River, Lake & Lots of Streets

31 July 2014 — Phyllis’ route guaranteed great diversity for the Tuesday Walking Society this week. Bloor-line subway to Old Mill Station; trail south along the Humber River to Lake Ontario; lakeside paths eastward back into the city; and then streets & streets until our legs wear out or we reach home.

“It’ll be longish,” mused Phyllis, with the usual Maritime flair for understatement.

Humber River trail south, from  Old Mill subway station at Bloor

So here we are, ready for “longish,” dismissing subway & ritzy condos overhead as we set boots to trail on Route 15 South  along the Humber River.

It’s the final stage of a watershed — largest in the Toronto region, first inhabited 12,000 years ago — that rises in the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine and covers 903 sq. km. as it  tumbles south to the lake. No wonder it has been designated a Canadian Heritage River.

Squirrels, birds, one private boat club, lots of walkers/cyclists/dogs, wildflowers as we go. And a mesmerized child, watching her own private sail-past of  Canada Geese.

Canada geese on the Humber River

It’s not the usual majestic glide, these guys are paddling like crazy against the current. The river is higher and stronger than usual, aftermath of a rainstorm — not flash flood level, but powerful enough that one prudent dog owner decided to keep his pooch well away.

For a while (and unlike, say, Taylor Creek), there are no reminders of the city all around. Not until we approach the major E/W arteries near the lake, first the Queensway and then the Gardiner Expressway.

The trail passes under them both, and of course the bridgework is graffiti’d. Given that (I think) there’s a squatter population around here, one inscription under the Queensway seems more poignant than jaunty — even now, in the warmth of summer.

under the Queensway bridge across the Humber River

We continue under the Gardiner Expressway, look back upriver through its arches. City grit right here; river-nature-bullrushes just there.

view up the Humber R., from under the Gardiner Expressway

We think that particular stand of bullrushes is the riverside edge of the Lower Humber Wetland Complex Restoration project now underway. Signs around its fenced-off perimeter explain that, among other things, the project will see the installation of a fishway and a water level control structure. Purpose: to create a healthy ecosystem that allows free passage to native fish, while restricting invasive species like the common carp.

South of the Gardiner, one of my favourite bridges comes into sight — the Humber River pedestrian bridge right at lake edge.

Humber R. pedestrian bridge at lake Ontario

We poke around for a while to the west of that bridge, but finally take it, heading east toward the city.

We pause long enough to watch three canoes go by, ones we couldn’t quite figure out while they were still at a distance. They feature all the whooping and noise of dragon boat teams, but very little of the skill.


Day camp kiddies, whooping and being whooped at by their instructors, digging in paddles with more energy than precision.

day-camp canoers at mouth of Humber River

We shout encouragement at this canoe-load. “We’re last!” one voice wails back. “Who cares!” we cry. Then we giggle at the love-locks — Phyllis notes that canny bridge-side merchants in Paris actually sell locks for the purpose — and walk on along Lake Ontario.

It’s quite a broad pathway. Also quite a broad swatch of parkland between path and Lakeshore Blvd. West but, even so, traffic is constant, heavy and noisy. Quite extraordinary how you can tune it out. Look right, not left; focus on greenery and lake and sand. There.

lakeside park & path, east of Humber River

We pass assorted signs as we go, including one near the Boulevard Club marking the spot where Marilyn Bell came ashore on September 9, 1954. I had remembered that the 16-year-old was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario, I’d forgotten the backstory.

The Canadian National Exhibition, as a publicity stunt, offered $10,000 to American long-distance swimmer Florence Chadwick to cross the lake; Bell felt the offer snubbed Canadian swimmers and, with encouragement from the Toronto Star newspaper, took up the challenge herself, even though the prize was only on offer to the American.

Chadwick and one other independent swimmer both dropped out partway. Bell made it — and the CNE gave her the money. (What else could they do?)

Soon another sign, to mark another crossing from the American side to our own. Not with the same friendly intent, and rather earlier in time.

plaque near Boulevard Club, on Lake Ontario

Oh those dastardly Americans, landing here on April 27, 1813, occupying York for 3-4 days and burning down our parliament building before they leave town. (British troops burning down the White House? Retaliation.) Ancient history now; the sign looks out on recreational boats at anchor, and cyclists taking a mid-day break.

Then another vignette of maritime history — a tall ship. Well, a replica tall ship, but a stirring sight for all that.

tall ship on Lake Ontario

One more ship, this one in Coronation Park, my favourite ship of all.

An “exploded” hull, in fact: homage to Canadian participation in World War II (1 in 12 of our total population was on active service), and especially to the Royal Canadian Navy. One section of the hull is a map of the North Atlantic, pinpointing where each RCN vessel was lost in those dreadful years.

memorial to the RCN in Coronation Park

We finally abandon the lake near Bathurst St., head north across train tracks and zig east briefly on Front St. so we can again enjoy the one-block Victoriana of Draper St. between Front and Wellington. Profusions of summer blooms in the tiny front yards, potted plants up and down front-door steps.

And a cat.

summer on Draper St.!

Phyllis and I part ways at Queen and Spadina. She’s going to grab TTC for home (she lives considerably farther north than I do); I decide to keep walking. For a while. No promises about all the way home.

So on I go, and as usual the streetscape is diverting and the walking itself is hypnotic. Such visual & aural jumble on Spadina! At first I’m affronted, still tuned to the peace of river- and lakeside; then  I yield to it, dive into it. A great boiling stretch of white water, I tell myself, clinging to maritime imagery.

anime house, Spadina nr Elm St.

Fierce eyes advertise a Japanese anime house near Elm St., where I again turn east, more magnetic than the all-sorts shop next door.

A short pause for a mixed-berry/yogurt smoothie on McCaul St. (very good), and I’m restored enough to walk just a little farther.

More eyes, but not anime-fierce this time. Instead, pensive for Marilyn Monroe, crinkled with warmth for Mother Teresa.

Ryerson Image Centre

These giant heads are part of the portrait façade that graces the Ryerson [University] Image Centre on Gould St., dedicated to photography and the related arts. Frankly though, I don’t stop for them, graphic as they are. I am bemused by the people on chairs and on the boulder, expanding so luxuriously into the summer sun.

In winter, this pond is a skating rink.

And then, to my own amazement, I do indeed walk all the way home. Phyllis later emails to report she did the string-on-map trick (we are without pedometers at the moment), and determined we’d walked 15 km. from the Old Mill Station to Queen & Spadina. I add in the rest of my walk home, and decide to claim boasting rights for 20 km.

As a Maritimer would say … “Longish.”

Leave a comment


  1. My goodness that was quite a stretch! Yes I like the pedestrian bridge – it has style. Another enjoyable walk but I am glad that I was reading about it and not doing the reality.

  2. Wow – good for you! I’d never heard the back story on the Bell crossing either – nice bit of history. I may be a grump but I don’t like this new fad of placing locks on bridges…they certainly look awful to me in Paris and they even had a bridge crack under the weight!

    • The most bizarre was the lock we saw that, when we read the inscription, had been put there to celebrate a divorce! Total contradiction of the supposed symbolism

  3. That was some walk Penny, and what a lovely dose of history. I didn’t know there was a York in Canada as well as a New York in the USA….all I suppose named after the original York in the UK 🙂

    • Oh yes, first thing homesick settlers do is re/name everything in sight for places “back home.” So for e.g. there is a Perth Ontario as well as a Perth Australia, all in honour of your Perth. Brit colonists first renamed this aboriginal settlement as York, then re-renamed it Toronto in the 1830s. Before being named New York, NYC was called New Batavia.


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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