What was once a major wildlife habitat at the mouth of the Etobicoke Creek has been ‘engineered out of existence’

A glimpse of Toronto’s history: Opportunities for the commemoration of lost historic sites (2011), published by the City Planning Division, Urban Development Services, City of Toronto (2001), includes an informative account of the history of Etobicoke Creek.

Granted, some of the information appears inaccurate. For example, the map that corresponds to MPLS #003, Etobicoke Creek Mouth, shows the residential development of the Etobicoke Creek Flats as it appeared in 1947. However, a building labelled “Col. Smith’s House,” east of the floodplain, appears at a location, on the Colonel Samuel Smith property, that does match information available from other sources.

The text for MPLS #003 claims that Colonel Samuel Smith was granted a 1,600-acre tract of land in 1799 whereas most sources note that Smith was granted the tract in 1793.

These are minor quibbles. The correct information is available from other sources.

What has captured my imagination in this book is the description, by an author or authors whose name or names are not noted, of how the history of change introduced at the mouth of Etobicoke Creek “is a textbook illustration of the damage done by human interference.”

What was once a “major wildlife habitat and scenic beauty location,” the text asserts, “has been polluted and engineered out of existence.”

The publication lists the following Reference Sources for its item about the mouth of Etobicoke Creek:

Wayne Reeves, Regional heritage features on the Metropolitan waterfront (1992)

Citizens Concerned about the Future of the Etobicoke Waterfront and Environmental Planning and Policy Associates, Toward the ecological restoration of South Etobicoke – Final Report (1997) Michael Harrison is the author of this informative and valuable report.

Public Archives of Canada – Map, Reconnaisance of the country between the rivers Humber and Etobicoke from the Lake Ontario to Dundas Street on the North, (1867)

In its Acknowledgements for MPLS #003, Etobicoke Creek Mouth, the text lists:

New Toronto Historical Society

Toronto Field Naturalists

Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation

This book was prepared for the City Planning Division, Urban Development Services, City of Toronto, by the Toronto Historical Association, Maps Project and Partners.

1 reply
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A July 7, 2021 New York Times article is entitled: “The climate crisis haunts Chicago’s future. A Battle Between a Great City and a Great Lake.”

    You can access the New York Times (via its website) if you have a Toronto Public Library membership.

    An excerpt reads:

    WHILE JACKING UP CHICAGO to make room for sewers may have solved one predicament — the filthy, impassable streets — it caused another. All the sewage still flowed into the Chicago River. And the river still flowed into the lake, the city’s drinking-water source.

    Desperate to protect residents from waterborne scourges like cholera, city leaders at the end of the 19th century hatched another audacious plan: Reverse the direction of the river so it flowed away from Lake Michigan instead of into it.

    They achieved this by dynamiting a 28-mile-long canal connecting the Chicago River to the Des Plaines River, which flows toward the Mississippi. It was a project typical of a city that, as one author described in 1898, “stands as a stupendous piece of blasphemy against nature.”

    Second excerpt:

    The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal opened in 1900, a feat of engineering 160 feet wide and 25 feet deep and, importantly, lower than Lake Michigan. So gravity dictated that the Chicago River would henceforth flow in the opposite direction.

    Today, on the Chicago waterfront stands the Harbor Lock, a set of mammoth steel gates separating lake water from river water. It marks the spot where boats pass between the Great Lakes Basin and the Mississippi Basin. Chicago has, essentially, fashioned for itself a manmade continental divide, with hinges.

    Third excerpt:

    When it rains, the city’s aged sewer system can be overwhelmed even before the immense storage tunnels and reservoirs hit capacity. The result is sewer backups that spout polluted water into basements and onto city streets. It is a problem that is particularly acute in some of Chicago’s impoverished, low-lying South Side neighborhoods where basements commonly double as bedrooms and play areas.

    Physical engineering, social engineering

    The attempt to attain dominion over nature through large-scale feats of engineering – the history of the mouth of Etobicoke Creek and of Chicago serving as examples – has not gone well. Social engineering has a dubious track record as well. Among authors that I’ve cited at previous posts with regard to social engineering gone wrong are Hayley Goodchild, James C. Scott, and (with regard to the ‘modern movement’ in architecture) Ken Greenberg.


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