This work will be a featured as a Primary Exhibition in the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival at the John B. Aird Galleryfrom May 2nd to May 26th, 2017. Opening reception will be on May 4th, 2017 - 5pm to 7pm.

There will be book launch at the Stephen Bulger Gallery on Tuesday, May 16th, 2017 from 5pm to 8pm.


“This highly personal, harmonic effort forces you to reconsider what a park is, and in doing so will forever change the way you see the city that you thought you knew.”

Charles A. Birnbaum, The Cultural Landscape Foundation

“With three-quarters of Canadians now living in cities, I’m glad that our city planners, municipal politicians, and the public are paying attention to the protection and sound management of urban green space, like Toronto’s world-class ravine system"

David Suzuki, scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster


“The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city’s emotional geography…” Robert Fulford

Over a four year period, Robert Burley explored the complex relationship between Toronto’s wilderness and urban life at a pivotal time in city's history. The outcome is a visual book that explores one of the most extensive urban park systems in the world. Burley's photographs are augmented with selections of poetry and prose by some of Toronto s best-known writers and this publication also includes a history and appendix which provides an important reference for those wanting to better understand one of Toronto's most defining features.


About the Project

Toronto has one of the largest urban park systems in the world, and yet it is unknown to most, including many of the city's three million inhabitants. This extensive ravine network of sunken rivers, forested vales, and an expansive shoreline has historically been overlooked, neglected, or forgotten, but in recent years these unique wild spaces have been rediscovered by a growing population embracing nature inside the city limits. The parklands were not designed or constructed for a greater public good but rather are landscape remnants of pre-settlement times that have stubbornly refused to conform to urban development. After the arrival and ensuing destruction of Hurricane Hazel in 1954, city planners and politicians determined it was impossible to build in these watersheds and put them aside as “space left over after planning”. Some sixty years later the parklands are being embraced as an “accidental” but defining feature of Toronto. As one of North America’s fastest growing cities Toronto has already surpassed Chicago as the fourth largest metropolitan centre on the continent and is expected to add an additional 360,000 new residents in the next fourteen years. Yet despite this exponential growth and increasing intensification, the city’s wild places, woven into the urban fabric, continue to endure and, many cases, have flourished under recent city initiatives.

Commissioned to chronicle the wonders of these wilderness parks in 2012, Robert Burley has approached these sites as integral parts of urban life, questioning their role in a diverse and growing twenty-first century city. This project was initiated and supported by the City of Toronto as part of a larger initiative to create a plan for the future of the parklands.


The Book


Commissioned by the City of Toronto, and released in Canada’s sesquicentennial year, this rich and handsomely produced book brings together breathtaking views of the Scarborough Bluffs, the deep ravines that cut through the heart of the city, and the densely wooded trails in the Carolinian forests of the Rouge Valley, part of Canada’s first and only national urban park. Burley’s photographs, complemented by selections of poetry and prose written by celebrated Canadian writers, infuse these sometimes hidden and mysterious places with meaning and contextualize their importance to civic life.

Foreward by Mayor John Tory
Introduction by Jennifer Keesmaat and Janie Romoff
Essay by Robert Burley

With writing by:
Anne Michaels
Alissa York
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Michael Mitchell
George Elliott Clarke
Wayne Reeves

ECW Press, Toronto     
Release date: May 9th, 2017
264 Pages
Hardcover 9 x 12 inches


SHORELINE: The Lake Ontario Waterfront

Slip between the quiet houses, dart among the trees. The trail follows the stream, the stream cuts through the ravine, the ravine cuts through the bluffs, descending through a core sample of Toronto geology, a core sample of memory, to the lake.

Anne Michaels, from Please, Birds!


RIVER: The Humber River Valley

We swing around a river bend, and the city vanishes behind the high, forested banks.
It’s as if three million people have gone totally missing. We are traveling in the 400-year-
old footsteps of Étienne Brûlé.

Michael Mitchell, from Petting the Bunny


VALLEY: The Don River Valley

Standing in my kitchen, I turned over card after beautiful card. Down in the Don Valley, one child wrote, I saw a river going the way it wanted. Down in the Don Valley, wrote another, I felt like a bird.

Alissa York, from The Animal Part


CREEKS and lost rivers

This river is lucky because it is not one of the dead. Erased is better than dead and opaque is better than erased. It is not rerouted into a culvert. It is not diverted into a sewer. Its life merges into the Kobechenonk, where it should….

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, from Life by Water


FOREST: Highland Creek and Rouge River Valleys

we ramble among bush-brandished, blue berries
that’ll succour birds when bugs disappear,
come blear, withering November,
when snowflakes—
wet lace—
hang white Victorian curtains.

George Elliott Clarke, from Navigating the Rouge (Park[s])


About Robert Burley

As an artist working in photography, Robert Burley has sought to describe and interpret the built environment in which he lives. Burley’s works have been exhibited around the globe, and can be found in museum collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Musée de l’Elysée, George Eastman Museum, FoMu, Art Gallery of Ontario and Musée Niepce.

His work often explores the transition between city and country and over a forty year career, he has undertaken numerous urban landscape projects including explorations of Toronto’s Don Valley, Chicago's O'Hare Airfield and, as part of the larger commission Viewing Olmsted, New York City's Central Park.

His other publications include Viewing Olmsted: Photographs by Robert Burley, Lee Friedlander and Geoffrey James (1996) and The Disappearance of Darkness: Photography at the End of the Analog Era (2012). Burley currently lives in Toronto and teaches at The School of Image Arts, Ryerson University.



City of Toronto Parkland Initiatives

This project was a commission from the City of Toronto Planning and Parks, Forestry and Recreation Divisions and is in part, related to many City initiatives such as the Ravine Strategy, the designation of 86 new biodiversity areas called Environmentally Significant Areas (ESA's) and the establishment of the Rouge as Canada's first and only urban national park.