Favourite Toronto Walks – Cedarvale-Nordheimer Ravines

Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.

Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Toronto was growing and like many North American cities at that time, was investing in transportation infrastructure, and in particular in roads, which led to a plan to create the Spadina Expressway. Thankfully, that wasn’t fully built (other than a short section now known as the Allen Expressway), and instead we have the park and ravine trail system that I think of as Cedarvale. It’s a great walk, and I like to extend it a bit and include Ramsden Park as well so that I end on Yonge.

Length: about 5.5 km, around 1.5 hours

Surface: about 50/50 paved and gravel

Public Transit: To start, take Subway Line 1 to Eglinton West-Allen Station and walk south a few hundred meters to the entrance to Cedarvale Park. Finish and the exit from Ramsden Park at Yonge street, opposite Subway Line 1 Rosedale Station.

Route: From the entrance to Cedarvale Park, off Ava Road, walk south following the paved trail. Continue past the Off Leash Dog Walk area and down into Cedarvale Ravine. Follow the gravel trail through the Ravine and exit at Heath Street. Cross the street and cut through the St. Michael’s College grounds past the Loblaws grocery store to St. Clair Avenue. Cross the street and enter Nordheimer Ravine. Follow the gravel trail down through the ravine to exit at Poplar Plains Road. Cross the road, follow Poplar Plains Crescent to Rathnelly Avenue, then turn south and follow it to MacPherson Avenue. Turn east and walk to Avenue Road, then turn south, crossing Avenue at the traffic lights at Dupont, then keep going south on Avenue to Pears Avenue. Turn east and enter Ramsden Park. Follow the paved trail through the park to finish at the park exit at Yonge Street.

Sights: I love this walk any time of the year. In summer, you might be able to watch a bit of cricket at the pitch in Cedarvale Park, or perhaps some baseball in Ramsden. There are often lots of other walkers, joggers, and strollers of all ages, so people watching is fun too. And there are some wild stretches along the ravine trails where marshy ground combines with bushes and trees to create wetland ecosystems full of wildlife in the heart of the city.

Nordheimer Ravine from the Spadina Bridge

It’s also fun to take your time and stroll on this route, because the many park benches provide opportunities to chill out in the shade or bask in the sun and just sit, soaking up the birds and crickets. It’s usually pretty quiet, especially Monday-Friday, so there’s often times when there’s no one in sight as you’re walking the trail.

Finally, there’s history here as well. For example, cutting through the Rathnelly neighbourhood takes you what is known as The Republic of Rathnelly. It got its name in 1967, when a group of residents decided to form an independent republic, as a bit of joke that turned into a semi-serious movement that was instrumental in fighting the Spadina Expressway.

Between late autumn and early spring, the ravines can be pretty muddy, slushy, or icy, and that just adds to the fun. I’ve done this route in all seasons and the changing scenery keeps it interesting.

Food & Refreshment: On Eglinton near the start, there are several restaurants and coffee shops where you can grab a bite before you start. At the finish on Yonge, there are several places as well, so it’s easy to eat and then walk, or walk and then eat. I’ve also stopped at the Loblaws on St. Clair and grabbed a sandwich. Plus, there are several water fountains in the parks, though they are turned off between November – April.

There are public washrooms at the community arena in Cedarvale Park, and in Ramsden Park. You can also use the washroom at the Loblaws.

Diversions: If you’re feeling in the mood for a longer walk, you can keep going past Ramsden Park, crossing Yonge and entering the Rosedale Valley behind Rosedale Station. Follow Rosedale Valley Road down to Bayview Avenue and cross to join the Lower Don Trail. You can then turn north and follow that trail up to the Evergreen Brickworks. If you are feeling especially frisky, you can keep following the Beltline Trail from the Brickworks up through Moore Ravine, through Mount Pleasant Cemetery, and finish at Yonge near Davisville Station.

I’ve also done all this in reverse, starting at Mount Pleasant Cemetery and following the Beltline to the Brickworks, then going up Rosedale Valley Road to Ramsden, and on continuing up through the ravines to end back at Eglinton. It’s mostly uphill in that direction so it’s a tougher walk.

Finally, since I live close to Yonge & Eg, you can start there at Eglinton Station, and either walk along Eg to Cedarvale, or better yet, go south to Davisville to pick up the Kay Gardiner Beltline Trail and follow that all the way to the Allen, where it ends. Then just cut south a few blocks through the back streets and you end up next to Eg West station, where you can start the route described above. Doing it that way adds another 45 minutes or so to the route.

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 – April 28, 2019

Where: Cedervale Ravine, Forest Hill

Duration: about 1:30 hours, 8 km

Weather: sunny, about 10C with a bit of a chilly breeze

With the sun out on a spring day, a walk was definitely in the cards. I hadn’t walked through Cedervale since mid-winter so I thought I’d see what spring looks like so far.

The grass has started to green up with all the rain we’ve had, and over the past few days I’ve also noticed more and more buds on trees – one good warm stretch and things will pop. There are crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and bluebells out in bloom, and deep in the ravine where the trees capture the mid-day sun, the willows have started to come out in leaf.

starting to get green

It won’t be more than a few weeks and Cedervale will look like this:

It was great to see so many families out – kids playing football and baseball, cyclists, runners, dog walkers, grandparents with grandkids. You could tell everyone was itching for more warmth – there were some hardy types out in shorts along with winter coats and gloves – and the sun pouring down in the ravine was glorious. There are park benches scattered along the trail, and I passed a woman who was sitting with her face turned up the sun, her eyes closed, and a blissful expression as she soaked up rays and listened to the red-winged blackbirds.

Coming out of the ravine at Heath Street, I decided to walk up Spadina through Forest Hill village on my way home. The streets were full of energy – shoppers, strollers, seniors. There were flowers out for sale, and many houses had flower-filled planters on doorsteps. The flower theme continued as I walked along Old Forest Hill Road and then up Russell Hill Road. Gardners were out digging and raking, and many of the planting beds had been turned over and mulched in preparation for more flowers. We aren’t past the threat of frost yet – it was actually down to about 2 C overnight – so it’s early yet for bedding plants.

But it’s close, and that’s what you could feel in the air, anticipation and an antsy for spring type of feeling.

Can’t wait.

Walk Journal – Jan. 6, 2019

Location: Cedarvale Ravine/Nordheimer Ravine and Yonge Street

Duration: about 2.5 hours, 12k

Weather: Partly sunny, 0C and a chill north wind

The route started from home at Avenue Rd/Eglinton, and proceeded west along Roselawn to the Allen, then south across Eglinton down Everden into Cedarvale Ravine. I kept going south through the ravine to St. Clair, crossed that and then went down through Nordheimer Ravine to Boulton Drive, then south to Boulton Parkette, across Poplar Plains Road and back north to Cottingham, and then east along that to Yonge. From there I went north up Yonge to Manor Road, and then back west through the Chaplin Estates neighbourhood to Avenue Road, and north to get home.

I like walking through Cedarvale and Nordheimer, in any season. Today was a bit tough as there was a lot of ice on the paths, so the footing was tricky. Nevertheless, it always feels like an escape from the city into the countryside, as you walk through the trees and beside marshland. In spring and summer it’s alive with red-wing blackbirds, and in the fall the autumn colours are fantastic. In winter, there’s an outdoor ice rink in the park, and when there is snow there’s sledding on the hills. Whenever I walk through these parks, I can’t help but think that but for the persistence of many people, Toronto would have lost them back in the 1960s.

Torontonians today may not have heard of the Spadina Expressway, but they will have heard of the Allen Expressway and may have wondered why this road ends after just a few kilometres at Eglinton Avenue. The answer is that the Spadina Expressway was planned to continue the Allen Expressway south, through what is today the park system of Cedarvale and Nordheimer Ravines, and onwards south along Spadina Avenue all the way to the Gardiner Expressway down by the lake. That would have created a ring road around downtown Toronto, along with the Gardner to the south, the Don Valley Expressway to the east, and the 401 to the north.

While this plan seems terrible when looking back from today, I am sure that at the time to those who planned these roads, it made a lot of sense. Cars were symbols of freedom in the 1950s and 1960s, representing the ability to go where you wanted, when you wanted to. Cities around the world were building ring roads around city centres, and doing so in Toronto would have seemed like a modern approach in keeping with contemporary urban planning. Nevertheless, by the 1960s people were beginning to realize that cars, and the roads they required, came with costs. Toronto had seen many of its heritage buildings pulled down and replaced in the 1940-1970 period, and the thought of losing vibrant downtown neighbourhoods along Spadina along with the parklands and natural environments of the parks galvanized a response led by a new generation of urban thinkers such as Jane Jacobs.

I am grateful that these advocates were so passionate and vocal, and were able to carry public opinion. The trails and parks that we have today are amongst the jewels of Toronto, and are literally the lungs of the city. Walk through them and enjoy them, and never take them for granted.