Monday, May 18, 2009

In search of the Don

Having been burned by bad weather on too many past Victoria Day weekends, I've made it a policy to avoid roaming too far afield on this, the first long weekend of the summer season. Today, however, dawned bright and calm, so I decided to launch my kayak into the chilly waters of Lake Ontario at Cherry Beach, not far from my downtown home, and have a look at what was going on in Toronto Harbour.

After putting in and heading west, then north into the Eastern Gap, I emerged into the city's inner harbour. Today's mission was to search out the mouth of the Don River, which empties into the harbour at its easternmost end. It's not so easy to find; as Toronto grew, the river was covered over by freeways, redirected numerous times, and heavily polluted. As a final injustice, its mouth was completely cemented in, so it looks like any one of a number of channels in the harbour.

Still, after after a bit of poking about, I located the Keating Channel, which terminates at the mouth of the Don. The channel (named after the engineer who designed it) is very short, and is lined with a good forty years of marine refuse, from cranes and scrap metal to old fuel tanks. But there are a couple of interesting old boats in here, too.

Every summer since way back in 1833, Toronto's ferry service has moved thousands of sun-seekers to the Toronto Islands, a unique, laid-back community just off the city's shores (you can read more about the islands by clicking here). Back in 1985, the city bought the car ferry Windmill Point, seen here, to back up the four boats it currently runs. She apparently isn't needed too often these days, and looks like she's been calling the Keating Channel home for some time.

A little further on is the tug Fred Scandrett. According to, the Scandrett was launched from the Port Weller drydocks in 1963 as the C.E. Ted Smith. She went to work for the Dominion Chemical Company of Montreal, and was bought by the Toronto Harbour Commission (which is known as the Toronto Port Authority today) in 1969. Toronto author Mike Filey, in his 1998 book Discover and Explore Toronto's Waterfront, briefly refers to her as a "work boat," and notes that the real Fred Scandrett was the general manager of the Harbour Commission from 1946 to 1951.

Finally, at the far end of the Keating Channel I found the mouth of the Don. A blockade of logs kept me from going into the river itself, but despite its long and difficult past, there are parts, a little further on, that are quite lovely, and appear to have begun what will no doubt be a long, slow recovery. They're a stark contrast to the river's concrete, entirely manufactured mouth, which routinely deposits silt, branches, and all sorts of refuse into the channel, especially after a storm.

After scouting out the Keating Channel, I decided to turn for home. To the west, the ferries were running at full steam, carrying the usual crowds to the islands to enjoy a relaxing day off. Throbbing bass vibrated from nearby party boats. Tonight, fireworks are lighting the skies over the harbour.

Still, I suspect it's just another quiet night at the mouth of the Don.

To read more about the Fred Scandrett, click here.

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