Can’t See Toronto for the Trees

by | Dec 3, 2020 | Ontario

If a tree falls in the city, does anybody hear it? Quite possibly not… because in between the forests of towers and skyscrapers there are real forests of trees so dense, they create silent oases that make you forget you’re still in the city at all.

Toronto is often summarized as a conflation of condos, construction sites, and commuter hell.  But the concrete jungle is interrupted by pockets of woodland offering natural escape. All around the city’s rivers and creeks are treelined banks that appear as silent and untouched as any in Algonquin Park.

Many of these rivers have become the focal point of municipal parks, and in 2015 their trails were loosely joined together in a network called The Pan Am Path — a legacy project from Toronto’s hosting of the Pan Am Games. The 84-kilometre trail connects several of the city’s parklands, extending from Rouge Beach at its farthest eastern edge, across Scarborough, and down the Don River to the waterfront. From there the path continues along the lakeshore to the Humber River, and then follows it through several forested areas all the way to the northwestern border with Brampton.

Photo of four unskeined hanks of yarn laid out on the diagonal. From bottom-left to top-right: two hanks brown then tan in colour; one hang dusty pink in colour; roving light pink in colour.

Wilderness in the city.
Image description: A river in summer, with large trees on either side. An apartment building is visible in the background.

Some parts of the trail are wide open spaces, but it’s the treelined pathways that offer the most variety, because no matter which park you frequent, it’s different every time you visit. Walk along Highland Creek in spring and smell the redolence of the forest emerging from winter and beginning to sprout colour and buds. Just a few months later, summer heat turns Moore Park ravine into a cathedral of tall trees, inviting a cool bike ride under a ceiling of dappling green shade. In fall the leaves around Taylor Creek turn bright and lively, their noisy colours jostling alongside each other under orangey autumn sun, thick enough to muffle the hubbub of the city all around. When grey winter arrives just weeks later, the trees by the Humber are down to their winter skeletons, and without their leaves you can see the adjacent river between their denuded branches for the first time. Every season adjusts the view, making the same journey different with every change in weather.

In these city forests, the stillness is as thick as the tree cover. Many of the forest trails are in ravines, below grade from urban commotion, so descending from grey into green space slowly mutes the ambient city noise. The woods can absorb even the sound of whooshing traffic on the Don Valley Expressway only metres away, and in many places where you look through the trees, the forest seems to go on as if it will never hit a building. Animals appear – herons, raccoons, deer, rabbits, turtles. They glance over and calmly move on, unperturbed by your company, as if they know you’re just passing through terrain they know much more intimately than you. Every step deeper into the woods offers a step back in time… a glimpse into what it might have been like to wander and hunt, to settle here centuries ago, to face these dense woodlands on all sides, and what it took to clear the way to the water, and to each other. Only the presence of the paved trail, and the passing cyclist, reminds you you’re still in the Greater Toronto Area, the GTA. The roads always eventually lead out to civilization. The ravines and forests remain resolute and steady behind you on the path, ready for your next escape into their silent, soothing, embrace.

Image description: Dried orange and yellow marigold flowers in a large jar, with drying flowers visible through the glass in the disance.

Deep in the woods, as the light shifts.
Image description: A wooded area, with trees in soft focus.

Marichka is a gifted photographer. Click the photo below to open a gallery of some of the shots she’s taken on her walks.

Marichka Melnyk
Marichka Melnyk

Marichka Melnyk is a Toronto-based radio producer and broadcaster, photographer and compulsive traveller, who became an avid distance walker after completing the Camino de Santiago de Compostela across Spain in 2013. She hikes nature trails both inside and outside the Toronto city limits, including the entire Pan Am Path. and regularly writes and presents publicly about her travels. Follow on Facebook or Instagram @Marichpix and @seventy7sunsets , or to get in touch writemarichka@gmail.com.