History

Children wading in the Don RiverThe history of Toronto is intimately tied to the Don Valley. The river and its surrounding valley had been a source of food since First Nations began using it as a seasonal hunting and fishing ground over 12,000 years ago. People continued to hunt and fish in the valley regularly well into the 1800s.

As the 19th century progressed, the natural heritage of the Valley was increasingly seen as secondary to its role as a driver for emerging industries and a repository for their waste products.

By the late 20th century, the river was highly polluted and seen as little more than an industrial sewer. The building of the Don Valley Parkway made the valley an important transportation corridor, but it meant that the Don became something to travel through, rather than a destination.

Since the 1990s, something remarkable has happened —Torontonians have begun to return to the Don Valley. In 1989, the Task Force to Bring Back the Don was established, and in 1991 they published their report “Bringing Back the Don”, which outlined a series of steps necessary to restore the river. Since that time, citizens groups, the City of Toronto, government agencies like the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and charities like Evergreen have embarked on an impressive series of renaturalization projects that have begun to restore the habitats and ecosystems of the Don Watershed.

The Lower Don Valley is changing once again.

Timeline

Time immemorial The Don contains archaeological evidence of First Nations presence going back thousands of years
1688 The Don River is mapped for the first time
1793 John Graves Simcoe arrives in York. The following year he begins building Castle Frank, near the current site of Rosedale Heights Secondary School
1793-4 Establishment of a sawmill at Todmorden Mills, one of Toronto’s first industrial sites
1879 William Davies opens a pork packing plant on Front Street at the Don. This would later become Canada Packers and is one of the reasons Toronto is known as “Hogtown”
1886 The Don Improvement Plan is approved, and work begins to straighten and channelize the lower reaches of the river.
1889 The Taylor Brothers found the Don Valley Brick Works
1912 Wetlands at the mouth of the Don River are filled in accordance with the Toronto Harbour Commission’s Don Improvement Plan
1919

Begun in 1916, construction of the Bloor Viaduct is completed.

Bloor Viaduct under construction, 1915. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 38

1922 Keating Channel completed
1927 Charles Sauriol leases a cottage in the East Don. He would go on to become one of the most celebrated proponents for the conservation of the Don Watershed
1948 Formation of the Don Valley Conservation Authority
1954

Hurricane Hazel hits Toronto, flooding the Don Valley

Flooding caused by Hurricane Hazel. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 1997

1957 The Metro Toronto Regional Conservation Authority (MTRCA) is created and given stewardship over the Don, and begins acquiring valley lands for conservation
1967 Don Valley Parkway completed
1969 November 17: Citizen group Pollution Probe holds a funeral for the Don River
1987 The TRCA expropriates the site of the Don Valley Brick Works. The former quarry is designated an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest by the Province of Ontario
1989 First public meeting on Don Valley restoration, creation of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don (TFBBD) as an informal civilian body
1990 The TFBBD is formalized by Toronto City Council, and tasked with promoting clean water, restoring open space, and improving public access in the Don Valley
1991 The TFBBD publishes Bringing Back the Don
1991 Evergreen (originally the Evergreen Foundation) is founded and begins planting trees in the Lower Don
1991 The Lower Don Recreational Trail opens
1992 Publication of Regeneration: Toronto’s Waterfront and the Sustainable City by David Crombie. Formation of the Don Watershed Task Force
1994 Forty Steps to Bring Back the Don published by the Don Watershed Task Force
1996 Completion of the Chester Springs Marsh, one of the first restoration projects in the Don. A number of other restoration projects have since been completed elsewhere in the Don
1997

Weston Family Quarry Garden opens

Weston Family Quarry Garden (then Don Valley Brick Works Park) in 2005

2001 With the publication of Making Waves: Principles for Building Toronto’s Waterfront and Central Waterfront Part II Plan, Waterfront Toronto announces plans to naturalize nearly 40 acres at the mouth of the Don River
2002 The 16 buildings comprising the industrial campus of the Don Valley Brick Works are designated as heritage buildings
2010 September 28: Evergreen Brick Works opens to the public
2011 Public meetings about connectivity and access in the Lower Don identify a number of priority areas for infrastructure and wayfinding improvements
2011 The City of Toronto undertakes a number of improvements to access points to Evergreen Brick Works
2012 Evergreen, the City of Toronto and TRCA begin work on a major project of improvement and renewal: the Lower Don Greenway
2013 Planned date for occupancy of River City, the first condominium project in the planned West Don Lands community—a 32-hectare area projected to be home to nearly 10,000 new residents
2015 Toronto hosts the Pan Am Games