West Toronto Railpath

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The West Toronto Railpath is currently 2.1 kilometers long and runs along the former right of way of the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway. The County Atlas below shows the area as it looked around 1877. Several railways have already been built through The Junction and more would follow over the next decade. On the map I’ve coloured the Toronto Grey & Bruce in blue with the section on the rail path being green. The Grand Trunk Railway is yellow while the Credit Valley Railway is orange. To the right, The Northern Railway is red.

Before mergers began, there were five railways that intersected in West Toronto, or The Junction. These would eventually become three lines of Canadian Pacific Railway and two of the Canadian National Railway. The crossed each other on a complicated set of tracks known as the West Toronto Diamond Crossings. The archive picture below shows crews working on the diamond in 1924 and is part of an information plaque at the northern end of the rail path.

When the crossings were rebuilt with grade separations, which were much safer, the diamonds were no longer required. The last one was relocated to the trailhead and preserved as part of the information installation.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was incorporated on March 4, 1868 with the official sod turning ceremony being held in Weston in October of the following year. To save money, the railway was built to a narrow gauge of 3’6″ instead of the standard (or Provincial) gauge of 5’6″. This allowed construction to proceed for $5,100 per mile instead of the $8,100 required for the standard gauge. It formally opened on November 3, 1871 with the first train making it to Owen Sound in 1873. The picture below shows a nearly deserted railpath early on a Sunday morning but it filled up quickly with a variety of dog walkers, cyclists and joggers.

There are several works of art along the railpath including murals on a few buildings. One building has been painted in blue and green with the shapes of the vegetation along the building being left white. This allows for a visual growth indicator as the trees and vines continue to grow onto the painted sections. Four steel sculptures have also been erected along with various places to sit and pause as you walk the trail. Other buildings have extensive murals on them.

Railway sidings ran along the track side of most of the industrial buildings in the Junction Triangle. Although the rails are gone the sidings can be spotted by looking for doors that open a couple of feet off the ground. These would have been at the right level to load and unload the rail cars.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was converted to standard gauge in 1881 to make the interchange between its freight trains and those of other lines easier because the cars could just be moved from one line to the other. In 1883 it was leased to the Ontario & Quebec Railway and was taken over by the CPR the following year. By the 1950s the line was known locally as the Old Bruce and when it stopped serving the local industry it was closed for good. The line was dismantled in 1996 and the right of way was purchased by the city for a railpath which opened in 2009.

Catalpa Bignonioides is a flowering tree that is native to the southern states but has adapted to northern climates including parts of Canada. There are some of them in flower along the side of the trail and they produce a powerful scent. The flowers will turn into long beans that hang from the branches. This is just one of the many flowering plants that line both sides of the trail making it a great place to see butterflies and other pollinators.

The Junction hydro substation is tucked in along the rail corridor and has a date stone that reads 1920. For some reason several on line resources, including the Toronto Architectural Conservancy, list the building as having been completed in 1911. Perhaps the 1920 date above the large door refers to an expansion.

By 1883 there were five railways passing through the area and getting around them safely was starting to become a problem for the communities that surrounded the tracks. Workers had to cross the busy rail lines to get to the various industries where they worked. In 1907 a temporary pedestrian bridge was built as the first project designed by the Ontario Bridge Company. It is one of only a few multi-span steel Warren pony truss bridges in the province. It connects Wallace Street with Dundas Street West and was only intended to be in use until two underpasses were created on Dupont and Bloor Street. The bridges that were built over those underpasses are dated 1925 and one of them is featured in the cover photo.

The picture below is looking south from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge in July 1985 and was taken from “Old Time Trains” web page. The tracks would be removed in April 1996.

Milkweed grows in great numbers along the sides of the pathway however I didn’t see any Monarch Butterflies nor any caterpillars. Both seem to be a little scarce so far this season but this will be a great place to see them when they are in full flight.

“Ghost sign” is a term that is sometimes applied to faded lettering or images on the sides of old buildings. Also known as brickads, they were common between 1890 and 1960 with most of them being from the 1920s and earlier. Advertising for Coke was often painted on the sides of convenience stores and for industry it was common practice to paint your company name and perhaps a list of products or services right on your building. Canadian Hanson & Van Winkle erected their building in 1917 on the west side of the rail corridor where they produced equipment for the electroplating, polishing and buffing industries.

Scythes and Company Limited opened their company in the Junction in 1910. Aside from cloth and canvas products the building was also home to the manufacture of pickles, sauces and catsup. Ghost signs adorn all four sides of the building but the side facing the railpath has been freshly painted to restore the original brickads on the building.

The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway passed through the city and headed north through Cardwell Junction which is now only marked by a set of bridge abutments where two former rail lines once crossed. From there it went a short distance north to where it climbed the escarpment on a long horseshoe shaped curve. This was the location of a tragic derailment on September 3, 1907 known as the Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster.

Approval has been made to extend the trail another 2 kilometers with an agreement between Metrolinx and the city to complete it in 2022. A third phase could see the trail extended to Strachan Avenue.

This is a convenient trail because of all the places where there is access and it’ll be interesting to come back and check out the extension when completed.

Other Rail Trails in Toronto: Leaside Spur Trail, the Beltline Railway is described in three parts: Kay Gardner Beltline, Moore Park Beltline and York Beltline Trail.

Other Toronto Grey & Bruce Blogs: Cardwell Junction, Horseshoe Curve Rail Disaster

Google Maps Link; West Toronto Rail Path

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3 thoughts on “West Toronto Railpath

  1. Cathy Leask

    Hi again Xiaomin,

    I think you gave me this link so you probably got this already. Interesting re trains & the Junction explained. Company mentioned near the end, Scythes & company was owned by one of my grandfathers brothers. He was one of 6 boys & 2 girls.. big families in those days. I remember I was given a bright yellow raincoat when I was 5 or 6 which was very thick rubberized canvas, which my Mom had got from their company. They didn’t make the pickles!! Flowers also interesting!

    Cathy

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Canada Linseed Oil Mills | Hiking the GTA

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