Standing on the precipice of Hoggs Hollow, you can’t help but feel like this is where old Toronto ends.
From this perch looking north, the land falls away into a massive, forested gully before climbing up again and giving rise to the towers of North York centre, visible on the horizon.
There is no better place to appreciate the divide between Toronto’s two distinct populations: urbanite downtowners and the car-dependent residents of the former suburbs.
“It’s a concrete manifestation of the division we’ve lived for the last four years,” says Shawn Micallef, a founding editor of Spacing Magazine who has made a career of wandering the city on foot.
TARA WALTON/TORONTO STAR
Hoggs Hollow Looking north on Yonge Street towards the towers of North York city centre.
While many of our barriers are man-made, Hoggs Hollow naturally separates those who walk and bike and would think twice before traversing it, from those who drive and barely notice the dip. Yet, when the Yonge subway was extended north of Lawrence, this gap was closed, and today, tens of thousands of commuters cross the valley underground without even knowing it’s there.
“It’s interesting how strong those psychological barriers are. Once they’re broken down, they seem so silly,” Micallef said.
Like Hoggs Hollow, many of Toronto’s barriers seem to be unmistakably concrete, but end up being a question of mindset and unquestioned habit.
Overcoming these barriers can be as simple as building a bridge, but because of the cost involved, it’s important those bridges are creatively designed to encourage people to use them, said Michel Trocme, an urban planner and partner at Urban Strategies Inc.
A good example of this is 11 km further south, where Bay St. passes under what’s become the city’s most discussed barrier: the Gardiner Expressway. Here, amid the scaffolding and construction cranes, a gleaming glass-enclosed pedestrian bridge has just been completed, stretching under the Gardiner and connecting the financial core with the new south core developments via the PATH system.
AARON HARRIS/SPECIAL TO THE STAR
Pedestrian bridge under the Gardiner and over Lake Shore to link Union Station to the PATH.
The din of rumbling trucks overhead, combined with the grime and exhaust fumes underneath have for decades made traversing the Gardiner by foot a grim prospect.
“The Gardiner has always been thought of as a barrier,” said Trocme. “Along with the rail corridor, it’s a double whammy. The bridge overcomes this barrier and maximizes the PATH system and Union Station retrofit to create new opportunities south of the Gardiner.”
Without a connection to the PATH, people who have been avoiding the Gardiner would be unlikely to try out the new bridge. But linking to the system opens the way for hundreds of thousands of pedestrians who use the underground system every day, he said.
Looking south on the Don Valley Parkway.
Farther east, at least a dozen bridges span the Don Valley, but few of them offer access down into the ravine. The Don Valley, with the river, the DVP and the railway, is a formidable barrier, but one that largely sits out of sight and out of mind.
This is a missed opportunity, says Jane Farrow, founder of the Jane’s Walk heritage tours of Toronto.
“Hydro corridors and ravines are the veins of our city. But because of the wind and perceived danger, people don’t want to walk there,” Farrow said.
The Don’s crumbling trails make the long distances between access points wearisome treks and discourage short jaunts into this wild space.
“With better trails and signage, instead of dividing, the ravines could connect the city and become the best way to commute … It’s a way of weaving together the suburbs and the core.”
This is something that’s already happening in the west end, where a group of Junction residents came together to build the West Toronto Railpath, a multi-use trail that runs along the Georgetown rail corridor from Caribou Ave to Dundas St. West.