Saturday, June 20, 2020

Scarborough to Downtown Toronto

As the crew from the John Muir Project observed, some days are simply about making your miles, nothing more. Today felt like such a day for us.


We were already melting when we made our way to the Ajax GO station at 6:00 am, and when we headed back up to the trail from Eglinton GO station half an hour later it seemed to have gotten 10 degrees hotter already. Today came with a heat warning, and prompted cooling centers to open their doors across the city. It was a scorcher.


For the first hour or so we followed the Pan Am Path down the Gatineau Hydro Corridor. The 80 km Pan Am Path is a multi-use pathway that connects Toronto neighborhoods from Rouge River to Brampton. It is a legacy project from the 2015 Pan American Games and Parapan American Games that were held in Toronto.

The paved bike path was busy with walkers, joggers, and cyclists when we set out. At first we passed between grassy areas rich with wildflowers and scrubby habitat that were part of a meadow restoration effort. There were a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and American Robins enjoying the restored habitat, as well as many small flocks of American Goldfinches. Although meadow is important habitat for birds and wildlife, it sadly provides no shade.

We found some relief under the trees of Thomson Memorial Park, which is a large greenspace that is home to the Scarborough Historical Museum. The Thomson's were one of the founding families of Toronto, and some of their houses and other buildings from 1790's can be found in the park, along with baseball and soccer facilities, an off-leash dog park, and ample picnic areas.


On the far side of the shady oasis we found ourselves back in the baking hydro corridor for a short stretch, until we threaded our way through the winding streets of a neighborhood, following Cycle Route 26. We enjoyed the beautiful front gardens, some of which were full of both flowers and vegetables, and many of which included shade trees. It was an ethnically diverse community, and many of the residents were out on their porches, enjoying the sunny morning. Some waved and called hello as we passed, and one very kind family offered us water.

Although the neighborhood was peaceful, quiet, and pleasant, there was almost no directional signage. I never really enjoy hiking when I have to keep my head down, constantly looking at the phone to see where the next turn is. If this had been a day when the offline Great Trail App refused to load, we would have had no way of knowing where the trail was. Over the course of the day we encountered only four or five Great Trail signs, and none of them were placed in such a way as to indicate which direction we should go. Perhaps one way to introduce more people to the Great Trail would be to increase its visibility within the GTA with signs, information plaques, and a pavilion similar to what we find in many other communities.


We climbed a metal ramp that spiraled up to a pedestrian and cyclist overpass for the Subway, and then entered Jack Goodall Park, where several very lively basketball games were being played outside the community center.

In the next stretch of hydro corridor we passed the Givendale Garden, which was a large community garden. Lots of people were out tending to their plots, which looked jam packed with various plants. By this point the hydro corridor was no longer dedicated to meadow regeneration, but a little farther along we passed two cricket games that were in full swing. I would love to learn more about this game, which is so popular in many parts of the world.


The next section of trail made us seriously question how the Pan Am pathway had been designed. As we hiked down a sidewalk past the Solid Waste drop-off center, and then entered an unappealing industrial park, it felt like we weren't seeing the best side of Toronto. To make matters worse, the industrial park smelled very strongly of freshly baking chocolate chip muffins, making us hungry. We began to dream of the Waterfront Trail, with it's cool lake breezes, nice lake views,and occasional cafes.

After the industrial section we entered the Parkview Hills neighbourhood, which was clearly a wealthy community. Large houses sat on well landscaped lots, and the expensive cars in the driveways were shaded by tall trees.

At the top of a tall staircase leading down into the Taylor Creek Park we stopped to chat with a retired couple from the neighbourhood. They asked about the hike and shared some local knowledge about the trails in the area. It felt good to dive beneath the canopy of maple and oak as we made our way down to the creek.

Taylor Creek Park follows a major tributary to the Forks of the Don River. Three rivers meet at the forks and form the Lower Don River: the East Don, the West Don and this tributary. Mature forest, scrub, and marsh habitat support a variety of wildlife in the park. Many people were out jogging and cycling along the shady paved trail beside the river, including lots of children. We took a break under a large shade tree, and enjoyed watching the stream of people pass by and listening to a Warbling Vireo singing nearby.

We followed Taylor Creek until the trail lead us under the Don Valley Parkway and into the Don River Valley Park. Here we found ourselves on an incredibly busy cycling trail. Both sides were treed, or at least covered in tall bushes which provided periodic shade in the hot noon sun. Small footpaths lead down to the river, and every once in a while we would get a nice view of the water. In some places the river appeared to be sluggish and brown while in others it was clear, fast flowing, and smelled strongly of chlorine.


Along the trail we also passed various art installations. The first one we came to was the Elevated Wetland Sculptures. The artist, Noel Harding, wanted to make a "functioning sculpture" that created a wetland environment within "animal-like" plastic containers. The sculpture uses waste plastic as a soil substitute to mechanically filter water from the polluted Don River using solar powered pumps.

Another art installation consisted of concrete sculptures that resembled the gargoyles and figures you might see in an ancient cathedral scattered on the ground. This piece, by Duane Linklater, was called Monsters and Beauty, Permanence and Individuality.


It was somewhat exhausting to hike amidst the constant flow of fast moving and swerving cyclists, but one of them waved as they passed and wished us a 'Buen Camino!' One of the best comments we heard was a mother telling a small child in the bike seat behind her "Adventure is getting yourself there!"

Although it was a hot afternoon, there was quite a bit of bird activity along the river. Five Killdeer picked their way across a small pebble island in the shallow river. Nearby, European Starlings, Common Grackles, and a Baltimore Oriole had splashy baths to cool off in the shallows. A couple of Mallards and a family of Canada Geese paddled lazily in the cool water.



When we reached the Lakeshore we diverted from the trail into the historic Distillery District for an iced coffee at Balzac's. The pedestrian-only cobblestone streets of this area are lined with quaint 19th century buildings that once housed the Gooderham and Worts whiskey distillery. Now the buildings are filled with restaurants, bars, boutique shops, artist's workshops and galleries, and a couple of theaters. In December the Christmas Market is held there.

After leaving the Distillery District we walked past Sugar Beach. This urban beach is located across from the Redpath Sugar Refinery, and offers locals a chance to relax on the sand. In summer movies are featured on a large screen located on a barge offshore. The small patch of sand was packed with people as we walked past.


A little farther along the shoreline we came to the ferry terminal, where people can board ferries for Toronto Island and Billy Bishop Airport. The shady green park in front of the terminal, which is home to a memorial statue of NDP Leader Jack Layton and a giant picnic table, was full of physically distanced groups of people picnicking in the shade.


As we continued down the boardwalk and pedestrian walkways around Queen's Quay and Harborfront Center there were a lot of people out and about. However, the party and charter boats that are usually lively and full of people were all docked and sitting empty still.

We walked up to the Roundhouse Park and the Toronto Railway Museum in Stall 17. The museum features a collection of train engines, as well as the roundhouse, and is dedicated to showcasing the railway history of Toronto. The site is also the home of the Steamwhistle Brewery, which is normally open for tours and sampling of their products.


Across from the Roundhouse Park is Toronto's famous CN Tower. This 553.3 m tall, free standing, concrete, communications and observation tower was built in 1976 by the Canadian National railway company. Today it was closed, as was the Roger's Center, home of the Toronto Blue Jay's baseball team.

At the base of the CN Tower we also passed Ripley's Aquarium,. The aquarium has 5.7 million litres of freshwater and marine habitats from around the world. It also houses more than 16,000 exotic freshwater and marine species from 450 species. Although I am not generally a fan of keeping animals in captivity, walking through the aquarium is quite an amazing experience.


By the time we reached downtown it felt like 38°C outside, and we decided to call it a day. It feels strange to be hiking through such a large city, especially when the places we are visiting are very familiar to us.


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