Locust Walk Talk: “…Our Land, Glorious and Free!”

Author: Casey Ryan, C’95

My latest travels for Penn took me north to the wonderful city of Toronto for an event with Dean Furda in Admissions.  In conjunction with the Admissions Office’s “Introduction To Penn” program, the Penn and Wharton Club of Toronto had an event for their alumni to meet the Undergraduate Dean of Admissions.  As always, Eric Furda is a fantastic speaker and our alumni love to get the opportunity to hear from and speak with him.  However, the quiet star of the events was the location of the event.

Toronto, from the air.

As Penn moves forward on its own green initiatives, it was a pleasure to host an event at such an environmentally-aware locale – Evergreen Brick Works in the Don Valley, just east of Cabbagetown in Toronto. This dynamic green space started as collection of deteriorating buildings which originally formed the site of the Don Valley Brick Works, one of Canada’s pre-eminent brickyards, from its founding in 1889 to the 1980’s. Throughout its active years, more than 43 million bricks a year were manufactured for use in the construction of homes and buildings across Canada, including many of Toronto’s most prominent buildings like Old City Hall.

In the 1980s, the site was acquired for public use due to its geography – in the lower Don River Valley – and its heritage – a historic site in the growth of Canada.  However the environmental impact that the Brick Works had on its surroundings was severe.  Brick making takes a heavy toll on the land, air and residents.  Toxins and pollutants had seeped into the soil and muddled the water supply.  The City of Toronto and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority were responsible for the restoration and raised around $6 million to improve on the conditions in the quarry to share it with Torontonian as park and natural area.

CN Tower and Toronto, from the concrete parking lot.

Major work was done to contain the sites contaminations as well as freeing up soil and green area that we’re spared by pollution.  The current parking lot was constructed from concrete in order to contain contaminated subsurface soils and groundwater, which was a by-product of the industrial process of brick making. The nature of the parking lot prevents rainwater from infiltrating and becoming groundwater which would release the contaminants and it removes any human exposure to toxins.  On the other hand, area like the quarry were not affected by the contaminants and this area of the grounds was transformed into the gardens, green spaces and trails that are the hallmark of this venture.

This is has nothing to do with the story, but it’s one of Toronto’s best museums, the Royal Ontario Museum, and I wanted to give it a plug.

Today, the Evergreen Brick Works engages visitors through interactive workshops, community festivals and weekly farmers markets. In 2010, Evergreen Brick Works was named one of the top 10 geotourism destinations in the world by National Geographic.

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Casey R., Locust Walk Talk

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