Built on the bones of dead
neighbourhoods, the Leslie Street Spit pokes out of Toronto’s lower jaw, a
five-kilometer incisor tipped with a lighthouse. Unnaturally natural, its woods
and grasslands grow on a bed of crumbling Victorians, abandoned factories, and diggings
from subway trenches. Dumpster-loads of our own renovations are underfoot: this
ground holds the kitchen counters of our first Toronto home, the basement floor
of the second.
Trucks have been hauling landfill here
for about sixty years. For twenty of them, we’ve hiked the Spit, watching its
transformation. Originally planned as a breakwater, it gradually, almost
accidentally, evolved into an urban wilderness officially named ‘Tommy Thompson
On weekdays, trucks still haul in landfill from Greater Toronto and beyond, but on weekends, the Spit goes to the cyclists, hikers and birders. The western beaches are a bird sanctuary from April to October, generations of cormorants scouring leaves off trees with their guano, the air full of the stink and cries of over sixty sex-crazed species, mating and nesting. Across the harbour, condominiums and bank towers loom like clenched teeth.
Coyotes and beavers have appeared. We wonder how they got here: did they swim across Lake Ontario like Marilyn Bell, or catch the Commissioners Street bus?
Along the eastern shoreline, the city’s urban history keeps piling up: chunks of a ceramic bathtub, its seafoam colour giving away its nineteen-sixties vintage. A cracked toilet seat leaning on a rock. Twisted lengths of silver pipe from a heating system. Disemboweled reinforcement rods half-trapped in broken concrete. Beach-loads of bricks, their corners worn smooth by waves.
If homes retain the spirits of their people, they must be on the Spit too, carried in with their fireplaces and privies. Many of Toronto’s century-old houses would remember families finished off by the Spanish Flu. Children succumbing to malnutrition in Cabbagetown. Immigrant men, just off the boat, killed by the bends while excavating sewers in North Toronto. Not to mention all the smaller tragedies, the holiday dinners gone wrong, the domestic arguments, the ancient grandmothers dying in bed with letters from the old country tucked under their mattresses.
These days I can’t walk the Spit without worrying that soon I’ll see pieces of my childhood piled on the shore. The house my father built, on the Niagara side of Lake Ontario, is slated for demolition, making way for new cul-de-sacs on old peach orchards and vineyards. Before the asphalt goes down, the fertile topsoil will be scraped off and sold at garden centres. Some other homeowner, in some other suburb, will cultivate their zinnias and roses with the earth that fed my family with tomatoes, peppers, beans and raspberries. Another family’s media room will sit on our grapevines.
As for the home where I learned about love and grief, death and birth, food and wine: its bricks and mortar could end up on the Spit. More demolition materials feeding nature. More memories lapped by waves. And the dump trucks keep rolling.
by Wayne Chan | May 3rd 11:55 am
My daily commute is like a small gear of mechanical time, of epicycles upon epicycles, where days turn to months and to years, and the seasons cycle through. The rhythms of time are constant, but the changes they bring are not.
by george ilsley | May 3rd 1:44 pm
The neighborhood of Broma in Vancouver (around Broadway and Main) used to have salmon streams and a temperate rainforest. Now it has hipsters.
by Brendan Harrison | Apr 12th 12:54 pm
When white supremacists moved into my neighbourhood, I was forced to reconsider what community meant to me.
by Monica Meneghetti | May 2nd 11:45 pm
Queer Banffites come in every stripe but, like other wildlife, most of us are well-camouflaged.
by Christin Geall | May 3rd 10:16 pm
In my neighborhood, houses float out to sea. They’re jacked up from their foundations, lifted onto trucks, and barged away.
by Terri Favro | May 3rd 1:32 pm
My childhood home near the Welland Canal is losing its manufacturing and shipping, but gaining in other areas, such as tourism, winemaking and culture -- the cycle that drives cultural and economic change.
by Terri Favro | Apr 28th 5:43 pm
Leslie Street Spit is a landfill site that eventually, accidentally, evolved into the largest urban wilderness on Toronto's waterfront. It's also a repository of Toronto's urban history, with woodland growing on decades of demolished buildings. I'm worried that soon I may see pieces of my own childhood home, itself slated for demolition.