Garrison Creek is the most popular of the memorialized and romanced ‘lost rivers’ of Toronto. With its source just north of St. Clair Avenue West, the sewered creek makes its way down to the lake running parallel to Christie and Grace streets north and south of Bloor. Here, Christie Pits and Bickford Vale, two bowl-shaped parks descend 50-60 feet below the street level.
The shape of these open spaces owes more to the gravel quarry and brickyard that produced the hard surfaces of the city than the water that carved a channel through the area long ago.
The two bowl parks, according to cartographer and explorer of Toronto’s labyrinth of subterranean infrastructure Michael Cook, offer the best point to imagine the sewer as the beautiful grotto that it is. Its brick vaulted spaces can be sensed through water sounds emerging from grates on the park floor.
The Friends of Christie Pits Park recall how, even before the Parks Department took it over, the pit was a magnet for neighbourhood children who used it as a wading pool when it rained and as a shinny rink when the water it collected froze.
Christie Pits Park “Group wading in Willowvale Park ca. 1910”
Today, the inadequacy of the century-old sewer system serves as a form of nemesis invoking Garrison Creek, in a sad vestige of its former form, as over-flow.
Seeking to re-connect to the original waterway, The Human River meets at the bowl parks every fall to begin its annual procession along the Garrison’s path. The group’s vision and creative energy last year was streamed into the Suzuki Foundation’s Home Grown National Park Project, a groundswell of citizen plantings, documented on Facebook, to create a Garrison “green corridor”. Among the locally-spawned initiatives is the community canoe network represented by the canoe-planter at Christie Pits.
The two bowl parks became a crucible for inventive solutions to Toronto’s challenge of how to restore a harmonious relationship with its watersheds thanks to Brown & Storey’s park design. Proposed almost twenty years ago, yet never implemented, the proposal nevertheless became a rallying cry and inspiration to make Garrison Creek a vital current of city life.
Celebrating the creative flow of the spring run-off, Yael Greenberg, Nicholas Power and I offered market visitors an opportunity to add to the cascade of images and colour that is our homage to Garrison Creek.