Streams and ravines

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Aug 27

As George Dark points out (Toronto needs a vision to put the city’s ravine system on the map,, most cities basically ignore their streams and ravines.

At best, in my experience, they treat them as something to be controlled and avoided, or, at worst, nasty, unpleasant, smelly places ideal for dumping trash.

When I lived in Sydney (Australia) in the 1970s, organized crime had learned to use them for illegal dumping of highly toxic liquid waste. It was much cheaper to roll a tanker truck into a remote ravine in the middle of the night and open its spigots than to go to a liquid waste depot run by the Metropolitan Waste Disposal Authority (where I worked) and pay a significant per gallon fee to dispose of chemical wastes safely. 

The MWDA eventually fixed that by tracking and matching all origins and destinations of liquid waste (and their volumes) in the Sydney Metropolitan region.

On a more mundane basis, I did some consulting for two of my favorite clients, one of whom owned a lot in Stittsville that a) he had overpaid for, and b) was not exactly in a high-end neighborhood, it being mostly made up of doublewide trailer park-style homes.

Here’s a photo of a rather ratty looking lot that I took on my first visit there:


But here’s what we discovered when we walked downwards towards the rear of the property–it was waterfront!

That’s right–we discovered that Poole creek runs right next to it…

Here’s my friend, Brian Dagenais, property manager and developer/builder/renovator extraordinaire, looking somewhat pleased with himself upon discovering Valhalla at the rear of this lot…


It’s a regular bubbling brook in spring, less so in late
summer when I took this picture:


With a walking path already tamped out by locals:


Who knows how far that path goes? 

Maybe it leads to a leprechaun village with pots of gold just lying about waiting for Brian and me to come collect them?

Anyway, we came up with this property’s HABU (highest and best use), which looked like this:


Since reading my handwriting is probably not all that easy, here’re the proposed list of animations/uses:

-duplex in front with walkout condition (taking advantage of the natural downward slope to the stream)

-upper level to have 0-step entry and a w/c (water-closet, ie, a bathroom) plus one of its three bedrooms

on the main level

accessible (that is, sized for wheelchair or walker access) allowing the unit to meet the minimum standard for an “accessible” abode

-two workshops in back with coach house on top

-access to Poole creek

-backyard animations including games, play and picnic areas.

By developing it quite intensively like this, the owner could also compensate for the fact that he paid too much for the lot in the first place…

There is precedent too in that neighborhood. 

There are two buildings next door that have

separate entries for individual upper and lower units and are rented (furnished) to
construction workers on temporary assignment (typically 3 or 4 months at a
time) in Ottawa; here’s one of those houses:


Hey, waterfront living could be a lot more common that you think–you just have to look. 

So George is right. Cities, towns and villages should map their ravines and streams and not turn their backs on them…

There’s gold in those watercourses plus future walking/mountain bike/cross country skiing trails in those ravines.

Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD, ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker, Ottawa Senators founder, Real Estate Investment and Business coach 1-613-762-8884


postscript: a former student of mine did some homework on pricing for urban workshops or as they are


called–maker spaces. She found that they rent for more than I expected:

Hi Bruce,

Here are some workshop/garage space comps we found on
Kijiji. There were not a lot of ads for regular garages for workshop uses,
mostly for storage, which reflects in the price. Any workshops for actual
working in were fairly large spaces.

Workshop Comps:

Blair/Gloucester area – double width – bathroom inside –

Vanier –
garage for storage – $425

– garage for storage – $380×20-approx/1091070033?enableSearchNavigationFlag=true

East end workshop, alarm system, 1300 square feet –  $750   

Kemtville – separate office space + bathroom – $900  

Potential Client for Garage – workshop space/ depending on
how much noise or mess we will tolerate:

Prea Z Art Studios Extravagant Art to Inspire your Space Web Gallery: Fan Page: Etsy Shop:

I averaged the five prices she dug up. It came out to $591/month. So I suggested for this project we use $595 for a heated workshop + charge for electricity + internet/wi-fi.

postscript 2: another of client of mine told me last week, he too had “secret” waterfront property…

One of the homes he owns is on Daly avenue in downtown Ottawa. 

Here’s what the end of his street looks like:


If you jump the fence and descend about 40 feet, you are ready to launch your kayak on the fantastic Rideau river. Mind you, you’d better head south on the river. If you go north, you will soon meet your maker as you go over the Rideau Falls whereupon you will join the Ottawa river. Eventually, like Paddle-to-the-Sea (a character in a 1941 children’s book written by Holling C Holling of the same title—you can see a wonderful 1966 NFB film based on the book at, you will make your way to the mighty St Lawrence river, the Gulf of St Lawrence and, finally, into the North Atlantic Ocean. 

If you pan out, you can see the river and Cummings Island, currently a 5,023 square meter no-place in the middle of the Rideau, sitting there, calling to kids to come on over and romp around. 


But currently, the only folks who have access to it and who enjoy waterfront living and activities there are the homeless who have colonized the place, made more inviting by an enormous foundation overhang (creating a weather-proof cave beneath) from a long abandoned condo tower that never got built.

Hmm, imagine what kind of animations are possible not just in Toronto but also Ottawa, indeed everywhere, if we open up streams and ravines…

Go George!

postscript 3: what the heck, here’s the NFB film based on Paddle-to-the-Sea:


postscript 4: I promise this is the last one. 

I’ve created waterfront property in my career–lots of it. 

Want to know how?

I dig nature ponds. 

Ontario is blessed with one thing–an abundance of water–not just uncountable rivers and lakes but unmeasurable amounts of groundwater that’ll be around until the sun boils this planet in a giant supernova a few billion years from now, an ending that even Elon Musk won’t be able to avoid.

Here’s a lake I dug in Dunrobin; it took 17 years to remove 1.1 million tons of sand (which we sold for $1.05 per ton net, FOB Dunrobin for cable laying, back-fill and, later, golf course top dressing and sand traps):


The afteruse of the sand pit was a residential subdivision. The lake (now called Dunrobin Lake) is fed by an artesian well and underground streams filtered through thousands of meters of sand and sandstone. Water quality (we test it every year) is better than any brand of bottled water you can buy in a store, trust me, I know.


I added large mouth bass to Dunrobin Lake, in part, to control mosquitoes and bloodsuckers. 

I remember that particular day well–it was the day Princess Di passed, August 31st 1997. 

At 10:30 pm, I stood alone beside my lake having just learned the Princess of Wales was dead pouring the large mouth bass we had caught earlier in the day into their new boundless (to them) virgin domain. While there, I said a silent prayer for Lady Di and for my fish.

The 20th anniversary of her death is upon us and I can report that Diana’s fish are flourishing beyond my best hopes. I am sure she is looking out for them…

Here’s Shaun catching, showing off (and eventually releasing) one of our large mouth in 2017:



Anyhow, here’re a few more lots where I’ve dug ponds, and, happy news, every time I’ve added one, property values have gone up plus our ponds are natural wonders–providing habitat for bird life and fish as well as watering holes for wildlife.

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.