Don Valley Brick Works Park, Toronto

One of the park’s manmade ponds

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Since its independence from the British Crown, Canada has welcomed an incessant influx of migrants from all over the world. That in turn, transformed the country’s largest city, Toronto, into a metropolis of nearly 3 million people as of 2024. To facilitate this exponential growth, large swathes of land in the city’s Don Valley became a brick-manufacturing complex. However, after the site ran out of clay, the utter eyesore was turned into a verdant park with lakes and wooded areas, hardly distinguishable from any of its fully naturally-formed counterparts.

In the wake of 1904’s Great Fire of Toronto that decimated many of the wooden houses across the downtown area, authorities were entrusted with the daunting task of rebuilding this part of the city. To mitigate the chances that this calamity will ever reoccur, a much sturdier material was needed. Fortunately, fifteen years beforehand, local businessman John Taylor and two of his siblings, William and George, established a large-scale brick factory on the northeastern edges of town.


Named after its geographic whereabouts, Don Valley Brick Works comprised of a clay quarry and a nearby plant, where thousands of bricks were manufactured using three main techniques. Pieces of mined clay were mixed with water from the adjacent Mud Creek, placed in molds and then baked for hours in massive kilns.


Another method involved the use of quarried shale that was placed into molds and compressed by machines, while a third technique entailed extruding clay through a die and shaping it with wire cutting.


In its heyday, the Brick Works manufactured a whopping 25 million bricks annually, becoming the main supplier across the city. In fact, the bricks were used as a building material during the construction of some of Toronto’s most illustrious edifices, including Osgoode Hall, Casa Loma, the Ontario Legislature, Massey Hall and parts of St. George Campus, to name just a few.


The complex has changed hands and names multiple times over the years, during which major world events transpired. It was during the Great Depression that impoverished men and women from all over Canada erected a makeshift camp at the area and used the factory’s kilns to survive the harsh winters. As WWII befell humanity, German prisoners of war served as the primary labor force throughout the plant and quarry.


By the 1980’s, most of the clay was depleted and the Brick Works was forced to shut down, lying abandoned for a decade or so. According to zoning codes, the area was supposed to become a residential neighborhood, but a swift intervention by Toronto and Region Conservation Authority thwarted this plan, and designated the defunct quarry as a recreational area for Torontonians.

Fast forward to today, visitors who stroll throughout the former quarrying site will be forgiven for thinking that it is a well-preserved pocket of nature. Inaugurated in 1997, the Don Valley Brick Works Park emerged from the unsightly remains of the clay mine following a series of intense landscaping works.


Material sourced from the earthworks of Scotia Plaza Tower in downtown Toronto was used to fill the quarry. Soon thereafter, water was redirected from the nearby Mud Creek, forming a network of artificial wetlands. To complete the facelift, various types of endemic shrubs and trees were introduced throughout the site, followed by the mass arrival of mammals, reptiles, aquatic birds and perhaps most notably, visitors seeking for a respite from the hustle and bustle of Toronto.


Concurrently, the smattering of old buildings where the manufacture of bricks took place were restored and repurposed to cater for the needs of park-goers. Managed by Evergreen, a Canadian NGO, the complex includes an educational center, a garden market, wine shop and a café.


The landscaped site is crisscrossed by a series of hiking trails, whereby one can reach the derelict rail tracks formerly used to transport bricks from the plant, as well as a couple of scenic points that offer panoramic views of Toronto and its satellite cities.