A Rainy Walk in Mimico Creek

We stopped to talk to Omo because he was Black. So far we had seen only two Black people in the Mimico Creek ravine. Including me, that made three. Omo (I forgot to ask his last name), lived in a house near the stream. He said he rarely saw other Black people in the ravine even though many lived in the apartments on Eglinton Avenue. The ravine’s neighbourhood was mostly White he said. The area on the right was richer as it had plenty of backyards with swimming pools.

We walked along the ravine in Mimico Creek because it was there, and we had previously strolled along the southern end of the greenspace. Today we did the middle section, starting at the intersection of Eglinton Avenue West and Martin Grove Road. A 33 kilometres paved recreational trail runs through the ravine. As usual, I kept a tally of who was in the ravine, and who was absent.

Some apartment towers were on the north side of the Eglington crossroads. We sauntered around them just to have a look. The people that we met outside were all brown or Black. Three of the towers were subsidized housing. Crossing over the intersection, we followed a paved bike path and within five minutes we were in a park with Mimico Creek on our right. However, you had to know that you were there, as there were no maps or signs to tell you where you were.

As we continued our walk, monarch and cabbage white butterflies flitted about. A trio of knee-high tree stumps, each with a sharp pencil-like point, stood out in a bend near the stream. Beavers at work. The large trees had a ring of mesh wire fencing to stop the beavers from felling them too.

About an hour later, walking by mostly mowed fields of grass, we came across a playground of swings, slides, and an enormous school-bus-yellow climbing frame. A handful of children played on the structures. We saw about 200 people that afternoon in the parks along the banks of Mimico Creek. Most were cyclists, the occasional runners, walkers or dog walkers.

Some 90 per cent of the people were White or East Asian. We saw only three brown people, a family of mom, dad and a child riding bicycles. For most people – myself included, as I have cycled along this ravine often – these creek lands were a place to pass through, and not a destination in itself.

Yet, houses flanked both sides of the creek, shaded, secluded and prettified by trees and shrubs. It seemed as if the ravine was an extension of their private backyards. I wondered how many saw deer just by looking up from their garden chair.

It is a privilege to have this kind of access to nature right on your doorstep in the city. And in Toronto privilege is racialised. It comes in a hierarchy: White people at the top, brown in the middle, and Black and Indigenous at the bottom.

Soon we were in West Deane Park where we took our tea break. Of course I had to talk to the dozen or so Black people gathered under a large tent, on the far side of the playground. They had coolers, barbecues and a generator. One said they were having their annual picnic in the park, and always chose this secluded spot so that the music did not disturb anyone. The picnic was small this year as the weather forecast was for rain and thunderstorms. The group were immigrants from Zimbabwe.

As we left the group, the rain started. We sheltered under a concrete bridge for the next ten minutes as the thunder rumbled and water splattered the land. Storm waters, polluted and shiny, flowed from the roads and through a culvert that emptied directly into Mimico Creek. Yet the sound was as soothing as a waterfall.

We continued our walk after the rain. The humidity created a mist that made it look like steam was bubbling up from underground. It was a lovely magical and mythic touch in the creek lands. Two families paused to read an information plaque, the only one that we had seen so far. It was a guide to the common birds and other animals who live in the ravine.

The rain came back and so we ended our long walk at Echo Valley Park. The large City of Toronto sign made it obvious that this was a public park. Yet, expensive and manicured front and back yards spilled over into the creek lands, making it look and feel as if the park was a private estate. It was hard to figure out where the private yards ended and the public park began. A prominent Neighbourhood Watch sign, about the same size as the city’s park sign, underlined its exclusivity.

Within a few minutes we reached a bus stop at Kipling Avenue and Burnhamthorpe Road. Mimico Creek flowed on the other side of street through the private Islington Golf Club. From its website the annual membership fee of the club is just shy of $10,000. 

We hopped on the bus and within five minute we arrived at Islington subway station. Our walk in the Mimico Creek ravine underlined how race and nature are linked in Toronto. Racial inequality flows into nature spaces too.

© Jacqueline L. Scott. You can support the blog here.

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