Saturday, August 13, 2011

August 13, 2011: Brookbanks Park and Deerlick Creek

We arrived at Brookbanks via the TTC, disembarking the York Mills bus at the Valley Woods Road stop, a stone's throw west of the entrance to the park. Deerlick Creek flows in here from the north, and while it is possible to follow much of the creek from its headwaters near Highway 401, the path north of York Mills skirts residential or semi-industrial lands most of the way, and provides little to amuse the senses of a four year old. Once the creek emerges in Brookbanks, however, it does enjoy a much more naturalized environment, so I figured this the best starting point for today's hike.

Shortly after entering the park, the path makes a sharp right turn and mounts a small bridge that crosses to the west banks of Deerlick Creek. While we did check the bridge out, Abbey was insistent that we double back instead, and follow the dirt trail which continues south along the eastern banks of the creek. This trail, I must confess, is pretty disappointing. It pushes through young, sparse forest, virtually devoid of any understory thanks to the vicious forces of sheet erosion. Mere meters from the trail is a long run of chain link fences, separating residential backyards from the ravine lands themselves. On the day we visited it was also cluttered with an assortment of debris and refuse: potato chip bags, old soda bottles, chunks of styrofoam, candy wrappers, old cigarette packages, you name it. Combined with a scattering of chain-sawed logs flanking the trail, it gave the area a very worn and under-appreciated air.

Not knowing what to expect from the remainder of the walk, we took advantage of a tiny trail that lead to an impromptu creek crossing, by way of a few well-placed stepping stones, which gave immediate access to Brookbanks' playground. The play equipment there is pretty typical, but the splashpad is one of the best we've found in the city. Abbey spent nearly half an hour running through the various misters, sprinklers and fountains before we continued on our hike.

The playground, not surprisingly, also happens to border a stretch of Deerlick Creek that has benefited from intense re-naturalization efforts. A great diversity of native shrubs, grasses and wildflowers sit atop the armourstone creek banks, including several vibrant communities of goldenrod, with more than a few of the plants sporting galls that hint at the complexity of insect life present underfoot. The scope of these revitalization efforts extend south for about 100 meters, down to where another small footbridge crosses back over Deerlick Creek, and certainly represents the most well-cared for area in all of Brookbanks.

Near the playground, you might notice a very small sign which provides a bit information about the history of Deerlick Creek. In all honesty, it's a great example of just about everything that is wrong with trail signage in the Greater Toronto Area. While I have included a photograph of it in this post (click to enlarge), allow me to paraphrase: "Native people used this valley. Europeans came and dubbed it Deerlick Creek. We're now trying to repair centuries of damage." Name of the creek aside, this basically describes virtually every ravine in Toronto now doesn't it? With this type of signage we have amazing opportunities to profile the forgotten history of our lands, to celebrate individuals who have richly contributed to the city, to ignite passions for ecological concerns, and to foster support for City and community initiatives that aim to understand or improve our natural areas. This sign is lip-service at best.

Here, for example, is something worthy of being summarized on a sign related to Deerlick Creek: For several seasons in the late '80s and early '90s, Dr. Mima Kapches of the Royal Ontario Museum conducted a variety of archaeological digs in some of the backyards that line the Brookbanks Park ravine. During a dig in the fall of 1987 she uncovered a Meadowood-cache blade dating from 1000 BC, making it one of the oldest ever discovered. Continued excavation the following year uncovered a variety of Middle Archaic period artifacts, including a small pebble that displayed a human face in effigy, believed to have been created in 4,700 B.C. making it one of the oldest dated human representations in northeastern North America. From 1988 to 1990, digs in an adjacent backyard revealed a wealth of Early Iroquoian pottery (ca. AD 1000), as well as the remnants of an "open-pit firing event," a site that would have been used in its production. These discoveries have lead local archaeologists to hypothesise that the ravine surrounding Deerlick Creek may have once served as a seasonal pottery production and firing campsite. All of this passionate fieldwork, these interesting discoveries, a tie in to our own local museum and archaeological community, and the best we can put on a sign is that "40,000 years ago native people discovered that deer were drawn to mineral deposits in this valley." For crying out loud, they don't even say what type of minerals. It's a travesty.

Rant over, and back to the hike itself. Crossing the bridge to the south of the playground, we quickly entered a more natural section of ravine lands. The understory here is significantly more well-developed, and the forests more diverse and abundant. The rocky creek bed is visible from the path all the way along, and affords frequent opportunities to safely approach Deerlick Creek. It would be a lie to describe Brookbanks Park as a jewel in our tapestry of ravines, but it does provide grounds for a pleasant and enjoyable stroll.

One thing that really stood out on our walk were the sheer number of trees brandishing the florescent orange dot that City workers use to denote trees targeted for take down. In time, these trees will be felled, and cut in to sections which will be left on the ravine floor to serve as vital habitat for the various crawlers and critters that call the ravine their home. Clearly the City has already begun their efforts, as evidenced by the chain-sawed logs we witnessed as we entered the park.

Brookbanks Park is bisected by Brookbanks Drive, a roadway which winds its way through the surrounding neighbourhood from Ellesmere Road before becoming Three Valleys Drive on the western side of the Don Valley Parkway. While the main path does continue right to the road, a smaller trail branches off just prior, following Deerlick Creek to where it's channelized for its trip under Brookbanks Drive. This short section of trail was by far Abbey's favourite part of the walk, so we lingered as long as we could before finally emerging to cross the road and hook up with the continuation of the official path.

The remainder of the ravine, while very similar to the preceding section, seems to suffer from a greater intensity of use. Several trails lead in from the apartment complex that looms over the western slopes, as well as multiple smaller "short cuts" which criss cross the valley. Sadly, such usage also seems to have brought with it a doubling in the volume of accumulated trash and refuse, including the occasional busted chair or other abandoned article of furnishing. To date, this section of ravine ranks the dirtiest in all of our travels.

Deerlick Creek is eventually channelized underneath the Don Valley Parkway, emerging in the Donalda Golf and Country Club where it flows into the East Don River. While it is possible to follow the path down that way, we exited the ravine about 100 meters before hand, taking the trail that leads out to Cassandra Blvd. From here we walked over to Underhill Dr., where we caught the 91 Woodbine bus south. This bus is worth familiarizing yourself with if you're interested in exploring Toronto's ravines. Over its route to and from Woodbine station, it not only provides access to Brookbanks Park, but also to the Charles Sauriol Conservation Reserve via Anewan Dr., to Taylor Creek Park beneath the Woodbine bridge, and passes directly over the headwaters of Curity Ravine. For us, happily, it also has the advantage of passing by a stop that is only a block from our house!

Total Distance: Approx. 1.83km
Trail Map: Google Earth | Google Maps
Start Coordinates: +43°45'36.75" N -79°19'45.61" W
End Coordinates: +43°44'58.74" N -79°19'54.06" W


  1. I really enjoyed reading about this ravine so close to where I grew up. My kids also love that splash pad. I was wondering if you could provide a reference for the archaeological information you provided. It was fascinating and I would love to learn more. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the kind words! Most of the information came from back issues of the ROM's Archaeological Newsletter and/or Rotunda articles, as well as some personal correspondence with Dr. Kapches. The Toronto Reference Library likely has back issues, but the ROM Library and World Cultures department certainly do as well.

  3. Thanks so much! That is very helpful.

  4. I've just moved to the area and walk my dogs in Brookbanks Park, so finding this post was very interesting - as was the information you gave. Happily, the park is today much cleaner than you describe - possibly because it's recently undergone an "after-winter" clean-up - by August it may be just as bad again. Thanks for a great post!