Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2014
Tuesday evening and a couple of hours for a rare mid-week hike. I parked on True Davidson Drive and went down beside the bridge to the abandoned CPR tracks. Please note that all railway right of ways are private property and we are not promoting trespassing, simply recording the local history as it exists at this point in time.
The Canadian Pacific Railroad was founded in 1880 to complete a rail line across the continent and connect the provinces in the newly formed country of Canada. When Confederation occurred on July 1, 1867 Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were the first four provinces. Manitoba joined in 1870 and B.C. was enticed to join in 1871 by the promise of a transcontinental railway which was to be built within 10 years.
When the line was built it passed through Leaside and Toronto West Junction missing the city of Toronto. Trains had to back up 5 miles from West Junction to Union Station. In 1888 the CPR was granted permission to build a spur line from Leaside to Union Station along the west side of the Don River. In 1891 the first freight train ran along this track into Toronto, with passenger service starting the following year. A bridge was built to cross the Don River Valley. One end was near Todmorden and the other ran past The Don Valley Brickworks. A steel trestle bridge 1100 feet long (just under a quarter mile) and 75 feet high was constructed. The bridge picked up the nick-name “half mile bridge” early on even though it is only half of that in length. This photo is from the early 1920’s.
By the late 1920’s trains were becoming heavier and a new bridge was required. As this bridge was the route of the Toronto to Montreal train it was decided not to interrupt service. New concrete supports were built under the existing bridge. Then new sections of steel were assembled beside the existing bridge. When the train left for Montreal in the morning a crane would lift an existing section of bridge out. The new section would be lifted into place and secured before the train came back that evening. Finally the old girders were removed. Throughout this section of track the steel plates that the rails are mounted on all read CPR 1953 indicating the last time a major restoration was done to the tracks and ties. The bridge remained in use until 2007 when the line was abandoned. Metrolinx now owns the line and bridge with plans to integrate it into a future system.
The picture below shows the overgrowth of just seven years.
A rail line right-of-way is 200 feet wide. Steam engines would have used this track into the 1950’s and the entire strip of land would have been kept cleared of it’s trees to prevent engine sparks from starting fires. Today, trees that are two inches across are growing right beside the rails.
Some of the old electrical poles still stand along right of way, many still with short lengths of wire attached.
Walking along the tracks for a few minutes brings you to the half mile bridge. There are 4 small platforms perched along the sides of the tracks. Buckets of water were stored here and they may also have served as places of refuge for anyone caught on the tracks when a train approached. Today these platforms would likely just drop you 75 feet to your death. Note how small the cars appear in the photo below.
The idea of walking across this bridge could be scary enough, but for some it isn’t scary at all. They prefer to jump off the bridge as the bungee jumping ropes tied in the middle of the tracks suggest.
Two thirds of the way across the bridge you come to the Don River.
Looking back one can get a good view of the Don Valley Brickworks and it’s assortment of late 19th and early 20th century industrial buildings.
A steel ladder is secured to the side of the bridge allowing access to a platform several feet below. Prudence prevented me from finding out what is down there.
From up here the view of the towers in the downtown core is quite spectacular.
Along the way back I found one of the old concrete foundations for a signal post. Track signals are used to inform trains of the location of other trains along the same track.
This view of the train bridge, along with the cover photo, is taken from the parking lot of the old brickworks. It has recently been renovated to become Evergreen Brick Works and is now home to a farmer’s market, bike repair and rentals and many gardens. The old brick kilns remain on display as well.
Google maps link: Half Mile Bridge
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