Charles Sauriol 1904 - 1995

Pioneer Ecologist

Plaque located at: Riverdale Park, Winchester Street, Toronto, ON M5A, Canada

The plaque was situated at the east end of Carlton Street, near to the top of the stairs going down the park. It was recently damaged and will be replaced in the near future.

Charles Sauriol was born in Toronto, Ontario, and was the youngest of seven children. In 1882, his father had moved to Toronto to work as an engineer on the dredging of the Don River.

Once in Toronto, the Sauriols lived on Gerrard Street where it intersects with Sumach Street. Charles went to Sacré-Coeur School. As a young boy he camped out in the Don Valley with the 45th East Toronto Troop of the Boy Scouts. It was at this time that he fell in love with the Don Valley, which at the time was woods, some farms, and in its natural state.

In 1927, Charles Sauriol purchased his own piece of the Don – a piece of railway land on 40 hectares at the forks of the river. He used it as a cottage. For years he spent his summers there with his family. Only four trees stood on site in 1927. Sauriol began an ambitious project of reforestation, planting shrubs, native hard woods and conifers on the slope surrounding the cottage.

As ancestors of his had emigrated to New France from Brittany in 1705, Charles was 8th generation Canadian, and completely bilingual. He spent 30 years working as a marketing director for French publishing houses like Porier Bessette in Montreal. He penned and published a Weekly dedicated to stories of the Don Valley, called Le Samedi.

In 1949, Charles Sauriol co-founded the Don Valley Conservation Association. The mission was to preserve the Don Valley as a natural forest. Sauriol organized trips by steam locomotive to raise money. These trips began at the Don River station near Queen Street and attracted up to a thousand passengers, who traveled to such places as Cobourg, Lindsay, and Niagara Falls.

In 1954, he joined forces with the Don Valley Conservation Authority. It became the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority in 1957. During the 1950s, the MTCA purchased most of the valleys and ravines that today make up Toronto’s green belt. Much of this was a direct consequence of Hurricane Hazel in 1954. Widespread damage gave new urgency to flood control measures, the MTCA wanted to remove houses from risky floodplain areas.

In 1958 plans for the Don Valley Parkway bisected the Sauriol cottage property and they were forced to vacate their beloved cottage. It was demolished the same year.

Soon after, in 1966, Charles Sauriol helped establish the Nature Conservancy of Canada. During this period he was its primary fundraiser. He helped the Conservancy acquire parkland across Canada. In Ontario alone, he purchased 500 properties. Over the course of his career, he led fundraising campaigns that netted more than 200 million dollars dedicated to the preservation of green space.

Charles Sauriol’s work as an ecologist was well recognized. He was known as “Mr. Conservation.” And in 1989 he received the Order of Canada. He earned 40 other awards and citations. Today four green spaces, a park and a Conservation Areas carry his name.

He died of natural causes in 1995 at the age of 91. He truly lived in harmony with nature.

“As years go on and the population increases, there will be a need of these lands and more, and in life where so much appears futile, this one thing will remain. In essence, those who continue to support the work of conservation can say, I have lived here, I have done something positive to ensure that its natural beauty and natural values continue.”

A Toronto French school and a conservation reserve trail are named after him.

Hear him talk:


Charles Sauriol in front of the original cottage at the Forks, July 1935. City of Toronto Archives, Series 80, File 8.

Charles Sauriol in front of the original cottage at the Forks, July 1935. City of Toronto Archives, Series 80, File 8.

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