A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to meet up with some friends at the Evergreen Brick Works Farmers Market in downtown Toronto. I used to walk Whiskey through here when I first adopted him, but since then it has grown to include a weekly farmers market, art installations, garden market, cafe, learning centre and DIY bicycle repair shop.
I met up with some of my favourite ladies – Eve, Fleur and Ashley. We’ve known each other since our Queen’s University days and I always look forward to getting together with them. We had a great morning exploring the area and talking non-stop.
History of Evergreen Brick Works
Rather than ignoring the industrial roots of this area, Evergreen has made an effort to combine the historical significance of these buildings with the future of a greener city. Throughout the complex, there are great images of how this area has changed over the years.
In the late 1700s, Todmorden Mills was one of three paper mills operating along the Don River. Then in 1882, a young man was digging up fence post holes and noticed that he was bring up clay. Upon testing the clay, they found that it was perfect for making bricks and thus began the Don Valley Brick Works company, which would run for almost a century.
The quarry continued to grow in the early 20th century and became an important part of geological history when workers started collecting fossils. Using these fossils from the quarry, geologist A.P. Coleman showed how the geography of this area was affected during the ice age and found evidence of two full-blown ice ages.
It’s hard to believe that this photo is from 1985, one year after the factory had closed and also the same year I was born. Now it has grown back into this incredible naturalized space with the help of dedicated Torontonians. After over 100 years of brick making, the land was expropriated by the City of Toronto and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority in the 1980s. The abandoned factory became a playground for partiers (raves!), urban explorers and photographers. Throughout the early 1990s, Evergreen started to plant trees and wildflower meadows and in 2002 they started to turn the dilapidated buildings into a new environmental centre.
When you look out on the ponds and meadows, it’s hard to believe that this was ever a brick quarry.
There are still a few relics of this history of this great space, but I think its that juxtaposition of industrial versus nature is what makes this space work so well in a busy metropolitan city like Toronto.
The Koerner Gardens
Inside one of the many buildings is the Koerner Gardens. This 20,000 square foot space is home to native plant demonstrations and is a showcase for sustainable urban greening. It offers visitors tips, techniques and designs for creating urban gardens. In the winter it is home to a large skating rink, with the heat from the rink’s refrigeration system being used to heat the nearby cafe.
It was great having my teacher friend Eve around, as she was quick to point out all the native plants, like those bristly plants that feel like a horse’s tail.
This 52,000 square foot building used to house three long tunnel kilns and six single-track drying tunnels for brick making. Now you can take a guided tour through the kilns and explore the industrial heritage of this site. It is also home to frequent art installations and is a popular venue for events.
I think it is fantastic that they’re kept so much of the original industrial machinery up for school groups and visitors to explore. It’s an important park of Toronto’s history.
Evergreen has done a fantastic job of turning what was once a dilapidated industrial area into an interactive urban green space.
The highlight of our trip was to check out the farmers market. I try to go to my local farmers market every Saturday but it was nice to get out and explore what another one has to offer. There were so many great vendors and delicious smelling foods.
I have no idea what these things were, but they looked good. Like little breakfast tostadas!
I made a beeline for Honey Pie Hives and Herbal. They had a great selection of beeswax products, including candles, lotions, soaps and balms. They also had an awesome selection of herbal teas.
The smell of beeswax candles is amazing and I always pick some up when I spot them. How cute are those little bears and pine cones? They remind me of the great pumpkin beeswax candle I picked up at the CNE a couple of years ago.
In an effort to reduce the number of chemicals I’m exposed to in beauty products (it’s scary when you get into it), I’ve been making the switch over to more natural products, like these beeswax lip balms. They smell just as yummy as my old lip balm but without all the hard-to-pronounce chemicals.
After perusing around the produce vendors (I forgot to take a picture of all the awesome greens!), we made our way to the food court. All the food smelled amazing – freshly made crepes, huge salads and even this vegetarian paella. I’d never seen it done without seafood before but it looks fantastic.
I ordered a homemade corn tostada from them, loaded up with spiced mushrooms, arugula and cheese. It was a chilly day and this was the perfect treat to warm me up.
The next booth over was my favourite chocolate – Chocosol. I first tried them at a farmers market in Toronto two years ago and since then I’ve been hooked. Nowhere near us sells it, so I always have to stock up when I’m in the city. The rich aroma coming from their booth always lures me in, but their fair trade business model is what keeps me going back.
Visitors to the farmers market can grind their own cacao or coffee using the bike, which also powers up the blender for hot chocolate drinks. Talk about being green!
After walking around the farmers market, I ended up grabbing a few things to take home. I couldn’t leave empty handed.
I picked up this awesome luxury lotion and orange beeswax lip balm. I always put on lip balm and hand lotion right before bed and these have turned out to be perfect for my nighttime routine. The lip balm makes my lips so soft and the lotion has really helped with my dry hands.
Of course I had to pick up at least a bar or two of my favourite chocolate – Chocosol Hemp Gold. The hemp seed gives it a great crunchy texture!
Living Watershed Wall – Oak Ridges Moraine & Toronto Greenbelt
One of the many art installations in the complex is this giant map of Toronto’s watershed – it’s actually the largest map of it’s kind, sitting at 30 x 45 feet.
Nearby, there is a fun children’s garden which was just starting to grow when we were there. I bet it’s very lush now with all the rain we’ve been having.
Nestled around the corner is Chimney Court – an interactive children’s play area that focuses on activities that are hands-on and promote creativity.
Wildflower Meadow and Ponds Nature Walk
In what was once a giant brick quarry, now sits an incredible naturalized trail system, full of wildflower meadows, trees, ponds and plenty of wildlife.
We had a great time walking around and exploring. Whiskey used to love coming here when we lived in the city. So many sights and sounds that you don’t normally get to experience in the city.
We even came across one of the trees that Eve and her husband used in the decorations for their wedding on Toronto Island last summer. Each table was decorated with a different tree branch and guests had to identify their tree to find their table.
Many of the trees and bushes were on the verge of going into full bloom. It was a lovely time of year to take a walk through this park.
Over 25 years ago this was just an industrial wasteland and eyesore in Toronto and now it has become an incredible multi-purpose park system. It’s a great place to educate our youth and adults alike.
If you’re in Toronto or coming for a visit this summer, I recommend making the trip to Evergreen Brick Works. It’s a quick 20 minute walk or bike ride from Castle Frank Station. There is also a bus shuttle from Broadview Station or carpool with a friend and use the paid parking on site.