Between 2012 and 2016 landscape photographer and educator Robert Burley explored and documented Toronto’s natural parklands. The resulting hard cover book, An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto’s Natural Parklands, explores the sometimes complex relationship between Toronto’s public wilderness spaces and civic life.

Toronto has approximately 8,000 ha of public parkland, about half of which is natural parkland. With Toronto’s population expected to grow from 2.9 million today to 3.4 million people by 2041, these natural parklands are increasingly important to the current and future livability of our City.

Commissioned by the City of Toronto at a time when the relationship between city and nature is being redefined, the book illuminates the civic, societal and ecological importance of these natural spaces, and contains approximately 250 thoughtfully curated images by Robert Burley. The photos are interspersed with writing by established Canadian writers Anne Michaels, Michael Mitchell, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Alissa York, George Elliott Clarke, and historical geographer Wayne Reeves that provide these spaces deeper meaning and context.

The book is published by Toronto publisher ECW Press and is available through book stores and on-line retailers and through the Toronto Public Library.

The book explores the natural parklands in five sections beginning with the Lake Ontario shoreline and continuing through the major river valleys of the Humber, the Don, and the Rouge. A fifth section acknowledges the creeks and remnant ravines that have been radically altered or isolated through development. Collectively, these natural parklands cut through almost every neighbourhood in the city and contain landscapes that harken back to pre-settlement times – wild and unstructured. Some areas, especially along the waterfront, have been constructed, while others have been reconfigured to accommodate city infrastructure and development. The good news is, many have been restored. Today, these landscapes provide citizens with places to relax, connect with nature and gather with family and friends; recreation and transportation; habitat for plant and animal species; and ecological services such as helping to cool the city and convey flood water.

The book was released in May, 2017 and was accompanied by an exhibition of photographs from the book as part of the 2017 CONTACT Photography Festival. The book both examines and illuminates our twenty-first century relationship to nature, and is part of a larger strategy for maintaining and communicating their ecological and civic function. The fact that almost half of the parkland in Canada’s largest city is natural challenges the popular perception of big cities as ‘concrete jungles’ and has profound implications for the future of our park system, as our city continues to grow, and for environmental sustainability, as we face challenges such as climate change.

Further information on Toronto Parks.

Toronto’s natural parklands offer residents access to nature and a variety of natural landscapes including forests and wetlands, beaches and bluffs, and creeks and rivers.  They provide active and passive recreation opportunities and spaces to gather and celebrate. Many contain extensive walking and cycling trails, outstanding viewpoints, interpretive signage and historic and cultural sites. Much of the Toronto’s biodiversity is located within the natural parklands, including most of the 86 environmentally significant natural areas that have been identified, studied and mapped. They provide habitat for many plant and animal species, and important ecological functions such water conveyance, cooling air and water, and serving as flyways or concentration points for migratory birds. Beyond their civic, societal and ecological value, Toronto’s natural parklands are part of a larger bioregional system that is encompassed by the Greenbelt and include lands that are part of the Rouge National Urban Park.


Over the coming decades, there will be growing pressure on fragile natural spaces due to increased use and demand for recreation opportunities; ongoing impacts associated with encroachment and invasive species; and extreme weather events which cause flooding and erosion. Substantial public investments are being made to protect and restore natural areas, to enhance their passive and active recreational value and to locate and upgrade trail and water infrastructure. The City  has several strategic initiatives underway that will benefit Toronto’s natural parklands including the Toronto Ravine Strategy, the Parks and Trails Wayfinding Strategy and an upcoming Biodiversity Strategy. These initiatives will address key challenges and opportunities facing Toronto’s natural parklands and act as catalysts to ensure they will continue to function and flourish and be enjoyed by future generations.