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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A slice of nature in the concrete jungle

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With winter’s first few flakes of snow rearing their frigid faces this week, I decided to get out and try to absorb as much of the autumn atmosphere as I could before the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot gives way to the not-so walking-friendly crunch of icy, hard packed snow.

I decided to spend an afternoon in the Humber North Campus Arboretum (which is also featured in this post by our summer intern Matt Hague as part of the Campus Perspectives series) and I was actually surprised with how most of the trees have already lost their leaves here. Most of the woods was quite bare, especially the older and larger ones close to the Humber river. It was quite a change from last weekend as I was driving through Caledon and Dufferin County I was met with a full-force of autumn colours, especially as I passed through escarpment territory (which, sadly, I didn’t take pictures of).

The Arboretum is like a near-tranquil oasis in the suburban desert of Rexdale and, by my observation, is still considerably underused despite the number of field-trippers, mother and children combos, and occasional wedding party stopping by for photo shoots. Considering the Arboretum’s location, there aren’t as many students making use of this space as you would think. During the couple hours I spent walking around the gardens and the woods I only came across a half dozen students.

When walking through the woods, you can almost lose yourself in your surroundings and forget that you’re still within Toronto’s border (albiet, very close to the edge). When you get deep enough into the trees, even as leafless as they were, the campus buildings fade from sight. The sounds of busy squirrels jumping through the falling leaves and foraging their last bit of autumn spoils begins to drown out the incessant whoooosh-ing noise of Highway 427. This makes you feel like you have almost stepped through a portal and ended up in some untouched forest far away, that is until you hear the overpowering sounds of airplanes approaching nearby Pearson Airport.

The Arb is probably one of the cleanest areas of the campus that I’ve noticed which, considering its lack of garbage bins, is either a testament to the school’s dedication of maintaining the area, or just from lack of use. There was an after-dark Halloween walk that took place here a few days before I took these pictures, and the only detritus I came across was the corpse of a forgotten-about scarecrow pictured below.

The Arb, which sits at the top of the Humber River ravine, is home to a lot of woodland animals, squirrels being the most prevalent but if you ever walk by a campus trash bin at night, you can tell that the raccoon population seems to be thriving. I’ve had a few scare groundhog spottings, usually in the summer, and always in the same place. The Arb is also home to a herd of white-tailed deer, in fact a few years ago one of these deer got into the school through the shipping bay and ran a muck through the school.

(This picture is from last February when I stumbled into a herd of deer that were uncharacteristically hanging around the most trafficked area of the arb. There were about 20 – 30 in the area when I first got there but many began to wander off. Sorry for the poor quality, the pictures were taken on my cell phone)

Unfortunately during my day in the Arb, I wasn’t able to catch glipses of most of these animals. Between my lack of woodland steath, and the ruckus of an elementary school field trip that seemed to shadow my movements, I was just lucky enough to get the few squirrel pictures I have. At this time of year, the squirrels were beginning to fatten up, but were still full of energy as these two went front tree to tree either in a fight or a lusty embrace, I’m not sure.


I even spent over an hour sitting 20 feet above the ground in a tree near the river. I was hoping that, if I was able to get myself off of the loud crunch of the forest floor, it might coax some more animals out of hiding. Although I could hear a little more activity off in the distance, I still had no luck spotting anything other than the squirrels.

my perch

My time in the tree did allow me to discover something new in the Arb: this little shack pictured below. I don’t know why it’s around, whether it was built by students or not, but by all the water bottles sitting around, it seems like it’s used pretty regularly.

I grew up in Caledon and spent summers and field trips in great places like Forks of the Credit, the Cheltenham Badlands, Kortright Centre, and the Niagara Escarpment, so I feel like I’ve spent my youth in some of the nicest slices of nature around Toronto. While the Arboretum may not be as large or as popular as most of the other places I’ve been, it’s certainly a nice place to spend an autumn afternoon.



  1. Love this place, though I’ve only seen it from the bike path. It was part of a bi-weekly ride home from work in Brampton. Deer don’t like bikes!

  2. Amazing. I’ll have to check this place out – great pictures!