MEET YOU AT THE PATH!
THE WEST TORONTO RAILPATH
by Erika Garcia
Theme: Community Engagement, History & Culture
Accessibility: Family-Friendly, Fun for Kids
On this self-guided walk tour, we'll explore The West Toronto Railpath history and the high-quality public space that it has become since its opening. The Railpath is a multi-use trail for community members to gather lively and explore, a canvas for artists, a bustling space for local businesses, a place for local and national transportation, and more! I will take you on a personal tour of all my favourite areas of the WTR to illustrate the thriving community that it is.
Furthermore, the WTR has been a lifeline for many of the resident’s mental, social, and physical well-being during this challenging time. This past year has further reminded many of us about the vital role that public spaces play in the creation of vibrant and healthy neighbourhoods, and how important it is to maintain these public spaces diverse, equitable and inclusive.
The West Toronto Railpath (WTR) is a multi-use trail in Toronto running from the Junction neighbourhood toward downtown Toronto. The Railpath was developed by the City of Toronto for bicycle and pedestrian use. It is an urban rail-to-trail project that was built on an abandoned rail line. The WTR was designed as a safe, car-free, linear park.
Phase one of the WTR was completed in 2008. It runs from Cariboo Avenue (just north of Dupont) to the Dundas Street West Overpass along the rail corridor. This section of the WTR received the 2011 City of Toronto Urban Design Award.
Phase two, an extension south from Dundas Street West to Liberty Village, was approved in September of 2020. The construction of this phase is expected to begin in 2021 or 2022.
Full WTR Map
MY TOUR STOPS
1. George Chuvalo Neighbourhood Centre
2. Wallace Bridge
4. Pause Platforms
5. Drake Commissary
6. Henderson Brewery
7. Ethica Coffee Roasters
STOP 1: GEORGE CHUVALO NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRE
You will often find me during the week at the George Chuvalo Neighbourhood Centre getting my daily coffee, chatting with Mar (the cafe’s head chef), and ordering other menu items to go. The Centre is located at 50 Sousa Mendes Street in the Junction Triangle, and it's one of the buildings that sit along the WTR.
This 7,000 square foot facility is devoted to providing exceptional programming and building community-based resources in collaboration with residents and collectives, other nonprofits, self-employed people, and more. The Centre has a special interest in supporting LGBTQ2SI+ initiatives in the Junction/Pelham Park neighbourhood of Toronto’s West End.
Through its diverse community programming, the Centre provides a safe space where gender roles are challenged, mental health is a conversation, and the natural world is respectedmaking it a place that is a must-pit-stop while visiting the WTR.
STOP 2: THE WALLACE BRIDGE
If you are visiting the West Toronto Railpath, the likelihood of you choosing the historic Wallace Avenue pedestrian bridge as a meeting spot is high. From energetic runners to families ready for their daily walk; the area surrounding this industrial age structure has become a popular meeting site that is adorned by public art of all types.
The West Toronto Railpath is the home of this steel truss riveted bridge, which connects Wallace Avenue to Dundas West Avenue. The 26 meters in length structure was built in 1907 by the Ontario Bridge Company with Frazer Matthews as Chief Engineer. The structure is one of the very few examples of this type of bridge remaining, it is protected under the Ontario Heritage Act. Over time, the bridge has experienced moderate alteration from its original design and materials; most recently the stairs at both its ends.
STOP 3: MOCA
MOCA (previously known as the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art – MOCCA) is a hub for artistic thinking and creative exchange and it plays a vital role in the city’s contemporary art scene.
In September 2018, MOCA moved into a stunning 55,000 square foot purpose-designed home in a former industrial space, the Auto BLDG, at the heart of a new neighbourhood in the Lower Junction. The move was seeking a larger space to accommodate the museum’s ever-growing aspirations and significance.
ABOUT THE AUTO BLDG
Built in 1919, this building, designed by architect John W. Woodman of Winnipeg, was once the tallest in Toronto. Active until 2006, it was originally a factory that produced aluminum products for World War II, and later made items such as kitchen tools, bottle caps, and car parts. When it first opened, this building was considered innovative because it did not use beams for support. Instead, it pioneered a new approach called concrete flat slab architecture. Each floor is a slab of reinforced concrete and is supported by concrete columns, which distribute the weight to the floor below.
Currently, The Museum of Contemporary Art inhabits the first five floors of the Auto BLDG. As well, special offers on commercial space are given to artists and businesses native to the Junction Triangle.
STOP 4: PAUSE PLATFORMS
====\\DeRAIL Platform for Art + Architecture is a non-profit, independent arts producer and alternative platform for dialogue and collaboration across disciplinary, geographical, and ideological boundaries. ====\\DeRAIL was established in 2016 and its commissions and produces place-specific art projects to foster new conversations about public space design and contemporary city building. It brings urban and rural landscape to life through contemporary art by moving beyond the walls of traditional gallery spaces to offer a new experience to both visitors as participants and artists as contributors. This unique and creative project allows community members to socially-engaged, and explore the shared linear landscapes of our city.
STOP 5: DRAKE COMMISSARY
The Drake Commissary is an eat-in restaurant and takeout popular spot just steps away from the WTR. The 8,000 sq. ft. opened its doors in June of 2017 located at 128 Sterling road beside Henderson Brewery and steps away from MOCA. Built on a historic brick and beam building, and former condiments factory; this space successfully blends old and new materials, featuring a mix of vintage, craft, and industrial elements.
The Drake Commissary is an uncommon combination consisting of high-scale food production, food retail, and restaurant; while also establishing a casual, social hub for community, art, and culture. One of my favourite things about this spot is all the fresh baked goods that you can pick up on the go and continue your walk along the Railpath.
STOP 6: HENDERSON BREWERY
Not far from the WTR one can find Henderson Brewery, named to commemorate Robert Henderson, who opened Toronto’s first brewery in 1800. This popular destination along the path has been opened since 2016. Henderson Brewing’s labels reflect Toronto in many ways, according to co-founder and general manager Steve Himel: “We want to take a story that maybe Torontonians don’t know that well and bring that story back to life... our beer names come from five sources: history, locations, events, famous people, and neighbourhood people.” *
STOP 7: ETHICA COFFEE ROASTERS
Last but not least in my tour is Ethica Coffee Roasters, where you are sure to find a great cup of coffee and baked goods on the go. Located at 213 Sterling Road on an industrial space with a high-ceiling interior, Ethica resembles something of a vintage postal office. On a lucky visit, customers can witness the coffee being roasted by its immense roasting machine- a real treat!
Over time and most notably nowadays, we have seen the essential role that multi-use trails such as WTR play to provide a space for interaction, explore nature, cultural and heritage places in the city.
These public spaces are generally considered neighbourhood amenities as they provide a public space for residents with the opportunity to socially engage with one another, and learn about the history of their surroundings.
Moreover, the WTR is home to an ecosystem of plants that provide food and habitat to wildlife; while also providing beauty along the way. Building and maintaining high-quality projects like the WTR promotes social equity, as it provides an accessible infrastructure to make walking, cycling, and public transit more attractive alternatives to vehicle use.