7 News Archive

Beginning in the 1840s brick works operations began to locate near the Don River to take advantage of the large clay deposits and water power. Producing bricks that would literally build Toronto, many of these brick works would last well into the 20th century. One such site, the Don Valley Brickworks (Later called Toronto Brickworks) was more recently transformed into an environmental recreation area by the Evergreen non-profit and renamed Evergreen Brickworks. Much of the former industrial site is still intact and thousands of tourists come each year to enjoy on-site programming which seeks to build community and environmental sustainability.

The recent renewal of the brickworks, however, has paid little attention to the former factory's role in the social history of Toronto. In her book on the Don River historian Jennifer Bonnell describes how during the Great Depression of the 1930s groups of unemployed men called "Kiln-dwellers" would sleep next to the cooling brick ovens for warmth. At some points so many people were living around the brickworks that journalists called it a "hobo-jungle." Later, during World War 2, the brickworks took advantage of the neaby Prisoner of War camp at Todmorden Mills as a source of cheap labour. The lack of acknowledgement of this history in Evergreen's programming (there almost no mention of the industrial history of the brickworks on their website) effectively erases the history of the Don River as a site of manufacturing, labour and conflict.

Jennifer Bonnell, Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History of Toronto's Don River Valley (Toronto: U of T Press, 2014).

Evergreen Brickworks webpage: https://www.evergreen.ca