The month of December has been hectic. The work hours have been long, weekends packed with festive commitments and most unfortunate of all the sunlight has been sparse. This time of year might be festive but I’ve always found it to be stressful and lacking in nature. I don’t get out as much as I’d like, the weekends get packed and the nights are long and dark. So when the opportunity presented itself I took the chance to hike and explore some of the nature close to home, The Don River.
I’ve grown up near the Don River and have spend countless hours exploring the valley, climbing the steep embankments and attempting to fish (most often fruitlessly) from the rivers edge when I was younger. The river at the heart of the city has throughout its history had it’s course altered, straightened, dredged and polluted. All in the name of human progress, all in the name of Toronto the good. Despite of all the degradation and injury the river persists and nature solders on in the valley. One such place of nature’s stubborn tenacity is the Don Oxbow at Todmorden Mills. A remnant of the rivers pre-DVP course that was severed when the highway was built. This amputated stretch of the former course lies hidden north of the highway, a reminder of the time when the river freely meandered through the valley.
The oxbow and the area around it have been turned into a Wildflower preserve and foster diverse life, much more then one would expect on the side of one of the cities busiest highways. But with a steady flow from several brooklets and some helpful intervention, nature has reclaimed what could have been lost. Not to far down the road from Todmorden mills lies the vestige of Old Pottery road that still climb up the valley by the Cudmore Creek. This section of the road once climbed out of the Don Valley before the construction of the Bayview Bypass rendered it useless and it was quickly abandoned to the elements. Fifty years of dereliction and decay have allowed nature to consume and reclaim the road almost to its entirety. Few sections of the road surface still survive around the abandoned CRP Don Branch train tracks.
As the road approaches the tracks, I traveled along the railroad towards the Evergreen Brickworks and the Half-Mile Bridge that crosses the Don River and Bayview ave. This five kilometer section of railroad has been abandoned for less then ten years, and during this time nature has claimed a foothold with small trees growing between the railroad ties. The railroad and the bridge give way to some fantastic vantage points from which to peer over the valley onto the city core. The bridge itself is high and towering, spanning the river and the road. It has an uneasy feeling to it with the odd wooden railroad tie feeling loose beneath the foot. This makes for a nervous jaunt across the bridge. To compound the angst of standing 75 feet above the valley with nothing but rotting logs beneath my feet, regular GO train service runs under the bridge. The sound of a moving train while you stand in the middle of a railroad bridge is a uneasy sensation. Despite the fact that I knew the bridge was no longer in use, a sense of panic hit me until I could confirm where the train was.
Once I was finished admiring the city and the river from above I climbed down the bridge through the Brickworks. A full photo gallery of the Don Oxbow, Old Pottery Road and CPR Don Branch can be seen here.