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Reclaiming the Don

Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History of Toronto's Don River Valley

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 316
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  • Book Info
    Reclaiming the Don
    Book Description:

    A small river in a big city, the Don River Valley is often overlooked when it comes to explaining Toronto's growth. WithReclaiming the Don, Jennifer L. Bonnell unearths the missing story of the relationship between the river, the valley, and the city, from the establishment of the town of York in the 1790s to the construction of the Don Valley Parkway in the 1960s. Demonstrating how mosquito-ridden lowlands, frequent floods, and over-burdened municipal waterways shaped the city's development,Reclaiming the Donilluminates the impact of the valley as a physical and conceptual place on Toronto's development.

    Bonnell explains how for more than two centuries the Don has served as a source of raw materials, a sink for wastes, and a place of refuge for people pushed to the edges of society, as well as the site of numerous improvement schemes that have attempted to harness the river and its valley to build a prosperous metropolis. Exploring the interrelationship between urban residents and their natural environments, she shows how successive generations of Toronto residents have imagined the Don as an opportunity, a refuge, and an eyesore. Combining extensive research with in-depth analysis,Reclaiming the Donwill be a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Toronto's development.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9680-8
    Subjects: History, Geography, Environmental Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xv-2)

    On 31 July 1958, Princess Margaret visited Toronto as one of many stops on an official tour of Canada. Her visit sparked weeks of wrangling by civic politicians about the proposed route of her tour through the city and the duration of her exposure to various publics. In her highly choreographed visit, the princess was to arrive at Malton Airport (today’s Pearson International Airport) late on the evening of 30 July and meet briefly with dignitaries before travelling by special train into the city. She would “spend the night aboard the train in a quiet spot in the Don valley...

  7. 1 The Colonial River
    (pp. 3-27)

    “This Evening,” Elizabeth Simcoe wrote in her diary for 11 August 1793, “we went to see a Creek which is to be called the River Don. It falls in to the Bay near the Peninsula. After we entered we rowed some distance among Low lands covered with Rushes, abounding with wild ducks & swamp black birds with red wings. About a mile beyond the Bay the banks became high & wooded, as the River contracts its width.”¹ On a return trip the following month, she described the difficulty of travelling along the river in its wild state: “We rowed 6 miles up...

  8. 2 Making an Industrial Margin
    (pp. 28-43)

    By the 1880s, the Lower Don River was widely perceived as an “objectionable stream” and a persistent threat to public health. Years of waste and sewage disposal by local industries and municipal authorities, combined with changes in the river’s hydrology caused by deforestation, soil erosion, and water diversion for agricultural and industrial purposes, contributed to highly polluted conditions in the slow-moving, serpentine reaches of the lower river and the massive reach of marshland at its mouth. As one area resident commented in a letter to theDaily Globein 1874, “the water and marsh [at the mouth] of the Don...

  9. 3 Taming a “Monster of Ingratitude”
    (pp. 44-74)

    Hugh Richardson’s and Henry Scadding’s comments on the Don – Scadding’s made in response to Richardson’s words almost forty years earlier – provide apt bookends for a discussion about human frustration with, and human alterations of, the Don River and its seasonal processes of flooding and silt deposition. For Richardson, the silt and detritus that the river deposited each spring in Toronto Harbour created hazards for shipping traffic. Unwary ship captains faced damage to ship hulls from floating debris, or the grounding of their craft upon a steadily accumulating ridge of silt stretching southwest from the river mouth.¹ In his...

  10. 4 Refuge and Subsistence in an Urban Borderland
    (pp. 75-112)

    Henry Scadding’s 1873 description of Joseph Tyler’s cave is the first detailed record in what would become a long history of homelessness in Toronto’s Lower Don River Valley. According to Scadding’s account, Tyler was an industrious and inventive recluse, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War who manufactured and sold “pitch and tar” to merchants in town and ferried the Helliwell brewery’s beer in his “magnificent canoe” when the roads were too muddy to use. He was a puzzling figure – Scadding notes the “mystery attendant on his choice of life of complete solitude [and] his careful reserve.” His choice...

  11. 5 Charles Sauriol and the Don Valley Conservation Movement
    (pp. 113-138)

    In the summer of 1983, Toronto conservationist Charles Sauriol sat down to capture some of his memories of the Don River Valley in the 1920s. He recalled a time before sewage fouled the waters of the upper river, before highway development sent a ribbon of pavement along the valley bottom – a time when the upper valley was still largely rural, and partly wild. “I remember,” he wrote, “seeing the full moon break over the pines, spreading its beams … over the misty shrouds that rose from the river … Seated in front of the cottage, I could hear the...

  12. Colour plates
    (pp. None)
  13. 6 Metro Toronto and the Don Valley Parkway
    (pp. 139-172)

    The construction of the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) between 1958 and 1966 marked a turning point in the history of the valley. With it, the significance of the valley shifted, from a polluted periphery of the nineteenth-century city to a vital transportation corridor in the centre of a larger metropolitan region. The valley’s historical role as a corridor for the movement of people and goods, by water and later by rail, preordained its transformation. The DVP became, in effect, the grandest elaboration of this persistent theme in the history of the relationship between the river, the valley, and the evolving...

  14. 7 Remembering the Don
    (pp. 173-188)

    In recent years, the Don has been the subject of renewed interest as a place of possibility within the Toronto landscape. On the river flats north of the Prince Edward Viaduct, the environmental non-profit group Evergreen has transformed the site of the former Don Valley Brick Works into Canada’s first environmental discovery centre.¹ Further south, plans are underway to re-route the mouth of the Don through the Port Lands, approximating its historical course. It is to this project and the implications it has for the public memory of the river that I turn to now. As we have seen, the...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 189-194)

    Looking back on the over 200 years of human experience with the Don documented in this study, we can sift several findings from the layers of detail that have accumulated. Most striking in the narrative arc of this book was the Don’s slippage in the eyes of Toronto’s civic leaders from a place of relative importance – a place fit enough to host the province’s first parliament buildings – to a place widely perceived, by the mid-nineteenth century, as polluted, dangerous, and disease-ridden. As we have seen, the foul odours and polluted waters resulting from the Lower Don’s designation as...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 195-242)
  17. References
    (pp. 243-266)
  18. Index
    (pp. 267-277)