Monthly Archives: October 2015

Scenes From Fort York

The Fort York area has some of the oldest built heritage in the city, but also has some of the newest real estate as well. And as much as its history is some of the deepest in the city, its emergence as a neighbourhood – as in, the Fort York neighbourhood or Garrison – is only a recent development.

I begin at Bathurst and Fort York. Across the way is the KPMB Architects-designed Fort York Library, opened in 2014. It’s been celebrated as some of the best new architecture in the city. It’s also important to the neighbourhood itself given the changes in the area.

Fort York Library

The waGardiner Expresswaylk to the Fort is actually quite a long one, considering that I’m technically walking right in front of it. It also passes under the looming Gardiner Expressway, where there’s construction happening.

The entrance to Fort York National Historic Site is the Visitor Centre, which wasn’t here the last time I was at the museum several years ago. Designed by Patkau Architects and Kearns Mancini Architects, it opened in 2014 to great fanfare and great necessity. The shape of the building is an homage to the bluff that once front the shore of Lake Ontario, which was once located in this spot.

Fort York Visitor Centre 1

Fort York Vistor Centre 4

Fort York Visitor Centre 2
My reason for coming to Fort York is to sample the new Augmented Reality (AR) tour which is in beta testing for the month of October. As an educational and interpretation tool, it’s a significant addition for the museum.

Fort York Western Gate, 1885. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Fort York Western Gate, 1885. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Fort York is the birthplace of Toronto. It was founded in 1797, but its buildings date to the War of 1812.

1818 Phillpotts Plan of York

1818 Phillpotts Plan of York. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

But despite that history, it’s lost a bit of its context given the changes in Toronto over the years. Its historic significance is tied to its geography. The original shoreline, which gave the Fort a strategic location to defend the town of York, is buried under infill. Today, Fort York is landlocked by condos, a highway, and railways.

Fort York
The AR tour recreates Fort York’s historical environment and instills some of the sense of place that’s been lost. It’s powered by GPS and features audio and visual exhibits which are prompted when you enter particular locations.

Fort York Officers Mess 1

Fort York Officers Mess 2
My favourite vignettes were the Battle of York, in which British soldiers blew up the grand magazine killing a lot of invading American troops (including the best named figure in Toronto history: Zebulon Pike). The crater in the grass today is said to be from the explosion.

Fort York Augmented Reality
Also, the Gardiner Expressway, which had great audio from the debates of the day. The original proposal for the Gardiner included a plan to route the highway over the Fort. Running it around the site would’ve added eight additional minutes to commuter times (hmm, where have I heard this debate before?).

FortYork1934

Fort York, 1934. Source: Toronto Public Library.

The AR tour is overall a great experience. I was awed by the ability to look around and see the Fort and its surroundings as it once stood. For a museum goer that doesn’t necessary seek a social experience, it’s an excellent way to take in the site. I look forward to seeing it in the museum’s regular programming.

Fort York Soldiers Barracks
After finishing with Fort, I return back to the Visitor Centre to take in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. The exhibition is a great mix of didactic and interactive elements, and its messaging is on point.

The Magna Carta is a significant document in human history, and there’s great continuity in Canada’s and Toronto’s past, particularly in the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms and the fight for Responsible Government. It’s on display until November 7, 2015. (This is also the first exhibition I’ve been to that explicitly bans selfie sticks.)

Magna Carta Fort York 3

Magna Cart Fort York 2
From there, I make my way out of the fort and explore the neighbourhood. Passing by Garrison Common, which gets forgotten but is a significant part of the site, I come to Fort York Armouries, built here in 1933.

Fort York Armoury

Further down the way is the 1861 Queen’s Wharf Lighthouse. Like Fort York, it’s a bit removed from its historical situation. It was moved here in 1929 after infill no longer had it on the water. Queen’s Wharf was the location of the recently excavated schooner.

Queen's Wharf Lighthouse

Condo pit

Moving around the weird Fleet Street/Lake Shore Boulevard setup is a pedestrian’s nightmare. There’s car traffic and streetcar tracks to contend with. It’s no wonder the nearby intersection is named one of worst in the city.

Fleet Street Lakeshore
Coming to Grand Magazine Street and Iannuzi Street, there’s markers in the ground honouring their naming. Grand Magazine references the Fort, but Iannuzi refers to the nearby OMNI building  and the station’s founder Daniel Iannuzi. I remember when it was just named CFMT.

Grand Magazine Street plaque

Iannuzi Street plaque

The Tip Top Lofts is a highlight on the street and one of my favourite buildings in the city. It was originally built here in 1929 as a garment factory. After sitting derelict, it reopened as residences in 2006 with an addition that, in my opinion, works very well with the rest of its Art Deco exterior.

Tip Top Lofts

The Bathurst/Lakeshore/Fleet Street intersection is an interesting one for the landmarks that stand here and once stood here.

Aerial view of Bathurst Street and Lakeshore Road. - [after 1929]

Aerial view of Bathurst Street and Lake Shore Boulevard, 1930s?. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Standing at the northwest corner, there’s Douglas Coupland’s toy soldiers,  known as the 2008 Monument to the War of 1812.

Douglas Coupland Monument to the War of 1812

Across the way is a gas station that was once the site of Maple Leaf Stadium, which stood here from 1908 to 1968. It hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team. As Adam Bunch tells in his Illustrated History of Baseball in Toronto, it’s one of a couple of lost baseball venues in the city, joining Hanlan’s Point Stadium on the islands and Riverdale’s Sunlight Park. Today, Stadium Road is only remnant of its existence.

Bathurst & Lakeshore
On the southeast corner is the mentioned OMNI building, known historically as the 1927 Crosse and Blackwell Building.

CrosseBlackwell_Bldg-small-940x703 1927

Crosse and Blackwell Building, 1927. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Rounding things out is the landmark Loblaws Groceterias Warehouse, which sadly, has seen better days. A 1927 design by Sparling Martin and Forbes, it completes the Art Deco row happening here on Lake Shore (Carlton Street has another one going too). 90 years later, ERA architects are going to take their shot at revitalizing the worn out building.

Loblaw Warehouse, Bathurst and Fleet Sts. - January 21, 1929

Loblaws Groceterias Warehouse, 1929. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Loblaws Groceteria Warehouse 2

Heading east and up onto Dan Leckie Way, the neighbourhood makeover continues. This is CityPlace, whose towers and the amazing Canoe Landing Park disguise the fact that there were once extensive railway lands here. Underneath the Gardiner there’s a park, akin to Underpass Park in the West Don Lands.

Gardiner Expressway Dan Leckie Way Park 1

Speaking of railways, at its head I cross at the Puente de Luz pedestrian bridge.

Puente de Luz 1

Puente de Luz 2
Draper Street
is a hidden Victorian gem in the city. Anytime I’m in the area I have to traverse it. Its rowhouses are something else. And there’s a couple of cats that can be found roaming it.

Draper Street 3

Draper Street 1
At Wellington & Portland, I like the unexpected juxtaposition between the house-turned-restaurant and the condo beside it. I have to believe there was once a vintage row of homes here, but the present looks pretty nice.

Portland & Wellington

Across the way, Victoria Memorial Square went from yesterday’s military burial ground to today’s quiet park. Although geographically disconnected from it, it’s part of Fort York National Historic Site. For a deeper read into the park and its history, do read Hiking The GTA’s piece on Victoria Memorial Square.

Victoria Square 2

Victoria Square 3

Back on Bathurst, I end my urban hike at King Street. The Otto Higel Piano Co.  stood at its northwest corner for the better part of the 20th century before being demolished in 1981. It’s one of my favourite lost industrial buildings in the city, and can’t help but wonder what its use would be today. There’s a Second Cup in its place, which I don’t mind getting a coffee from.

Item consists of one photograph. This building was later known as the Clocktower Building and was demolished in the 1980s. *** Local Caption *** Item consists of one photograph. This building was later known as the Clocktower Building and was demolished in the 1980s.

Otto Higel Co., 1919. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The intersection is also a great bookend for the day because of the Wheat Sheaf, which figures into Fort York and Toronto mythology. Soldiers at the fort were said to have dug a tunnel from the garrison to the watering hole. Great story although not true, sadly!

Wheat Sheaf

Fort York sign

Useful Links

Fort York and Garrison Common Maps

Hiking The GTA – Military Burying Grounds

Nathan Ng  – A History of Front & Bathurst – Victorian/Early 20th Century Era

Scenes From Garrison Creek

Scenes From Rush Lane, Queen West, and Niagara

Spacing Magazine – A bird’s-eye tour of the foot of Bathurst Street in the 1950s by Adam Bunch

Scenes From Birkdale Ravine

Near the heart of Scarborough, in a neighbourhood known as Midland Park, one can find Birkdale Ravine.

Birkdale Ravine 1
Birkdale Ravine 2
The entrance to Birkdale Ravine is marked with the expected Parks signage as well as one funded by Livegreen Toronto, but as I get into the park, there’s a wooden post also lovingly welcoming me. But sadly, it isn’t marking the start of the trail or personally wishing me well on my hike. No, the Birkdale Ravine must’ve held a race here some time.

Birkdale Ravine 3
Running through the ravine is the West Highland Creek.  The Highland Creek as a whole snakes diagonally from its mouth in Port Union to L’Amoreaux. Its watershed and ecosystem encompasses the majority of Scarborough (the Rouge River making up a small portion).

Birkdale Ravine 6
The first thing I notice out the creek is that it’s depleted and not very fast flowing, but above all, it’s naturalized. The portions of the Highland I’m used to – the parts north and west of here – have all been channelized with the creek flowing on a bed of concrete.

2015-10-18 10.42.27
The trail itself is serene and tranquil with the changing colours offering great scenery. It’s also well used as recreational space with a number of power walkers crossing my path.

Birkdale Ravine 5
Over by the stream, there’s some activity too. On one side of a bridge (the first of two here), there’s a pair of individuals wading in its waters. On the other side, a flock of Canada geese take their rest.

Birkdale Ravine 7

Birkdale Ravine 8
A great thing about Birkdale ravine is its physical connections to the surrounding community. There are five access points to the park (and the two main ones at Ellesmere and Brimley).  Some neighbourhoods are defined by their parks (Trinity Bellwoods, Withrow Park), and, it’s amazing for the people of Midland Park to have this gem literally in their backyards.

Birkdale Ravine 9
Birkdale Ravine 10
But with everything gorgeous and amazing, I have to have a little chuckle at the shabby signage by the second bridge of the trail. Replacements, maybe?

Birkdale Ravine 11

Birkdale Ravine 12
The path ends at Brimley Road, where there’s a marker from the Scarborough Historical Society. The north bank of the ravine, where I just came from, was the site of a Wendat village excavated in 1956. The plaque also mentions a burial ground in a park east of here. There’s a great Historicist piece on that.

Birkdale Ravine 13
With that, it’s the end of my trek. Highland Creek continues south through Thomson Park, but that’s for another day. I make a plan to explore this waterway little by little.

Birkdale Ravine 14
Useful Links

Just Inside Scarborough – Hiking in Birkdale Ravine

I Heart Scarborough – Thomson Park & The Birkdale Ravine: A Mini-Essay

Scenes From East Don Trail

The East Don Trail goes by a few names, each having something to do with its layered history. Entering from Wynford Drive, the path begins with a long corridor and a steep enough descent.

East Don Trail (2)
East Don Trail (3)
It’s not long before a railroad – the Canadian National Railway, to be specific – runs its course overhead.  Under it, there’s an installation by Robert Sprachman entitled ‘High Water Mark’ which presents a message about the Don’s changing water levels over the years.

East Don Trail Canadian National Railroad 1

East Don Trail High Water Mark (1)
Not a short while later, another towering railway intersects the way. This is the Canadian Pacific Railway. It’s the same one that stretches to British Columbia and the same one that was promised to the province in exchange for joining Confederation. It started operation in Toronto in 1884. On the other side, there’s some more art.

East Don Trail Canadian Pacific Railroad 2 (2)

East Don Trail Art (1)
Past those, there’s a man made wetland. I’ve seen them in other Toronto ravines. They’re meant to ranaturalize the spaces with birds and other wildlife.

East Don Trail wetland
Speaking of, as I’m examining it, a smiling traveler alerts me that it’s my lucky day: the heron is out! I have a long look at the spot he points me to, but there’s no heron. Darn.

East Don Trail look out
The path splits off and I make a left, passing a bridge over looking the Don. This leads to the famed Rainbow Tunnel, a Toronto landmark in my eyes. Anyone that uses this stretch of the Don Valley Parkway, which opened here in the 1960s, knows the Rainbow Tunnel.

Rainbow Tunnel (1)

 Rainbow Tunnel (2)
The inside is immaculately painted with streetscape and winter scenery.

Rainbow Tunnel (3)

Rainbow Tunnel (6)
There’s a second tunnel too that passes under the DVP, although this one is less ornate. It does offer some political insights, though.

DVP Tunnel (2)

DVP Tunnel (4)
Past the tunnel is the Moccasin Trail. I’m not sure about its naming, but it’s here I pause to have my lunch as I watch as joggers traverse the path.

Moccasin Trail
Circling back under the tunnels and over the bridge to where I came from, there’s a staghorn sumac to greet me.

East Don Trail Sumach (2)
As the path curves with the river on one side and fortifying armor stone on the other, this might be a good time to mention that the East Don Trail bookends the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area, a natural preserve that stretches from Lawrence Avenue to the Forks of the Don.

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area (5)
Its namesake was a fierce environment advocate who actually had a cottage at The Forks. Sauriol’s story and the grand story of the Don is recounted in excellent detail in Reclaiming the Don by Jennifer Bonnell, which is a 2015 Heritage Toronto Award recipient. (And while I’m plugging books, Jason Ramsay-Brown’s Toronto Ravines has a great chapter on the East Don Trail.)

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area (2)
A highlight of the trail is a tranquil little rest stop overlooking a pond. There’s a couple of few bird-themed markers leading up to it.

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area (9)

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area Toronto Bird Flyways

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area Owl
Charles Sauriol Conservation Area pond
To add to the name game, this part of the East Don Trail is known as Milne Hollow or Milneford Mills, a one-time 19th century industrial community. Two Heritage Toronto plaques tell the story of the area’s rise & fall.

My mind draws comparisons to Todmorden Mills further down the river. It too was a former industrial community with mills running along the Don. Both sites have been renaturalized too. But whereas (some of) Todmorden’s structures survive, there’s practically nothing left of Milne Hollow.

Heritage Toronto Milne Hollow Plaque 1

Heritage Toronto Milne Hollow Plaque 2
A short while later, at the end of the trail, a long green pathway leads to the Milneford farmhouse, one of the last historical remnants of Milne Hollow. It’s looking worse for wear, and, because of it, is surrounded by chain-link fence. The Gothic Revival house dates back to about 1865 and is undergoing restoration (I hope). Perhaps its new life will it see as a community museum, in the same vein as Todmorden Mills.

Milne Hollow

Milneford House (2)
Old Lawrence Avenue winds up to the main street and is my exit point on this hike. This excellent Urban Toronto piece recounts its past as the original route of Lawrence Avenue, including the original bridge that spanned the Don.

Old Lawrence Avenue

Charles Sauriol Conservation Area fish

Note: These adventures were had late September.

Useful Links

Walk the Don – Milne Hollow Self-Guided Walk