As part of RavinePortal I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking with grade 12 students from the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Toronto, a public secondary school located in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood, within minutes from the West Don and its associated ravines. Their art teacher, Hilary Masemann, contacted me shortly after RavinePortal opened, asking whether I’d be willing and interested in meeting with her students and establishing a dialogue with them about Toronto’s ravines and their personal experiences, perceptions, and responses to these spaces.
I had the pleasure of introducing many of the students to Taylor Creek Park, a silent verdant oasis located within 15 minutes from their school, and there began to discuss the importance of green space in the lives of urban city dwellers, the access issues that currently exist in their immediate neighbourhood, and what the future of the ravines might hold.
I asked each of the students to share with me their thoughts, which I now share, in order of receipt, with you:
“I don’t usually go outside unless absolutely necessary, so I’m not knowledgeable about the geography of the ravines. The entryways are not exactly obvious, so I find that a first time down to the ravine via a particular path serves as an initiation of sorts. A couple of years ago, I was following several classmates down a thin and obscure dirt path into the ravine, and I was a bit nervous about how sketchy the whole entryway was. But then the path widened, the sketchiness decreased, and the walk started feeling a lot more legit. So now, I can use that path without feeling uneasy at all because I know where it leads. I don’t think anything of the sketchiness.” Jiayin Huang
“I don’t normally go down to the valley because it wasn’t interesting to me. When I did go down to the valley the paths were dirty and hard to walk on and it smelled kind of funny. The people that normally go down to the valley are those who go biking or just want some quiet time. But I rather just go on a walk in the neighbourhood rather than go down to the valley. Overall, the valley seemed like an okay place to go to but it’s not my type of place to spend my time in. Maybe if it was cleaned up and had a more welcoming feel to it then I would spend my time in it.” Husna Jan
“For me the Ravine is Memory. When I first came to Canada, my parents didn’t have enough money to show us around so my siblings and I would go there almost every day in summer and also in winter. We used the valley to ride our bikes, to BBQ and to walk around. I think it’s the valley that makes Thorncliffe more beautiful and keeps people connected. I made countless friends in the valley that are in the same school as me. I enjoy the view of the valley from my apartment every day in every season of the year. It is always beautiful and refreshing.” Moneeba Tanweer
“My perspective about the ravine was very positive. I’ve learnt a lot of new things that I didn’t know existed. For example, the ravine is a very quiet place and a place where you can relax. Me personally I didn’t look closely what is the beauty of the ravine. For example, I found out the sidewalk, the nice colourful trees are nice the way they are. I prefer there should be no changes and leave it the way it is. I really like the way how it’s an “unknown place” not many people think it’s a park where they can come enjoy many people come to ride a bike, walk around, maybe study and other quite activities. Overall the ravine should be how it is and kept like this.” Fatima Fajalwala
“To me the valley is a place to walk my friend’s dog. It’s a place that includes hidden passageways and each person can have their own space in the ravines, which is amazing because it’s so close to our neighborhood. It takes about ten minutes to get down there and you have all the time in the world to explore. I use the valley for many occasions. My family likes to go there for picnics and barbeques. I also ride my bike and rollerblade and as I mentioned before, I walk my best friends’ dog.” Zuhra Muhammad Amin
“Till today, I haven’t really thought of the valley in much depth, in fact I didn’t give it any importance at all. It was just another part of our community. But when I think about it today, I realize the importance of it. The valley is a place that I look upon every morning from my balcony; it gives me a fresh start. Though I don’t often go to the valley, I’m practically in the valley at all times, as my balcony sits right above the ravine. At night I do feel scared as there are no lights in the valley and it’s pitch black. But in the morning, it’s just beautiful; the sunrise, morning dew and the cool breeze. When I think about the valley not being there, I get scared. A highway, with 24-7 noise and pollution, a mall which would commercialize everything, nothing would be as peaceful and quiet as it is now. During our holy month Ramadan, I often put a chair out in my balcony and sit there and pray the holy book as it’s just so quiet and peaceful in the mornings.” Alvira Sheikh
“‘You know you can’t go to the valley all by yourself’, this is the reply I have most often gotten from my mom whenever I asked for her permission to go the ravine. It’s been this way since I can remember, I have never been encouraged to explore the ravine and make memories there like many people I know. Maybe it’s a cultural or religious thing or maybe just a fear most conservative parents have nowadays. The ravine has carried a bad reputation; my parents don’t want me to be exposed to the activities or the people involved. It’s this preconceived and innate fear instilled in my family that has held me back from connecting to this foreign yet familiar place in my neighborhood. It is as if they are trying to shelter me from something that in actuality is just a harmless place. The ravine, a place that should serve as a getaway from the daily hustles and bustle of city life and a tranquil place to connect to nature is sadly just a secluded area in my life that I have not fully discovered or better yet even understood. I have only spent time in the ravine with my family and cousins and that was years ago. It was a great place to unwind and enjoy with “family”, but as soon as you think of enjoying it individually its just stays as a thought; it never becomes reality. Maybe someday, I will be able to say that the ravine is a safe place for everyone and that it not longer faces the same complaints it does now and I hopefully wait for that day to come. Will the change be overnight, maybe not, but it will take efforts from everyone in the community to educate our younger generation about this hidden treasure; only then can we hope to see a future where parents won’t have to be reluctant to send their kids to the ravine.” Soha Iqbal
“In Stephen King’s essay, “Why We Crave Horror Movies”, he states that as humans, we are constantly assuring our sanity by satisfying our thirsts for fear and anxiety. This may be one of the abstract claim’s I’ve read but I’ve caught myself doing just that. As a 13 year old, given the freedom to wander off until your parents are home from work, you tend to explore what’s most accessible to you. I’ve gone into the ravine, many, many times, and further in each time.
My friends and I are driven by mysteries and mindlessly attracted to places that look suspicious. I remember a winter night in 2012, we decided to take a walk in the valley, knowing it would be empty and we’d have each other for support. As we walked deeper and deeper in the valley, we noticed little droplets of blood in the snow, as if it fell from the trees. We followed the trail for 30 minutes, the red marks remained droplets, and we gave up when we reached the bottom of the bridge that connects East York and Donlands together. I think that we’re all drawn to things we can’t manage to comprehend and we’re not satisfied until we’ve proven to ourselves that we are capable of being brave, even if that means putting ourselves in bad situations. In hindsight, I’d tell myself not to go in… OK, maybe I wouldn’t but I would advise my 13-year-old self to be a little bit more cautious.
I’ve even gotten lost in neighborhoods that offer exits/entrances from the ravine, in fact, my friend and I’ve asked a stranger to drive us home once. It was only 4 PM when we’d stumbled upon the staircase that leads up to the Parkview Hill Crescent neighborhood but we walked in circles for hours after the sun set trying to find that entrance to the ravine to take us home. Even asking the residents didn’t work, they’d reply with: “I didn’t even know there was an entrance!” Regardless, prominent entrances (and a good sense of direction) would’ve ensured our safety.
The ravine serves many purposes but no doubt, it curates a little excitement in all of us. I think I’m speaking for a majority of the youth in the Thorncliffe and Flemingdon neighborhoods; it has sponsored many of our journeys and continues to do so.” Gloria Zhou