On February 11, 2016, Jason Ramsay-Brown, author of Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests, spoke at Community Centre 55 to a group of about 30 people. He gave a passionate talk about his explorations of the City’s ravines and gave us specific advice about how we can protect them. He literally walked us through Gates Gully, Fool’s Paradise, Glendon Forest and down Taylor Creek. This interview with preceded his talk.
How do you involve your family in this passion of yours?
Jason: My daughter, now almost nine, has been my near constant companion in our ravines and forests since she was four years old. We’ve hiked hundreds of kilometers, planted hundreds of trees and plants, gone to clean ups and paddled canoes down the rivers together. That may be one of the greatest values these places have to offer people – the opportunity to connect with nature and with each other, to enjoy each others company away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
What were your biggest surprises or revelations you got by exploring so many ravines? Similarities? Differences?
Jason: The thing that impressed me the most was that despite great similarities in terms of ecology, threats, use, and history, each place tells its own unique story. It’s a narrative that can be read by the way the trails wander, which plants thrive, what infrastructure invades, the conditions of river banks, the use of the local community, and a thousand other details right before your eyes, once you learn what to look for.
The thing that surprised me the most is how impossible it is to learn everything about even one of these places! There is always something waiting to be discovered, something new to learn about, something waiting to change your appreciation for the place.
What do you think are the greatest threats facing Toronto’s ravines?
Jason: The greatest threat is the sheer number of threats and our ability to manage such complexity long term. Toronto’s natural areas are, in a very literal sense, being attacked from all sides: irresponsible use, erosion, soil compaction, invasive species, plant diseases, urban development, population growth, pollution and climate change. These influences and many more require long-term, sustainable solutions and protections that are largely at the whim of ever-changing political administrations and citizen co-operation.
Tell us about the City’s Ravine Strategy process:
Jason: The City concluded a number of surveys and public forums last year to gather information and opinion from Torontonians. Following that, a variety of interested groups and associations, such as, the Toronto Field Naturalists, Park People, U of T Forestry and the David Suzuki Foundation were invited to send representatives to the Ravine Strategy Advisory Group. We met several times in 2015 to put together recommendations for review by Parks, Forestry and Recreation, City Planning and Toronto Water. This process has almost concluded. The first draft strategy is expected to be released in mid-2016. Ravine Strategy
This information gathered by the City, combined with various environmental assessments and ecological studies that the city has on hand, should provide ample evidence as to the importance natural space holds for Torontonians and the need to preserve, protect and enhance the ecological integrity of these areas. Let’s hope council acts upon this evidence. Chief Planner’s Roundtable on the Ravines
Are you hopeful re: the outcome of the Ravine Strategy process?
Jason: I am hopeful, but neither optimistic nor pessimistic. I do believe that we are witnessing the birth of a new urbanity. I see rising evidence that people are looking to our cities to provide a new urban experience. Our natural world can and should live in balance with the opportunities afforded us by progress and modern convenience. With some 17% per cent of Toronto’s total area being ravines, we really are a “City within a Park,” and thus we are uniquely poised to lead the way in this regard. This, far more than a stock exhange or a run of Phantom of the Opera, would keep Toronto a world-class city throughout this century.
The Ravine Strategy, along side other initiatives like the City’s Tree Planting Strategy, can go a long way to helping to protect, preserve and enhance our natural heritage. But these things are only some of the tools required. Changes at the provincial and federal level are also needed. NGOs and associations need to work on being better allies. Commercial interests need to help fuel change for the good. People need to use these spaces responsibly.
How do you see your book being used by readers?
Jason: The primary purpose of the book is to help people fall in love with these amazing places. After all, we protect what we love. I hoped that in learning about what makes their local ravine or wild patch special, readers would be enticed into learning what make similar places elsewhere in the city special. In turn, they could start to see these places as interconnected, start to understand the deep dependencies and influences they have on one another and on us. Hopefully, some readers will be inspired to help these places thrive. I hope that all who read the book will feel compelled to practice responsible use and to advocate for the protection, preservation and enhancement of these places.
What are the practical steps we as individuals can take to help the ravines?
Jason: There are four things each one of us can do directly and immediately.
1) Follow all by-laws and all posted signs. Keep your dog(s) on a leash. Stay on marked trails. Do not pick the flowers. Pack out what you pack in. These rules are not arbitrary, nor are they designed by people anxious to spoil everyone’s fun. They are a result of millions of dollars in assessments and studies that prove what is required to keep these areas safe and healthy.
2) Community action. Volunteer with local environmental stewardship groups or events. Join “Friends Of” groups. Find an organization that is working to address issues of concern to you and lend them whatever help you can, either through time or donations.
3) Plant native plants. Learn about invasive plants vs. native plants. Shop at nurseries which sell native plants and plants that have not been treated by pesticides. The Ontario Invasive Plant Council has a guide to help you called Grow Me Instead! Evergreen has a native plant database that is a good resource.
4) Political communication. Fill out surveys, attend open houses, write letters to city councillors, MPPs and MPs. Make sure our representatives understand the importance you place on the preservation and enhancement of Toronto’s natural areas.
In addition to joining the Friends of Glen Stewart Ravine here are just a few other places where you can become involved:
For more information or to comment, contact us at:
You can get copies of Jason’s book at the
Great Escape Book Store on Kingston Road.