Archives for posts with tag: ravines

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As my last post explored, Southern Ontario’s physical geography is often ignored, and its landscape is often derided as being flat, monotonous and boring.

Disconnected to the subtle features of the landscape by 400-series superhighways, big box plazas and its relentless grid, its understandable that the infinite beauty of the land beneath the concrete would be, for the most part, forgotten.

Beyond the highways, Southern Ontario’s rich glacial soil has been sculpted into dramatic river valleys, cuestas, waterfalls and the rolling hills of drumlin fields by millennia of water movement.

My map (leading image) is an effort to re-assert the geologic features most prominent in these three very connected cities at the western end of Lake Ontario. Happy exploring!

Check out this quick sketch of a map I made of Toronto:

toronto depiction

It focuses on three dominant features of the city: Highways, Rivers and Trees.

Toronto’s 400 Series Highways, Ravines and River Valley landscapes define this city, and I celebrate them.

Let me know your thoughts about the map in the comments section below!

Under the Grid 2

Looking at Toronto from above reveals a relatively unspectacular view. Thousands of streets stretch laterally over a seemingly undifferentiated landscape, criss-crossing at the expected 90 degrees, forming a seemingly unexciting street grid that eventually fizzles out into the cul-de-sacs of suburbia.

But a closer look — and a bit of exploring — reveals a much different situation: Toronto is crisscrossed with ravines that dramatically plunge from the concrete and into ecological wonderlands. These forested nether-regions are hidden in plain site under the city’s streets as hundreds of straight-shooting concrete bridges pass over them. This way the grid’s integrity is not compromised by a bunch of flood-prone, free flowing river valleys that resist right angles.

Last weekend, I was delighted to plan UNDER THE GRID, an acoustic concert that took advantage of a particularly special unplanned space that was created when Bathurst was carried over the Cedervale ravine via concrete bridge.

The Bathurst Bridge is a behemoth: a low-profile concrete-marvel that just happened to make a perfect amphitheater under its northern section where the sloping ravine, tamed by concrete and caged rocks, meets a supporting pillar at such an angle that ideal acoustics practically beg for a concert to take place.

Seb snap

On Saturday evening I gathered with friends and strangers under the bridge by candlelight to enjoy the beautiful acoustic music of Toronto-based CRHYMESKevin Kralik, Stan Simon and OMHOUSE as they animated the space and we collectively reinterpreted and imbued life into this architectural leftover. We served sweet and spicy pay-what-you-can mulled wine, and got cozy under blankets to stave off the cold night.

Of course, we weren’t the first to activate this unplanned space. Recent graffiti, a fire pit and blankets suggest many people take advantage of the privacy of the bridge for street art and shelter, using the space as needed.

UNDER THE GRID was a fantastic opportunity to invite others to explore a beautiful ravine that is important to my personal geography. I explored it as a child and continue to do so regularly. And as always, I took advantage of the opportunity to make a map so visitors straying far from their downtown haunts could easily negotiate the messy tangle of ravines that exists so beautifully beneath Toronto’s straight-laced streets.


Thank you to all who came to make UNDER THE GRID such a special evening. Another will certainly be planned next summer, and, I look forward to planning more events in Toronto’s ravines and in the city’s special spaces beyond!

Montreal versus Toronto comparisons are a common conversation I have with people who have been to both cities. It’s also something I have a lot on my mind, as I grew up in Toronto and spent some formative years living in Montreal (and am now back in Toronto — for a bit).

The cities are incredibly different — fundamentally so, especially considering that they are only five hours away from each other (which is considered very close in Canada, for all you European readers). Yes, they are both North American cities, former colonial economic outposts of European countries, and are based on a grid, but the cities that have grown around these shared circumstances are completely different.

I could write an extensive list outlining the differences from my own musings and the many conversations I’ve had with families, friends and strangers (this is a hot topic for those taking rideshares between the two cities), from the most nuanced to the most banal, from the most material to the most philosophical, but these will be topics for other posts.

For now, I’d like to sum up the differences in an elegant analogy that makes use of the cities’ prominent geographic features that my mom used earlier today, an analogy that eloquently describes a lot of my thoughts about these two very-different  yet-similar and thus-irresistibly-comparable places.

Montreal has its mountain, a raised point in the heart of the city; and,

Toronto has its ravines, forested valleys that lie below the street level and are spread throughout the city.

Montreal is easy to read: it is not challenging to find out “where-to-be” to have a good time out with others. Its culture, much like its mountain is centralized, pronounced, prominent and unmistakable.

Toronto is more difficult: one must know where-to-go to find the “good” spots. Much like its ravines, its culture is diffused, sprawling, mysterious and hard-to-find. It’s iconic skyline leads visitors to assuming that this is all Toronto’s got: what’s on the surface, without ever looking below.

So when you visit Toronto: as I say to anyone, “give it a chance”. It is a booming, exciting city, as any city of three million inevitably is. But its articulation, its manifestation of the “good life” is less marked, visible then in Montreal.

So get out there, climb that mountain —
but also explore those ravines.