Honouring an Historical Journey Between the Humber and Don Rivers

Davenport Road 1914
Davenport Road 1914. Photo credit: City of Toronto Archives, (Fonds 1231, Item 262).

Did you know that Davenport is one of Toronto’s oldest roads? It follows the longest First Nations trail in Ontario known as Gete-Onigaming, or “the old portage,” which stretched between the Humber and Don rivers running along the southern shoreline of glacial Lake Iroquois.

In 2015, a handful of participants began an annual tradition to trace part of this historical trail in an event known as the Davenportage.

The route of the 2016 Davenportage
The route of the 2016 Davenportage.

The Davenportage, which just completed its third run in November, is a 16.5-kilometre paddle and portage event running from the banks of the Humber River, crossing along to Davenport Road and continuing to the Don River. The event is divided into three legs (the first two being optional):

  • Leg 1: A 15-20 km run from a First Nations historic site, through the ravines to the Don River.
  • Leg 2: A 20 km paddle down the Don River, across the waterfront and up the Humber River. This year, this leg started at the mouth of the Don due to low water levels.
  • Leg 3: A 17 km portage along the Davenport Trail back to the Don River.

Although the Davenportage route deviates slightly from the original route due to modern development, the event is dedicated to paying respect to the historic significance of the journey. This year’s event was kicked off with the help of Glen Sault, a First Nations elder and story teller, who conducted the opening ceremonies and smudge.


There’s also a pit stop along the event route at the Tollkeeper’s Cottage at Davenport and Bathurst, which dates back to the mid-1800s after Davenport became a paved road. Between the Humber and Don Rivers, Davenport had five tollgates, the third of which included the Tollkeeper’s Cottage—home to the tollgate keeper and his family.

People in the park with canoes

Portage through the forest

“Everyone was well fed by the hospitable volunteers dressed in period costume at the Tollkeeper’s Cottage on Davenport Road, who hosted our main rest stop and where we were served a traditional voyageur meal of warm Canadian pea soup with bread and butter.”

Paul Grennell, Davenportage organizer

Some of the challenges that organizers face is the unpredictability of the Don water levels, making parts of the river unnavigable. “Last year we made it down from the Brickworks, but it was barely navigable, with the lower canalized section being the shallowest,” explains event co-founder Michael Bumby. “In addition, the log booms where the Don enters the Keating Channel and the debris that builds up at the base of the bridges present significant challenges.”

In addition to water levels, there are other challenges participants face navigating these waters. According to Bumby, these include “high winds blowing from the west down the Keating Channel and related waves bouncing off the sea wall, the airport ferry and the turbulent water conditions in the western gap, and the short but unpredictable ‘washing machine’ that exists between the western exit of the western gap and the nearby access to the breakwater.”

There’s no doubt that the event is a challenge, requiring participants with experience, endurance and the good nature to deal with whatever obstacles arise on the day of the event. In exchange, portagers gain a better connection to the history of the area and to those who came before us who had to endure the unpredictabilities of nature.

For more information on the event and what’s in store for 2017, check out the Davenportage website!

Photos courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives, the Davenportage website and the event organizers.