An Urban Breathing Space: Evergreen Brick Works, Toronto

A wonderfully creative and sustainable use of retired industrial land in the city, the Evergreen Brick Works is an extraordinary community environmental centre located on the site of the former Don Valley Brick Works (1889-1980’s) which produced many of the bricks that built Toronto. Old and new is beautifully integrated, creating an eclectic and vibrant space that makes full use of its central location on a swath of green space along the Don Valley ravine that runs through Toronto.

If you arrive on a Saturday you will find a bustling farmers market, selling local seasonal food, and buzzing with the energy of creative and interesting people. We brought home some fresh fish, garlic scapes, new potatoes, swiss chard and multicoloured heirloom carrots, which were all put to good use.
An interesting little shelter where you can wait for a bus or a free shuttle to take you to the subway system for a convenient commute. Note the industrial pieces on the ceiling re-purposed as integrated art.

A central garden space showing both new and old buildings.

Above: A small section of the children’s garden. There are children’s day camps that run out of some of the buildings.

The open rafter area inside this building above,  marks the Koerner Gardens, which are planted with native species. There is also a garden shop where you can learn about, and purchase, native plantings and many other products.

The large artwork on this wall is called Watershed Consciousness and was created by artist Ferruccio Sardella. It represents a map of the rivers that flow through the city and gently flows with water itself to sustain the plants tucked into the crevices that mark the waterways. The structural metalwork acts as a support for the both the building and the artwork.

Much of the old graffiti has been left on the surfaces and somehow it adds to the dynamic community feel of the site.

The interior space of Koerner Gardens. In the winter this area is transformed into a skating rink where you can wind your way around the raised beds under the open rafters. The skating rink is equipped with a refrigeration system and the waste heat produced from this system is directed to heat the adjoining cafe.

An image of what the clay and shale quarry used to look like before it was filled with water and turned into a vital habitat for native flora and fauna.
Below: A cross-section representation of the rock layers found in the quarry.

You just have to turn away from the buildings to see what is, essentially, the back garden to the Brick Works. A green space so vast that it’s hard to image you are in a huge city. There are winding walking trails within the 40 acre site that take you to lovely ponds, boardwalks and sitting areas. And beyond that the continuation of the ravine system and its huge network of paths.

There are many interesting businesses, events and features within the Evergreen Brick Works that I haven’t even touched on here. If you are interested in more information you can visit their website here:

All images © Karen McRae

72 thoughts on “An Urban Breathing Space: Evergreen Brick Works, Toronto

  1. What a fascinating tour. The city has built a beautiful and productive green space from an abandoned part of town. These projects always encourage me. I am particularly impressed by the concept of The Watershed Consciousness. Practical, aesthetically pleasing and alive! Enjoyed the tour. Thank you.

  2. These are fabulous pictures of a great place. We spend a lot of time at the brickworks – walking the trails, shopping for native plants, and enjoying the antique market, not to mention the wonderful restaurant.

  3. What a brilliant transformation and use of public space! Canadians seem to have a knack for seeing the creative potential in what might otherwise be forgotten or abandoned.

  4. So cool! There’s such an artisan vibe here – my favourite is the art installation representing the map of rivers with the plants in the crevices. beautiful photo, as is the bird house below! I feel a similar community vibe to Brooklyn!

  5. This is beautiful! Such a wonderful transformation and creation of public space — it blends in so perfectly with the surrounding nature, on top of it all! Thanks for the tour. I hope this project is being highlighted for others to follow…!

  6. Why is Toronto so far from Portsmouth UK ? I would love to explore this amazing space for myself. At least via your great series of photos you’ve managed to share it with us all – many thanks indeed ! PS : Inspired by “Watershed Consciousness” ! cheers !

  7. A wonderful place Karen that you have captured so well in your photos. I agree with Marina, the detail shot of the Watershed Consciousness is superb, beautiful colour and texture.

  8. you made Toronto appealing, 2 bad it’s so much inland or i would have made it my list of cities to move to. Great perceptions your photos give. thank you

  9. I love the Brick Works. I’ve been there a couple of times. The first time was early in the season and it was very quiet. I got some great shots of the interior of the old factory. The second time it was crazy busy and we had to line up for lunch and literally we were served the last bits of food they had. I would highly recommend that one goes in the middle of the week when it’s not so busy but if you want to partake in the farmers’ market you have no choice but to go on Saturday.

    1. How nice that you have been there and love it! It was VERY busy Saturday morning but I did manage to get some of the gluten free tacos, which were delicious! 🙂

  10. What a treasure for a big City like Toronto! Often these old factories and spaces disappear and make room for big new centers with parking lots where plants are nearly absent. Green is necessary for a better climate in the towns, less heat in summer. Isn’t it a great thing to buy fruits and vegetables in a farmer market instead of a supermarket? Your photographs are wonderful, and I learned the english word for “Krautstiele” which is swiss chard. Capuns is a traditional food from the canton of Graubünden where I live. They are made from Spätzle dough with pieces of dried meat and rolled in a chard leaf. You will find Capuns recipes in english via Wikipedia. A proverb: There are as many capuns recipes as mother-in-laws.
    Kind regards
    Heidi from Switzerland

    1. It is wonderful to see such vision and then the ability to pull it all together, isn’t it? I might try Capuns. That’s an interesting proverb! 🙂
      Thanks for your comment Heidi!
      Cheers, Karen

  11. Wonderful space! I particularly love the wall sculpture depicting the flow of the river along the outside wall. Beautiful patina. A lovely piece that changes as it grows and ages. Thoughtful.

  12. Wow, I live in Toronto and I’ve never been to the Brick Works. I used to ride my bike in the trails around that area and I actually saw a Beaver in the Don River! The wild life is amazing around there.

    Thanks for posting this – I am so close, must visit!

    1. Mona, you would love it, do try and go!
      If you go on a Saturday they have great “street food” at the farmers market. You just have to go early to avoid disappointment, it’s popular! Let me know if you make it there…

  13. Just re-looking at these, really a great series Karen! I love how your blog tells lots of little stories..

  14. Oh my, I just adore the wall with rusty part and tree-shape grate to let the plants grow there! I am still sad that we don’t have such great landscape (in fact) architecture in Cracow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s