Don River (Photo: Kevin Van Paaseen - Globe and Mail)
It’s World Health Day today and on this day I can’t help but reflect and remember when I first moved to Toronto 4 years ago. At the time, I had not anticipated that I would spend so much time exploring Toronto’s ravines, especially the Don River. In fact, my image of Toronto was of a concrete jungle bustling with business folks and tourists. It was nice to be proven both right and wrong at the same time. Toronto is definitely a busy city but right within its boundaries it’s host to a whole other type of life.
It’s no secret that spending time in nature is good for a persons’ overall health. In 2016, the World Health Organization released a report discussing the benefits of urban green spaces as it reduces stress, combats illness, and improves mental health. For generations we were directly connected to land and when we step back into those natural areas, it can feel like coming home. Whether hiking, biking, running, or just taking in the forest in a practice known as shirin-yoku or “forest bathing” the benefits of placing yourself in nature are a net positive.
My first step into the world of Toronto’s Urban River Valleys was near the intersection of Yonge and Lawrence. I stumbled up Alexandria Muir Gardens, which happens to be the gateway to a series of parks and ravines that stretch all the way to the Danforth (and rumour has it, the Beaches). That first step into Alexander Muir Gardens led to a second step in October to Sherwood Park, bordering along Mt. Hope Cemetery, with its boardwalks and colourful autumn walks.
From Sherwood Park I discovered Sunnybrook Park, where families gather to play Frisbee and hold BBQs, parent’s drop their children off for horse-riding lessons, and where mountain bikers, hikers, and runners can enter the trails and test their stamina. If you decide to follow the road you will exit at Leslie and Eglinton but choose any other path and you’ll be taken on an adventure through forests, across fields, into the hills and parts of the city that only the ravine can show you.
After living in many cities that held no green spaces within easy reach, Toronto’s host of urban parks, tree lined streets, and river valleys have been a blessing. It’s so easy to take the ravine system for granted, to dismiss green spaces as something natural for a city to have, but in many towns and cities they can seem to be more of an afterthought. We’re lucky that 1 in 4 Canadians live in close proximity to the Greenbelt and can explore its many trails by biking the Greenbelt Route or hiking the Greenbelt Walks. On World Health Day, it’s important to remember that we determine the livability of our cities.
For 13 years the Greenbelt has protected the natural features that allow us to reap its health benefits and in May 2017 the Greenbelt was expanded to include 21 Urban River Valleys. By extending Greenbelt protection to river valleys from Niagara to Northumberland, urban residents have a gateway to the rural landscape of the Greenbelt like never before.
21 Urban River Valleys were included into the Greenbelt in May 2017
Our health, the health of our cities, and the health of our planet are tied together. When I moved to Toronto I didn’t expect to find myself running along the Don River or its tributaries, and I certainly didn’t expect it to impact my life the way that it has. I gained a new appreciation for this city and a bit of humility as I tackled the trails. On World Health Day take a step into our Urban River Valleys, choose a path, and reap the benefits of all that the Greenbelt does for us.
-Engagement and Digital Media Assistant at Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation