Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Beautiful Brook Hemingway Used To Stroll Along

Castle Frank Brook, 1907
That's Castle Frank Brook in 1907. Oh how pretty it once was. It used to run through the heart of our city — from Dufferin and Lawrence down along the south-western edge of Forest Hill, across the northern end of Yorkville, through Rosedale Valley Ravine and into the Don River. It was right near that spot, in the ancient pine forest overlooking the valley, that the dude who founded Toronto, Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, decided to build his family's summer home. He named it, with tongue firmly in cheek, after his young son Francis: Castle Frank. And so the brook ended up with that name too.

This photo was taken more than 100 years later and quite a bit further upstream, just south-east of St. Clair and Spadina. There, the brook runs through the Nordheimer Ravine, named after the family who used to own the land. Samuel Nordheimer made his fortune importing pianos and then married Edith Boulton of the super-crazy-important Boultons: one of the first families to move here when the city was founded, they were leaders of the Family Compact and the people who built the Grange. In the 1870s, the newlywed Nordheimers built a mansion on the hill overlooking the ravine and damned the brook at this spot to create a little pond and waterfall.

Not long after that the Town of Yorkville built their waterworks nearby, using the brook to supply the town with what quickly became not very clean drinking water. The yuckiness of it eventually helped convince the town that they should join the rest of the city. The waterworks were replaced with a brand new pumping station right around the same time this photo was taken, and then later expanded. It's still there now, designated as a heritage site and used to control the entire freaking water system for the whole entire freaking city.

Now, as for Ernest Hemingway. It was a little less than 20 years after this photo was taken that he moved into the neighbourhood. In the early 1920s, he and his wife Hadley lived on Bathurst, just a couple of blocks north of St. Clair, while he was writing for the Star. Their apartment building overlooked the brook about a ten or fifteen minute walk upstream of this pretty little waterfall. They say Hemingway used to like to take strolls along the banks of the creek.

Since then, sadly, most of Castle Frank Brook has been buried, tied into the city's sewer system just like the other streams that used to run through the middle of Toronto. In the 1960s, it was going to be even more obliterated than that: the Spadina Expressway was supposed to be built right on top of it. Thankfully, plans for the expressway were killed after opposition by community groups led by the likes of Jane Jacobs and Marshall McLuhan (who also used to live only a few minutes away from where this photo was taken). Today, most of the ravines around the area where Hemingway used to take his strolls are preserved as parkland. And Castle Frank Brook has been brought partially back life, trickling along the same path it has followed for more than ten thousand years.


I wrote more about Hemingway and his ties to Toronto here. They also had their only child while they were living here. Jack Hemingway (eventual father to Muriel) was born at the Wellesley Hospital in 1923.

I first discovered this photo while I was reading the awesome book HTO: Toronto's Water from Lake Iroquois to Lost River to Low-flow Toilets. You can buy the book for yourself from Coach House here or borrow it from the library here. It's got chapters from Shawn Micallef and John Lorinc and everything.

And you can learn more about Castle Frank Brook and all of our buried creeks on the Lost Rivers website, which is an absolute-freaking-lutely amazing resource for all this kind of stuff. Really. Seriously. Neat stuff.

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01 Metropolitan York
John Graves Simcoe, 1793

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07 The Lake Sturgeon
Ernest Hemingway, 1923