The urban vignette that opens Robert Burley's An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto's Natural Parklands captures much of what is unique about our city's landscape:

I look through my camera down into the Don River Valley. I’m standing on the north sidewalk of the Prince Edward Viaduct — more popularly known as the Bloor Viaduct — a bridge built between 1915 and 1918 to span the valley and connect Toronto’s east neighbourhoods to its downtown core. The traffic on the bridge is urban and frenetic; the valley floor, caught on my viewfinder fifty metres below, is natural and idyllic.

Park Drive Reservation Lands, looking west (2013), image by Robert BurleyPark Drive Reservation Lands, looking west (2013), image by Robert Burley

In those opening lines, Burley paints a mental image of Toronto's delightful—and often overlooked—topographical character. Although almost always cast as opposites, the "urban and frenetic" and the "natural and idyllic" are yoked together in the city's ravines and natural landscapes.

Scarborough Bluffs (2014), image by Robert Burley Scarborough Bluffs (2014), image by Robert Burley

Although undoubtedly evocative, the above text only sets the stage for what's to come, which is a collection of very fine photography. Interspersed with passages of informative and elegant prose—including essays by some of Toronto's greatest writers in Anne Michaels and George Elliot Clarke—Burley's photographs open our eyes to the natural and human city around us.

Forks of Rouge River and Little Rouge Creek (2015), image by Robert BurleyForks of Rouge River and Little Rouge Creek (2015), image by Robert Burley

As might be expected, majestic scenes of natural idyll abound, and there's plenty of "I can't believe that's Toronto" moments to be had. But Burley is also smarter than that. The book is fundamentally urban in a way that perhaps only a Toronto book can be—oftentimes, there are people in the shots too, and sometimes, the towers peak out from the ravines or the distant horizon. 

ET Seaton Park (2012), image by Robert BurleyET Seton Park (2012), image by Robert Burley

As Shawn Micallef put it in the Toronto Star, "there are aerial views of Toronto that show the ravines don’t exist in the city, but rather, the city exists in between the ravines, sometimes laid out on ridges that might contain just one cul-de-sac or apartment tower cluster in between clefts in the land."

Humber Marshes at the Mouth of the Humber River (2016), image by Robert BurleyHumber Marshes at the Mouth of the Humber River (2016), image by Robert Burley

Covering over 4,000 hectares, Toronto's unique ravine system means that natural features are often within touching distance of the urban core, and the lives of millions of Torontonians. As Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat noted, "An Enduring Wilderness is part of an ongoing conversation we are having with the residents of Toronto about the importance of ravines and natural parklands to our quality of life."  

Beachfront near the Toronto Hunt Forest (2014), image by Robert BurleyBeachfront near the Toronto Hunt Forest (2014), image by Robert Burley

But with the most Canadian of long weekends now upon us, white settler mythologies invoke canoes and lakes and forests and campfires. In the 21st century, much of Canadiana is still about "getting away" from the supposed perils and pressures of urbanity. Yet Burley shows us we don't have to go far or spend much to find idyll; it's just a matter of knowing where—and how—to look.  

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An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto's Natural Parklands was published by ECW Press, and commissioned by the City of Toronto. According to the City, "the book is available for purchase through the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation (http://torontoparksandtrees.ca/) and at local bookstores for $56.50 (including HST). A portion of the purchase price goes to the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation. Copies are also available for loan from local branches of the Toronto Public Library."