by Cleo Buster and Rene Fan
Theme: Advocacy, Environment, History and Culture
Small's Creek Walk traces the path of the creek as it flows from the Danforth to the CPR tracks, exploring the history of the various contexts from the commercial strip, the park, and the ravine.
STOP 1: EAST LYNN PARK
East Lynn Park is shaped like a valley, a vestige of Small’s Creek that once flowed through it before being piped and buried in a storm sewer. In the early twentieth century, there were a number of creeks in the area that crossed the Danforth and required wooden bridges to traverse.
Streetcar tracks were laid on the Danforth by 1915 and ran for 50 years before the construction of the subway.
The black and white photos shows the park area in 1923 with steeper slopes than currently existing. After burying the creek, landfill raised the valley bottom to the park shape we know now.
While walking down the hill, imagine that Merrill Bridge Road was a bridge that spanned the creek. One of the houses at the southern end was reportedly the local mill.
East Lynn Park, looking north, City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, subseries
East Lynn Park, looking east, City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, subseries 1
STOP 2: MERRILL BRIDGE ROAD PARK
Before entering the park, pause and listen at the storm sewer utility cover to hear Small’s Creek rushing by buried beneath your feet.
The area north of the CPR tracks (previously the Grand Trunk Railroad) remained rural into the 1920’s because of access difficulties with the creek and the sharply changing topography.
Small’s Creek pooled north of the railroad tracks and CPR picked up water from this location for the steam engines. Coal ash waste from the trains was also reportedly dumped in this area.
Lost Rivers map showing Small’s Creek both above ground and underground
STOP 3: SMALL’S CREEK, EAST STAIRS
Small’s Creek previously flowed freely past Gerrard Street into Small’s Pond (now Norway Cemetery). The railway created a barrier to the creek, which now disappears into a culvert and reappears continuing south through Williamson Park Ravine. This is a rare segment of a live creek.
Construction of the Grand Trunk Railroad in East Toronto occurred during the 1850’s. Grand Trunk was Toronto’s biggest railway and the line serviced the Toronto to Montreal route. By the 1880’s, a new freight yard was needed and it was constructed at Main and Dawes. The railway town that developed around the new yard was called York and incorporated in 1888.
As you descend into the ravine the trees on all three sides create an enveloping canopy. Stand on the foot bridge over Small’s Creek and take in the steep banks and marshland and imagine this once continued along the entire length of Small’s Creek.
East entrance to Small’s Creek Ravine, looking west
Instagram photo by @burpsandburpees, shared to @smalls_creek_ravine
STOP 4: SMALL’S CREEK, BOTTOM OF RAVINE
At the bottom of the ravine you can walk along side Small’s Creek as it meanders its way south. During the springtime, yellow flowers, known as marsh marigolds are common throughout, and the ravine is heavily shaded through the summer and fall. Families have seen an eastern red- backed salamander by the creek and residents have spotted a red fox on more than one occasion. In the winter, wildlife is more noticeable; a barred owl has been photographed on a willow tree and an eastern screech-owl was recorded at dusk. Stand still and listen to the gurgling creek, the bird song, and the wind through the trees. You may even hear the tap, tap, tap of the woodpecker evidenced by the holes in many of the fallen trees.
Barred owl, Photo by Martin Fischer
Eastern red-backed salamander, Photo by Polly VandenBurg
Red fox, Photo by A.B.
STOP 5: SMALL’S CREEK, NORTH SIDE
As you loop back along the trail at the top of the ravine you will pass by a line of of white and red oaks that have been here before the houses were built on abutting Copeland Ave. Their massive trunks and matching root systems stabilize the steep ravine banks. Many of the large native oaks on the embankments of either side of the rail corridor are threatened by the proposed addition of the 4th track, part of the Lakeshore East GO train corridor expansion. Metrolinx’s current plan shows clearcutting of all the existing trees on the south bank and replaces them with a 10 foot high concrete retaining wall that runs for the length of the ravine. Friends of Small's Creek has tied ribbons on trees that are planned for removal. The ravine that you see today is planned to be cut in half.
During your walk you will most likely hear the loud rush of a Go or Via Rail train before you see it passing by. It is this juxtaposition between a natural environment and high-speed infrastructure that creates a unique experience. Friends of Small's Creek is advocating for a less impactful solution and has been asking Metrolinx and the City to improve their proposal. Friends of Small's Creek is aligned with the environmental goal of implementing efficient transportation. The ideal outcome is one that preserves the remarkable ravine and wildlife, while meeting transportation targets for the region.
Top of west stairs looking south towards the railroad corridor
Line of Oaks along walking path at top of north bank
Ribbons by Friends of Small's Creek tied to large trees that are planned for removal
STOP 6: WEST LYNN AVENUE
The rotated grid alignment reflects the creek that flowed through the park. The area was previously known as Cedarvale and Upper Midway.
East Lynn Park’s popularity has grown immensely over the years. Regardless of the time of year or weather, the park is seldom empty. From sledding down the old ravine bank, ice-skating on a temporary rink at the bottom, Thursday Farmer’s markets, and live concerts in the summer (Wednesdays), it is packed full of local culture and community spirit!
Sledding in East Lynn Park 2021
East Lynn Park looking east, compare this view with the historic image in stop 1