Tag Archives: half mile bridge

Lower Don Trail

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Lower Don Trail runs along the Don River from Corktown Commons to Pottery Road. Having previously covered the section from Riverdale Park south to Corktown Commons in our feature The Don Narrows it was time to return and visit the north section. As before there was free parking on the end of Carlton Street at Riverdale Farm. A metal staircase leads you down the 88 steps to the floodplain of the Don River in Riverdale Park. The picture below shows the pedestrian bridge that crosses Bayview Avenue and the railway tracks. There’s a set of stairs that lead to the Lower Don Trail on the west side of the Don River.

South of the bridge the trail follows the section of the Don River that was straightened in the 1880’s. This section is sometimes referred to as The Don Narrows. Heading north the river quickly starts winding and turning as it follows its natural course. Blue Jays were out in abundance along the trail.

The Don River is known to flood its banks and the Don Valley Parkway during heavy rain storms but on this morning it was perfectly calm in many places. The railway bridge in the picture below belongs to Metrolinx and is currently not used. It leads to the Half Mile Bridge and makes an interesting walk. We have previously proposed that this section be turned into The Half Mile Bridge Trail, at least temporarily. It is currently illegal to walk along these tracks and when I was making my return along the trail I saw a Metrolinx rail truck driving along the tracks. That likely would have been trouble for anyone caught walking there.

The main trail heads north after crossing the Don river on a footbridge. The Bloor Viaduct spans the ravine and the trail passes underneath it. Officially known as the Prince Edward Viaduct, construction was started in 1915. A detailed story of the bridge can be found in our feature story The Bloor Viaduct.

Goldenrod is a member of the aster family and usually has the distinct disc and ray florets of a daisy. There are over 100 members of the goldenrod family and their tiny yellow flowers bring witness of the changing of the seasons.

A white tailed deer buck was casually grazing on the trees on the side of the Don River. This buck had 6 points on his antlers. Some people believe that you can tell the age of the animal by the number of points but this isn’t true. The deer will grow about 10 % of its potential antler mass in the second summer of its life. The third year it may reach 25-35% of its full growth. Out side the parks and ravines the male deer typically only live about four years due to hunting pressure. That obviously isn’t a factor in the downtown area. They say that the only real way to tell the age of a deer is to look at the teeth. This one let me get pretty close, but not quite that close.

A short distance north of the Bloor Viaduct is a public art display known as Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality. It contains fourteen cast concrete sculptures that were placed here in 2017.

The sculpture are recreations of gargoyles that adorn buildings in downtown Toronto. Old City Hall and Queens Park provided some of the inspiration for the artwork.

The artist is named Duane Linklater and he is an Omaskeko Cree from Moose Factory. Duane has been awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts as well as having won the Sobey Art Award. His display on the Lower Don Trail is intended to draw attention to the changing role of the Don River in the early industrialization of the city.

Side trails run along the edge of the river in places where the floodplain is wide enough. These can be much more interesting and you are more likely to see the local wildlife on these less used trails. Kingfishers were zipping up and down the river calling out in their urgent chatter and a couple of hawks were circling in the distance. This is the area where you may see one of the deer that reside in this greenbelt.

The Half Mile Bridge was replaced in the 1920’s with a wider bed on concrete piers. The old steel piers were all removed except the one on the west end by the Don Valley Brick Works.

As you approach Pottery Road you can see the chimney from Todmorden Mills which was the first industrial site in the new town of York (Toronto). I love the 1967 Canadian Centennial Maple Leaf that was installed at the top of the chimney during restorations that year.

When you reach Pottery Road you have the option to follow it across Bayview Avenue and explore the abandoned section which can be read about in our post Abandoned Pottery Road. If you follow the trail north it brings you to Beechwood Wetlands and Crothers Woods.

Google Maps Link: Lower Don Trail

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Half-Mile Bridge

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.

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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.

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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.

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Some of the old electrical poles still stand along right of way, many still with short lengths of wire attached.

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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.

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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.

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Two thirds of the way across the bridge you come to the Don River.

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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.

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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.

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From up here the view of the towers in the downtown core is quite spectacular.

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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.

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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.

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Google maps link: Half Mile Bridge

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