The ecological history of Toronto often gets lost beneath the towering infrastructure that makes up the spectacular skyline.
With the help of the Toronto Field Naturalists, the city is working on a 50-year plan to preserve ravines and forests. Exploring the impact of climate change, a growing population and the function of urban cities, the effort highlights the importance of responsible use.
“When most people think about our ravines, it’s the wilderness that they imagine; an urban wild,” says Jason Ramsay-Brown.
Ramsay-Brown is the author of a book called Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests. He spoke about it at the East York Historical Society meeting on Wednesday at the S. Walter Stewart library branch in East York.
The urban wild he describes shelters creatures and improves health through purification, all while providing recreational activities and economic benefits for the public.
“These ravines have captured and preserved the stories and relics of human history going back thousands of years,” Ramsay-Brown told the meeting. “In many way they are our largest open-air museum.”
East York is home to Taylor Creek Park, named after the Taylor family who shaped the area through connections with the brick works and Todmorden Mills.
“Around 1882, William Taylor was digging holes for fence posts when he realized the area was virtually all clay,” Ramsay-Brown said. This high-quality clay established the Don Valley Brick Works that “went on to win ‘Best Bricks’ at the Toronto Industrial Fair of 1894.”
Born in East York, Ramsay-Brown lives on Queensdale Avenue with his wife and three children. His motivation to explore Toronto’s ravines and forests began at a young age, leading to his involvement in stewardship activities in the community. From tree-planting, trail-maintenance and weeding of invasive species, Ramsay-Brown works alongside a small group to bring an ecological focus to Toronto’s natural history and civic identity.
Archaeological digs excavated along West Highland Creek unearthed more than 19,000 artifacts, dating as far back as 4700 BC. Gates Gully and the Scarborough Bluffs tell stories of First Nations and cargo-smuggling in the late 1830s. European oaks from France’s Vimy Ridge are planted near McNicoll Avenue and Kennedy Road.
Due to industrialization, “90 per cent of wetlands are now gone,” Ramsay-Brown said. But he added that by educating the public on wildlife preservation, there’s opportunity to reverse the damage.
“From a cultural perspective, we have to explore the new balance of nature and the convenience of modern technologies.”