Interview with Catherine Berka, Toronto Ravines Advocate
Cathy Berka is a true advocate for Toronto’s ravines. She has worked with the University of Toronto, multiple residents associations, and advocated for funding from Toronto’s City Council.
When did you first become interested in the Toronto Ravines?
I became interested in the Ravines six years ago. It all started with two students from the University of Toronto coming to my door and asking for access to the ravine where we live. They were doing a study at the time, and happy to have me tag along to see what they were doing. I was totally enthralled with the study and decided to get involved. I guess that was the beginning of it all.
When the study was completed, I was quite alarmed to find that we had lost roughly 40% of our native tree species in the ravines. Norway Maple, which is a very aggressive, invasive non-native had taken over, growing from 10% to 40% since 1977. This further fueled my passion to make a difference.
I started working with the U of T group, Toronto Ravine Revitalization Science, helping to fund raise for research, which allowed more interns to work the following summer. We also expanded the study from one person to five students. And every year we’ve had at least that many students working in the field doing various studies on the state of our ravines.
I was then put in contact with some of our residents associations, who were also interested in ravine work. I am in South Rosedale, and they were from Deer Park and Moore Park. From this, we created a mid-town ravines group.
Currently we have eight residents associations in that group. From this, in partnership with U of T, we have also formed Seeds To Saplings (S2S), which is all about growing native trees at our schools. We are now up to nine schools where students are getting involved in their eco-clubs and part of their science curriculum’s. And we hope to expand that programme all over the City of Toronto.
What’s exciting is that kids have a lot of energy and taste for climate change and mitigating global warming. So we aim to have this programme in every school, where they can be actively growing native trees.
How did you first meet Andrew?
The first time I met Andrew was at the Faculty of Forestry at U of T. Andrew was there doing a native tree growing session. Then a year later, we met again at the Toronto Botanical Garden Symposium. My organization had done a presentation on having a conservancy in Toronto to manage the ravines, much like they do in New York City.
Andrew shot me an email after and said he’d like to get involved. So, as luck would have it, we needed some work done around finding out what other conservancies exist in Canada, and Andrew took up the mantle. From there he was on the bandwagon!
Moving forward, Andrew was an avid player in carving out what our messaging should be. We were presenting to the City of Toronto Executive Committee at the time, and Andrew was pivotal in terms of the level of detail we should be offering them. And after our presentations at City Hall, they passed seventeen motions regarding ravine restoration and management.
This built momentum in our cause, with people willing to get involved in stewardship in both the private and public sector. So instead of waiting for the city to move on the multiple motions, we decided to get the ball rolling ourselves. This involved first writing a manual in order to accelerate, facilitate, and get even more people involved. As well as having more autonomous stewardship.
I am so pleased to say that we now have twenty four stewards and seven students working on this project during the summer months.
Further to this, Andrew then suggested we have a web-based portal. He saw this before anyone else did. The portal could be used, for instance, in recruiting stewards and documenting other associated details. Andrew is currently researching other communities that may be willing to share their technology. We are very excited to see this rolled out.
What is your hope for the future?
I think the major issue that we have is awareness and education about the ravines. What we’re trying to educate people about is that the ecological health of the ravines is at a serious tipping point, and that invasive species have aggressively come to dominate. Because ravines represent a huge proportion of the biodiversity in our city, as well as our tree canopy and our land, it’s very important real estate to look after.
People believe that our ravines are going to be there forever, which is just not the case. We need to allocate more money and energy behind protecting that space.
It comes down to people getting involved, removing invasives and growing native trees. Everyone can grow a native tree, even if you don’t have a backyard; you can grow it in a milk bin on your balcony. It’s that simple. Let’s all do our part to protect Toronto’s ravines.
More about Toronto Ravine Revitalization Science
“We are Forestry at Daniels, at the University of Toronto, located at the St. George campus in the heart of Downtown Toronto. We love ravines because they are the biodiversity hotspots in urban areas. We launched Toronto Ravine Revitalization Science to assess and restore the biodiversity and ecological integrity in the Toronto ravines.”
Ecotone’s 2019 Integrated Report is available here: