The Don River is a slow moving river that marks the edge of Toronto’s original boundaries, and separates the inner city neighbourhoods from the inner suburbs. When I first came to visit apartments, we rode the subway, and it rattled across the tracks as we crossed high above the Don Valley, the subway briefly emerging from the subterranean tunnels. The 20th century brought heavy pollution to this waterway, as 31 separate sewage treatment facilities were built along the river. Over 20 places in the valley and adjacent ravines were used as landfills for garbage and industrial refuse.
Sounds like a lovely place, doesn’t it?
Urban renewal and wetland conservation efforts have changed this former fetid cesspool, and today multipurpose recreational trails winds its banks until Lake Ontario. On a sunny Tuesday off from work, I went exploring with my old friend Bob the bicycle.
Shortly before the trail splits in a east-west divide, abandoned railway bridges lined with ragweed stand guard. I relish the good fortune of exploring this area a few weeks before ragweed pollen chokes the air and ushers me back indoors.
The call of unseen geese remind me that this waterway is still a viable source of life. I follow detours, as condo projects emerge out of the rubble of urban life. In a few years time, this path will have a very different feel, as more suburbanites flood the outer core. Dust from the construction sites choke my lungs.
As I push further south, winds pick up off Lake Ontario. I push onwards, trying to ignore the distinctive Toronto smell. I weave my bike carefully on the waterfront trail, avoiding errant toddlers and throngs of teenagers soaking up the summer sun. The muscles in my thighs ache, and I lock up my bike for a break, and wander down the beach. The sun is hot, but few people venture into the water out of fear of mutating X-Men style.
I wind my way along Queen Street, dodging streetcars and streetcar tracks before giving up and returning to the tranquility of the beach. I push past rush hour traffic for more exploring and I am alone on the trails in the early evening, staring at that same bridge. How far have I come since that first bus ride over? How different is my life now?