Going Wild in the City

A Jewel in Toronto’s Crown becomes a Model for Canada’s Sustainable Future.

“What continues to distinguish our work … is the singular power of soil, that dirt-under-the-fingernails connection to the land. We put shovels in people’s hands, show them how to plant a maple, a dogwood, a tomato and watch the magic unfold” Geoff Cape, founder of Evergreen

Evergreen, a not-for-profit organisation working to turn built-up areas into something more wholesome, is transforming a 40-acre heritage site in the heart of Toronto. When complete, the new venture will be Canada’s first fully fledged, large-scale environmental discovery centre – a community meeting space, encouraging urban sustainability. Most of all, the centre will demonstrate that nature can be experienced, not just in the wilderness or in a conservation belt on the residential fringe, but right in the heart of a bustling metropolis.

Between 1889 and 1984, the Don Valley Brick Works was one of the nation’s leading industrial yards. At its peak, over 43 million bricks a year were used in the making of homes across Canada. The site is also a vital part of the country’s heritage, as it is largely responsible for rebuilding Toronto following the Great Fire of 1904.

“In 2002, I started to explore a new strategy to bring nature back to Canada’s cities,” says founder Geoff Cape. “The idea was straightforward: a large-scale plant nursery, housed in an abandoned heritage building, which would supply native trees and items to support urban greening. The idea eventually evolved into the creation of a centre that models new approaches to urban sustainability, gives people the knowledge and skills to bring nature into their own lives and provides a gateway to Toronto’s hidden gem – its ravine system.”

The ravines are a network of miniature valleys – almost like canyons but much narrower – through which flow streams and rivers. They feed a large urban forest which runs throughout much of the city, that helps to control local flooding. The centre will be a place for people to learn about the ravine ecosystem, its history and geographical importance.

Demonstration gardens will showcase the latest innovations in school-ground greening, restoration of public lands and pesticide-free landscaping. The centre will also advocate responsible management of water, including rain capture for garden irrigation or ice rinks, while one-of-a-kind cultural spaces will host events, theatre performances, exhibitions, films, conferences and concerts.

“What makes Evergreen Brick Works so exciting, is the way it blends nature, culture and community, while utilising old industrial buildings, turning them into attractions that beautify the city, entice tourists and teach visitors how to better protect the environment,” says Graham Hitchen, Project Director for London’s National Design Centre.

To offer a wide variety of year-round activities and a broad appeal, Evergreen has partnered with non-profit and socially responsible organisations, bringing them all under one roof. Collectively, they will provide skills training, job opportunities, occupational and horticultural therapy for palliative and long – term care patients, a farmers’ market, gardening workshops, woodwork collectives, a ‘slow food’ restaurant and plant sales.

Outside there will be a rooftop garden, walking routes, wetland pastures, wildflower meadows and winter skating trails. The site will provide disadvantaged children with positive and fun experiences through their urban wilderness programmes – rope courses, wall climbing, outward bound leadership courses and mini camps – all activities that strengthen young people’s confidence, competence and character.

“This innovative project will enhance Toronto’s reputation as a world leader in urban creativity,” says Mayor David Miller. “By rehabilitating our valuable heritage structure and enhancing public open spaces in an environmentally sensitive way, we strengthen the community, while building a truly sustainable 21st Century city.”

Contact: Evergreen Brick Works,
Evergreen Head Office,
355 Adelaide Street West, 5th Floor, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 1S2, Canada
Website: www.evergreen.ca

The Don Valley Brick Works
is a 40-acre park nestled in the
shadow of Toronto. Photo:© Evergreen