“These Bricks Will Bake Red” – The Story of the Great Fire of Toronto and the Don Valley Brickworks

One lovely day in the spring of 1882, a local farmer by the name of William Taylor was building a new fence around his farm located in the Don Valley. As he was constructing it he noticed that the clay from the former fence holes were of some good quality so he packed some of the clay up and took it to a local brickyard just down the Don River from his farm. He showed the brick maker and told him “these bricks will bake red.” The brick maker sharply replied, “They will certainly not!!” However, when Taylor returned a day or so later, the brick maker admitted that they had indeed baked red.

Several years past and William Taylor, along with his two brothers, opened the Don Valley Pressed Brick Works which produced some 43 million beautiful red bricks. These bricks helped build many of Toronto’s houses as well as many famous buildings such as Massey Hall and Casa Loma.

One early morning in 1904, a fire struck the City of Toronto destroying an estimated three quarters of the downtown and the majority of the Don Valley. After this tragedy, the city passed a law stating that all buildings from then on were to be made from bricks. As you can imagine, this was nothing but a good thing for the owners of the brick works financially.

The Don Valley Brick Works closed its doors in 1984 and was taken over by Evergreen, a company which prides itsself on educating people on the environment. Because the Brick Works were abandoned for some time before Evergreen took over, it had been heavily vandalized. The restoration crew decided that instead of removing the graffiti (with the exception of inappropriate messages), it would use it to make a very creative addition to the Brick Works heritage. Today the graffiti can be seen on many of their tours. After a major restoration, the Brick Works is now officially open to the public as a public park and environmental centre and is a great place to see wildlife. The former clay pit has been returned to its former glory as a wetland and Evergreen offers tours around the park and buildings. The next time you are in Toronto, stop by the Evergreen Brickworks and enjoy all that it has to offer.