Most canoes do best when they keep water out, but not the one docked in the Gerrard India Bazaar.
Filled with soil and native plants, the bright blue canoe at Gerrard Street and Rhodes Avenue is enjoying a second life as a garden bed.
Planted two weeks ago by volunteer “park rangers” working on a David Suzuki Foundation project called the Homegrown National Park, the canoe is one in a fleet of 12 garden canoes that mark buried creeks in Toronto, and the first in the East End.
“For one, it’s just a reminder that even though the water is sort of swished beneath our feet, it’s still flowing.”
Two creeks used to flow openly just a few blocks east and west of Rhodes Avenue.
Last summer, Wilson led a walk along Coxwell Avenue as he traced the path of Small’s Creek, which once ran above ground from what is now East Lynn Park down to a large, U-shaped pond near Queen Street and Kingston Road.
Part of the creek can still be seen flowing in the Williamson Park Ravine.
According to blogTO, the pond that Small’s Creek fed was drained and filled for health reasons in 1935, after the creek and another feeder stream, the Serpentine, were diverted into sewers.
To the west of the Rhodes Avenue canoe, Wilson said what is now known as Ashbridges Creek used to flow over land near Woodfield Road — just one of many waterways draining the high, clay-rich ground of East York into Lake Ontario.
Wilson said city planners are getting better at managing such waterways, noting that new suburbs are often built with detention ponds and channels called “bioswales” that capture storm water.
“The trouble is, the city is built, and it’s like trying to re-engineer the entire city to fix what we’ve done wrong 100 or 150 years ago,” he said.
When Aidan Nolan began thinking of ways to highlight Toronto’s existing creeks and rivers, his first idea was to start a kind of BIXI canoe system.
But after speaking with other Homegrown National Park volunteers, Nolan settled on the garden canoe project as an easier start.
Nolan said the Rhodes Avenue canoe is planted with service berry, native strawberries, milkweed and goldenrod to support birds and pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies.
“We’re trying to build something that has food for pollinators throughout the season,” he said, adding that the garden includes grasses where pollinators can lay their eggs.
After planting the canoe, the volunteers decorated it with a moccasin symbol — a nod to the traditional territory of the Mississaugas and other local First Nations.
Nolan said a similar garden canoe has been planted outside Toronto on the New Credit First Nation, and more will eventually be set near the many river mouths that empty into Lake Ontario from Long Point to Kingston.