July 24th, 2013
A green oasis in the heart of Toronto lets residents enjoy an escape from the big city
Midtown Toronto may hardly be an oasis of green on the whole, but the Beltline Trail provides a nice respite from the surrounding city.
The trail runs from the Allen Expressway just north of Eglinton Avenue down to Mount Pleasant Avenue just north of Mount Pleasant Cemetery – known as the Kay Gardner section – and continues south of the cemetery in a loop through Moore Park Ravine and Avoca Ravine down to the Evergreen Brick Works.
The Beltline began as a passenger rail line designed to connect midtown Toronto to the rest of the city back in the 1890s. The line failed to turn a profit and ceased operating as a commuter line a mere two years later, though parts of the line continued to serve as a freight trail for another half century.
Eventually, the line was shut down and converted into a trail running through what is now the centre of the city. Its rail history is evident along parts of the Kay Gardner segment, particularly with the rail bridge that crosses over Yonge Street just south of Davisville Avenue.
Though the Kay Gardner and Ravine segments are separated by Mount Pleasant Cemetery in the middle, the cemetery provides another quiet green setting for walking.
Ward 22 Councillor Josh Matlow is a regular user of the Beltline Trail and notes it has a unique role in the city.
“For so many of us who live in midtown Toronto, this is the network that connects our green spaces,” he said. “The Beltline is the spine – the green belt of Toronto.”
The many green spaces connected by the Beltline include Oriole Park, Chorley Park and Forest Hill Road Park, among others.
The walk itself can be taken at a leisurely pace, with the ravine section offering some tranquil scenery, though restoration work on Mud Creek has caused parts of the trail system in the area south of the Heath Street bridge to be closed off.
Because it runs through midtown and has crossings at many major streets, the Beltline offers hikers an opportunity to stay in the green space or pop off the trail to enjoy various neighbourhoods throughout midtown.
“It meets up with streets where people can stop off to grab something to eat or drink on hot days, or stop off and do some shopping in some of the business areas it runs through, like the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Area or South Bayview,” Matlow said.
A study has been conducted on ways to improve the Beltline Trail experience for hikers, with a strong focus on maintaining the forest cover and adding safety features. That study was finalized in April and outlined a series of improvements that should be made, including five that could be implemented in short order.
Those improvements include switchbacks between Chorley Park and the Evergreen Brick Works and from the Heath Street Bridge to the trail itself, better signage and wayfinding, the creation of a plan to restore the natural environment in the Moore Park Ravine and a plan to engage landowners living adjacent to the ravine system and encourage them to take on a stewardship role.
Matlow himself has lobbied for better crossing on the Kay Gardner section of the Beltline Trail and has a report set to go before council in September to that effect.
“At Oriole Park and Avenue and Bathurst, people are expected to walk (off the trail) to a crosswalk and cross there but you see people running or biking across the streets,” he said.
The report calls for measures including curb cuts, safety islands and synchronized traffic signals placed at the various intersections to make crossing the busy streets safer.
“For the first time since there was a railway there, we’ll be creating a contiguous trail,” Matlow said.
Hikers Tom and Kelly Burnett enjoy semi-regular walks on the trail, and took in a little nature in the middle of the city on Wednesday, July 17.
“We come down here when we want to get away from the busy city for a bit,” Tom Burnett said. “It’s a bit of a walk from our house, but it’s definitely worth it. You can catch a look at some birds and sometimes some other animals like foxes.”
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