River to Lake, No Ice

19 April 2015 – Finally warm! Look, no gloves! The Tuesday Walking Society is all girlish giggles of joy as we set out from the Old Mill subway station & start south along the west side of the Humber River. New growth is beginning to appear, but last fall’s rusty leaves still carpet this marker in King’s Mill Park.

lookout west side of Humber R.,  just south of Old Mills subway station


The park is well-named: Toronto’s first industrial building was a mill — the King’s Mill — built here in 1793. It is long gone, though traces remain of subsequent mills on the same site. No traces at all, these days, of the Huron-Wendat villages that once populated this watershed, except for a map showing the locations of some archaeological digs.

This fact makes me grimace a bit at the next map, one of the colourful big ones that dot the route of any of the city’s Discovery Walks. We are following Humber River, Old Mill & Marshes, and the trail bears this name:

Discovery Walk map, posted on  Stephen Dr at Berry Rd.

My grimace is for the title. “The Shared Path”? More likely the seized path, given the typical course of European-indigenous interactions. (But yes, all that is long ago, and now is now. We cannot change then; we are responsible for now.)

At this point Phyllis & I are out of King’s Mill Park. We have to put in a few fairly boring blocks of city streets before the trail enters South Humber Park. Back to the river, back into nature, though always with the city dancing on the horizon.

view east from South Humber Park

The Humber River watershed is the largest in the Toronto area, an important corridor for migratory birds & monarch butterflies. (All the more reason to celebrate the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat just west of the Humber, on the lake.)

There are marshes along this stretch of river, one of the city’s few remaining river-mouth marshes, prime breeding habitat for ducks, turtles & fish.

And prime wading grounds for Great Blue Heron.

GBH in the Humber Marshes

Down, down we walk. I tie my jacket about my waist, revel in the warmth. Nothing gradual about the transition from one season to the next, not in this part of the world: we jump straight from winter’s Full Stop to spring’s Fast-Forward, ka-boom.

The trail goes under two major expressways close to the lake: first the Queensway, then the Gardiner. Traffic overhead, concrete pillars all around, a few charmingly old-fashioned light standards along the way.

under the Queensway & Gardiner bridges across the Humber River

Painted in firm black letters on one of the pillars: “Retake the lake.”

Now a prettier bridge, one of my great favourites from any angle, the pedestrian bridge at the very mouth of the Humber.

pedestrian bridge at mouth of Humber River, from the north

We turn westward through lakeside parkland, a narrow but amazingly effective ribbon of peace & recreation between the lake on one side and soaring condos on the other. It is also a good viewing spot for the downtown silhouette, back there to the east …

view from Humber Bay Shores park toward city to east

You see that Mute Swan, gliding through the inlet? These guys are around all winter — not like those sissy Stratford (Ontario) swans, carefully relocated to protected habitat each fall & then ceremoniously paraded back to the Thames (still Ontario) in spring!

Sorry, I got distracted there, smirking at the Stratford swans. The thing we notice about our local tough-guy swans is that, today, they are all fluffed up as they cruise around. As if they’d watched one too many Michelin Man images in the tire commercials, and got ideas. (“Hey look, I bet we could be even rounder than that!”)

Mute Swan, all fluffed up

I’m sure any ornithologist could explain the phenomenon, but I prefer to think they’re just having fun. They look like they are, as the wind catches all those surfaces and propels them this way & that.

Not fun at all, our next stop, but one I always make. We walk out the east lobe of Humber Bay Park, jutting into the lake, and stop for a moment at the monument to Air India flight 182. The flight originated in Toronto; so did the terrorist bomb that, on 23 June 1985, exploded over Ireland, killing all 392 passengers & crew.

Air India 182 memorial, Humber Bay Park East

Terrorism is commonplace, a chilling truth. Yet each act of terrorism matters, each lost life matters. I once stood at the wall of victims’ names, by chance next to a young man who gently touched a name, and said that fellow had been his work colleague & his friend. I see people come upon this memorial unawares, chattering happily about other things; they halt, first puzzled, then — always — touched. I am also touched, in a world of so much violence, to see the power of remembrance.

A happier finale to the walk, symbols of life not death. We head back to the main shoreline, & start weaving our way east through the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat along the lake.

Our path angles through the HBBH Home Garden, with its great metal ravens standing guard. Each hollow sculpture is stuffed with straw — real birds with real nests, tucked inside the artwork. Their backdrop is a line of waterfront condos. Everybody like a lake view!

Home Garden, Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat

Then off down Marine Parade Drive, the ever-busier roadway between condos & park, for a bistro with a patio and our first outdoors latte-&-something of the season …

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  1. DJ

     /  19 April 2015

    Here in Ottawa on Tuesday I saw my two young neighbours, ages 5 and 2, twirling down the sidewalk in pure delight of coatlessness. I am awestruck by the birds’ nest ravens.

  2. How lovely to have a beautiful walk, and a group to walk with! And the ravens? Gorgeous

    • I’ll share the joke: the Tuesday Walking Society is the deliberately pompous title for the two people (myself & friend Phyllis) who regularly walk together on Tuesdays; my Saturday walks are solo

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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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