The slogan on every Toronto Parks & Recreation sign is ‘A City Within A Park’. And indeed many of the city’s parks and trails involve the interplay of natural and urban environments.
The Betty Sutherland Trail in North York is a part of Toronto network of ravines, and follows the eastern branch of the Don River from Duncan Mill Road just west of Don Mills Road to Sheppard Avenue and Leslie Street. I enter from Duncan Mill Road, noting the existence of the nearby Duncan Mill Ruins.
At the bottom of the tiny slope is a plaque dedicated to the park’s namesake, Mrs Betty Sutherland, who championed parks during her political career within the former municipality of North York. I begin my exploration by going off the trail and looking out into the river.
The trail itself is rather winding at times falling right beside the river while crossing it a few times. It is also well used, especially the section closer to Duncan Mill with a quite a few walkers, runners, and cyclists.
The trail also has rest points in various locations. Stopping at a picnic bench, I take out my copy of Amy Lavender Harris’ Imagining Toronto (@ImaginingTO). I pre-marked a specific section ‘Ravine City’ in her book which examines the portrayal of Toronto’s ravines in fiction, which I thought was very fitting considering my location. Every so often I’d stop to consider the details, such as the sometimes dark associations Toronto fiction and, by extension, Toronto writers and residents have had with these particular geological features. Before I can finish the section, I opt to continue my walk as mosquitoes begin their feast on me.
It was very odd experience burrowing deeper into this trail which speaks to this “City Within A Park” motto. On the one hand the riparian corridor and the quiet sounds of creek itself allow for a very serene time within this natural environment. On the other hand, if I care to listen, I can also hear the faint yet unmistakable sound of speeding traffic coming from the nearby 401. This is the strange cross section between Toronto’s natural heritage (or, at least, natural features) and the built heritage or environ around or, in this case, on top of the natural.
Speaking of, I pass under the highway half-way into the trail. Or at least, I deem it halfway if only because it acts as the southern border to Henry Farm neighbourhood. A short while past the highway I encounter a fork in the path: one would lead up into the residential neighbourhood and the other continuing as I was. I opt to venture the streets out of the foreknowledge of the nearby Oriole Lodge, the estate house built by George S Henry, as well as the Henry Mulholland Cairn dedicated to his great-relatives.
After that detour, I get back to the trail, where I encounter several fruit trees and tributaries to the river. I’m also able to see, poking through the trees, the far off ‘H’ of North York General Hospital. I exit at the intersection of Leslie and Sheppard, where across the street at the northwest corner I see another trail begins. For next time.