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pressed brick

Don Valley Brick Works

The Don Valley Brick Works is a former quarry and industrial site located in the Don River valley in Toronto, Ontario. Currently the buildings sit mostly unused while the quarry has been converted into a city park which includes a series of naturalized ponds. The Don Valley Brick Works operated for nearly 100 years and provided bricks used to construct many well-known Toronto landmarks, such as Casa Loma, Osgoode Hall, Massey Hall, and the Ontario Legislature. The buildings are currently undergoing restoration, courtesy of Evergreen, a national charity dedicated to restoring nature in urban environments.

History

The Don Valley Brick Works were created in 1889 by the Taylor brothers. John Taylor and his brothers, William and George, had purchased the site in the Don Valley in the 1830s where they established a paper mill. While digging post holes to make a fence, William came across some good quality clay. He took a sample to a local brick works where it was confirmed that it would make a high quality brick. A quarry was soon established at the north end of the site and a brick making plant was built at the south end of the property near the Don River.

The Don Valley Pressed Brick Company produced bricks using three techniques. The first was called a soft-mud process. Clay quarried from the site was mixed with water from nearby Mud Creek, placed in moulds which were dried and then baked in kilns. A second technique called dry-press bricks used quarried shale. The shale was placed into moulds and machine pressed. A third process called stiff-mud used a mixture of clay and shale that used less water than the soft-mud process. A column of clay was forced through a die which was then cut to form using a wire. Finished product was shipped by cart out of the valley along Pottery Road or by rail on a spur built into the yard. Bricks were used mostly in Toronto but were used across the continent. The bricks made were of such good quality that they won prizes at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and the Toronto Industrial Fair in 1894.

In 1893, the company added a continuous down-draft kiln which increased the quality and amount of bricks produced. By 1907 the company had two of these kilns in operation and was producing between 85,000 to 100,000 bricks per day.

In 1909, the Taylors sold the company to Robert Davies (a brother-in-law). Davies changed the name to the Don Valley Brick Company Limited. In the 1920s a major expansion resulted in a name change to the Don Valley Brick Works Limited. Electricity was added and a new sand-lime plant was added that created a less expensive brick used for interior construction. In 1928, the company was sold to Strathgowan Investments and was renamed again to the Toronto Brick Company. At this time the company had reached peak production of about 25 million bricks per year.

During World War II, production was reduced. The plant used German prisoners of war that were housed at nearby Todmorden Mills. After the war a building boom revived demand. However, the sand-lime plant was destroyed by fire in 1946. Also the plant consolidated its outbuildings and three of the four signature chimneys were knocked down.

In 1956, United Ceramics Limited of Germany acquired the Brick Works. Over the next 25 years a new sand-lime plant was constructed. Also a Parkhill Martin Brick machine was moved from a nearby brick works to this site. It produced soft-mud bricks for the antique market. By the 1980s most of the usable clay and shale had been quarried. The company decided to offer the land to the city for $4 million CAD for conservation purposes. However, a company called Torvalley Associates offered $4,001,000 for the site and managed to purchase the site. The company had close links with East York city council and managed to convince them to rezone the land for a housing development.

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority had final say on the matter since the site was partially on the floodplain of the valley. They expropriated the land in 1987 but were forced to pay approximately $14,000,000 since the land was zoned as residential. Another company, Brampton Brick leased the site and purchased the remaining equipment. They operated a retail outlet at the site until 1991.

In 1994, restoration of the site began. The quarry was filled in using material from the excavation of the ScotiaBank tower in downtown Toronto. Once filled, the site was landscaped to create a series of three ponds using water diverted from Mud Creek. The water flows out of the ponds into a channel that was used to divert water into the brick plant. The channel then flows underneath Bayview Avenue and back into the Don River. The remaining area was turned into meadow. The shores of the ponds were planted with native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. The site was officially opened in 1997 and christened the Weston Quarry Gardens.

Since then, the site has attracted many species of birds and animals. Although no fish were stocked in the ponds, fish have migrated into the ponds from the Don River. The ponds have also become a dumping ground for goldfish and red-eared slider turtles that have outgrown their home terrariums.

Weston Quarry Garden

The park section of the Brick Works includes a series of three ponds, a large meadow and a small forest. The ponds are fed by a diversion pipe running from Mud Creek which flows just to the west of the Brick Works. Initially, the area adjacent to the ponds was planted with species native to Ontario. This also included some species that are not locally native including Tulip Tree, Fragrant Sumac and Eastern Redbud. These species are found only in areas along the north shore of Lake Erie. However the quarry basin of the Brick Works forms a warmer micro climate which allows these species to survive.

Once the wetlands became established, many species of birds have visited to forage or breed. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and some fish have also found there way to the Brick Works and have established themselves. This includes ducks, Canada Geese, toads, muskrats, sparrows, and others.

The Brick Works wetland is connected to a number of other nature reserve areas via forest trail, and is part of a larger effort to reestablish the Don Valley watershed.

This area was the site of a number of important geological discoveries which provided information on the glacial history of southern Ontario.

Future of the Brick Works

A non-profit called Evergreen has plans to develop the abandoned buildings into a cultural centre with a focus on the environment.

The following is from Evergreen.ca:

Evergreen at the Brick Works is a centre for experiencing the relationship between nature, culture and community. It's a destination for families and individuals to enjoy a natural refuge, while sampling a rich offering of programs and services - from gardening workshops, clay-making and organic food markets, to a retail nursery, demonstration gardens and leading-edge green design techniques.

Evergreen recently received $20 Million dollars from the federal government towards the project.

See also

References

  • Evergreen. CANADA’S NEW GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE UP TO $20 MILLION FOR EVERGREEN AT THE BRICK WORKS. Press release. Retrieved on 2007-01-05.
  • (2007). Bricks and Mortar. Toronto: Canadian Architect magazine.
  • (1990). Don Valley Brickworks Master Plan. Toronto: Metropolitan Toronto Parks and Property Department.
  • Don Valley Brickworks Regeneration Project. Toronto:
  • (1997). Don Valley Brick Works. Toronto:
  • Otto, Stephen A. (1998). Don Valley Brick Works: the company and its people: a report for East York Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee. Toronto:
  • (1994). Don Valley Brick Works: heritage documentation and analysis. Toronto:

External links

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