The Don Valley Brickworks - A Sustainable Path to Follow

The Toronto Don Valley Brickworks is one of my favourite spots in the city - not only is it a great place to spend your Saturday mornings and treat yourself to the tasty food vendors and farmers market, it's history and development story is an amazing example of sustainable planning and design that benefits the people, city, and economics.

In this post I want to share a bit about of the history behind a deserted site turned Toronto Landmark that inspires a more sustainable way of thinking.


The abandoned brownfield that had been the Don Valley Brickworks, was a head-scratcher for developers, city officials and investors for decades.

Many first responses to the site were, of course, "build real estate", and when Torvalley bought the site in 1984 and had it rezoned for residential, it seemed it would become a reality.

However when push came to shove, the project was nixed after a lengthy battle against the neighbourhood group "Friends of the Valley", and the final plea demonstrating that the site was ultimately in the flood plain.

It was at this point that the city made an interesting move. Being fed-up constant attempts to develop the brickworks site, they finally expropriated the land in 1986.

Over the next 15 years the site becomes a playground for photographers, artists, and explorers. But behind the scene was an ongoing discussion on what to do with the land - many came forward with different ideas, including the extensively thought out "Master Plan" for the site which endeavouredto fulfill an overall theme for the Brickworks' "role as a natural focus for interpretation and education of the biophysical, cultural, and industrial history of the Don Valley, its future restoration to a state of health, and its ongoing influence on the affairs of the city as a whole.” 

While this 152 page report never came into fruition, it did provide a whole new way to consider the site and exactly what it could represent to the public and the city as a whole. 

After many failed attempts to fund the master plan and it's successive versions, Evergreen, an organization dedicated to transforming public landscapes into thriving communities with environmental, social and economic benefits stepped in with federal funding to get things underway.

Now after 10 years of revitalization, the Evergreen Brickworks is an international centre for green cities and a place to inspire and support sustainability. On top of their revitalised valley and retrofitted factories, Evergreen set up shop with a Platinum LEED building to pave a sustainable path for other corporations and builders to follow. The ecological and historical site coupled with green corporation has created a perfect landmark for community sustainability education and adventures for people all over the city.

I find this story interesting because it demonstrates the potential our city has to be innovative in our urban planning, as well as how alternative and sustainable planning can reap benefits that no typical real estate development could achieve. The evergreen brickworks leads by example a new way of thinking and ultimately a new way of urban planning for more sustainable, diverse, and cultural communities.