than any other, as you see in this old photo from Royal Ontario Museum archives

Don Valley Bick Works quarry, ROM Archives

It is mounted next to what are now the Quarry Gardens. They didn’t attempt to fill the void with earth, they contoured it and filled it with water, naturalized the surroundings, built walkways around and across. Now it is alive with nature, including human nature, and we have vantage points in all directions. I take a moment to look back toward the heritage buildings.

across Quarry Gdns to EBW

I wander for a while, then return to EBW proper and head for The Kilns, via the one new building on-site, which includes the Young Welcome Centre. Graffiti on the walls, not surprising, in fact welcomed. EBW is comfortable with street art.

graffiti on Young Welcome Centre, EBW

While abandoned, these structures served as home or meeting place for many people, and the walls bear witness to their presence. Evergreen chose to respect this heritage, retain it as part of the site’s history.

The Kilns were once — well, duhhh, you get it — were once the kilns, the long series of processes and ovens that baked the bricks. Today those long alleys have been maintained, but repurposed, and serve multiple functions with ease.

On my left as I enter, a photographic exhibit: “Detroit – Prairie & Pavement,” by Ian Brown, part of The Detroit Project. His photos are framed by the dramatic contours of the old space.

photo exhibit in The Kilns, EBW

To my right, I see through a gauzy divider to a speaker connected with “RISE – The Better Living Expo.” Some people sit on folding chairs to listen, others listen (or not) as they browse vendor stalls.

I walk past both, ending at one of the long alleys which is being used to display a project done in collaboration with the Toronto District School Board and students in participating classes city-wide: “Imagining My Sustainable City.”

Each class has chosen an area near their school that they think could be put to better, “greener,” more community-minded use, and built a table model to illustrate their suggestion. The kids at Humbercrest Public School (Dundas & Jane), for example, took on “Rethinking residual space along the railway corridor.” Currently it’s a mix of storage facilities, commercial structures & abandoned industrial buildings.

Suppose, instead, it were a garden wall?

Humbercrest P.S. model, EBW

Yes! Create a garden wall to separate the tracks from the community, provide a natural sound barrier, and allow for the development of green space and community facilities…

I walk up and down, peer at models, read the sign boards. It’s encouraging, seeing what young people and their mentors can imagine. If only I could wave a wand.

I leave EBW as I always do, peaceful & happy & nudged to do just a little bit more myself, to live on good terms with my environment. The Brick Works has a couple of farewell presents for me, both to do with art in the city. Of course.

First, tanks against the walls of The Kilns. (Wish I could give artist credit. Couldn’t find it anywhere.)

tanks along exterior wall, The Kilns, EBW

And second, art — probably not EBW-commissioned — on railway bridge trestle walls, just at the south parking lot.

railway bridge trestle, nr EBW

This one has a name attached, at least I think it is the artist’s signature: FAITH47.

Now, finally, I make my way north to Pottery Rd., climb that steep incline back up the ravine wall to city level, and head home. Looking at heritage brickwork with extra appreciation as I go.


Leave a comment


  1. Many thanks for accompaning your most intrigueing walk.

  2. I’ve passed the Brickworks so many times on my GO train ride down the Don Valley but have never been – now after your tour I must visit!

    • Oh do visit some time. Weekends there’s the TTC shuttle bus service from Broadview (Bloor line) subway station — you can get all the info on the Brick Works website. Good to visit the site, it will tell you all that’s available there — I didn’t begin to cover the range.

  3. Michael Sinnott

     /  17 June 2014

    Amazing as always Penny! I really love the shot of the laneway home…such an amazing contrast between seasons in Toronto. Im do glad you made it to the Faith47 mural at the far end of the Brickwork, pretty incredible huh? She is a South African artists with commissions all over the world…we truly are fortunate!

    • Hi Michael — I love that laneway too, so tidy & loved. Thanks for the information about Faith47; I’ll refer to it in my next post.

  4. So much in Toronto and I expect most people pass through. Faith47 Mural fantastic but I am not sure about keeping the façade of old buildings – they try that here. Good to community awareness

    • I’ve just learned from another blogger that Faith47 is a South African woman quite well-known in the global street art community. I’ll mention this in my next post. As for keeping façades… I agree, the most I can come up with is faint praise. (As you saw.) It’s often the best possible outcome, if not a wonderful one… and it does sometimes mean that scale is preserved, and a gentler public face. Both good…


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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