THE NORDHEIMER RAVINE
by Susan Aaron
Area: North York
Theme: Advocacy, Health & Wellness, Environment, Indigenous Communities, History & Culture, Diversity & Inclusion
Accessibility: Family-Friendly, Fun for Kids
A BIODIVERSE PROCESS IN THE MAKING
EXPAND IT THROUGH OUT THE CITY AREA AND LIFE
Jane Jacobs - “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when they are created by everybody.”
The Death and Life of Great Cities.
STOP 1: THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE AND THE RAVINE
Tkoronto is the home site of the Indigenous peoples for thousands of years of– the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississauga of the Credit, the Anishinabe, the Chippewa, the Huadenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.
Nearby Vaughan road was a portage route for the Indigenous people.
The Na Me Res Indigenous men’s residence and Sagatay spiritual program is on Vaughan road. Wells Hill park is adjacent to the ravine and was the site of spring Na Me Res Pow Wows.
The Sagatay program created this mural on an abandoned entry to the subway in the ravine - a tribute to the native plants and trees that once grew together in this area.
STOP 2: ECOLOGICAL RAVINE EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT
Walking down into to the ravine - a glacier cut gouge - a colder setting with natural sounds replaces the street.
The brook is in the watershed of the Don river –all the small streams, rain and snow runoff fed the brook that ran into the Don river.
But the water and flora and fauna and soil are shaped and changed.
Colonial re-settlement to the area is evident from the remaining estates of the late 1800’s and early 20th century.
Although many different people originating from different areas settled in this area at that time – it is the British and European cultures now most evident with large estates and grounds -Casa Loma, and Spadina House remain.
The ravine is named for the Nordheimer family, a Jewish Bavarian family who came to Toronto in the 19th century. They were prominent in the Jewish community, the music and business community and had a piano factory. Their home was on the south east side of the ravine slope until the 1920’s. The ravine was their ‘park’.
The Nordheimer family landscaped the ravine and the waters of the Castle Frank Brook. (HTO, Reeves & Palassio 2008).
STOP 3: CHANGES TO NATIVE ECOSYSTEMS AND WATER
The slopes of the ravine reveal changes to the forest as native ecosystems (those that grew in relationship). The ecosystems were replaced with European and other non-native species.
The non-native Norway Maple trees allow no native plants to grow beneath them – and the result is barren and weakened slopes out of which the large trees are puling out. Age, and illness also fells trees in this ravine but note the bare ground on the slopes.
STOP 4: GREY INFRASTRUCTURE
The city grew and its culture continued to redirect water, and set up linear paths and actions distanced from nature. (City of Toronto archives)
This the St Clair reservoir as it existed newly built in the 1930s’. It is in the hill above the ravine. That hill has now been planted with trees.
A block east of the ravine, a pumping station pumps water into the St Clair reservoir. It is capable of moving 1 billion gallons of water a day north of the site, using water pressure.
Listen for running water in the manholes, the access points to the storm water pipes in which the brook is trapped. It is still going to the Don River, its original end point.
Spadina Subway escape exit
The linear roads cross over on the Spadina bridge, and the subway escape exit shows us the subway tunnels that run underneath the surface. Jane Jacobs helped the community fight the Spadina Expressway that would have travelled through the ravine to where the subway runs – down to Bloor.
STOP 5: 1996 – TO 2021 RE-NATURALIZING THE RAVINE AND USING THE WATER
Glen Edyth wetland designed by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and tended by staff and community volunteers. The ravine is now an Environmentally Significant Area
The brook was eventually buried and drained into pipes. The water that would have fed it pooled, preventing grass growing for a park. The east end is naturalized with two wetlands that tap into that still flowing water.
Many native plants and trees were planted throughout the east end. Invasive non-native flora was removed and native flora grew in on its own. The fauna – enjoy the change – foxes, coyotes, hares, squirrels, butterflies and bees etc. and varieties of birds including the red tailed hawks.
Skunk Cabbage Wetland in the west end north slope.
At the base of the north west slope is a skunk cabbage wetland. Those are among the earliest plants that come up in the spring.
There you can also see/hear the remnants of the Castle Frank Brook watershed as it is re-directed into a catch basin and into the storm water system.
The elements and actions of naturalizing a ravine should interweave.
This video is of a walk through the ravine with a Forester who has done revitalization work there – Stephen Smith of Urban Forest Associates Inc.
THIS IS A MAP OF THE WALK
Growing new trees from seeds sourced from old native trees
There is a stand of old Oak trees in the Nordheimer.
The city, academics and community are working together to locate healthy old native trees to provide seeds for growing trees. The city’s project uses the seeds to grow saplings at dedicated nurseries and they are put into the city’s planting stock. Much of the slopes of the ravine are privately owned. And community, and academics, work with the city to assist slope owners to gather good seeds.
STOP 6: NATURE CAN REINVENT HOW WE LIVE
Make our city one large shared biodiverse park.
Biodiversity can grow anywhere in the city, integrated with living sustainably with home energy, water use, and locally based food. The dog off leash area by the bridge holds the increased dog population from intensification and it impacts the Environmentally Significant Area. Nature cannot be packaged or even protected with a fence – it is a way of life that has to interconnect and be prioritized.
The graffiti – “I Can’t Breathe” invites grounding and action for community in ‘our’ best natural actions.
Let us ‘bring the wild to the everyday” (Susan Aaron in HTO, Reeves & Palassio, 2008)
The dancer and percussionist performed on the slope below the reservoir before the DOLA was built. They invite us to be freed from the shapes and constraints of our concrete and linear culture and be ‘nature based’.