The path of the Garrison bisects streets and runs through parks, joining neighbourhoods like any major throughway in Toronto would today. It clues us into the early geography and industry of York and later Toronto. In tracing its former course, I followed its Discovery Walk from Bloor to Queen Street.
The Garrison ran a longer distance than what I track. For one, the Discovery Walk itself ends at Fort York, which gave the waterway its name. But north of Bloor, it extends to St. Clair. On Shaw, the creek exacts its revenge on a slanted house, deemed the crookedest home in Toronto, which was put up for sale in July 2015.
The rolling counters of the Christie Pits Park is a product of the creek, whose rich river bed lent itself favourably to the sand operation that stood here in the 19th century (much in the same way that the creeks of Leslieville propped up the area’s clay and brick industry).
To its south, Christie Pits has sister green space in Bickford Park, whose history and geography is very similar. With the Garrison running through its centre, there was a brickyard here too. The surrounding neighbourhood on much of Grace and Beatrice Streets and its various laneways (including the arty garage-lined alley bordering Bickford) was filled in after the yard ceased operations in the early 20th century.
Christie Pits and Bickford amount to accidental parkland in my mind: places of industry that weren’t earmarked to be recreational spaces but that ended up being so after outliving their original uses. It’s a more-common-than-expected origin story of Toronto parks.
On Harbord, a tombstone rises out of the street as a monument to the 1905 bridge that’s buried beneath it. It’s the first of two on this walk.
South of it, through what is now the levelled Art Eggleton Park (named for the former mayor), the valley is just infill. In the yard of Montrose Junior, a school of fishys swim alongside the school of students.
The Garrison may be gone, but its effect on the layout of Toronto is very much apparent. The odd curvy configuration of Crawford & Montrose Streets follows the creek’s path, and further dispels the myth that Toronto is a perfectly formed grid.
Onwards, the Garrison path passes through College’s Little Italy, where the heritage listed MOD club and Revival Bar stand. The former was the 1922 Great War Veterans’ Association (GWVA) Clubhouse and the latter was the Brethren Mission built in 1910.
The ravine’s parade through parkland continues through the less famed, yet quite peaceful Fred Hamilton Park. The Discovery Walk route has its own wayfinding arrows to direct people, but there are other markers alerting people of the ravine’s one time presence through the area.
At the end of Roxton one comes to Dundas West’s Little Portugal and Trinity Bellwoods Park. Its northwest corner is the original Bellwoods Park, as labelled by early maps. There’s a pleasant discovery in the statue of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of South America.
At Crawford Street, there’s a Heritage Toronto marker for the second lost bridge of the walk. Beyond the plaque, there’s no remnant of the Crawford Street bridge’s existence. Like Harbord, its valley too is infill.
As expected, Trinity Bellwoods is well used on this day. It is tooted as a hipster haven in grand Toronto lore, but that label shouldn’t stop peoples of all demographics from using it. It’s so celebrated that 1990s & 2000s Canadian rock outfit, Treble Charger, sang about it.
At its south end, ornate gates mark the Queen Street entrance to the park. The gates put the Trinity in Trinity Bellwoods and are living memories of the original Trinity College whose buildings stood here for a century from 1852 to 1956.
Queen Street has a perfectly lined streetscape, save for one building set back from everything else. This is the 1847 Georgian style John Farr house – at one time located on the banks of the Garrison as it crossed Queen Street. Farr was a brewer who made use of the creek for his enterprise.
The brewing history of the Garrison has been well-researched and documented with amazing posts by Lost Toronto, the Black Creek Growler, and Doug Taylor as well as Jordan St. John’s recent and excellent book, Lost Breweries of Toronto. To uncover the creek even more, I recommend a look at this amazing, interactive, map-filled timeline created by public historian Alex Meyers.
The written discourse about the Garrison as well as the various geographic and commemorative signs in its former path are amazing reminders that the creek’s existence is very much in Toronto’s consciousness.