Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History of Toronto's Don River Valley

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History of Toronto's Don River Valley

Article excerpt

Jennifer L. Bonnell, Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History of Toronto's Don River Valley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 316 pp. 38 images. Cased. $65. ISBN 978-1-4426-4384-0. Paper. $29.95. ISBN 978-1-4426-1225-9.

Reclaiming the Don is an enticing study of Toronto's Don Valley taking in a varied histor y of 'the city and its disagreeable edges' (p. xvii). Making use of Pierre Nova's work on 'sites of memory', Bonnell sets out a compelling narrative acknowledging First Nations' land use (pre- and post-contact), the Simcoe family's colonial gaze, and the myriad industrial and social practices of the last 200 years. The histor y of the Don Valley is shown to be at once local, national, and global as practical interventions in the riverine environment reflect a vacillating sense of attention towards nature, natural resources, transit, trade, and industr y. As a natural feature and key industrial site, Bonnell places the valley at the heart of fascinating debates surrounding urban natures. Perceived historically as a 'corridor of wastes' from industrial and domestic pollution, the Don is seen as output for mills, distilleries, refineries, cattle byres, and household sewage. At the same time, it is a complex ecosystem subject to flood events, rendered more complex by an ever-urbanising watershed. This is traced right up to the present day, where the Don is again subject to development, as an 'imagined landscape of consumption' (p. xxx). Bonnell is thus able to neatly frame and contextualise the impulses behind former mayoral candidate Doug Ford's brash, fleeting plans for a waterfront Ferris Wheel, Mall, and Monorail.

Reassessing the valley as a site for technocratic intervention, Bonnell highlights the Don Valley Improvement Project in the 1880s and 1890s, the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) in the 1950s and 1960s, and how these sit alongside deeper located histories of homelessness and environmentalism. …

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