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I attended my first Jane’s Walk on Saturday, May 4. The late Jane Jacobs has been described as a “legendary urban thinker, writer and activist.” Jane’s Walks take place on the first weekend in May and are held in 90 cities in 20 countries.

This link has further information about the history of Jane Jacobs: http://www.janeswalk.net/index.php/about/

The Jane’s Walk that I took part in was the “Lower Don River Ecological Restoration & Heritage Walk.” The event was hosted by Toronto City Councillor Mary Fragedakis and the Urban Forestry Department’s Garth Armour and his co-worker Kim.

Our rendezvous point was at the corner of Beechwood and O’Connor Drives. I know this area quite well since my wife and I lived across the street when we were first married and often walked in the Lower Don.

(Click on any photo to see a larger version)

the corner of Beechwood Drive and O'Connor Drive

the corner of Beechwood Drive and O’Connor Drive

our hosts Ward 29 Councillor Mary Fragedakis and Urban Forestry Department's Garth Amour

our hosts Ward 29 Councillor Mary Fragedakis and Urban Forestry Department’s Garth Armour

We started our walk promptly at 2 p.m. and headed a short distance north on Beechwood Drive, then turned left onto Beechwood Crescent, stopping at number 20.

20 Beechwood Crescent

20 Beechwood Crescent

This is the oldest privately owned house in East York and was built in 1840. The house has remained virtually unchanged, although it once had a porch which spanned the entire front of the house. It was the home of George Taylor whose family by 1855 owned paper mills, sawmills and grist mills in the valley. He started the Don Valley Brickworks in 1889 and supplied most of the brick for East York homes for many, many years.

photograph taken September, 2012 at the Evergreen Brickworks

photograph taken September 2012 at the Evergreen Brickworks

We then traveled down Beechwood Drive, which is very steep. Stopping part-way down the hill, Garth discussed what the valley looked like before the Don Valley Parkway was built and the damage that was caused in this area due to Hurricane Hazel in 1954.May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_14-12-26_DSC_0589May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_14-14-24_DSC_0591

Continuing to the bottom of Beechwood Drive, we stopped at the location of the Toronto Police Services K-9 unit. This was the former location of Domtar Polyresins, which purchased this site in 1961 and remained there until the 1980s.

photograph taken August, 2012

photograph taken August 2012

We then continued to the crossroads of the Lower Don Trail and the former Beechwood Avenue. There is an active railroad line in use here and this railway bridge is one of my favourite things to photograph.

photographed in March, 2013

photographed March 2013

photographed November, 2012

photographed November 2012

photographed August, 2012

photographed August 2012

photographed September, 2012

photographed September 2012

Our next stop was the bridge between Cottonwood Flats and Sun Valley.May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_14-36-46_DSC_0599

After crossing the bridge we walked up the recently completed Crother’s Woods Trail, which has a gravel main path along with many other trails branching away from the main trail.Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 05-05-13, 1.24.25 PM

The top of the Crother’s Woods Trail provides a great outlook of the entire valley.May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_14-53-10_DSC_0628

There are so many great opportunities for photographs.May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_14-42-45_DSC_0608May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-14-11_DSC_0639May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-14-35_DSC_0641May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-15-05_DSC_0645

At numerous locations Garth continued to tell our group about the history of the valley, the issues of multi-use trails, the massive tree planting efforts and the new hydro trail.

May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_14-42-21_DSC_0605

Garth Armour

May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-16-47_DSC_0648May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-18-21_DSC_0651May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-24-21_DSC_0662May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-24-42_DSC_0669

The Beechwood Wetland is being restored and expanded and Garth told us about the crucial role of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don and the importance of advocacy work. May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-25-30_DSC_0671May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-28-24_DSC_0680

In years gone by, the Don River meandered as any river would, but the river was straightened out in several sections and river weirs were needed to accommodate fish migration.May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-41-02_DSC_0684

Our walk continued parallel to the Don Valley Parkway where numerous embankment improvements have been made. We arrived at Pottery Road, where a massive reconstruction project was completed last year. This includes a crossing that was the best compromise for pedestrians and cyclists. The crossing has been criticized by many people and it was suggested that the crossing should have tunneled under Pottery Road. Garth pointed out that this would have cost millions of dollars. Personally, I have no problem with this solution.

photograph taken August, 2012

photograph taken August 2012

photograph taken August, 2012

photograph taken August 2012

Our final destination was Todmorden Mills,which was the site of the first mills on the Don. A sawmill opened in 1795, grist mill in 1796, paper mill in 1826 and a brewery in 1821. Owners and workers lived onsite and two houses remain intact. This property was purchased by the Taylors in 1855 and became their lower mill. The homes on this site were lived in until 1965.May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-54-11_DSC_0689May_4_JanesWalk__2013-05-04_15-56-06_DSC_0691

I suggest that if you haven’t visited Todmorden Mills, you should—it is one of East York’s true gems.

After a great two-hour Jane’s Walk, our journey had come to an end. The beginning of our walk saw just over 30 people and by its end I counted 50 since additional folks joined along the way. My thanks go out to Mary Fragedakis, Garth Armour and his co-worker Kim. They were so informative and helped make for a fantastic day.

It is also worth mentioning that we had two other very special people attend our walk. Margaret McRae is the past-president of the East York Historical Society and is currently president of the Toronto Field Naturalists. Also in attendance was Paula Davies of the Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve. Paula is also actively involved on the Task Force to Bring Back the Don. Paula graciously invited anyone who was interested for a tour of the wildflower preserve immediately following our walk.

Our two-hour adventure was amazing and I met lots of new people and new fellow East York friends. My thanks again to Mary, Garth, Kim, Margaret and Paula for a spectacular Jane’s Walk on a picture-perfect day.

Fantasy Farm's willow trees, 55 Pottery Road

Fantasy Farm’s willow trees, 55 Pottery Road