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Path to The Living City

The Living City project of Toronto and Region Conservation is a remarkable initiative, which should have a significant impact on the quality of life in the GTA in the 21st century.

Pathtothelivingcity Cover"The Living City project of Toronto and Region Conservation is a remarkable initiative, which should have a significant impact on the quality of life in the GTA in the 21st century. Bill McLean's new book, Paths to The Living City, is an indispensable companion for understanding the project's fundamental premises and historical roots. Rich in detail, exciting in scope, Bill's careful story-telling gives the reader an excellent grasp of essentials and lifts the human spirit. It's a pleasure to read. Don't miss it!"

-The Honourable David E. Crombie, President and CEO, Canadian Urban Institute

Path to The Living City Now Available!

Paths To The Living City -
The Story of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, by Bill McLean,
ISBN 0-9732764-2-8, paperback, 251 pages, June 2004, $19.95


On a late October evening in 1998, a group of conservationists gathered at the Black Creek Pioneer Village Visitor's Centre to join in a dinner held annually in celebration of the life and work of the late Charles Sauriol, one of Canada's most distinguished conservationists. The master of ceremonies that night was Taylor Parnaby, at that time radio station CFRB's news director. At one point in the proceedings, Taylor stepped up to the microphone and, in his familiar newscaster voice, gave a news flash that had just come to his attention. Two salmon had been seen swimming in the Don River, near the Pottery Road Bridge. The news was greeted with vigorous applause and cheering. The next day, the item was carried by most radio and TV stations, and was given extensive newspaper coverage

Why all the excitement over a couple of fish? Part of the reason was the context of the event. Charles Sauriol had written in his book, Remembering the Don, "Mr. C. R. Nash, Provincial Biologist at Toronto, told the Toronto Field Naturalist Club in 1924 that the last salmon to be found in the Don had been speared with a pitch fork under the dam at Taylor's Creek (Pottery Road) '40 to 50 years ago'. That is to say, in 1874 or perhaps a few years earlier." (1)

More importantly, the announcement for many in the room was one of the early signs that after years of struggle, reports, failures, and a seemingly endless chain of adversity, positive change in the Don, once declared a dead river, was being achieved. The Honourable David Crombie, in his reports on the Toronto waterfront, had pointed out that in any ecosystem, everything is connected to everything else. A lot of interconnected things had to change within the Don Valley before the conservationists were able, that night, to celebrate the return of two lonely salmon.

The Don is just one of nine river systems with which Toronto and its surrounding neighbours are blessed. The story of the efforts to conserve these precious watersheds is an important one to tell. It is the story of great vision, short sightedness, mistakes, innovation, and achievement. It is the story of dedication to the principle that the health of a community is dependent on the health of its natural resources. Most of all, it is the story of countless people, scientists, educators, politicians, lawyers, accountants, administrators, citizens, planners, architects, engineers, naturalists, environmentalists, and conservationists, all working within their particular spheres of interest and ability, sometimes together, sometimes at odds, but always pursuing their vision of a healthy community. Most of this variety of effort over the past 50 years has interacted with the efforts of the early watershed conservation authorities and, since 1957, what is now known as the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).

It is through the interaction of these diverse interests and groups that the story of conservation in the Toronto region can best be told.

Table of Contents

About the Author

Excerpt from Chapter One

Ordering Information

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Table of Contents:Preface

Chapter 1: In the Beginning
Chapter 2: The Paths Begin
Chapter 3: Taming the Waters
Chapter 4: Paths Beside Little Waters
Chapter 5: Charlie's Paths
Chapter 6: Paths to the Waterfront
Chapter 7: The Heritage Path
Chapter 8: The Path of Learning
Chapter 9: The Paths Converge
Chapter 10: The Path of Review and Reform
Chapter 11: The Living City

About the Author:Path to The Living City Author Since his conservation career began in 1959, Bill McLean has dedicated his energy and efforts toward the protection of the environment and the natural resources of our region. Upon graduating in geography from McMaster University in 1959, Bill joined the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA) as a conservation area planner. He became conservation area administrator in 1961 and was appointed director of an inter-agency task force to establish a waterfront division at MTRCA in 1970. As the first administrator of the waterfront division, Bill was instrumental in developing a system of waterfront access and recreation sites over the 50-kilometre stretch of waterfront. He also initiated shoreline management measures such as erosion protection works and regulations controlling shoreline alterations.

Bill served as the director of planning and policy from 1975 to 1981. In this capacity he helped prepare a comprehensive watershed plan, setting new directions and priorities for MTRCA. Bill became deputy general manager in 1981 and was seconded to the Conservation Authorities Branch of the Ministry of Natural Resources in 1982 to prepare a provincial strategy for conservation authority waterfronts. Upon his return to MTRCA, Bill was appointed general manager in 1983, a position which he held until his retirement in 1992.

When he retired from MTRCA, Bill directed his energy and dedication to The Conservation Foundation of Greater Toronto. He has been a prominent member of the Conservation Foundation since 1992, including a four-year term as president. In addition, he was a member of the Canadian Water Resources Association and the Soil and Water Conservation Society of America, and he was president of the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association. Throughout his career, he was a strong supporter of the Association of Conservation Authorities of Ontario, now Conservation Ontario. Bill has also been an active member of his community through his involvement in the Rotary Club, the Runneymede Hospital Corporation, and Humbercrest United Church.

Excerpt from Chapter One:"In the autumn of 1954, a tropical hurricane, known as Hazel, swept northward from Haiti and left a path of destruction across the eastern United States. The edge of the black storm crossed the southern Ontario border on a Thursday afternoon, October 14, carrying a mass of rain and laden with warm tropical air. The hurricane hit a cold front eastward across Ontario, and an unprecedented rain resulted, saturating the region's rivers." (1)

By the early hours of Saturday, October 16, 11 inches of rain had fallen at the storm's centre - a small area at the headwaters of the Humber, northeast of the Town of Bolton, on the Oak Ridges Moraine. Ten inches fell over Bolton, seven inches over the downstream Village of Woodbridge, and five inches at the Bloor Street viaduct.

"... late on Friday evening, the floods struck with a sudden and unexpected savageness. Police, fireman, soldiers, and ordinary citizens battled through the night to save those who had been trapped on the river flats by the raging waters. Heroism was commonplace. Helicopters braved the darkness, the wind, and the rain, to direct rescue operations. Men gambled their lives and some lost in attempts to rescue stranded women and children. Then, as suddenly as it had come, the storm was over and the floods had subsided.

"All was quiet on Saturday morning as the first news reports began to spread. A cottage settlement at Long Branch, at the mouth of the Etobicoke Creek, had been swept away and many lives lost. On the Humber River, a trailer camp at Woodbridge had been smashed and the trailer homes scattered like matchboxes along the stream bed. Houses in and near Woodbridge on the Humber had been flooded and battered, and a score of people killed.

"At Weston on the Humber, an entire street of houses had been swept away with their occupants; a lone fire hydrant was the only evidence that Raymore Drive had ever existed. Miles of valley roads and acres of parkland were obliterated. On the Humber, more than 1,200 families and, in the entire region, 1,868 families were made temporarily homeless. Most of the bridges on the west side of Toronto were either destroyed or badly damaged, and traffic was brought to a standstill. Several major Don River bridges on the east side of Toronto were destroyed by the floods. Roads were washed away, public utilities were put out of commission, and parks were ruined. Damages on the Rouge River, Duffins Creek, Highland Creek, Petticoat Creek, and Mimico Creek were also extensive, but were overshadowed by the devastation of the Humber, Don, and Etobicoke floods.

"Physical damages and disruptions to traffic, businesses, and homes were appalling, but they were not the worst results of the floods of Hurricane Hazel. The people of this region will always remember the haunting front-page newspaper photo of an orphaned baby rescued by an anonymous policeman, and that terse Monday morning headline: '81 Dead'." (2)

It was not only the damage and the loss of life that made Hurricane Hazel such a lamentable event. Most of the damage could have been avoided. The community knew from past experience the devastating effects of a river in flood. The particularly heavy snow cover of 1942 had produced an exceptionally strong spring runoff, causing severe flooding over wide areas; much of it caused by ice jams accumulating in the inadequate openings of road bridges. Since 1946, in the post-war era, the urban boom had produced more bridges, and more people began living and working on the flood plain, careless of the knowledge that it was unsafe. During Hurricane Hazel, the exposure to potential damage was greater than ever. Many bridges on this occasion became clogged with debris, trees, cars, and buildings, and these formed dams, causing the waters behind to rise even further. When the bridge could stand the pressure no more, it gave way and let go a great rush of water. The tragedy of Raymore Drive was caused by such an event. Fourteen homes were swept away and 34 residents died. With a collective shout, the people of the Toronto region said, "This must not be allowed to happen again." The spider would not be allowed to crawl up the waterspout once more.

The aftermath of Hurricane Hazel was an unprecedented effort of cooperative planning and regeneration for the Toronto area river valleys. All levels of government pitched in and for a period of almost 30 years, worked together and equitably shared the costs of the massive undertaking. Of all the plans and projects that have shaped the Toronto region, it is unlikely that any have been as far reaching and beneficial. It has meant, among other things, that one can stand alongside the Humber, a few yards north of the Bloor Street viaduct, surrounded by a network of more than 30,000 acres of green space, and gaze at a simple reminder of a long-ago tragedy, secure in the knowledge that a similar storm today would not carry with it the same devastation. The organization created to achieve these results was the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (MTRCA).