An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto's Natural Parklands

image of the cover of  the book: Enduring Wilderness: Toronto's Natural Parklands

Toronto has approximately 8,000 ha of public parkland. About half of this parkland is natural parkland.  With Toronto's population expected to grow  to 3.4 million people by 2041, the importance of these natural parklands will increase.  In 2012, photographer Robert Burley was commissioned by the City of Toronto to document these natural spaces at this pivotal time in the City's history.  The resulting book An Enduring Wilderness:  Toronto’s Natural Parklands, and an exhibition of the same name, provide evidence of these considerable natural areas and help to communicate and celebrate their ecological value and civic function. 


Where are Toronto's Natural Parklands?

(Click on map to enlarge)

Primarily found within river valleys and ravines, and along the waterfront, Toronto's natural parklands form an extensive web of green space that reaches into almost every neighbourhood of the City.  Most of the natural parklands are owned by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and managed by the City of Toronto for park, recreation and conservation purposes. Adjacent green space is owned and managed by the City, TRCA, other public agencies or private land owners.


Why are Natural Parklands Important?

Toronto's natural parklands offer residents access to nature and a variety of natural landscapes including forests and wetlands, beaches and bluffs, and creeks and rivers.  Many of these parklands contain extensive walking and cycling trails, outstanding viewpoints, interpretive signage and historic sites.  Much of the City's biodiversity is located within these natural parklands, including most of the environmentally significant natural areas (ESAs) that have been identified, studied and mapped.  Natural parklands provide habitat for a myriad of species; contain a variety of landforms and provide important ecological functions such water conveyance, cooling the air and water and serving as flyways or concentration points for migratory birds. Beyond their recreational and ecological value to Toronto, these natural parklands are also part of a larger bioregional system that is encompassed by the Greenbelt and include lands that will be part of the Rouge National Urban Park.     


Why a Book and Exhibition?

Both the book and the exhibition seek to raise awareness about the often hidden and remote wild spaces within the City’s park system and speak to the growing public interest in the value of natural places to our quality of life.  They remind us of the importance of long-term protection of these natural parklands. The fact that so much parkland in Canada's largest city is natural also challenges the popular perception of big cities as "concrete jungles" and has profound implications for the future of our park system as our city continues to grow, and for environmental sustainability, as we face new challenges such as climate change.  

Over the coming decades, there will be growing pressure on these fragile natural spaces due to increased use and demand for new recreation opportunities.  There are also ongoing impacts associated with encroachment, invasive species, and extreme weather events which cause flooding and erosion.  Substantial public investments are being made to restore and improve natural areas, to enhance their passive and active recreational value and to locate and upgrade trail and water infrastructure.  The City also has several strategic initiatives underway that will benefit Toronto's natural parkland including the Toronto Ravine Strategy and the Parks and Trails Wayfinding Strategy.  These initiatives will address key challenges and opportunities facing our natural parklands and act as catalysts to ensure that Toronto's natural parklands continue to function and flourish so they can be enjoyed by future generations. 

Further information on Toronto parks www.toronto.ca/parks

Additional Information


Enduring Wilderness:  Toronto's Natural Parklands by Robert Burley with writing by Anne Michaels, Michael Mitchell, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Alissa York, George Elliott Clarke, and Wayne Reeves explores the complex relationship between Toronto's public wilderness spaces and civic life.  The book contains five sections beginning with parks found along the Lake Ontario shoreline and continuing through the major river valleys of the Humber, the Don, and the Rouge.  A fifth section acknowledges the creeks and remnant ravines that have been radically altered or isolated through development.  The book illustrates that these natural parklands cut through almost every type of neighbourhood and contain ecological characteristics and landforms that harken back to pre-settlement times. Some, especially along the waterfront, have been constructed. Others have been reconfigured in response to city infrastructure and development. Many have been restored. Today they all contain habitats for a myriad of plant and animal species, and provide valuable ecological services such as cleaning and cooling air and water. They also provide a connection to Toronto’s rich history and heritage.

The book is published by Toronto publisher ECW Press and is available for purchase wherever you purchase books or through Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation. Copies also available for viewing at Toronto Public Libraries.