Greenbelt Travels an Iconic Urban River Valley: Greenbelt Walks and Paddles the Don


On the first weekend in May, the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation travelled one of the Province’s most iconic urban river valleys by both foot and paddle: the Don River Valley. On Saturday, May 4th Foundation staff led a Jane’s Walk from Crothers’ woods to the Brickworks Farmers’ Market, covering topics from urban nature and river valley protection to local food and the importance of supporting our farmers. We even distributed local green salad mixes from Greenbelt farmers Rolling Hills Organics to participants in the walk!

The very next morning, Sunday May 5th, more Foundation staff headed out bright and early to join in the TRCA’s 20th anniversary of Paddle the Don. It was our first time participating in this exciting event; eight staff with some family as support crew, took to their canoes and experienced the beauty of this urban river valley from a whole new perspective! What a weekend!

2.jpgThe thread that binds these two significant events together is the recent announcement from the Province, made on January 10th 2013, about the expansion of the Greenbelt into urban river valleys. This new urban river valley designation would give municipalities the opportunity to connect residents to the Greenbelt, weaving it into cities through the ravines and connecting the watersheds from headwaters to lake Ontario.

One of the early adopters of this new legislation, Toronto City Council, is considering extending the Greenbelt along the Don River. This initiative will better protect the Don, one of Toronto’s most beloved rivers, and bring the world’s largest Greenbelt into the heart of Toronto. To learn more about Growing the Greenbelt and new urban river valley designations, see this report released by the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.



Greenbelt Walks the Don: Saturday May 4th

On Saturday morning, a couple of dozen folks - keen walkers, environmentalists, naturalists and urban explorers - came out for a Jane’s Walk led by staff from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. It was a perfect sunny day, and the woods were alive with signs of spring. Ephemeral wildflowers like Trillium, Trout Lily and Mayapple were out in full force.

The walk began in Crothers’ woods, a significant woodland between Bayview and Millwood, north of Pottery Road. It is one of the few remaining patches of original forest that once covered much of the lower Don. Century old trees, rare species and healthy ground cover are all indicators of the richness and importance of this woodland.

The inimitable Shelley Petrie, Program Director at the Foundation, was the walk leader.


She delivered an engaging overview of Ontario’s Greenbelt, the work being done by the Foundation and new plans to Grow the Greenbelt into local urban river valleys. The walk ended with a visit to the Brickworks Farmers’ Market where we chatted with lovely Greenbelt farmer Peter Finch from Rolling Hills Organics. Walk participants then received delicious samples of organic green salad mix picked fresh that morning.


Greenbelt Paddles the Don: Sunday May 5th

 It was a beautiful, sunny and breezy Sunday morning when several hundred paddlers gathered at Ernest T. Seton Park to launch their canoes into the rushing waters of the Don River. Organized by the TRCA, Paddle the Don celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, with the characteristic race down the river, followed by a delicious lunch, local craft beer from Black Creek History Brewery and musical entertainment.


5.jpgTo top it all off, Premier Kathleen Wynne gave a heartfelt speech about the significance of the Don River, the wonderful work being done to preserve and restore this important watercourse, and of course, the province’s plans to expand the Greenbelt into urban river valleys. 

The Don River is one of Toronto’s largest and most significant watercourses. Historically, the river was a prime location for pre- and post-colonial settlement as it provided food, fresh water, transportation, and later a convenient place for industry and waste disposal. Today, though the river is heavily urbanized, it remains an important part of the City of Toronto’s identity; both as a beautiful, natural oasis in the heart of the city, and a rich cultural resource in the history and sensibility of place.

Despite its significance however, the Don River Valley, like many other urban watercourses and natural corridors, is struggling. Although the headwaters of the Don are protected from further encroachment of development by the Greenbelt, the lower reaches of the river remain unprotected. Through new urban river valley designations, Greenbelt protection can be extended to public lands along this fragile, incomparable, natural corridor in the city. 


-- Karen May, Program Coordinator

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