On a cold and bright Sunday afternoon, I gathered nine friends to go for a walk along the former Garrison Creek. I wanted to share my excitement for discovering new things in the City, and also to hear from my friends about their connections to water. The day went like this: walk and tour along Garrison Creek, end at my apartment where we warmed up, then we went through an exercise of collecting watermarks, then ate some good food!
If you haven’t heard of a “watermark” yet – you should! Lake Ontario Waterkeeper started this fabulous initiative to collect stories of our connection to water across Canada, and map them corresponding to their water body. Just browse the map to see what stories are being told about your favourite water body. I see this as an amazing tool for demonstrating how regular people care about the environment around them, and as a way to vocalize a person’s commitment to protecting their local water. You should submit your watermark today!: https://www.watermarkproject.ca/submit
Now onto the Challenge…
I am still so excited that my friends joined me for this! I had old and new friends, so not everyone knew each other, but they were all interested in different parts of the walk. When I put the invitation out, I thought maybe 3 people would come, because they see it as lame or they’re not available at that time. There was lots of availability and lots of interest – so community river walks are definitely something young people want more of! We talked about stormwater, permeable pavement, history of Toronto’s development, fish species, how the river could be “daylighted” – and just so much more. I learned from them as well, and that made the walk richer.
Here is a video I made of our day walking around Garrison Creek, and below is an outline of the walk I gave (if you want to know in detail about the history of the creek – or you can check out my previous post about it here) and the sources I used for putting together the walk.
Here is the text for the walk I guided, so if you wanted to do this yourself, feel free to steal this! It is essentially a combination of the sources listed above.
Start at Christie Station. The Christie Reach of the Creek is from Davenport Road to Harbord Street. From the front of Christie Station you can look into Christie Pits Park, where the creek was once at the surface. The Garrison Creek sewer dates originally to 1885. This is a combined sewer. The creek was getting very dirty and so it was put underground to keep the rest of the City looking cleaner. An interceptor sewer was installed in 1910-1912 that would carry excess flow from Bloor-Trinity-Bellwoods area during storm events to an outlet to Lake Ontario at Bathurst Quay. This is an overflow sewer, and only sees flows during large rain events. The creek was fully buried in 1915 and runs under the park in sewers now.
Walk down Grace Street to Bickford Park. Walk around the west side of Bickford Park. The slopes of Bickford Park give away that this was once a valley. At the southern end of Bickford Park at Harbord Road, this used to be the old bridge that spanned the creek. The City buried the creek and the bridge in 1930. The sewer in this area had to be narrow, so they chose an arch design.
Walk down Montrose Avenue until it joins Crawford Street and then follow Crawford Street.
Cinder Lane, just south of College Street behind the Metro – in the 19th and 20th century, cinders and ash were picked up along laneways and dumped into ravines. The poor would scavenge among the cinder and ash remains to find any usable coal for their own heating needs. Now laneways aren’t used in the same way, they are often just paved places that contribute stormwater runoff to our combined sewer system. What if we converted all of these driveways and laneways to permeable pavement? All that stormwater could be soaked up instead.
Follow Cinder Lane into Fred Hamilton Park. In the Park, Garrison Creek is in a sewer right under the diagonal pathway on our right. Walk to the top of the laneway behind the first row of houses at the park’s edge. WaterHarvest is a project to collect water from a new park building, and store it in a cistern for use in the community garden. Notice the cluster of pots with butterfly friendly pots and a saucer of damp sand – a puddling site for butterflies.
Continue west across Fred Hamilton Park, down the former Garrison Ravine bank, and head south on Roxton Road to Harrison Street. Notice the community pollinator garden and fruit trees at the south end of the park.
At the corner of Roxton and Harrison Roads, we are very close to the confluence of Garrison with Denison Creek, we can hear and smell the rushing water under the sewer grate. You are on top of the Garrison Creek trunk sanitary sewer; it runs day and night regardless of rainfall, because it carries not only rain, but sewage from the surrounding houses. The green sewer vents at the corner release methane gas from the sewer below.
Walk down Roxton Road until you reach a parkette, and enter the parkette, walking east. Notice the slopes, and a large willow that likely has its roots in one of the two sewers under this parkette.
In the laneway behind this park, deep below the alley is a combined storm overflow sewer that was built because the original sewer on Garrison Creek was overloaded. Until the 1990’s it regularly overflowed into the lake but now it is diverted into the Western Beaches Storage Tunnel where contaminants settle to the bottom and water that flows into the lake is treated with UV light. The City’s Wet Weather Flow Management Master Plan, a billion dollar strategy to manage combined sewer overflows, uses a combination of source controls, conveyance controls and end of pipe holding tanks to prevent spills into the lake.
Continue south to Dundas, turn east to Shaw Street, and cross south at the lights. Head south on Crawford Street, to the information plaque about the Crawford Street Bridge, and images of the lost fish of Garrison Creek inlaid along the street.
Just north of here, at Dundas and Crawford, the Garrison Creek sewer meets the Mid Toronto interceptor sewer on its way to Ashbridge’s Bay Sewage Treatment Plant. The plant is the largest surface water polluter in North America (13,679,710 kg of pollutants in 2006).
There have been many plans to daylight this creek, including one in 1994 by Brown and Storey. They imagined a permanent pond in the bowl, which is now primarily a dog park, and sloped areas that would collect rainwater from the local area.
Walk to the community centre at the southwest part of the park.
Before urbanization this area had many springs and wetlands and was described as “a perfect paradise for sportsmen” who hunted black duck, mallard, pintail, teal, wood duck, geese, plovers, sandpipers, woodcock, and passenger pigeons. This early version of a rain garden receives water from the community centre. It’s not very exciting to look at and doesn’t compare with what once was here, but since it keeps rainwater out of the storm sewers and has some biomass, it has ecosystem functions.
Walk along the diagonal park path and stop at Gore Vale Avenue, to see the plaques for Garrison Creek.
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.
The main course of Garrison Creek flows southeast under the tennis courts at this point. A map of the creek is inlaid in a plaque on the sidewalk on the corner of Queen Street and Gore Vale Avenue.
Cross Queen Street and follow Walnut Avenue South until it ends, then take Wellington to Niagara, to Bathurst. Walk south down Bathurst until Fort York Blvd. This was the former outlet to Garrison Creek.
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.