Greenline: Expanding the Meadoway Treatment to Toronto’s Hydro Transmission System

Note: This was initially published on May 2, 2019. It was updated on June 10, 2019 to add one corridor, extend another, and update total statistics.

On April 11, 2018, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, in partnership with the City of Toronto and The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, launched a new park project called The Meadoway. The project would reimagine 16 kilometre Gatineau Hydro Corridor, which is a provincial hydro line between the Bermondsey substation in Thorncliffe Park northeast to the city border in Rouge Park.  As the name suggests, the corridor would be converted from the manicured grass that exists in many sections into a meadow habitat, and would also include a multi-use path to support cycling and walking.

The Meadoway in blue, with additional portions of the Gatineau Corridor on each end in purple. Intersecting parkland is in green.

This is an ingenious idea to take this corridor from a 20th century bare infrastructure landbase, and partly return it back to nature while providing Torontonians an active transportation corridor to cycle and play in. I can’t believe we made it to 2019 without doing this, and part of my public review of the Meadoway actually laments that the east and west limits fall short.

But it’s also not brand new. Nearly 80 out of 265 hectares (30%) of the Meadoway had already received a meadow habitat treatment, and nearly 10 kilometres of trail were already built. Part of this was the Scarborough Centre Butterfly Trail project, a 3.5 km stretch between Thomson Memorial Park and Scarborough Golf Club Road, which was also granted money by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation. The Meadoway is merely scaling this idea up.

But it got me to thinking: why aren’t we doing this city-wide? How many other hydro corridors are there, with potential to add new natural habitat and trail systems? Some of the distribution system has been buried underground, but much of it remains as open wide corridors of grass, pylons and line.

Courtesy of Hydro One

The Meadoway is 15.6 km long, but when you include the two end bits of the Gatineau Hydro Corridor, it ends up being 21.1 km long. Aside from that, there are 10 other active hydro corridors and 2 former hydro corridors in the city. These stretch a total length of 165 km (5 times as long as the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway put together) and covering and area of 1,400 hectares (equal to an area bounded by Queen, Parliament, Bloor and Roncesvalles).

That’s a significant amount of landmass, and the Meadoway Project along the Gatineau Hydro Corridor will naturalize a good chunk of it (10% of the length and 20% of the area). Expanding what I call “the Meadoway treatment” could go a long way towards adding to Toronto’s natural ecosystems and active transportation network. Below is a short profile of each corridor.

Royal Railside

  • Length: 9.8 km
  • Area: 41.0 ha
  • Average Width: 42 m

This corridor initially stretched from the 427 to the Don River. This sent it over the “South Parkdale” neighbourhood, and parallel to the former railway lands to the Don River. With the construction of the Gardiner Expressway and redevelopment of the railway lands, the middle of the corridor was buried between the Queensway / South Kingsway interchange and Sherbourne Street. South Parkdale was also demolished in the process.

Toronto Public Library via Spacing
University of Toronto Library

The west leg is a mix of grass, industrial/commercial scrub lands with encroaching parking lots and vegetated ravine. The east leg is basically an extension of the Union Station Rail Corridor. The corridor crosses 17 roads (11 arterial, 5 local, 1 expressway onramp) and 1 rail line. A Meadoway treatment to the west leg would augment 2 ravines (Mimico Creek, Lower Humber River), and make for a new trail system along Mimico Creek. A Meadoway treatment to the east leg would enrich the void between the Gardiner and Union Station Rail Corridor.

Etobicoke Spine

  • Length: 15.4 km
  • Area: 126.3 ha
  • Average Width: 82 m

This corridor starts at North Queen Street, and continues north and northwest to the 401/427 interchange, and then north again parallel to Highway 27. South of the 401, it is mostly bi-secting low-density residential neighbourhoods. North of the 401 is mostly light industrial/commercial.

Most of the corridor is grass, with intermittent encroachments by adjacent homes and businesses. There are trees sparsely dotted along the corridor which have been trimmed away from the lines (it’s noted that south of the 401, the trees seem less trimmed away from the eastern pylons, which are rusty; perhaps they are unused). The only significant patches of vegetation occur in the three ravine crossings (Etobicoke Creek, West Humber River, Albion Creek), and a small patch of overgrowth between Bethridge Road and Rexdale Boulevard. The corridor crosses 32 roads (12 arterial, 20 local), 2 expressways, and 2 rail lines.

A Meadoway treatment to this corridor would augment 3 ravines (Etobicoke Creek, West Humber River, and Albion Creek), and connect to 3 existing trail systems (West Humber, Etobicoke Creek, Mimico). Potential future improvement areas include the headwater for Berry Creek, minor tributaries of Albion Creek, the 401/427 interchange, as well as the Crosstown West corridor (see next section below).

Humber-Pearson

  • Length: 13.4 km
  • Area: 151 ha
  • Average Width: 113 m

This corridor starts at Etobicoke Creek south of Eglinton Avenue, and goes northeast through the 401/427 interchange, Rexdale, and the forks of the Humber River to Finch Avenue. The adjacent lands are parkland and open space southwest of the 401/427, commmercial / industrial lands to Rexdale Boulevard, and residential or ravine lands the rest of the way. Most of the corridor is grass except where it crosses the Humber Valley, and where a couple parking lots and industrial yards encroach into the space. The corridor crosses 25 roads (12 arterial, 7 local, 6 access), 4 expressways, and 2 rail lines.

A Meadoway treatment to this corridor would augment 6 ravines and their respective trail systems (Etobicoke Creek, Tributary 4, Mimico Creek, West and East Humber River, Berry Creek). A major improvement area, as alluded to above, would be Mimico Creek and where it crosses the 401/427 interchange. I have written before about how the Royal Woodbine Golf Club should be the #2 candidate for converting city-owned golf courses into public parkland, and how extending this connection across the Humber-Pearson Corridor could serve a broader regional trail network.

Finch

  • Length: 37.8 km
  • Area: 497.0 ha
  • Average Width: 131 m

As the name suggests, this corridor runs north of and parallel to Finch Avenue, between Highway 400 and the city’s eastern border. Much of the adjacent lands are residential, with the exception of commercial / industrial sectors in York University Heights, Steeles, Milliken and Armdale.

Most of the corridor is grass except where it crosses ravines, and a marshy patch west of Morningside. A few parking lots are located in the corridor, as well as the York University Busway, the G. Ross Lord Dam reservoir, at least two critcket pitches, seven soccer fields and two community gardens.
The corridor crosses 45 roads (19 arterial, 26 local), 2 expressways, and 4 rail lines.

A Meadoway treatment to this corridor would augment the Rouge National Urban Park and 6 other ravines (Black Creek, West Don River, Newtonbrook Creek, East Don River, West Highland Creek, Morningside Creek), and connect to 4 existing trail systems (Black Creek, West Don River, East Don River, West Highland Creek). Potential future improvement areas include the upper reaches of the East Highland Creek’s West, East and Malvern Branches.

Crosstown West

  • Length: 14.8 km
  • Area: 42.4 ha
  • Average Width: 29 m

This corridor goes across the city to the west. It starts at Etobicoke Creek near the Queensway, where it has two parallel legs west of North Queen Street, with a third leg around The West Mall. From here, it parallels the GO Transit Milton Line until the Humber River, heads due east to the GO Transit Barrie line, jaunts southeast to Canadian Pacific’s east-west mainline, and then parallels that to the Bridgman Transformer at Davenport Road and Macpherson Avenue.

The corridor is a mix of grass, parking lots, recreation parks or industrial yards. Lavender Creek also parallels the corridor between Weston and Symes Roads. The corridor crosses 44 roads (23 arterial, 21 local), 1 expressway, and 5 rail lines.

Between the Wiltshire Transformer Station and Davenport Road, the corridor is a proposed park and trail known as the Green Line, which was part of a design competition. Realizing this vision would at least bring a continuous trail to this 5 km segment of the corridor, hopefully grade separated from most of the arterial roads along the way. I also proposed making this corridor into a trail connection across Toronto in the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Draft Trail Strategy. This would be in lieu of relying on bike lanes along Bloor and Danforth, and keep active transportation users in the natural system.

A Meadoway treatment to this corridor would augment Lavender Creek, as well as 3 other ravines and their existing trail systems (Etobicoke Creek, Mimico Creek, Humber River). Potential future improvement areas include the buried portion of Lavender Creek around Weston Road, connections to the Etobicoke Spine and Mindtown Corridors, as well as the proposed trail along the GO Transit’s Davenport Grade Separation project.

Midtown

  • Length: 6.8 km
  • Area: 12.9 ha
  • Average Width: 19 m

This corridor continues east from where the Crosstown West Corridor left off at the Bridgman Transformer Station, following the Canadian Pacific east-west mainline until reaching the Leaside Transmission Station at Millwood and Overlea. There are actually two legs to this corridor: the first is mostly north of the rail corridor, and buried in a tunnel between Yonge and Bayview Heights Drive; and the second remains above ground south of the rail corridor, but has been eliminated between the Bridgman Transformer Station and a substation east of Yonge. The corridor is mostly squeezed beside railway tracks before spreading out into Crothers Woods, and only crosses 6 arterial roads and 1 rail line.

Archival photos show the south leg of the Midtown Corridor used to run south of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s North Toronto Station to Yonge Street (see bottom right) and parallel to Malborough Avenue until joining the rail corridor again. Courtesy City of Toronto Archives.

Establishing active transportation uses would be a challenge as the corridor is not very wide, and has multiple private properties and the rail corridor itself encroaching onto it. However, there would be great opportunities to maintain a connected corridor for active transportation users between Yonge and Bayview, as ample publicly owned space should exist adjacent to Shaftesbury Avenue, Carstowe Road and the Old Bridle Path.

Scarboro-Oakridge

  • Length: 6.4 km
  • Area: 22.6 ha
  • Average Width: 35 m

This corridor intersects the Gatineau Hydro Corridor south of Lawrence Avenue and east of Kennedy Road. From here, it parallels TTC Lines 3 and 2 south to Victoria Park station. Aside from where it’s flanked by transit infrastructure, much of the adjacent lands are residential. Warden Woods parallels the corridor between Warden and Pharmacy Avenues, and some former railway lands intersect the corridor between Birchmount and Kennedy Roads. Most of the corridor is grass except where it crosses ravines. The corridor crosses 10 roads (6 arterial, 4 local), 1 subway line and 1 rail line.

A Meadoway treatment to this corridor would augment Warden Woods and 3 other ravines (Taylor-Massey Creek x2, unnamed Taylor-Massey Creek tributary), connect to an existing trail system along Taylor-Massey Creek at St Clair Ravine Park, and connect to the future trail along the Gatineau Hydro Corridor . Potential future improvement areas include additional connections under TTC Line 2 to Warden Woods, through Firvalley Woods, under the rail spur between Farlinger Ravine and Eglinton Ravine Park, and around Kennedy Station and the local road network there.

Taylor Creek

  • Length: 5.3 km
  • Area: 17.5 ha
  • Average Width: 33 m

This corridor goes northwest from Victoria Park station (where it links to the Scarboro-Oakride Corridor), and paralles Taylor-Massey Creek and the Lower Don River until the Leaside Bridge, where it links up with the Lower Don Corridor. The corridor crosses 6 roads (3 arterial, 2 local, 1 access), 1 expressway, and 1 rail line, as well as passes beneath another two road bridges.

This corridor is already naturalized with significant woody vegetation west of the corner between Lumsden Avenue and Eastdale Avenue, although it is kept trimmed in the immediate vicinity of the power lines by Hydro One. East of this corner, some parking lots are within the corridor, and it is flanked by some hi-rise towers. Meadoway treatments to this corridor would only be required in a couple localized spots, mostly in Crescent Town. The corridor has an existing trail for most of its length, although new crossings between Coxwell Ravine Park and the north side of the rail line east of the Leaside Bridge would be welcome.

Lower Don

  • Length: 7.6 km
  • Area: 18.5 ha
  • Average Width: 24 m

This corridor goes south from the Leaside Transmission Station at Millwood and Overlea, following the Lower Don River to the Keating Channel, where it takes a couple turns in the Port Lands to reach the Shipping Channel opposite The Hearn and the Portlands Energy Centre. The corridor crosses 10 roads (1 arterial x4 + 3 additional arterial, 1 local, 5 bridges), 2 expressways and 2 expressway offramps, as well as 3 rail lines (one of them x3).

This corridor is already naturalized with significant woody vegetation north of River Street, and parallels the existing Lower Don River Trail. South of this point, the corridor abuts roads and rails, and at one point stands in the middle of Commissioners Road. Therefore, opportunities for Meadoway treatments are limited. However, there are plans by Waterfront Toronto to create a stormwater channel under the hydro towers along Commissioners Street, which is an interesting use of limited space.

Courtesy Waterfront Toronto

Beltline

  • Length: 4.5 km
  • Area: 5.1 ha
  • Average Width: 46 m

As the name implies, the Beltline Corridor follows the former Beltline Railway, north from St Clair and eventually east to the Fairbank Transformer Station near Marlee Avenue and Roselawn Avenues. The corridor is part of the GO Barrie line right-of-way until Eglinton Avenue, and is then part of the York Beltline Park the rest of the way.

The corridor crosses 7 roads (6 arterial, 1 local), and criss-crosses the Barrie line once. North of Eglinton, a Meadoway treatment is not needed everywhere, but may help augment some of the more scrubby vegetation. South of Eglinton, there is a major opportunity to create a major north-south link between the Beltline Trail and, in the future, the Greenway planned as part of the Davenport Diamond Grade Separation project.

Dorset Park Bent

  • Length: 3.2 km
  • Area: 20.5 ha
  • Average Width: 64 m

The Dorset Park Bent appears to be a former hydro corridor that has since been abandoned. It started at the Scarboro Transormer Station where the Gatineau and Scarboro-Oakride Corridors intersect, and continued north and northwest until linking up with the Warden Corridor at the 401 west of Warden Avenue. Historical aerial photos show the hydro towers that ran along the corridor, but they are no longer present today. Current satellite images and land parcel configurations make it clear where the corridor once was.

Corridor between Kennedy and Birchmount circa 1956, with hydro towers still visible. Courtesy City of Toronto.

Between Kennedy and Ellesmere Road, the corridor is grass, and actually contains the Dorset Branch of West Highland Creek. North of Ellesmere, the land has been taken up for commercial and residential development. East of Kennedy, it’s a bunch of industrial / commercial yards. The short corridor crosses 8 roads (4 arterial, 3 local, 1 access) and 1 rail line.

Being an abandoned hydro corridor with no vertical restrictions, this corridor could go beyond a Meadoway treatment and be reforested. This is especially important given that it shares the path with the Dorset Branch, which has been straightened and urbanized. Naturalizing the corridor could include restoring a meander to the creek, and bring much needed water quality and quantity improvements to this part of the watershed.

Warden

  • Length: 9.0 km
  • Area: 24.9 ha
  • Average Width: 28 m

The Warden Corridor, as the name implies, parallels Warden Avenue to the west. It starts at the Gatineau Corridor in Wexford, and proceeds directly north to the city boundary and beyond. Within the city limits, the corridor crosses 20 roads (7 arterial, 13 local), 1 expressway and 1 rail line.

However, somewhat like the Dorset Park Bent, it appears to be an abandoned hydro corridor. Between the 401 and the Finch Corridor, the hydro towers are gone and much of it was taken over for residential development, leaving a small 15 metre wide corridor behind for a natural gas line that still lays beneath. South of the 401, the towers remain, but it seems the wires lead to nowhere. What remains of the corridor is all grass, with occasional trimmed trees.

Aerial photo circa 1962, showing the former width of the Warden Corridor north of the 401, as well as the Doreset Park Bent. Courtesy City of Toronto.

If the corridor is indeed inactive south of the 401, it could also be a candidate for full reforestation (as opposed to just a Meadoway treatment). It also parallels the upper reaches of Taylor-Massey Creek for half a kilometre, and would provide some improvements to the watershed. North of the Finch Corridor, a Meadoway treatment would augment the existing trail to the north of the city.

The West Water Border

Etobicoke Creek is part of Toronto’s west boundary. Tucked away at the edge of the city, it can be easy to forget or dismiss. I took the effort to get out there in what was an unusually hot September day; it was already above 30 degrees by 11AM.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Getting off the TTC at Sherman Mall, I headed down Sherway Drive, which leads down into the ravine. The road was strange and abandoned, I was fairly surprised this was a link into a trail network, and it was in a bit of a dilapitated state. Online documents suggest this part of the trail, the ‘Sherway Link,’ is undergoing improvements soon. Eventually, the beat-up road gave way to a gravel trail and a field, in view of the QEW / Gardiner / 427 interchange. The city’s maps label this parcel of land (145 Sherway Drive) as general ‘open space’ with no name.

 

To continue south, I had to go under the Queen Elizabeth Way, named not after Elizabeth II, but after the Queen Mother, wife of King George VI. Overpasses are something that have been interesting to me as of late, but I didn’t think the ‘Middle Road’ would be anything special. I clearly wasn’t thinking it through.

It was something to behold, with the concrete arches and bleached rocks over and adjacent to calm glassy water. The colour of the graffiti tags and green stains on the concrete added something else to it. If it weren’t for the roar and thudding of highway traffic above, it would be a serene hangout.

History time. This was originally built by Ontario’s then-Department of Highways, as ‘The Middle Road’ in the 1930s (the Ministry of Transportation is still the Ministry of Highways in some sense, even 80 years later). Apparently the Minister and Deputy Minister of the day were inspired by German autobahn design, and wanted to bring it to Ontario. They ordered the Middle Road to be designed to these kind of standards, and it opened between Toronto and Burlington in 1937.

According to Cameron Bevers, who publishes a photographic history of the QEW at thekingshighway.ca, the Etobicoke Creek overpass was built in 1932 to carry a four-lane undivided highway, and it is the oldest structure on the QEW. The structure was widened in 1953 to accommodate two additional traffic lanes along with a centre highway median, and widened again in 1967 for six lanes. The apparent design difference should be noted on either side of this bridge for the ramps to and from the 427. These appear to be more of the style of bents you would find along the Gardiner or DVP, and these were completed in the 60s with the six-lane widening. I encourage you to check out more of Cameron’s website for more cool pictures and information, and hat tip to Twitter user “Not Lost” (@EdgeOfSaturn) for pointing me to this information.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Continuing south, you enter Etobicoke Valley Park. There was some kind of instream infrastructure along the way, and there was a clear beaten path on either side, providing a bit of a risky ad-hoc crossing between Toronto and Mississauga.

I also came across this snake. A contact of mine believes it is a northern watersnake.

Into the middle of the park, south of Horner Avenue, the trees get thick and you approach the inside of a significant meander in the creek. It’s here that you see some of the watercourses work over thousands of years, as it carved through deposited till and into the shale beneath. I get excited whenever I run into plentiful shale rocks beside water; it’s an excellent opportunity to skip rocks.

 

 

Further south, I was also quite intrigued by the amount of armourstone laid in the creek valley as an erosion protection measure. It came up to breastbone height in some places, and with the steep valley wall on the other side, it felt like you were walking through some lush jungle gauntlet.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Now digging into Torornto archives for this post, I came upon this very intriguing plan for part of the former Village of Long Branch, which proposed a number of houses up to and over Etobicoke Creek. Whether or not this was completed in full is unclear, but at least some of it was. In 1954, there was reported carnage from Hurricane Hazel causing flooding at the mouth of the creek, including the losss of over 40 homes and 6 deaths. Another 147 cottages at the mouth were declared unfit for habitation after the flooding when sanitation facilities broke down. As with many other areas throughout Toronto and the greater area, dwellings were removed from the floodplain, and the area was turned into parkland. The park was dedicated to longtime village Reeve Marie Curtis in 1959.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Marie Curtis now has a lovely boardwalk and beach. I knew it was going to be hot, but previous experiences of swimming in Lake Ontario had been frigid. Nonetheless, I brought my swimming shorts with me, and I’m glad I did. The water was perfect. I saw other tweets that day of people complaining that it was too warm; clearly, they have not swam in Lake Erie, like I often did as a teenager growing up in southwestern Ontario. Conquering Lake Ontario was quite the accomplishment in late September, I thought, considering it was generally a colder lake in some spots. It definitely fit with a narrative by Shawn Micallef at that time, that the common thought of summer ending after Labour Day was a myth that needed dispelling, so I had to give him a shout out.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js I also saw this tweet a couple days later. No wonder it was warm.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js I proceeded along Etobicoke’s lakeshore from here, but that is a whole other can of worms. I’ll save that for a post on another day.