Deserted wilds in city's centre
Howard Huggett Seven News, April 6, 1979
Even a Toronto winter comes to an end, and the 1979-79 one is now terminally ill and may even be dead. This is the time when people develop an urgent desire to go looking for something green, to marvel once again at the first stirrings of life as it emerges from its long winter sleep. You can do a bit of this in a public park, but a park is a poor substitute for a more natural stretch of countryside, like a river valley. Besides, Ward Seven is not well supplied with parks. However, it does have a river valley right in the middle of it. It is badly neglected and under-used, but that’s our fault, not the Don’s. The little river is doing its best to provide us with a sample of nature in the midst of a huge city. The big problem is, how do you get down to the river-banks to enjoy the sights and sounds of a stream?
One way, as I have pointed out before, is to leave Ward Seven and follow Broadview Avenue north to Pottery Road and downhill to the river. From there a road leads up the valley for quite a distance past a very nice stretch of water. Wherever there is a weir or some fast water you can actually hear the sound of it over the roar of the traffic on the Parkway. But you cannot go from there down the valley to that broad area that lies north and west of Riverdale Park, stretching underneath the Viaduct and enclosed by two railroads and two traffic arteries until it reaches the great bend in the river.
This area lies temptingly, spread out in the middle of all those towers of brick and stone that house thousands of and thousands of city dwellers. Many of them must have an urge, particularly at this time of the year, to get down to the riverbank, and they can do that, although they will not find any sign that tells them how. The Metro authorities have been so intent on providing thoroughfares for cars to travel up and down the valley that they have made no provision for pedestrian access to this convenient area with such a potential for improvement. You can get there by taking the approach road that leads from Bloor Street at Castle Frank down the hill and across the valley towards the Parkway. If you slow down and watch carefully you won’t miss the broken-down road that leads to the right and south after crossing the river. This road is used by trucks to dump snow and other refuse into the area, but it is illegal to bicycle or walk to it. (I find that this restriction makes the operation more enjoyable.)
A walk through this area, with its bumpy, neglected road, its acres of weeds and occasional debris, will set you thinking about how it could be made more attractive. Before you do that, you should know that there is a plan to improve this spot. It is part of a larger plan for the lower Don Valley, presented by the Parks & Recreation Committee and adopted by Metro Council on September 24, 1974. Yes, that’s the right year, 1974. Some of the recommendations have been carried out, but it is very difficult to notice any difference in the general appearance of the area around the Bloor Street Viaduct. As for the proposal to build a pedestrian/bicycle path system down the valley from the Todmorden historical site off Pottery Road to the Riverdale Park area – that was scheduled for 1975 and 1976, but we are now into 1979, and there is no sign of a start on this project. What happened?
If you look at a map of Metro Toronto Bicycle Network you will see that there are already bicycle paths along a stretch of the Don north of the Todmorden historical site and a part of Taylor Creek that flows into the Don system. There is a similar path along the lake shore from the mouth of the Don and there is a path down the valley of the lower Humber right to the lake shore and eastward to the downtown area. This map indicates plans for more paths in the upper Don Valley, eastward along the lake shore all the way to the mouth of the Rouge River, and others in the west end, running down the valleys of the rivers west of the Humber. But nothing at all is shown for the Don Valley south of the Todmorden historical site, which lies in the centre of a high-density area that is poorly supplied with accessible green space.
If we are ever going to get a bicycle and pedestrian path, together with other improvements in the area south of Pottery Road we will have to speak up so that our elected representatives can hear us. When I was a little kid in the country there was a saying: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. But we will have to do better than squeak; it may have to be a roar.
This article was published in Seven News, Volume 9, Number 23, April 6, 1979