A profound Indigenous saying here on Turtle Island is that Water is Life. Water is not only scientifically required for life to flourish, but it also connects people to new places; it brings people together. In Toronto, we are lucky to have many water sources – from rivers and lakes to ponds and ravines formed through thousands of years of geographical shifts.
Focusing on these waterways, the InTO the Ravines program, launched in 2020, has made quite a splash. First conceptualized on the heels of Toronto’s first-ever Ravine Strategy, the program’s multifaceted, support-focused and community-first approach has made soaring positive impacts. The InTO the Ravines program seeks to mitigate the impacts of climate change that continue to become more apparent everywhere, including in Toronto’s urban and natural spaces, while keeping communities at the centre.
As the program nears its 4-year mark, Park People has recently launched the Ravine Engagement Report, highlighting its tremendous impacts on the communities it serves across the city. Please click here if you would like to access the report.
Source: Park People Conference, High Park, Toronto, Ksenija Hotic, 2023
InTO the Ravines has sought to tackle the fact that despite many people living or working near them, Toronto’s ravines are often forgotten spaces in the city. InTO the Ravines consists of two main components.
First, a microgrant stream, where community-led groups are funded to host gathering and learning events in and around Toronto’s ravine system. Second, a champions training program, where pairs of community leaders are provided training, funding, and event planning support to host an event in their local ravines.
Equity-deserving community groups who face barriers, including uncertainty due to fear of getting lost or other feelings of lack of safety, in accessing ravine spaces are prioritized. As can be found throughout the Ravine Engagement Report, InTO the Ravines, through its very design, has been developed to work more closely and collaboratively with equity-deserving community members to support the Protect, Connect, and Celebrate tenets of the Ravine Strategy.
The multipronged nature of the program has had wide-reaching impacts: over 3,000 community members have actively engaged with their ravine spaces, with 50 champions receiving training and support over the course of the past three years.
Since the implementation of this unique and innovative program began three years ago, everyone involved in InTO the Ravines, whether they have played the role of champions, grantees, or program staff, has been able to experience Toronto’s ravine spaces in different, unique, and memorable ways. InTO the Ravines program also emphasizes continuing to develop relationships with the ravine spaces long after their involvement in the program ends.
Source: Ravine Days, ET Seton Park, Toronto, 2022
InTO the Ravines centres around fostering connections between people and nature and nurturing spaces for self-connection or self-reflection.
As the program launched and the impacts of the pandemic became more pronounced, including greater feelings of isolation and sadness, the importance of these natural spaces became all the more crucial, especially for those in equity-deserving communities. As the program facilitates space for community gatherings in and around ravine spaces, community connection is a major element of this program. Over 100 events have been hosted by community members, and 15% of in-person event attendees said they had never visited a ravine before. Importantly, in a space where the impacts of climate change manifest, ravine spaces become critical to highlight the need to restore relationships and reconnect to nature.
The connection piece of InTO the Ravines is especially emphasized through the champion training program. Here, champions get to meet each other and learn from each other and speakers from the Toronto Region Conservation Authority and the City of Toronto, as well as build up their own skills in event planning and networking. As one participant put it,
For me, it was knowing more about not just what is the Ravine Strategy, but what the city sort of looked to develop and how it grew. So meeting with park staff…that was pretty cool because I think on just our own– we had the documents, but just hearing it from the city and the work on that strategy was cool to get an inside look.
Park People ensures that champion alumni remain connected to the program by supporting them through various means, events and opportunities, networks, and funding to continue their activation of ravines in the years after they have completed training and that they are re-connected to other cohort members. 50% of past participants have continued to host events in their ravines after completing the program.
Finally, InTO the Ravines has also helped facilitate new connections to the land through Indigenous teachings as part of the various ravine events. One participant shared,
Events like this or talking to an elder, for me, was one of the first opportunities to learn about Indigenous history and parks. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have ever known where to even find information other than just reading up online.
Source: Park People, Clémence Marcastel, 2022
Park and nature access are unequal across the city. For many of our programs, including InTO the Ravines, Park People prioritizes working with equity-deserving, resident-led groups who often live close to ravines but, for various reasons, both physical and sociological, do not access them.
As mentioned in our Ravine Engagement Report, several participants reported that they either didn’t know that ravines existed in their communities or that they were unaware of how to access them.
Our research found this was especially true in communities of colour.
Specifically, the Champions training program has focused on redressing some of this imbalance by working with residents from equity-deserving communities to provide them with training, funding, and support. One of InTO the Ravines’ core value is that community members are the experts on their local parks, neighbourhoods and ravines, and their nuanced and lived knowledge of their local community make them excellent leaders to take on this work.
A community member shares the impact of this focus in our Ravine Engagement Report,
In a dense city like Toronto, where few people have access to backyards or natural areas outside the city, InTO the ravines helped (me) see these spaces as shared places where (I) could get away from the daily life in the city.
Significantly, 70% of event attendees are more likely to bring friends and family to visit the ravines in the future.
Source: Caterpillar Ravine Event, Smythe Park, Toronto, Joel Rodriguez, 2022
Another cornerstone of the InTO the Ravines program is strong and collaborative partnerships. The InTO the Ravines Champions training program focuses on working together as a group and helps foster partnerships between sets of champions and inter-community partnerships across different city regions. As a testament to this, 125 park and ravine groups and 30 organizations worked together on the development and execution of InTO the Ravines.
Additionally, The City of Toronto and Park People developed this program collaboratively and continue to work jointly through the year to support each other’s strengths and to offer assistance or help fill in gaps. InTO the Ravines champions and microgrant recipients work collaboratively with Park People and the City through focus groups, feedback and evaluations to improve the program each year and are plugged into our wider Toronto Network. This year, Park People worked directly with past champions to provide partnership and support where groups requested it, continuing to prioritize working in trusting and collaborative relationships with community groups.
These themes also show up in a myriad of other ways through our Ravine Engagement Report. Click here to learn more about the vitality that the ravines have offered Toronto’s diverse communities.
Also, find the Ravine Strategy here to learn more about the important principles and how you can get involved.
If you are in Toronto between Saturday, September 30 and October 9, we highly encourage you to attend a Ravine Days event, including one that Park People and Evergreen are jointly supporting on Saturday, October 7, and one that STEPS Public Art is hosting with the support of Park People’s Cornerstone program.