Illustration by Jeremy Kai/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
It’s taken four hundred million years and a fifty-five million dollar budget, but with the opening of Evergreen Brick Works this year Toronto added a new and unique environmental and cultural destination to its catalogue of really cool places to visit.
Evergreen Brick Works sits on the 16.5 hectare site of the former Don Valley Brick Works. Distinct in Toronto, its green design is an environmentalist’s dream. The National Geographic Society recently ranked this new attraction among its ten global geo-tourist destinations.
A large community environmental centre only minutes from downtown, the Evergreen Brick Works is open year-round. Visitors of all ages can choose from a plethora of activities, from purchasing locally grown produce at the farmers’ market, to checking out the Kilns Building gallery, and skating the ice trail or skiing the snow trail. Also available: exploring native plant and food gardens; getting a bike tune-up; signing up for a do-it-yourself workshop, and dining (soon, as it’s not yet up and running) at Belong Café off a menu made up of locally grown ingredients. The programming is nearly endless.
Did we mention the time machine? In a lot of ways, the former brickyard has come to represent just that.
To appreciate the wonder of this place, you have to travel back to the Devonian period, when a tropical sea covered the region, compressing some of the area’s clay into shale—which would allow for large-scale brick manufacturing (not to mention creating the conditions for the preservation of fossils galore). Fast forward to the late 1880s when William Taylor established the Don Valley Brick Works.
As luck would have it, in 1904 Toronto burned to the ground. After the flames were extinguished, legislation was passed requiring new buildings be constructed of masonry. As a result, the Brick Works thrived. Some of Toronto’s most important landmarks, including Massey Hall and Casa Loma, were built with brick baked in its enormous kilns. (Today, these same kilns are open for exploration.) The clay and shale supply lasted a century; quarrying ended in the 1980s. When the Brick Works ceased operation, the numerous nineteenth century industrial buildings became the domain of graffiti artists, urban explorers, and late night rave-goers.
Before the City expropriated the property in 1986, developers were eyeing the site for a possible condo/retail build. The fact that the brickyard sits on a floodplain (thankfully) put the kibosh to the idea. Hulking examples of century-old industry dot the property, and sandblasting and acid washes were given a pass. As a result, the Brick Works is the unofficial location of Toronto’s graffiti museum.
What’s cooler than that?