Walks in Winter

Today was a day for a winter’s walk, January cold and about 15-20 cm of snow overnight. When you get out early on a day like that, especially on a Sunday when people are up later anyway, you appreciate the city in winter and the clean fresh face it wears this time of the year.

I hadn’t realized how much snow we had gotten overnight until I went out – the sidewalks were still covered in snow in many places and the roads were also covered except where cars had made paths to follow. It made for a more strenuous walk than usual for our neighbourhood but it was quite cold so the exercise was welcome to keep the blood flowing.

I headed north from our place, into the Lytton Park and Chatsworth neighbourhoods. There is a school called Glenview near us, and when our son was younger we would go there to go sledding on days like we had today. Seeing other younger parents brought back memories of his adventures then.

At the bottom of the hill at the school and east out the back of the schoolyard is the Chatsworth Ravine, and that was gorgeous in the sun with a fresh coat of snow.

Chatsworth Ravine park

As I followed the trail through the ravine, I could hear the sounds of digging out – the scrape of snow shovels and the hum of snow blowers. There is also a small creek flowing through the park (Burke’s Brook) and it hadn’t frozen over so there was the ripple and splash of that as well.

Burke’s Brook in Chatsworth Ravine

From the ravine I kept east to Duplex and up the stairs, crossing the road to Chatsworth and then down the hill to Yonge. From there I crossed and went into Alexander Muir Park, and along the trail east through the ravine under the Mount Pleasant bridge and then up Glengowan into the Lawrence Park neighbourhood. This is a lovely part of Toronto, with mature trees heavy with snow, brick and stone homes dating back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, and quiet streets that reward a wanderer with the sounds of birds and squirrels.

By the time I climbed the hill on Glengowan and looped back north up onto Dawlish, I was pretty tired after slogging through the snow, so I went west back to Mount Pleasant and then south to Blythwood, so that I could go west back to Yonge and make my way home.

Today brought many things to mind about walking in Toronto in winter:

  • the smell of wood smoke in the air
  • the excuse-me shuffle as you pass others heading the other way on the narrow shovelled portion of the sidewalk
  • the curse of unshoveled stretches and the blessing of clear patches
  • salt, salt, salt in some places and ice, ice, ice in others
  • the friendly nod and smile as you pass homeowners digging out
  • the glad-it’s-not-me thought when you see a snowed-in car
  • the crunch and squeak of cold dry snow underfoot
  • the uncertain navigation of drivers without winter tires
  • the laughter of children rolling down hills and their excited shrieks on sleds and toboggans
  • the snow hush muffling the streets, as traffic sounds are deadened

You know a city by it’s sounds and smells and people and streets, and in winter all of these change. Toronto in spring, in summer, in autumn are different places, and winter has its own character too. I’m like many people in the city, I like it when the sun is out and when it’s cold I can’t wait for spring.

And still, I have to admit it’s beautiful, in any season. I read an article on the BBC news website today, about words in Japanese that have no direct translation into English. One phrase in particular came to mind as I walked in the snow – “mono no aware”, which the BBC article translates as “the ephemeral nature of beauty – the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last”.

Snow melts, we all know that, and even before then the wind and sun play upon the surface, sculpting the shapes and casting shadows that change with the movement of trees and boughs. No two moments in a snowy landscape are the same and no amount of photography can capture them all. Standing still, absorbing, you take them in and let them go like breaths, exhaling clouds.

Mono no aware. Snow in the city. Winter calm.

Walk Journal – Jan 13, 2019

Location: Toronto – from Sherwood Park to Allan Gardens via the Don Valley trail system

Duration: 3 hours, about 15 km

Weather: Sunshine and blue skies, but crisp at -7C with a -12C wind chill

Today’s walk was about exercise and stretching out on a fine winter day. I wanted to get at least 3 hours or so, and needed to end up at my nephew’s place downtown near Allan Gardens.

I decided to get there via the Don Valley trail system, so from our home in the Avenue Road & Eglinton area I went east on Briar Hill Avenue to Yonge Street, then kept going east on Sherwood Road to Sherwood Park. In the park I took the Burke’s Brook trail east to Bayview Avenue.

Burke’s Brook Ravine trail – doesn’t look like January!

From there it’s safest to cross Bayview at the crosswalk at Kilgour Road, and then I could continue east on Kilgour all the way to its end, where I connected with the access road down into Sunnybrook Park. I walked through the west end of the park past the dog run area to the bridge across the West Don River.

Sunnybrook Park entrance – bridge across the West Don

Then it was east through Sunnybrook Park into Wilket Creek Park, almost to Leslie street, crossing the creek itself at the bridge where it joins the West Don River, and then turned south to follow the trail parallel to the river.

West Don River at Wilket Creek Park

The trail goes under Eglinton Avenue into E.T. Seton Park to become the West Don Trail. At the north end of this park is a disc golf course, and there were a few players out today since there was no snow.

The 1st tee at Toronto’s only disc golf course at the north end of E.T. Seton Park

I kept going south to the trail junction to the Taylor Creek Trail under Don Mills Road and through to the Lower Don Trail, which is where the East and West Don rivers join into the Don River.

Confluence of the West and East Don Rivers
Confluence of the West and East Don Rivers on the Lower Don Trail

The Lower Don Trail continues south along the east side of the river to Pottery Road, and you can either stay on the east bank and follow the main trail, or cross to the west bank and take the side trail along Bayview Ave, which is what I did in order to go to the Don Valley Brickworks for a quick pit stop.

Entrance to the Don Valley Brickworks

I left the Brickworks along the lower Beltline Trail to turn west and north a bit into the Yellow Creek Ravine system, where I connected with the Milkman’s Lane trail up into Rosedale.

Milkman’s Lane climbing up into Rosedale – trust me it’s steeper than it looks

Once up that hill (stiff climb), I connected with Glen Road and went south across the Rosedale Valley on the Glen Road pedestrian bridge and under Bloor street to the south end of Glen Road to connect with Howard Street and over to the west to Sherborne Street, then south on Sherborne to Carlton Street to end at Allan Gardens.

All of that made for a long walk. My pace was pretty good, and I had worked up quite a sweat even though it was a cold day. That’s actually one of the harder things to manage when it’s cold – if you start sweating then you’ll get chilled as soon as you stop walking, so you’re better to wear layers and remove them as needed to stay warm but not sweating. I didn’t do that so by the time I got to my nephew’s I was actually over-heated for this weather.

The great thing about the walk was the weather. I’ve done more or less that same route in summer, and the walk through E.T. Seton Park, in particular, can be brutal when the sun is blazing down. Today, though it was cold it was good walking weather and the trails were dry and free of ice. Walking the Don River trail system covers several of my favourite routes and if I hadn’t had a destination today I would have kept going all the way to Corktown Common.

The history along the way is wonderful. You pass through former country estates (Sunnybrook), former mills and farms (Todmorden), former brick foundries (the Brickworks), and very different neighbourhoods ranging from Rosedale (one of Toronto’s richest) to St. James Town (not one of Toronto’s richest).

As I’ve said before, Toronto’s park and trail systems are amongst my favourite jewels of the city. Do this walk any time of the year, and you might see deer, coyotes, hawks, falcons, ducks, geese, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, skunk, turtles, frogs, and fish. Were it not for the traffic noise from the nearby roads, you could be fooled into thinking you’re out on a country walk. And yet, you can get into any part of this system via public transit. I love it. Walk the Don and find out for yourself.