Floating islands at Evergreen Brick Works?
Updated: Oct 17, 2021
WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? Three good reasons to get out of the house: the chance to see floating islands + a panoramic view + a very good parking tip. (Note: This is a complement to WALK #13, one of the 26 urban strolls and 52 mini-walks in the author's Toronto guide.)
On my last visit to Evergreen Brick Works, I was watching the wind play in the tall grass of an island on the pond. Then I saw the island move out of the corner of my eye! And I remembered that the ponds on the site do indeed have green rafts floating on them.
These are so well laid out that it's hard to believe they are man-made.
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About the floating islands
In doing a little research, I learned that floating islands are increasingly being used to rehabilitate quarries at the end of their life cycle. (Let’s not forget that the site was a quarry from 1889 to 1989).
The floating islands are made of modules with built-in foam for flotation. Connected to an anchor at the bottom, they move with the wind. It's almost imperceptible to the naked eye but great fun to film in time-lapse mode!
The islands are not only aesthetic! They reduce the heating of the shallow pond. The roots that form underneath can be a refuge for fish. Birds can make a nest on them.
The floating islands also help purify the water. Mud Creek now flows into the park's series of ponds, where the water is naturally filtered before being redirected to the Don River.
A park within a park
Did you know that the City of Toronto's motto is A city within a park? Our city sees itself as a tapestry of parks, open spaces, rivers and streets that connect neighbourhoods and link them to the lakefront. Well, in the same spirit, Evergreen Brick Works is a park within a park.
The site, which houses 16 heritage buildings, is located in the 16-hectare, city-managed Don Valley Brick Works Park, itself in the heart of Don River Valley Park, a 200-hectare park that stretches from Pottery Road to Corktown Common, 7 kms below.
It is considered a model of urban ecosystem planning because of its successful landscape restoration and well-managed renaturalization.
A site with history!
Evergreen Brick Works is so much a part of our lives that we forget how much work it took to get to this urban development gem.
A sawmill was erected at Todmorden Mills in 1795 to house a pulp and paper mill and a brewery. The Taylor brothers who ran the mill in 1889 decided to create the Don Valley Brick Works to take advantage of the clay and shale (a rock with a flaky appearance) on the site. Bricks from this factory can be found in Casa Loma, Massey Hall and many other historic buildings in Toronto.
At its peak in 1912, the company produced nearly 120,000 bricks per day. In the end, the quarry was 40 metres deep. From 1985 to 1988, it was used to receive the soil from the 33.5 meter deep excavation (the deepest in Canada) to build Scotia Plaza on King Street! Don Valley Brick Works operations ceased in 1989.
The park was purchased in 1990 by the City for public use. Restoration began in 1994 and the renaturalized park was opened to the public in 1997.
I published five editions of my family outing guide, the first in 1999, and it wasn't until the third (published in 2004) that the large urban park appeared in my book. The site was then called Don Valley Brickworks. The old buildings were still abandoned, but an observation point had just been added from the top of the cliff. (By the way, the CN Tower that could be seen from the lookout is now hidden by two tall skyscrapers…)
In my fifth edition (published in 2011), it's a different story! By then, the site had been renamed Evergreen Brick Works. It turns out that in 2010, Evergreen, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to make cities more livable, greener, and more prosperous, set out to transform the collection of sorry heritage buildings into an award-winning public space while making it its national headquarter.
Evergreen Brick Works has become a global showcase for green design and a pilot project laboratory for developing better urban environments.
While you're there
During the pandemic, the free shuttle from Broadview subway station to Evergreen is not running. So my favorite way to get to Evergreen Brick Works is to park for free at the edge of Chorley Park on Douglas Drive, which avoids paying for parking at Evergreen.
From Chorley Park, a paved path hairpins over 300 metres to the Beltline Trail, where you turn right. A dirt path previously led people down in a steep straight line, but it wasn't for everyone!
The entrance to Evergreen Brick Works is marked by stylized bicycle poles. The gourmet Café Belong (open Friday through Sunday) is currently only accepting customers who have made a reservation ahead for their patio. However, their take-out counter Grab & Go is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (it opens at 8 a.m. on Saturday). The farmers' market continues to operate on Saturdays from 8am-1pm, and the artisans' market is open the second Sunday of the month from 11am-4pm.
This is a complement to Nathalie Prézeau's 262-page walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls, You can get it online on Amazon, Indigo, in Toronto bookstores or directly from the publisher. The author delivers in Toronto and Canada Post takes care of the other destinations. You can also contact the author directly for pick up arrangements (with a discount) at 299 Booth Avenue (Leslieville) Toronto. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.