Are beavers recolonising Toronto’s Lower Don River?

The Lower Don River was once one of the most polluted rivers in North America. The situation is improving, however. A beaver, seemingly happily doing beaver business was discovered in the southern part of the river.

As most rivers in the developed world, Toronto’s Don River was heavily affected by industrialisation. Todmorden Mills was one of the first industrial sites along the Lower Don River. It is now a site dedicated to Toronto’s early industrial heritage. The recently completely redeveloped and renaturalised Brick Works is another example of the heavy industrialisation of the Lower Don River.

The many industries are long gone, but their pollution is still there and since the Don is running through the heart of Toronto it remains one of North America’s most urbanised rivers. Decades of efforts by the city, volunteer groups and “The Task Force to Bring Back the Don“, parts of the river banks of the Don River are regaining their long-lost glory, and the river itself is -very slowly- becoming less polluted, and life is taking its first small steps in returning to the long-lost river.

Mallards and Canada geese are often observed in the Don River, and raccoons, deer and coyotes are known to use the ravine as a corridor to travel through the city. In the fall, it is possible to see salmon from Lake Ontario running upstream hoping to spawn. As far as is known, these attempts are futile. A lot will have to happen before salmon will actually spawn in the Don River, but it is a start.

And now, a further indication of the improving health of the Lower Don River has been seen. A few days ago, I used the Don Valley trail because I was biking to Tommy Thompson Park. As always, I was on the lookout for whatever “unusual” would catch my glance. And that was exactly what happened.

To my surprise, a beaver (Castor canadensis) was swimming from south to north along the east river bank of the Don. It was swimming at a good clip, an indication it wasn’t really exploring, looking for whatever it good use, but that it knew the region well, and knew exactly where it was going.

After some time, the beaver slowed down, went ashore, bit something I could not see from a tree branch, went back into the water, only to go ashore a little further north, where it started eating whatever it had just harvested. Because I was running late and really had to get to Tommy Thompson Park, I could not continue to observe it, but it seems nevertheless clear that this beaver was not a mere tourist, but a regular visitor to the area and that it possibly even lives there.

Whatever is the case, it is fairly strong evidence that even beavers are now discovering that the Don River is becoming cleaner and more liveable for a variety of critters, even our continent’s largest rodent, the beaver.

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