Visual diary, Toronto: Evergreen Brick Works

Since I’ve been writing text-heavy posts here all week, it’s high time to share some more photos! These are from an outing we took a couple of weeks ago, to a place called the Evergreen Brick Works. It’s an educational and recreational center built from a late-19th-century brick factory and its surrounding land. The land got pretty polluted because of the brick works, but now they’re trying to restore them to what they looked like pre-European contact.

Evergreen Brick Works and park from above

Evergreen Brick Works and park, seen from above.

After a few weeks of urban living, we were especially happy to explore a more natural-feeling part of Toronto, and EBW was nice for that. We got off the subway and walked through a residential neighborhood (incidentally, the same one in which Anna’s relatives live) and a park before arriving at the trail that would take us to the brick works.

Trail to Evergreen Brick Works

The trail was nearly deserted on this Friday morning, and we enjoyed the shade, the quiet and birdsong, and the wide, gently-downward-sloping path. We saw some mushrooms, and one woman walking about five dogs. Soon we encountered our first “wildlife”: a chipmunk. These aren’t so common in California; Erik had never seen one before.

Striped chipmunk on the trail

After a very pleasant short walk, a sign pointed us to a set of metal stairs heading downward into a valley. We had arrived around the back side of the brick works, where the building meets the Weston Family Quarry Garden park.

Pond at the Weston Family Quarry Garden park

We spent a little while peering into the pond, where we saw various kinds of fish floating lazily or darting around each other in the murky water. I’m not a big fan of water I can’t see through, but I imagine all the aquatic plants are just heaven if you’re a fish.

Fish in the murky water of the pond

We then left the sun to wander through the buildings a little. First we walked through a big, open-walled, shedlike space where there were several groups of schoolkids, a number of permanent geology exhibits, and some temporary science exhibits (set up for the benefit of the schoolkids).

Ice and fish hanging installation

Throughout the brick works, I liked the way the new exhibits were integrated into the century-old space. It felt appropriate to preserve the history by maintaining the old structures — and it felt modern as well, since that industrial-decay aesthetic is so popular.

Banner-sized historical photos and notes posted onto a column/pipe from the original brickworks

Later in the afternoon, we saw a wedding party taking photos in this same open space.

Wedding party and photographers

Never one to learn when I could be eating, however… we went to the restaurant before checking out the rest of the brick works.

Table settings at Café Belong, the EBW's restaurant

I really liked the food philosophy and aesthetic there, too. Café Belong reminded me of both the restaurant at the Getty Center in LA, and one of our favorite Berkeley restaurants, Gather: local, sustainable food served in a beautiful and thoughtful environment. All the waitstaff were extremely nice. When we left the brick works hours later, we took the free shuttle to a different subway station, and our waiter was in the seat behind us; we heard him talking to someone about how much he liked working in this cafe. “It’s the way I live and the way I eat,” he said, “and it feels good to serve that, too. I used to work at a place where they made all their own stuff — or tried to — but they were just sourcing their ingredients from everywhere. What’s the point of cooking a chicken sous vide if it’s pumped full of antibiotics?” He also talked about his garden and the ease of getting around the city by skateboard.

It was while I was admiring the drinking glasses in the cafe — such a nice shape and so well-balanced — that I suddenly realized I couldn’t remember what our own drinking glasses looked like. I mentioned it to Erik, and he couldn’t remember either. It took us a long minute to recall the French tumblers I’d bought from an estate sale. We’d packed those away in February, when we moved out of San Pablo.

After lunch we went into the old kilns, a vast, dimly lit, drafty building in which our footsteps echoed down the aisles and through the doors of the old brick ovens.

Brick ovens

The whole place had an eerie feeling of abandonment. The factory closed in 1984, and after that time many visitors passed through it, from squatters to photographers to graffiti artists.

Graffiti in the brick works

There were some signs and photos posted around the kilns, explaining what it was like when the brick works was active. It was hard for me, standing there in the cavernous silence, to picture the site alive with blistering heat and flames and movement and the sounds of men shouting and grunting and heaving around tons of bricks.

Exhibit inside the kilns

Still, even though it felt so empty, there was a strange human energy about the place. Maybe I was still trying to imagine the brick works in use; maybe it’s that the inactive factory appeals to some instinct to investigate and climb and stake out and settle. The unused kilns and tunnels were like caves; the exposed beams and pipes like ladders. It was simultaneously creepy and oddly inviting.

Inside the kilns

Tunnel for transporting cartloads of bricks

Erik inside an abandoned closetlike structure

Patterned bricks

Part of me wanted to hang out in the kilns for a long time, and another part wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. Eventually I remembered the park in the back, and we headed that way, across the walkways over the water.

Walkway over the pond, looking back toward the brick works

The park was a totally different world from the brick works (which was already a totally different world from the rest of Toronto).

Pond

The schoolkids didn’t venture out this way, and neither did the wedding party, so it was just us, some couples, a few young women pushing baby strollers, and a man who’d set up his easel along the water and was painting. And the animals…

Turtle sunning itself

Frog peeking out of the water

Frog sitting

Snake

Snail

(Is this what snails look like in other parts of North America? Because all the ones I’ve ever seen are just brown, but all the Toronto snails look like this.)

There were quite a few different areas in this park, and we enjoyed exploring several of them. We climbed a dry-grassy hill, walked under a variety of trees, and saw duckweed covering a little area of water.

duckweed-covered water

Behind a screen of trees, we happened upon a little scene so idyllic and perfect that it looked like something out of a cheesy “sounds of nature” relaxational video. So of course I had to take a video! I must say, watching it makes me feel much calmer. Enjoy, and happy weekend. 😀

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