In celebration of the recent kibosh on the Ford brothers’ grotesque vision of the waterfront, let’s review some cool points in our shoreline history! Toronto’s past has been adventurous, slightly sinister, and pretty much full of the stuff that life is really all about: whiskey, sugar, and kidnappin’s. Up until now though, we’ve been ice palace free. Let’s keep it that way!
1793 – The old town of York (the city we now call home) is established in the 10 original blocks between today’s Adelaide and Front St. There are 3 wharves for shipping – one on Peter St, one on Church St. and one on Sherbourne St. The one on Church St., Cooper’s wharf, is the happening place to see and be seen. All that remains of it now is Cooper St., a nondescript empty block between Loblaws and the LCBO at Lakeshore Blvd.
1818 – Trade by boat invites lots of manufacturing facilities around the waterfront, which by this time is become a grimy mess of wharves. The Mall, a public esplanade, is built to try to make it more liveable. From Peter St to Parliament, trees are planted, sewage drainage pipes are diverted into the water, and people max and relax by the water.
1830 –The hotels of the time – The Steamboat, (where today’s Market Square is), The Wellington (the Flat Iron Building) and Ontario house (Pizza Pizza) all have ballin’ verandas looking over the lake just steps away.
1831 – An English merchant named William Gooderham and his family move to the city and The Gooderham and Worts Distillery opens. In 1833, Worts’ wife dies and he promptly throws himself into the company well. Goodherham keeps on truckin’, and by 1837, the distillery, originally conceived as a plant to make flour, is producing more than 110 000 L of whiskey per year. In 1877, it’s the largest distillery in the world.
1833 – Hugh Richardson is named as Toronto’s first harbourmaster. This captain from London England was kidnapped by French pirates in 1810, and imprisoned in Paris where he stayed for 8 years. The year he is free he gets hitched and moves to Canada where he pours his heart and soul into the waterfront, publishing a DIY newsletter and paying for buoys and beacons from his own pocket. He holds the position till 1870.
1834 – The city of Toronto is established. The harbour continues to expand along with the city, and has close to 30 wharves and piers by now.
1840’s - The merchant class, who occupy most of the houses by the water, begin to move away. Those left behind are forced to slum it in deteriorating shacks that faced the backs of crumbling storehouses. The tenements around Lower Jarvis St. could typically see 20 families jammed into a few damp rooms.
1850’s –The first railway lines come to Toronto with the majority of their tracks on the waterfront promenade. By the 1880’s, the harbour is handling 1 250 000 passengers annually.
1873 – Historian Henry Scadding writes in his book Toronto of Old, the waterfront “has done for Toronto what the Thames Embankment has done for London”
1879 – 80 buildings stand where Market Square is now, and 30 where St. James Park is now. The area around St. James’s Park is a horrific ghetto where city hall is also located. During the late 1800’s, public housing is unheard of; construction is for profit, not for the needs of people.
1904 – A mysterious fire wipes out 122 buildings along Bay, Front, Willington and Esplanade leaving 5000 people out of work.
1930’s –The waters of Hanlan’s Bay on the western point of the islands are filled and Billy Bishop Toronto city airport is made.
1950 – The Gardiner Expressway is built so people can drive in from the ‘burbs more easily.
1970’s –Major cities around the world are starting to rediscover their waterfronts, and Toronto follows suit. The “Harbourfront Project” is established. Condos are built on the shoreline, while the area east of Yonge remains in light industrial use. A few buildings remain from the industrial period, like the Redpath sugar factory.
1988 – The public is officially pissed at how botched everything is around the waterfront, so Prime Minister Mulroney calls another Royal Commission into the waterfront and a detailed, expensive plan of development came about that totally ended up flopping.
2001 – Waterfront Toronto is established, one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in North America. Full revitalization is estimated to take up to 25 – 30 years and about $17 billion. As of 2008, most of the lands to the east of Yonge St around the Don River are planned for redevelopment by Waterfront Toronto. The plan calls for a mixed use community with libraries, daycares, 13000 residential units, retail and commercial space, 130 acres of parks and public space, and a waterfront park.
August 2011 – But wait, Rob Ford has a brilliant idea. He launches an “absolutely phenomenal” scheme to transform the Port Lands into a paradise of Ferris wheels, ice palace sports zones, and unicorns with money that doesn’t exist. He doesn’t want to wait quarter century either; Robby Rob’s plan is projected to take 10.
September 2011 - Opposition to Ford’s vision explodes, with 147 influential folks issuing a letter describing the plan as “window dressing for an old fashioned land deal.”
Sept. 21 2011 – Toronto city council officially kiboshes Ford’s plan, voting unanimously in favour of Waterfront Toronto to remain in control of the port lands development plan. Long live our murky and marvelous harbour!
Youth is like spring, an over praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes. Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.
~Samuel Butler” —
So throw on an oversized knit sweater, grab a pumpkin spice latte, and head to one of these towns! If there is ever a time when it is socially acceptable to walk around in public gnawing on corn cobs and petting goats, that time is fall. You don’t have to be from a small town to really appreciate, or attend a fall festival. The apples, painted pumpkins and antique tractors touch something in all of our souls – the part that felt warm and fuzzy when you watched Casper and Devon Sawa dances with Christina Ricci and says “Can I keep you?”
Here are 6 fall festivals worth making the trek to:
Waterford Pumpkinfest – Friday October 14th – 16th
Been around for: 28 years.
What to do: Waterford takes Pumpkinfest seriously. There is a ton to do at this festival, including a soap box derby, a parade, an antique tractor show, a car show, a haunted house, a marketplace at Waterford High school, rides, all the carnivalesque junk food you could ever imagine, and an apt display of native reptiles (?) but simply walking around the town is a spectacle in itself. The houses are all decorated to the nines, and there’s an annual contest for best appearance at night and during the day.
The Show Stopper: The 1,500 carved, lit pumpkin pyramid. This impressive flaming tower of angry faces will totally bring a smile to yours.
What to bring: An appetite for some serious elephant ears, and a blanket for night time firework watching.
Personal anecdote from a pro: “I love Pumpkinfest. It’s a time when the community really comes together and brings the town to life. My favorite part is all the people that come from out of town, it’s sort of an excuse to have a get together with family and friends you haven’t seen in a while”
- Taira Gerber, 23, nurse and Waterford native.
Apple Fest Fall Fair Burlington – Sunday September 25th
Been around for: 20 years.
What to do: Since this festival takes place at Oakridge Farm, a historic museum, prepare for a total pioneer-like experience. There’s an old fashioned general store and everything. I say don your most inspired Sleepy Hollow era attire and celebrate the season at any one of the many apple oriented activities: apple cider making, pioneer apple schnitzing (ye olde process of dehydrating apples), apple toss, hay maze, barn dancers, a silent auction a trifles and treasures bazaar, and cow milking lessons.
The show stopper: I’m going to go out on a limb and say the trifles and treasures bazaar. I don’t know about you but when I read that name my thoughts gravitate toward a rummage fest of sunken pirate ship proportions.
What to bring: PWYC admission, and gloves and hand sanitizer if you want to take this opportunity to feel up an udder good and proper.
Personal anecdote from a pro: “Applefest? Oh man, you’re gonna make my city look so lame”
- Carter Jarvis, 24 year old musician from Burlington.
Prince Edward County Pumpkinfest – Saturday October 15th
around for: 14 years
What to do: This is a hard core community event that thousands of people come out for every year. They say the city “turns orange” with pumpkins. There is a parade of giant pumpkins (see below), craft shows, horse drawn wagon rides, cloggers, a petting zoo and a crazy vegetable weigh off.
The showstopper: Definitely the weigh off and giant pumpkin parade. Farmers from all over Ontario and Quebec bring colossal pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, watermelon and compete against each other for the largest vegetable. Then they parade that bad boy around town for an hour. Last year, the biggest pumpkin weighed 1,404.4 lbs. I’m sort of terrified of that pumpkin.
What to bring: A camera to document the mammoth vegetables you must prove you proudly laid eyes on.
Personal anecdote from a pro: “Looking forward to the parade but hopefully Phil Joynson won’t be pulling the candy back out of the kids hands this year as he goes through the parade route – HA HA”
- Countykid, Prince Edward County Pumpkinfest message board.
Bolton Fall Fair – Friday September 23 – 25th
Been around for: 153 years
What to do: Put on by the Bolton Agricultural Society, this festi features a demolition derby, a mountain bike show, a farmers market, local bands, one of those giant inflated jumpy houses, dairy / poultry / sheep shows, a milking competition, and a home-made salsa smack down!
The showstopper: The garden tractor pull. It has been said that this event is so epic it delivers the “smell and sound of power” (this is supposed to be a selling point, I guess?)
What to bring: $10 admission, maybe some earplugs, and you might not want to look like a dirtbag because Breakfast Television will be there!
Personal anecdote from a pro: “I went to it every year as a kid. The thing I liked about it was there was a game where you had to get a ping pong ball into a jar of water and if you got it in you won a gold fish. I won three one year, it was awesome”
- Sara McMurdo, 24, dog trainer and part time Bolton resident.
Markham Fall Fair – Thursday September 29th – October 2
Been around for: 167 years.
What to do: This is Canada’s biggest fall fair! This year’s theme is Canadian Harvest. Give props to our Canadian farmers by coming out for some deep fried bloomin’ onions and elephant ears. While you’re at it, take advantage of over 40 midway rides, a demolition derby, a puppet show and ventriloquist, a super-dog show, a fiddle contest, and lions, tigers and bears (for real. All of those).
The showstopper: The bloomin’ onion is said to be so good it will stop your heart and you will have to have it every time you go. It’s essentially an onion cut to resemble a flower and then washed in egg yolk, deep fried, and slathered in dipping sauces. Ooooh mama.
What to bring: $15.00 for admission, camera, pepto bismol, and your fiddle.
Personal anecdote from a pro: “I like the displays of vegetables and flowers…and I love seeing the old guys from all the farms that Markham/Stouffville used to be… Farmers feed our cities! Long live our farms and farmers”
- Maria B, Markham Fair Facebook fan
Ancaster Fall Fair – Thursday September 22 – 25th
Been around for: 161 years What to do: There will be a talent show, a demolition derby, hundreds of barnyard creatures, a tractor pull, a dog agility contest, a baby show, bluegrass bands, and one “high risk adventure performer” (ambiguous, yet dangerously alluring).
The showstopper: The Thursday night demolition derby is the most popular event (who doesn’t like watching things smash into other things by the light of the moon?) but the 6 horse hitch is apparently a sight for sore eyes.
What to bring: $10 for admission, comfortable walking shoes to explore 9 buildings of max fall fun! And maybe some Claratin, for the hordes of barnyard animals.
Personal anecdote from a pro: “We’ve been going to the Ancaster fair since I was maybe 14, and I loved it!! They have tons of rides and animals different vendors but the real reason we go there is for the derby and the donut guy (he would make fresh donuts right in front of you and they would come out warm and it was sooo good). We still go, but since they changed the original location it just doesn’t feel the same. But my daughter loves the animals and all the bright colours thought so I’m happy she’s happy!”
- Anna Tremmel, 23, from Brantford Ontario