Toronto #PasstheGlass

The Great Waters Challenge has a Level 2! For level 2, I went to a Toronto organizing workshop, and helped organize a water & storytelling event. The video below is my entry into Level 2 – wish me luck! – the top prize is a trip to Brazil for the World Youth Parliament for Water!


The Challenge of Bringing People Together – My Reflections on GWC #1

I wrote this for Waterlution’s blog, and I’m just re-posting it here. Here is the original post. Thanks Waterlution for featuring my blog and for the GWC Level 1 prize

“This is going to be easy!” was my first thought when I read about the Great Waters Challenge. It’s just writing some blog posts about interesting water stories, I love reading & learning about water, I can do this in no time. Getting into the meat of the challenges, it ended up being so much more than “writing blog posts” – I had to wrestle with what was the best way to bring my water stories to others and figure out how to present them creatively.

What I hoped to get out of the challenge was a way to connect my passion for water with reconciliation and #Canada150. It’s important in all the work that we do, that we recognize where the land comes from, and what actions settlers need to take to ensure reconciliation happens. The first challenge was learning about the land I live on (so the traditional territory) and its connection to water (so which watershed I’m part of). The next challenge involved doing some exploration or research to find history and water stories in my community. I told the story of Garrison Creek, which was buried during the development of the City of Toronto.

The third challenge was to bring that water story to a group of people – I decided to do a “lost rivers walk” – imitating an awesome organization that runs walks about water history in Toronto (see: Preparing for this challenge is when I realized that this is going to be more difficult than I anticipated. I needed to bring people together – so I needed to make an event that people wanted to come to – and I wanted to impart stories on them – so I needed to convey my message in an interesting way. It’s one thing to care about issues yourself, it’s another thing to get other people to care about them!



I sent an email out to nine friends inviting them on a walk of the lost Garrison Creek that I would be guiding on a weekend in March. I figured there would be lots of drop-outs: some not interested, some not available, and some who say yes then would think “naaaah” on the day of, preferring the comfort of their own bed on a chilly Sunday in March. So I estimated two people would show up.

To my complete shock & excitement, nine people showed up, and we had an amazing walk. I had taken myself on the walk the day before, to rehearse where to go and what to say, so I was prepared with the kinds of stories that I felt my friends would be interested in: there was a mix of engineering (I pointed out the above-ground vents for the sanitary sewer) and cultural (such as the community canoes that mark the Garrison Creek path, a project that informs us about the indigenous land we are on, and are also pollinator gardens).

It was a lot of hard work to prepare and host people on this walk (and for food & drink afterwards) – but I learned that if you focus on making an event special and interesting, people will come, learn your stories, and share them with others.

Get out there, and share your water stories!


I want to say thank you to Waterlution’s Youth Advisory Board for leading & judging the challenge. Plug: Waterlution is currently recruiting new Youth Advisory Board members, details here.

Reflections & Future Vision

For the last challenge (Challenge #4 of the Great Waters Challenge), we are tasked with reading blogs of other folks in the challenge. Youth from across Canada have been blogging about their water stories – check out this awesome map of where they all are!

Then, we are asked to creatively show our vision for the future of water, and show how we plan on getting there.

First, though, I learned from others by reading blog posts of other participants.

Penny F from Toronto thinks there’s a disconnect between urban people and their water. Jelena, also from Toronto, is great at making maps and analyzing data – she found possible correlations between development and river level changes in the Don River, and also discussed fish species. I learned from her that the Don River is stocked with salmon for sport fishing. Stephanie was the winner of the first round of GWC Level 1, and I learned from her explorations of the Humber River that it is stocked with Pacific Salmon, since the Atlantic Salmon are no longer in this river on their own. The Pacific Salmon survival rate is very low, so this re-introduction experiment isn’t working out. Stephanie also brought together a group of people to discuss water in a spiritual and emotional sense, guiding them through activities such as associating words with water, drinking water “infused” with emotions, and discussing personal relationships to water.

Kaylyn lives in High Prairie, Alberta, and has some super awesome stories to tell about scuba diving in deep lakes in Alberta (which I never knew was possible and now really want to go and do). She did an awesome job of bringing watershed issues to her group of board game lovers. I agree that nerds of all stripes love learning new things, so that was a great environment! Alli M explored Vancouver in much the way I explored Toronto, as cities in Canada have developed in similar ways: ignoring the environment, realizing its power, trying to restore it! Courtney, Brooke & Braidy in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, asked their school mates about what they thought of the Arctic Ocean, and many responses related to hunting, fishing, the Northwest Passage as gateway between oceans, and the extreme cold!

Among the City folks, the main thread that connected them all was the influence of development on water. Development, growth in human population, industrialization, urbanization, colonialism – I find these are all words associated with disconnecting humans from their water, and putting the environment second. Among non-City folks, human influence on water resources was also evident – such as the issues around lake levels in High Prairie Alberta or sea ice loss in Nunavut.

This Challenge and these reflections bring me to what I would like to see as my vision for Canada’s water future, and how I plan on getting there. The video explains more.

Thanks Waterlution for putting on this challenge, and thank you to all the Youth Advisory Board Members and fellow challenge participants for making it happen! I am looking forward to Level 2!

Walking Garrison Creek

On a cold and bright Sunday afternoon, I gathered nine friends to go for a walk along the former Garrison Creek. I wanted to share my excitement for discovering new things in the City, and also to hear from my friends about their connections to water. The day went like this: walk and tour along Garrison Creek, end at my apartment where we warmed up, then we went through an exercise of collecting watermarks, then ate some good food!

If you haven’t heard of a “watermark” yet – you should! Lake Ontario Waterkeeper started this fabulous initiative to collect stories of our connection to water across Canada, and map them corresponding to their water body. Just browse the map to see what stories are being told about your favourite water body. I see this as an amazing tool for demonstrating how regular people care about the environment around them, and as a way to vocalize a person’s commitment to protecting their local water. You should submit your watermark today!:

Now onto the Challenge…

I am still so excited that my friends joined me for this! I had old and new friends, so not everyone knew each other, but they were all interested in different parts of the walk. When I put the invitation out, I thought maybe 3 people would come, because they see it as lame or they’re not available at that time. There was lots of availability and lots of interest – so community river walks are definitely something young people want more of! We talked about stormwater, permeable pavement, history of Toronto’s development, fish species, how the river could be “daylighted” – and just so much more. I learned from them as well, and that made the walk richer.

Here is a video I made of our day walking around Garrison Creek, and below is an outline of the walk I gave (if you want to know in detail about the history of the creek – or you can check out my previous post about it here) and the sources I used for putting together the walk.


Walk Outline

Here is the text for the walk I guided, so if you wanted to do this yourself, feel free to steal this! It is essentially a combination of the sources listed above.

Start at Christie Station. The Christie Reach of the Creek is from Davenport Road to Harbord Street. From the front of Christie Station you can look into Christie Pits Park, where the creek was once at the surface. The Garrison Creek sewer dates originally to 1885. This is a combined sewer. The creek was getting very dirty and so it was put underground to keep the rest of the City looking cleaner. An interceptor sewer was installed in 1910-1912 that would carry excess flow from Bloor-Trinity-Bellwoods area during storm events to an outlet to Lake Ontario at Bathurst Quay. This is an overflow sewer, and only sees flows during large rain events. The creek was fully buried in 1915 and runs under the park in sewers now.

Walk down Grace Street to Bickford Park. Walk around the west side of Bickford Park. The slopes of Bickford Park give away that this was once a valley. At the southern end of Bickford Park at Harbord Road, this used to be the old bridge that spanned the creek. The City buried the creek and the bridge in 1930. The sewer in this area had to be narrow, so they chose an arch design.

Walk down Montrose Avenue until it joins Crawford Street and then follow Crawford Street.

Cinder Lane, just south of College Street behind the Metro – in the 19th and 20th century, cinders and ash were picked up along laneways and dumped into ravines. The poor would scavenge among the cinder and ash remains to find any usable coal for their own heating needs. Now laneways aren’t used in the same way, they are often just paved places that contribute stormwater runoff to our combined sewer system. What if we converted all of these driveways and laneways to permeable pavement? All that stormwater could be soaked up instead.

Follow Cinder Lane into Fred Hamilton Park. In the Park, Garrison Creek is in a sewer right under the diagonal pathway on our right. Walk to the top of the laneway behind the first row of houses at the park’s edge. WaterHarvest is a project to collect water from a new park building, and store it in a cistern for use in the community garden. Notice the cluster of pots with butterfly friendly pots and a saucer of damp sand – a puddling site for butterflies.

Continue west across Fred Hamilton Park, down the former Garrison Ravine bank, and head south on Roxton Road to Harrison Street. Notice the community pollinator garden and fruit trees at the south end of the park.

At the corner of Roxton and Harrison Roads, we are very close to the confluence of Garrison with Denison Creek, we can hear and smell the rushing water under the sewer grate. You are on top of the Garrison Creek trunk sanitary sewer; it runs day and night regardless of rainfall, because it carries not only rain, but sewage from the surrounding houses. The green sewer vents at the corner release methane gas from the sewer below.

Walk down Roxton Road until you reach a parkette, and enter the parkette, walking east. Notice the slopes, and a large willow that likely has its roots in one of the two sewers under this parkette.

In the laneway behind this park, deep below the alley is a combined storm overflow sewer that was built because the original sewer on Garrison Creek was overloaded. Until the 1990’s it regularly overflowed into the lake but now it is diverted into the Western Beaches Storage Tunnel where contaminants settle to the bottom and water that flows into the lake is treated with UV light. The City’s Wet Weather Flow Management Master Plan, a billion dollar strategy to manage combined sewer overflows, uses a combination of source controls, conveyance controls and end of pipe holding tanks to prevent spills into the lake.

Continue south to Dundas, turn east to Shaw Street, and cross south at the lights. Head south on Crawford Street, to the information plaque about the Crawford Street Bridge, and images of the lost fish of Garrison Creek inlaid along the street.

Just north of here, at Dundas and Crawford, the Garrison Creek sewer meets the Mid Toronto interceptor sewer on its way to Ashbridge’s Bay Sewage Treatment Plant. The plant is the largest surface water polluter in North America (13,679,710 kg of pollutants in 2006).

There have been many plans to daylight this creek, including one in 1994 by Brown and Storey. They imagined a permanent pond in the bowl, which is now primarily a dog park, and sloped areas that would collect rainwater from the local area.

Walk to the community centre at the southwest part of the park.

Before urbanization this area had many springs and wetlands and was described as “a perfect paradise for sportsmen” who hunted black duck, mallard, pintail, teal, wood duck, geese, plovers, sandpipers, woodcock, and passenger pigeons. This early version of a rain garden receives water from the community centre. It’s not very exciting to look at and doesn’t compare with what once was here, but since it keeps rainwater out of the storm sewers and has some biomass, it has ecosystem functions.

Walk along the diagonal park path and stop at Gore Vale Avenue, to see the plaques for Garrison Creek.


This reach is named after Trinity College, which was a private college. It joined with the University of Toronto and moved closer to the rest of campus (which is what we know as Trinity College now), and for some reason they took down the old beautiful building, and only the gates remain.

The main course of Garrison Creek flows southeast under the tennis courts at this point. A map of the creek is inlaid in a plaque on the sidewalk on the corner of Queen Street and Gore Vale Avenue.

Cross Queen Street and follow Walnut Avenue South until it ends, then take Wellington to Niagara, to Bathurst. Walk south down Bathurst until Fort York Blvd. This was the former outlet to Garrison Creek.

This was a very industrialized part of the City. Breweries and slaughterhouses were set up to take advantage of the clean creek water at their front doors. With creek burial and land reclamation, remnants of the creek and its tributaries at this reach are very difficult to find. Sewers at this point deliver combined sewage (storm and sanitary) to the Ashbridges Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant (in the eastern part of Toronto), but during heavy rain events, these combined sewers overflow directly into Lake Ontario.

Me & Water

For the Great Waters Challenge #1, I am telling you about me and about my connection to water. I’m sharing a video that introduces myself, and a mini photo essay about a very cool water story, which explains my passion for water: what we do on land affects our water.

The Story of the Loss of Garrison Creek

Maybe you never knew? Toronto has a long history of burying its waterways. It started with learning that there was a link between our sewage and people getting sick with cholera. Since rivers and streams were essentially open sewers, to get rid of illness, people needed to get rid of the streams that carried the illness. So burying of our waterways began.

Then:  1878 Map showing Garrison Creek outline, and 1876 lithograph showing Toronto. The indented and ‘natural-shaped’ areas are Garrison Creek.



This shows the sewers that have replaced Garrison Creek. These sewers combined storm water and sanitary sewage from nearby neighbourhoods. Source: Vanishing Point

But just because it’s buried doesn’t mean the traces are all gone. There are a number of places that are proof of the creek that once flowed there. Let’s take this reach by reach:

Christie Reach: this is from where two streams intersected at Davenport Road to Harbord Street to the south

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The Christie reach was at the surface until 1915, and there was a large bridge at Harbord street that crossed Garrison Creek. The City buried this portion of the creek, when sewers for the nearby houses were put underground. The bridge was buried as well, but remnants of the bridge on Harbord Street can still be seen, but it just looks like a railing for the sidewalk. Christie Pits used to be a quarry, and now is a large park. The slopes (which are great for tobaganning!) are also evidence of the creek that used to be there. Some houses on nearby Shaw Street are having foundation problems and sinking slightly on one side, and this is because surface and ground water are still flowing through their old paths and undermining the buildings.

Trinity Reach: between Harbord Street and Queen Street

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Garrison Creek was above the surface until the 1890s.There was a bridge at Crawford Street, which was eventually filled in after the creek was buried. This reach is named after Trinity College, which was a private college. It joined with the University of Toronto and moved closer to the rest of campus (which is what we know as Trinity College now), and for some reason they took down the old beautiful building, and only the gates remain. Remnants of Garrison Creek can still be seen, mostly in the “dog pit” – aka the lowlying area where everyone brings their dogs! The river is now in a sewer underground, where there are several overflows, flow separators, and small storm tributaries. From the photos I can see of Vanishing Point’s work, it’s an old system that was added on to whenever problems arose, but was never planned from the beginning with a river’s capacity in mind.

Fort Reach: between Queen Street and its former outlet at Fort York

This was a very industrialized part of the City. Breweries and slaughterhouses were set up to take advantage of the clean creek water at their front doors. With creek burial and land reclamation, remnants of the creek and its tributaries at this reach are very difficult to find. Sewers at this point deliver combined sewage (storm and sanitary) to the Ashbridges Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant (in the eastern part of Toronto), but during heavy rain events, these combined sewers overflow directly into Lake Ontario.


Vanishing Point

Lost Rivers TO

City of Toronto Discovery Walks

Launching my water blog

I just registered to be part of Waterlution’s Great Waters Challenge – a game for storytelling about water. Yes, I am still a youth (as defined in this competition: under the age of 30). Just barely. Canada’s 150th year is my last year of being considered as part of this youth category, so I’m taking it.

I’m doing this because it’s Canada 150th birthday and I love working on water issues – this is such a great platform to learn and contribute to those! The other reason I’m doing this is that I love what Waterlution does, and as part of my involvement with this organization, I’m super pumped to be a participant in the Water Innovation Lab India. I will also be using this blog to document lessons learned and exciting ideas from the lab.

I will be starting Challenge #1 (there are 4 challenges in Level 1 of the game) shortly – I want it to be creative and interesting, not like this current blog post. But having very little creative outputs in my life so far, please don’t get your hopes up! As an example of my current creativity challenge, I went through an intense process of coming up with this fantastic blog title, which went like this:

Self 1: What will I call this blog?

Self 2: This water blog?

Self 1: Yeah it’s going to be my water blog.

Self 2: What about a really funny water pun. That hasn’t been done before. Like “Sylvie’s Flow of Thoughts” or “Going with the Flow” or ” Sylvie’s IQ” (get it? Q=Flow?? HA!)

Self 1: I think that’s been done before. Water puns are over done in the water sector.

Self 2: Right. So it’d have to be a really unique and funny and new pun.

Self 1: …..

Self 2: Yeah let’s just go with Sylvie’s Water Blog.

Self 1: Done.

So let the exploration and challenges begin! I clearly need it!

Seriously though, I’d encourage friends and family and teachers I know to get involved – watch this video below to learn more. And shout out to the participants from the previous Level 1 – like my friend Logan!