7 News Archive

A quiet walk along the Don

By Howard Huggett Seven News, September 24, 1977

You could say that in one way the Don River is responsible for the situation it is now in. For unknown centuries it provided the principal means of transport in this area. Before the European settlement the Indians used it and other streams such as the Humber to travel between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe or to Georgian Bay. It was easier by canoe than by moccasin.

When the white man arrived he transported furs by the same route. Then the settlement began and early industries were set up in the Don Valley to take advantage of the water power – saw mills, grist mills, breweries. The railroads that were built to the north were located there because the grades were not too steep. So in time Toronto became a great sprawling city, and the transportation arteries that man built, like the arms of an octopus, have encircled the little river that was the original road. All that the Don carries now is sewage.

One of those arms winds downhill from Castle Frank and Bloor and stretches out across the valley floor. As you follow it notice how the earth around here has been landscaped, how neat and attractive the grass looks. This road takes you over the CNR tracks, past the structure that looks like a wigwam, but isn’t, and then over the river. Ahead is a sign that advises you to turn left for the Parkway, but don’t do that. Before you get that far a road turns off to the right and points south down the valley. There is no sign to advise you, but take it anyway.

Almost as soon as it leaves the highway the surface of this road deteriorates. This area is evidently used for dumping certain kinds of refuse, and the roadway is probably adequate for that purpose. It stretches along the side of the river, branching out now and then and coming together again. The land is quite flat here, as this is the river’s ancient flood plan. I have read that the Mississauga Indians grew corn here long ago, but what you see now, not counting the trees which are mostly on the banks of the river, is a very healthy crop of weeds. Perhaps the most plentiful are chicory, with their light blue flowers stuck like buttons on the sprawling, almost leafless stems. The roots of this plant, dried and ground up, made a brew that some people prefer to the one you get from that brown and gold and they are selling in the supermarket.

What you don’t see are human beings. Right here the stream is flowing through what must be the densest population area that any river in Canada flows through. There are lots of people up there on the streets and buildings and zipping along the thruways, but almost none of them get down here beside this peaceful stretch of the river. In spite of the neglect that is so evident everywhere, this is an ideal spot to rest and relax to the quiet rhythms of nature. There are plenty of birds, including some ducks and even the occasional goose. The squirrels and groundhogs are visible; the field mice and raccoons are not, although they are sure to be around somewhere.

Southward the road leads underneath the Bloor Street Viaduct, where thousands of people rush by over-head. It ends quite a bit below there, where the river runs under a railway bridge, cutting off any further passage. Many years ago, before the Parkway was built, there was an overpass on the railroad track here and you could walk or drive underneath to connect with a road that ran along the river bank. All that is left is a passageway underneath the tracks about ten feet high and eight feet wide as a run-off route for excess water.

At this point the north end of Riverdale Park is off to the east on the other side of the railroad right-of-way and the Parkway. This would be the logical place to construct a pedestrian and bicycle passageway underneath these routes, so that people could have access to this area from the park. After all, a river isn’t there just to be looked at. It is meant to have people walk beside it, listen to and even paddle feet in. If ducks and groundhogs can, why not humans?

This article was published in Seven News, Volume 8, Number 9, September 24, 1977