Anybody travelling north on the Don Valley Parkway has surely noticed the rainbow underpass. It’s hard to miss. It’s a lone burst of colour, punctuating the greige northbound stretch of roadside, just south of the Lawrence Avenue exit.
Did you ever wonder how it got there – or where it leads? I found out.
The end of the tunnel opens on to series of trails throughout the valley, along the Don River. And one of these leads to a part of the valley with a rather interesting history, once known as Milne Hollow. This was the site of Milneford Mills. Historical illustrations and archival photos suggest there were more than 16 buildings on the site in the late 1800s. Today there’s only one lone building remaining to suggest that there was ever a community here. The mill itself was demolished in 1911 and the rest of the buildings were gone by the 1950s.
I came upon it by accident, in kind of a roundabout way.
Last winter my son was taking gymnastics on Sunday afternoons, at a location on Railside. I had an hour to kill. I loaded the dog into the car and set out looking for a good place to use the hour for a brisk walk. I’d noticed a sign just exiting the DVP onto Lawrence, something about a conservation area. The steep hill wound down into the valley. We crossed paths with a dog-walking couple on the way down. And so began our weekly visit through the Charles Sauriol Conservation area.
At the base of the hill is an old house, nearly obscured by two massive willow trees. It’s overgrown with weeds, covered in graffiti and surrounded by a chainlink fence. It’s quite sad – and a little eerie. But using my imagination, picturing the house in tact, with a wisp of smoke coming from the chimney, conjured a very peaceful and homey setting down there in the valley. There’s a sign on the chain link fence that says there are plans to restore and preserve the house as a historic site. I really hope they do.
Just past the house begins a path to a series of trails along the river. There are signs here and throughout the trails highlighting the local plant, and wildlife including fox, deer and beavers. Other signs posted along the river highlight the migratory path of birds, and indicate that salmon can be seen struggling up the river to spawn in the fall.
We never did see any animals, other than ducks on the water. But I noticed quite a few fallen trees along the path and looking closer, noticed that the stumps were honed to a sharp pencil-point, the calling card of beavers. I’m always impressed and moved to see signs of wildlife inside the city, these little survivors that have managed to preserve a place for themselves in the midst of urban encroachment.
The trail meanders through the valley. At times you can glimpse the cars hurtling by on the DVP at the top of the embankment. The path opens up at one point and branches off to the right, onto a footbridge over the river. This leads to a tunnel, in the direction of the DVP. The rainbow tunnel!
Last winter, every Sunday afternoon, we largely had the place to ourselves, week after week. We would only rarely come across another dog and owner or a couple walking arm in arm. The network of trails stretches all the way to Eglinton. We never made it that far. Each week we made it to the bend in the river, where it passes beneath the towering, rusting CN rail bridge.
We’ve been back since, a few times in the summer and again just recently. The trails offer a beautiful setting, and walking them is a completely different experience season by season.
All this time I never knew. It wasn’t until months after our first visit that my curiosity led me to question the logistics (ie. to figure out I was on the other side of the rainbow) and google the place. I continue to be intrigued by the historic significance of the area.
And that’s not the only story about Milne Hollow. There’s a rusty tower structure still visible from the trails, which turns out to be what’s left of a ski run that operated from the 30s until the 70s! I found an article on it here
And the namesake of the area, Charles Sauriol (also known as Mr. Conservation) had quite an interesting story himself. He was an outdoorsman, a successful fundraiser, author and a member of the Order of Canada.
And of course there’s a story on how the rainbow underpass came to be.