I love the Brickworks, a Leaside-adjacent gem

Evergreen Brickworks. Staff photo.
Evergreen Brickworks. Staff photo.

Back when we were kids and our bikes were our tickets to freedom and adventure, my twin brother Tim and I would sometimes escape Leaside’s borders and ride our bikes down what we called the Old Belt Road. The name comes from the Toronto Belt Line Railway. Yes, in an earlier age, a railroad ran through the ravine separating Bennington Heights from Moore Park. When service stopped in 1894, the tracks were abandoned before eventually being removed, leaving behind what became the Old Belt Road for Tim and me to explore in early 1970s. This was back when kids, at least in the summers, were often banished from their homes for the entire day by parents who longed for a little peace. By early August, we always had the sense that our parents were counting the days until September when school beckoned once more.

Tim and I would careen down the Old Belt Road and end up next to the closed-down Don Valley Brickworks. It was virtually moribund, with the city using the giant excavated hole in the ground as a dump for many years. We never climbed the fence to explore the old brickworks buildings – we weren’t what you’d call risk takers – though I suspect others did. We just loved the serenity of the ravine and the ride down the long-abandoned rail line.

Skip ahead 50 years and of course The Brickworks has been very thoughtfully and beautifully resuscitated as a lovely and tranquil park with ponds, boardwalks and bridges, walking trails, a café, and a lively weekend farmers’ market. Today, nature takes centre stage for those promenading along The Brickworks trails. You’re likely to see herons, ducks, turtles, hawks and countless other bird species, and if you’re really lucky, a beaver. You’ll also see an exotic cross-section of Toronto’s residents in all our diverse glory. It remains a great spot to people-watch.

We live just a short walk down that same Old Belt Road, now renamed as the Toronto Beltline Trail, so in a way, we consider the Brickworks to be our backyard, without ever having to cut the lawn. I can’t begin to count the number of family walks we took down to the Brickworks when our two sons were little. In fact, our annual family Christmas Card photo was always taken on one of those walks. Back in those days in the late ’90s, of course we’d have to take our digital camera’s memory card to Blacks on Bayview to print out all the candidate shots and then choose one to print in quantity. This sounds easy, but getting a good shot, despite the lush backdrop, where none of us is cross-eyed, yawning, blinking, or otherwise looking less than our best, was a challenge of Herculean proportions. Occasionally, no acceptable shot could be found, so we’d bundle up and head back down to The Brickworks for a second photo session. Those Christmas cards capture the stages in a young family’s life, and you can always tell by the distinctive surroundings in the background that we’re at The Brickworks, year after year.

Now, 20 years or so later, my wife Nancy and I still regularly walk down to The Brickworks and take a few laps around the walking trails watching for, and always seeing, the wildlife we’ve almost come to know. And the birds will always be singing loudly enough to drown out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. On weekends we often drive down and enjoy the Saturday farmers’ market. We pick up some cheese, fruit, vegetables, and if I’m along, probably a rhubarb and strawberry pie, too. (That’s why we drive down. It would be too tiring to walk home lugging our purchases as the Beltline Trail runs uphill back to our neighbourhood. I’m not sure I’d make it without having to refuel by eating the pie. So, it’s worth driving down and paying for parking!)

The Brickworks may not technically be in Leaside, but as my wife rightly says, it’s Leaside-adjacent and well worth a visit if you’ve somehow missed it up to now. We’ll look for you on the trails.

About Terry Fallis 85 Articles
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of eight national bestsellers, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His most recent, Operation Angus, is now in bookstores.