On Saturday May 3, 2014, Greenbelt staff and partners from TRCA, Humber Watershed Alliance, and the Weston Historical Society led a Jane’s Walk along the Humber River. Despite the dreary weather (or fitting depending on how you look at it; the topic was about the history of flooding and the future of planning in urban river valleys in a changing climate), more than 30 keen souls showed up for the walk.
We started at Cruickshank Park, just northeast of Lawrence and Weston, and then followed the river down through Raymore Park to the first dam in the river, south of Lawrence. Walk leaders shared interesting facts and insights about the history, ecology, and planning challenges around the Humber River and other ravines in the City of the Toronto.
The main topic was the 1954 Hurricane Hazel, catastrophic flooding that resulted in severe property damage and loss of life, and the subsequent improvements in conservation planning that ensued. More than 7 inches (183mm) of rain fell in a 24-hour period. Bridges were washed out, and nearly a hundred people died—half of whom perished in the Humber River Valley near Raymore Park. The flooding was devastating: for example, Mary-Louise Ashbourne of the Weston Historical Society points out the nearby recreation centre in Lion’s Park which was underwater during the flood—this facility is located about 200 feet from the river itself. The flood crest was 26 feet high.
Further south in Raymore Park, Gaspar Horvath, our ecology expert and TRCA leader, points out old garden remnants of lilies and lilac bushes, as well as depressions in the grass where house basements used to sit, not 50 feet from the river. It’s hard to imagine that kind of devastation now, but it was a galvanizing moment. Now, TRCA and other community partners are working hard to sustain and restore our urban rivers through stewardship activities such as community plantings and ecological surveys, education, and outreach.
The purpose of the walk was to connect participants to the story of environmental planning in the Humber, and tie in the recent campaign to add Toronto’s urban river valleys to the Greenbelt. By extending the Greenbelt into the city, we are bringing additional protection to Toronto’s vital urban rivers, and the sustainability of these treasures with all their benefits—fresh air, clean water, beautiful places to explore—are ensured for future generations. Read more about the urban river valley designations and join the campaign to Love the Ravines.
The Greenbelt Foundation also participated in another ravine love-in hosted by the TRCA on Sunday May 4th: Paddle the Don. Now in its 21st year, this exciting event includes an 11km paddle (from Ernest T. Seton Park at Eglinton and Lawrence, to the mouth of the Keating Channel), as well as a delicious local lunch, beer from TRCA’s Black Creek Historic Brewery, music, and much more! Though tiring for some of us who’ve maybe gone a bit soft over the long winter, it’s a wonderful and totally unique way to see the city, and celebrate the beautiful natural spaces we have right in our own backyards.
So consider getting out into the ravines for a walk, bike, run, or paddle. Share your thoughts and images on on Twitter and Instagram using the #lovetheravines, and become a part of the movement to bring the world’s largest Greenbelt, and the world class protection it offers, into the heart of our city.
Special thanks to our fantastic walk leaders, Mary-Louise Ashbourne of the Weston Historical Society, Gaspar Horvath from the TRCA, Roy Murray from the Humber Watershed Alliance, and Michael Cook with the Office for Responsive Environments / Brown + Storey Architects. Also thanks to Arlen Leeming and the Paddle the Don team at the TRCA Living City Foundation for organizing a fantastic paddle day!
-- Project Coordinator & Designer