Artist Robert Bateman spent most of his childhood in the ravines behind his central Toronto home, and he learned to love nature in those years.

Now Toronto has named an 18-km trail near his former Chaplin Crescent home the Robert Bateman Urban Nature Trail. And there's more recognition ahead this month for the 82-year-old artist, with the opening of the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria, B.C.

"My dad's garden was just above this little creek which was unpolluted in those days," the artist told CBC News in a Toronto interview.

"I’m talking 1930s. We moved here in 1936. And we had pollywogs and painted turtles and minnows in the creek. And I used to build forts in people's back yards here, and they didn't know about it because they never came down. So this is my world. This is where I grew up."

Fostering love of nature

The artist and the Bateman Foundation worked with the city of Toronto to create an urban trail on the former railway right of way known as the Beltline and the trails that lead to Evergreen Brickworks. The route has markers that refer to Bateman paintings, such as Cardinal with Sumac, with an interactive display that explains the background of t he painting and a little natural history.

Bateman says one of his goals is to foster a love of nature in future generations.

"If I had all of my biggest wishes or dreams come true,  it would be to have all the kids of this world have as much fun and meaningful life in nature as I had growing up."


Everglades, painted by Robert Bateman in 1986 is the artist's largest work at 1.7 metres and will be given prominent display at the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria. (Bateman Foundation)

Bateman is looking forward to another milestone on May 25 — the opening of the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria, B.C.

The centre, whose doors open on his 83rd birthday, will display the largest exhibit of original works by the popular wildlife artist. There will be 10 galleries in the centre, including one devoted to his paintings of British Columbia and another for works from Africa.

Gallery guards his legacy

Bateman says the centre will guard his legacy and advance his environmental message.

"You'll be able to go see the whole spread of my work and I guess the biggest, most important one, certainly the biggest one in scale is one I did for my show at the Smithsonian in '87. It's the Everglades," he said, adding that there are 17 species of birds in the painting.

"It's important for me partly because it's my tour de force. It's big … and it has a strong abstract component  and you can actually use it as  a metaphor for the surface of the planet,  with all the life just on this...all life including the atmosphere would be the thickness of the skin on an apple and we're messing it up very, very badly."