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Burke Brook Project

The Living Story of Our Woodland Trails

Havergal is fortunate to sit on 22-acres of beautiful land, which includes three sports fields, one playground, tennis courts and three acres of natural woodland. Nestled between the Upper School and Junior School is the Burke Brook, the campus stream that flows into the Don River and is part of the Don Watershed. The Burke Brook connects to The Lisa Hardie Woodland Trail, which is a special place on campus.

Many are not aware of the early days of the Lisa Hardie Woodland Trail, named in honour of Lisa Hardiea Havergal student who died tragically in an accident in Costa Rica in the summer of 1992. Because Lisa was an environmental and outdoors enthusiast, her family wanted to memorialize her in nature. Her mother, Nell Hardie, continued Lisa’s support of the Environment Club, and the work the club had started in the ravine on Havergal’s campus together with weeding, mulching and securing the school’s outdoor spaces in support of the ravine’s flora and fauna.

In the early 2000s, the City of Toronto initiated a ravine stewardship policy, which encouraged volunteers to help restore and maintain the city’s ravines. In 2006, the Board of Governors sought to extend the efforts of the Hardies through the Burke Brook Project, and determined that this regeneration effort would be the first project of the Forum for Change. Led by its inaugural Director, Ann Peel, the regeneration of the Burke Brook became a school-wide project.

In 2008, the project brought in certified arborist (and past parent) Jose Rubio Lazo to help with the Burke Brook Project. He observed that the section of the Burke Brook ravine that resides on Havergal’s campus was lacking in biodiversity. A group of students, faculty and staff working with Jose and the Forum for Change envisioned broadening the tree species on campus and bringing native boreal Carolinian forestry to the Burke Brook ravine.

The Burke Brook Project began in 2008 with a commitment to regenerate the ravine as a Carolinian forest of native trees, shrubs and grasses, including rare and pioneer trees (from stock over 100 years old). The goals for the Carolinian forest are to enhance biodiversity, prevent erosion, develop habitat for birds and wildlife and create a recreational and educational space for the Havergal community. The school is committed to the possibility that the Don River can become rich in wildlife, plant and aquatic diversity.

Working with the Institute and Havergal’s Facilities team, Havergal received approval from the City of Toronto and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority for a stewardship plan to deliver the Burke Brook Project in 2008. The school attracted partners in the City, Citizens Environment Watch and Trees Ontario. Jose completed a survey of the ravine area, identifying existing trees and quadrants where work needed to be done to improve diversity and safety.

Earlier that year, Jose and the Havergal community planted seedlings in the ravine. Later that month, the Class of 1978 dedicated its 40th reunion activities during Celebration Saturday to planting more trees in the Lisa Hardie Woodland Trail and surrounding ravine. In total, Jose and the Havergal community planted 400 trees on campus, comprised of 130 different species. The newly planted trees would encourage biodiversity, prevent soil erosion and develop a habitat for birds and wildlife. Over two years, those working on the project planted more than 300 trees of 29 Carolinian species, some of which are endangered. Jose sourced the trees and guided the plantings in different quadrants of the ravine, in accordance with the rejuvenation plan.

After the mass tree planting in 2008-2009, the Burke Brook Project was put on hold for a few years to allow the newly planted trees to take root. In 2011, the Grade 6 class decided to honour Havergal by building an outdoor classroom as their Junior School graduation gift to the school. Former Junior School faculty member Amy Joliat’s father, Mr. Herringer, generously donated his time and energy to build the outdoor classroom. The Hardie family was touched by this gift and happy to see their visions of the Lisa Hardie Woodland Trail coming to life.

Today, the ravine on Havergal’s campus is an ongoing school-wide venture. In November 2012, the school completed construction on the Junior School Outdoor Learning PlaySpace area, an outdoor naturalized learning space for students that fosters creative play and games, provides a space for quiet reflection and group interaction and nurtures curiosity and a respect for nature. In September 2014, the school unveiled a new outdoor learning space for Junior and Upper School students: the Cohen Amphitheatre. These outdoor spaces lie between the two schools and the Burke Brook.

The school’s commitment to the Burke Brook Project continues today: in the spring of 2015, Jose and his team returned to Havergal to plant 590 specimens of 73 species including seven species having special status with the Ministry of Natural Resources as threatened, endangered, or of special concern. In 2017, wildflower plantings were both consistent with the Carolinian vision and also coordinated with David Suzuki’s pollinator and butterfly initiative and in 2018 plantings included ‘Vimy Oak’ trees, which are direct descendants of the English oaks destroyed during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

Thanks to the dedication of Havergal’s Board of Governors and Senior Leadership Team to this project, our students can continue to benefit from the outdoor naturalized learning spaces on campus.