Don’t Mess with the Don: FirstService’s Day of Service

If you’ve never been to Toronto, you may not know that an expansive green oasis winds its way through the heart of the city: the Don River Valley. This natural wonder is a jewel in Toronto, serving as a critical natural refuge in a sprawling urban landscape. It is environmentally significant as it supports diverse ecosystems, and provides habitat for wildlife and plant species, including some rare and endangered ones. The valley also plays an important role in improving air quality and mitigating urban heat island effects. Wetlands and floodplains act as natural buffers during heavy rainfall, helping to reduce the risk of flooding in Toronto.

The Don also serves as a refuge for nature-loving residents and visitors who enjoy the beauty and serenity of its vast trail system. Hikers, bikers, runners and explorers of all ages enjoy the natural wonders and miles of scenic trails. Despite its vast size – 30,000 acres, 10 times the size of New York’s Central Park – its annual maintenance budget is just $1.2M CAD.

Because of this, volunteers play a vital role in maintaining the Don River Valley. They dedicate their time and effort to various initiatives, including tree planting, trail maintenance, and litter cleanup. They contribute to the restoration of native habitats, helping to protect the valley’s biodiversity. Additionally, volunteers raise awareness about environmental issues, engaging the community in conservation efforts. Their commitment not only enhances the ecological health of the Don River Valley but also fosters a sense of stewardship and appreciation for this valuable natural asset within the city.

Recently, FirstService’s Toronto team had the privilege to assist in park maintenance activities. The team joined other volunteers to remove invasive species, plant trees including sycamores and red maples, till and seed new wildflower gardens, and take down dying trees.

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Mike Smith, one of the event organizers, shared, “This has been one of my favorite Social Purpose activities we’ve done. I loved being outside and getting hands-on to help. A highlight was when we moved 1,000 pounds of dirt down a hill into the ravine.” Other colleagues echoed his sentiment that this was a favorite Social Purpose activity.

FirstService volunteering at the Don River ValleyVolunteers also enjoyed planting trees and sowing wildflower seeds and are looking forward to returning next year to see how much they’ve grown.

Many of the team members were intrigued by the history of the Don River Valley and were surprised to learn despite its massive size, it had such a meager maintenance budget. This only strengthens their resolve to continue to lend a hand to this special place.

Social Purpose Committee Chair Angela Bai’s favorite part was seeing the FirstService team in action, enthusiastically working together to create positive impact and having a great time doing it.

In addition to the opportunity to create a meaningful environmental impact, an advantage of volunteering at the Don is the ability for the park to accommodate large groups of volunteers. This is often a challenge for those seeking Social Purpose activities, and many organizations that might be able to accommodate large groups often come with a hefty donation requirement.

The FirstService Social Purpose Committee is looking forward to returning to the Don next year, and will be extending an invitation to other FirstService companies in the area to join us.