The (amateur) naturalist’s guide to U of T

I can't believe we're here again. The sun is shining past 7 pm. The hustle and bustle of students walking to class has slowed, if not ended altogether. On my lazy walk this afternoon whilst soaking in the sun, a bee flew past and plunged head first into apple tree blossoms next to Robarts. It's officially back: spring is here - as is all that spring brings with it. Long days and warmer nights, exams, summer jobs, the shedding of winter jackets, adoption of t-shirts and finally, the eventual (and seemingly unattainable) end of term.
Robarts looks different in spring.
Robarts looks different in spring.
Having written so often this year about environmental and ecological activities on campus, I thought I'd wrap up the year's posts with a brief outline about how to entertain a green(ish) life whilst entrenched in Canada's biggest (and most concrete-filled) city.

Quiet places on campus, cars not allowed:

Courtyards: I'll admit that before starting school here and while deciding which college to join, I spent an afternoon walking around campus, fell in love with the courtyard in University College and made my decision on the spot. (In retrospect, not the wisest way to choose a college). One of U of T's greenest assets is its pedestrian-only areas. Courtyards riddle the campus. Some, like the one in the Forestry building, are home to a collection of indigenous boreal forest trees. Others, like UC, let you lull in the summer heat and listen as a student's piano-playing drifts through the open third-floor windows and down into the enclosure. UC Courtyard Plant and animal curiosities: There are a number of spots around campus housing small (and not-so-small) collections of flora and fauna. For those who've taken a class in Ramsay Wright, it's hard to miss the fish tanks that line the wall of the front foyer. Lumbering in dark water, trout and walleye stare from behind the glass, one big watching eye stuck directly on you. Walking through the first floor of the Forestry building is a lot like strolling through a 3D guidebook of North American tree species. About 100 framed species line the wall - pressed leaves, flowers and diagrams that describe each native species. Finally, the carnivorous plants in the Earth Sciences Greenhouse and the living wall in the Multi-Faith Centre are both great places to get away from the smog of downtown city life.

Green rooves and gardening:

The school's buildings are not only home to a number of green roofs and walls, but also provide a way to garden in the city. U of T's Campus Agriculture Project: (UTCAP). These rooftop gardens are run by a student group called the Urban Agriculture Society and are maintained by students and volunteers. Gardeners get to work with winter farming, organic gardening, composting and seed saving. Hart House Farm Committee: Another UTCAP initiative, the Farm is found on the east side of Hart House. It's also gardened in part by volunteers. The ultimate idea here is permaculture, making cities more liveable and getting involved in the process of food production. Ellen Giles Garden: Growing on the roof of one of the Student Family Housing buildings, this garden was built in 2003-04. Instead of letting 10,000 square feet of rooftop go unused (absorbing heat all summer), U of T students and volunteers transformed this Charles Street West spot into a roof-top garden. Other rooftop gardens have been discussed across campus, including one in Trinity, at St. Hilda's. There are also a multitude of off-campus organizations that are involved in converting Toronto's tarmack and concrete surfaces into something a little more colourful. Guerilla Gardening's "green graffiti" sees volunteers plant seeds, bulbs and seedlings throughout the city in an attempt to bring back to life a vastly paved-over city. Other organizations, like LEAF, is involved in an array of projects dealing with urban forest conservation. Organizations on campus: After joining a listserv via email, the organization will send you news, events and general information. Provided that you actually read your utoronto.mail, these are great ways of finding out what's going on around campus. Sustainability: Sustainability looks to diminish the university's ecological footprint and resource use, and to encourage environmental sustainability on all three campuses. It has affiliations to groups like BikeChain (get your bike fixed for free - plus learn how to fix it yourself). Their Listserv is a great way to stay informed via email about stuff going on and how to get involved. UTBeaT: Environmental Action on Campus, this student-run group looks to reduce the impact of the biology departments at U of T. Projects include the reduction of paper waste by encouraging teachers to request double-sided printing, composting and a lights out campaign. Farmers' markets on campus- ongoing throughout the summer! (Such good cheese.) E-EnviroNews from the Centre for Environment, a paper-free way to find out what's happening at school. It's hard to believe that the school year has wrapped up again, coming to a close as spring warmly announces its return. And as sublime as it is that exams are finishing, classes are coming to an end and degrees are being completed, it's also great that university groups like these are still active throughout the summer. For those of us still in Toronto for the summer, U of T no longer needs to conjure images of books piled high and scribbled notes; but of garden plots laden with the emerging buds of flowers and food, of weekly freshly baked bread from the Farmers' Market, and of rooftop havens where you can benefit from a green reprieve on those sultry summer days. - Mary

1 comment on “The (amateur) naturalist’s guide to U of T

  1. …Maybe summer school won’t suck so much after all. 🙂

    Although… not even apple blossoms can save Robarts from the concrete brutality that is itself. We would have to cover it in apple blossoms. In vines. In Victorian swirlies.

    Or rebuild it.

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