Josh Matlow City Hall Diary
Some Torontonians love their cars while others ride their bikes.
Others rely on public transit or walk every day. Yet I’ve found another way to get around the city that’s free, avoids traffic and offers a different perspective on our urban landscape. I’ve been traveling Toronto by canoe.
A few years ago, my wife Melissa and I discovered canoeing through the Toronto Islands. It’s an amazing journey. At times, we feel like we could be in Algonquin Park. We then turn a bend and see the Toronto skyline.
One of our city’s greatest assets is the many natural spaces that we have in the midst of densely populated areas. From High Park and the Humber Bay Butterfly Habit to our extensive ravine network, many Torontonians are closer to nature than they often realize.
Last week, Melissa and I tried something new-paddling down the Don River from Eglinton Ave. to the waterfront.
For the past 18 years, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has hosted an annual event called Paddle the Don to raise public awareness about the importance of restoring the river’s natural environment. This year, over 600 people took the challenge including many of my colleagues on city council.
The TRCA does important work to re-naturalize our rivers and waterfront, restore fish habitat, and prevent floods and soil erosion.
For example, if work hadn’t been done to curb erosion on the Scarborough Bluffs, many of the homes above might be somewhere in Lake Ontario by now.
While canoeing down the Don, we met up with two other Torontonians paddling beside us. Matt Galloway, host of CBC’s Metro Morning and Gord MacPherson who’s been working with the TRCA for 28 years.
A few years ago, MacPherson and his team found something unusual in the Don — walleye, which had only been found spawning near Pickering before. He told me, “we’re sitting on the biggest ecological story in the GTA”
Finding fish in the Don is a very good sign the river’s coming back to life. MacPherson attribute’s this success to our city’s sewage treatment plants, habitat restoration work done by the TCRA and, perhaps surprisingly, to invasive zebra mussels. While a nuisance to boaters and swimmers, each mussel filters a litre and half of water daily.
However, like all city-funded entities, the TRCA may face pressures in the 2012 budget. When I suggested I should invite Rob Ford for a canoe ride, he said the mayor would be impressed. “When we spend public dollars, we’ve got to do it in a way that makes sense”.
Working seamlessly with other levels of government, the TRCA has taken a number of measures to restore and create habitat. For example, at the foot of Spadina Rd.. in the shadow of the CN tower, there are now wetlands on a site that used to be a small parking lot. It now has beavers, northern pike and snapping turtles.
I hope the mayor accepts my invitation to go canoeing. If he does, he’ll see why we mustn’t leave Toronto’s natural environment up the creek without a paddle.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.
To read this column at thestar.ca, please click here.