Old Don Mills Road

Old Don Mills Road

Most people wouldn’t associate Toronto with abandoned roads, but a few of them dot the city if you know where to look. One of the better examples is this surviving portion of old Don Mills Road as it climbs north out of the Don Valley. The current Don Mills Road is to the right in the picture above. The original road was realigned and widened in the 1950s to connect the new community of Don Mills to the north with the established community of East York to the south.

The old road was mostly eliminated south of Overlea Boulevard, but a short section about 200 metres long survives more or less intact, just out of view of the thousands of drivers hurrying past. It’s currently used by bicycle commuters and local residents as a shortcut into the Don Valley trail system. The trees and weeds encroach on the road a little bit more every year.

Bailey bridge in the Don ValleyDirectly south of here is the single-lane Bailey bridge that carried the road over the CN tracks for a time before being replaced by the modern overpass a few steps to the west. The bridge is still in use as part of the main pedestrian and cyclist route through the Don Valley. If you look closely, you can still make out the name of the manufacturer—England’s Appleby-Frodingham Steel Company—on some of the beams.

Continue south across the Bailey bridge and down the hill and you’ll come to another bridge that was part of the original road. Visible from the DVP near the Elevated Wetlands, the old concrete bridge still carries vehicular traffic over the East Don River to a small parking lot.

To find old Don Mills Road, walk south on the east side of Don Mills Road from Overlea Boulevard. After the sidewalk ends, follow the narrow dirt path until it curves to the left and takes you to the old roadway. From the south, walk up the stairs from the main park pathway at the northern end of the Bailey bridge.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Walking in a winter wonderland

Snow-dusted pine tree

Ah, the first snowfall of the year. This is one of my favourite times to walk in the Don Valley. This stretch of E.T. Seton Park is normally quite well used, even during the constant rain of the last few weeks. But I only saw one other set of bootprints along the snow-covered path today, and a single lonely bicycle track heading south. There were more deer tracks (3) than car tire tracks (none) in the two parking lots I passed.

Snow-dusted picnic table

I usually take my daily lunchtime constitutional in this section of the park (those familiar with the area may have noticed that many of my posts originate in E.T. Seton Park and environs), which is quite well shielded from the worst of the weather that rages outside the valley walls, allowing a nice relaxing walk on all but the most blustery of days. The walking choices in this single area vary from a forested hiking trail to scenic trails around a marsh to a paved level path traversing the length of the park. I took the easy route today. Though I was never more than a couple of hundred metres away from the traffic and slush above, I couldn’t hear a sound other than the crunching of my boots in the fresh snow. That’s what winter’s all about.

Into the wild


The next time you’re exploring the wooded trails near the marsh in E.T. Seton Park, you may stumble upon a weathered sign overlooking a wet meadow. Still barely legible, it reads:

Trees in this area
were planted by the
Outing Club of East York
in honour of
Charles Sauriol
who was instrumental
in the preservation of
this valley
August 1980

The Outing Club of East York‘s Diane Vieira told me that in its early years, OCEY was very active in planting trees in and around Toronto, including at this location and others in the Don Valley. Unfortunately, they had to stop planting a number of years ago when they could no longer obtain trees from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Charles Sauriol is best known to Torontonians—especially east enders and naturalists—as the man who spent virtually his entire life fighting to preserve and enhance the Valley’s natural heritage. His half-dozen books, including Remembering the Don, Tales of the Don, and Pioneers of the Don, together form the closest thing we have to a definitive cultural history of the Don Valley.

Named a member of the Order of Canada in 1989, Sauriol’s contributions have been recognized in parkettes, conservation areas, and even an annual fundraising dinner all named in his honour. I can’t help but think that of everything bearing his name, Sauriol would be most proud of the little sign that gets a little more lost in the budding wilderness of the Don each year.

Related: Joe Cooper wrote about OCEY in last week’s East York-Riverdale Mirror.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Dawn of a new Don

The new and old Don River channels in E.T. Seton Park

The work to reroute a portion of the Don River in E.T. Seton Park recently resumed after months of little visible progress. In the picture above, you can see a portion of the new channel filled with water and plants in middle of the photo, with only a low strip of rocks separating it from the soon-to-be-former channel in the background. Excavation work was continuing today at the other end of the new channel.

Time to change the channel

A TRCA worker on the site today told me that he expected the river to be flowing through the new channel within a week. Given the progress I saw this afternoon, I’d be surprised if the old channel wasn’t blocked off by this weekend.

In the Dark at Todmorden

Live with Culture at Todmorden Mills

Risa and I went to an interesting little event at Todmorden Mills Saturday night called Dark. Think a kind of mini-Nuit Blanche at a half-dozen locations within one site and you get the idea.

Sean Dixon plays the banjo under the old Don River bridge

While the concept was solid and the performers talented, the result was a little hit and miss thanks to some questionable decisions made by the organizers. The primary problem from our perspective was that none of the outdoor performances were amplified. With the always-busy Don Valley Parkway only 100 metres away, it was difficult at best to hear Sean Dixon (above, with banjo) and his partner playing. Adding to the noise problem were cars passing over the bridge from the parking lot. They invariably ran over a loose metal plate at the far end making a percussive ka-chunk! just out of beat with the music. The setting—in the old Don River channel before it was diverted to make room for the Parkway—couldn’t have been nicer, though.

Similarly, Melissa D’Agostino’s entertaining one-woman turn as an immigrant casting off her baggage at the train station was all but drowned out by the large diesel generator placed just behind her audience.

Even a couple of small amplifiers would have made a big difference in both cases. I’m sure that the organizers felt that microphones and speakers would have made the performances less intimate. That view is certainly valid, but please lose the generator and traffic on the DVP next time. Maybe the event could be held during one of the Parkway’s scheduled maintenance shutdowns, and the generator could be moved further away from the crowd.

Elyne Quan gives a reading in the basement of Helliwell House

Elyne Quan (above, in a 25 second exposure) gave an emotional reading of a new piece in the basement of the Helliwell House, lit only by a single red compact fluorescent bulb and the LEDs on her copy stand. This performance did not need amplification, but some air conditioning would have been appreciated. I’d have liked more time to explore the rough stone-floored basement, which isn’t normally open to the public.

Other performances included comedy, dance, and theatre spread around the grounds, including performances in the old Don train station and the Wildflower Preserve. Overall, it was an interesting event that shows promise for future editions. I hope the organizers take some lessons from the inaugural attempt.

Wildlife sightings in the Don

Great Blue Heron stretching in the sun

It’s amazing what you can see during a lunchtime walk. I’m going to exercise my somewhat questionable bird-identifying skills again and proclaim this one to be a young Great Blue Heron. He stood on this rock in the middle of the East Don River in the Charles Sauriol Conservation Reserve for at least five minutes before starting his hunt for food nearby. More remarkable than this single bird though were the two deer that had been standing right beside him in the river. Naturally, both deer fled before I was able to get a clear picture. If you squint you can see one deer and the heron (both circled) in the shot below.

A Great Blue Heron and a deer face off in the Don River

Lower Don trail reopens this weekend

Cyclists rejoice! One of Toronto’s long-lost cycling routes is resurfacing this weekend when the Lower Don path south of Queen St. will reopen after 16 months of construction. Those attending the official ceremonies on Saturday morning should expect dignitaries, celebrities, balloons, a marching band, and…oh, wait a second. It turns out that for the reopening of a major bike and pedestrian path, all we get is some burly guy in an orange safety vest and a hard hat pushing aside a portable barrier. But the lack of an official event shouldn’t prevent cyclists from clinking their water bottles together in celebration.

Although the path may continue to look like a bit of a moonscape until landscaping is completed later this year or next, it’s already a huge improvement over what was there when construction began. The most visible upgrade for pedestrians and cyclists will be the elimination of the dingy, dangerous metal-grate underpass that seemed barely a couple of centimetres above the river most days. The ominous steel trap with bike-eating gates at both ends has been replaced by an at-grade underpass that can only feel palatial by comparison.

The bike path improvements are part of a much larger project that includes flood protection for downtown, access to a new park, and improved habitat for the three-headed fish that make their homes in the Don. You can get an appreciation for the size of the project from some of the pictures posted on Don Watcher. Many cyclists (myself included) weren’t happy to lose this important path for over a year, but the improvements may be worth the wait.

As for the marching band, there may be some kind of ceremony later this year after the pathway is landscaped. There will almost certainly be a media event when Don River Park opens on the other side of the tracks. That’s scheduled for sometime in 2008, but I can’t see it happening on time.

See Toronto Region Conservation‘s latest Lower West Don Newsletter (PDF) for more information about the flood remediation project. Don Watcher, who recently celebrated his second blogiversary, has done the most extensive reporting on the construction progress that I’ve seen.

A version of this article appeared on Torontoist.

Ambition revisited

That’s a big meal

Several months after writing about an ambitious beaver in the Don Valley, I finally got around to making a close-up visit to his meal at the forks of the Don. The trunk of this tree is about 70 cm (28 inches) in diameter and the Beav has eaten through about a third of it. The exposed band that you see here is about 45 cm (18 inches) tall. He’s eaten a lot of tree, but still has quite a bit to go before he can start the serious work of damming up the West Don. Good luck!