Another city doing some great work around Hidden Hydrology is Toronto. Featured in the Lost Rivers documentary, the city boasts as range of resources and groups worth some exploration.  A plethora of media fuels the fascination, with numerical and witty titles, including “5 lost rivers that run under Toronto“(blogTO), “5 subtle signs of lost rivers in Toronto” (Spacing Toronto), “Toronto’s ‘lost rivers’ reflect how we’ve reshaped nature“, and “Toronto’s Hidden Rivers” (Toronto Star), “Last seen heading for the lake” (The Globe & Mail),  In particular the author Shawn Micallef a colunmist from the Toronto Star that has looked at disappeared creeks, and lost creeks.  The more general discuss “and “What the Toronto Waterfront used to look like” and connect to the online archive of Toronto Historic Maps and other resources.  The following explores some of this in more depth.

Hidden Hydrology Resources & Groups

Lost River Walks is a long-standing resource in Toronto, “The objective of Lost River Walks is to encourage understanding of the city as a part of nature rather than apart from it, and to appreciate and cherish our heritage. Lost River Walks aims to create an appreciation of the city’s intimate connection to its water systems by tracing the courses of forgotten streams, by learning about our natural and built heritage and by sharing this information with others.”  They include a number of Stream Pages, accessible through the Site Map, which provides history of individual streams, in this case, The Market Streams, which highlights a series of streams and provides some overlay mapping of the current sewer network.

Location of Lost Rivers

 

Location of current sewer system

The engagement is a key part of the group, as the name implies, through a series of guided walks, which highlight lost rivers and creeks  in the context of the urban fabric, as well as focusing on topics like water quality. There are also self-guided tours ‘Thirsty City Walks‘, provides opportunities to follow the former and current routes of waterways. A map below shows the route of the walk with key points and audio commentary as one follows the route.

A great bonus article I found on the Geohistory-Géohistoire Canada Project, authored by John Wilson entitled “The Lost Rivers Project: The Case of Holly Brook“.  This post outlines some of the process, in particular the need for ground truthing, as he mentions, “I have spent many hours travelling the city’s streets and laneways looking for signs of lost rivers and ravines. My street-level observation of Holly Brook’s course was simple – whatever the City Engineers may have drawn on 1890s maps, water doesn’t flow uphill!”  Lots of great stuff at Lost River Walks, so check out the website, and follow them on Twitter @LostRiversTO and also via founder and lost rivers force Helen Mills at her account @HMMLostRivers

Vanishing Point is the brainchild of Michael Cook, a resource of which “…emerged from a decade of underground research and photographic practice”.  The varied topics include topics of Daylighting Creeks, Parks and Stormwater Spectacles, Lost River Activism, and Celebrating Infrastructure Projects .  Cook continues, describing the work as ” a form of citizen geography, it has informed community groups, academic projects, and the official work of planners, landscape architects, engineers and archaeologists.”  This sort of comprehensive resource adds to the work of Lost River Walks with information and a wealth of interesting photography.  Lots to check out here, and also worth following Michael on Twitter @waterunder

The Don River Valley Historical Mapping Project is (was) a robust exploration of the Don River, “This project documents historical changes in the landscape of the Don River Valley. Drawing from the wide range of geographical information available for the Don River watershed (and the Lower Don in particular), including historical maps, geological maps, fire insurance plans, planning documents, and city directories, the project uses Geographic Information Systems software to place, compile, synthesize and interpret this information and make it more accessible as geospatial data and maps.”  It’s hard to tell if it’s still active or just the website hasn’t been updated, but most info stops in 2010, but still some great geospatial data, resources, maps, and other information related to the Don and larger Toronto hydrology.

A new? interactive map of the project provides spatial information to complement the work to date, and offers a way to interact with the data in new ways.

Another interesting take on how to use different methods for displaying the subject matter comes from Alex Meyers project “Uncovering the Creek“, a timeline that provides a “…study of the city’s changing landscape through a close examination of Trinity-Bellwoods Park and the Crawford Street bridges. This project is a virtual excavation of a hidden Toronto landmark that has been almost erased by the process of city building.”  A nice method of using a linear timeline with links to graphic resources and maps.

 

Additional Resources 

The group Human River was featured in the Lost Rivers documentary, and was featured doing an interactive walk, “during the annual story telling parade, participants wear blue becoming a human river and bringing the Garrison Creek back to life”.  It’s a cool way to use event to raise awareness plus looks like a lot of fun. It also looks like their website is both abandoned and hacked with lots of spamming links – so i grabbed this image quickly and then ran.  Not sure the current status.

Also mentioned in the Lost Rivers documentary, the Garrison Creek Demonstration Project by Brown & Storey Architects (from 1996!) envisions the use of the Garrison Creek zones for green infrastructure, positing that “… the existing natural watersheds, like the Garrison, can be used as sites for stormwater management pond systems. Not only can these connected pond systems serve to collect, treat and re-use stormwater locally, they can also act as a catalyst in the creation of a series of connected open spaces knitting both an urban and green infrastructure back to the waterfront to Lake Ontario.  The study documents several aspects of the Garrison watershed: the considerable amount of open spaces, their area and type, geological formations, existing storm water infrastructure underground, the areas of fill along the ravine path, and an abstracted locational plan for water retention ponds.”

A walking map of Garrison Creek evokes the story of the plans above, and multiple posts about Garrison Creek and a Discovery Walk also focus on Garrison Creek,

The Garrison Creek route is also referenced with some cool markers, as seen below:

Some additonal links include the Taylor Massey Project and Lost Creeks of South Etobicoke both smaller scale projects highlighting areas of Toronto lost creeks.  Also, more recently, Trevor Heywood posted a long series of walks on Twitter, with his explorations around the Yellow Creek, showing that the passion for exploration of Toronto hidden creeks is alive and well.  On that note, few more interesting images in the form of murals, first posted by @SheilaBoudreau of a Lost Rivers mural I’ve seen a bit; the second a map, posted by @tashmilijasevic both locations unknown to me but i’m sure folks in the area know where they’re at.

 

A Photographic Abundance

Photographers become drainers seems to be a theme in many cities.  In addition to Michael Cook from The Vanishing Point mentioned above, another photographer focusing on underground Toronto is Jeremy Kai, (Twitter @RiversForgotten   From his site: “His underground photography explores the concepts of urban watersheds and the methods in which cities interact with water and waste water. These processes go mostly unobserved by the general public. Kai hopes that by documenting the city’s lost rivers and overlooked spaces beneath the streets, he can awaken a new sense of mystery and mythology in the minds of urban dwellers everywhere.  His first book, Rivers Forgotten, is published by Koyama Press. It was released December 2011 and features his underground photography”

In a different bent is a recent exhibit entitled ‘Nine Rivers City’, From the site: “From west to east, nine rivers feed into Lake Ontario. View a map of the rivers here.  Harbourfront Centre has commissioned six contemporary visual artists to capture the complexities of each of these waterways that run throughout our urban landscape. Situated against the shoreline of Lake Ontario, NINE RIVERS CITY showcases how these extraordinary waterways connect us, attract us and mystify us.”  A clickable map showcases photographs spatially, such as Aaron Vincent Elkaim’s HWY 401 below:

The Don River East branch flows below the King’s Highway 401, also known by its official name as the Macdonald–Cartier Freeway, near Leslie Street by Havenbrook Park. The Don is formed from two rivers, the East and West Branches, that meet about 7 kilometres north of Lake Ontario.This section of Highway 401 passing through Toronto is a near constant river of cars, and is considered the busiest highway in North America.

Another take on this is Kathy Toth, who formerly had a page on her website ‘Watercourse (Buried Creeks)’ which seems to have been taken down, but does delve into the subject matter with her Hidden Toronto work, which aims to be reprinted soon.  Per her page: “The first edition of Hidden Toronto featured a selection of hidden infrastructure locations in Toronto, including bridges, drains and rooftops where graffiti has sprung up. Many of the locations are off the map and can be found with some searching or luck. Some of them are right downtown under foot, others are on the edge of greater Toronto area. I decided to showcase these spaces, and the artwork painted on them because they exist in an extremely narrow circle of composed of graffiti artists, a few photographers, and the odd individuals who either live in the surrounding areas. These environments have a unique character and the artists who work here take advantage of the serenity and isolation afforded by these surreal landscapes sometimes just 100m away from busy roadways.”

2 thoughts on “Toronto Lost Rivers

  1. Your Lost River posts are terrific. I work on Rome’s water supply (and its many lost streams) and that of Los Angeles (and its channelized streams) so I am always intrigued and delighted to learn more about other cities. Bravo.

  2. Thanks Katherine. Thanks for the kind words. I appreciated digging into your work on Rome – hope you got to see that post, and look forward to hearing what you’re up to in Los Angeles. Jason

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