Blog October 1, 2012
Paddling the Don from Evergreen Brick Works
By Hastings Withers
Evergreen Brick Works provides a focus for all sorts of outdoor recreation, not just biking and hiking. One can even canoe or kayak through the heart of the city.
Paddling up river can be difficult when the water is low and one has to tow the boat up. But even low water is not a problem going downstream. There’s a variety of views, the serene lazy river banked by willows and a stationary kingfisher. There’s fast water in a couple of places, followed by the novel view of the city as we go under the urban infrastructure, footbridges, railroad bridges and expressways, before coming out into the port.
It all starts with a portage from the Brick Works parking lot, across busy Bayview Avenue.
Although they don’t look like it, the railroad tracks beside Bayview Ave are a part of the CN main line across Canada. The weekly Via Rail transcontinental passenger train from Vancouver can be seen coming down here every Saturday morning, and a long freight train came by shortly after we crossed over toward the river.
The annual Paddle the Don fundraising event starts further upstream in Ernest Thompson Seton Park. There are two portages around rapids between that entry point and the Brick Works—but there are no more portages from there to the lake.
It’s a peaceful scene now, but a few days earlier a storm sent torrents of water down the river, flooding the banks and creating new sand bars like this one in the picture below.
Flooding also causes the occasional uprooted tree and litter caught on low hanging branches. Compared to only a few years ago however, the river and its banks are remarkably garbage free. The organization Friends of the Don, in conjunction with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority have made a huge difference with their campaigns to clean up the river.
So many different bridges cross the river—from the mighty Prince Edward viaduct featured in Michael Ondaatje’s novel, In the Skin of a Lion, to small footbridges connecting parklands on both sides of the river.
Just visible in the picture below, a Sunday afternoon stroller crosses the river. Footbridges connect to the Don River bicycle trail, which starts at the lake front, then goes up the Don Valley, past the Brick Works to the extensive park system further north including the Charles Sauriol conservation reserve, where the steep valley trails are popular with mountain bikers.
Just before it enters Lake Ontario, the river is straightened into the Keating Channel and for a short stretch there seems to be more bridges than sky. At this point, all transportation seems to converge, rail lines, expressways and city roads. There’s even a bicycle trail interchange—the Lakeshore trail intersects with the Don Valley trail on the western side of this footbridge.
After leaving the channel, we turned east—through the port where a lake freighter was unloading sugar, and through the busy eastern gap between the mainland and Wards Island, past Cherry Beach for an easy take out at a community yacht club in the outer harbour.
For a closer look at the benefits of greenways and natural corridors like the Don Valley in urban planning and transportation, join Evergreen on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at EBW for MOVE Innovation Talks, focusing on the environment.