7 News Archive

Salmon – and canoes – in the Don River?

By Howard Huggett Seven News, July 16, 1977

On a fine Saturday this spring a flotilla of 150 canoes made its way down the Don River from Serena Gundy Park to the river mouth. That is about 150 more canoes than you will see on the stream all the rest of the year, and those who were fortunate enough to see them might have wondered what was happening. This little voyage, which has become an annual affair, was organized by a public-spirited environment-conscious group whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. Obviously, they were trying to tell us something. The message I get is that this little stream, hemmed in between railroad tracks and freeways and just about forgotten, is a treasure that we should take care of.

In the 1920’s, when this writer was growing up in what was then referred to as the east end of the city, the valley of the Don was the favourite haunt of thousands of kids and quite a few adults. In those days you could get down into the valley from a number of areas and go wandering up and down pretty well as you pleased. The C.P.R. and C.N.R. railroad tracks were there then, and there was also the old right-of-way for the Belt Line railroad that was no longer in use. They made convenient thoroughfares, and there was little thought about the property rights of the railway companies.

These walkways led to stretches of the river that were ideal for wading and even fishing (anything longer than two or three inches was a fish). There were swimming holes too, of course, and they were for boys only, since bathing suits were scorned.

You are probably wondering about those salmon. Well, bear with me for a minute or two, that is coming. In the wintertime some of the slopes of the valley were suitable for skiing, and that is where a lot of east-enders learned the sport. It was possible in some places to enjoy a run from the edge of a field at the top all the way down to the ice on the river below. In those days it wasn’t called downhill skiing because there were no tows in use and you had to ski back up the hills on your own power.

There must be quite a few people left in Ward Seven who have memories of childhood roamings in the Don Valley, and it would be very interesting to hear from some of them.

And now about those salmon. As many of you may know, there were salmon in the Don when the first settlers came to this area, long ago when the water was unpolluted. A number of years ago the Toronto Field Naturalists took samples of Don water from the mouth of the river all the way up to one of its branches in Willowdale. Nobody was surprised to find that it was polluted at every point. Since that time there has been a lot of improvement, as you can tell even by looking at the river. Because of this change for the better the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources decided a couple of years ago to try re-stocking the stream with salmon! Apparently it is still too early to give up hope, but to date there have been no positive results. Maybe the Don hasn’t been cleaned up sufficiently yet, but it is a goal worth shooting for. Imagine, salmon in the Don again!

The poor old stream is pretty well fenced in now, particularly the lower section that flows through Ward Seven. However, it is still possible to reach the banks on foot and even on wheels. After all, you don’t get enjoyment from a river only by looking at it from a distance. There is the pleasure of walking along its banks and even paddling in the water. The slow rhythm of its leisurely flow is wonderful medicine to relieve the stress and strain of life in a big city.

This article was published in Seven News, Volume 8, Number 4, July 16, 1977