Toronto’s River Valleys: The Natural Soul of the City

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I love the restaurants and bars in downtown Toronto. And I enjoy shopping and people-watching in Yorkville or in the Distillery District. But if you REALLY want to know the world’s most cosmopolitan city (more languages are spoken here than in New York), you need to explore the city’s parks; especially the endless acres of trees and rolling lawns and small creeks in Toronto’s extensive ravines and river valleys. By Jim Byers.

A Saturday or Sunday visit to Sunnybrook Park or Serena Gundy Park in midtown Toronto reveals the city in all its multicultural splendour. Folks who live in high-rise apartments in neighborhoods such as Flemingdon Park or Don Mills seemingly explode out into the parks on a nice summer’s morning.

By 10 or 11 a.m. the wisps of smoke are arising from portable or city-provided barbeques and the sweet smell of grilled chicken, probably marinated all night in adobo sauce or spicy chilies or complex curries, swirls through the valley. Children dash among the open meadows or splash in the creeks under the watchful eye of parents, while grandparents doze under thick stands of maple trees and soak it all in.

I love watching the big family gatherings, where folks of all ages play games of soccer/football or Frisbee or even old-fashioned water balloon toss. Teenage girls smile shyly and teenage boys do all they can to get their attention as fathers and mothers look on with wizened eyes.

You’ll sometimes hear strains of bouncy tunes from the Punjab or the Philippines, along with classic Canadian rock tunes from the likes of Neil Young, Blue Rodeo or Bachman Turner Overdrive.

To me, there’s no finer way to spend a weekend than a bike ride through this wonderful Toronto parade.

Where to Go and How to Get There

You can take a short bus ride from the Eglinton Station on the Yonge St. Subway line to the corner of Leslie Street and Eglinton Avenue, where you’ll be virtually in the middle of one of the city’s biggest river valleys. Alternatively, you can hop on a bike and take the Don River bike path up to Serena Gundy or Sunnybrook Park, or even continue on to lovely Edwards Gardens. If you prefer to stay downtown, your best bet for this kind of experience is a day on the Toronto Islands. Take the earliest ferry you can to Centre Island to avoid the rush, or take the less-crowded boats to Hanlan’s Point or Wards Island and stroll amongst the picnickers.

About the Author

Jim Byers served as the Toronto Star’s travel editor for five years and now contributes a column twice a month for the Globe and Mail and writes a travel blog for them twice a week. He was a former sports reporter at the Star who coordinated and covered six Olympics, from Sydney 2000 to Vancover 2010. Find him on Twitter: @jimbyerstravel.