Tag Archives: leslie street

Scenes From Tommy Thompson Park and The Leslie Street Spit

Tommy Thompson Park and The Leslie Street Spit contain some of the most interesting and oddest landscapes in Toronto. They’ve been called an Urban Wilderness and an Accidental Wilderness. Exploring their history and geography, one can see why. They embody Toronto as a whole: the intriguing and sometimes unexpected intersection of nature and city.


Many Paths, Many Landscapes

First, there’s a careful distinction to be made of the two places. Tommy Thompson Park and the Leslie Street Spit (or the Leslie Spit or just The Spit) are used interchangeably by many people. The reality is one is located within the other. That is to say, the Leslie Spit is a geographic feature and Tommy Thompson Park is the recreational area housed in it.

The entrance of Tommy Thompson Park and the Leslie Spit is located at Unwin Street where it meets the bottom of Leslie Street. If travelling south from Lake Shore Boulevard by road, one is struck by how bizarre a stretch it is. A streetcar barn, a mail facility, a concrete plant, tool and equipment rental place, and most curiously, an allotment garden all make up the scene. At the same time, the Martin Goodman Trail also passes through the area, making bicycle traffic a natural thing for the Spit (the park’s car lot also has a BikeShare station.)

The Baselands just off the entrance is Tommy Thompson Park’s first landscape. This is a thicket of bushes, shrubs, and trees — and rubble. The red-osier dogwood offer some colour in the spring-time grey and brown.

One emerges from Baselands to meet with the Multi-Use Trail, a paved path used by walkers, runners, cyclists, and sometimes park staff vehicles. The trail runs the course of the Spit from the entrance to its most southern tip. If one doesn’t pass through pedestrian bridge nearly half-way through the 5-kilometre length, one can branch out to the north of the cell bays and pass through the Flats and Headlands. The lighthouse is a natural goal and following the multi-use trail to the end offers a great reward. But the side-trails are well worth it too.

The Spit splits into the three paths. Along with the Multi-Use path, there is a Nature Trail and Pedestrian Trail. If on foot, these quiet and more slower-paced alternatives allow one to take in the Spit in a truly unique way.

The Nature Trail on the north side of the main paved path hugs the north shore of the Spit. It offers views of the marina, embayments, and the great skyline of Toronto beyond them all along the way. Numbered trail markers show the way. It is also on the way to the Ecological Bird Research Centre, one of a few scientific and educational functions of the park.

The Pedestrian Trail runs south of the Multi-Use Trail. It offers clear blue lake views, along with views of Cell 1 where wildlife undoubtedly lives. The shores along this trail also show the most interesting debris.

A History of Many Names

The curious history of the Leslie Street Spit started in the late 1950’s and continued into the 1960s. It was designed to be a breakwater for Toronto harbour. For this reason, the official name for the Leslie Spit is the mouthful-ish “Outer Harbour East Headland”. By 1970, a 5-kilometre “arm” made of infill and construction materials extended into the water. The main road on this landform is now the Multi-Use trail. Over the next several decades, several “branches” would be made to jut out from this “spine”, creating endikements and bays. For this reason, the Leslie Spit is better labelled as a man-made peninsula rather than a naturally-occuring spit.

A pre-Leslie Spit eastern Toronto waterfront, 1950. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“Harbor Headland Ahead Of Schedule” The Globe & Mail, Oct 3, 1968. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.
“The big key to waterfront development”, The Globe & Mail, May 27, 1971. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.

By the early 1970s, the anticipated port activity in Toronto’s waters never materialized. The East Headland became obsolete as a commercial project. As the decade progressed, a curious thing happened. Nature took over. Birds used the peninsula as migratory stop. The potential of the Spit as a recreational area, namely sailing and boating, also entered the conversation. So much so that the area was known as “The Aquatic Park”.

“New park: Do we want wall-to-wall boats?”, The Globe & Mail, Feb 4, 1977. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.

In 1977, a client group consisting of Metro Toronto Regional Conservation Authority and Metro Toronto Park Commission members hired a consultant firm to report on the possibilities of the peninsula. Ideas included a sailing school, marine hotel, camp grounds, a hostel, and a wildlife and nature preserve. Curiously, the north shore of the Spit, already used by recreational boats, was not included in the report. The report put naturalists and recreationists at odds — a theme that continues today. In 1983, the Leslie Street Spit was named “Tommy Thompson Park”, after the longtime Toronto Parks Commissioner. The Toronto & Region Conservation Authority manages the parkland today.

The Leslie Street Spit, 1992. Source: City of Toronto Archives.


Trash or Built Heritage?

A common sight of The Leslie Spit is the piles of bricks, cement blocks, rebar, scrap metal, and more on its trails and on its shores. People have combined two of these elements — the rebar and bricks — to make some makeshift art installations.

It has been said that because the Spit is in a way akin to garbage dump, it is a valuable asset in that it literally is the “archaeology of Toronto”. Indeed, debris excavated to build the downtown subway lines is said to rest at the peninsula. Beyond that, is any of the rubble of the headland actually important?

One brick has the pressing of “F Price” and it may provide an insight into Toronto history a whole. The Prices were a family of brick makers on Greenwood Avenue. The most famous of them are perhaps brothers Isaac Price and John Price — the latter who ran last brickmaking entreprise on Greenwood.

The identity and origin of this “F Price” on this particular brick is a mystery, but may refer to a Fred Price, who was in business in the 1920s. He may have been a brother or son or nephew to the Isaac and John. Fred Price looks to have partnered with a George J Smith. Together they formed Price & Smith, which operated on the west side of Greenwood Avenue north of the railway tracks (where the subway yard now sits). By the mid-1930s, the establishment ceased to appear in the city directories. The historical significance of Price & Smith and brickyards from the same period is in providing the bricks which made the housing stock of Toronto in its growth period after World War I.

“Price & Smith”, The Globe, April 18, 1924. Source: Toronto Public Library and Globe & Mail Archives.

Urban Wilderness

Today, the Leslie Spit is an intriguing refuge for many plants and animals. Some of these are species found in other parts of Toronto, like cattails, goldenrod, trumpeter swans, red-wing black birds, and beavers. Some are to the city as a whole, like bats, owls, and cottonwood trees, which are threatened by the pesky cormorant. The Leslie Spit’s importance as a migratory bird stopover led to it to being declared an “Important Bird Area” by Birdlife International in 2000.

There are two main rules to Tommy Thompson Park: no motorized vehicles and no dogs. Both are to safeguard the peninsula as a habitat to seen and unseen wildlife. The lack of cars is an obvious rule with the exhaust fumes and loudness among other threats providing obvious disruptions. Bikes are allowed and are popular on the Spit, but speeds are capped at 20 km/hour to protect not only pedestrians but wildlife like turtles that may wander onto the path. The dogs or pets policy dates back to the 1980s. Dogs can be a threat to ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. With a population of coyotes on the Spit, pets themselves can also be at risk too.

The balance between human use and environmental respect remains today. With new controversies and challenges arising (like filming), careful stewartship should perserve the Leslie Street Spit for decades and centuries to come!

Roads Never Built

 

Roads Never Built

By Bob Georgiou

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019/Issue 50 edition of Spacing Magazine. With permission, I have reproduced it here.

 

Throughout its history, the City of Toronto has reimagined its street grid. Growth periods following both World Wars brought with them road improvement schemes to address traffic congestion and better connect the city. Some projects – like the 1931 Church Street extension north of Bloor Street to Davenport Road – came to fruition. Others – most famously, the Spadina Road Extension-turned-expressway cancelled in 1971 – never saw their intended results. Here are four other road extensions in the 20th century that would have altered the geography of Toronto if built.

Victoria Street

When: 1900s to 1930s

In 1906, the Board of Works discussed the possibility of extending Victoria Street from Gerrard Street to Carlton Street for a new streetcar route. Yonge Street relief had been a theme in road improvement, with Bay Street extended north from Queen Street to Davenport in the 1920s (it was even proposed to extend it to St. Clair Avenue in the 1930s and 1940s). Estimates in 1911 had the Victoria-to-Carlton scheme costing as much as $500,000, and a report by the Civic Improvement Committee proposed to extend it further to Bloor. With costs to expropriate property proving too high, Civic Works abandoned the idea in 1912. City Planners revived the idea in a grander plan for downtown streets in 1929. In yet another city-wide improvement plan in 1930, Works Commissioner RC Harris recommended a streetcar-free Victoria Street that would stretch north via Park Road to join with the also-proposed Jarvis and Sherbourne extensions of Mount Pleasant Road. A council motion in 1935 envisioned Victoria ending at Davenport Road, but none of these plans came to fruition. Today, Victoria Street is in fact shorter, ending at Gould after its last block was absorbed by the Ryerson Campus.

Credit: Civic Improvement Committee Report, 1911.

St. Clair Avenue

When: 1920s, 1960s-1970s

A Council decision in 1928 by East York and York County first imagined uniting the two sections of St. Clair Avenue. Initial talks involved land offers and easements from John H. Taylor and the Toronto City Estates to complete the extension in the Don Valley. Discussions followed in 1929 on the course’s starting point and overall engineering. One route extended straight east from Mount Pleasant Road while the other travelled by way of Moore Avenue via a bridge spanning the Belt Line Ravine from St. Clair. From here, the street would connect to the new Leaside Viaduct, then follow Don Mills Road to Woodbine Avenue before finally bridging diagonally across Massey Creek. Moore Park residents disapproved of the Moore Avenue alignment as it meant more vehicular traffic. Discussion seemed to taper off in the 1930s. Reprises in the 1960s saw a valley-spanning St. Clair brought up again, but these too ended in 1970 when the Metro government decided not to proceed after facing public opposition and high costs.

Credit: The Globe, 21 January 1929

Cosburn Avenue

When: 1950s

As a candidate for East York Reeve in the 1956 election, Jack Allen campaigned on the eastward extension of Cosburn Avenue. After winning the position, he continued his push in 1957 and 1958, highlighting a scheme in which the street would continue past Woodbine Avenue by curving parallel to the disused CNR line in the Taylor-Massey Creek valley to connect with Victoria Park Avenue. The purpose was to relieve congestion at Woodbine and O’Connor. Allen also thought the extension would aid the case for a new courthouse at Cosburn and Woodbine and his vision of high-density apartment towers in East York. Parkland advocates at the Don Valley Conservation Association opposed the plan. Allen introduced a master zoning plan by developer and architect Sulio Venchiarutti of Urban Planning Consultants, but this was rejected by East York Council in 1959. A year later, the township adopted a different official plan and Allen was replaced as reeve by future mayor True Davidson.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star 08 Mar 1957

Leslie Street

When: 1960s to 1990s

Following initial suggestions in 1968 and failed proposals in 1971 and 1973, in 1976 Metro Planners brought forward a $20-million extension of Leslie Street south of Eglinton Avenue. Debates around the idea coincided with another valley-spanning proposal in the 1970s for the direct routing of Lawrence Avenue from Bayview to Leslie. Arguments in favour of a lengthened Leslie centred on eased congestion – at the Leslie/Eglinton bottleneck and at neighbouring north-south avenues – while arguments against cited ravine destruction. Another report in 1983 and an environmental study in 1984 seemingly had the now $50-million scheme moving forward, with the route involving a high-level bridge over Wilket Creek Park, followed by a road along the CPR Belleville line before emerging at the Bayview Extension near Nesbitt Drive. Citizen groups argued that, if allowed, the Leslie proposal would re-open the Spadina Expressway debate. In 1988, Metro Council voted in favour of the 4-lane extension, but the price had gone up to $74 million dollars. Debate and public consultations continued into the 1990s with no extension built. In 2000 and 2002, Toronto Councillor Jane Pitfield proposed lengthening Redway Road to Bayview. Opponents feared the damage to Crowthers Woods and a rehashing of the Leslie debate, and nothing came of that plan either.

Credit: Toronto Star, 20 November 1984

 

Sources


Victoria Street

“Planned New Car Lines” The Globe. 19 May 1906: pg 9.

“Open Victoria Street.” The Globe. 15 March 1907: pg 9

“The Extension of Victoria Street.” The Globe. 2 November 1909: pg 6.

“Victoria Street Extension.” The Globe. 14 January 1910: pg 7. – 330,000

“Extend Victoria St Under New Stature.” The Globe. 22 April 1911: pg 9. – 360,000

“Victoria Street Extension Favored.” The Globe. 3 June 1911: pg 8.

“C.P.R. to Keep Building Site.” The Globe. 28 July 1911: pg 8. – half-million

“Many Important Schemes for the Betterment and Growth of Toronto.” Toronto Daily Star. 30 December 1911: pg 5.

Report of the Civic Improvement Committee for the City of Toronto, 1911

“City May Abandon Victoria Extension.” The Globe. 24 February 1912: pg 9.

“Will Try Arbitration.” The Globe. 2 March 1912: pg 4.

“Victoria Street Extension Killed.” The Globe 18 May 1912: pg 9.

“Make Bloor Street Big Business Centre.” The Globe. 20 March 1917: pg 7.

“City Planners Propose New Downtown Streets.” The Globe. 12 March 1929: pg 15

“Work Commissioner R.C. Harris Presents New City-Wide Project.” The Globe. 15 May 1930: pg 13.

“A Bay Street Plan.” The Globe. 17 January 1930: pg 4.

“Victoria Extension Favored by Expert.” The Globe. 21 November 1930: pg 13.

“Report is Requested on Victoria Extension” The Globe. 26 September 1931: pg 14.

“Victoria Street Extension to Davenport Road Talked.” The Globe. 12 February 1935: pg 11.

 

St. Clair Avenue

“St. Clair Extension.” The Globe. 21 December 1928: pg 2.

“Favor Taylor Proposal St. Clair Ave. Extension.” The Toronto Daily Star. 21 January 1929: pg 3.

“St. Clair Extension Through East York Offer of J.H. Taylor.” The Globe. 21 January 1929: pg 13.

“Problem of Bridges Northeast of City has Many Angles.” The Globe. 5 February 1929: pg 23.

“Hottest Discussion at County Council on Radial Proposal.” The Globe. 7 June 1929: pg 28.

“Easement Offered for Further Link Extending St. Clair.” The Globe. 23 June 1929: pg 13.

“Citizens Reassured on Extension Plans.” The Globe. 22 August 1929: pg 21.

“Action Expected on Moore Avenue Boundary Bridge.” The Globe. 30 July 1929: pg 13.

“Objects to Bridge.” The Globe. 22 August 1929: pg 4.

“The Moore Park Bridge.” The Globe. 7 September 1929: pg 4.

“Residents Agitated By Bridge Question in Northeast Area.” The Globe. 20 September 1929: pg 17.

“M’Bride Declares St. Clair Extension ‘Out of Question’”. The Globe. 21 September 1929: pg 18.

“Scarboro Plans Work on St. Clair to Aid Jobless.” The Globe. 17 December 1930: pg 10.

“Request St. Clair Cross Don Valley.” The Globe and Mail. 31 October 1962: pg 5.

“Urban Renewal Study for Metropolitan Planning Area Covering 750 Square Miles Is Proposed.” The Globe and Mail. 7 February 1963: pg 4.

“Metro Shelves St. Clair Plan.” The Globe and Mail. 9 September 1970: pg 5.

 

Cosburn Avenue

 “Promise to Campaign for Industry in Suburbs to Balance Housing Surge.” The Globe and Mail. 30 November 1956: pg 11.

“Site on Cosburn Ave. Urged for Courthouse.” The Globe and Mail. 14 February 1957: pg 4.

“Urge Alternate Site for E. York Court.” The Toronto Daily Star. 14 February 1957: pg 19.

“Reeve Asks Old Railway Be Expressway.” The Toronto Daily Star. 8 March 1957: pg 9.

“Reeve of East York Backs New Buildings.” The Globe and Mail. 3 December 1957: pg 5.

“Conservation at the Polls.” The Globe and Mail. 8 November 1958: pg 6.

“Residents Oppose Cosburn Extension.” The Toronto Daily Star. 6 June 1958: pg 29.

“Metropolitan Toronto: Scratch-My-Backism And the Courthouse.” The Globe and Mail. 26 June 1958: pg 7.

“Expect Hot Contests in Suburbs.” The Globe and Mail. 18 November 1958: pg 5.

“Cosburn Plan Foes Cut Chairman Short.” The Toronto Daily Star. 25 November 1958: pg 9.

“The Suburban Elections.” The Toronto Daily Star. 28 November 1958: pg 29.

“East York Greenbelt Should be Saved.” The Toronto Daily Star. 20 December 1958: pg 29.

“East York Zoning.” The Toronto Daily Star. 11 April 1959: pg 29.

“Suites to Oust Homeowners?” The Toronto Daily Star. 16 April 1959: pg 1.

“Raze Homes for Apartments?” The Toronto Daily Star. 16 April 1959: pg 3.

“It’s Improper, Mr. Venchiarutti.” The Toronto Daily Star. 20 April 1959: pg 29.

“Appraiser’s Kin Swung Land Deal, Probe Told.” The Toronto Daily Star. 21 May 1959: pg 2.

“East York Plan Limits Apartments to 5 ‘Pockets’”. The Toronto Daily Star. 22 June 1960: pg 41

“An East York Dialogue on Conflict of Interest.” The Toronto Daily Star. 19 June 1961: pg 7.

Redway, Alan. East York 1924-1997: Toronto’s Garden of Eden. FriesenPress, 2018.

 

Leslie Street

“Subway Expansion, Restriction on Cars, Sought for Toronto.” The Globe and Mail. 26 March 1968: pg 1.

“Time Needed for Study: Planners delay Flemingdon Scheme.” The Globe and Mail. 21 November 1968: pg 5.

“Transit Can’t Cope: Planners Want to Widen Metro Roads.” The Globe and Mail. 10 July 1976: pg 5.

“Here’s a plan to improve traffic.” The Toronto Star. 29 January 1979: pg A8.

“Alderman Says Extension Won’t Solve Traffic Mess.” The Toronto Star. 31 August 1979: pg A15

“Transport Plan Not Changing: Eggleton.” The Globe and Mail. 11 May 1984: M3.

“Battle Won by War Still Undecided on Extending Leslie past Eglinton.” The Toronto Star. 20 November 1984: pg A25.

“Neighbors Protest Bayview-Leslie Road Plan.” The Globe and Mail. 31 March 1988: pg A16.

“Leslie Extension Sparks Emotional Debate.” The Toronto Star. 13 April 1988: pg A7.

“Leslie Street Debate Resurfaces.” The Globe and Mail. 23 March 1991: pg A9.

“Notice of Public Hearing: Leslie Street Extension on Bayview Avenue Widening.” The Toronto Star. 27 August 1992: pg A26.

“Plan for Leslie Street Extension Scaled Back.” The Globe and Mail. 7 October 2000: pg A27.