Regenerating a Mill Landscape

 Case study prepared by Zeynep Ekim, Carleton University

Regenerating Historic Landscapes through Stewardship                                                 Todmorden Mills (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

Case Study Presentation

KEYWORDS  cultural heritage, natural heritage, regeneration, ecological restoration, community engagement, and stewardship.

LESSONS LEARNED  The Todmorden Mills is an ongoing restoration project that started in the late 1960s for the commemoration of the Canadian bicentennial with the restoration of two heritage structures on an industrial site in the Don Valley in Toronto, Ontario. The project changed in scale in the early 1990s when a group of community members looked beyond the historic structures and took on the work to recreate an ecological habitat, most importantly the wildflower habitat around the site, which was shaded out by invasive species. This shift in perspectives and approaches for understanding sites of historic importance from restoring individual “objects” or buildings to reinstating the value of the surrounding context established a “cultural landscape” model for the site. Today, the Todmorden Mills is not only a place where the architectural heritage is protected, but also the surrounding landscape is enhanced through cultural and natural community stewardship activities. The new rehabilitation projects on site adaptively reused some of the existing historic buildings into arts and education facilities, contributing to the civic engagement and social sustainability of the area. Guided walks and educational workshops on environment restoration create not a healthy recreation opportunity as well as contributing to the well being of the landscape. The Todmorden Mills Rehabilitation Project demonstrates an exemplary achievement of community engagement and stewardship for the regeneration of a cultural heritage landscape through continuous cultural and natural layering.

DESCRIPTION  Todmorden Mills, 67 Pottery Road, Toronto, ON M4K 2B9. Set in the Don Valley, just north of downtown Toronto, the Todmorden Mills is situated on 15 hectares of green space, 9.2 of which is a wildflower preserve. In the past, the Don River used to flow near Todmorden Mills, however it was diverted during the construction of the Don Valley Parkway. Although the direct relationship with the Don River does not exist today, a historic bridge that used to provide access over the river symbolizes the power it once had.

location mapLocation Map (Google Maps)


The City of Toronto is the current owner of the property. The City’s Cultural Services Branch manages and operates the historic structures, while the Todmorden Mills Wildlife Preserve maintains the natural habitat.
The Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve leads the ecological rehabilitation activities on site in collaboration with the City and their sponsors such as the Trillium Foundation and Toronto Parks and Trees Foundatio. The Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve is a charity organization founded in 1991 by Charles Sauriol and Dave Money and is run by volunteers. Their aim is to “bring the degraded natural area at Todmorden Mills back to health”, through plantings, invasive plant control, garbage clean-ups and wildlife monitoring.[i]
Heritage Professionals involved with the project:
-Peter Stokes, a restoration architect
-Schollen and Company Inc.; a local environmental restoration firm
-MHBC Planning; a local environmental planning and restoration firm
-E.R.A. Architects; a local architecture firm specializing in heritage conservation
-Alar Kongrats Architects
-George Robb Architects
-York University; volunteers for planting activities


History of the place: 

-1700: Established by Isaiah and Aaron Skinner
-1793: Saw milling industry started by the Skinners
-1821: Establishment of the Helliwell Family Brewery and distillery. The family named the area after their hometown in England.
-1847: Fire destroyed the brewery
-1901: Robert Davies acquired the property.
-20th century: The site was used as stables and accommodation spaces for the Brickworks employees and as a small prisoner-of-war camp during the World War 2.

History of the Project: 

-1967: Restoration of the Terry and Helliwell Houses by Peter Stokes, a restoration architect.
-1991: the wildflower preservation was undertaken by a group of citizens that led by Charles Sauriol and Dave Money (Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve)
-1993: Schollen and Company Inc: rehabilitation plan and wetland enhancement consultation
-2005: Conversion of the paper mill to a theatre and an art gallery by Alar Kongrats Architects and E.R.A. Architects.
-2012: Repairs on Terry and Helliwell Houses by E.R.A.
Restoration of the paper mill chimney by George Robb Architect.
MHBC Planning Ltd. Improvements to the visibility, security and circulation of the site & scheme for wetland enhancements.


  • Heritage designation
    The five original structures on the site are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. In addition, the site has been designated by the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority as a “site of outstanding heritage value” within the Don River Watershed.[ii]
  • Heritage Value
    Todmorden Mills is part of a cultural heritage landscape within the Don Valley, along with historic features such as the Don Valley Brick Works and the Don River itself. The site is also a significant archaeological resource as an undisturbed example of an early Upper Canadian industrial community, displaying an important example of how such settlements developed over time. The larger cultural landscape of the site is an important natural resource and contains a number of conservation zones, such as the Toronto Wildflower Preservation Area. The Todmorden Mills site provides a green oasis with the urban centre of Toronto and is a place of important spiritual, cultural and environmental values.


  • Environmental sustainability themes 
    Ecological Restoration and Wetland Enhancement (

    Ecological Restoration and Wetland Enhancement (

    Ecological restoration is defined by Parks Canada as “an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its function, processes, integrity and sustainability.”[iii] Natural succession, which would normally result in the climax ecosystem, was interrupted in the case of Todmorden Mills due to industrial activities, its associated pollution and by invasive species. Thus, the site had to be intervened directly in order to accelerate the recovery of the ecosystem and re-establish native-species. Restoration efforts on the site started by raising money for the creation of a wetland and pond on site, in order to construct a healthy environment for the animals and plants that once lived in the valley. For the strategy of the rehabilitation plan, the Preserve consulted a local environmental restoration and planning firm Schollen and Company Inc. The scheme was proven effective when in a few years after some of these species, such as frogs, fishes and turtles started making their habitats in the pond. Wildflower reintroduction also began with the weeds and herbs around the pond. This pond and the small look out area beside the Oxbow trail, which is the access path to the Preserve, became the focal point of the project.

    Growing number of volunteers of the Preserve was at this point acquiring and planting aquatic plants for the pond, and in the years that followed, many valley herbs and flowering plants were planted such as yellow marsh buttercups and marigolds. These plants along with a long list of native shrubs created a long list of regenerated native plants growing on site.  Planting projects were planned while considering various conditions such as salt spray from the Don Valley Parkway, dry and sunny microclimates of the summer season, as well as the changing overarching climatic conditions of the Valley due to the climate change. For example, salt-tolerant species such as salt marsh sand spurrey and scarlet pimpernel were introduced, instead of other less resilient species.[iv] Some of the first plantings were brought in the site from the deciduous forests just north of the site. These plants are adapted to the area, and have survived the polluted urban conditions, making them ideal for the Todmorden Mills site. Along with reintroducing the native vegetation to the site, volunteer stewards also had a scheme to control invasive non-native plants and trees. In order to stop the spread of species that are out-competing the native plants of the Preserve, land managers removed invasive plants that included the Manitoba maple, garlic mustard, Himalayan balsam, and Japanese knotweed.[v]Successful activities of the Todmorden Wildflower Preserve also attracted local schools such as York University. Students from these universities also have annual tree and shrub plantings to help diversify the forest. The funding to purchase plants and equipment has been provided over the years by the Preserve’s sponsors such as the Parks and Trees Foundation, The Trillium Foundation and the City of Toronto Parks and Forestry and Recreation Department.

    The multi-step approach to restoring the site not only addressed the specific goals of the project but also provided side benefits like an increased habitat for pollinators. The restoration of the Todmorden Mills included many native wildflowers, which will provide a food source and habitat for pollinators of this region of the Don Valley.

  • Socio-economic sustainability themes

    Conversion of the Paper Mill to an arts centre (

    Conversion of the Paper Mill to an arts centre

    Restoration activities at the Todmorden Mills not only reinstated its natural and cultural values, but it also helped to create a sustainable economy through providing employment opportunities. It created jobs for both environmental restoration consulting services as well as architectural restoration professionals. It also generated jobs for the services provided in the facilities within the restored buildings such as museum curators, heritage interpreters, set designers, theatre ushers and artists. Increased tourism can also be listed as an additional economic benefit to the site.

  • Socio-cultural sustainability themes


    Community Engagement (

     Restoring an ecosystem also regenerated the community engagement. On the Todmorden mills site guided tours that are offered by the volunteers of the Preserve encourages the community to understand their natural environments better and rekindle their relationships with nature while providing a healthy recreational activity. Boardwalks that were put in a part of the landscape-planning scheme improve the public use and access of the site. Meanwhile educational activities such as workshops and lectures on specific environmental management strategies provide insight on the restoration work itself and the benefits it provides as well as inform the community about how to implement these in their own neighbourhoods. Newsletters and outreach publications that are put out on a regular basis also helps to keep the community informed of the events that are taking place and encourages community involvement in the long-term stewardship activities, such as monitoring.

    The structures that were converted into a theatre space and an art gallery create a place for cultural events to take place and where communities can get together, while the museum creates a chance to inform the crowds, particularly the younger generations, about the history of the Mills. Both cultural and natural activities that are engaging the Todmorden Mills community create a new layer of cultural-natural heritage, adding to the values of this dynamic site.

MEASUREMENT  The Principles and Guidelines for Ecological Restoration in Canada’s Protected Natural Areas states, “Ecological restoration activities in Canada’s protected natural areas should be ecologically effective, methodologically and economically efficient and socio-culturally engaging. To be truly successful, the process of ecological restoration will help provide for significant improvement of the state of the ecological integrity, opportunities for people to appreciate and experience the protected area, and engagement of the public in the process.” [vi] In order to measure the social, economic and ecological sustainability aspects of the ecological restoration activities on the Todmorden Mills site, the table provided by Parks Canada in the Guidelines was used:[vii]

Ecological Restoration of Todmorden Mills



  • City of Toronto.(2010). The Paper Mill Theatre at the Todmorden Mills (Brochure). Toronto: City of Toronto Arts and Culture.
  • Darke, E. (1995). A Mill Should be Built Thereon: an early history of the Todmorden Mills. Toronto: East York Historical Society.
  • Herzberg,L. (1999). Don Valley. In Roots,B., Special Places: The Changing Ecosystem of the Toronto Region (pp. 283-285). Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: UBC Press.
  • Parks Canada and Canadian Parks Council. (2008). Principles and Guidelines for Ecological Restoration in Canada’s Protected Natural Areas. Gatineau, Quebec, Canada: Parks Canada.


  • Peter Stokes Consulting Restoration Architects. (1966). Restoration of the Helliwell House, Todmorden Mills. Toronto, ON: Peter Stokes.
  • Peter Stokes Consulting Restoration Architects. (1966). Restoration of the Parshall Terry House. Toronto, ON: Peter Stokes.
  • O’Malley,L.L. (1997). The Restoration and Operation of Two Historic House Museums at Todmorden Mills. University of Toronto Graduate Department of Civil Engineering, Toronto.


[i] Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve, 2014

[ii] City of Toronto. Todmorden Mills Statement of Significance.

[iii] Parks Canada and Canadian Parks Council, 2008: 18

[iv] Louisa Herzberg. et. Al, 1999:284.

[v] Land Stewardship Centre. <>

[vi] Parks Canada and Canadian Parks Council, 2008:18

[vii]   Parks Canada and Canadian Parks Council, 2008:19