Old — Chainlink — New

27 April 2015 – Well, it seems that way, when you venture into Toronto’s rapidly changing West Don Lands neighbourhood. It’s exciting, but disorienting too. Construction, with attendant chainlink fencing, everywhere you look. There’s a moment when I laugh, thinking, “I might as well have just arrived from Oslo or Harare, it’s all strange to me…”

But before that moment, I do for a while know where I am. I’ve decided to head first for the Distillery District, and approach Chainlink City from there.

As I approach the Distillery District’s Mill Street entrance, my mind is very much on old & new, replacements & juxtapositions, so that’s what my eye notices as well.

towers in the Distillery District

Soaring new condos bracket the old Boiler House chimney, 1884-1891 era. I visit a couple of the side lanes within the now-repurposed complex of Victorian industrial architecture (once home to Gooderham & Worts). Down Tank House Lane, I get a foretaste of all the chainlink to come …

Tank House Lane love locks

Yessir, an ever-growing number of locks chained to the LOVE wire frame against a laneway wall. Swarms of people posing for pictures, and reading lock inscriptions aloud to each other. I just like the way all those locks cast shadows on the wall…

Now for Chainlink City, as I choose to call it — the old industrial area roughly south of Eastern Avenue & east of Cherry Street (which is just behind the Distillery District). The big catalyst for all this renewal is the upcoming Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, which will be concentrated around here.

I walk back up Trinity Street (Cherry Street being fenced off) and discreetly eavesdrop as I pass a small knot of people, with an energetic young woman in the middle gesturing & explaining something to the rest of them.

Trinity St. south of Eastern

“The medals will be here,” she is saying, “and you …” I am out of range. I can only guess that she is instructing some Games staff or volunteers about medals logistics, which — another guess — will be handed out in what at the moment is still fenced-off shambolic space.

But what I really want to peer at through the chainlink is a smidge farther east, right at Cherry & Front streets. Though the building will first serve as residence for Games athletes, its legacy owner is the YMCA, and it is therefore already branded as the Cooper Koo Family YMCA Centre.

Cooper Koo Family YMCA

I feel ridiculously proprietorial as I peer through the fence. I’ve just begun doing some volunteer writing for the new Y’s newsletter, and in a week or so I’ll actually be in the new building. Correction: up on its roof, helping to document the collaborative project of installing its new green roof. I did this for Central Y; I’m eager to do it again.

I start east on Eastern Ave, seeing & thinking about the old/new contrasts all around. Humble old brick structures on Eastern, with the sassy balconies of a new condo complex jutting out at the far corner. (“Me! Look at meeee!”)

looking east on Eastern Ave

It’s just beyond here that I ask someone to tell me where I am. Bayview & Lower River Street? Thank you … (Then I spot street signs. Where were my eyes?)

Another good place for contrasting photos, though this time the contrast is city/nature, since both views are new/new.

To the north, more mixed-use new towers flying up, tucked behind their chainlink fencing of course …

Byview & Lower River, looking north

… while, to the south, Corktown Common, the 7.3 Ha park that opened in 2013. Talk about transforming old industrial land! Now it features a central raised landmass (flood protection), woven through with marshland, ponds, native species trees & shrubs, and a play/community pavilion.

Corktown Common, from Bayview & Lower River

We’re having a late spring, everything is delayed — except for the birds, madly claiming territory & building nests. Except for toddlers as well, almost as noisy as the birds and, under their mothers’ watchful eyes, claiming slide/swing/play territory of their own.

I think of starting back north on the trail along the Don River from here — the park borders the west side of the river — but no, the trail is inaccessible, locked away behind a chainlink fence. Temporary, I hope.

So I zigzag north a bit on assorted streets & find myself in Underpass Park. It is well-named. Play equipment & a skateboard area are tucked under three (count ’em) converging overpasses: Adelaide East, Eastern, and Richmond East.

in Underpass Park

In I go, out I come. On up Lower River St. for a bit, fascinated by the very, very black motif of much of the new architecture. Particularly fascinated by all the pale punctuation on this tower, though enjoy it while you can: once they paint or otherwise clad the underside of all those balconies, the contrast will surely disappear.

underside of balconies unfinished

Enough city! Queen St. East is just ahead, which means access to the trail along the Don, and I get myself onto it. Lots of cyclists whizzing by, some runners, not many other walkers. I smile at the Merchants of Green Coffee Cafe & Jam Factory across the river, just south of Dundas.

Merchants of Green Coffee, from trail on west side of Don River

It really was a jam factory, back in the 1880s, and had at least one subsequent industrial life before its rescue and reinvention as home to MGC. We not only drop in every Saturday morning, I am now doing some volunteer writing for them as well, about their Cafe Solar project.

What fun, two of my new affiliations in the same walk, one in a 21st-c building that has yet to open and the other in a 19th-c building that preserves our industrial past.

More old/new architecture as I walk under the Gerrard St. bridge — Bridgepoint Health, completed by Diamond Schmitt Architects in 2013, and, tucked between its bulk & the edge of the bridge, a glimpse of the Don Jail, completed in 1864.

under Gerrard St. Bridge facing east, with Bridgepoint Health & old Don Jail

The old jail is now all spiffed up & serves as the admin centre for Bridgepoint. Until very recently, it was totally unspiffed & still housed prisoners.

I leave the trail at Riverdale Park. I am grateful I only have to carry my own two feet up the stairs to the pedestrian bridge, not a bicycle.

access steps to pedestrian bridge across the Don, linking  Riverdale Park East & West

Not quite the last stairs of the day. This bridge swoops down, either side of the Don, to flood plain level. From there, on the western side, you climb some 80-odd steps back up to the park proper.

Somebody was obviously very proud of climbing those stairs!

top of steps, Riverdale Park West

Let us all now contemplate our goals, as here instructed, & vow to turn every staircase we see into our very own personal piece of fitness equipment …

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2 Comments

  1. sylvie greeniaus

     /  28 April 2015

    Hi Penny, If you want to get a look inside the new Y, volunteer for a shift. Sarah.Beldick@YMCAGTA.ORG contact this woman, who is the new ass GM, she is looking for volunteers to work the green roof between now and May 22nd.

    Reply
    • Oh, we are totally on the same page. I know Sarah from her days at Central Y, and it is for Sarah that I am now writing for the Cherry St. newsletter. I’ll be up on the roof, not helping with the installing, but interviewing people who are helping, and telling their stories in the newsletter. That is now my form of volunteering. But I’m delighted you are so informed, and so enthusiastic. Maybe I’ll see you on the roof!

      Reply

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