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Reshaping Toronto's Waterfront

Reshaping Toronto's Waterfront

Gene Desfor
Jennefer Laidley
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Reshaping Toronto's Waterfront
    Book Description:

    Reshaping Toronto?s Waterfrontis a fundamental resource for understanding the waterfront as a dynamic space that is neither fully tamed nor wholly uncontrolled.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6191-2
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    In the summer of 2008, we loaded two dozen graduate students into a rented yellow school bus to tour Toronto’s waterfront. The students had come on a field trip from Germany to learn about urban development processes in North America and arrived in Toronto after a visit to Boston. As we bumped along the streets lining the edge of Lake Ontario, we pointed out the highlights of Toronto’s ever-changing waterfront – high-rise office and residential towers, expanding public cultural facilities, repurposed industrial buildings, underutilized marine terminals, a downtown airport, elaborate sports complexes, and landscaped recreational areas. We directed the bus to...


    • 1 Planning for Change: Harbour Commissions, Civil Engineers, and Large-scale Manipulation of Nature
      (pp. 23-48)

      European settlement in North America began at the water’s edge, where sheltered harbours offered protection for water-borne vessels essential for the basic needs of colonial expansion: defence and the movement of people, information, and commodities between empires and their outposts. Settlement was drawn to locations surrounded by rich agricultural land that could support a growing population and generate surplus produce for trade. Access to a regional network of waterways promoted the exchange of staples and manufactured goods, and as commerce increased, so did the size of vessels. These boats and ships required an infrastructure of wharves, quays, cranes, and yards...

    • 2 Establishing the Toronto Harbour Commission and Its 1912 Waterfront Development Plan
      (pp. 49-74)

      Michael Redhill’s recent novelConsolationtells the story of a late-twentieth-century university historian who was convinced that a diary he found in the rare book library of the University of Toronto suggested where the earliest photos of Toronto might be found. The photos, the historian believed, had been stored in the strongbox of a ship, which was wrecked by a storm just off Toronto’s shore and then buried by lakefilling as the waterfront crept southward. About 150 years after the storm, the story goes, remnants of the wrecked ship were unearthed while digging out the foundations for a new hockey...

    • 3 From Liability to Profitability: How Disease, Fear, and Medical Science Cleaned Up the Marshes of Ashbridge’s Bay
      (pp. 75-96)

      George Henry, in his 1831 bookThe Emigrant’s Guide, or Canada as it is, introduced Europeans to the town of York, favourably describing its local attractions. Yet Henry warned:

      There is a great drawback on the score of its unhealthiness of situation on the eastern side of the town, which, it is much to be feared, is irremovable. At the head of the bay, which comes to the east side of York, are some very extensive stagnant marshes; they extend for six or seven miles; and are considered to be the principal agents in germinating the local diseases felt more...

    • 4 From Feast to Famine: Shipbuilding and the 1912 Waterfront Development Plan
      (pp. 97-122)

      Long before road, rail, and air seemingly shortened the distance between communities, humanity depended on water to connect regions and continents. Settlement usually proceeded inwards from the shorelines of rivers, lakes, and oceans, starting from natural features that provided sheltered anchorage for vessels. This was the case in Canada where, as Garth Wilson noted in his history of Canadian shipbuilding, ‘Transportation by water was the most efficient (and for almost two hundred years the fastest) means of moving people and goods. Thus, the construction and repair of water craft soon became a functional imperative for the new colonists’ (Wilson 1994:...

    • 5 A Social History of a Changing Environment: The Don River Valley, 1910–1931
      (pp. 123-150)

      Henry Scadding’s 1873 description of Joseph Tyler’s cave is the first detailed record in what would become a long history of homelessness in Toronto’s Lower Don River valley. According to Scadding’s account, Tyler was an industrious and inventive recluse, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War who manufactured and sold ‘pitch and tar’ to merchants in town, and ferried the Helliwell brewery’s beer in his ‘magnificent canoe’ when the roads were too muddy to use. He was a puzzling figure – Scadding notes the ‘mystery attendant on his choice of life of complete solitude [and] his careful reserve.’ His choice of...

    • 6 Boundaries and Connectivity: The Lower Don River and Ashbridge’s Bay
      (pp. 151-174)

      This chapter documents over one hundred years of change in the land-water boundary of the Lower Don River and Ashbridge’s Bay, located on the east of Toronto’s central waterfront. Many of these changes play out through the alteration of near-shore land cover, the creation of new barriers (e.g., bulkheads, rail lines), and the sharpening of existing boundaries through infill and dredging. The mouth of the Don River is particularly interesting because river corridors and deltas are important zones for the moderation of species, nutrients, and other materials’ movement. At the same time, the inherent dynamism of these features is directly...

    • 7 Networks of Power: Toronto’s Waterfront Energy Systems from 1840 to 1970
      (pp. 175-200)

      In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, complex networks of extraction, transformation, and circulation provided the growing city of Toronto with crucial material inputs – including water, energy, and building materials – required for urban and industrial expansion. These networked linkages were more, however, than mere provisioning systems. Rather, they also ‘hybridized’ nature and the city in the urban landscape and in the urban consciousness. The 1911 lighting of Toronto’s city hall with hydroelectric power generated over 150 kilometres away at Niagara Falls serves as a prime example (Careless 1984). This moment not only consolidated connections between the growing city and its hinterland,...


    • 8 Creating an Environment for Change: The ‘Ecosystem Approach’ and the Olympics on Toronto’s Waterfront
      (pp. 203-223)

      Between the late 1980s and the early 2000s, the focus of Toronto’s waterfront planning activity and the rationale for its development underwent a significant shift, from the ‘ecosystem approach’ recommended by the Royal Commission on the Future of Toronto’s Waterfront to a ‘global imperative’ approach being pursued by Waterfront Toronto, a public development corporation originally named the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC).¹ While on the surface these two approaches to waterfront development seem incongruous, the analysis presented in this chapter demonstrates their deep political and economic connections in a period of transition from an industrial to a post-industrial waterfront;that is,...

    • 9 From Harbour Commission to Port Authority: Institutionalizing the Federal Government’s Role in Waterfront Development
      (pp. 224-244)

      For more than a century, Canada’s federal government has been a key player in the development of Toronto’s waterfront. The extent of its waterfront landholdings and its ability to establish organizations with legislated authority and financial resources have made the federal government particularly influential, but in complex and often enigmatic ways. This chapter explores the role of the federal government in the planning and development of Toronto’s waterfront. Between 1911 and 1999, the federally incorporated Toronto Harbour Commission (THC) dominated port and harbour operations and waterfront land-development activities. However, 1999 saw the dismantling of this once-commanding corporation, and its resurrection...

    • 10 Cleaning Up on the Waterfront: Development of Contaminated Sites
      (pp. 245-262)

      In 1989, the Ontario Ministry of Environment² published its first guidelines for cleaning up contaminated sites in the province. The publication of these guidelines marked the provincial government’s entrance into a new policy area with links to a web of complex socio-ecological development issues. Though the guidelines were aimed at regulating social practices, they had to contend not only with political and economic pressures from place entrepreneurs (Molotch 1976), but also with a range of poorly understood ecological relationships and incomplete evidence about how soil and groundwater contaminants affect human and environmental health. Land developers, city planners, public health officials,...

    • 11 Who’s in Charge? Jurisdictional Gridlock and the Genesis of Waterfront Toronto
      (pp. 263-286)

      The evolution of Toronto’s waterfront is rooted in a history of jurisdictional disputes. When the Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront began its inquiry in 1988, upwards of one hundred departments, agencies, boards, and other special-purpose bodies, spanning all levels of government, reportedly held some jurisdiction over waterfront lands (Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront 1992: xxi). Although that number has since diminished, bureaucratic battles between the City, the Province, and the federal government have been considered the ‘one insurmountable obstacle’ impeding large-scale redevelopment along Toronto’s shoreline (The Economist2006: 50).

      The formation of...

    • 12 Public-Private Sector Alliances in Sustainable Waterfront Revitalization: Policy, Planning, and Design in the West Don Lands
      (pp. 287-304)

      Sustainable revitalization is now a commonplace policy and planning strategy for new urban redevelopment initiatives in cities across Europe and North America. With the popularity of urban and regional growth management concepts such as smart growth planning, built-form practices of urban intensification and compact city development, and emphases on in-fill buildings and brownfield regeneration, the focus of urban policy has now shifted towards the implementation of these planning and redevelopment approaches. Recent research on sustainable urban revitalization practices suggests increasingly concerted public-sector emphases on achieving an ‘end product’ of sustainability in cities through the implementation of specific planning, design, and...

    • 13 Socio-ecological Change in the Nineteenth and Twenty-first Centuries: The Lower Don River
      (pp. 305-326)

      On 2 February 2007, Waterfront Toronto, the city’s lead waterfront development corporation, announced an international design competition intended to secure a world-class plan for developing forty hectares of land at the mouth of the Don River. The task given to firms selected for the competition was an ambitious one: they were to envision the ‘renaturalizing’ and revitalization of an area that has been marginalized for years. Waterfront Toronto had called for a plan for the Lower Don Lands that would establish a ‘common vision for this area’ and would construct an ‘iconic landscape’ to bring new urban life to the...

  9. References
    (pp. 327-370)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 371-372)
  11. Index
    (pp. 373-378)