Walking the Humber

Over the past couple of years, I’ve walked the Don River many times, and recently I walked the lakefront as part of my trek across the city from Etobicoke Creek to the Rouge River. On my list of walks in Toronto, there was one, however, that I had never done – walking the Humber River. Late this past summer, in early September, I decided to scratch that itch.

The Humber rises well north of the city, and flows through western Toronto from the city boundary at Steeles Avenue and down to Lake Ontario. Like the Don River, there is a well-laid out trail system and a series of parks that let you walk most of its length, and also like the Don there are also a few private areas like golf courses that force some detours.

I started my journey at the Lake, in Sunnyside Park, which is on the east bank of the river. The boardwalk here leads directly to the Humber Bay Arch Bridge.

On a Sunday in early September, it was crowded with walkers and cyclists. I followed the Humber Trail path which starts on the west bank of the river at the Sheldon Lookout. The river is quite wide here compared to the Don – the Humber is actually a much more substantial river than the Don is in terms of water volume, and at the mouth of the river on this day there were a couple of canoeists out as well as a guy on a jet ski heading out onto the lake.

The path at the mouth of the river heads straight north, and takes you under the Gardiner Expressway and the adjacent Lakeshore Boulevard. You are right beside the river and there are marsh areas full of waterfowl on the eastern bank, but the traffic noise and the dark tunnels under the roadways take away any sense of the natural environment. It’s a relief to clear those and emerge into sunshine, and within a few hundred meters you’re back amongst the trees.

Walking north, I passed a mural painted along a fence by the Humber Water Treatment Plant. It was done as part of the Toronto Street Art project by Anishinaabe artist Philip Cote, and it explores different themes from Anishinaabe culture in a street-art/graffiti kind of style. I was struck by the vivid imagery, and it reminded me that the Humber was part of the transportation network of rivers used by the First Nations peoples who lived here prior to the immigration of Europeans.

The land where the City of Toronto is now was settled by First Nations peoples for many hundreds, if not thousands, of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. The name of the city itself, Toronto, comes from the Mohawk language. And yet, while we rightly celebrate the cultural diversity of Toronto, we always seem to do it in terms of the global melting pot – we talk about the United Nations of Toronto and we seek out restaurants and foods from dozens of cultures outside of North America. We rarely, however, talk about the other nations that were already here when Europeans first arrived – the Mohawk, the Seneca, the Algonquin, the Ojibwe, and others. There are many clues to this history scattered about the city in place names, street names, historical plaques, and now this mural, and for the rest of my walk that day along the Humber, I mulled over this vital part of our history and asked myself why we take it for granted.

Pre-colonization, and early in the colonization period, in the 1600’s and 1700’s, the Humber River formed part of the canoe route from the Great Lakes into the interior of the province of Ontario, helping to connect Lake Simcoe to Lake Ontario along what has become known as the Carrying Place Trail. One of the first Europeans to travel along the Humber, at least according to a somewhat murky history, was the Frenchman Etienne Brule, and so today there is Etienne Brule park along the river. I had forgotten about that part of the city’s history – as Yogi Berra said, you can see a lot just by observing.

Continuing north from the park, the Humber Trail goes up the east bank of the river in this section. You soon pass the first of several fish ladders that have been added to the river. These small dams help with flood control, and since the river is part of the Lake Ontario salmon run, the fish ladders help them as they head up river to spawn.

I kept going, on the lookout for a quiet spot to sit for lunch, and around Magwood Park I found a nice bench overlooking the river beside another fish ladder, a perfect spot to stop for a bite.

It was a coolish day, but nevertheless I had worked up a sweat on my hike, so when I stopped for lunch I had to put on a jacket. It was a reminder that late summer would soon turn to early autumn.

After that pause, I kept going north. I had had thoughts of going all the way up to Steeles Avenue, but part way along I changed my mind and decided to aim for Eglinton Avenue. The Humber Trail keeps going north and I could have caught a bus and gotten home from Steeles that way. Instead, by turning east at Eglinton I could cut through back streets to pick up the York Beltline trail and walk all the way home.

Between Magwood Park and Eglinton, you cross the river to the west bank, near Dundas Street. As I walked north, I was struck by how much quieter it was along the Humber compared to walking along the Don. I didn’t miss the constant traffic on the Don Valley Expressway. Instead, the wider Humber river flowed between shaded river banks with marsh areas attracting many herons, geese, ducks, and gulls.

I was really enjoying the walk and was disappointed to realize that I’d come to Eglinton after only about 2 hours. I didn’t want to leave the river, but by this time I also realized that the new running shoes I was breaking in had led to a hot spot on the heel of one foot. That confirmed that here was where I’d have to start heading back home. I crossed Eglinton and took one last picture of the Humber as it flows under that busy road.

The walk home from this point was a different kind of adventure altogether. After the peacefulness of burbling water, I was back into traffic and city streets. I didn’t want to walk along the busy Eglinton Avenue, so I skirted north aiming for Tretheway, so that I could cut through the Mount Denison neighbourhood and cross Black Creek Drive and Keele Street.

As I walked up and down the hills in this area, the hot spot on my heel turned into a full blown blister. Stubbornly, I decided to tough it out and kept walking. I told myself if it got really bad, I could just jump on a bus and let the TTC get me home, so I gritted teeth and kept going.

When I reached the York Beltline, near Caledonia Road, I knew I had about 45 minutes of walking to go so after a short break to catch my breath, I set my mind to ignoring the blister to see this through. I was limping by now, but I didn’t want to quit. Each one of those 45 minutes seemed to take about 90 seconds instead of 60, but slowly I got closer to home. It was a relief to finally reach our flat and take off my shoes to survey the damage. There was a raw patch on my heel, and that night I resolved to always carry a blister kit in my pack.

Once home, and out of my shoes, I reflected on the Humber. I think I prefer walking along it compared to the Don River, because of the traffic noise that can overwhelm you along the latter. I definitely would like to keep going and walk the whole length of the river within the city boundaries, and the cool thing is that if you keep going north of Steeles, there are trails along the Humber that continue north for another 10 or 20 km. I need to add that to my bucket list, so that I can say that I’ve walked the length of the Humber.

But that’s a trip for another day.

Walk Journal – July 27

Where: Parks (Cedarvale, Ramsden, Chorley, Oriole), ravines (Cedervale, Nordheimer, Moore), neighbourhoods (Forest Hill, Rosedale, Bennington Heights, Moore Park, Chaplin Estates), and trails (Beltline, Lower Don) in mid-town Toronto

Duration: about 4 hours, around 18.5 km

Weather: Summery hot, about 28 C with a lot of humidity that made it feel like the mid-30’s, and a mix of sun and rain showers

I hadn’t done a long walk in a couple of weeks, so it was time to stretch out a hike. While it was warm, it wasn’t crazy hot and there was a nice breeze at times that helped to cool things. I decided to make a big loop heading west along the Beltline to the Allen Expressway (why does everyone lean over and touch the wall when the reach it?) and then south through the parks and ravines to get to Ramsden Park.

Crossing Yonge, I headed down into the Rosedale Valley and followed that it to Bayview to pick up the Lower Don Trail, and then turned north up to the Brickworks. I was going to take a break there before continuing up the Don Valley to come home through Sunnybrook Park, but there were threatening skies looming so I decided to come home.

That meant a detour up through Chorley Park in Rosedale, where I took a wrong turn, forgetting that you can’t cross the train tracks north of the park, and ended up heading walking back east along Douglas and over Governor’s Bridge into the Nesbitt Park neighbourhood.

That detour took me back to Bayview south of Moore Avenue, so I had to climb up to cut through Bennington Heights to Heath St. East, and then across the pedestrian bridge over the Moore Ravine and into the Moore Park neighbourhood. From there I went west to Mount Pleasant Road, north to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, then northwest through the Cemetery to connect with the Belt Line near Yonge. I was almost home by then, and just had to follow the Belt Line to Oriole Park and turn north Lacelles Boulevard through the Chaplin Estates neighbourhood to Eglinton, and on to home.

The threat of rain, which never did turn into more than light showers, kept me walking without a break, so by the time I got home I was tired and hungry. It had been a deceptively warm day, with the humidex over 30 C but with enough clouds and breeze that it didn’t feel that bad while walking, and yet those kinds of days are draining – I was dripping by the time I got home. I’m enjoying the summer, but I’ll be glad to get a nice autumn day with blue skies and about 15 C.

On a walk like this, my focus is on the workout, keeping a steady pace up and down the hills while remembering to hydrate. I’m wasn’t really paying too much attention to my surroundings, but nevertheless I did notice a few vignettes that stuck with me: the cricket match underway in Cedervale Park (a bowler with a funky herky-jerky run-up, the “well run” shouts for a stolen single on a dribbler to 3rd slip). Or the way the light rain brought out the colours of the flowers along the trail. And then there was the discovery of what is probably a namesake distant relative, Jimmie Bradt, buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

There were lots of people out, walking or biking, and it’s always fun to listen in to parents coaching their young children on their bikes, or to eavesdrop on conversations as you pass someone. I heard the cry of a hawk a couple of times, in the Don Valley and in Mount Pleasant, and followed a trio of birders who were in turn following the sounds of the hawks (“did you see the other one?” “they are nesting over there”).

These walks also offer a chance to choose a street or a path that you’ve never followed, even if you’re in a familiar neighbourhood. Today it was Standish, north of Chorley Park. It’s a quiet little street that is in a cul de sac neighbourhood, because of the train tracks to the north that can’t be crossed. Traffic is minimal so there are lots of kids out playing, and there’s lots of trees to shade the sidewalks. It looks like a great place for families.

It was a fun walk, and a good cap to the week. I’m thinking of doing my Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake trip in late September or early October, and I need more walks like today to stay in shape and be ready. I felt pretty good today, covering more than half the 30 km I plan to cover each day on that journey and doing it in under 4 hours. I need to keep that up to be ready, and I’m looking forward to it. Till then, I’ll enjoy the weather and the walks.

Walk Journal – May 19, 2019

Where: Chaplin Estates, Belt Line, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Moore Ravine, the Brickworks, Pottery Road and Pape Village to the Danforth, then back along the Danforth over the Bloor Street Viaduct and then through Castlefrank and Rosedale to Summerhill & Yonge and up Yonge to Deer Park and back through Chaplin Estates to home.

Duration: about 3.5 hours walking, and around 17 km

Weather: Spring! 18 C and sunny enough for a sunburn

My walking regime this year so far has been patchy at best. I’ve put back on some weight that I’d lost, and I’ve been feeling flabby and out of shape. My weekly target of 60 minutes of walking 5 days out of 7 has mostly gone by the wayside, and the weather has been chilly and teasing – the calendar might say spring but the temperatures don’t.

On a holiday weekend, you never know what you’re going to get. Last year on Victoria Day we had a great walk through High Park and then up the Humber River. This year we decided to walk east, and visit the Danforth and Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood, and the weather forecast was promising.

The most direct yet still interesting route took us through familiar streets to the Beltline Trail and then east along that into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. From there we followed the Trail into Moore Ravine and down into the Don Valley into the trails of the Brickworks. On a nice holiday weekend day, there were hordes of walkers, families, dogs, bikes, runners, and self-snapping young couples. We took our time going through the Brickworks trails, and then crossed Bayview to the Lower Don Trail to head back north up to Pottery Road. Walking along that brought back memories as we passed Fantasy Farm – back in the 1980’s when I was at Glendon College we’d had several formal banquets there at which I had let down my student hair in epic fashion – and then it was the grinding climb up the hill to Broadview.

From there we meandered through back streets to arrive at the Danforth at Carlaw. The sun was out and the outdoor tables were packed. We found a spot at the Alexander the Great Parkette and grabbed takeout gyros from Alexandros to eat in the sun.

After that tasty pitstop, it was a stroll along the Danforth to Broadview, where my wife decided to hop on the subway home, while I kept walking. My route took me south on Broadview to Riverdale Park and down to one of the trails. I was trying to connect to the Lower Don Trail, but I guessed wrong and didn’t find the connector trail over the Don Valley Parkway – instead I ended up heading north and back up to Danforth at the Bloor Street Viaduct, so I decided to cross the bridge (since I’d come to it!) and cut through Rosedale to head home.

Walking through the neighbourhood, I thought about the essay my son is currently working on, on the subject of sustainability and how that is manifested in Toronto. One of his study areas is Rosedale. On paper this neighbourhood doesn’t have a large amount of green space, at least when defined in terms of public parks. And yet, the trees coming leaf and the ample yards and gardens of the large houses certainly gave a strong impression of verdancy, and the wealth displayed by the luxury cars parked in front of every house contrasted with the TTC bus stops scattered along the side streets. Does it count as sustainable if that neighbourhood has a higher percentage of Tesla’s than other areas of the city?

At the same time, there’s no question that it’s a lovely place to live. It’s always quiet and charming walking through Rosedale and it was no different on this walk. I know my way through there by now, having walked it many times, and I meandered along back streets between Castle Frank and Summerhill where I connected with Yonge Street.

Interesting fact – on Castle Frank Road, the Netherlands consulate owns a house, marked by the large Dutch flag out front. There is also a commemorative plaque beside a tree, planted in honour of the many thousands of Canadian troops who helped to liberate the Netherlands during the Second World War.

At Summerhill, Yonge Street led me up the hill to St. Clair and into the Deer Park neighbourhood, and onwards to Oriole Park. I passed a baseball game in progress that brought back memories of my son at 7 playing there. I kept going through the Chaplin Estates back to Eglinton and up Oriole Parkway to reach home footsore and sunburned.

In the end I’d done more walking in one day than I’d done in several weeks over the past few months. It felt good to be tired, like I’d worked out and deserved to sit for awhile and watch a baseball game.

It was a great spring walk, on our first really proper sunny spring day of the year, and now I need to build on that and get back into my routines. Stretching out your strides with the rhythm of walking feels good at anytime, but it’s especially sweet when it’s the first time all year you can finally go out in shorts and a T shirt.