Reclaiming the Don


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

Available from: University of Toronto Press |

Winner of the Canadian Historical Association’s 2015 Clio Prize for best book in Ontario history

Winner of the Ontario Historical Association’s 2015 Fred Landon Prize for best book on local or regional history in Ontario, published in the past three years.

Winner of Heritage Toronto’s 2015 Book Award for written work that engages with aspects of the Greater Toronto Area’s heritage.

Short-listed for the Canadian Historical Association’s Prize for Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History, 2015.

A small river in a big city, the Don River Valley is often overlooked when it comes to explaining Toronto’s growth. With Reclaiming the Don, Jennifer L. Bonnell unearths the missing story of the relationship between the river, the valley, and the city, from the establishment of the town of York in the 1790s to the construction of the Don Valley Parkway in the 1960s. Demonstrating how mosquito-ridden lowlands, frequent floods, and over-burdened municipal waterways shaped the city’s development, Reclaiming the Don illuminates the impact of the valley as a physical and conceptual place on Toronto’s development.

Bonnell explains how for more than two centuries the Don has served as a source of raw materials, a sink for wastes, and aplace of refuge for people pushed to the edges of society, as well as the site of numeous improvement schemes that have attempted to harness the river and its valley to build a propsperous metropolis. Exploring the interrelationship between urban residents and their natural environements, she shows how successive generations of Toronto residents have imagined the Don as an opportunity, a refuge, and an eyesore. Combining extensive research with in-depth analysis, Reclaiming the Don will be a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Toronto’s development.

“Michael Ondaatje would enjoy this beautiful history of Toronto’s Don valley: it explores a place he drew on for his own work and it shares his novels’ intensity of imagery.” — Gideon Forman, This Magazine (March/April 2015)

“Jennifer Bonnell’s Reclaiming the Don shows how this unruly valley, but paradoxical sliver of paradise, has been geographically and culturally central to the history of Toronto. In these pages nature and the city become tangled up together as Toronto and the Don define one another across two centuries.”—H.V. Nelles, Department of History, McMaster University

“Written in clear and elegant prose, Reclaiming the Don is thoroughly researched and brilliantly conceived. Bonnell moves beyond a riverine focus to encompass the valley as a whole and explores links between land-use issues and riverine change in an effective, even startling way.”—Matthew Evenden, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia

“In this winding exploration of the Don’s history, Bonnell has provided a lively narrative that restores to the valley its place, literal and metaphorical, in the history of Canada’s leading city.”—Arn Keeling, Department of Geography, Memorial University

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