Toronto

Hey Toronto! Take a walk on the wild side in the city's hidden ravines and parks

Many Torontonians will likely spend some time outdoors in the city's parks this long weekend, but how about checking out a park you've never been to before.

New book showcases hidden wilderness in the city, captured by renowned photographer Robert Burley

Robert Burley spent four years photographing the hidden wilderness in Toronto, which included spending time at the Scarborough Bluffs and exploring off-the-beaten-path areas. (Courtesy of Robert Burley)

Spending time in the city's parks this long weekend is on the agenda for many Torontonians, but how about talking a walk on Toronto's wild side instead?

In An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto's Natural Parklands, a new book by photographer Robert Burley, you can discover some of the city's hidden gems — from sunken valleys, tree-lined ravines and unpopulated shorelines. 

Pictured here, from above, are the forks of the Rouge River. (Courtesy of Robert Burley)

Published in time for Canada's 150th anniversary, Burley's book chronicles secret wilderness spaces throughout the city over the last four years. He covered more than 100 sites within the city limits — spanning an area of 630 square kilometres.

"For people who live in Toronto, we take these places for granted," said Burley, who is currently an associate professor at Ryerson University's School of Image Arts. .

"I thought I knew the parklands, but I had no idea. If you think you know the ravine system and the parkland in Toronto, you don't."

Cormorants are seen nesting here, at Tommy Thompson Park. Robert Burley was commissioned by the City of Toronto to produce his photo book, 'An Enduring Wilderness.' (Courtesy of Robert Burley)

In his book, Burley talks about getting lost under the Bloor Viaduct — only 10 minutes from his house — when he "decided to step off the path and into an area overgrown with Manitoba maples, dog-strangling vine and, of course, stinging nettles, another ubiquitous gift of the valley."

Robert Burley has previously worked on numerous urban landscape projects, including in Chicago and New York City. He is currently an associate professor at Ryerson University's School of Image Arts. (Ryan Walker)

The feeling of getting lost is one many readers relate to, said Burley. They told him the city's ravines are spiritual places that offer solace and a break from the congested city.

"I discovered the world below when I first moved to Toronto in the 1970s," recalled Burley while talking to CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"The ravines are a part of this city that really make it liveable, that really offer us an inner-city nature experience that you can't find in other places."

One of his favourite spots to discover is the Rouge Valley.

Trees are in full bloom in this image of the Park Drive Reservation Lands, just one of the dozens of places in Toronto photographed by Robert Burley. (Courtesy of Robert Burley)

"We have one of the only cities in North America that has a national park inside the city limits ... I didn't know you could go camping in the Rouge! It's actually beautiful," he said.

The book itself is a collection of hundreds of photographs and tributes by some of Toronto's best-known writers, including George Elliott Clarke, Alissa York, Anne Michaels, Michael Mitchell and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.  

A calm afternoon at Scarborough Bluffs Park. (Courtesy of Robert Burley)

In describing the project, Burley quotes Robert Fulford: "The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice, and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city's emotional geography."

He adds that unlike New York City's designed Central Park, Toronto's parklands are "places that have always been there — and they still retain that wild quality that can take you back to pre-settlement times in this city."

Burley's book is available at all major book retailers and online.

Burley captured someone fishing, under the Macdonald-Cartier freeway, at Rouge Park. His photography will also be on display at the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival until May 26 at the John B. Aird Gallery in Toronto. (Courtesy of Robert Burley)

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