Advocating for local ravines

Photo by Nancy Ward.
Photo by Nancy Ward.

Digging up dog strangling vine was surely an unconventional way to celebrate Canada Day, but to the devotees of Don’t Mess With The Don it was a day of connecting with likeminded people and giving back to Mother Earth.

DMWTD began as a group of local nature enthusiasts deeply concerned about the amount of neglect in Toronto’s vast ravine system, including those adjoining Leaside.

Full disclosure: I am a dedicated member of DMWTD.

“We regularly make use of the trails but were disheartened to see the amount of dumping going on, primarily adjacent to apartment buildings,” spokesperson Floyd Ruskin says.

“We also want to advocate for healthy green spaces by ridding the valley of rampant invasive species such as dog strangling vine and replacing it with native plants.”

Though stewardship and advocacy for the ravine system are a primary focus for the group, they stress the desire to fix issues at the source and stop the recurring problems and behaviours at the root. 

“We are looking to work with stakeholders at all levels to get a maintainable solution that can address the issue going forward,” Floyd Ruskin says.

For the group, this means engaging with property managers of apartment complexes close to the ravines whose garbage inevitably ends up in these green spaces.

“We want to make companies more accountable to the problem – some are receptive and some are not,” says Floyd.

Recently achieving charity status for this volunteer group has meant that the thousands of dollars raised so far can go right back into the ravine – every cent. 

Close to $8,000 raised so far will go toward refurbishing the new headquarters as well as hosting nature and historical walks in the valley now that Covid restrictions are lifting.

Canada Day’s turnout saw more than 60 volunteers armed with shovels and gloves concentrate on a particularly overgrown area of the Sun Valley section of the Crothers Woods trail system. 

One group was tasked with cutting the three-foot high invading plants to the ground while another laboriously dug up the roots in an already cleared area. Bagging and carrying the offending greenery up to Bayview was followed by native species planting. Sponsors of the event included a local realtor, microbrewery and insurance company. 

Though the pandemic has reduced the number of volunteers at public events, socially distanced pop-ups have attracted steady numbers. Thanks to Loblaws, the group has a permanent home in the parking lot on Redway Rd. in the form of a sea can, which will soon be painted by BC Johnson of Rainbow Tunnel on the Don Valley Parkway fame.

In recognition of the ongoing activity during the pandemic, Mayor Tory and Councillor Fletcher have recognized DMWTD as ‘Covid 19 Community Heroes’ for the ongoing effort during lockdown to protect the city’s natural environment.

Earlier in the spring, a pop-up event attracted volunteers to the industrial area at the east end of Vanderhoof Rd. bordering E.T. Seton Park. The group collected 55 garbage bags of trash, later picked up by City of Toronto waste management.

To get involved, visit

This article was guest contributed by Susan Poaps.