Different River, Same Lake, Yet More Streets

7 August 2014 — You got it: a shameless play on the title of my previous post. This time the Tuesday Walking Society follows the east-end Don River to Lake Ontario, but spends even more time on city streets.

Or, quite often, under them.

lane opp. 1 Sumach at Eastern Av ramps


Our first target is the wonderfully — and accurately — named Underpass Park, which has transformed the grubby wasteland you’d expect to find under a tangle of overpass ramps. (In this case the convergence of Richmond St., Adelaide St., and Eastern Avenue.)

But we meander as we go, stopping to contemplate some of the startling results when 20th-21st c. transportation arteries come crashing through old Victorian neighbourhoods. I stand under part of an access ramp to get that shot of homes that are practically under it themselves, near Sumach & Eastern.

One block east, at Sackville, stands a former primary school now reborn as Inglenook Community School. I drag Phyllis onto its grounds, not for the school itself but for the historical plaque I remember standing in one corner.

Yes, I’m right: a plaque to Thornton & Lucie Blackburn, whose home once stood on the site, and who are remembered for (among other things), founding Toronto’s first cab company in the 1830s. Well, humph, you’re thinking, the “other things” had better be more impressive than that, to merit an historical plaque.

Yes, they are.

Blackburn plaque, Eatern & Sumach

Isn’t that a wonderful story? Hats off to the people both sides of the border who defended the couple — and even more so to the Blackburns themselves.

Phyllis & I are now focused on getting ourselves to Underpass Park. We last saw it in snow & ice, just months after its opening, so we expect it to be better developed by now, not to mention a lot warmer. We’re on Lower River St., we hear a kind of rumble in the sky — not the usual jet or helicopter noise, different, heavier & deeper-throated — and we look up.

“It’s the Lancaster!” breathes Phyllis. “She’s on her way!” (I did NOT get the following shot. Thank you, CBC., for this stock shot of Canada’s Avro Lancaster MK. X.) Avro Lancaster, Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

A goosebump-y moment. In the whole wide world, only two Lancaster Bombers are still air-worthy: one in England and one here, housed in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, ON.

We’d both heard on the news that she was to fly out today, on the first leg of her 3-day trip to England, where she’ll be part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Tour right through late September. What luck to have seen her.

And then we tumble ourselves down into Underpass Park.

Underpass Park, under ramps of Adelaide, Richmond & Eastern Av.

Well-named, right? Now that the site is cleaned up and reinvented, those curving ramps provide attractive frames for the park’s resources Imagine how claustrophobic, how glowering, those ramps would be, if the ground below were still wasteland.

We poke around, Phyllis swings on the swings, then we climb an access stairway back toward the upper level. Which frames a view for us of the skateboard facility at the Park’s eastern end.

skateboard class, Underpass Park

We linger, but nobody puts on a show, and only that one child on the right even has a skateboard, though all are helmeted. We conclude it’s a walk-through, part of the instruction being laid on for some organization’s summer day camp kiddies.

Next stop, the equally new West Don Lands Park, which stretches south from Eastern Ave. toward Lake Ontario, between the Don River to the east and the curving final stretch of Bayview Avenue to the west. All this is part of a general reinvention of the grubby old Dock Lands and environs, one catalyst being next summer’s Pan-American Games, which Toronto will host here at the waterfront. New buildings and facilities going in, one large chunk of them initially for the Games, though later to revert to legacy owners and city use.

River to one side of the park, towers and construction to the west, railway tracks and expressway (and ultimately the lake) to the south. Much of the time, the park is framed by the city’s tight embrace.

West Don Lands Park looking west

But sometimes, you look around and all you can see is nature — ponds, trails, naturalized green space.

West Don Lands Park

Then you crest another hill, look south, and there’s the city again. Right here, a whole nest of GO Trains, the urban/suburban network of public transit.

West Don Lands Park, looking south

The young woman ignores them. They are out there on the horizon, she is here, closely enclosed by green space, her own mental space, and the rhythm of her exercise routine.

We circle into Corktown Common, the facility-rich hub of the Park. To one side, a glorious slide, where a small child is firmly stomping her way up, up, UP …

slde in West Don Lands Park

… in order to slide triumphantly down, down, DOWN.

the slide, West Don Lands Park


While yet more kids — that skateboard class, it tuns out — are jumping on & off  the swings. Their counsellors keep patient, friendly (but watchful) eyes on the activity, and also run logistics for washroom visits.


Corktown Common, West Don Lands Park

Phyllis and I head south again, along the Don, here tightly channelled and criss-crossed with bridges.

Don River near Gardiner Expressway

We decide to walk right to the mouth of the Don before looping west & north again. This takes us along more bike trail and past great shaggy stands of shrubbery, some of it peeking over hoardings where further redevelopment work is being done.

One of the hoardings sports a poster with a lot of small print under the huge word: WONSCOTANACH. This — the small print tells us — was the name the native Anishnaabe people gave this river, a fact either unknown to or ignored by Governor Simcoe, who bestowed the current name some time in the 1790s.

And on we go, out of the woods, onto Cherry St., crossing first Lakeshore Blvd. and then the Keating Channel, this last crossing thanks to one of the street’s two bascule bridges. (Drawbridge. Moveable bridge with a counterweight. Like the Tower Bridge in London. OK, considerably less imposing, but same principle.)

“Mouth of the Don,” says Phyllis. We stare west into Lake Ontario.

Lake Ontario from Cherry St. bascule bridge at the Keating Channel

And it’s maybe that awareness of the lake that makes me stop, as we’re walking beside Lakeshore Blvd. again, with the Gardiner Expresway booming overhead, as we look for the nearest safe place to cross and head north.

I think how all this used to be water, part of the lake, until Toronto went on its infill spree and turned it into land instead. That’s why Front St. was accurately named at the time, though now many blocks from the water, and why so many old warehouses are also now stranded far from water.

The Gooderham & Worts Distillery (now reborn as the Distillery District complex) was on the water, of course it was.

Stone Distillery, part of Gooderham & Worts Distillery, from Lakeshore Blvd East

So I block traffic sounds, erase streets & tracks & structures, and imagine I am aboard ship, perhaps bringing supplies, perhaps set to carry away crates of liquor instead. And look, I’m getting close.

There’s the central stone distillery building (built 1859-60), to guide me in.


Leave a comment


  1. Thank you so much – you are s knowledgeable about Toronto – do you have City Guides who take people on history tours of the area
    Like the story about the escape from slavery and cab company but it is all so built up although I know there are ‘lungs’ there

  2. Rick

     /  8 August 2014

    You’ll be pleased to know that the Canadian Lancaster landed safely at RAF Coningsby just after 14:00 BST today, even if the first joint flight with the UK based Lancaster had to be postponed due to bad weather (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-28703745)

    • Thank you for this! I’d made a mental note to watch TV news this evening, but now I can click on the BBC as well. It was just so terrific to see it fly over…

  3. You are such a great travel writer for your own city Further to another comment here- have you considered publishing these walks?


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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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