Sweet Valley High: the Don Valley Brickworks
by Jaime Jacques
photo by Bouke Salverda

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I have been living in a highrise at Yonge and Bloor for the past seven months. The first night I moved in I smoked a joint with my new roommate, stood on the balcony, stared out through the tiny perforations of the pigeon-wire cage, and proceeded to have an anxiety attack.

I envisioned all the other box apartments surrounding me, attached to all the other diminutive decks looking out to the same slabs of concrete. I wondered how I was going to make it through as a resident in transition, waiting for my next score, preferably in the west end, beside a park, with a really good neighborhood bar.

The answer turned out to be the Don Valley Brickworks. Just a short trek away, through the idyllic streets of Rosedale, I emerged one day at Castle Frank subway station, and followed a path west of the station from Castle Frank Road. There, a makeshift set of stairs led me down to a trail. The quiet, wooded area is popular with runners and dog walkers, but for the ignorant urbanite such as myself this was an astounding find. After a ten minute walk the trail leads out into a huge quarry with a deliciously old building. The site has been designed for walking, exploring, and preserving the natural landscape of the place that was once used to provide the bricks for Toronto buildings such as Osgoode Hall, Casa Loma, Massey Hall, and the Ontario Legislature.

It all began in 1882. A man named William Taylor and an assistant were drilling postholes for a fence when they noticed the clay's potential for brickmaking. Taylor, along with his brothers John and George, started making bricks in 1889, and had a full scale industrial operation by 1891. The setup continued until the 1980s when the clay began to run out, and most of the massive quarry was filled in anticipation of a housing development. Luckily for us, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority bought the site in 1987, and regeneration of the site began in 1994. It was opened to the public three years later, with a naturalization process fully underway.

The Brickworks is now a great getaway, where you can walk around the quarry, sit by the pond and relish a midday picnic, or head up to the lookout after dark for a tête-à-tête with someone close.

It's just as fun to run around the big old dilapidated building, where, of course, you are not supposed to roam. This prohibition is clearly indicated by the posted city signs that warn of asbestos lurking within the crumbling walls of the historical building. Urban explorers have posted some signs of their own variety: inside the prohibited area, graffiti decorates the walls and the odd bottle strewn on the ground implies that the building comes to life at night. The Brickworks is about to see some more late night action, as planning is underway to stage various indie rock shows.

If you find yourself caught in a throng of people at Yonge and Bloor, all of a sudden unable to breathe, head to Castle Frank Road, and follow the trail.

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Don Valley Brickworks
From the south · from Castle Frank Station, walk north on Castle Frank Rd. to Craigleigh Gardens. Walk off the north end into the ravine, find trail heading northeast, skirt edge of Bayview Ave., and follow trail for 5 minutes. From the north · walk south through Moore Park Ravine from Moore Ave.

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