Episode available within Canada only.

In the middle of Canada’s largest city, a natural wilderness is thriving in the unlikeliest of places.

Accidental Wilderness: The Leslie Street Spit, a documentary from The Nature of Things, tells the surprising story of the Leslie Street Spit — a remarkably rich wilderness located a few short kilometres from the heart of Toronto. Here, the distinction between city and wilderness disappears: a coyote roams freely in a cottonwood forest while in the distance, the CN Tower looms on the cityscape.

“The Spit,” or Tommy Thompson Park as it’s officially called, was initially conceived of as a breakwater to protect Toronto’s bustling shoreline. To build it, construction waste was dumped into Lake Ontario starting in 1959, eventually creating a five-kilometre concrete peninsula. Soon, the heaps of rubble gave way to plants and wild animals proving that, when given the chance, nature can take root anywhere.

The peninsula is home to five distinct ecosystems where a dizzying array of animal life has established itself. Coyotes, cottontails and snakes lurk in the brush while turtles, beavers, mink and muskrat swim in the Spit’s many waterways. The park is also home or a vital stopover for over 320 bird species. Most fascinating is how various species have used the Spit — its rubble of concrete and bricks, beaches shot through with rebar and abandoned ceramic — to their own ends.

The Spit has partly taken shape through the gentle hand of human caretakers. In Accidental Wilderness: The Leslie Street Spit, these devoted individuals guide us through the wild terrain.

Behavioural ecologist Gail Fraser and conservationist Diego Corrales take us into the teeming cormorant colony, while urban wildlife researcher Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux introduces us to the Spit’s resident Blanding’s turtles. Community co-ordinator, Emily Rondel, uncovers coyotes with a group of visitors and school children are introduced to the magic of the Spit for the first time.

Over 300 species live minutes from the core of Canada's biggest city
How one artist is creating artwork from bird nests in a Toronto urban wilderness
Letting nature take its course — one man's fight to let wilderness thrive in downtown Toronto

We follow their observations in the park, how they manage animal populations and the land, as well as the important research they carry out to gain more insight into this ‘unnatural natural space.’

All kinds of Torontonians love the Spit and visit year-round. Hobby naturalists, cyclists, university researchers, sailors – even school children on field trips – each bring their own opinions about this special piece of Toronto. However they view the space, the passion of these urbanites highlights the importance of urban wildernesses, now more than ever, as encroachment from city development pushes ‘the wild’ further and further away from the downtown core.

Watch Accidental Wilderness: The Leslie Street Spit on The Nature of Things.

Credits (Click to expand)

with David Suzuki

Writer / Director
Catie Lamer

Executive Producers
James Hyslop
Jennifer Horvath

Shannon Foerter
Catie Lamer

Carole Larsen

Directors of Photography
Hugo Kitching
Christopher Yapp

Original Music Composed by
John JK Kanakis

Head of Production
Brian Bleasdale

Line Producer
Shannon Foerter

Production Coordinator
Stephanie Lawrence

Additional Photography
Sean Harvey
Matt Marek
Stephen Ryan

Camera Assistants / DIT
Scott Burton
Stephen Ryan

Sound Recordists
Stephen Dranitsaris
Sara Labadie
Adam Laycock
Jason Milligan

Head of Post Production
Rania Eid

Post Production Supervisor
Amy Karrandjas

Digital Extras Editor
Benjamin Salman

Animation & Graphics
Mark Alberts

Madeleine Standish

Assistant Editor
Benjamin Salman

AJ McLauchlin

Online Editor
Heather McDowell

Closed Captioning & Descriptive Video
Nicole Beemsterboer

Post Audio Supervisor
Asha Dillion

Post Production Audio
Chris Cobain

Business Affairs
Joe Woodward
Mithila Majithia

Production Accountant
James Duncliffe

Duncan Morin LLP

Interim Financing Provided by
Royal Bank of Canada – Media & Entertainment Team

Stock Footage
CBC Licensing
Rogers Media Inc.
City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 148, Item 1
City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 148, Item 3
City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 148, Item 16


Specialk Thanks
Robin Bicknell
Nick Crowe
Ryan Coxworthy

Produced with the participation of the Canadian Media Fund

Produced with the participation of

The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit

Ontario Film and Television Tax Credits

Ontario Media Development Corporation

Canadian Federation of Musicians

International Standard Audiovisual Number - 0000-0005-9B5B-0000-V-0000-0000-1

Produced by


For the CBC
General Manager, Programming
Sally Catto

Executive Director, Unscripted Content
Jennifer Dettman

Senior Director, Documentary
Sandra Kleinfeld

Senior Director of Production, Unscripted Content
Alexandra Lane

Story Consultant
Tina Verma

Wildlife Film Consultant
Caroline Underwood

Executive in Charge of Production
Sue Dando

The Nature of Things
With David Suzuki

Produced in association with
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

(copyright 2020)

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