Sophia Bearden

Project Coordinator

Bachelor of Arts, 2007

Being a part of something that is striving to walk back more than a hundred years of environmental degradation is so inspiring.

At first glance, the project Sophia Bearden, BA’07, is working on could seem like just one of many construction projects along Toronto’s Lake Ontario waterfront. In fact, the Port Lands Flood Protection Project at the mouth of the Don River is tremendously exciting for both environmentalists and Torontonians who crave a healthy and beautiful environment for their families. The project is the fascinating, ambitious next step in the revitalization of Toronto’s Don River, for tens of decades a waterway abused beyond recognition, a dumping ground where abattoirs and factories discharged their wastes.

As a project coordinator for EllisDon, the construction management company tasked with the restoration of the river’s mouth, Sophia is at the project’s centre, working on the creation of a number of public parks that are core to the project. “I coordinate the work of the range of subcontractors involved in both the hardscape and softscape,” she explains. “They needed someone with a background in horticulture and an understanding of installing plants.”

This isn’t the first intriguing career Sophia has had since graduating from King’s with a degree in gender and women’s studies. For the better part of eight years, she was a catering chef and then a baker, a career that’s less surprising when you learn that Sophia spent a year in culinary school before coming to King’s for the Foundation Year Program in 2003. “A year and a half after graduating I moved to Toronto. After a semester studying graphic design, I went back to the work I knew, teaming up with a woman who ran a small catering company out of a converted school bus. Over time we became bakers.”

Sophia is aware of the cultural fascination with baking.  “People do romanticize baking,” she chuckles. “When I tell people I was a baker they always want to talk about it. It’s a lifestyle choice and it’s not easy, though there were parts of it that I did love and do miss. My baking passion was croissants, the construction of them, working with laminated doughs. It’s a wonderfully complex three-day process, refining it down to get the best product.”

And then, of course, there was the pandemic, which played a role in reshaping so many lives. “I was on maternity leave with my second child when the pandemic came,” Sophia, who is married to fellow King’s grad Peter Gorman, BA(Hons)’06, says. “The baking business had slowed down and I also realized that with two kids, working nights and very early mornings was going to be difficult. Perhaps it was time for something else.”

That “something else” showed up in the most unlikely way. “There wasn’t a lot you could do or places you could go with small kids at the height of the pandemic,” Sophia explains. “I was trying to find things you could do outside that would interest the kids and would be interpreted as safe at the time. I discovered a lot of urban spaces, the little parkettes and neglected public spaces and I noticed the plants, the mostly invasive species that flourished there. I got a book on native plants at the library and began to study them.”

Sophia enrolled in the Landscape Technician program at Humber College with the idea to work outdoors in Toronto parks. A student visit to the work being done at the mouth of the Don River excited her; she applied for a job on the project and was quickly hired.

“Being a part of something that is striving to walk back more than a hundred years of environmental degradation is so inspiring,” Sophia says. “It’s made me hopeful that Canadian cities can both make better development choices and reverse the impact of past mistakes. I’m really proud to be a part of this project, and love to share that enthusiasm with anyone willing to listen. As my son said, ‘You love talking about dirt.'”