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Transformation: The Story of Creating Evergreen Brick Works

Evergreen Brick Works is Canada’s first large-scale community environmental centre. It is a dynamic venue for exploring ideas and leading-edge green technologies, and a vibrant public space where visitors can engage in a broad suite of hands-on environmental programming.

This is the story of how this project evolved from bold vision to reality, and of all the lessons we learned along the way.

View and download the ebook (PDF, 2.1 MB) or watch the Lessons Learned videos below


43° 41′ 4″ N, 79° 21′ 56″ W

400 million years ago: A tropical sea compressed clay into shale.

Thousands of years ago: An ice age left a glacial river at the site. The Don Valley Brick Works sits on a floodplain at the confluence of Mud Creek and the Don River. Thousands of years ago this was the mouth of a glacial river, which explains the presence of so much clay.

75,000 years ago: Erratic boulders were plucked loose from the Canadian Shield by the last advancing glacier, then slowly carried south to Toronto.

12,500 years ago: The glacier melted and retreated north, abandoning the boulders in the mud.

12,000 years ago:  A river is formed - this river was teeming with salmon, and the surrounding marshlands were home to deer, muskrat and duck. It becomes an important waterway that connects to the Cobechenonk (Humber River) and the Rouge river. As such, it is a seasonal settlement for many Indigenous peoples, primarily the Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Anishinaabe nations.  One name for this area along the river interpreted to (‘Burning bright point’ in Anishinaabemowin).  This river was an Ancestor for many nations and through ceremony, language and care-taking they lived in good relations with the river.

1300: The Wendat nation’s longhouse villages were developed along the river, and women would make pottery from the clay deposits. The rich, loamy soil lent also itself well to agriculture and many settlements planted the 'Three Sisters’ (corn/maize, beans and squash) along the riverbanks.  

1700: The Mississaugas moved into the region, seeing the Haudenosaunee withdraw south of Ontario. 

1787: This year marked the problematic “Toronto Purchase.” Believing the purchase to be a rental and sharing of the area, and not the release of their rights to the land, the Mississaugas , unknowingly surrendered most of the land that would become York, and then Toronto, to the British. This also marked the beginning of the industrialization of the Don River and surrounding area. 

1790: Todmorden Mills was one of three paper mills operated by John Taylor & Brothers along the Don River. Also during this time, the Don River is straightened to accommodate further industrialization in the Port Lands. 

1882: Young William Taylor tested clay from fence-post holes he happened to be digging: the results showed it was perfect for making bricks.

1889: William and his two brothers opened the Don Valley Brick Works.

1901: The Taylors sold the factory to their brother-in-law Robert Davies.

1904: The Great Fire destroyed much of the downtown core of the City, resulting in new by-laws requiring masonry construction for most buildings. The Don Valley Pressed Brick Works Company produced a wide variety of bricks and kiln-fired clay products that built many landmarks in Toronto and beyond, including Massey Hall and Casa Loma, Montreal’s Acadia Apartments and the T. Eaton Buildings in Winnipeg and Moncton.

1926: Geologist A.P. Coleman published a report about ice ages. Over the years he collected fossils found by quarry workers, and the fossils showed him that ice had shaped the geography beneath the city. In the quarry Coleman found evidence of two full-blown ice ages.

1954: Hurricane Hazel flooded Toronto. The Metropolitan and Toronto Region Conservation Authority was created in the wake of the 1954 flood, and among its defining achievements is the acquisition of ravine lands.

1984: The factory closed. Today, the Don Valley Brick Works consists of 16 remaining heritage buildings and an adjacent 16-hectare public park known as Weston Family Quarry Garden that includes wetlands, hiking trails, and wildflower meadows.

1986: The land was expropriated by the City of Toronto and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, with key support from various levels of Government.

1990: The abandoned factory became a playground for urban explorers, partiers and photographers.

1991: Evergreen began to lead tree-planting activities in the Lower Don Watershed.

1992: The first phase of park development was undertaken with the support of from the City, TRCA, as well as a significant private donation by the Weston Foundation.

1998: Evergreen was among a handful of groups helping to plant the wildflower meadows in what is now Weston Family Quarry Garden.

2002: Evergreen began to explore the ideas that are now taking physical shape as this new environmental centre.

2006: The first Evergreen Brick Works farmers’ market and summer programming opened for the public.

2008: On a cold clear December morning, ground-breaking was celebrated and construction began.

2009: Sun-Ripened Saturdays summer programming engaged visitors of all ages in local food, gardening and eco-art.

2010: Evergreen Brick Works opened as a year-round living demonstration of how past and present can work together to create greener models for urban living.