Tag Archives: Don River

The Don River East Part One

20150416_100457So far, I have chronicled my walk along Taylor-Massey Creek, a tributary of The Don River (see here). Following on from this, I then walked south from the confluence of the creek and The Don River, to where the river empties into Lake Ontario (see here).

On Wednesday 15th April, I started from the same spot from where I had begun in my last post: where Taylor-Massey Creek enters The Don. This time, however, I would head up-river, to the north.

The Don River is formed from two branches, imaginatively named The East Don River and The West Don River. The split is actually just a few hundred yards away from where Taylor-Massey joins the East branch, and where I finished my first hike.

This hike was all a bit last minute, really. I had the day off work, but had a couple of errands. One of them involved a visit to the passport office at Scarborough Town Centre, and anyone that has had the misfortune to face this particular strain of torture knows that the time taken to have an application form transcribed by a stern and yet somehow glaze-eyed operator, can take anywhere between 45 minutes and 45 hours. I didn’t really plan ahead, and when it only took an hour or so to wade through the treacle that is City of Toronto corporate entropy, I just drove straight to the river.

First problem: There was no marked trail
Second problem: There was no marked trail
I know that this is technically the same problem written twice, but I feel that it was such a issue, that it deserved repeating.

20150416_101539When I parked my car, I took a look at Google Maps on my useless Samsung S4 and its freezing issue that takes hold at the most infuriating moments, and I immediately noticed the lack of the tell-tale little grey pathway that I assumed would be beside the river. I double checked the maps on my Garmin GPS, and my fate was sealed.

Oh well. I got out of the car and walked up to the river bank and pointed my face on a northerly course. While there was no marked trail, people had trod a path in this direction, and so I followed it. At least, I did for about ten minutes. And then the path died. The river was a ‘proper’ river. It meandered. I had walked further south along The Don a week or so earlier, and most of the banks were man-made slabs of concrete meant to prevent erosion, but not very pleasant to look at. Here, the environment was commanded by The East Don and so was the trail.

20150416_102801It didn’t help that railway tracks ran through the area. These damn tracks would continue to haunt me throughout this trek, starting now. I didn’t like the tracks. I didn’t know what they were used for, and as a Brit, the very last thing I wanted was for a Go Train to appear from nowhere, with its thunderous air-horn blaring into my skull announcing to everyone in the greater Don Valley area that I was the biggest prick in the locale. It’s telling that looking like a prick is a bigger concern than being hit by a train.

As mentioned, this trip was not planned. As such, my cellphone/mobile was only half-charged and whatever energy that remained would be pissed away by my phone’s insistence on heating up like a cinder block in my pocket. So it was with fleetness that I looked at various map sources to figure out the exact purpose of the tracks I was walking along thus which train it would be that filled my final moments. I was left unilluminated, so at least the type and colour of the train would be a surprise. I traversed the tracks a few more times, become more keenly aware that I hadn’t seen a train for almost an hour and so one must careen through at any moment.

deer

A couple of white-tailed deer on the opposite side of the river

A couple of times, the trail just completely disappeared. I was left almost literally bush-whacking. I lost sight of the river on two occasions and suddenly became aware of how easy it is to lose your orientation when you are surrounded by trees. This was only a small area, but I still needed to pull out my Garmin in compass mode to figure out where the hell north had gone. Without a compass, I would likely have given up thinking that I had reached a dead end. In reality, I was facing east without realising it. What I actually needed to do was to cross those damn tracks again.

The trail had started at just north of Don Mills Road and St. Clare Avenue, and it continued in this vein until just south of Eglinton Avenue…. at which point, my ability to follow the river became even harder. This was the first example of private enterprise ruining my plans, and it wouldn’t be the last. Something that annoys the hell out of me is that in Canada, it’s actually not that easy to point at a geographically interesting feature on a map and then just make your way to it and walk around it. Most of the time, the land is private and there is no access. To UK readers, this probably sounds crazy and Canadian readers are likely thinking, “Yes, and?”. In The UK, there are a collection of lawful acts, which essential boil down to the fact that you pretty much have the right to roam.

bmxDonalda Golf Club greedily monopolises the land surrounding The East Don River, starting just south of Eglinton. This was not too much of a problem to begin with, as I stuck to the east, and the golf course was to the west. Although it did require navigating a rickety, elevated BMX stunt course. (Twice, because it just led to a swamp). I had to return and follow the lethal train tracks, again, this time under the bridge carrying Eglinton Avenue, where there were no places to escape a train. I closed my eyes and ran.

North of Eglinton, there was a more obvious (but still unmaked) trail, which I think was probably made by BMXers. This was the most awesome part of the trail where I almost felt like Stu the Don Valley Pioneer. I didn’t see or hear a single person until I hit Lawrence. The terrain was varied, the river was always close by, and this is exactly the kind of hike I love. The river continued to meander, and there were some great views. To celebrate, I took the opportunity to eat my Oatmeal Raisin cookie from Tim Hortons.

Don East

A little south of Lawrence, the unmarked trail I was walking, joins a tarmac’d trail that runs through the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area. This is a park area owned by the city with a variety of habitats and a few posted information signs about the fauna.This was a pleasant area and a work in progress, but considerably less profitable than a golf course, I can imagine.

North of Lawrence, everything started to go wrong. There was no obvious trail to follow. Donalda Golf Club swallowed the entire river. “No Trespassing” signs were posted liberally and without shame. I was forced to walk along Lawrence Avenue and then north on Don Mills. Multiple times, I tried to re-join the river, but each time I was greeted by “THOU SHALT NOT PASS” signs, God forbid that a retired member of the gentry should pause his drive. But where is the money in allowing the hoi polloi the walk through the course? As I approached York Mills Road, traversing the residential streets of the area, it was clear that the one thing that wasn’t in short supply, was money.

My hike petered out at this point. I was stuck on road filled with cars and a beating sun. I didn’t have a bus token or the correct fare in my pocket and I, quite exhausted, dragged myself to Fairview Mall at Don Mills and Sheppard so that I could break a $10 bill. I took the bus back to my car.

Below is a video showing my route. You can see me double back a couple of times where I either lost my way or reached a dead end. The GPS turns off near highway 401, which is where I will leave off from in part two.
Note: Some browsers prevent the video from showing. If you can’t see it, click here.

Total distance covered was 22km/13 miles. Around 27,000 steps.

Part two to follow.

Lower Don Mills

Lower Don mapThe Don River empties into Lake Ontario where The Don Valley Parkway joins The Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard. Or if you’re from England – a few miles east of downtown/the city centre. Around 9km (5.6 miles) upstream, The Taylor-Massey Creek joins The Don River. I walked much of the Taylor-Massey Creek a couple of weeks ago, and you can read about that here. North of confluence, The Don River splits into East and West branches. Those branches eventually lead to The Oak Ridges Moraine (a system formed during the previous ice age that I’ll maybe write about another time). This particular hike covers the area where I last finished off – where The Taylor-Massey Creek joins The Don, heading south to Lake Ontario. The blue dotted line in the map opposite.

Don River 1I decided to make the trek along the Don River on April 1st, which may indeed have been foolish, as according to the forecast the previous day, rain showers were forecast for around 2pm. I figured I could manage it by setting off at 8am, but the day turned grey pretty quickly.

The weather is my excuse for all the photos turning out kinda grey and miserable looking, but honestly, the Lower Don Trail is nothing like as nice as the one running through Taylor Creek Park. It is more urban and the trees seem to have sustained more damage from the Toronto Ice Storm of 2013. You’re also never too far from The Don Valley Parkway on this trail.

The Don River was named by Lt. Gov. Simcoe because it reminded him of The River Don in Yorkshire (he also named Scarborough under the same reasoning). In the late 19th Century, the river was heavily polluted by the industry that had built up along its banks, including a paper mill at Todmordon Mills and The Don Valley Brickworks, at one time both operated by the Taylor Family mentioned in my earlier post. The mill at Todmordon Mills was restored into a museum and arts centre and The Don Valley Brickworks is a park and community and cultural centre.

Lower Don River 2

Many trees remain damaged from The 2014 Ice Storm

There have been efforts to restore the quality of The Don River, and in areas where wetland habitat has been created, there were signs of life. A few Red-winged Blackbirds cheeped their territorial calls, and a couple of pairs of Northern Cardinals were engaged in a quarrel. I also heard the verse of several Song Sparrow. Although I didn’t have time to explore Crothers Woods, it is a designated sensitive natural area.

20150325_092508North Toronto Wastewater Treatment Plant (i.e. Sewarage works) releases water into The Don River as shown opposite. They must be doing a good job of filtering the water. A group of Mallards and a lonely Bufflehead seemed to enjoy swimming through it.

I began to speed up my walk as I passed the halfway mark and the time was approaching noon. A more recent weather prediction was calling for rain… anytime now. I didn’t really have a plan to escape the trail in the event of a downpour, and I didn’t really want to quit now.

Lover Don River 4The Prince Edward Viaduct System (a.k.a The Bloor Viaduct) is named after King Edward VIII (Price Edward at the time of naming). It carries traffic on top and the Bloor-Danforth subway line below that. It was another messy construction area as I passed, but just beyond it was a grass pasture filled with dozens of American Robins, scuttling around like children playing Grandmother’s Footsteps/Red Light, Green Light, (What Time is it Mr Wolf/What’s the Time, Mr Wolf). I then immediately entered a dank tunnel plastered in graffiti.

Lower Don River 5Progressing, as the rain began to spit down, the trail became increasingly urban. Foot and road bridges began spanning the river, including the arteries of Gerrard, Dundas and Queen, followed by Eastern Avenue. Due to the tidal effect on Lake Ontario, The Don appeared to be running in the opposite direction at this point. A pair of Mute Swans took advantage, ambling upstream. The CN Tower was never too far out of sight, now. I crossed some freight rail tracks/train tracks in increasingly heavy rain before the trail detoured due to, you guessed it, more construction.

Mouth of The Don River

For the last few hundred yards, I was forced on to the sidewalk/pavement and under the crumbling Gardiner Express, the rusty iron that once lived inside the concrete structure ominously visible. Finding my way back to the river, I saw (as Wikipedia aptly describes the scene) The Don River unceremoniously dumping itself into Lake Ontario, still a little frozen in places.

I took the TTC/bus back to the car… Looking for a brighter adventure next time!