The BrickworksNeighbourhood Corner: The Toronto Brick Works
This amazing long forgotten ravine has gained recent notoriety and is now know as the Evergreen Brick Works. (Click here to view their site.) A fabulous character full spot, teeming with shoppers on a Saturday morning, tempted by the expansive Farmers Market. Any day of the week, the place is used for seminars, summer camps, an indigenous plant store, Yoga classes, even weddings.
And what a lovely place to be at one with nature, tempted by the abundant wild flowers, and man made lagoons full of turtles, frogs and water lilies.
Evergreen is a national charity that makes cities more livable. By deepening the connection between people and nature, and empowering Canadians to take a hands-on approach to their urban environments, Evergreen is improving the health of our cities-now and for the future. They have also preserved this little bit of our Toronto history, ensuring that these magical old buildings don't crumble and decay, but will be with us as a reminder of our past for many more years.
The Brick Works was opened in 1889 (the year my Cabbagetown brick house was built... undoubtedly using these top quality bricks) by the Taylor brothers: William, George and John who named it The Don Valley Brickworks. They had been using the site previously as a paper mill and in the midst of digging post holes for a fence, came across some really top quality glacial clay.
It was confirmed that indeed, this clay was the stuff of great bricks and a quarry was established to the north, and the brick making plant built at the south end, within close proximity of the Don River.
The buff coloured glacial clays produced yellow bricks, the blue shale produced red bricks
The bricks were of such excellent quality, that they won prizes at the Toronto Industrial Fair in 1894 and the World's Columbian Chicago's World fair in 1984. Used mainly in Toronto, they were carried by horse and cart along Pottery Road, or by rail as a small station had been built within the works.
Fine examples of the bricks can be seen in Casa Loma, the Ontario legislature Buildings, Toronto General Hospital, the University of Toronto, Convocation Hall and Massey Hall.
A variety of bricks were made: stiff-mud bricks, dry-press bricks, sand-lime bricks, and even decorative terracotta tiles. Apparently, there were ten shades of red, seven shades of buff, plus olive gold, brown obsidian and mottled. It was the first, and for many years the only plant in Canada, to make glazed bricks and the first to install arch grinding machines so that custom bricks could be made for flat, elliptical or circular arches.
By the 1980's, the once abundant clay and shale had been all used up. The plant closed in 1984 having produced over 43 million bricks.
Owned then by United Ceramics Ltd of Germany, it was bought for a meager $4,001,000 by Torvalley Associates. This company managed to pull some strings and had the whole area zoned residential. As they started to fill in the valley, for once, the outcry of the citizens was such that the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority were able to put an end to the greed, based on the fact that the site was on part of the floodplain of the valley. The city expropriated the land to the tune of $14,000,000 in 1987.
It has been restored as a park and heritage site. At the quarry, excavation has revealed glacial and fossil deposits which date back to over 300,000 years. A $10 million grant from the Ontario government was announced in 2005 and went towards preserving the existing buildings and trail systems.
At the Don Valley Brick Works Park, the normal flow of Mud Creek is diverted into the Park to flow through a series of ponds (1) where the water is cleaned naturally before being returned to the Don River. A community of Carolinian trees and plants (8) is being encouraged on the west side of the quarry and a large wildflower meadow (7) has been started in the central area. Other plant communities are also being encouraged. A series of boardwalks and paths were constructed through the wetland and terrestrial environments.
The North Slope (2) of the old Brick Works quarry is recognized internationally for its Pleistocene geology. Excavation of this quarry exposed a series of glacial and fossil deposits that demonstrated that there was more than one major ice advance. Much of this slope appears to have stabilized close to its angle of repose and is becoming vegetated with a cover or shrubs and tree saplings. As it is to be maintained for geological education, research and heritage interpretation; active management to encourage vegetation communities is not planned.
A Lookout (4) has been established at the top of the east slope where the Bricks Works Site and the surrounding panorama can be observed.
The volunteer efforts of groups such as the Task Force to Bring Back the Don, Friends of the Valley, Friends of the Don East, The Garden Club of Toronto and the Evergreen Foundation as well as many local citizens, have contributed significantly to the vision and to the realization of this park and continue to provide significant support.
The Historic Buildings (3) at the south end of this site have been preserved to illustrate the former industry. They represent several different time periods in the history of the Brick Works.
As manufacturing processes were improved over the years, the use of the buildings changed, and new buildings were added to improve or replace the old ones. What has been preserved is a representation of the types of building and industrial machinery which were typical of a major Canadian brick manufacturing business. It is hoped that eventually a small museum will be established to interpret brick making, one of the significant industries in Toronto's history. It was possible to keep only one of the four chimneys (5) that once served this plant.