100 in 1 Day is an initiative of citywide ‘interventions’, aimed at making the city a better place. There were many to choose from (far greater than 100 actually), but I chose to go the ‘Learnt Wisdom: Above and Beyond’ lecture.
There were a few reasons for attending this particular intervention. First, it would be held at the old Eastern Avenue bridge, which I’ve read about and seen pictures about, but I’ve never actually been to. Second, one of the hosts – Daniel “The Urban Geographer” Rostzain (I feel like I gave him a wrestling name) – is doing really great things with his library-philia, Jane’s Walking, and everything else. And third, it’s about storytelling – and who doesn’t love a good story?
The meetup point is at King and River Streets. While waiting, I chat with Daniel, who I have bounced tweets back and forth but never met in the flesh. I also meet Kyle Baptista of Park People. On top of that, I encounter fellow tweeter Sean Marshall at the bridge. It’s a wonderful meeting of the online community!
Also while waiting, I do a panorama of the interesting sites in the vicinity. To the south is the sleek black River City complex of condos, which, in the last time I wrote about Corktown, was not completed. To the east is the always intriguing convergence of King and Queen Streets. There’s a triangular island and undeveloped plot of land, which Kyle believes is supposed to be a park eventually. Makes sense. To the immediate north is the old Scotiabank and beyond that up River is the 1907 Queen City Vinegar Co. Lofts.
The walk to the Eastern Avenue Bridge travels down Lower River Street, which was absent from Toronto’s street grid up until a few years ago. We pass Underpass Park (great use of dead space), Lawren Harris Square (not to be confused with Lawren Harris Park), and come to the Corktown Common. Only, we don’t actually come to the Corktown Common because it’s been fenced off for the summer for the PanAm games. A shame because it’s a great recreational space which doubles as a natural flood plain.
It’s amazing to think of the reconfiguration the West Don Lands has gone through in the last little while and over the last hundred years. River and Bayview Streets have southern extensions. The railway lands that dominated the area are gone. All the industry that once prevailed on or near the banks of the Don are gone. It’s remarkable to think, in that regard, that the Corktown Common was once occupied by the William Davies Co. pig processing operation.
Corktown & West Don Lands. Source: Goads Atlas, 1924
We travel around the security zone and come the Lower Don Trail. My eye catches a couple of Heritage Toronto plaques highlighting the stories of the waterway. But more than that, the graffiti is disappointing to see. I don’t see a reason to mark up a plaque.
Far into the distance is the Unilever Plant, which is the subject of a lot of city building discussions including the Gardiner East
debacle debate. Every week for the final year of the soap plant I saw the striking workers camped outside the factory. Then, they weren’t there and the plant succumbed.
A stroll up the trail (very well used on this sunny Saturday) and we’re at our destination. The Eastern Avenue Bridge is pretty much a bridge in only name because it doesn’t connect anything. It’s truly a bridge to nowhere. On one side is the trail with the meager security and on the other the Don Valley Parkway.
In a pre-DVP world, Eastern Avenue ran a straight course east and west of the Don. But with the construction of the highway in 1961, Eastern was rerouted to curve up from about Broadview Avenue to about Cherry Street before following its original course again.
The Eastern Avenue bridge, the third version of its kind at this crossing, is a big hunk of metal with cool zig-zaggy beams and locales where explorers have left their mark. It’s a dead space, but for our purposes makes a great performance venue – surprisingly so with the highway running beside us. As Natalie – the other creator/host of Learnt Wisdom – told me, their past venues have included underneath the Leaside Bridge, a pool, the Toronto Islands. Their next one is at a cemetery tucked in at a highway interchange.
The lecture starts and, one by one, four speakers come up and tell us their tales of going ‘above and beyond’. I won’t recount the stories themselves, but the messages behind them were great: how being lazy and doing nothing can actually be a good thing; and how small people can do big things & if you have an idea, for it.
If the goal of 100 in 1 Day was to inspire change that would make Toronto a better place, I think the Learnt Wisdom intervention achieved it with the messages of the story tellers.
On that note: If you, reader, have a story to tell on the theme of ‘Milestones’ or have an idea for am unusual venue, get in touch with them.
Following that, Kyle and I retrace our steps back to King Street, and get a good look at the city skyline from the development lands.
My streetcar isn’t going to arrive for another 10 minutes lamentably, so I get a coffee and walk down the street to pass the time. At St. Lawrence Street, a building catches my attention. At first I think it’s a church because of the northern part that juts out, but on further inspection, I better suspect that it’s a factory. Further research has produced that this was originally the Simpson Knitting Mill in the 1920s. Today, it’s work-live lofts.
A peer down Sumach and its almost completed Cherry ROW streetcar line to the Distillery District follows.
Finally, I check in with the great art pieces under the Richmond and Adelaide Street overpasses. The nautical exploration themed design catches my attention most. It’s about this time that, not a boat but, a rocket picks me to conclude this adventure.