University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Valley Land Trail
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Projected to intercept over 1.8 million gallons of stormwater over the next 20 years through 491 newly-planted trees. This is about 146% the amount of stormwater that would have been intercepted by the 125 mature trees that were removed due to the construction of the trail.
- Improves ecological quality as demonstrated by a high Native Plant Floristic Quality Index (FQI) of 33.9 in comparison to other landscaped sites on campus which had an FQI of 5.9.
- Projected to sequester over 84 tons or 184,600 lbs of atmospheric carbon over the next twenty years in 491 newly-planted trees. This is about 226% the amount of sequestration of atmospheric carbon that was projected for the 125 mature trees that were removed due to construction of the trail. The number of newly planted trees greatly exceeded the City of Toronto’s requirements.
- Attracts at least 30 users on average per hour as observed during late summer afternoons. The majority of the users were observed to be pedestrians while about 15% were cyclists.
- Increased trail safety as evidenced by the number of blue box calls going down by 80% between 2019 and 2021.
- Produces up to 1,600 lbs of edible biomass in fruits and nuts annually.
- Saved an estimated $92,200 through the management of cut and fill on the site to reuse stripped soil for fill.
At a Glance
Schollen and Company Inc.
Former Land Use
1265 Military Trail
Toronto, Ontario m1C1A4, Canada
1,640 ft long
$3.36 million CAD
The University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus (UTSC) Land Valley Trail is a 1,640-ft-long trail that provides safe and easy access to the Highland Creek watershed. Deemed an environmentally unique habitat by the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority, the publicly accessible trail connects UTSC to this environmental asset. The trail balances environmental and social responsibility through universally accessible and inclusive design. It mitigates a significant slope through an accessible winding path that snakes through existing landscape elements such as old-growth beech trees and augmenting those natural features through planting design. The trail provides opportunity for engagement and study, serving as a foraging site for the university’s culinary program and a living laboratory for natural science programs. It also aims to address local challenges related to food security, respect for Indigenous values, and accessibility while protecting and enhancing the ecology of the sensitive ravine system, which is a designated Environmentally Significant Area .
- The 1,640-ft-long (500-m-long) trail descends a 62-ft (19-m) slope at no more than a 5% grade to provide accessibility for all users. There is a charging station mid-trail specifically for motorized accessibility devices.
- 3 viewing decks along the trail between Highland Creek and the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC) offer accessible seating.
- Edible native plants along the path are directly accessible from the trail. Engagement with the Indigenous community (see Indigenous Knowledge) guided which plant species were selected. The trail serves as a foraging site for the school’s culinary program and for visitors.
- Trees that were removed during construction were replaced at a 6:1 ratio, with a satellite site used to plant replacement trees that did not fit within site boundaries. This significantly exceeds the City of Toronto’s replacement requirement of 3:1.
- Intimate amphitheatre seating in a hillside marks the Campus Common at the trailhead where the Valley Land Trail meets the UTSC. This amphitheatre integrates 4 tiers of concrete seating into the previously existing sloped lawn. It has seating for up to 50 people and serves as event space for outdoor lectures, gatherings, and passive use by the campus community.
- A corten steel rail guard along the entire trail integrates a metal handrail, and over 300 LED lights are set into the handrails to provide visibility for safe evening strolls. An Emergency Alert Station or “Blue-Box” on the trail that connects directly to Campus Community Police.
- Informational displays, which are planned for a later date, will highlight different plants, animals, and fish within the watershed to provide learning opportunities for the UTSC community as well as local and regional visitors.
- The design and construction process was sensitive to existing mammal and bird habitat present on the site before the trail’s construction. Mammal species include white-tailed deer, red fox, chipmunks, groundhogs, and squirrels. The trail was designed with innovative modular components to minimize the disturbance to the sensitive ravine environment during construction.
- The trail creates an active extension of the Toronto Waterfront Trail to the UTSC, connecting the Highland Creek Valley to several recreational amenities created during the 1995 Pan American Games including tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and playing fields for soccer, rugby, and cricket.
- Connect the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC) to the beauty of the Highland Creek Valley with fully accessible trail.
- Facilitate access to Highland Creek Valley, a designated Environmentally Significant Area,
- Serve as a “living laboratory” for the campus’s natural science programs while promoting nature-based recreation and education for the local community. This includes learning about the natural and cultural heritage of the site as it relates to Indigenous peoples.
- Create an edible landscape that supports the university’s culinary program and serves as a foraging site for students and local residents.
- Minimise disturbance to the sensitive ravine environment.
As part of community engagement for the Scarborough Valley Land Trail, a University of Toronto Scarborough (UTS) Indigenous Elder consulted with the project team during the design process. Wendy Phillips is an Indigenous Elder who at the time of design development was employed by UTS. Ms. Phillips is of the Bald Eagle Clan; she is Potawatomi, Ojibwa, and a proud member of Wasauksing First Nation. Ms. Phillips was introduced to the project team partway through detailed design development. The engagement was initiated with an open mind by all parties to gauge opportunities for traditional knowledge to apply to the design process. The engagement took place in a roundtable meeting format, much like other engagement processes on the project.
Ms. Phillips reviewed the plans to introduce native plants that have cultural significance to local Indigenous communities and preserve vegetation valued to the Indigenous way of life. For example, native sumac, which was already growing on the site, was preserved by modifying the trail’s design slightly to save the mature stand of shrubs. The sumac that needed to be pruned was set aside for the Elder as the Indigenous community traditionally uses sumac for medicinal properties (to soothe stomach pain), and the pulp of the stock is used in dye. In retrospect, the designers felt that the project could have benefited even more from traditional knowledge had the Elder been consulted earlier in the design process.
The Elder led a smudging ceremony at the ribbon-cutting ceremony to initiate construction. This event was a memorable and consequential ceremony to purify the land and the people that would work on the project. The information that Wendy Phillips shared with the design team in order to ensure the design incorporated Indigenous knowledge was important, and the design team plans to share some of this knowledge through interpretive signage currently under development for the trail as of 2021. It will bring awareness to the campus community and supplement other university efforts to spread and share Indigenous knowledge, such as related coursework and the university’s Indigenous Outreach Program.
- Some of the trees that were planted will need to be replaced. While the planting strategy has encouraged the wildlife grazing that was identified as a project goal, some tree saplings will not survive to adulthood due to overgrazing. The larch and cedar in particular are unlikely to recover from winter foraging from deer and rabbit. Installing trees that are more mature should be considered to achieve dual goals of plant species survival and habitat creation.
- The location of the edible plants, while ideal for people to access them along the trail, is not ideal for plant success because of lack of access to light and the steep slope.
- The soil is very sandy; therefore, nutrient capture and water retention in the soil was challenging. This required adding more organic matter.
- Trees removed during construction were intended to be reused for mulch on the site during the construction as part of sustainability goals. However, upon mulching the removed trees using a chipper, it became evident that it was heavy and thick, which was inadequate for the intended use. Therefore, the mulch actually used was not from recycled trees but brought in from offsite. It is now clear that the reuse of trees to reduce waste depends on the type of wood and machinery available for production, which will dictate whether the recycled product is of adequate quality.
- Because of the use of corten steel and the natural environment of the path, the maintenance program aims to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Instead of using salt for de-icing, which is corrosive to steel and environmentally harmful, sandboxes placed along the trail are available for anyone to use in icy conditions. One disadvantage is that sand can get trapped in cracks and needs to be pressure washed for removal.
- The 2 bridges with wood decking require careful maintenance through handwork that can take up to 40 minutes per feature to clean. Maintenance staff can often rely on the heat from the sun to melt and dry these surfaces and details, but in extreme weather like ice storms these areas are shut off to the public as they present a safety hazard and maintenance challenge.
- Since Valley Land Trail construction, the number of both active and passive users has increased. As a result of passive use, the maintenance staff has to collect trash more frequently and retrieve waste thrown into the valley.
- The trail’s construction revealed roots for some tree species, and as a result, hazard tree assessment is performed regularly, about every 9 months, by an external contractor. These assessments represent a cost that was not accounted for in the original maintenance plan.
Seed Mixes: Hermanns Ltd., Simcoe Mix
Geotextile: Terrafix Geosynthetics Inc., 360R non-woven geotextile
Wood Chip Bags: Terrafix Silt Soxx, 300mm (used for sediment control) and 450mm (used in strips at the soil stabilization site to enable deep fill pockets in which to plant stabilization shrubs)
Railing Lights: Zaneen Lighting, ‘Eyes Basic Corrimando’ E901- M-LBC
Steel Railing: Allsteel, New Hamburg, Ontario
Modular Prefab Components: Concrete Boardwalk Systems, ‘PermaTrak’
Charging Station: Legrand Canada, Outdoor Charging Station with Area Light
Security Kiosk: Code Blue Security Kiosk
Maintenance Vehicles: Kubota with rotating bristle brush
Soil Screws: IDEAL Group, New York, USA
Benches: Hauser Canada
Wood Supplier: Ipe Wood Canada
Client: University of Toronto Scarborough Campus
Landscape Architect and Arborist: Schollen and Company Inc.
Structural Engineer: Entuitive Engineering (formerly Brown & Company Engineering)
Environmental Engineer/Ecologist: North-South Environmental Inc.
Electrical: Moon Matz Ltd.
Geotechnical Engineer: GeoTerre Ltd.
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect oversaw the design of the trail from concept design to the final construction administration phase. All client communication, design approvals, fiscal operation, and contractual obligations were overseen by the landscape architect. Community consultation with stakeholders, project teams, the UTSC Accessibility Committee, faculty, the City of Toronto, and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority were facilitated by the landscape architect in partnership with the client.
Case Study Prepared By
Research Fellow: Jenny Hill, PhD; Assistant Dean; Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design; University of Toronto
Research Assistant: Kanwal Aftab, PhD Candidate, University Of Toronto
Firm Liaison: Markus Hillar, BLArch, Project Manager, Schollen & Company, Inc.
Hill, Jenny and Kanwal Aftab. “University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Valley Land Trail.” Landscape Performance Series, Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2021. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs1700