Lost & Found on the Lower Don

27 December 2015 – I’m not lost at first, but it doesn’t take long — the usual result of plunging into the still-morphing trails & streets of Toronto’s West Donlands.

No,  I repeat, at first all is clear, or as clear as it can be on such a raw & foggy day. Faded advertising swims up out of the brickwork on an old Gooderham & Worts building at Trinity & Mill streets …

one of the old ooderham & Worts buildings, at Trinity & Mill streets

and I angle on through the Distillery District (G&W industrial complex, reborn), heading south-east, my destination — somewhere out there — the Lower Don Recreational Trail. I people-watch as I go. Lots of them to watch, all out to shop, eat, drink, chatter, experience all they can on this holiday afternoon.

Happiest of all: a little boy in waterproof boots, who is puddle-stomping his way all along Tank House Lane. Jump, SPLASH! Run, jump, SPLOSH! Leap, SPLASH-SPLASH, & shout with joy. His father watches with amusement. “Puddles are the best,” I say in passing, & we grin at each other.

Out to Cherry St., on south to Lake Shore Blvd. E., I take my bearings down here by Keating Channel, and, good grief, it is one dull, grungy day.

Lake Shore & Cherry, looking west

But my mitts, boots & parka are up to the task, and I’ve got myself onto the bottom curve of the Lower Don Trail, so all is well with me, thank you very much.

I double back under the Gardiner Expressway, heading north (I assume & trust) with the Trail. Relatively old expressway; new Don Lands / Corktown towers rising to the north. Graffiti in between.

under the Gardiner Expressway, on the Lower Don Trail

The Trail follows the west side of a railway track — I say “a” because more than one run though the area, and I can’t keep … oops. I was about to say, “I can’t keep track.” Pun not intended, let’s say, “I can’t keep them straight.”

About to cross the mystery tracks, more expressway ramps ahead, graffiti and general downtown grit all around.

at a Lower Don Trail railway crossing

They are cleaning up the Port Lands and the West Don Lands like crazy — and I am totally in favour — but that old industrial history is still all around us. And I’m glad of it. If everything were glossy-pretty, it would all be too much like a stage set.

Even so, I welcome unexpected bursts of colour!

pole near trail directional signs

Two poles, both with these wonderful spiral wrappings.

By now I am lost. Not worried, since I’ll end up somewhere recognizable; but lost, as in not clear about exactly where I am. All the more so, since I’ve been passing Trail Closed, Trail Detour signs.

I fret — very mildly, you understand — that the newly-muraled Bala Underpass may be somewhere in the Closed section. This would be a pity, since I’d made it an objective for this walk.

Ah well.

And then, almost immediately after those spiral-wrapped poles, I have a chance to get my bearings. I am at a fork in the trail, with handy signage: Lake Shore E. Trail off to the right (no thank you); Lower Don Trail keep left (yes yes).

So I keep left, & find myself walking up the west side of the Don River, with yet more bridges & graffiti. I’m quite taken by Mr. Green Sun God under the bridge.

northward up the Don, from Lower Don Trail near Corktown Common

‘Round the next bend — and there it is!

The Bala Underpass. It runs beneath railway tracks, linking, as promised, the Lower Don Trail with Corktown Common, the new-ish park created out of former brownfield. I can see the steps up into the park through the striped Underpass arch, and the up-curved park pavilion roof just above train track level.

Bala Underpass, from the east

I study the Underpass mural, think it designed to reflect train wig-wag signals.

detail, Bala Underpass

Later, reading about the mural’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, I find that I am right — but only partially. The concept is richer, more satisfying, than that.

Artist Rolande Souliere was on hand to explain her vision behind the piece. The use of colours—red, yellow, black and white—symbolizes the four sacred directions of the Aboriginal Medicine Wheel. Diagonal strips running across the tunnel evoke the movements that the First Nations took on the numerous footpaths and trails of the Don Valley, which was a significant hunting and fishing land for 12,000 years. The vivid artwork also references the urban navigational symbols of barricades, boundaries and roadways for a more modern touch to the piece.

Through I go & up the steps into Corktown Common, starting high in the pavilion play area, with its squishy turquoise recycled-tire play mounds and craggy rock edging …

Corktown Common play area near the pavilion

and ending low, by a pond with near-by bushes still full of mystery berries. (Mystery yes, but native species, also yes. That’s the deal, in this park.)

Corktown Common pond

Out of the park, through Lawren Harris Sq. onto the very southern end of Lower River Street, and north I go. And  laugh.

Because once again I have managed to stumble on Underpass Park, with its totemic pillars at the skateboard end.

Underpass Park pillars, near skateboard area

I stuff my camera back in my pocket. “I’ve already taken photos here & blogged about them,” I tell myself. “I won’t take any more!”

But I do …

Underpass Park

and I do …

Underpass Park

and I do.

Underpass Park

And then, I really do stuff my camera back in my pocket, and head home.

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Leave a comment


  1. the street art gives the spaces a happy energy…a fresh and clean look…happy day to you Penny.

  2. I’m glad you did!

  3. bobgeor

     /  27 December 2015

    I like that ghost sign. Will seek it out when I’m in the area. Did you catch what it read?

    • It’s on the old G&W building N/W corner of Mill & Trinity — still just boarded up, perhaps yet to become part of the Distillery District (or more likely, condo-ized). Didn’t try to read the words, just liked the look of it — the words may be as clear in that photo as in reality.

  4. Wonderful colourful reuse of old brown sites Penny💕

    • They’re doing good work in our lakefront east end. It was the usual 19th-c waterfront industry, with the usual 19th-c standards so by late 20th c. we had a large, delapidated & very ‘brown’ expanse of land to rethink. Now we begin to see the results, & it’s encouraging.

  5. Being a bit lost makes for adventure! A great walk!

    • As my Tuesday companion, Phyllis, says when we get lost or need to double back: “Well, we’re out for a walk –& it’s all walking.” But yes, I do like the surprises that come with not knowing what may come next. The great advantage of going walkies.

  6. Oh great you went to check it out. The bala underpass took a lot of work to paint.


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

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