Don Valley

My summery biking adventures through Toronto continue. This morning I packed my backpack and as usual I entered the Taylor Creek Park system. Heading down into the lush green river valley that is fully closed in by trees and bushes on both sides is always such a great feeling, as if the big city was miles away.

A few kilometers west my trail joined up with the Don Valley biking trail and I started to ride south. But instead of heading all the way down to Toronto’s lakefront, I saw an old road branching off to the right north of Pottery Road and I thought I would just ride in there and see what I could discover. I had never before left the main trail and was curious to explore this new area. Actually, I thought I would arrive at the Don Valley Brickworks, the leftovers of an industrial brick making complex dating back to the late 1880s that was closed down some time ago. The bricks from this quarry were used on many famous Toronto landmarks, including Casa Loma, Osgoode Hall and Queens Park (the Ontario Legislature building). The green space surrounding the empty buildings has been turned into a public park by the city.

But as I continued the road turned into a narrow pathway that crossed a field and the path started taking me in a northwesterly direction, away from the Brickworks. Now I was really wondering where this path was going to lead. After crossing some more meadows the path took me into a forested area where the narrow trail continued, sometimes over roots and stones, sometimes beside some railway tracks. Now you might think that it could be quite dangerous for a woman by herself riding these trails, but I actually felt quite safe. The only people I encountered were a father and daughter team who were enjoying their own little mountain bike adventure.

I kept riding through the forest, up and down and at some point I saw a road just above the embankment that I was cycling beside, but my suspense grew as to where I would actually end up. Finally I saw an opening in a fence at the edge of the forest and I realized I had popped up at the southeastern end of the Loblaws Supermarket in Leaside. This was quite a bit further north than I had anticipated.

So back on city streets I decided to ride through the residential area of Leaside, one of the most popular residential areas in Toronto. Settled as early as the beginning of the 19th century by the Lea family, the Town of Leaside came into being in 1913. Today many houses from the early 20th century remain and are being renovated or expanded. Leaside has become particularly popular with real estate investors who buy some of the small single story bungalows and convert them into two or three story mansions.

Bayview Avenue marks the western boundary of Leaside and is a popular entertainment area with lots of retail stores, cafes and restaurants. I cycled south on Bayview to the Intersection of Moore Avenue where there is a local landmark: a concrete moose that is located in front of a company called IntegraCare, a private nursing company.

From April to October of 2000, the City of Toronto was graced by 172 moose sculptures that were located all over the city and painted and decorated by local artists. The event was called “Moose in the City” and similar in idea to other animal sculpture campaigns in places such as Chicago, Mexico City etc. After the completion of the campaign the moose were auctioned off for charitable purposes and more than 75 local charities benefit from this unique fundraising idea. Events like “Toronto’s Running of the Moose!” and “Moose Jam on City Streets” enlivened the campaign and entertained the public.

I figured Integracare must have purchased one of these moose sculptures and after doing some research on the Internet I found out that the moose’s name is “Florence Moosengale, RM (Registered Moose)”, her name obviously inspired by Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Three Integracare employees regularly create new costumes for the moose which has been dressed up as Santa Clause, a witch for Halloween, a pink Easter Bunny, a prison inmate, a lady bug, and in many other outfits. Currently Florence is dressed up as a rider in the Tour de France, complete with a yellow jersey and an oversized bicycle.

Well, this moose always makes me chuckle and I truly applaud the efforts of the three ladies at Integracare in brightening up the intersection of Bayview and Moore Avenue. From here I rode into the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto’s largest cemetery which stretches from Bayview Avenue in the east to Yonge Street in the west. Originally conceived in 1873, the cemetery opening in late 1876 and became the final resting place for more than 160,000 Toronto citizens.

The cemetery holds many local celebrities, including Frederick Banting – the co-discoverer of insulin, Timothy Eaton – a Canadian department store magnate, Hart Massey – a 19th century tycoon in the farm equipment business, Robert Simpson – another Canadian department store magnate, pianist Glenn Gould and W. Garfield Weston, a business magnate and member of one of Canada’s most wealthy families. By accident I came across the grave of William Lyon Mackenzie King, one of Canada’s longest-serving and most influential prime ministers.

Although inline-skating is prohibited it is possible to ride a bicycle in the cemetery and many people also use this beautiful environment to go walking or jogging. The gravestones in the western, older section of the cemetery are particularly beautiful, and its large tree collection makes it one of North America’s finest arboretums.

I then crossed Yonge Street and rode west along Heath Street in order to avoid the busy traffic along St. Clair Avenue. The surrounding Forest Hill neighbourhood is one of Toronto’s most affluent areas. Today many huge mansions grace the neighbourhood and two elite private schools, Upper Canada College for boys, and the Bishop Strachan School, a prestigious day and boarding school for girls, are also located here.

Underneath the canopy of leafy trees I turned onto a street called Lower Village Gate and unexpectedly found myself in Toronto’s Ravine system. One of the most distinctive features of Toronto’s topography is a multitude of deep ravines that criss-cross the city, have remained largely untouched by development and provide a natural oasis in this densely populated metropolis. These ravines were formed when rivers and creeks cut deep gouges into the glacial deposits that were left over after the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. Due to the danger of flooding these ravines are largely uninhabitable and have remained virtually completely in their natural state. Today, Toronto’s ravine lands are protected by municipal bylaws.

Cedarvale Park is located in one of those ravines and riding westwards I looked up to admire the structure of the Bathurst Street Bridge. I arrived at the western end of Cedarvale Park where a cricket match was in full swing. Back on city streets I cycled south into a St. Clair West neighbourhood called Hillcrest Village which was just celebrating Latin culture with its big annual festival: Salsa on St. Clair.

First launched in 2005 Salsa on St. Clair has become a popular street festival that features all sorts of Latin music performances, street vendors, Latin American delicacies and special events. Salsa lessons, jumping castles, children’s soccer competitions and all sorts of free samples and giveaways enchanted the crowds.

From here I cycled south on Christie Street and then headed over to Ossington and south to Queen Street. In a small neighbourhood park I ran across a large group of teenagers dressed up as medieval knights who were practicing their jousting skills. Sometimes Toronto is truly like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get…Once on Queen Street I cycled past recently renovated landmarks like the Drake Hotel and the Gladstone Hotel into the Parkdale neighbourhood, one of the most colourful areas in Toronto.

The neighbourhood underwent a serious decline and today features a large aIn the late 1800 Parkdale was an upscale residential suburb of Toronto that featured great Victorian mansions and superb views of Lake Ontario.

Today the neighbourhood is being revitalized due to its beautiful architecture, established trees and favourable location close to downtown and Lake Ontario. Signs of gentrification are noticeable everywhere.

The Victorian mansions on Cowan Avenue impressed me and as I got closer to the Lake I can only imagine what a beautiful residential district this must have been in its heyday. I crossed the railway tracks and the Gardener Expressway near Jameson Avenue and arrived at the multi-purpose trail in Marilyn Bell Park on Toronto’s lakefront.

Close to a century ago this was one of the most popular areas in Toronto and featured a large amusement park from 1922 onwards. The area was drastically changed in the 1950s with the construction of the Gardiner Expressway which essentially reduced the parkland in half and led to the destruction of the amusement park. Today, the only original buildings remaining from this era are the Palais Royale (a recently restored ballroom and banquet facility), and the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion which houses a popular waterfront café.

Despite these changes, Toronto’s western waterfront in Humber Bay is hugely popular with people. Walkers, picnickers, inline skaters and bikers make extensive use of the Waterfront Trail. Three beach volleyball nets grace the narrow strip of sand in front of the café and a boardwalk made from recycled plastic invites for a walk on the waterfront. I grabbed myself a slice of pizza and relaxed a bit on bench, watching the comings and goings in a beautiful sunny spot by the water.

I then started heading eastwards along the Waterfront Trail past Ontario Place, a multi-purpose entertainment and seasonal amusement park. Opened in 1971 Ontario Place consists of three artificial islands that feature walking trails, food and drink concessions, an IMAX theatre located in a geodesic dome-shaped structure, an amusement park for children and an outdoor concert facility, the Molson Amphitheatre.

Immediately adjacent to Ontario Place is Coronation Park, a park centered around a royal oak tree that was planted in tribute to King George VI. Right in front of the park is a marina that houses hundreds of sailboats. Cycling further east I passed by the recently renovated Tip Top Tailor Building, a historic property built in 1929 in true Art Deco style.

From here I snaked onto Queen’s Quay and made a stop at the Toronto Music Garden, a waterfront garden that was inspired by Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello and designed by internationally renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy. The Toronto Music Garden features spiral-shaped walkways surrounded by lush shrubs and flowers and is highlighted by an outdoor amphitheatre that offers free concerts to the public.

My ride continued to Harbourfront, a popular entertainment area at Toronto’s waterfront. Harbourfront Centre, a former warehouse, today holds a high-end shopping centre, commercial office spaces and condominiums. The bottom level also features restaurants and outdoor patios that look out on the docking facilities for the many tourist boats that depart from here for harbour tours.

Free concerts are held every weekend at Harbourfront on the Concert Stage while the World Café and the International Marketplace feature foods and merchandise from around the world. Additional cultural offerings are provided by the Power Plant Gallery, the Premiere Dance Theatre, the Enwave Theatre and the York Quay Centre. A Cuban music group was enchanting the crowd at the Concert Stage.

Finally, after an action-packed day full of explorations and almost 60 km of riding I got on my iron horse one last time to make the 45 minute trek home along Toronto’s lakefront. Summer in Toronto is amazing; I had cycled from secluded nature areas, through a Victorian-era cemetery to a Latin festival, enjoyed the waterfront and caught two more free concerts in or near Harbourfront. There is so much going on in this city in the summer and the bicycle is the ideal way to explore it.