An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto’s Natural Parklands

An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto’s Natural Parklands

Robert Burley

  • Featuring tributes from award-winning writers

    In a city sometimes referred to as “The Big Smoke,” Toronto’s extensive network of sunken rivers, forested vales, and expansive shoreline has been too often overlooked, neglected, or forgotten. However, the last 25 years has seen these distinctive landscapes rediscovered and even embraced as great civic spaces. Commissioned by the City of Toronto to chronicle the wonders of these wilderness parks, renowned photographer Robert Burley looks at these sites as integral parts of urban life, from breathtaking lake views of the Scarborough Bluffs to glimpses of the densely wooded trails in the Carolinian forests of Rouge Park, Canada’s first and only urban national park.

    Burley’s photos are augmented with selections of poetry and prose by some of Toronto’s best-known writers, including Anne Michaels, George Elliott Clarke, Alissa York, and Michael Mitchell. A historical essay and an appendix highlight the history, the biodiversity, and the priceless cultural value of these urban parklands. Though confined to the city limits, An Enduring Wilderness is full of surprising ecological and urban discoveries that know no limits themselves.


    Over a career spanning 35 years, Robert Burley has undertaken numerous urban landscape projects, including an exploration of Chicago’s O’Hare Airfield and, as part of the larger commission, Viewing Olmsted, New York City’s Central Park. In 2012, Burley published The Disappearance of Darkness, documenting the demise of the industrial architecture supporting analog photography. Burley’s works are collected and exhibited by major art museums around the world. He currently lives in Toronto and teaches at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts.


  • Published: May 2017

    ISBN: 9781770413795

    Dimensions: 12 x 9 in.

    Pages: 264

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“Your imagination will soar in this illuminating and inspiring work. In this highly personal collaborative effort between novelists, poets, and a photographer, seasonality, continuity, change, and continuous movement are seamlessly melded into one harmonic effort that 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, FASLA, FAAR, President & CEO, The Cultural Landscape Foundation

“While it would seem at first to be only of local interest to those living in and around Toronto, the photos themselves are gorgeous and the conditions they document are nearly universal for other North American cities: scenes of natural, remnant ecosystems butting up against, but nonetheless resisting, the brute force of urban development.” — BLDGBLOG

“The photos that comprise An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto's Natural Parklands, which is both a book and a photo show, offer a delicate portrait of the city that we surely don't see enough, even as we're quick to offer platitudes about how lovely our ravine system is.” — BlogTO

An Enduring Wilderness evokes a certain nostalgia for nature through which shines an idyllic vision and harmony now vanished.” — L’Oeil de la Photographie

“It's an incredible visual tour that brings to life the strange juxtapositions between urban and rustic that characterize Toronto.” — Globe and Mail

“Eschewing the pastoral fantasies of Canadian wilderness, Burley's urban lens captures a refreshing jolt of reality . . . The vistas unfold with uncomplicated grace, acknowledging the moments where daily life meets the sublime. . . what makes the book so compelling is Burley's understating of the city itself as a part of nature.” — Canadian Architect

“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. Urban green spaces complement traditional infrastructure, provide a multitude of ecological benefits, and contribute to the health and well-being of local residents.” — David Suzuki

“Burley's photos of all of it are stunning and will surprise some people: this is Toronto? . . . Big full colour photo books like this are expensive to produce and time-consuming efforts, but An Enduring Wilderness reveals a Toronto you'll want to know better.” — Toronto Star

An Enduring Wilderness is not only a beautiful offering, it provides an important reminder that we live with nature, and it is always finding ways to tell us it is here.” — Spacing

“This work is a kind of reawakening, an action and a project designed to increase public awareness of the green spaces in Toronto.” — LensCulture

“Burley's lens builds aesthetic and visual continuities between the nature that is there and the city of which it is part. The photos and message in An Enduring Wilderness interweave the cultural and natural, fusing them into Toronto's green urban spaces. . . . Robert Burley's engagement and catalyzing direction enable a series of perspectives on green spaces in Toronto, and orchestrate a potential aesthetic that recaptures the place these spaces once held in Toronto.” — Border Crossings Magazine