Lisa Van de Ven, Special to National Post
Jun 14, 2012 – 12:27 PM ET
For Corrie Galloway, it’s all about the parks. There’s Coronation Park, where softball teams hit it home, and neighbourhood locals relax with a book or a picnic in the summertime. Little Norway Park is close by, as is the Toronto Music Garden, another favourite. “They have concerts there twice a week in the summer,” Ms. Galloway says. “And anytime you walk through, the garden’s changing.”
Ms. Galloway lives at the foot of Bathurst, on Toronto’s waterfront, and for her the parks are just one of the perks of her lakeside home. She moved there 10 years ago from Oakville, and while she says the neighbourhood has changed in that time, there are some things that stay the same: It’s still safe and friendly, she says, and she likes that there’s plenty to do nearby: at Fort York, for instance, as well the Toronto Islands and even the more locally serving Harbourfront Community Centre. And while tourists may crowd the shore on the warmest days, that hustle and bustle is, for her, part of what’s nice about living on the city’s edge. “It saddens me that there are a lot of people who live in Toronto who don’t know they have a waterfront,” she says.
On a spring evening — a blustery wind coming in from the lake — the activity Ms. Galloway thrives on is evident: locals walking their dogs or immersed in their evening runs, and a young couple sharing kisses as they lie on the grass at Harbour Square Park, another favourite. Tourists have their cameras ready, but on this night it’s the residents who are mostly out. For them, this is the lifestyle they’ve signed up for: one with lakeside views, busy bike paths and, surprisingly, a strong sense of community. And those locals are set to see some company soon enough: More development, and more neighbours, as the lakeshore changes and the waterfront revitalization continues.
Walking against the wind, James Russell remembers coming to the waterfront to write at the Second Cup at Queens Quay and York even before he moved there. Perhaps it was destiny that he’d fall for a woman who lived close by, moving in with her in 2005. He’s lived in the neighbourhood ever since.
“It’s a great place for culture,” he says.
Like many visitors to the area, Mr. Russell goes to art exhibits at The Power Plant and to the annual Festival of Authors at the Harbourfront Centre. But as a resident he gets to see another side of the waterfront: a neighbourhood that’s also a thriving community. That sense of community is evident in the neighbours now having their say in the revitalization project, just as it was evident during the 2009 garbage strike, when they picked up garbage and emptied trashcans along Queens Quay. “All year round there’s a community of people. We like to think of ourselves as vertical communities,” says the author of the young adult book Mermaids and Zombies, and member of the York Quay Neighbourhood Association. “We really are a little city.”
But as with any neighbourhood, there are challenges. Ms. Galloway lives across from the Toronto Island Airport, and isn’t fond off the airplanes flying in and out overhead, as well as the taxis that line up on the mainland to pick up passengers. Mr. Russell hankers after certain amenities, such as a good breakfast spot, more playgrounds, libraries and daycare facilities. But a lot of what the residents do need is already there. There’s a new Sobeys in the Queens Quay Terminal, the long-established Loblaws at Queens Quay and Lower Jarvis, and even more facilities for the neighbourhoods east and west of that. “People who live here have everything they need within a five-minute walk,” says Carol Jolly, executive director of the Waterfront Business Improvement Area. “They’ve got all their services, like their doctors and dentists, their groceries, their liquor store … it’s all here.”
Right now, what they also have is construction. It’s hard to miss the changes underway along Toronto’s downtown shore. The waterfront revitalization, a joint project by all three levels of government, will entice more tourists to Toronto’s lakeshore, and benefit the area residents.
While the waterfront of the past was designed for industry, today the master plan involves a mix of uses. An estimate of 40,000 residential units (the future homes to approximately 115,000 people) is planned along the waterfront from Dufferin to the eastern Beaches over the next 30 to 35 years, give or take a few, says John Campbell, president and CEO of Waterfront Toronto. He expects an entirely “different skyscape” by the time everything is done.
“It’s going to be very exciting and vibrant … you’ll have retail, office, residential,” he says.
New employment promises to bring more activity to the neighbourhood even in the tourist-light winter months, while new recreational areas will give all those people places to gather: Sugar Beach has been a hotspot since it opened in 2010 and there are more parks planned throughout the area.
Queens Quay itself may be one of the biggest changes, with a complete redesign scheduled (construction will start this summer and is expected to last 18 to 20 months). Car traffic will be reduced from four lanes to two, with a dedicated Light Rail Transit line, as well as a pedestrian promenade. The Martin Goodman Trail will be extended alongside, and other beautification efforts, including new benches and trees, will be added. It will be a complete transformation for a street once listed as part of the “Hall of Shame” by the Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based nonprofit focused on creating stronger public spaces. “We will turn it into one of the 10 most beautiful streets in the world,” Mr. Campbell says. “I’m forecasting it will become Toronto’s signature street.”
The changes will be more than welcome to Queens Quay resident Kelly Gorman, who’s on the Waterfront Toronto stakeholder advisory committee. “That’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a number of years now,” she says. “It will help beautify a street that needs some beautification.”
Ms. Gorman, a retired teacher, moved to Queens Quay from Scarborough in 2001. Now she volunteers at the Harbourfront Centre and walks everywhere she needs to go, such as Ontario Place or downtown to Roy Thomson Hall and some of her other favourite venues. “To me one of the great pleasures of living down here is not only the beauty of it, but also that you don’t have to travel very far to do lots of things,” she says.
Ask Ms. Gorman what else she likes about the neighbourhood and, like Mr. Russell, she’ll name the strong sense of community. It’s an elusive thing visitors to the area wouldn’t notice.
“I was really sick for about a week … do you know how many people knocked on my door to bring me supper?” Ms. Gorman asks. “To me, if you get involved and make friends it’s amazing.”
Then, of course, there’s the view. It’s a natural pick-me-up, Ms. Gorman says. “It’s so relaxing. It doesn’t matter how stressful your day,” she says.
And what says home more than that?