Digging up the past for future benefit: the lost waterways of Toronto

ABCRA’s own “lost brook” had an important role in shaping our neighbourhood.

The “lost” waterways of Toronto are once again getting some attention – and this time, there is some hope that at least some of them may be brought to the surface, in a process called “daylighting.” Helen Mills, of Lost Rivers has been documenting the buried waterways for decades. When ABCRA raised the possibility of uncovering Ramsden Park’s own buried waterway during the 2015/2016 planning for the refurbishment of the Park, it was rejected.

Now, with mitigation of climate change a serious issue, planners at the City have become interested in the benefits that daylighting some of these waterways could bring. In Hidden waterways beneath Toronto could help transform its future (CBC, April 24), Senior Planner Jeff Thompson said, “There’s been a push to explore new and better ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change impacts,” he said. “And one of those potential avenues for exploration is looking at daylighting.” He believes that daylighting could create natural areas that cool the city, which is currently heated by the pavement, which soaks up and radiates heat.

Ramsden Park’s current landscape was shaped by a creek that once flowed on the surface but is now underground in the sewer system. The creek was used by First Nations people who walked the ancient footpath known as Davenport Road, which connected the Humber and Don Rivers. Later, the creek was named Castle Frank Brook and flowed eastward down into the Rosedale ravine valley, where it met the Don River. Early maps show that Castle Frank Creek had up to three ponds in the area of the brickyards.

Kilns of the brickyards, 1880s.

The riverbed running through Yorkville was rich in clay deposits, which were essential for brick making. The creek, ponds, and surface drainage into the pit provided the water supply needed for the operation of steam engines used in the process. The clay deposits were found from the east side of Yonge to Avenue Road and from Davenport Road as far north as Marlborough. This large area allowed several companies to establish their own yards. Today, the creek is buried and contained within a sewer system running under the park.

Rosedale Creek Sewer (aka Castle Frank Brook) below Ramsden Park, 1931.
Trunk sewer under Ramsden Park

Read and see more of the interesting Ramsden Park History.

More information about daylighting:

It’s a world-wide phenomenon…

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