Don River Watershed Features
From its headwaters on the Oak Ridges Moraine and South Slope, its two principal tributaries flow south through the City of Vaughan and Towns of Markham and Richmond Hill, all in the Regional Municipality of York. The East Don and West Don Rivers cross Steeles Avenue into Toronto and join together on the Iroquois Sand Plain south of Eglinton Avenue. German Mills Creek flows into the East Don River just south of Steeles. Taylor/ Massey Creek joins with the East Don River just north of the confluence with the West Don River. And the Lower Don flows south to the outlet of the
Keating Channel where it empties into Toronto Harbour and Lake Ontario. For more than ten thousand years, this network of rivers, streams and valleys has provided an historic highway for the First Nations peoples and, later, the early European explorers, traders and settlers. Subsequent waves of colonization and urbanization have indelibly marked and transformed the aquatic and terrestrial landscape, bequeathing both a rich cultural heritage and some difficult environmental challenges. The natural areas and greenspaces of the watershed serve as wildlife refuges and a recreational magnet for the 1.2 million residents that live within its boundaries.
Places of interest in the Don Watershed
Oak Ridges Moraine
Baker Sugar Bush
Bartley Smith Greenway
The Pottery Road Weirs
Lower Donlands and Keating Channel
Walk the Don Trail Guides
Oak Ridges Moraine:A major frontline for advocacy on the Don is the Oak Ridges Moraine, a 160-kilometre geological feature that is the source of the Don's headwaters. The moraine area is about the only rural landscape remaining in the Don.
The Oak Ridges Moraine has been called Toronto's Rain Barrel. It's a vast glacially formed landform of rolling hills and porous gravels that acts as the headwater's for some 30 rivers in the province. Its important hydrological functions must be protected to save and restore the Don.
Harding Park:Constructed by the Town of Richmond Hill, the concept for Harding Park was suggested in the TRCA's Don River planning document, Forty Steps to a New Don, 1994. Completed in 1996, its transformation was progressive and radical for a city park. The old stormwater pond was upgraded to treat the quality of the stormwater collected from the area's houses and roads and the site was re-naturalized with thousands of native plants, shrubs and grasses. It's now a prized natural nook, located in the middle of houses, roadways, condominiums and commerce. Harding Park is a good place to spot cedar waxwings feasting on berries and to hear male green frogs crooning for female company in the spring.
Baker Sugar Bush:The Sugar Bush is 45 Canadian football fields worth of high quality tableland forest that was recently protected from the chainsaw through public acquisition. It's the largest tableland woodlot remaining in the urbanized part of the Don watershed.
The woodlot is part of the larger Baker farm, which has been farmed continuously since the early 1800s and includes a number of historically significant buildings.
The importance of this public acquisition goes beyond the fact that this significant forest has been saved from development. Also of prime importance is the fact that the Don, which has been largely devoid of "natural" public land holdings in the upper part of the watershed, now has a large forest parcel in public ownership that can become a focal point for Upper Don residents.
Bartley Smith Greenway:The Bartley Smith Greenway is a 15-kilometre natural corridor located within the valley of the upper West Don River. The greenway is one of the most successful regeneration efforts in the entire Don watershed.
The major goal of the greenway is to protect water quality and restore habitat while providing for the recreational interests of local residents.
Within the greenway is the Keffer Marsh, a wetland and deciduous swamp creation project located in an industrial section of the Greenway called Langstaff EcoPark.
Milne Hollow:Milne Hollow is a six-hectare river valley park located on the East Don River at the northern edge of the Charles Sauriol Conservation Reserve.
Originally a village mill in the late 1800s and then a ski area where Crazy Canuck Steve Podborski learned to ski, the site was nearly forgotten near the end of the twentieth century until legendary Don Valley conservationist Charles Sauriol made the public acquisition of the property one of his final life goals.
The City of Toronto has been working on the development and implementation of a Master Plan for the park that will improve water quality, restore wildlife habitat, enhance site accessibility, increase community involvement and education opportunities and establish Milne Hollow as the northern gateway to the Charles Sauriol Conservation Reserve.
The Pottery Road Weirs:These two weirs are hard to see now, as they've been modified to allow fish to migrate upstream. The result of five barrier removal projects since 1997, including these two important barriers, has been the first major migration of spawning salmon in over a century.
The construction of structures in the watercourse to dissipate energy, monitor flow, or to harness the streams energy for power, took place for over one hundred years. In many situations these structures contributed directly to the elimination of migratory species such as Atlantic salmon by stopping adults from reaching their spawning grounds in the smaller tributaries. Spawning salmon were forced to seek out other, more hospitable rivers. Although the Atlantic salmon will never be reintroduced to the Don watershed, many other species such as brown and rainbow trout, Chinook salmon and numerous small minnow species would benefit from mitigation of the impacts of in stream barriers.
Lower Donlands and Keating Channel:We now arrive at Great Lake Ontario, the end of our 38 kilometre ride down the Don. For the last 2.5 kilometres of the trip we've travelled through the most degraded and distressing reaches of the Don, the channelized open sewer constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century. Here, the river is straight, concrete-lined, and sterile. At the mouth of the Don, we spot the right hand turn of the Keating Channel, and watch the water flowing out to the inner harbour through the highly industrialized port lands area. This is no way for a river to end!
Prior to the channelization of the Don's mouth, the river meandered gracefully through marsh lands entering Lake Ontario at a point southwest of the current river mouth. Both the marsh lands and the Don's natural configuration were destroyed when the channel was built. However, there are major plans afoot to bring back even this seemingly hopeless portion of the river. The concept above, from the 2000 report of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Task Force, depicts a more natural and functional Don river mouth. And it is possible!
In many ways, the end of the Don restoration story can only be written when the story of the end of the Don is written. This river's mouth is an epic example of the blight of humanity on nature. And as justified and worthy as the channel's construction was in its day, so too is its removal today.