Brick by Brick — building the history of Tridel and Evergreen Brick Works

Can an abandoned industrial place be reinvented into a modern and useful public space? The answer is a resounding yes, especially when considering Evergreen Brick Works, an important place in the history of building Toronto and Tridel.

“Brick Works was established 21 years ago with the notion that 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities and we’re losing our connection with nature,” said Anthony Westenberg, Spokesperson and Public Relations Manager. “It’s in the middle of 40 acres of forest, meadowland and marshland. But also within three kilometers there are 10,000 kids who have no backyard. So we want Evergreen Brick Works to be their backyard.”

Westenberg recounted the Brick Works’ storied history and transformation at a recent Lunch & Learn held at Tridel’s head office.

The Don Valley Brick Works.

The Don Valley Brick Works. (Photo courtesy of Evergreen)

The Don Valley Brick Works produced over 40 million bricks a year during its nearly 100 year operation. These bricks are part of such buildings as Casa Loma, Massey Hall and the Ontario legislature. They also helped build the first Tridel homes.

“Uncle Angelo remembers being nonno’s [grandfather's] apprentice, driving down to Brick Works to pick up the bricks for the houses they were building at that time,” said Deena DelZotto, Jack DelZotto’s granddaughter. “And of course, this meant that Angelo could hone his entrepreneurial talents, cutting deals with the Italians and other immigrants, picking out the discounted bricks and driving back and forth along Eglinton Avenue to Bayview, there was no DVP at the time, on a tar and gravel road that uncle Angelo described as a ‘magnificent country drive.’”

The reinvented Evergreen Brick Works. Notice the chimney and buildings from the preceding photo?

The reinvented Evergreen Brick Works. Notice the chimney and buildings from the preceding photo? (Photo courtesy of Evergreen)

In a foreshadowing of what was to come, Brick Works had environmental links from the beginning.

“In the early 1900s, a gentleman from the University of Toronto, a geologist called A.P. Coleman, marked geological time against the back quarry wall and he went back 400,000 years and measured ice age, tropical sea and then ice age,” said Westenberg. “So this is one of the first places in North America where the notion that climate on the earth changes was first explored. Geologists from Europe jumped on boats to take a look.”

In 1984, the site closed and laid in neglect for almost 25 years. The city leased the property to Evergreen which restored it into an environmental community centre. The space has farmer’s and garden markets; environmentally education, healthy living and children programs; paths through the forests and marshes; and more. A LEED® Platinum certified building is on site and the entire Brick Works is focused on sustainability. Rain water is harvested and a white top is used in the parking lot to reduce the urban heat island.

A reinvented public space. [Photo courtesy of Evergreen]

A reinvented public space. (Photo courtesy of Evergreen)

Walk of Life poster

Support a great cause and explore a great place!

Brick Works will be further promoting healthy living by hosting Cardiac Health Foundation Canada‘s Walk of Life, held May 27. Barbara Kennedy, Executive Director of the foundation, spoke with the crowd about this year’s event, which will feature cycling in addition to walking and running. As well, dogs will be allowed and there will be a shuttle bus from Broadview subway station. Tours of the historic Brick Works and gardening seminars will be held in the afternoon.

“Put a healthy mind in a healthy body in a healthy environment, which is what Brick Works now represents,  and you’ve got the best of all worlds,” said Leo DelZotto, Tridel President.

Register or donate for this year’s Walk of Life
Sunday, May 27, 9:30 am to 12:30 pm
Evergreen Brick Works and Parkland
3 and 5 km walk – 5 km run – 10 km cycle

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