Me & Water

For the Great Waters Challenge #1, I am telling you about me and about my connection to water. I’m sharing a video that introduces myself, and a mini photo essay about a very cool water story, which explains my passion for water: what we do on land affects our water.

The Story of the Loss of Garrison Creek

Maybe you never knew? Toronto has a long history of burying its waterways. It started with learning that there was a link between our sewage and people getting sick with cholera. Since rivers and streams were essentially open sewers, to get rid of illness, people needed to get rid of the streams that carried the illness. So burying of our waterways began.

Then:  1878 Map showing Garrison Creek outline, and 1876 lithograph showing Toronto. The indented and ‘natural-shaped’ areas are Garrison Creek.


This shows the sewers that have replaced Garrison Creek. These sewers combined storm water and sanitary sewage from nearby neighbourhoods. Source: Vanishing Point

But just because it’s buried doesn’t mean the traces are all gone. There are a number of places that are proof of the creek that once flowed there. Let’s take this reach by reach:

Christie Reach: this is from where two streams intersected at Davenport Road to Harbord Street to the south

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The Christie reach was at the surface until 1915, and there was a large bridge at Harbord street that crossed Garrison Creek. The City buried this portion of the creek, when sewers for the nearby houses were put underground. The bridge was buried as well, but remnants of the bridge on Harbord Street can still be seen, but it just looks like a railing for the sidewalk. Christie Pits used to be a quarry, and now is a large park. The slopes (which are great for tobaganning!) are also evidence of the creek that used to be there. Some houses on nearby Shaw Street are having foundation problems and sinking slightly on one side, and this is because surface and ground water are still flowing through their old paths and undermining the buildings.

Trinity Reach: between Harbord Street and Queen Street

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Garrison Creek was above the surface until the 1890s.There was a bridge at Crawford Street, which was eventually filled in after the creek was buried. This reach is named after Trinity College, which was a private college. It joined with the University of Toronto and moved closer to the rest of campus (which is what we know as Trinity College now), and for some reason they took down the old beautiful building, and only the gates remain. Remnants of Garrison Creek can still be seen, mostly in the “dog pit” – aka the lowlying area where everyone brings their dogs! The river is now in a sewer underground, where there are several overflows, flow separators, and small storm tributaries. From the photos I can see of Vanishing Point’s work, it’s an old system that was added on to whenever problems arose, but was never planned from the beginning with a river’s capacity in mind.

Fort Reach: between Queen Street and its former outlet at Fort York

This was a very industrialized part of the City. Breweries and slaughterhouses were set up to take advantage of the clean creek water at their front doors. With creek burial and land reclamation, remnants of the creek and its tributaries at this reach are very difficult to find. Sewers at this point deliver combined sewage (storm and sanitary) to the Ashbridges Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant (in the eastern part of Toronto), but during heavy rain events, these combined sewers overflow directly into Lake Ontario.


Vanishing Point

Lost Rivers TO

City of Toronto Discovery Walks

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