Transformation: The Story of Creating EBW
Fertile Ground for Rediscovery
When Evergreen’s eyes fell upon it in 2002, the crumbling Don Valley Brick Works was a shell of its former city-building purpose, an industrial brownfield that had been abandoned for 20 years. Sitting on 16.4 hectares of land in Toronto’s Don Valley, surrounded by an extensive ravine network, highways and residential neighbourhoods, the Brick Works is a site that has always known change and evolution.
For 100 years, the site functioned as one of Canada’s pre-eminent brick factories, at its peak producing over 43 million bricks annually. Following Toronto’s Great Fire of 1904, bricks from the Brick Works literally rebuilt the city, including many of Toronto’s landmark buildings, such as Casa Loma's stables, Old City Hall, parts of Queen’s Park, Osgoode Hall and the Royal Ontario Museum. Over the years, the Don Valley Brick Works also contributed to many nationally significant buildings, including Winnipeg’s Timothy Eaton Building, montreal’s Acadia Apartments and Moncton’s Timothy Eaton Building.
Decades of excavation for clay and shale exposed several layers of fossils that were instrumental in proving theories of glacial climate change. This geological significance was the impetus for the Province of Ontario designating the site as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest, and in 2002, the site’s buildings were designated by the City of Toronto under the Ontario Heritage Act. These designations became crucial to the future preservation of the site.
By the mid-1980s, the quarry was almost fully depleted. It no longer made business sense to operate the factory. Plus, in the 100 years that the Don Valley Brick Works operated, the city had grown up around the site. Urban pressures combined with growing public awareness of the need to conserve valley lands brought into sharp focus the validity of an active mining operation in the heart of Canada’s largest metropolitan area.
The owners offered to sell the land to the City of Toronto for $4 million for conservation purposes, given its location in the ravine lands and the floodplain of the Lower Don River. While the City was pondering the offer, a development company bought it for $4,001,000. The developer then went to work to get the site rezoned from industrial to residential for a condominium development. However, they were met with fierce public opposition.
An informal coalition of citizens called Friends of the Valley pressed for expropriation of the Brick Works by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). In the end, they won. The Ontario Municipal Board supported the expropriation on the grounds that the site was scientifically designated and of international geological significance. It was a costly transaction, though. “It turned out to be the most complicated expropriation hearing in the history of the province,” says Glenn Garwood, the city project manager on the Brick Works file. It ultimately cost the Government of Ontario roughly $24 million to acquire the property.
After the expropriation in the mid-1980s, Brampton Brick leased the site and operated a retail outlet there until 1989. There were a number of plans floated for the Brick Works, including an ambitious multi-million-dollar public garden and natural heritage centre, but these unravelled in the recession of the early 1990s.
Some public and philanthropic funds did flow to the site, however. The City of Toronto and the TRCA filled in the quarry and created a wetland and meadow habitat—the Weston Family Quarry Garden—an important natural area in the broader Don watershed regeneration strategy. Two of the 16 buildings were restored and some stabilization work was undertaken, but the bulk of the industrial pad and buildings were fenced off from further use, waiting until someone found the answer to their future.