Canoeing Down Garrison Creek

16 August 2014 — I am being fanciful. You cannot canoe down Garrison Creek. It has long since been “sewered” — channelled into a subterranean sewer system for its entire length, from just north of St. Clair Av. West all the way south to Lake Ontario.

“Sewered.” Such an ugly, bureaucratic word for something they extolled, back in the 1880s, as a victory for public health & sanitation. (Also a tidy victory for the people who acquired real estate on the resulting dry land, in transactions rife with conflicts of interest.)

Never mind, Garrison Creek — “Toronto’s most legendary lost river” — lives on: underground in physical fact, and above ground in memory, plaques, historical accounts, and walking tours.

Garrison Creek sidewalk medallion

And canoes.

Phyllis & I start the Garrison Creek Discovery Walk at Christie Pits Park (Bloor St. West), as suggested in the somewhat sketchy route map. We plan to swerve our way south with the lost creek, tracing it from one park to the next — all of them lying within the ravines created by the creek.

As you know (previous post), we walk through our first park, Bickford, mesmerized by garage art instead of the park itself (or the creek, for that matter).

Then we cross Harbord St. into Art Eggleton Park (called Harbord Park on the maps, but given the former mayor’s name in signage). We see this canoe, next to the slowly refilling kiddy splash pad and just south of some cheerful playground equipment.

Homegrown National Park canoe in Harbord Park

A little sign above the canoe proclaims it part of the Homegrown National Park Project of the David Suzuki Foundation. Later online research explains it “aims to establish a green corridor through the heart of the City of Toronto, along the former route of Garrison Creek.”

Of course! My mind flips back to earlier walks; I remember seeing a “Homegrown National Park” shield chalked onto a paved path through Stanley Park near King St West, and also two wildflower-filled canoes farther south on the Creek’s meandering route, one at Fort York and the other in Little Norway Park, right at Lake Ontario.

Oh, good. So nice to connect the dots.

On we walk, Phyllis & I, connecting park-dots as we go — Bickford to Harbord to Fred Hamilton, then a little residential street hop-skip and into Trinity Bellwoods Park at Dundas West & Crawford.

Where, right on the corner, I see a different type of dot connection.

bike & elbow art, at Trinity Bellwoods Park

It’s not particularly impressive tattoo work, is it? But it fascinates me, & I sneak a photo while Mr. Elbow Art describes his map-findings to his patient girl-friend.

Soon I’m fascinated by something a tad more important — or at least, more relevant to my topic of the day, namely Garrison Creek.

Phyllis & I stop to read a plaque, as we always do, and discover we are more on less standing on the Crawford St. Bridge. I say “more or less” because we can’t be sure, because we can’t see the bridge. Like Garrison Creek, it is buried underground.

Stomp-stomp, we go, dancing our boots up & down. Imagine, a whole bridge, under the grass.

from Crawford St. Bridge plaque

First the authorities shoved the creek itself underground; then they filled in this part of the ravine that had been carved by the creek — and, with it, the bridge.

On down through Trinity Bellwoods, full of activity on a breezy but glorious summer’s day. Kiddy day camp, dog walkers, skateboarders, bike riders (tattoo’d or otherwise), tennis players, strollers … And a howling wolf, to keep us all company.

in Trinity Bellwoods Park

We skirt another splash pad. Like its neighbour in Art Eggleton (aka Harbord) Park to the north, the pad is near playground equipment, its base decorated with cheerful aquatic designs. The more northerly pad is probably now as full as this one — staffers tell us, when we ask, that they empty the pads each evening, and refill them in the morning.

splash pad, Trinity Bellwoods Park

We admire the gardens, the shrub, the trees, and wish we could identify this particular birch, with its quite spectacular bark. We cock our heads & mutter inconclusively about what kind of birch it is. White (Paper) birch? Nah, I say, that bark comes off in big sheets.

white birch? yellow birch?

Now that I look again, I’m inclined to think White Birch.

Onto streets for a while, including Strachan Av. with its mostly un-gentrified Victorian homes. I am not opposed to gentrification as such: that would be reverse snobbery (as obnoxious as snobbery tout court) and anyway, there are much worse fates for decaying old neighbourhoods than gentrification.

Still, there is something fresh & delightful about this streetscape, and I particularly like the green house. (I know it’s not an authentic heritage colour! Stop fussing!)

house on Strachan Av., s. of Queen West

Phyllis & I imagine sitting on that porch, tucked away behind those geranium baskets, watching the world go by …

On & on again, into Stanley Park where we watch dogs cavort while owners chew the breeze, then out again to wheel east on Wellington, where we decide: Enough Garrison Creek.

So we head north on Bathurst, with our minds on — and tummies ready for — lunch in the Market 707 food stalls at Bathurst & Dundas West.

With a hit of street art north of King, to cheer us on our way…

Bathurst St. mural by SPUD

Not what I recognize as typical work by graffiti artist Spud, but I later realize the limitation is in my knowledge, not in his artistic range.

And that could be that but, having (almost) started with a canoe, let’s end with one.

This photo is only a semi-cheat — and surely no cheat at all, since I am admitting to it. I did not take the photo on this walk, but I did take it on one of my walks — just over a year ago, in September 2013, in Little Norway Park.

Homegrown National Park canoe, Little Norway Park

So there we are. A Garrison Creek canoe, all the way south along the creek to the very shores of Lake Ontario.

Thank you, David Suzuki Foundation, and every other organization & person determined to keep this creek a tangible part of our city today.




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  1. As usual a very entertaining blog – so glad that people make sure that the past is not forgotton

  2. I find the idea of “sewering” of rivers very sad so I found the whole rather bittersweet. As ever though, I find myself wanting to see these places for myself. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • I think we all (well, many of us) feelng differently about ‘sewering’ rivers now than they did in the 19th c. For one thing, we understand a lot more about the role of watersheds, and the importance of preserving them. But for another, at the time Garrison Creek surely was a public health threat, so in the knowledge of the time, they were trying to do something constructive & positive for the city. Now we’re reversing a lot of those earlier ideas, where we can, based on what we now know.

      • I would love to see them take jackhammers to the “sewering” on rivers, letting them run free again. I understand what you say about the public health threat of the time – I am sure that they thought nothing of dumping their human wastes into the river . . . along with everything else. Of course, companies Still dump their wastes into rivers – without any cleaning up of the waste when they can get away with it… sigh.

        I love your photos! And I would be sitting right there beside you on that porch, that house is gorgeous. And I love the canoe (even if you did take the photo earlier – grin) what a clever idea!

        Thanks for a great blog!

      • We can’t undo all the old “mistakes” — or what today looks like a mistake — but often can soften the damage, or at least learn the lessons. And all this proof of earlier good ideas now not looking so good should keep us a bit humble about our latest brilliant ideas…

      • Absolutely. I still cry in my soul when I see marvelous old buildings, filled with wonderful detail and beauty, ripped down only to be replaced by horrible towers of soulless glass and steel. Sometimes “modern” doesn’t mean “good”!

  3. Not sure if it’s still for the purpose of ‘sewering’ but creeks are buried in the new developments all the time… And land is drained and contained in those ubiquitous ‘ponds’ that dot new tract housing… Especially up here on the so-called ‘protected’ Oak Ridges Moraine… Interesting post and really got me thinking!

    • I’m no expert on any of these issues, & I do recognize the role & complexity of water management. I gather more importance is now attached to preserving wetlands than used to the case, rather than draining them all; same for the value of ‘soft’ (plants) borders for rivers rather than ‘hard’ (cement), in that soft helps absorb run-off & prevent flash floods, erosion etc. But I repeat, I’ know little about all this.


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

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