Eco-Art-Fest shows off secrets of the valley, promotes sustainability

"Helliwell's" by artist Dean Baldwin, above, is part of No.9 Eco-Art-Fest, which features daily guided tours of the outdoor work of 8 Canadian artists.

Outdoor Eco-Art-Fest promotes sustainability: Showcases secrets of the (Don) valley

by Tammy Thorne with files from Tom Beyer and Dean Baldwin

Want to try something new while learning about something old this summer? Heading up the Don Valley bike trail is an exercise in going back to the roots of Toronto. And we learned even more about the historical centre of the city at our destination, Eco-Art-Fest at Todmorden Mills. This great bike ride, history-and-sustainability lesson, art exhibit and snack stop all rolled into one fantastic day trip is definitely a top highlight of summer in the city this year. You can check out Eco-Art-Fest until September 21.

The easiest (and nicest) way to get there is up the Lower Don trail on the east side of the river.

Once you are in the trail system, you will see blue squiggly lines with the text “Don Was Here” on the pavement.

LabSpace Studios has placed these Don Was Here tags all along the bikeways in the Don River valley from Lakeshore to Todmorden Mills this summer as part of Eco-Art-Fest. #DonWasHere retraces the historical route of the Don River with visual marks of where the old Don River would have curved and flowed before it was straightened, channelized and tamed for industrial growth. The squiggles represent how it used to curve.

When you first arrive from Pottery Road you see the Todmorden Mills stack and the Eco-Art-Fest sign.


Then follow the red brick road...

Enter the "secret garden" that is Todmorden Mills Museum park and is currently transformed into an old-fashioned beer garden by artist Dean Baldwin. Here is one of his hand-made ceramic beer steins, below, with a map of the art in the area.



Claudia at the oven. Photo by Dean Baldwin.

Eco-Arts-Fest @ Todmorden Mills celebrates the historical significance of this area – home to one of Toronto’s first breweries – while promoting environmental awareness and providing hands-on artistic programming, like making pottery.

Young people having fun, making pottery.

There's a clay kick-wheel and pottery kiln (where you can make your own ceramic stein for the cost of the clay), wood chopping, art, nature, and history tours, and live music, which is all part of a beer garden-cum-artwork by Dean Baldwin, whose work is in the tradition of "food and drink as life-as-art."

Baldwin is also a dandy cyclist about town whose work "Useless Locks" was featured (in part) in dandyhorse issue one. Seven other artists are featured as part of the summer-long Eco-Art-Fest: Nicole Dextras, John Dickson, Ferruccio Sardella, Penelope Stewart, Labspace Studio and Sean Martindale. No. 9, a charitable arts organization, commissioned the works.

For Eco-Art-Fest Baldwin has recreated a beer garden, building long and narrow, roughly-hewn picnic tables and hand-made clay mugs, and a shipping container turned into a serving area with locally brewed beer (by Mill St.), and pizza made from scratch by Claudia, the lovely German chef visiting from Philadelphia, right on the premises.

It is the perfect little slice of paradise.

Once you turn a corner and land at Todmorden Mills; you really do feel like you've found Toronto’s secret garden.

The secret garden is filled with flowers and 100-year-old ash and pine trees, and right now, as noted; these "steinhaus" picnic tables. The artist made them using lumber salvaged from trees downed in the ice storm, and they serve as an homage to the area and the historic mill. The long, narrow-topped tables foster interaction with others.

It is truly a treat to sit enjoying the sounds and sights of nature, while having a (legal) pint in a park and pizza slice. This activity is highly recommended!

Artist Dean Baldwin says he was pleased to be invited to do a project at the Todmorden Mills Museum grounds, which is not only a museum and heritage space, but also an archeological site and a Toronto park.

The site is at 67 Pottery Road: "Pottery" because of the vast clay deposits in the Don River, where among other things, most building and ceramics in early Toronto originated. Hence the Evergreen Brickworks across the road.

"My work was in response to the site being the origin of clay and ceramics...and also to the history of the site as a mill on the river, and as one of Toronto's early breweries run by the Helliwell family. So, in response, my work - titled "Helliwell's" - is the main installation. The salvaged and rough hewn timber beer garten is made up of about 16, 12-foot-long beer garden style picnic tables, with 20 inch table tops so everyone's faces are closer together, and beer is served in ceramic steins made by yours truly, over the winter in Montreal," says Baldwin, adding the ceramic steins have charm. “The ceramics are quite thick and hence keep the beer super cold, and each one is different, as they are all very novice [in their design] - I am not really a potter.”

Sean Martindale is also an artist previously featured on with former dandy cover artist Pascale Paquette: They painted a Wile. E. Coyote-style "bike lane tunnel" and called it the "Wile. E. Ford bike lane mural" as part of an exhibit with the AGO.

He has text-based works in the Eco-Art-Fest, including “Like a bridge' – pictured below – which was made entirely of reclaimed string and is a nod to the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

But, possibly my favourite of the day was Penelope Stewart’s empty bell jar in the forest. It soothed the eye and upset the mind. The logistics of mounting such a large two-side piece in the woods is also impressive.

These photos don't really do it justice. You can see a better photo and description of her work here.


Floating, ephemeral-feeling, mirrored houses in the Oxbow River, by John Dickson.

And the somewhat creepy, "Histories" by Sean Martindale, below, is a text-based landscape installation using three-dimensional letters created out of compacted soil and buried bricks covered in grass and local vegetation that recall a burial mound, yet the viewer isn't sure if these particular histories are being buried or uncovered.

No.9 Executive Director Andrew Davies says they plan on returning again next year, but there's still lots of time to enjoy this eco-art and discover the Don ravine system this year: “The No.9 Eco-Art-Fest is a must-see interactive outdoor festival this summer, with the range of offerings for people of all ages – everyone who comes out will have fun and leave feeling fulfilled.”

Festival hours on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. It runs until September 21.

There is no cost for general admission to the festival however there is a minimal fee to attend the educational programming and FREE live music being offered Saturday evenings.

No.9 is an arts orga­ni­zation that uses art and design to bring awareness to envi­ron­mental concerns.

Todmorden house.

Todmorden Mills Heritage Site is a complex of historic buildings, which were once part of the small industrial community of Todmorden.

Today the site consists of two historic millers' homes dating from the early 19th century, the brewery building (above) and the recently renovated Papermill Theatre and Gallery (at the entrance to the site). Adjoining the site is a 9.2 hectare wildflower preserve with walking trails.

Green and lush with lots of flora and fauna (and so many frogs!) the Don Valley is an escape from the city right in the middle of it.

Getting there: If you are coming from the south, the Lower Don trail is lovely, but if you are coming from the east or north you will have to come in via Pottery Road no matter how you slice it. The sharrows on Pottery Road are a farce. The hill is steep (make sure your brakes work well) and curvy (poor sight lines) and, as many dandy readers will already know, some drivers can be very impatient if there is a cyclist in front of them on a "fast"-moving road -- even on a sunny Sunday afternoon!

Many cyclists (and all pedestrians) use the paved path separated by a cement ‘jersey’ barrier on the east side of the curvy road, which you can see below. Walk your bike on that path if pedestrians are present.

If you are coming from the west side of downtown Toronto you can bike across the Wellesley bike lane and dip down to use the River Street connection to the Lower Don trail. Note: it’s a helluva hill back up. Thankfully, the stairs have a trough.


The hill at Riverdale Park, below, will give your gams a good workout when you are ascending back to city streets.


NOTE: There's a new entrance to the Don trail system on Eastern Avenue.  It's fantastic to have new entrances to the trail and this one will be well used once the Pan Am Village is completed next year.

Click here for more info:!

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Biking in Welland County

Dean Baldwin's "Useless Locks"

Wile E. Coyote bike lane mural

Pascal Paquette cover artist for the youth and employment issue

Bike Spotting on Adelaide: Does this bike lane need bollards?

Old and Pretty: Vintage Bike Show

Biking to the Brickworks



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