Students Connect Ravine Biology and Urban Development with Paint

Susan and I joined the student artists at Bruce Junior Public School along with artist Katherine Laco, Ranger Aidan, and Helen Mills.

The health of Toronto's urban environment is inextricably connected to its surrounding landscape. About forty significant rivers and streams flow south from their headwaters in the Oak Ridges Moraine, serving as wildlife corridors for plants and animals. I like to think of these river corridors as the arteries of the landscape, providing fresh air and clean water, and pumping life into every corner of the Greenbelt.

In recognition of the value of these water systems, students across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area have been painting breathtaking water-themed murals in Greenbelt-area schools with guidance from artist and teacher, Katherine Laco. The murals add colour to school hallways, and help teachers use experiential learning to meet their curriculum objectives. At the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, I am proud to be working with schools to bring nature back into the city.

Putting it all in context, students point to their school on the map.

Last month, students at Bruce Junior Public School were putting the finishing touches on the first ever outdoor Greenbelt mural at a public school. Spanning the entire south wall of the school, when installed it will be visible from down the block. The scene depicts a woman paddling a canoe down a river, dragonflies flitting amongst the cattails. The scene is fitting for Bruce School since the site was formerly a marsh on the old shoreline of Lake Ontario.

Last Friday I was joined at the school by Helen Mills from Lost Rivers Toronto and Ranger Aidan Dahlin Nolan from the Homegrown National Park. We paid a visit to the students who painted the mural to chat with them about the importance of protecting and celebrating nature in and around the city.

Helen, Ranger Aidan, and I delivered a set of engaging presentations on water, wildlife, and the history of urban settlement in Leslieville. We touched on the importance of the Greenbelt in shaping the future of our growing city, and some of the simple actions we can each take to help our city stay healthy and green. We explained that as more people move to Toronto, the city expands out towards the Greenbelt, putting pressure on the environment.

Ranger Aiden is a natural-born storyteller.

Aidan talked with the students about the Community Canoe project and the importance of native plant corridors in providing habitat for insects like dragonflies and monarch butterflies. He explained that those insects act as pollinators, and are always busy working to support biological diversity in the city.

Helen unpacks the history of the "lost" rivers and streams in Toronto.

Helen spoke of a time when the shoreline of Lake Ontario was just south of Eastern Avenue, less than a hundred meters from the school. She explained that humans have made incredible alterations to the topography of the city landscape, burying wetlands, rivers and streams, and radically reshaping the shoreline of Lake Ontario. She drew a gasp from the audience when she explained that bears used to hunt right where the school is today.


Now hosting two beautiful Greenbelt murals, Bruce Junior Public School is a leading example of how we can use art to address topics related to environmental sustainability. These presentations provided an opportunity to bring about 170 students into the project to discuss nature and the environment on a local level.

If you are interested in getting a Greenbelt mural into your school or public space, please contact As school comes to a close for the year, the murals project will be winding down but I'm looking forward to working with more students in the fall!


-- Communications Assistant


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