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Biking Toronto’s Ravines

Toronto is known by outsiders (and even a startling number of Torontonians) for being relatively flat.

Anyone that bikes Toronto knows that perception to be false, because of the oft-forgotten ravines of the city. Toronto is marbled with deep, wild, forested ravines. In fact, biking the ravines give a totally different view of the city than the one you get biking the streets (I’ve had a photo post of a big ravine ride I did a few weeks ago that I still have to post…), and different than car drivers see.

When biking the streets of Toronto, cyclists tend to adjust their routes to take them across one of the bridges that traverse the many ravines of the city. The minor ones are filled with trees which hide what’s down below. Biking the ravines though, you realize that Anne Michaels was right when she wrote about them in Fugitive Pieces:

It’s a city of ravines. Remnants of wilderness have been left behind. Through these great sunken gardens you can traverse the city beneath the streets, look up to the floating neighbourhoods, houses built in the treetops. It’s a city of valley spanned by bridges. A railway runs through back yards. A city of hidden lanes, of clapboard garages with corrugated tin roofs, of wooden fences sagging where children have made shortcuts. In April, the thickly treed streets are flooded with samara, a green tide. Forgotten rivers, abandoned quarries, the remains of an Iroquois fortress. Public parks hazy with subtropical memory, a city built in the bowl of a prehistoric lake.


Like diving birds, Athos and I plunged one hundred and fifty million years into the dark deciduous silence of the ravines. Behind the billboard next to Tamblyn’s Drugstore we dipped down into the humid amphitheatre of a Mezozoic swamp, where massive fronds and ferns tall as houses waved in a spore-dense haze. Beneath a parking lot, behind a school; from racket, fumes, and traffic, we dove into the city’s sunken rooms of green sunlight. Then, like andartes, resurfaced half a city away – from under the bridge near Stan’s Variety or from behind the Honey Dew Restaurant.

Honestly, biking the ravines it’s easy to forget that you are in the middle of a city of millions of people and cars and pollution. You climb up out of a ravine (or emerge from the Don or Humber Valley at the lakefront) and you are all of a sudden back in Toronto, after a trip through a forest you’ve been riding through for hours.

We owe our ravines to Hurricane Hazel and Jane Jacobs. The remnants of Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto in 1954, flooding our river valleys and washing away homes. Development was restricted in the valleys and they became parkland. Then, in the 1960s and 70s, the ravines were earmarked for highway placement until Jane Jacobs helped stop the Spadina Expressway at Eglinton, keeping it from decimating Cedarvale Ravine, the Annex neighbourhood, and the western part of downtown.

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